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Aug 10

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Cat Tails

Summary: On their first Valentine’s Day as a couple, Ari takes some advice from an ex-girlfriend on how to romance Dale.

Bryn Decker, usually an officer with the Seattle Police Department, was currently out of uniform in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. She paused to zip up her windbreaker so she didn’t get anything on her clothes as she ducked her head under a thick branch to move deeper into the brambles. A few yards behind her, downwind from Bryn’s quarry, Ariadne Willow at least had the good sense to look ashamed of staying in the clearing. Her hands were in her pockets, her shoulders hunched, the brim of her flat cap pulled low over her brow as she craned her neck to watch Bryn’s progress.

“Can you see her?”

“Don’t spook her,” Bryn whispered.

She scanned the tangled overgrowth ahead for any tell-tale signs of movement or of suspicious stillness. Cats would do one of two things when confronted: disappear or dart. If Bryn had been an ordinary cop, she would have clicked her tongue or made kissing noises to draw the cat out. But Bryn was a felidae and spent most nights of the week as a cat herself and she knew that was only a signal for the cat to be alert and watch out.

Instead, Bryn pressed her tongue against the back of her teeth and purred. It was a gentle rumble, a sign of comfort and calmness. She moved slowly, one step every thirty seconds, eyes sweeping from side to side so she didn’t have to move her head. She purred low in her throat, adjusting the tone so it would carry further.

Up ahead of her, she saw a small white head through the leaves. She stopped where she was and kept her body still. She held her right hand back, three fingers extended to tell Ari to stay where she was. The cat twisted its head around a stand of grass and blinked large blue eyes at her. She could see its body now, lean and muscled under an extremely thin coat. It looked Siamese, but with pearl white coloring all over its body. The ears were pink where the sun shone through and, if the eyes hadn’t been blue, she would have thought it was albino. A red collar was around its neck, and a heart-shaped tag the size of a dime dangled from her collar. Bryn couldn’t read it from where she was, but the description was undeniable.

“Hi, Cleo.” She carefully moved her hand to the pocket of her coat. Cleo cringed, but Bryn resumed purring to relax her. She took out the small baggie Ari had given her and twitched her fingers so that the contents rattled. Cleo’s head rose, spine straightening at the familiar beckon. By the time Bryn got the baggie open, the cat had emerged from hiding and was trotting toward her. She took out three of the treats and held her hand out. She let Cleo eat all three before she scooped her up.

“C’mon. Let’s take you home. Your mommy is waiting to meet you.”

Cleo was content to curl up in Bryn’s arms, licking her lips and seeking for more food that she may have missed in her haste. Bryn ducked under the thick branch again and stepped back into the clearing.

“Thanks for the assist, Bryn.”

“No problem. Pet retrieval is one thing, but you can’t catch a runaway kitty if you smell like a wolf. I’m surprised she let you get this close.”

Ari reached out and plucked a leaf out of Bryn’s sandy-blonde hair. It was cut short in a style that vaguely resembled a helmet, with the bangs feathered across her forehead. Ari tossed the leaf away and looked down at herself.

“Dale doused me pretty good with something to mask my scent.” Cleo rolled her head toward Ari, considered her for a moment, then hissed. “Apparently it isn’t foolproof.”

Bryn scratched Cleo under her chin to soothe her. She used her shoulder to gesture back to the dirt road where their cars were parked. “I’ll ride with you to drop her off with the client.”

“I’ve already taken up too much of your day off–“

“And you’ll ruin the rest of it if I have to imagine you trying to get this girl home in your car. Once you’re in an enclosed space with her, especially one that reeks of wolf, she’ll turn into a whirling dervish of claws and teeth. If it’ll save you from getting cut to hell, I don’t mind another twenty minutes or so.”

Ari caved and motioned for Bryn to lead the way back to the cars.

Bryn scratched the cat under the chin, calming it as they walked back up the trail. “So I thought you and Dale were doing boffo business after the whole Gavin thing. Big clients, high-dollar paydays. Why are you wasting time on a lost pet? Let alone a cat. You should have passed this on to another detective. Or Encyclopedia Brown.”

Ari chuckled. “I’m not sure he’s still in business. And we are doing well. I have a lot of irons in the fire. But sometimes it’s nice to just spend an afternoon trying to reunite someone with their beloved pet.” She reached out to scratch Cleo’s head, but a warning rumble in the cat’s chest stopped her. “A guy got this beast for his girlfriend, for Valentine’s. He accidentally left the back door open and kitty made a break for it. Called us up in a panic, and I figured it was a nice medium-sized challenge. No one shooting at me, no cops getting huffy, but still a degree of danger. It’s hard enough trying to catch a cat even if you’re not a canidae.”

Bryn laughed. “I lost out on an afternoon of game shows because you wanted a cakewalk? I might have to charge you more than just a beer.”

“You’ve earned it. I never would have gotten Cleo out of there on my own.”

“You could have called Dale.”

Ari nodded, her smile wavering ever so slightly. “Yeah. I could have.”

Bryn waited until they were back in the car before she addressed that. “Everything’s okay with you two, right?”

“Oh, yeah. I didn’t mean it like that. Everything is amazing with us. Once we admitted how we felt about each other, it was like everything became a little easier. I never realized how much energy I was expending to tell myself she was just my friend. But…”

“There’s a but?”

Ari sighed and scanned the branches overhead. “We agreed not to do anything for Valentine’s Day. It’s our first year as a couple and neither of us wanted to put that much pressure on the night. But I still wanted to get her a little something and I started thinking about everything she does for me. And she does so much that I started to feel like crap. I dump so much on her. I call, and she comes running. She buries stashes for me, she drives out to find me in the middle of the night, she…” Ari flexed her fingers on the steering wheel. “A few nights ago on my run, I had walked through mud before I got to the stash. So when she got me back to her place she washed my hands and feet.”

“That’s so sweet.”

Ari nodded half-heartedly. “Yeah. But it’s also…” She stopped at a light and drummed her fingers.

“You liked it, right?”

“Well, yeah. The woman I loved was taking care of me. Of course I liked it. But it isn’t balanced. I don’t do anything like that for her. I give her shoulder rubs, but she gives me full body massages after a bad change. I make her dinner, she sacrifices four hours of sleep every week to come pick me up because the wolf needed some fresh air. I feel like every nice thing she does for me weighs down the scales a little more and I’ll never be able to balance it.”

Bryn laughed. “Balance it? Ari, you can’t balance a relationship. Dale isn’t doing those things to bank credit. She does them because she’s in love with you. Because you’re hurting and she can make you feel better. That’s all. And if you feel the need to thank her by cooking her dinner or doing her laundry, that’s fine. But it’s not… you can’t just expect everything to be even. The only thing you can do is give as good as you take. Just never stop giving, and whatever that is, it’ll be enough. Trust me.”

Ari considered that for nearly a block. “Thanks.”

“Hey, it’s what I do. Rescue cats, counsel ex-girlfriends.”

Ari smiled. “Speaking of exes, are you seeing anyone?”

“Yeah, actually. A detective.” She curled one arm around Cleo and fished her phone out of the windbreaker pocket. She tapped the screen a few times and, when they reached a red light, showed Ari a picture. Ari’s eyes widened.

“You’re dating Hope Solo?”

Bryn laughed. “I’ll tell her you said that. She thinks she comes off too butch.”

“Not necessarily a bad thing. What’s her name?”

“Audrey Monk.” She returned the phone to her pocket. “We should meet up sometime, the four of us. Get a drink.”

Ari said, “That sounds daunting. But I’m willing.”

“But not tonight. Tonight, take your girl out. I don’t care what you promised each other about Valentine’s Day. If you feel like this, you need the occasion as an excuse to show her how much you really appreciate her.” They pulled up in front of the client’s building and Ari parked. Bryn looked down at the cat, whose eyes were closed to slits. She purred happily as Bryn stroked her from chin to chest with the tip of her finger. “Do you want me to come up with you?”

The cat opened its eyes and somehow conveyed a promise of bodily harm without moving a muscle. Ari resisted the urge to respond by showing her teeth. “I think that would be best, yeah. We’ll just tell the client that you’re my cat valet.”

#

Ari paused in the office doorway, watching Dale type before she came the rest of the way in. Dale smiled without taking her eyes off the computer screen. “The conquering heroine returns. Did you finish the case?”

“I did. I had to hire a consultant, though.”

“Oh?”

“Bryn Decker. The cat wouldn’t let me anywhere near it, so I needed someone it didn’t find offensive. Hopefully you don’t mind that I called in an ex-girlfriend without consulting you.”

Dale nodded, lips twisted as she considered the idea. “No, it’s smart. It’s what I would have suggested if you’d called. How is Bryn?”

“She’s dating a woman who looks like a certain soccer player on your freebie list.”

“Oh-ho, now you have my attention.”

Ari stepped behind Dale’s seat and placed the check on the keyboard. She stood it up between the number row and the multitude of F-keys that she still found mysterious and dangerous. Dale noted the amount. “Not bad for an afternoon’s work. Did you pay Officer Decker for her services?”

“She said it was a freebie, but I told her I’d buy her a drink. She wants to collect on a double date.” She kissed the part in Dale’s hair, her hands resting on Dale’s shoulders. “I know we said we weren’t going to do anything for Valentine’s Day, but I want to take you out. I want to use the check to take you out to dinner tonight, holiday notwithstanding. Just me, showing oyu how much I care about you, and not because Hallmark said I should.”

Dale laughed. “Okay.”

“And choose somewhere nice. Very nice. Dress-up nice.”

“Right. You don’t dress up. Ivar’s is fine. We can feed the seagulls.”

“No, I mean someplace… extremely nice. Wining, dining, showing you how much you mean to me.”

“Wow. Did something happen with Bryn that you feel guilty about?”

Her tone was light, but Ari couldn’t take it as a joke. “Nothing happened with Bryn. But I do feel guilty. Every day since…” Ari moved her hand to the side of Dale’s head. Her hair had grown back over the scar, but Ari still knew exactly where it was. She touched it and Dale tensed.

“Oh. That.” She turned her chair and looked up at Ari. “You don’t have to feel guilty about that, Ariadne.”

“You got it because of me. Everything bad that’s happened to you in the past few years… Sadie Dillon, being kidnapped by that Gavin bitch–“

Dale stood up. “Hey. Everything good that’s happened to me in the last decade has been because of you, too. I’ll take a little bad if it helps balance things out.”

Ari chuckled without humor. “Bryn said relationships aren’t about balancing it all out.”

“You gonna believe everything some cat tells you?” She pecked Ari’s bottom lip. “I don’t know about balance. But I do know that whatever we have going right now? I wouldn’t trade any part of it for anything else.”

“Really?”

“Mm-hmm. Truly.” She kissed Ari properly this time. “I love the way we are. Anything above this level is just gravy. Okay?”

Ari nodded. “How about a little gravy tonight? I was serious about the dinner. I took a quickie case just so I could spoil you with the bill. I want to spoil you.”

Dale grinned. “Well, in that case how about El Gaucho?”

“Wow. Okay. Call and get me some reservations.”

“I have to call to get the reservations?”

“Well, you are my secretary.”

Dale shook her head. “No, I am your office manager. I’m only the secretary when Ms. Willow wants to be naughty.”

Ari smiled sweetly. “Okay, I’ll make the reservations. And Ms. Willow is going to give her secretary the rest of the afternoon off to go home and get ready.” She kissed the corners of Dale’s mouth, then her cheek. Dale started to pull away, but Ari tightened her grip and whispered in her ear. “I’m so lucky to have you in my life. If I ever, in any way, forget how lucky I am, you have permission to remind me. Loudly and often.”

“Noted.” She kissed Ari’s neck. “Now let me go. I have a lot of work to do before I’m ready for somewhere like El Gaucho.”

“You really don’t. Wear that tank top and sweatpants combo you have.”

“My night clothes?”

“Yeah. You look sexy in that getup. Hot.”

Dale rolled her eyes and grabbed her jacket. “Early reservations. I had a light lunch, and I want to get home in time to give my girlfriend dessert.”

Ari whistled and waved goodbye to her. When she was alone, she walked into her office she looked around for a moment. She’d had the office for a while before Dale came along, but her arrival turned it into an actual entity. She didn’t just owe Dale her continued well-being, she owed Dale her entire life. The agency would have folded after a year, and she would have moved on to whatever the next thing was. She couldn’t even imagine what that would have been.

“Continued well-being,” she murmured. Then she nodded and walked to her desk.

If relationships weren’t about balance, then she would just have to make sure she banked a little payback every day. A continual repayment of a loan that no one expected her to make good on. If she kept to that philosophy, then maybe one day the scales would tip in her favor. She might not be able to even things out, but she was determined not to be any deeper in the hole than necessary. She chuckled and dialed the restaurant to make their reservations.

#

After a meal that cost the majority of Ari’s “cakewalk” check, Dale suggested they take a walk to burn off a few calories. Ari agreed since their footwear was walk-appropriate; she was a few inches taller than Dale barefoot, so neither of them had chosen heels. Dale wore wedge sandals that helped close the gap between them somewhat, and her red dress swished around her knees as she and Ari strolled. At one point Dale did a strange hop-step and then kicked her right foot out in front of her, her left hand tightly gripped by Ari’s right.

Ari smiled and kept her anchored until she swung back to her side. “Is that a hint you want to go dancing?”

“No.” She pressed tight against Ari’s side. “Tonight was wonderful. Just being with you. I admit, sometimes I still think of you as a boss I get to kiss.”

Ari laughed. “To be honest, that’s part of what I talked to Bryn about today.” She stopped and moved in front of Dale, stroking her arms. “I haven’t been a very good girlfriend to you.”

“What do you mean?” Dale looked sincerely confused. “You’re amazing.”

“Most of the time, I’m a boss you get to kiss. I’m a friend you go to bed with. That’s because I’m comfortable with how things were, and a part of me didn’t want to risk it. But I also love you so much that I want to take the next step. So I’ve been straddling that line. I won’t do that from now on. I want to be your girlfriend first and everything else second. I’m going to try and give back everything you’ve been giving to me. And not because there’s a debt and not because I owe you, but because I want to. And because you deserve it. I love you more than anything, Dale Frye. And I’m going to start showing you just how much.”

Dale smiled, releasing a tear that had been trembling in the corner of her eye. “Wow. That’s a pretty big promise, Ariadne.”

“I’m not scared of it. Come on… let’s go home. I think you mentioned something about dessert.”

Dale took Ari’s hand, squeezing it as they walked back to where she had parked.

#

They went back to Dale’s apartment, where Ari made Dale wait in the kitchen while she went into the bedroom to prepare. Dale took off her shoes, enjoying the cold kitchen tile through her stockings, and peered into the fridge. She had always wondered about people who used food during sex but was Valentine’s the right time to experiment? If not then, when? She found a bear-shaped container of honey and checked it to see if there was an expiration date on it. Could honey expire? It wasn’t worth the risk.

Dale left the fridge when she heard the bedroom door open. She smiled, but the expression froze on her face when she saw how Ari had prepared. She didn’t mean to speak, but the word slipped out of her mouth on an exhale as sharp as if she had been hit in the stomach.

“Ariadne.”

“Too much?”

Dale crossed the room slowly so she had time to take in the whole view. Ariadne never-wear-a-dress Willow, a tomboy whose idea of lingerie was silk shorts and a tank top, was wearing a teddy. Black, lacy, cut high on the thighs and low in the chest, sheer over her stomach…

“No. Just enough. Ari, you’re so beautiful.”

Ari’s relief was evident. She took Dale into her arms. “I bought it today. I wanted to treat you right.” She bowed her head and captured Dale’s lips, turning to press her against the wall. Dale whimpered helplessly and moved her hands to Ari’s shoulders.

“Do it.”

“What?” Ari asked.

“Whatever you want.”

Ari shivered and kissed her again. Dale sucked the tip of Ari’s tongue, remembering all the times she had thought about being with Ari. It had been one of her most shameful, and most frequent, fantasies. For so long she declared Ari untouchable, out of reach and off limits. Despite the awful circumstances that finally brought them together, Dale knew it was more than just a reaction to their life-threatening situation. She was meant to be with Ari, and Ari was meant to be with her. She didn’t know what had prompted Ari’s confessional in the street, but her heart had swelled until she was sure it would burst through her dress.

“Wait… wait…”

Ari withdrew, kissing both corners of Dale’s mouth and taking away her breath for another moment. “What? Should I stop?”

“Stop and I’ll literally murder you. But pause.” She swallowed. “What you said on the street…”

“Yeah?”

“I hope you know that I’ve always felt the same way. I’ve loved you for years, Ari. You were my best friend, and you were someone who made me feel safe and loved and wanted. You gave me a life. I fell in love with you as a friend and after that it was just a short step to being your lover. I’ve never thought you were straddling a line or giving me any less than your best. And as for making up for whatever you think you owe me? Ari, I owe you. Because I have a life I love. I have the woman I love. And that’s all I care about.”

Ari smiled and kissed her again, and Dale moaned into the kiss. She turned her head to the side and Ari’s lips slid over her cheek to her neck. Dale squirmed and stroked Ari’s strong back through the thin material of her lingerie. “I meant it. Do whatever you want.”

Ari shivered and took a step back, her hands still on Dale’s hips as she sank down. Dale anticipated what she was going to do and gasped. She rolled her head back and flattened one hand against the wall, curling the other around the back of Ari’s head. Ari reached under the dress without looking and pulled down first her stockings, then her underwear. Dale whimpered and stared at the ceiling, holding her breath until Ari’s tongue touched her.

“Puppy!” Ari pulled her head away and Dale pushed her forward again. “Don’t stop.”

Ari brought up two fingers to part Dale’s folds, pressing the flat of her tongue against Dale’s clit as she rubbed the sensitive pink flesh with her knuckles.

Dale made a noise that she could only classify as a keening wail, slapping one hand against the wall as the other pulled Ari’s hair. She pressed down as Ari craned her neck up, her tongue slipping inside as Dale shuddered and gasped the crest of her orgasm. Her bottom lip trembled, her eyebrows knit together, and she said, simply and softly, “Oh-oh…”

Ari stayed where she was, the dress draping her head, until the tension faded from Dale’s thighs. Then she stretched, moving slowly up Dale’s body and brushing her cheeks and lips against the curves she passed. When she was standing she bent her knees so that her face was lined up with Dale’s, their lips touching when Ari spoke.

“Do you know why I don’t like going down on you in the morning?”

“Un-unh.”

“Kiss me.”

Dale didn’t think about the apparent subject change; she kissed Ari hungrily, flicking her tongue against Ari’s teeth before letting Ari’s tongue into her mouth. Ari flicked her tongue against Dale’s top lip when she broke the kiss.

“Taste that?”

“Yeah…”

“That’s you. And it doesn’t matter how much I wash my face, the wolf smells it. She smells you on my lips and tongue all day after I’ve made you come. And it drives her crazy. And it’s all I can do to keep from throwing you down on the couch in my office and taking you.”

“Well… i-if it’s a slow day…”

Ari smiled and moved her hands down to Dale’s ass. She squeezed and pulled Dale’s hips roughly against hers. Dale gasped and then chuckled approvingly.

“But at night… I love going to sleep with you being the only thing I can smell. Or taste. Or feel.” She pecked the corners of Dale’s mouth four times in such quick succession that Dale was left breathless for the full-on kiss that followed it. She swooned and Ari held her up, fingers wrinkling the dress where she was holding on. “I never knew I could get addicted to a scent.” She licked Dale’s lips and Dale brushed her palms around Ari’s hips.

“I may not be a wolf, but you smell mighty fine to me, too.”

Ari grinned. Her bangs were in her eyes, caught on the lashes, and in the darkness Dale thought she could see elements of the wolf in them: the blues flecked with gold, set in dark shadows that seemed to spread to either side like a bandit’s mask, her breath harsh but controlled.

“I love that I make you an animal.”

Ari grinned, bestial and human at the same time, and she leaned in. Her lips were soft against Dale’s ear, her breath warm.

“Tame me.”

Dale pushed away from the wall, walking Ari toward their bedroom. Her stockings and panties were still around her knees, hobbling her, but she didn’t have very far to go. Ari let herself be guided, never breaking eye contact even when her elbow impacted the doorframe.

“Sorry.”

“Sh, don’t worry about it.” She glanced back to confirm where the bed was and sat down. She scooted back and watched as Dale unzipped her dress and let it fall, bending down to remove her stockings and underwear before she unhooked her bra and tossed it away. Ari leaned back, propped up on her elbows, and spread her legs. “Very nice, Ms. Frye.”

“Thank you, Miss Willow.” She knelt on the bed between Ari’s knees and stretched forward to kiss her. When Dale ran her hand along the inside of her thigh, Ari lifted her hips and thrust her tongue into Dale’s mouth. Dale moaned as she knelt on the edge of the bed, pushing aside the crotch of Ari’s teddy and stroking the wet flesh underneath. Ari growled low in her throat.

“I like it when you growl.”

“Rwor,” Ari said, faking a bark as she nipped at Dale’s nose.

Dale chuckled and moved her leg to straddle Ari’s thigh. She settled, thrust her hips forward, and Ari rose to meet her. They made similar sounds of approval and Ari reached up to brush the flyaway hair from Dale’s face.

“Beautiful.”

“I love you, Ariadne.”

Ari smiled and moved her hands to Dale’s ass, gripping and guiding her in a slow rhythm. Dale touched Ari’s face, two fingers under her eye and her thumb on Ari’s bottom lip. Ari took Dale’s thumb into her mouth and sucked on it as she let Dale set the pace.

“I love you. I love you. I love you…”

Ari laughed. “Baby, I know…”

“I want to be saying it when I come again.” She gasped and continued her repetition, bowing forward so that her head was on Ari’s shoulder. Her voice caught on the last few words, trembling through “love” and turning “you” into a gasp until her hand tightened on Ari’s shoulder. “I love… you… Ariadne…”

Ari closed her eyes and came with a quiet shudder, holding Dale tight as they bucked against each other. Dale finally lifted her head, eyes covered by a veil of her hair, her skin hot to the touch. She licked her lips, tasting the sweat there, and smiled.

“Well who knew? Apparently I love Valentine’s Day.”

“Me too.” She kissed Dale and flipped her so that she was on the bottom, pinning her to the mattress. Dale found Ari’s hand to link their fingers together, looking up into Ari’s eyes with a dazed smile. Dale reached up and tucked Ari’s hair behind her ear so it wasn’t falling in her face, and she turned it into a caress of Ari’s cheek.

“I don’t know why you told Bryn you had to balance anything, Ari. What we have? It’s balanced just fine.”

“I see that now.” She breathed deeply and shuddered.

“Did you smell me?”

“Yeah. It’s all over the room.”

“I had no idea you could smell me so acutely.”

Ari lifted a shoulder. “Sometimes I can block it out. But in this case I don’t want to.” She slid her knees further down the bed, settling on top of Dale. They kissed as Dale ran her fingers through the strands of Ari’s hair, her petting becoming less and less strong as she fell asleep.

“Hey.”

Ari’s voice was so soft Dale was almost able to ignore it and continue her descent into unconsciousness. But her eyes flicked open and turned to look in Ari’s direction. “Mm?”

“Did you call me puppy earlier?”

Dale chuckled. “Yes, puppy. Like we call grown people baby when we’re being cute… a grown wolf is a puppy. You’re my puppy. It’s not good?”

“No… it’s good. I like it.” She kissed Dale’s lips. “I’ll be your puppy.”

“Mm. Good. Night, puppy. Happy Valentine’s Day…”

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Ari kissed her one more time and settled her head on Dale’s shoulder. Dale sighed contentedly as she drifted off as well.

Permanent link to this article: http://underdogs.geonncannon.com/cat-tails/

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