Lauren wished she could determine where she had misplaced her professionalism. She couldn’t seem to reach for her facts—her defenses—even though she could define it, what was happening to her.
“I know what you’re doing,” she said, already aware that the information would not help help her. For her, knowledge had always come at a price.
It was why she valued it as much as she did.
She had spent years honing her observational skills, and they rarely failed her. Even now, as she fell prey to seduction, she was not fooled by the sweetness of the Fae’s expression. She could see the edges of Bo’s smile. Such knowledge might hurt, if circumstances had been...different. But it was also useful. She knew what it meant. It meant she was being manipulated, being used. It meant that...
“Do you want me to stop?”
...she could see the rest of her afternoon. Her hand continuing the path it had traced earlier; her fingertips finishing their entirely unprofessional exploration of the other woman’s skin. Her breath caught at the challenge such an opportunity presented. She could be the first to survive. She could be the first one to...
“No,” Lauren said quietly...but there was no way she wanted this to end here. She hadn’t wanted anything this much, solely for herself, in a very long time.
Lauren realized that the succubus didn’t know the half of what she was offering—more than enough to make up for whatever Lauren could synthesize for the specimen standing in front of her. Calmly, she reached out to take Bo’s proffered hand. It didn’t matter if her breath quickened as she did so. She was in this for the science. For the chemistry.
And then Dyson walked in the door.
A brief pause, then Lauren looked down to hide her weakness. Only now did she fully recognize the extent of the breach she had allowed. Logic, her customary companion, reasserted itself, and she knew that she had already risked more for this woman than was prudent, given their respective situations.
“Sorry,” Bo said, shrugging. “I had to try.”
Lauren murmured a response, nothing she would be able to recollect later. She still couldn’t quite look at Dyson, but she couldn’t make herself feel sorry.
It had been very informative.
2. Vinegar and Malts
“You know,” Bo said, throwing herself down on the bar stool beside Lauren, “Kenzi keeps warning me that you might not be a real doctor.”
“Oh?” Lauren didn’t pause to wait for an answer, just smoothly tipped back her shot. Kenzi was hardly her biggest fan, but she doubted that the younger woman took issue with her medical qualifications.
“Yeah.” Bo smiled at Trick and held up two fingers before turning back to Lauren. “And I gotta say, I think she might have a point.”
Bo leaned forward as she finished speaking, her dark hair slipping over her shoulders. Lauren would have been tempted to reach out and brush it back, if she hadn’t been distracted by the new view offered her by Bo’s low-cut, fitted vest. She quickly shifted her attention back to Bo’s face, but she knew she had been caught staring. There was no way Bo could have missed...
A smug smiled confirmed Lauren’s suspicions.
“Tell me...” Bo let one of her hands drop to rest on the bar, her fingers lightly touching an arm of Lauren’s brown leather jacket. “How many doctors make a habit of meeting with patients in bars?”
“I really don’t know. I suppose it would depend.”
Lauren made herself wait for a reaction before she continued, the noise from the Dal bleeding back into her awareness as she feigned interest in her surroundings.
When Bo raised an eyebrow, Lauren knew her challenge was accepted. “On?”
“The number of doctors who have patients better equipped to heal themselves in bars than medical facilities.”
“Better equipped?” Bo lowered her gaze, and Lauren tried not flush as their usual roles reversed and she became the subject of examination.
“Yes,” she said.
Bo’s grip tightened on Lauren’s jacket as she leaned in even closer. “What can I get here that I wouldn’t be able to get there?”
Lauren felt torn at Bo’s stare, the slow smile. She felt...pleased. She felt confused. The last time they had come here together, Bo hadn’t wanted...
Before Lauren could figure out how to answer, Trick was back, sliding two shots in front of them.
“You, of all people, should be aware that this is neutral territory, Bo,” he said. “There might be some healing in that, wouldn’t you say?”
As Trick moved to deal with other patrons, he offered Lauren an amused look, yet another of his actions that she couldn’t neatly file away. She had never understood why he was willing to treat her as nothing less than Fae. However, in the last five years, she had learned to accept kindness where it could be found—even if she frequently spent those few moments she labeled free time investigating its source.
For now, she took the drink Bo offered her without question.
“To neutral territory,” Bo said. “May it be prove to be the perfect medicine.”
Lauren tilted back the shot, though it did not go down as smoothly as the first one. She wasn’t sure about the undercurrent she thought she heard in Bo’s voice.
“Speaking of medicine,” she said, “have you been-”
Bo’s words were a provocation, edging into criticism. Lauren had become so adept at controlling herself, her emotions, that she almost despised herself, but her ability to separate her mind from her surroundings had its benefits—she avoided pulling away from Bo. However, despite her best efforts, her body stiffened, and Bo’s hand immediately moved down to grasp Lauren’s own.
“I’m sorry,” Bo said softly. “I’m grateful, Lauren. Really.”
“Which means what, exactly, in regards to your medication?”
“I take everything you give me.”
Lauren had used guilt as a motivator with patients before, but she knew she wouldn’t use it again with Bo. In her own defense, all her research—past and present—indicated that Bo was the exception to the norm. Lauren had never really expected to encounter a succubus, much less one with a conscience, and she kept falling back on old sources of information, even when they conflicted with her own first-hand observations.
She found this habit disquieting. It wasn’t like her to ignore new data. But with Bo, she constantly felt the need to ground herself—to contextualize the other woman’s behavior. With Bo, Lauren needed a standard point of reference.
Except there was none, not even on a personal level. It had been a long time since someone had trusted Lauren so completely. As foreign as it now seemed, Lauren could still recognize the value of it, and the knowledge made her almost shy.
She brushed some hair back from her face. “Perhaps you should take a look around,” she said. “You can-”
“Are you about to suggest an experiment, Doctor?”
Lauren shrugged, her eye-roll an acknowledgement of her own predictability, even as she found herself responding to Bo’s playful smile. One reason Lauren loved spending time with Bo was that she didn’t seem to mind when Lauren traded small-talk for science. In fact, sometimes it seemed-
“Maybe we should go back to your lab.”
Lauren wondered if she would ever be able to keep up with the direction of Bo’s thoughts. She thought they had already settled this.
“Why?” she asked. “Our present location provides more opportunities for an effective test of your self-control.”
“I think you give yourself too little credit.”
Once again, Lauren was rendered speechless—but she no longer felt shy. Tilting her head to the side, she studied Bo and did what she did best. She waited.
“I don’t know if I want to do this here,” Bo finally muttered. “We should wait until-”
“We get back to the lab? What will happen then?” Lauren felt no surprise when Bo didn’t answer. “You can’t avoid this forever, Bo,” she said. “It’s not only about the danger you pose to others—you need to do this for yourself.”
“Does it have to be here?” Bo squirmed. “Everyone is so...bright.”
Lauren frowned, not understanding Bo’s reluctance to remain in the Dal. It hadn’t seemed to bother her the last time they had been here. As a matter of fact, Bo had been more confident about her powers than Lauren had ever see her, still flushed with her victory of having a steady diet without-
“Have you been feeding?” Lauren asked abruptly. Bo’s continued silence gave her answer, and Lauren wondered what had happened with Dyson this time. She ignored the part of herself that wanted to ask, not trusting her own motivations.
“You can do this, Bo.” she said instead, both because it was true and because Bo was going to need to be able to manage in places like these, even when she was hungry. “Think of it as field work.”
“Are you saying you have a job for me, Doc?”
Lauren tried not to let the distraction work, tried to control her response to the flirting as she had been controlling her reactions all night. Taking a deep breath, she motioned to Trick for another round before she fixed Bo with a steady look.
“You know, Bo, someday you’re going to have to make good on those promises.”
For a moment, tell-tale signs of blue tinted the brown of Bo’s eyes, and Lauren thought they might end up leaving the bar after all. The tension between them spiked—but when Trick set drinks on the bar in front of them, Bo jerked back from Lauren as if she had been caught in an indecent act.
Lauren waited until he left and they finished their shots before reaching back out to her. “It’s okay,” she said, touching Bo’s knee, trying to reassure her. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Nothing wrong? You’ve researched me, Lauren. You know better than anyone that what I’ve just made you aren’t promises. They’re threats.”
“Are they? I thought you didn’t worry about your ability to perform.”
“I...” Bo looked so non-plussed that Lauren couldn’t help laughing. “I’m glad you find this funny,” Bo grumbled. Despite the way she was avoiding looking directly at Lauren, Bo couldn’t completely hide her expression, and Lauren was relieved to see the slight upward curve of the other woman’s lips.
“I’m not to going to lie to you, Bo.” Lauren toyed with one of the glasses on the bar to give them both something to focus on, to give Bo a semblance of space. “I’m still learning about your capabilities. But everything I’ve learned so far has pointed to one conclusion about what you are.”
“Yeah?” Bo looked up, her expression wary. “And what am I?”
Lauren held her gaze. “Extraordinary.”
She saw Bo’s face soften and knew she had been understood. Neither of them looked away from each other as Bo absorbed what Lauren hadn’t needed to say.
You don’t scare me.
Lauren heard footsteps and could immediately identify who now stood behind her. Not that it mattered—she had to finish her task first before she could socialize.
Unfortunately for her, the lab’s most frequent visitor these days had as much knowledge of patience as she had about the finer points of Fae history. Thirty seconds after her entrance, Bo got tired of waiting.
“What are you doing?”
Lauren didn’t look up from her work. “I’m adding some bicarbonate to this solution before I dispose of the waste.” She tried to keep her voice level as she spoke and not let bitterness creep into her response, but she wasn’t sure if she entirely succeeded.
This clean up shouldn’t have been her responsibility, but one of the lab techs had left a mess for her again. Whatever their feelings towards humans, the Fae techs didn’t usually pull these types of stunts—but Carl was distantly related to the Ash. Lauren might still have censored him, but she was keeping a low profile these days in the hope that the Ash might not learn about her lessons with Bo.
“Are you talking dirty to me?”
“What?” Lauren looked up out of reflex, unable to process how Bo could have viewed her responses as anything other than appropriate. “No, I-”
“Joke, Lauren,” Bo interrupted.
“I...I see.” Lauren could see it now, but had no desire to respond in kind. “Do you need something?” she asked, returning her attention to the solution in front of her.
“No...” Bo hesitated, and Lauren could hear the soft creak of leather as the other woman shifted on her feet. “I was in the neighborhood and I thought...”
“That’s not why I’m here.”
Lauren didn’t know whether to feel pleased that Bo had immediately understood her or just plain tired of it all. “Isn’t it?”
“No?” Lauren felt Bo’s fingertips lightly brush her shoulders, the strongest of the powers the succubus would use on her. It wasn’t quite enough. “When did you stop seeing him?”
A pause. Then, reluctantly, “Yesterday.”
This time Lauren couldn’t hide the bitterness that welled up inside her. “I see.”
Bo waited a few minutes in silence, but when Lauren didn’t offer anything else, her impatience won out again, as Lauren knew it would. “Maybe I should go...”
Lauren almost let her get to the lab’s entrance before she caved.
“Bo?” Lauren didn’t turn around, but she knew Bo had stopped. “Dyson called earlier.” It’s how Lauren had known the Fae couple had split up—he never needed provocation—not with her—but he had cut deep this time, even for him. “He told me that there might be a case coming your way.”
“Call me when you need me,” she said simply, and when she finally looked at Bo, she felt herself share in the relief that the other woman tried so hard to hide.
4. Blue Bottled
Lauren rummaged through the kitchen drawers and suppressed a frustrated sigh. Not for the first time this morning, she wished that she and Bo could have spent the night in her own apartment. It might be sterile and showcase her preference for function over form—her personal filing system in and of itself would provide untold fodder for Kenzi’s diatribes—but at least she could find the utensils in her kitchen.
She looked around at the disaster surrounding her—the dishes strewn about the counters, the scuffed floor, the lack of walls—and admitted to herself that this clutter was starting to feel like home.
Her search finally ended when she found a spatula wedged between two pizza boxes and a basket of laundry. As she began sliding cookies off the still-warm pan, she heard the thump of combat boots on the floor above her and knew she would soon have company.
“...I did not need to hear that.” Kenzi’s words echoed down to her, and Lauren paused in her task to listen.
“What? We were quiet.”
“Bo-Bo, you’re totally my bestie and I love you-”
The sound of water running prevented Lauren from hearing Kenzi’s next words, but she could hypothesize their content. She smiled self-deprecatingly. She had managed to spare a thought last night to be grateful for the lack of neighbors, but she had been too distracted to dwell on the possibility that there might not also be a lack of Kenzi.
“-I get that you’re all creature of the night—but do you always have to play with your food?”
“You play with yours.”
“Oh, you did not just compare your Happy Meals to my movie snacks.”
Lauren’s gaze drifted upwards, tracking the path of the footsteps above her, the voices moving in the direction of the stairs.
“Uh, yeah, I did. I never knew that anyone could get that into animal crackers.”
“They were thematic! I only played with the animals that were showing onscreen.”
“Kenzi, it sounded like a circus had moved in here.”
Lauren could see the two of them now, as they stopped at the foot of the stairs. To her bemusement, neither of them acknowledged her. She knew Bo, at least, was aware of her presence, but she didn’t think Kenzi had even noticed the cookies.
“You’re complaining? I have to kill zombie hookers to drown out your hunger games. Do you hear me? Your feeding style is not casualty-free. Zombie hookers are dying.” Kenzi flexed her hand and shot the Xbox a dirty look. “Last night I finished off so many of those bitches that my fingers cramped.”
At Bo’s sudden grin, Kenzi paused, obviously re-playing her last statement in her head. She held up a hand. “Do not comment.”
“Wasn’t gonna touch it.”
“Ha ha.” Kenzi scowled. “Those zombies lost out on an apocalypse for you.”
“Well, I appreciate their sacrifice,” Bo said. “And yours,” she added when Kenzi’s only reaction was to cross her arms over her tightly-corseted chest.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Kenzi said judiciously. She glanced up at Bo, her expression becoming wicked. “So, who was it?”
“Who was what?”
“Your midnight snack. The source of last night’s delicate lady whimpers.” Kenzi reached up to pat Bo’s shoulder. “I’m so proud of you,” she said. “I knew you’d find yourself another chiquita to get over the good Doc.”
“You don’t have to say anything more. You’re leaving the Ice Queen to Sleeping Beauty and moving on in the best way possible—under someone else. I get that.”
“No, you don’t.” Bo’s gaze flickered towards Lauren, and Lauren immediately felt herself respond to the glance. In point of fact, Bo had spent quite a lot of time-
“Kenzi, when Lauren crashed here on our couch last week, it wasn’t because we were fighting-”
Kenzi threw up her hands. “Whatever, dude. I’m just glad that was one sleepover that didn’t end with a bang-”
“-but a whimper?” As Lauren became the sudden center of attention, she offered her petite, dark-haired critic a bright smile. “Good morning, Kenzi.”
“Uh...yeah.” Kenzi turned back to Bo. “Did she just make a joke?” she mock-whispered behind her hand.
“I’m pretty sure she did,” Bo said as she reached out to take the cup of coffee Lauren held out to her.
Kenzi looked mildly impressed. “Damn. Who knew you could melt that...” At Bo’s raised eyebrow, she finished, somewhat lamely, “...heart.”
“I keep telling her she’s extraordinary,” Lauren said as she handed Kenzi her cup of coffee. She couldn’t help enjoying Kenzi’s pained look, even though it only lasted until the younger woman took the first sip of her drink.
“What the honeypot?” Kenzi looked around. “Mumfie?” When there was no response, she looked back at Lauren suspiciously. “Where is he? Did you send him away?” Her expression turned horrified. “He came back and you offended him by taking all the fun out of his work! I bet you tried to show him-”
“Kenzi,” Bo said, “I’m sure Lauren didn’t-”
“I made the coffee. By myself.”
Kenzi clutched the cup to herself protectively. When she finally spoke, her words were almost plaintive. “I don’t understand.”
Lauren smiled again. For once, she could appreciate Kenzi’s confusion. “I treated a Brownie a few years ago. As an expression of his gratitude, he taught me a few house-keeping tips.” Lauren motioned in the direction of the apparatus she had brought with her the night before. “It’s not very difficult, really. As long as you have a brewing method that allows for precise pressure control, and you understand the correct ratio of-”
Kenzi held up a hand. “Don’t ruin this for me.”
“Hey,” Bo protested. “Some of us were enjoying...listening.” She offered Lauren a slow smile, full of promise, and for a moment Lauren forgot that-
“Slow down there, Succuface,” Kenzi said. “You still owe me for last night.”
“Meaning?” Bo asked, reluctantly looking away from Lauren.
“Meaning there needs to be less talking and more...” Kenzi paused as she finally noticed the plate on the counter space behind Lauren. “Cookies!”
Lauren stepped to the side to give Kenzi room to approach the baked goods. “I made them for you,” she said. “I wanted to say thank you for letting me stay here—for dealing with Lachlan.”
Kenzi gave her an incredulous look. “So you made cookies?”
“When I stayed here previously, you indicated that you liked them.” Lauren shrugged, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “It seemed like a reasonable choice...”
Bo and Kenzi exchanged glances, and Kenzi nodded.
“I’m beginning to see why you like her.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Kenzi seemed to regret the compliment. Keeping her mug of coffee gripped tightly in one hand, she turned and grabbed as many cookies as she could hold with the other.
“I’m out,” she said around a mouthful of cookie as she headed toward the door.
“Don’t play with your food,” Bo called after her.
The comment earned Bo an obscene gesture, a feat Lauren found unusually impressive given the amount of juggling it required. Kenzi barely slowed as she managed the door, and then there was only two of them, and it seemed very quiet.
Needing to be busy, Lauren started cleaning the kitchen, separating her utensils out from the clutter and packing them in the bag she had brought with her.
After a moment, Bo moved to stand behind her, fingertips touching her waist. “You were up early this morning,” she said.
Lauren tilted her head downward, her hair curtaining the side of her face. “Finally, I’m the first one out of bed.”
“You don’t have to sound so pleased about it. We could have-”
“Are you hungry?”
It wasn’t an innocent question, and Lauren felt the awkwardness of the silence that followed it. But after watching Bo struggle yet again last night, she had come to a decision. She refused to continue to say nothing.
“I don’t want to use you like that,” Bo said stubbornly.
Lauren turned to face her. “Don’t you think that last night filled a need for me?”
“Lauren...” Bo’s expression softened as she reached out again, this time touching Lauren’s face. “You’re the first human I’ve ever...” Her finger traced Lauren’s cheek, and when she continued, her voice was low. “You gave that to me.” She moved even further into Lauren’s personal space, pushing her back into the counter.
When Lauren automatically shifted to take advantage of their new position, hands reaching up to tangle in Bo’s hair, thigh shifting forwards, Bo smiled. “I want this to be about us,” she said as she leaned down and initiated a kiss.
Lauren made a vague sound of approval, the noise amplified in the silence of clubhouse. She didn’t let it bother her; she was long past feeling self-conscious by the strength of her responses to Bo. They had both been surprised by this—whatever it was—between them.
She felt herself shaking as she relinquished her grip on Bo’s hair, but her fingers were confident as she started to undo the tie of Bo’s silk robe.
Without warning, Bo ended the kiss, reaching out to brace herself on the countertop with her hands. “I don’t think I can...”
Lauren understood and simply rested her forehead against Bo’s, waiting until they had both calmed before she stated the obvious. “Bo, you need to feed.”
Bo pulled back to study her. Upon seeing Lauren’s resolve, she closed her eyes in defeat. “It’s not the same thing.”
“Will you be here when I get back?”
“I have to get back to the compound.” Bo averted her eyes and took a step back, but Lauren kept ahold of the sash of her robe, not letting her pull away. “But I can bring today’s lab results here this evening if you want to review them.”
“Deal,” Bo said as she grabbed the carafe off the counter and poured them each another cup of coffee.
5. Red Wine
“I have a hypothesis.”
Bo groaned. “Not more science, Lauren. I get that it’s your thing, but...”
“I know,” Lauren said, leaning her head back onto Bo’s shoulder.
It had been a long night—they had been working on the couch for hours before they curled up together. A shared bottle of wine and make-out session later, and Lauren finally felt relaxed enough to ignore the purpose of the cure they had been trying so hard to find. She knew that Bo had felt the shift in her, and that it had given the succubus something of a one-track mind.
Lauren understood. It was what led her to...
“I have a hypothesis,” she repeated as she reached over her her shoulder to hand Bo the glass of wine they were sharing.
Bo treated herself to a long drink before answering. “You want to test something.” At Lauren’s nod, she seemed torn between disbelief and curiosity. “Now?”
“What is it?” When Lauren hesitated, Bo looked even more intrigued. “Lauren?”
Lauren took the glass of wine back from Bo and finished it. She carefully set the glass on the coffee table; then, with the same determined, precise movements, she leaned back to speak, low and slow, into Bo’s ear. She felt Bo shudder.
“We don’t have to test that.” Bo’s voice shook slightly. “I already know...”
She lapsed into silence, seeming to expect a response, but Lauren merely tilted her head to the side. Waiting.
“It only makes me hungrier.”
Lauren had suspected as much. Calmly, she extricated herself from Bo’s embrace and stood. When she held out her hand, she could tell Bo recognized the determination in her expression.
“I’ll have to feed afterwards.”
“I know.” Lauren’s hand remained steady. “Do you trust me?”
Bo didn’t answer with words; she just took the outstretched hand.
6. Aqua Regia
Bo watched as Lauren kissed Nadia. Despite the passion of their caresses, the doctor’s hands were as careful with each touch as when she performed her physicals. It was clear, even as Lauren pushed Nadia further back onto the table that she was afraid the other woman would break again.
Bo’s breath caught as she turned away. It was harder than she had imagined, seeing them together. She was too familiar with the experience—she had first felt Lauren’s hands while sitting on an examination table.
She didn’t even know if Lauren had meant it, then. If she had figured it out.
After their first night together, Bo had never had the courage to ask.
Her stride lengthening, she remembered Lauren the other evening. The outstretched hand, the lack of fear—
It was an answer. Lauren’s answer.
But Bo wished she had gotten the chance to ask the question.