Actions

Work Header

The House

Chapter Text

Chapter One


"Someone will be right with you," a cold voice echoed through the small reception room. It belonged to an equally cold-looking blonde woman, her hair pulled back into a tight french braid, the style complementing the white leather outfit she wore.

"Yeah, NYPD, actually, I'm not here for a... session."

Denna's head snapped up to the detective, who was flashing her badge. "Did you not hear me?" she asked, irritated at the blatant disregard for her words.

If her voice had been cold before, now it was icy. "NYPD," Beckett repeated, not pleased either. "I heard you fine. Did you hear me? I'm a homicide detective, I'm here to speak to the owner of this... business." She couldn't help the sarcasm that crept into her own tone at calling the House a business.

Enraged, but not up for an arrest at the moment, Denna ignored her and flashed her key card to slip into the back before she wrung the woman's neck. Her fingers ached to wrap around that slender throat and choke the life out of the insolent detective.

Mal looked up from her seat at the computer, raising an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Maleficent," Denna growled. "Go take care of it."

"What exactly am I taking care of?" Mal asked, rising to her feet and stepping toward Denna.

"There's a detective here."

Maleficent waited for more. When nothing more was forthcoming, she twirled a finger in the air with an expectant look on her face. "And?"

"And what?" Denna snapped, disappearing into her private room and slamming the door.

With a sigh and a small snicker, Mal shook her head and emerged into the reception area. Upon seeing the gorgeous detective, her eyebrow shot back up. "My," she drawled softly, pulling the woman's attention from the tastefully colorful art adorning the walls. "Are you sure you're in the right place?"

Kate grinned and extended a hand to the woman, showing her badge. "Detective Beckett, NYPD. Are you the owner of the place?"

"More like a manager."

"I really need to speak with the owner, unless you're authorized to give me what I need." As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted them.

Maleficent purred, her eyes closing halfway as she stepped closer to the detective. "I assure you, I am authorized to give you anything you need."

Kate shifted her stance awkwardly and smiled to mask her discomfort. "Right. Well. What I need is information. On a Danny Bowes."

"And who might that be?" If the detective wanted information, she would have to do a little work to get it. Maleficent, of course, knew exactly who that was. She knew the name, social security number, marital status, and anything else you could ever want or need to know about every single client that came through the House. Giving out that information, however, was another story.

"You may be used to manipulating people, but I'm a detective and I'm not here to fuck around," Beckett said, unamused at the woman's antics. "Was he a client of yours?"

Maleficent let her eyes deliberately roam the woman's body, from top to bottom, and back to top. "I prefer the fairer sex," she said with a smile of her own. "And if you want to know anything about our clients, I will need to see a court order."

Of course that frustrated Beckett, but it was nothing she wasn't used to. "Fine. Don't try to hide any evidence in the meantime."

"Evidence of what?"

"Danny Bowes was killed three blocks from here. All he had on him was a business card. I'm sure you can guess which business."

Maleficent's eyes would have widened, but for the fact that she had well trained herself not to show emotion unless deliberately. As such, her face remained impassive. "As you know, Detective Beckett, I am not in the business of hiding evidence, but that of exploiting it. Please see yourself to the door."

--

"He was what?" Regina asked, her face falling, hand stilling with mascara wand in mid-air. The rest of her face was already painted - she always saved mascara for last. Plush red lips formed a pout as she turned away from the mirror to stare at Maleficent. "Are you joking? It's a bad joke."

"Of course I am not joking, silly girl," Maleficent said with a slight scowl. "Pick up your sentimentality and store it away in a box, if you please. He was a disgusting pig."

"He was actually pretty nice," Regina corrected with a scowl of her own. "You wouldn't know, now, would you?"

"I don't see how you can debase yourself with men," Mal said with a shudder, the last word tasting like venom on her tongue.

"Just like you debase yourself with women," Regina replied, turning back to the mirror and finishing the application of mascara, until her lashes were sufficiently thick and black. "There's no difference."

"Oh my dear girl, that's where you're wrong. So very wrong. The differences could fill an abyss. You have never seen a female client here at the House. Have you seen any elsewhere?"

Regina pursed her lips for a moment, then gave a slight shake of her head. "No."

"And yet, I have seen both genders in my long-winded career. Which of the two of us is qualified to make the distinction, or lack thereof?"

Regina huffed quietly and blinked a few times, drying the paint on her eyelashes, and when she turned to leave, she almost collided with Maleficent, who had somehow managed to approach without her noticing. An eyebrow lifted as she realized the blonde woman had deliberately placed herself between Regina and the room's exit. She didn't bother trying to skirt around her boss.

"Were I to ask a rhetorical question, I would permit you to shoot me through the skull," she said dryly. "It will not happen. Any question I ask demands an answer. Actual and spoken aloud. You are not exempt from that requirement."

Regina rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. "Obviously, you are older and more experienced," she said, drawing out the word 'older' to be sure it was interpreted as the insult it was meant to be. "I suppose you are more qualified to make the distinction, if one of us must." If Maleficent weren't her boss, she would have told her where to stick it. But she needed this job, and it paid rewardingly.

Maleficent let out a soft, dark chuckle, and condescendingly tapped Regina's cheek with the flat of her hand. "I knew I hired you for a reason. Being unconditionally worshipped starts to wear on the soul."

Somehow that was little comfort to Regina and she snorted. "If I didn't like this job..." she threatened.

"I know dear, I know. You say that to me at least once a week."

"Who killed him?" Regina suddenly changed the subject.

"Well I have no idea," Maleficent said, brow furrowed.

"The police didn't tell you?"

"I would assume the police don't know, and that's why they were here," Maleficent said, as if Regina were a little bit slow.

"Do they think I have something to do with it? Why would they come here?"

"I really don't know what they think, dear," Maleficent said with a sigh. "Perhaps you'd like to speak to the detective. Though you'll have to wait until she comes back with a court order."

"Would you please send her to speak to me when she returns?"

"I have better things to do than keep your schedule for you. If you want to speak to her, then pay attention to when she's here."

"And I'm supposed to know this, how?"

"I'm not concerned with the how, dear. I'm sure you can figure that out."

"Why are you such a bitch?" Regina couldn't help asking, and then groaned, leaning back to stare at the ceiling.

"Years of practice," Maleficent said with a wink, and slipped out of Regina's room, closing the door gently behind her.

--

Ruby's favorite client never spoke a word, aside from 'hello, Ms. Lucas' or 'yes Ma'am' or 'no Ma'am'. She had literally never said anything else in the two years Ruby had been seeing her. It was strange, but Ruby didn't mind. She did have to admit curiosity about the woman, though. Due to online session booking, she hadn't had to ask face to face about limits or anything like that. The questionnaire was more than thorough; it left no room for ambiguity, so there was never a need to converse about it. And the woman had always booked anonymously, so Ruby didn't even know her name. She had never asked, but she didn't think she'd get an answer anyway.

Jasmine stepped into the room and bowed her head, clasping her hands behind her back. "Hello, Ms. Lucas."

"Hello," Ruby said with a bright smile, crossing to close the door behind her client and slip the deadbolt into place. And before she could contain herself, she blurted out unceremoniously, "What's your name? I never know what to call you!"

Jasmine raised an eyebrow but remained silent, staring at the floor. She liked Ms. Lucas well enough, but she was not here to form any bonds.

Ruby waited, her lips pressed together tightly in anticipation, but when her client didn't answer, she exhaled all the pent-up air in one quick puff. "Sorry. Take your clothes off," she said instead, reverting to the familiar.

"Yes, Ma'am," Jasmine said, slowly stripping off her clothes one by one and folding them neatly, making a pile beside the door.

Ruby tried not to be disappointed, because that would be more unprofessional than any of the other unprofessional things she usually did. "Do you trust me?"

That was an odd question, and Garza wasn't quite sure how to answer, if she was honest with herself. She trusted Ms. Lucas implicitly in many ways, but suddenly there was a part of her that didn't trust the woman at all, given this new and unfamiliar aspect being added to the session. Shit. How was she supposed to convey all that without a conversation? A conversation she was uncomfortable having.

Ruby watched and waited, knowing she was pushing it, and bit her lip as the silence stretched on. Finally she saw her client roll her shoulders into a shrug. Unable to contain a grunt of annoyance, she picked up her client's favorite whip and moved behind her. "Fine."

It was awkward, and disconcerting to say the least, but when she heard the whoosh of leather and felt the slice across her shoulder blade, Jasmine relaxed with a long sigh, exhaling all the tension.

--

"Come on, it'll be fun," Lexie begged, her long hair swishing back and forth as she rocked wildly with her hands clasped pleadingly together.

"The fuck it will," Deb said derisively, taking careful aim with her last dart, and narrowly missing the bullseye. "Shitfuck! You distracted me!"

"Yes!" Lexie shrieked in victory, fists now pumping in the air. "I won, so now you have to go."

"Lexie! I love you as a best friend, but I am not going to fucking go get spanked by some strange guy, that is not going to fucking happen in your entire fucking life."

"No guys work there," Lexie corrected her. "Aaaaaaaaaand.........."

Deb waited. Lexie just stared, trying to draw her in like a fish to a baited hook. Finally she couldn't stand it anymore. "And what?"

"I knew you'd want to know!" Lexie laughed, nudging Deb in the ribs with an elbow. "And, they have submissives there that you can do whatever you want to. Well, within reason."

Deb nudged her back, shaking her head and swallowing the last of her beer. "You're not going to leave me alone until I go, are you?"

"Not a chance."

"Sorry, I'm broke."

"Bullshit, and I'm paying anyway, it's almost your birthday."

Deb rolled her eyes, but once Lexie had decided on something, it was damn near impossible to avoid it. "Fine. If you're paying. And if we go in together. And I'm doing it just for fun, not because I'm into that shit."

Lexie did an impromptu victory dance, getting up onto her chair and shaking her ass, and all Deb could do was cover her face and wait for it to end.

--

"We would like a session with a submissive," Lexie said to the receptionist, or whoever it was that was in the lobby of the House.

"The two of you, together?" the woman asked, handing her a clipboard and pen.

"Is that allowed?" Lexie asked, suddenly wondering. She glanced at the page in front of her and noted that it was some kind of liability and responsibility waiver. She scribbled her name and handed it to Deb, who followed suit and returned it to the receptionist.

"Of course. I just wanted to be clear," the woman said with a smile, pulling up the evening's schedule on her computer and typing in a few parameters. After a moment she turned back to Lexie and stood from her stool, motioning the ladies to follow her. "Right this way."

Deb did her best not to roll her eyes at all of the erotic artwork all over the walls as she and Lexie followed the woman through a door marked 'private', then down a maze of hallways, finally stopping in the middle of like the third freakin' hallway.

"Your submissive will join you shortly," the woman said, unlocking and opening a heavy wooden door to let them through. Once they had stepped inside, she shut the door behind them and made her way back to reception.

The first thing Lexie noticed was another door, at the far end of the room in one corner. She assumed that was the door the employees used, and when she saw the handle turn, she held her breath. Now that it was about to happen, she found herself giggly and nervous.

Deb glanced over as a blonde entered the room, heavily made up, with bright red lips and dark-lined eyes, pale skin that looked really fucking soft, and a killer corset that literally would have choked the air out of her lungs if she had tried to wear it. She was impressed so far.

Lexie's eyes nearly bulged out of her head. "Caroline?" she shrieked in shock.

Caroline arched an eyebrow, her jaw dropping slightly. "Lexie?"

Deb couldn't help laughing. That was just fucking perfect!

"Oh my God," Lexie said, her cheeks flushing bright red. "I am so sorry... you can totally leave and send someone else in, I swear I didn't know, I--"

Caroline scrunched up her nose and gave a soft chuckle. "It's okay," she said calmly. "I don't mind."

"Yeah but, ohmyGod," Lexie said again, hiding her face in her hands. "I am so embarrassed... Does Klaus know you work here?"

Caroline laughed again and nodded, walking to the bed and taking a seat, crossing her legs at the ankle. "Of course he does. He knows everything, remember? He's fine with it as long as I don't have sex with any of my clients, which I wouldn't do anyway, so, yeah. It's fine."

"You uh, you look really good," Lexie fumbled for words, completely out of her element at seeing someone she knew. Someone she liked, and had once upon a time had feelings for. They had never done anything together, but they had been good friends and Lexie had always admired Caroline.

"Thanks," Caroline said amicably. "Who's your friend?"

Deb stepped forward and held out her hand. "Debra Morgan, Miami Metro," she introduced herself, then closed her eyes and mentally slapped herself. "Or, you know, in this situation, Deb."

Caroline took Deb's hand and shook it delicately. "Caroline Forbes, nice to meet you."

After an awkward silence, Caroline spoke again.

"So, how do you guys want me? I'm not sure exactly what you're into, since you're walk-ins and didn't fill out the questionnaire."

"She dragged me here, I have no fuckin' idea what I'm into," Deb said with a nod toward Lexie. "She's the mastermind."

Lexie blushed. "I just really think you should send someone else in, I mean..."

Caroline slid off the bed and bent over it, her bottom half clad only in a tiny black thong. "Maybe you should go first, Debra," she suggested. "Just don't leave any marks."

"Marks? Are you fuckin' serious, you think I'm going to beat the shit out of you or something?"

Caroline looked at Deb over her shoulder and shrugged. "You never know."

Skeptical, Deb walked closer and stood behind Caroline, giving Lexie an 'I hate you' glance as she drew her hand back and spanked the girl's perfect ass. The noise startled her, though she should have been used to the sound of flesh on flesh - she'd had plenty of bitchslap fests in her life. Her hand stung and she stared in awe as Caroline gave a little mewl of pain and squirmed on the bed. "Sorry, was that too hard?"

"No," Caroline told her, settling down again. "Did you like doing it?"

Deb weighed the question and clenched a fist, then relaxed her hand. "Yeah, I think so. Should I do it again?"

"That's up to you," Caroline said, folding her hands and laying her cheek on them.

Deb snickered and spanked her again, rewarded with another little mewl, and she decided that yes, she did like it.

--

Court order in hand, Kate made her way back to the House, just around six p.m. The reception area was empty, but she was pretty sure they'd have security cameras going twenty-four-seven. She stood in the center of the room and waved the order above her head, waiting for someone to come out from the back.

Maleficent's attention was drawn from paperwork to the image on security cam two, and she geared up for another confrontation with the law. She locked her papers in her file cabinet and swayed out to the reception area. "Detective Beckett, how lovely of you to return," she said insincerely, reaching her hand out for the court order.

Kate handed it over and watched as the woman read it, then accepted it when it was handed back. "You could have saved me a lot of trouble by just cooperating in the first place," she couldn't help pointing out.

"And had I wished to save you the trouble, I would have," Maleficent replied smoothly.

"First things first, I didn't get your name last time."

"No, you didn't."

Pause. Wow, this woman wasn't going to give her an inch. "What is your name?"

"Maleficent."

"Maleficent?"

"Mm." A slight nod.

"Is that your real name, or your... Dominatrix name?" Kate asked, slightly flustered.

"Both."

"What's your last name, then?"

"It's just Maleficent," the blonde said patiently.

"Like Madonna," Kate said sarcastically.

"Not at all like Madonna," Maleficent replied, "But if your limited range of mind dictates that you need a pop culture reference, then by all means, indulge yourself."

Kate gaped at her. "Are you always this rude?"

"Do you always ask questions outside the scope of your investigation?"

Shaking her head, the detective regrouped and redirected her focus. "Who did Mr. Bowes visit here?"

"On what occasion?"

Kate tried not to get annoyed. She failed. "We can do this here or down at the station," she said through clenched teeth.

Maleficent ran a hand slowly over her face and let out a low, dark chuckle. "All right, all right," she acquiesced. "Miss Regina."

"Where can I find her?"

"Let me show you the way," Maleficent said politely, swiping her key card and opening the door to the back.

--

Regina looked up as the door opened without a knock, a frown on her face, ready to tell off whomever it was, but when she saw Maleficent with the detective behind her, she simply rose and moved to the door. "Please, come in," she directed to the detective.

Mal chuckled and backed away, leaving the two of them alone.

Kate stepped in and closed the door, holding out a hand. "Detective Beckett, NYPD homicide."

"Regina Mills," Regina replied, shaking her hand delicately. "How can I help?"

"I'm glad to see you're more cooperative than Maleficent," Kate couldn't help saying.

"That remains to be seen," Regina said with a little smirk.

"All right. How long had you known Mr. Bowes?"

"A little over six months," Regina recalled.

"How often did you see him?"

"Every Friday night."

"I don't know how personal these things get, so... how well would you say you knew him?"

Regina shrugged and lowered herself into the wicker chair in front of her vanity. "As well as any therapist knows her patients, I suppose."

The snort came out before Kate could think better of it, and she schooled herself quickly and apologized. "I'm so sorry, please strike that from the record and chalk it up to surprise, if you would?"

Regina raised an eyebrow, but let it slide.

"Let me ask another way. Do you know of anyone who would have wanted him dead?"

"I don't," Regina said honestly. "All I know about his personal life is that he's-- he was-- working on Wall Street as a broker, he had a wife and two kids, and he was married once before that. All of which I'm sure you already know."

"We do, but thank you for your candor," Kate nodded. "Can you tell me anything about his personality that might give me a clue where to look?"

"Honestly, he was nice," Regina said with another shrug. "Some men who come here aren't. But he was always nice. Respectful, polite. From what I saw of him, I can't imagine why anyone would want to kill him."

"Maybe his wife found out he was here every Friday night?"

"I have no idea whether she knew or not. I was never compelled to ask."

"Was he here last night?"

"I told you he was here every Friday night, didn't I?" Regina asked. "Yes, he was here."

"What time did he leave?"

"Eight o'clock, as always."

It was Kate's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Time of death is between eight thirty and nine o'clock last night," she said. "Where were you after he left?"

Regina's jaw dropped. "I was here, working, and I don't appreciate the insinuation."

"Well I don't appreciate the homicide," Kate retorted, "and whether I think you're guilty has nothing to do with the carrying out of my job. Can anyone verify your whereabouts after eight thirty last night?"

Regina forced herself to remain calm as she answered. "Only my client, and I will not give you his name," she said quietly.

"None of the other employees saw you before nine o'clock?"

Regina knit her brows together in thought, and sighed. "No. I don't even know who else was working late last night. For all I know it was only me."

"Then I suggest you give me the name of your client."

"I cannot."

"Then you will be a person of suspicion in this case, given the nature of your relationship with Mr. Bowes and the timing of his death."

"If I give you his name, my reputability is gone," Regina snarled, turning away from the detective to stare at herself in the mirror.

"And if you don't, your freedom could be gone. Which is more important?" Kate asked frustratedly. "Be smart, Ms. Mills."

"Not only would my own career be ruined, but his as well," Regina said resolutely. "Arrest me if you have to."

"Not yet," Kate said, "but don't leave town."

Regina nodded her agreement and waved her hand toward the door. "Excuse me if I don't get up to see you out. I'm extremely agitated."

"Understood," Kate said. "Thank you for your time, and if you change your mind, please give me a call." She set a business card on Regina's vanity and saw herself out.

--

Breaking glass and a shrill scream alerted Maleficent to a problem, and she made her way to Regina's room, this time knocking once before she opened the door, and ducked a flying vase.

"Get out!" Regina screamed, picking up another vase, this one full of flowers and water, and preparing to hurl it at her boss.

Maleficent crossed the distance before the girl could even heft the vase above her shoulder, and removed it from her hand forcibly, setting it back safely on the vanity. "Did it not go well with the detective, then?" she asked unnecessarily.

"Fuck you!" Regina was still screaming, and she wrenched her arm free of Maleficent's grasp.

Maleficent frowned. "I can tolerate the verbal assault, but the property damage is unacceptable," she said calmly. "Get a broom and sweep up that glass at once, or pack your things and leave."

To Maleficent's utter shock, Regina dissolved into heart-wrenching sobs. She could only stand and stare, watching the girl unravel.

Regina felt her entire life slipping away from her... everything she had worked so hard to build for herself drifting away... She couldn't give her client's name because he was a world leader in Washington DC and his life as he knew it would be over. Even if she asked the police for discretion, there were no guarantees they would abide by it.

Finally as Regina sank to her knees with her face buried in her hands, Maleficent bent down and hesitantly scratched her fingernails across Regina's scalp, hoping to be soothing. In her line of work, being soothing was something carefully calculated and designed to offer a particular comfort following a particular strenuous activity, and not something genuine.

"She's going to arrest me if I don't give up my client's name for an alibi," Regina sobbed.

"Your Washington client?" Maleficent asked gently, continuing to scratch with her nails.

Regina wondered why her boss was being so comforting, but nodded. "Yes," she said, calming a little, her chest still heaving but the sobs quieting down.

"I am sure they will find another suspect without your alibi, but should you choose to name him, I will understand. It would reflect poorly on the House, but I will understand."

"Why are you being so nice to me?" Regina finally asked after a few moments of silence.

Maleficent smirked. "I have my moments."

"Let's hope they're few and far between," Regina said, rising to her feet and brushing off the intimate encounter.

"Indeed," Mal agreed. "Goodnight, Regina." If she was affected by the brush-off, it didn't show.

--

Ruby was mid-session a few days later with her favorite client when she heard the doorknob turn. Normally she locked the deadbolt but to her horror, the door swung open and one of her fellow employees came gliding in to the room just as her whip sliced her client across the back.

Jasmine jumped at the strike and at the fact that she was fairly sure she'd just heard the fucking door open. She snapped her head around to check and froze at the sight of the soft, sweet-looking blonde with wide eyes and a dropped jaw, who also seemed to be frozen in place. They stared at each other until Jasmine felt her face flush and she looked away, realizing the woman could see everything that she'd only let Ms. Lucas see up to this point.

"Rebekah, what the fuck!" Ruby said in a panic. "Get out!"

Rebekah couldn't stop staring at the mess of lines covering the naked woman's back and shoulders. "I'm sorry, I..." She trailed off, not sure what she was trying to say.

Jasmine shivered at the tone of the quiet, British voice. The girl sounded like an angel.

Nobody moved for another minute, until Ruby spoke louder. "Rebekah! Unprofessional! Get the fuck out!"

Rebekah felt glued to the spot, still staring. Something sparked within her that she couldn't put a name to. "But..."

"Rebekah!" Ruby shrieked.

"It's fine, just finish," Jasmine finally ground out impatiently. "Please," she added as an afterthought.

Ruby nearly dropped the whip when her client said something other than "hello Ms. Lucas', 'yes Ma'am' or 'no Ma'am'. "Are you fucking kidding me? You don't speak to me in two years no matter what I do, and five seconds with Rebekah you're already talking and letting her stay? What the fuck!" Now she threw the whip deliberately on the floor, something a dominant should never do with the tools of her trade, and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Stunned, Rebekah stepped over and clicked the deadbolt locked, then moved to the center of the room, behind Ruby's client, and bent to pick up the whip. "I can't even begin to apologize enough for that display, and my inability to do the right thing quickly enough to avoid it," she said quietly, running a fingertip along one of the red marks on the woman's shoulder. "And my inability to not touch you, it appears," she added, but made no move to stop tracing the inflamed skin.

Jasmine gasped, her eyes rolling back at the touch, despite the audacity of the woman to do it without permission. Her hands tightened around the chains holding her up.

"Shall I unbind you and refund your fee?" Rebekah asked, biting her lower lip as she continued tracing down the woman's arm.

Garza was at a loss. She should really demand her money back and leave, but obviously now she didn't want to. Something about Rebekah drew her in, enveloped her in curiosity and desire. "No," she finally said after a few minutes of just enjoying the angel's touch.

Rebekah's hands stilled in their journey toward the shackles on the woman's wrists. "No?" she asked, wanting to make sure she'd heard correctly and it wasn't just wishful thinking. "No to which?"

Finding courage somewhere, Jasmine exhaled slowly and replied, "no to either."

"Am I correct in assuming, then, that you would like me to finish your session?"

"Yes."

"How much time is left on the clock?"

Jasmine turned her head to look at the time, then turned back. "Twenty minutes."

"What is your name?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yes, it does..."

"Fine. Garza." She was irritated a little, but not as much as she should have been.

Rebekah smiled, drawing circles on the woman's forearms with the tip of each pointer finger. "That sounds like a surname," she breathed in the woman's ear. "What is your first name?"

A shiver overtook her, followed by a barely audible groan when she felt fingernails dig lightly into her skin. Her inner war raged for only a few short seconds before she gave in. "Jasmine."

"I'm Rebekah," Rebekah introduced herself. "We'll take the next twenty minutes to get to know each other, and then I'll give you a free hour at my mercy. How does that sound?"

"I filled out the checklist online," Jasmine replied.

"I prefer to get to know what you like face to face," Rebekah purred, lips hovering over Jasmine's neck, close enough that she knew the woman could feel her breath. "Plus, I can't very well leave the room with you shackled to the cross, now, can I?"

"I'm just not comfortable talking about it," Jasmine admitted with a huff.

"Well then I'll ask you some questions, and you answer yes or no," Rebekah suggested, and before Jasmine could argue further, she led right into the first question. "Do you like things other than the whip?"

"Yes."

"Have you done anything with Ruby other than the whip?"

"No."

"Perfect," Rebekah couldn't help sighing, letting her fingertips trail down Jasmine's arms and across her welted shoulder blades.

"Perfect, huh?" Jasmine snorted sarcastically. "You must be thinking of someone else."

"I'm fairly certain I'm thinking of you, and of all the delicious things I'd like to do with you besides use a whip."

"Like what?"

Fingertips became firm strokes of her flat palms over Jasmine's sides, and she rested her hands on the woman's waist, pressing herself against the gorgeous, muscled back. Her lips lingered above Jasmine's right ear as she spoke in a low, commanding tone. "I'd like you out of these chains, for starters," she said, reaching up to spring open the shackles, one at a time, and rubbing each of Jasmine's wrists as she freed them.

Jasmine tensed as her hands were freed. "I don't think you should do that," she said quietly in warning.

"Should I be afraid?" Rebekah asked. "Are you going to hurt me?" Her tone of voice indicated just how unafraid she actually was.

"Not on purpose," Jasmine told her.

"PTSD?" Rebekah guessed, continuing to maintain contact, her hands never leaving Jasmine's body, now stroking up and down her ribcage.

"How did you know?"

"Just a good guess," Rebekah explained. "One of my brothers suffers from it."

"Then you know it can get out of hand. And I'm very strong."

"I can see that," Rebekah said, squeezing one of Jasmine's biceps in appreciation. "Tell you what... you take a risk with me, I'll take a risk with you."

"What risk am I taking?"

Rebekah pressed her whole body against Jasmine's and whispered into her ear. "Letting someone close."

"What makes you think I don't let people close?"

Rebekah smirked. "Shackles and a whip."

"So?"

"You're locked up, and the Dominant doesn't even touch you with her hands... you chose the one implement that lets her stand five feet back."

Jasmine huffed. "I don't like being easy to read."

"Maybe you're not. Maybe I'm just very perceptive," Rebekah offered. "What is your safeword?"

"I don't have one. I just use yellow and red."

"Then since our twenty minutes of negotiating is halfway gone, how about I do what I want, and if I approach a limit you use yellow to steer me in another direction?"

"Fine." Garza rolled her shoulders and popped her neck. "Don't say I didn't warn you."

"I have my own demons to hide," Rebekah assured her. "I can handle myself." She stepped back, then turned and went to one corner of the room, dragging a chair into the center and rolling the cross out of the way. She sat down and crossed her legs. "Come here, please."

Jasmine scratched awkwardly at the side of her face, then moved over to Rebekah. "You don't have to say please. I'll do what you tell me to do," she informed the other woman.

"I like to say it," Rebekah said with a smile. "Just because I'm a Dominant doesn't mean I'm disrespectful."

"You learn something new every day," Jasmine mused with a tiny smirk.

"And apparently just because you're a submissive doesn't mean you're respectful," Rebekah teased lightly. "I'm having a very hard time keeping my lips away from your stomach, so please bend over my lap," she then said seriously. And truthfully. It would be unacceptable for her to put her mouth on a client, on any body part whatsoever. She uncrossed her legs to make a comfortable perch.

Jasmine raised an eyebrow at that and smoothly bent over Rebekah's lap. She would pick her battles. While she was uncomfortable with most human contact, she could at least make an effort... for Rebekah, of course, not for herself. Since the Domme was going out of her way to be accommodating.

Rebekah immediately put hands on, running them up and down Jasmine's back and over her upturned ass, which was mark-free and very soft. When Jasmine squirmed, she bit her lip. "Are you all right?"

"I've had a spanking before," Jasmine said dryly, rolling her eyes.

"You've never had a spanking from me before," Rebekah said in a quiet voice, doing her best to hide how deeply the woman across her lap was affecting her. Never had she met someone she was so taken with so quickly. Something about Jasmine Garza, though, it pulled at her in every direction. But there had been enough unprofessionalism in this room today, and she was determined to finish the session without further complications. The House's reputation demanded nothing less.

"I don't imagine it's much different than a spanking from anyone else," Garza said.

"You imagine wrong," Rebekah informed her, scraping firmly with her nails over both pale cheeks and then lifting her right hand and bringing it down hard, first on one cheek, then the other. She blew cool air across the forming red marks, then returned to the spanking motion over and over, for several long minutes in fact, until Jasmine squirmed again. "Are you all right?" she repeated her earlier question.

This time Jasmine had no sass to offer. Her ass was on fire, every slap bringing the pleasurable pain higher and higher until she had to squeeze her thighs together to avoid an embarrassing revelation. "Yes," she simply answered.

"No taunts this time?" Rebekah teased.

"It wasn't meant as a taunt to begin with," Jasmine scowled.

"My mistake," Rebekah grinned, rubbing the woman's heated skin in gentle circles, every once in awhile digging her nails in for good measure. "Do you want more?"

"Most Dommes would make me stop now," Jasmine admitted.

"Are you in subspace?"

"No."

"Are you too aroused to make rational decisions about what you want?"

"Not quite." She smirked.

"Then do you want more?"

Well this was certainly a pleasant surprise. "Yes."

Rebekah slid her left hand into Jasmine's unruly blonde hair and closed it into a fist, pulling tightly. "Good," she whispered, and began another round of spanking, her hand falling with varied strength and unvaried precision, striking exactly where she wanted to every single time. She kept a tight hold on Jasmine's hair, noting the sharp intake of breath every time she pulled.

It was just a spanking, but it was doing things to Jasmine that she'd never thought possible. She felt connected, for the first time in a very long time, to another person. It hurt so deliciously, and Rebekah was so strong and forceful while still managing to be gentle and sweet, which threw her for a loop. Never had she met someone who could fill that paradoxical void she didn't know she had until this moment. At a particularly skillful blow, she arched her back and moaned, and the traitorous word left her lips unbidden. "Please..."

Rebekah closed her eyes, breathed in the scent of Jasmine's anguish. "Please stop?" she asked.

"No," Jasmine panted softly, shaking her head despite the iron grip in her hair.

"Then please what?" Rebekah asked, still keeping up the torturous assault until she was done speaking, then stopped and gave Jasmine's ass a masterful squeeze, forcing herself to stay away from dangerous territory. She wanted nothing more than to slip her hand--

"Touch me," Jasmine begged, unable to believe she was saying it. She knew that Rebekah couldn't. Probably wouldn't want to even if she could - this was a job to her. But it was so much more to Jasmine... it was a release of everything she held inside, bottled up, waiting to explode at the wrong time.

Rebekah let her control slip as a groan left her throat, her hand closing tighter over the blazing flesh beneath it. "God, I want to," she confessed. "You have no idea what you do to me, but I can't..."

"I know," Jasmine breathed, dropping her head forward between her shoulders and trying to calm down. "I know."

Rebekah knew how hard that must have been for Jasmine to ask, given the fact that she hadn't even wanted to reveal her name, and that until today she had kept her Dominants at literal arm's length. "I would lose my job," she said, her voice clearly pained.

"I know, I shouldn't have asked, I'm sorry," Jasmine panted. "You just--" She stopped and shook her head, not sure what she was trying to say.

"My lips are aching to kiss you everywhere," Rebekah admitted in a whisper. "I want to see you again. Away from here."

Garza took a few slow breaths to even herself out before even attempting to respond. "My life is complicated."

Rebekah wondered if she should be offended. "Meaning?"

"In this room, you only get to know what I want you to know about me. Out in the real world, you'd find out much more, and I don't think you'd approve."

"I think you'll find that I have my own demons, just as I told you before... I'm not one to judge," Rebekah said. "If you don't want to see me away from here, just say it and I'll respect it. But if you do, and you're just scared, then I'm calling your bullshit."

Jasmine grinned. "All right, it is bullshit," she said. "There's something about you that gets inside me and rips me apart. It scares me shitless and excites me at the same time. I do want to see you away from here."

Rebekah tried to hide her relief, not sure if she was successful or not. She patted Jasmine's ass with a grin. "Well get dressed and let's go."

"Now?"

"Did you have another time in mind?"

"I guess not," she shrugged, climbing off of Rebekah's lap with more than a few winces as she started pulling her clothes on.

"I have to ask, though," Rebekah said suddenly. "Why didn't you ever talk to Ruby? Two years, she said?!"

Jasmine huffed. "I don't like to get attached."

"Then why are you going out with me?"

"I told you. Something about you rips me apart."

"I don't even know how to take that."

"It's obviously a good thing, right? I'm talking to you and leaving here with you. Don't overthink it."

Rebekah laughed. "Fair enough."

--

"Are you complaining to me with the assumption that I am going to do anything about your petty grievance?" Denna asked the out-of-control child currently pacing her office. "Because you would be mistaken. I could not care less about your situation. I pay you to work, not to whine."

Ruby growled darkly, wishing she could tear the bitch's throat out with her teeth. "Were you this much of a fucking asshole when you were born, or did you grow into it?" she shouted.

Denna's eyes flashed with icy fire. "Be careful how you speak to me, you insolent little wench," she said calmly. "Get out of my office. Now."

"Fine!" Ruby screamed, upending a chair on her way out. "There's someone here to see you anyway!"

Denna put a hand to her head to ward off a headache. Who the hell would dare come to see her without an appointment?

"It's time for your cooperation, Ms. Ashford," the detective from the other day said as she stepped uninvited into Denna's office.

"Get out of my office," Denna said, feeling the headache start up despite her attempts to avoid it.

"It really is in your best interest to tell me about the conversation you overheard Danny Bowes having last Friday night."

"Get out of my office," Denna repeated. "I'd rather choke to death on my own blood than help you people." She didn't even ask how the detective knew she'd overheard that conversation. She didn't care.

"I have a signed affidavit that you did in fact overhear a conversation, and that you even told Mr. Bowes to wait until he was off your property to continue his telephone call. In fact, I even have the exact words you said, right here," Kate said, glancing down at the paper in her hand and reading directly from the affidavit. "Mr. Bowes, if you would care to keep your testicles attached to your body, you will refrain from using the telephone on the grounds of my establishment."

Denna smirked. "Go fuck yourself, Detective. Somewhere off the grounds of my establishment."

Kate wondered what the woman was hiding. She had to be hiding something, because no one was that belligerent for no reason. "Why won't you tell me what you overheard? It could exonerate one of your employees from suspicion. We both know Regina didn't kill Mr. Bowes, but you're the closest thing she has to an alibi. I need to know what he said on that phone call."

Denna simply sat and stared at her. While she would hate for Regina to get arrested, she would not cooperate with police.

"What the hell is your problem?" Kate asked, her voice slightly raising. "You're obstructing justice, Ms. Ashford. Either tell me what you know or I'll arrest you."

At that, Denna scoffed derisively, throwing her head back and laughing. "You realize I have the entire staff at Hewes and Associates on retainer. You'd be lucky to get me out the door before Patty had your career in a sling."

"I'll take the risk," Kate said, undaunted. "Denna Ashford, you are under arrest for Obstruction of Justice. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have him or her present during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you before any questioning if you wish. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?"

Denna stood from her desk and refused to acknowledge the detective's presence, other than to follow her out of the office. As they passed Maleficent, Denna looked pointedly at her, and Mal nodded, already taking out her cell phone.

"So you're cooperating with the arrest, but not with the investigation," Kate threw at the blonde as she opened the back door of the cruiser she'd borrowed.

Denna stared at her coldly, and just when Kate thought she wasn't going to answer, she did.

"I don't want my hands cuffed."

And she slid into the back seat, silent again.

--

Denna was in custody at the precinct for about five minutes.

"You're grasping at straws, Detective. Stay away from my client if you want to keep your badge. This is shoddy police work at best, and abuse of power at worst." Patty handed over a restraining order to a shocked detective.

"How the hell did you get this signed?" She glanced at the paper. "Judge Holloway? Are you, what? Are you sleeping with him? There is no way he would sign this without coercion."

"Watch yourself, Detective," Patty said sharply, turning to place a guiding hand on her client's back, escorting her out of the precinct.

Denna turned back right before stepping out the door, pursing her lips at Detective Beckett and giving a fingery wave.

Once the two infuriating women were out of sight, Kate ripped up the TRO and slammed her fist down on her desk. "Fuck!"

After a long rant and rave session in Gates's office, Kate decided to try another tactic. There were obviously issues at work that she didn't understand, so she sat down at her computer and decided to do some research.

--

"You're welcome, dear," Maleficent called after Denna's retreating back and closing door. She chuckled to herself and was about to head into her single session of the day early to prepare, when she was confronted by a furious Regina.

"I heard everything!" she shouted. "Why won't she say what she knows?"

"You would have to ask her that, dear," Maleficent said mildly. "I am not in the business of reading minds."

"Does she want me to go to prison?"

"I would find that doubtful."

"Then what the fuck!" Regina yelled. "My freedom is at stake!"

"And you do not know what is at stake for Denna, do you?"

"Do you?"

"I've just said I don't. You should listen better, dear. Speak to Mistress Denna if you want to know her reasons. I have a session to prepare for."

Regina watched as Maleficent disappeared down the hallway and into one of the playrooms. She did not want to speak to Denna, not if she could avoid it. Anyone in their right mind would not want to speak to Denna, if they could avoid it.

Unfortunately, as she was turning around to head back to her room, Denna came out of her office.

"Why would you get involved in a situation that could bring such bad publicity to the House?"

Motherfucker. Regina turned to face her, incredulous. "You're more involved than I am, you're withholding evidence!"

"You should probably get your affairs in order, in case you're convicted. I won't be responsible for notifying your next of kin."

Regina wondered where this woman got her uncanny ability to be inhuman. "I have no next of kin," she said coldly. "Not that you care, I'm sure."

"I don't," Denna said. "I only came out here because I heard your little tantrum. You'll get representation by the House's attorney, just as I did. Stop wetting your pants."

"I'm glad this is a game to you," Regina said. "But I find no humor in my freedom being on the line. If you know something, why won't you help me?"

"Because I have nothing to gain," Denna said with a snarl, and disappeared back into her office.

--

It was early in the morning, and Regina was at work because she had to do something to keep her mind off of her current situation and impending arrest. She was never here this early, never even awake this early, so naturally, no one would have assumed she was in the building. Consequently, she got to overhear a conversation she otherwise would not have. Two voices coming from Denna's office.

"Why won't you help her?"

Regina knew by heart, that was Maleficent.

"Oh God, not you too?" Denna asked, exasperated. "Leave me the fuck alone."

"I'm serious. I don't understand why you won't help her when it's entirely within your reach to do so."

"I don't care," Denna said slowly, enunciating each word.

"She has been a model employee of the House for over six months. There has never been a complaint about her services and she has made you and I an exorbitant amount of money, Denna," Maleficent said calmly. "There is no reason for you to withhold your assistance, when one sentence from your filthy mouth would clear her name."

Denna's eyes widened, first in surprise, then in a sinister understanding, and she smirked. "You like her."

"What I do or do not feel is hardly relevant," Maleficent said, rolling her eyes. "She does her job, and does it well."

"And Patty Hewes will see that she doesn't even spend a night in jail. Why is everyone so hellbent on harrassing me? I have no obligation to anyone in this goddamn world, and I don't care to get sentimental! Now get the fuck out of my office or that scar on your throat won't be the only thing wringing your neck!"

Maleficent growled at her, and Regina could hear a loud crash - it sounded like Maleficent had thrown a chair, or something heavy and wooden. She heard Denna's enraged, wounded howl, heard another crash, and then Maleficent's grunt of pain, at least she assumed. When she heard a door open she slipped further into her own room, in case either of the women walked by and saw her.

She bit her lip and sat down in front of her vanity to start applying her makeup for the day. Something stirred in her chest when she thought about Maleficent going to bat like that for her, especially when the woman seemed not to care at all. In fact, the woman seemed not to care about much of anything, people-wise. She was standoffish and sarcastic at the best of times, and downright malicious at the worst.

"Regina?"

Maleficent sounded alarmed. Regina turned to the door. "Yes?"

"What are you doing here so early, dear?"

"I can't sleep," Regina told her, turning back to the mirror. "I needed something to do so I don't go crazy."

"How long have you been here?"

"I just walked in," Regina lied, sensing impending doom if she told the truth. She didn't feel like sending Mal running off like a cornered animal.

"Yes, well, make sure you check the morning schedule, it can get very busy some days," Maleficent said, turning to walk away. She did not like to feel uneasy, and the thought that Regina may have overheard her conversation made her distinctly uneasy, to the point she wished she could breathe fire and incinerate the entire species.
When she was a child, fire had been her greatest ally, her sacred friend, her protector. She had imagined herself able to sprout wings and fly high above everyone else, spitting flames at her will... But when imagination failed, when she had to protect herself in reality, she used a box of matches and set fire to foster home after foster home, until she finally ended up in juvenile hall when she was twelve.

Safely locked inside her office, Maleficent took out her phone with shaking fingers and sent a message to her oldest and dearest friend, who knew everything about her, including her penchant for setting fires. And her terror of connecting with anyone human. Inara was the one who had introduced her to Dominance and submission, to the world of power exchanges and control. The one who had mentored her when she expressed her desire to experience everything that world had to offer.

Inara... I need to see something burn.

A few moments later her phone lit up with a reply.

Put the matches down, Xiao Mei-mei. What has happened?

Mal growled.

I'm not holding any matches, Jieh. I just... there is a girl in my employ that has found herself in a precarious situation, and I was trying to help her out of it. I thought she overheard me trying to help.

Another few moments, another reply.

Would you like me to create a political scandal to draw the world's attention away from your good deeds?

Mal growled again. Inara was such an asshole sometimes, but she always said the right thing. Already the tension was beginning to fade.

I hate you.

She could almost hear Inara laughing.

No you don't, Mal. I love you too. Just relax. If she finds out you were trying to help her, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

With a frown, Mal's fingers flew over the keyboard.

It would be the end of the world, Jieh. There's something about her I can't get out of my head.

It was a lot longer before her phone buzzed this time.

I do not believe my eyes. I never thought I'd live to see the day you had any interest in a girl. What's she like? This is amazing. And no, you still don't hate me.

She is infuriating, and stubborn, and straight.

I can work with the first two. The last one is a bit of a buzzkill. What else?

She is beautiful. Everywhere I'm light, she is dark. Dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin. Perfect olive skin.

So smooth you want to run your palms over her cheeks and grab hold of her chin so hard she bruises under your fingertips?

That is the tip of the iceberg, Inara. I want to devour her, body and soul. I don't know how to behave around her.

So I'm sure you behave detached and aloof, as per usual?

Don't pick on me.

Just be yourself, Mei-mei. Why am I the only woman lucky enough to get to know you?

Because you found me when I was young and impressionable, and charmed me out of my defenses. Something you should be wholly ashamed of, by the way.

Shame is not in my repertoire of feelings.

Of course not. I have to go. Thank you, Jieh.

Always, Mei-mei.

With a sigh, Maleficent shoved her phone away from her a few inches and relaxed into her desk chair, only to get up again when she couldn't get comfortable or shut off her raging thoughts. Perhaps a walk was in order.

--

Armed with an arsenal of information, Kate decided to confront Ms. Ashford off the clock. Since the woman had a TRO against her, unjustly so she might add, she had to be careful. She waited in the reception area until one of the girls went in the back, and she silently grabbed the door just before it could close and slipped inside. She knew where Denna's office was; she'd been in there just the other day. They were closing in on nothing, and so Regina's arrest was imminent, unless she could change Denna's mind.
Gathering her courage, she knocked and entered without waiting for an answer, and didn't speak until the blonde picked up the phone to call security.

"You were eight years old, right?"

Denna's fingers paused mid-number and she slowly set her cell phone back down on her desk. Her blood ran cold. "What?" she forced herself to ask, instead of calling Hewes and Associates.

Kate closed the door behind her and walked closer, taking a seat in one of the two armchairs facing Denna's desk. "When your world was turned upside-down," she clarified. "You were eight?"

Denna didn't confirm or deny the information, she simply sat staring, wide blue eyes fixed rigidly on the detective's face. What color she did have would be drained from her cheeks, she was sure.

"One of your father's business rivals broke into your home and tortured you in every way imaginable."

Denna's lips twitched, her hands trembling. "I don't know what you're--"

"They made you watch as they killed your mother."

Denna's breath became labored and difficult. "Stop this ridiculous--"

"And they made you torture and kill your father."

Denna stood in a rage, upending the desk in front of her, papers and file folders flying everywhere. "Are you getting some sick pleasure out of this?" she screamed.

Kate continued, her voice softer. "Two of the men were police officers."

"I know what happened to me, I don't need you to--"

"They were the worst ones. They were supposed to help you, and they didn't."

Denna was on her in a flash, slamming her into the nearest wall, body blocking her in place. "And I slit their fucking throats the first moment I had the chance," she hissed. "All of them."

"Except one," Kate agreed. "And they deserved it."

Denna showed the first sign of complacency by releasing her hold on the detective. "That's not what the judge said."

Kate stayed against the wall. "No?"

"No. He said he would have given me the needle if I wasn't eight years old."

"That's a horrible thing to say to a child."

"I don't need your pity."

"That's why I brought you something that I think you do need."

An eyebrow went up. "A new soul?"

"Kent Larson's whereabouts."

Denna's jaw dropped and she stood staring at the detective for several long, drawn-out moments. "Bullshit."

"We're not all like those men," Kate offered quietly. "Some of us actually want to see justice done, no matter how much money or influence a person has. If you help me, I'll take you to visit Kent Larson."

"Fuck you," Denna snarled. "If you really wanted to help me you'd tell me where he is and let me take care of it by myself."

"I just told you I want to see justice done," Kate reasoned with her. "I don't break the law, not for you and not for anyone. This is all I can offer. It's all I have in my power to offer. And besides," she said with a smirk, "he's in protective custody. You couldn't get in by yourself."

"What kind of protective custody?" She had to hand it to the detective; her interest was piqued.

"The maximum security kind, with gun turrets and heavily armed guards."

"What did he get sent up for?"

Kate shook her head. "Burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. He broke into a boutique after hours and when the clerk confronted him, Larson shot him and ran off with an armful of Versace dresses. Lucky for us, he had bad aim. The clerk was fine after a shoulder surgery and could identify him in a lineup."

"He's in prison for shooting some asshole in the shoulder, and not for orchestrating the murder of my family?"

"Your statement could go a long way toward reopening the case," Kate finally said after staying quiet for a minute.

"And if it doesn't? If no one cares?"

Kate sighed. "I'll do everything I can to make sure somebody with the power to do something listens."

"They will make me relive every fascinating detail. Out loud," Denna said after a few moments of quiet herself.

"Would it be worth it?"

"If he's convicted, yes. If he's not, it will have done more harm than good."

Kate nodded. "I understand. You're the only one who can make the choice, I won't tell you to do it or not do it... not that you'd listen to me anyway," she said with a smile.

Denna smirked. "No, I wouldn't. You can still go fuck yourself as far as I'm concerned, but yes. I'll make the deal with you."

Kate did a happy dance on the inside, but on the outside she made sure not to change a thing. "I am sure Regina will appreciate that."

"I'm not doing it for her, or for you," Denna said with a roll of her eyes.

"Of course not," Kate replied, taking out her tape recorder.

--

"So, you're free," Maleficent said, standing in the doorway to Regina's room. Despite not knowing how to behave around the other woman and wanting to stay away from her, she found herself drawn inexorably toward Regina instead. "Are you going to celebrate?"

Giddy with her newfound sense of freedom after Denna finally cooperated with police, Regina didn't even know what to do with herself first. "Are you asking me out?" she teased.

Maleficent stiffened, the softness in her eyes giving way to jagged crystal. "Don't be ridiculous," she snarled, and turned to walk away, her heart hammering in her chest.

"I was kidding!" Regina yelled, running to catch up with her halfway down the hall. "Jesus, Maleficent!"

"It's not a funny joke," the blonde said with a low growl, pushing past Regina and into her office, closing the door firmly behind her.

"Hey, you dropped your--" Regina started to say as she picked up Maleficent's cell phone, apparently having fallen out of her pocket, but she stopped talking when a text message flashed on the lock screen, from someone named Inara.

Did you devour her yet, Mei-mei? ;)

Regina was not one for snooping but that was too tempting to resist. She slid her finger across the screen to unlock the phone, holding her breath, and let it out when there was no passcode. Wow, really? No passcode?

Shaking her head, she tapped the messages button and pulled up the one from Inara, scrolling upward until she could figure out who and what the woman was talking about.

I'm not holding any matches, Jieh. I just... there is a girl in my employ that has found herself in a precarious situation, and I was trying to help her out of it. I thought she overheard me trying to help.

She skimmed over the next few messages, her eyes going wide.

If she finds out you were trying to help her, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

There's something about her I can't get out of my head.

I never thought I'd live to see the day you had any interest in a girl.

Her pulse started to speed up. Maleficent had an interest in her? She kept reading.

She is beautiful. Everywhere I'm light, she is dark. Dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin. Perfect olive skin.

So smooth you want to run your palms over her cheeks and grab hold of her chin so hard she bruises under your fingertips?

That is the tip of the iceberg, Inara. I want to devour her, body and soul. I don't know how to behave around her.

Regina's jaw dropped. Maleficent definitely had an interest in her, a decidedly unwholesome one. Before she could process that any further, the door in front of her swung open and when Maleficent saw what was in Regina's hand, she hit the roof.

"What in the fuck do you think you're doing?" Mal hissed, snatching her cell phone from Regina's hands and glancing at the screen to see her conversation with Inara glaring back at her. Her worst fears a reality in that instant. It took everything she had in her not to wrap her fingers around Regina's perfect throat and squeeze the life out of her. "Get out of my sight."

"I'm sorry, I--"

"Get the fuck out of my sight!" Maleficent shrieked, grabbing Regina by the collar and shoving her so hard that she sprawled on her ass in the hallway.

Maybe most people would have shrunk back in fear at being treated that way, but Regina would never. She got to her feet and brushed off her pants, glaring right back at Maleficent. "Is this how you treat someone you're interested in?" she spat angrily. "Good luck winning me over like that!"

"Do not insult my intelligence," Maleficent said darkly, suddenly calm. "I know perfectly well that you have no interest in women. You apparently also have no interest in keeping your job."

The wind went out of Regina's sails at hearing that. Her face paled and she shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. "Mal, please," she begged. "I love this job. I need this job. I'm good at this job."

Maleficent thought briefly of firing her anyway, despite her need and her skill, but her traitorous conscience wouldn't let her. "If you can carry out your duties here without my having to ever see your face again, you may stay. If I catch one glimpse of you, I will send you packing, do you understand me?"

The tears spilled over, wetting her cheeks. "Please don't do that, you're the one person in my life that's actually tried to do something to help me. I don't want to lose that..."

"You've already lost it. You should have thought better of invading my privacy and humiliating me in my own House." She thought her heart was going to break through her ribcage.

"I wasn't trying to humiliate you," Regina said, horrified at the thought. "I was just--"

"I said get out of my sight," Maleficent growled. "You have thirty seconds or your job is forfeit."

Feeling utterly lost and alone, Regina spun on her heels and fled to the safety of her room.

--

Maleficent drove out into the country and set fire to an old abandoned barn, watching it burn until she could breathe again.

--

Regina tossed and turned, unable to sleep, wracked with guilt, anger, sadness, and grief. Half of her living room was smashed, overturned, or snapped in two, depending on what it was. She would worry about cleaning it when she could breathe again.