XXY: Bittersweet

The front of the shop was dark and unlit, but Carolyn knew better than to think that meant anything. She went to the door, knocked, and simultaneously sent //It's me.//

//It could hardly be anyone else, communicating telepathically,// the reply came back, amused.

The door unlocked itself, and Carolyn stepped inside. A single light in the room flared to life, revealing the neat little room where customers brought broken appliances to the proprietress of the repair shop. Carolyn walked to the door in the back that led to the areas where the repair shop's owner and her children. This door opened for her as well, as the door behind her, the one that led outside, locked itself again.

//You've been practicing this trick.//

//Of course. One never knows when one might need to impress the locals.//

She walked down a short hallway and into the already-lighted kitchen. "Impress or frighten?"

"It amounts to the same thing," Erika said, standing by the oven and stirring the contents of a pot. "Did you never read, what's the word, Maerchen, when you were young?"

"Fairy tales, myths, legends?"

"That is it. The young heroine goes to the wizard's castle, but she never sees him. Invisible servants do all the work. That sort of thing. One never knows when young heroes might be coming to one's castle."

"Where are the children?"

"Away at camp, thank the eternal. You were an only child, no?"

"Aside from a stepbrother."

"I was a youngest. It gives one no experience for children. I swear I shall chain Pietro to his bed until he has cleaned his room if he does not." She sighed deeply. "There is nothing so rewarding and nothing so frustrating as having children. You are far more patient than I. I think you would do better at it."

"How long will they be gone?"

"Two days. Plus tonight. I am celebrating my temporary freedom." The pot lifted itself off the stove and set down on the table on an iron trivet, as Erika went to the refrigerator and pulled out two bottles. "You like grape juice, yes?"

"Just fine, thanks." The other bottle was wine, but Erika knew Carolyn didn't drink at all. After seeing what alcohol had done to her mother, she wouldn't go near it. It actually made her somewhat uncomfortable when Erika drank, but that was her own problem, not Erika's, and she would not inflict it on her friend. "Don't you miss them?"

"In two days I will miss them terribly. And then they will return, and no doubt a day after that I will have forgotten why I missed them." She set the bottles on the table, which was already set with two deep soup bowls and appropriate silverware. "Come, sit down, take off your lab coat. I cannot believe you're still wearing that."

"I worked late. I came straight from the hospital."

"A session?"

Carolyn smiled. "I'd have liked that. No, just paperwork. Nothing exciting. What's this?"


"Yes, I can see that. What kind of soup is it?"

"Vegetable beef. If you don't sit down I shall push you into a chair."

"Isn't there anything I can do to help?"

"Yes, you can sit down and let me serve you. You're a guest, Carolyn. Sit down."

"All right, all right." She laughed and sat down. "May I at least pour myself some grape juice, or would that violate your honor as a hostess?"

"I'd have to challenge you to a duel. Death before dishonor. Tell me when it's enough."


"And the soup."

"That's more than enough soup. I'll never be able to finish all that."

"You should have said."

"I didn't realize you were ladling and pouring the juice at the same time."

"The fact that the ladle was flying about escaped your attention."

"Yes, I was too busy making sure you didn't spill grape juice all over my suit."

Erika made a face at her. "You are not nearly as funny as you think you are."

"I'm mortally insulted. Do I have to challenge you to a duel now?"

"I will win, of course. As challenged party I choose weapons, and all my pillows have magnets sewn into them. You have no hope."

"What if I got my own pillows? Just because you choose pillows doesn't mean I have to use yours."

"My pillows will defeat your pillows. It will be epic. Stuffing will fly and cover the carpet. And then I'll have to get the children to clean it, and they'll do a terrible job, so perhaps you should not challenge me to a duel."

"No, I suppose we wouldn't want that." She spooned up the soup, pleasantly surprised. The last of Erika's culinary experiments had not gone well. "You sound stressed."

"Stressed? No. It's only the children. Pietro's grades are terrible, and Wanda's have started dropping, I think because she doesn't want to humiliate her brother by outdoing him. He won't clean his room properly, and when I chastise him Wanda picks a fight with me. I have heard the 'none of the other mothers are as strict as you' spiel so many times I could repeat it in my sleep. She's taken to wandering the streets with him in tow, exploring, and of course I am a nervous case by the time they finally come home, and Wanda insists it is perfectly safe because all her friends do this. As if it would take more than one terrorist bomb." She shook her head. "Almost sometimes I think of moving to your homeland. I can protect myself and the children when they're with me, but when they're away..."

"But you think they'll be safe at camp?"

"It's a farm camp, nowhere near any borders and well-guarded. I think it's safer for them than wandering about the city. And they segregate the sexes, so it's my hope that Pietro will learn a bit more of functioning without his sister to watch over him. Wanda, of course, was not happy about this, but I think she's getting to be too old to go to camp with boys in any event."

"She's nine, Erika. They don't get to be too old until they're thirteen or so."

"It's not her behavior I'm concerned with. It's the boys' behavior toward her. There are fifteen-year-olds at this camp."

"Fifteen-year-old boys aren't generally interested in nine-year-olds."

"It must be very pleasant to live in your world," Erika said, in her infuriating "you're so impossibly naive" tone.

Carolyn took a deep breath. It was difficult enough to convince Erika that she was overly paranoid, and impossible when it came to her children. "If you're so worried, what about sending the children to a camp that has a lower age cutoff?"

"You misunderstand. I want Wanda separated from boys, even those her own age, because this separates her from Pietro, and I am hoping the lack of his sister to turn to will help Pietro grow stronger. It is not healthy, how dependent he is on her. I was not so dependent on my brother, and I was both a girl and two years younger."

"Pietro's not as dependent as you might think. I watch the two of them playing. She bends over backward for him. He's got a lot of power in their relationship."

"Still. He's too shy. It's not safe for him." Erika finished her glass and poured herself more wine.

"How much of that do you usually drink with dinner?"

She'd thought her tone was casual, but Erika fixed her with a strange look. "Usually, one glass. Tonight I have no work in the morning and the twins are away, so I am having two. Why, does it bother you that I drink? I am not going to get drunk, you know this."

"Oh, I know. It's not a problem."

"You're troubled, though."

Carolyn shook her head. "It's nothing. I get a bit nervous when women drink heavily. Or men, for that matter, but my stepfather was brutal when he was sober; my mother never hit me unless she was drunk."

"Ah. In that case--" She stood up, carried the glass to the refrigerator and put it in, then took another glass from the cabinet. As she sat down, the grape juice, whose bottle was in a metal holder, floated over to her and poured into her new glass. "--I can forego."

Carolyn looked at her, dismayed. "You don't have to do that."

"You are my guest. I have no desire to distress you."

"But I don't-- it's nothing. I mean, it's not your problem that I get nervous--"

"Carolyn." Erika interrupted her. "It is a small thing to do, truly. You have done no end of small things to keep from awaking my bad memories. I could not do any less for you, no?"

"But-- I mean honestly, Erika, they can't be compared. I just have a few bad moments with my mother being drunk to remember. It isn't in the same league."

"Ah, well, if we are having a contest to see who suffered the most... Can you hear your own absurdity, Carolyn? Yes, I suffered worse, but this does not mean your suffering means nothing. Am I to maximize your unhappiness in order to redress some imbalance between us? You are my friend. And grape juice will not kill me."

"I just don't want to put you to any trouble."

"It's no trouble. Now come. You were telling me how things had gone with Gabriel."

"No, I wasn't."

"But you were about to." It was sometimes difficult to tell when Erika was joking or not. They spoke English together exclusively, Erika claiming she desperately needed the practice-- which she did, as her accent was fairly thick and her syntax was odd, and these contributed to making it hard to tell her tone sometimes. It didn't help that she had an excessively deadpan sense of humor. This time, however, Carolyn could see the eyes sparkle, the slight smile Erika was trying to keep off her face. She took the hint.

"There's nothing to tell. I keep telling you this."

"And I continue to disbelieve you. You are attracted to him. I can tell."

Carolyn sighed. "It's not a matter of attraction vs. not being attracted. Yes, he's attractive. That has nothing to do with it."

"I would think it would have much. He's intelligent, he's studying law, he's attractive, he's kind. What more does one need?"

"Someone who didn't use to be my patient." She ladled herself a second helping of soup-- despite her protestations earlier about the quantity, it was good soup, and taking a second helping would make Erika happy.

"I still don't understand this issue. He is not now your patient, and what difference would it make if he were?"

"It's the issue of power dynamics. And transference." She sipped her grape juice, trying to marshal her argument. "The first thing you have to realize is that therapy creates a situation of artificial dependence. The therapist is powerful to the patient, an advisor, wise and knowledgeable. The therapist is also a caretaker. The patient exposes himself to the therapist and becomes emotionally naked, revealing things most people wouldn't even tell their lovers. This creates an emotional environment of artificial intimacy, where the patient becomes very, very attached to the therapist, and it's not at all uncommon to fall in love. This is called transference, because the patient is transferring emotions that should be directed against parent figures or lovers onto the therapist."

"And why is this so terrible? Circumstances can create an intense emotion between people, this is obvious. I do not think I'd have been such a fool as to fall in love with my husband without the circumstances surrounding us."

"That's just it, though. For all intents and purposes, Gabe just got out of the camps three months ago, since he was catatonic in between. He's in the same situation you were, when you were in the DP camp and you met Meir. I could be as bad for him as Meir was for you."

"I would be very surprised if that were true."

"I wouldn't be."

"That's foolishness and you know it. You are the least likely abuser I have ever met. You are a good woman, Carolyn; if you are only denying yourself and Gabriel happiness because you think you will hurt him, then you are a fool."

"If I had a penny for every time you called me a fool I'd be a wealthy woman."

"You are a wealthy woman."

"I'd be wealthier." She shook her head. "Erika, there are a lot of different ways to abuse people. I'd never hit a lover; I don't hit people. But when I look back at how close Michael and I were, how it seemed as if we shared the same soul, thought the same thoughts..." Carolyn stared into her soup. "I think I consumed him. I can't be sure, it was so long ago and I was so inexperienced. But because I loved him so much and I wanted complete togetherness, I bonded us psionically... and I think I was subconsciously overriding his thoughts, modifying him as I went along. I didn't do it to Malcolm, thank God, and I think he was probably strong enough to resist me anyway, as he was older than Mike. But my God, Erika, what if I did that to Gabriel? He's spent half his life in a coma. He deserves to be who he could be, who he should be, not who I might try to make him over into."

"But since you know not to do this... I agree it would be a terrible thing to make one's lover into one's self, but surely you could prevent it, now that you know?"

"I did it subconsciously last time. I don't know. And the thing is that the situation is explosive anyway, because he was my patient. I know him better than anyone should be known by another. When I was freeing him from the catatonia, I saw things..." She shivered slightly. "I don't need to tell you about it. Would you really want for a lover someone who knew every horrible thing that had happened to you?"

"I would not want such a person to exist," Erika said calmly. "But if they did exist, and they were not a threat to me, and they wanted me despite what they knew, then yes, I would consider it."

"I wouldn't. And in this case it gives me far too much power, I think. Gabe already looks up to me and puts me on a pedestal. The fact that I know so much about him means I know every button to push to get what I want, just in the mundane sense and never mind my powers. Factor in the powers too, and it could be very, very ugly."

Erika gestured at her with a spoon. "Finish your soup, it will get cold." She had finished her own second helping.

Carolyn took a few spoonfuls before continuing with her mouth full. "You see--" she swallowed-- "maybe someday Gabriel and I could have something. But I just released him as my patient a month ago. The transference is still there. He's in love with me because I opened the door and let him out into the real world, I'm his rescuer. If in six months he still wants me, then I'd believe it was real, and then I'd have to consider if he's strong enough to stand up to me without letting me walk all over him."

"Having a man one can walk all over is underrated," Erika said dryly. "I myself would not mind such a thing."

"Yes, you would. You'd feel contempt for him. You need an equal, Erika. So do I." She laughed. "Maybe I'd actually prefer a man who's stronger than me, someone I could lean on if I had to, but when you're a brilliant superhuman, where do you go to find a man like that? Unless we found some mutant men..."

"They're no better than the human kind. I told you of Raven, yes?"

"Yes, he sounds like quite a gigolo. That's our trouble. We need to each find ourselves a fellow mutant we can trust."

"There would... seem to me to be an obvious solution to our mutual dilemma," Erika said, sipping her grape juice. There was something odd about her tone. Carolyn leaned forward.

"Really? I'm all ears."

And Erika's face turned red. "No, no, never mind. Forget I said that."

"Said what?"

"Nothing. It was foolishness."

"Come on. Now I'm curious."

"Perhaps later." Erika poured herself more grape juice, then looked at it with a somewhat disappointed expression.

"If you really want another glass of wine, you can go ahead. I'm sure your alcohol tolerance can handle it. It won't bother me."

"No, no need. Clearly I've already had too much." She stood up and started clearing the table. "There's no dessert, I'm afraid. I was going to make a pie, but Wanda and Pietro ate the pie filling."

"That's all right, that's fine. I ate far too much soup." Carolyn grinned. "Some of us can't expend our calories as kilojoules, you know."

Erika smiled. "I very much doubt I am fueling my powers with what I eat, else I would never stop eating. The equation does not balance. Besides, surely telepathy takes some additional energies an ordinary person does not use. And you have no need to be concerned for your weight. After you have had three children, you may complain to me about your weight."

"You look just fine. You look healthier than me, in fact."

"I exercise more often. You have the cushioned desk position, while I do real work."

"I think you mean cushy desk position."

"Yes, that is it. Put that plate down and sit. You are not to help."

"I don't just want to sit here while you're doing dishes..."

"You're a guest, as I continue to tell you. Sit!"



"Nothing. The way you said that, it's like you'd give orders to a dog. Sit, girl! Stay! Good girl, here's a bone!"

Erika laughed. "I didn't mean it that way..."

"I know, I know. I'm teasing you." She sat down, since Erika would not let her help clear the table. "You know, if you think Gabe is such a catch, have you considered dating him?"

"He doesn't want me, Carolyn. He wants you."

"I know he wants me. But he can't have me, and the sooner he realizes this, the better. I like him a lot and I enjoy being his friend, but it's too dangerous, not to mention unethical, to be more than that... at least for several months, and anything could happen in that time. He'd be perfect for you, though."

Erika's back was rigid as she washed the dishes, perhaps more vigorously than she needed to. "No he wouldn't."

"Yes he would. I've actually been thinking about this for some time. You think he's good-looking, intelligent and kind, you just said so a while ago tonight. You have a shared heritage in common--"

"So you are trying to matchmake us because he is a nice Jewish boy, is that what you're saying?"

Carolyn laughed. "There's no shortage of nice Jewish boys in Israel. But no. I mean that you and he are both Israelis, for one thing. You plan to spend the rest of your lives here. Sooner or later I'm going back to America-- I enjoy this place, but heaven knows an American Catholic doesn't fit in awfully well, and I'm a little tired of having to pretend I'm a Jew or else make lengthy explanations as to what I'm doing here all the time."

"You don't have to do either. No one will throw an American doctor out of the country because she is gentile. Simply say you're Catholic when the subject comes up and then drop it. When does the subject come up, anyway?"

"It doesn't... just little things, because I'm here and I know so much about your culture, so people assume. But that isn't my point, anyway. I like America. I like it here too, but it's not home and it never will be. For you, though, it is, and the same for Gabe. So that potential problem is headed off."

"He'd want a younger woman. One who can bear his children. Family is very important to those of us who have lost all."

"You're only 38. If you wanted more children--"

"I have endured six pregnancies, and brought only three living children to show. When I was a young woman, I nearly died in childbirth three times... technically, in fact, the twins killed me, and I was only revived through heroic intervention. I mourned a stillborn and three miscarriages. No, I will not bear children again."

Carolyn's eyes had widened. Erika joked about her pregnancies sometimes, because Carolyn had never been pregnant and it was thus a sphere of knowledge where Erika played at being the wise old mentor. But she had never mentioned the stillbirth or the miscarriages before, and all she'd said of the twins' birth was that it had been very difficult. "Hmm, yes, I can see your point there. But still that's not an insurmountable obstacle-- besides, your children need a father. And you've been through a lot of the same things, you understand each other in a way that people like me never could--"

"Have you told him yet you are a mutant?"

"I-- well, no, but--"

"I will not hide any longer." Erika finished the dishes with a flourish and spun around, pacing toward the living room. gesturing as she spoke. "I will not hide myself from one I love. I will not endure that. And human men will not tolerate a woman who is stronger than they are. A man who cannot beat his wife thinks himself emasculated. No human male would have me, for he could never control me."

"That's harsh. And inaccurate. Especially in this case. You know damn well Gabriel isn't like that."

"Do I? Then why have you not shared your telepathy with him?"

"That's different--"

"It is no different." They had reached the living room by now, Erika pacing agitatedly and Carolyn following her. "I have buried one child for a human man's fear of my power. I will not do so again!"

"You're overexaggerating. You know Gabriel isn't like that."

"And again I say, do I? I swore Meir was not like that, and I had known him for ten years. You have known Gabriel for only three months!"

"I know Gabriel better than you can imagine, better than you could ever know anyone, and I'm telling you he'd never do such a thing. He's not like that at all."

"Then why haven't you told him of your telepathy?"

"Because I don't want him to know that I violated his mind to save him from catatonia! Not because I'm afraid he'll turn on me and try to kill me! My God, Erika, I know you've had a horrible life, but can't you acknowledge for a moment that maybe it was because you were unlucky and not because all human men are the quintessence of evil?"

"I'm sorry." Erika took a deep breath, facing the window. It was, like all the windows in the small house, glazed with dark glass and barred on the inside; it was also open, with a metal window fan magnetized to the bars. The air blown by the fan fluttered Erika's long white hair back. "Perhaps I do Gabriel a disservice. I am not-- he is a good friend to have, and I do not fear him as a friend. But it is not in me to take that risk with a lover again. Not ever."

Carolyn sat down in the stuffed armchair, calming herself. "I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to push you." Sometimes Erika came across as the worst sort of bigot, a small-minded person who despised both men and non-mutants, and Carolyn would be both embarrassed to be her friend and angry at her. And then she'd do or say something that reminded Carolyn of what she was struggling against, of what she'd endured. Carolyn couldn't imagine what it would have been like if Michael had suddenly turned on her and tried to kill her. It was a monstrous thing, what her husband had done to her, and it explained a good deal of Erika's paranoia. Erika was so strong, it was hard to remember sometimes how damaged she was.

"I know. It is only--" Erika turned from the fan and faced Carolyn. "I wanted you to be happy. I know, intellectually, that Gabriel is a good man, and I believe he will not hurt you, else I would not have tried to matchmake you with him. For myself, though, I cannot believe it..." She began to pace again. "I will not risk being with a man again. It's brought me nothing but heartbreak, and I cannot bear it. Human or mutant, it makes no difference; I've sworn off the entire gender."

"That's really too bad. I understand why you would feel that way, but it's tragic that you would." Carolyn leaned back in the armchair, kicking off her shoes and drawing up her legs, to curl them under herself in the armchair. "I'm a supporter of women's liberation. I believe with all my heart that a woman doesn't need a man to be complete, that if you have a career, and friends, and a stimulating life, that's all you really need to have. And it's a far better thing to have those things and no man than to have a man, and not those things."

"On this I speak from experience, and you are right. I am infinitely better off now than I was when I bound my fate to my husband's."

"Right. So don't mistake me; I'd never give up my career for a man. But... dammit, a man is a good thing to have too. And I'm not just talking about sex, though god knows I miss it sometimes. But being able to depend on another person, sharing a home and a life... sleeping next to a warm body, someone to hold you... being the most important person in someone else's eyes... friends are a wonderful thing to have, but they aren't a substitute for a lover. Sometimes, I know, I wonder for myself if I'll ever have one... all joking aside, I know I could love a human man, and be loved in return, because it's happened. I'm not holding out for a mutant, just someone intelligent and attractive who can accept me. And that itself isn't all that likely, I know, especially as I get older..."

"You're 31, and you are beautiful. You should hardly have difficulties."

Erika, of course, didn't know about the wig, or she wouldn't be saying that. "Yes, I know, I'm a mere child," Carolyn said teasingly, not wanting to get into why, exactly, she thought a relationship was unlikely. When Malcolm had chased her, she had still had a full head of hair, albeit thinning and gray. "But in any case, I'm still looking. I'm open to the possibility of finding love. But you... if you've written off men forever, you'll never have a chance to learn what love could be like, when it's not tarnished by abuse and lies and control issues. And I'm sorry for you if that's true."

Erika shook her head, and plopped down on the couch, facing Carolyn. "The only thing one needs a man for is fathering children. You can get everything else elsewhere, including love."

"Not the same kind of love, though."

Erika stared at the grape juice in her hand silently. The silence stretched so long that Carolyn automatically moved to read her. Erika's shields were like the dark glass she'd glazed her home with when viewed from the outside; dark and smooth, concealing all the details of what lay within, but with emotions shining from beneath sometimes like silhouettes, like a light behind dark glass, like a shadow play. Right now, the lights and shadows of some sort of turmoil, a terrible anxiety, shone from beneath her shield. "Erika? Is something wrong?'

"I don't--" Pause. "It is not--" Longer pause. "I would--" Pause. "Bleh. English deserts me."

"We could use Hebrew instead," Carolyn said in that language.

Erika made a face, continuing in English. "I am the Israeli and yet your Hebrew is much better than mine. It's hardly fair."

"Any language you like, then. Or I could try to read you..."

"No, no, I wish the reverse." She downed more of the grape juice and then looked down at it intently again. "I would wish to read your mind."

Carolyn was puzzled, but decided to go along with it. Erika would get to the point eventually. "Sure. We'll swap. You can have my telepathy, but only if I get your magnetic powers."

Erika laughed. "I fear it doesn't work that way."

"No, more's the pity. Why do you want to read my mind?"

Another moment of silence, and then Erika looked up from her fascinating grape juice. "What would you say if I were to say... that lately I have grown... interested in the same kind?"

"Same kind of what?"

Erika snorted exasperatedly. "What were we talking about, Carolyn?"

"Love," Carolyn said, and then jumped the logical gap, remembering the last thing Erika and she had said on the topic. She stared at her friend. "I, uh... oh. Oh, you mean... that."

"Yes, that."

Just in case there was a misunderstanding, Carolyn said, "You're saying you're interested in sexual love with women."

"Not all women; you make me sound like a trollop. I think I may be in love with a woman."

"Oh." Carolyn felt like she'd been whacked upside the logical portions of her brain with a two by four. "I, uh, I didn't know you preferred that."

"Define prefer." Erika sighed. "I am not made of stone. I look at Gabriel, or other attractive men, and yes, I can see they are handsome. I know what it is to lust for a man. But I am... I do not believe I could love them any longer, not sexually. A platonic friend who is male, that I could have. And at times I have entertained fantasies of seducing an attractive young one for a night of cheap pleasure... but such a thing would cheapen me as well as him, and it is not what I would do. Instead I find that... that I am drawn to a woman... and while it would not be the first time I have had such feelings, it's certainly the first time in... many, many years... the first time since I first found love in a man's arms. Does that mean I prefer women? I think not, but..."

When shocked by a revelation and dancing for equilibrium, put on your psychiatrist hat. "Has it occurred to you that what you're feeling might be an artefact of your fear of men? You've just said you're lonely, that you feel sexual desire, and that you're too afraid of men hurting you emotionally to open up to one again. Maybe you've chosen a safe target by falling for a woman, because you don't have so many negative memories tangled up with loving women as loving men, even though inherently that's not the way you're oriented."

"Perhaps so, but let me be blunt-- why on Earth would I care? My feelings are real, regardless of what deep psychological processes they stem from." She stood up and started pacing, clearly upset. "You're disgusted with me."

"Not at all. I-- look, Erika, I was a bit surprised. But personally I have nothing against same-sex attraction. I think all of us have a little bit of it-- I've had an occasional erotic dream about a woman or two, and I've never been bothered by looking through a lover's eyes when we're in bed to see what he sees in me, though I don't know if you'd call that lesbianism or narcissism." She grinned. "No, I was just surprised, that's all."

Erika breathed deeply, motionless, facing the fan again. "You, too, have occasionally had such feelings?"

"Well, in dreams. But dreams aren't always about what they seem to be about. Freud thought that many things in dreams were symbolic of sex, but in our more open age it goes the other way too-- dreaming of sex with someone might symbolize emotional closeness, for instance." She wasn't going to mention that the specific example she'd been thinking of was an occasional erotic dream about Erika herself, interspersed with the usual fantasies of Gabriel and the memories of Michael.


"Why did you think I'd be upset with you? You know my politics. I'm against any form of oppression for acts or beliefs that harm no one. I've never understood the homosexuality taboo-- there's not nearly enough love in the world; why should we hate people for choosing to love because we wouldn't make their choices ourselves?"

"I haven't told you everything."

"Oh, now we get to the part where you tell me it's really female sheep you're attracted to." Carolyn snorted. "Seriously, Erika. I think I can handle it, whatever it is."

"All right." Erika went back to the sofa and sat down again, setting down the grape juice. Carolyn had never before seen her this agitated and restless when they weren't arguing politics, and then, Erika would pace in a driven fashion, gesticulating wildly and almost angrily, without all the stops and starts. "I am not sure you understood me, by the way. I was not saying that in general I am attracted to women, because as a general thing I am not. I have been saying that I have fallen in love, I think."

Carolyn nodded. She hadn't missed that, no. But she'd let her intellectual curiosity run ahead of her emotional curiosity, because she didn't really want to hear about the object of Erika's affections. Erika was her friend, though, so she had to ask. "Does she know?"

"I do not think so."

Carolyn's heart pounded in her chest. She felt a little lightheaded, and she didn't want to continue this line of questioning, but she went on. "And you're afraid of scaring her off?"

"It is a possibility I fear," Erika acknowledged, not looking away.

This time it was Carolyn who looked away, finding an excuse to put her eyes anywhere but that gaze. "Well, maybe you should sound her out on the subject," she said, inspecting the fabric of the armchair she sat in. "Maybe she wouldn't be as upset as you think. I think maybe you should go ahead and tell her."

"I am."

After a moment, Carolyn realized she'd forgotten to breathe, and carefully let it out. She'd seen this coming for a few minutes, but hearing it aloud...

Dear God, what do I do?

"I am in love with you," Erika said, a note of desperation in her voice. "I didn't realize-- I thought my feelings were friendship only, though more intense than that I'd felt ever. And then it was I realized, I realized I was growing jealous of Gabriel. At first I thought I might be jealous of you, that he wanted you, but after much thought I realized that if he were to pack and go to a foreign land for his law studies, only slightly would I miss him. But if you returned to America, I would be devastated. So I examined my feelings further, which is not what I am wont to do. I found I could not stop thinking about you. Wanting to be with you, and also I would think on how beautiful you are, and wishing I could touch you. I thought of kissing you and found the idea had great appeal. I thought perhaps I might be envious of your beauty, but no-- I just wished I could always be looking at you."

"But I'm not beautiful. You have a much better bone structure than I do, and much more classic features."

Erika waved her hand impatiently. "Never mind that. I look old. Men may improve with stress, but generally women do not. But that isn't the point. I-- I know this is absolute foolishness. You aren't interested in women and if you were it would likely not be me. I just..." She trailed off.

Carolyn took a deep breath, trying to calm the racing of her heart. She had to understand. Before she did anything, she had to understand. "Why were you trying to play matchmaker with Gabriel and me if you're jealous of him?"

"I shouldn't be jealous of him!" She exploded from her seat and started pacing again frenetically. "He is a good man, and I know what he's suffered. I had my second chance, my opportunity for life and love again. He has not, yet. And his want of you is a natural thing. Men and women should be together; it is what was meant by nature. That it is not what I want is not relevant; life has never cared what I want. So I thought, because he is my friend and I would see him happy, and you-- I would do anything to make you happy, and you couldn't possibly want me, so I wanted-- because I know you are lonely, and I wanted to see you find happiness with someone. Because I knew you wanted that, as-- as I do, but for me I had accepted it was over, that part of my life, long before I had met you. I was resigned. So it-- I..."

Carolyn studied Erika, assessing her with new eyes. It was such a very Erika-like thing to do, to try to ensure the happiness of someone she loved even at the cost of what she wanted. She was arrogant, domineering, sometimes self-indulgent, sometimes downright bigoted-- but she was also one of the most generous and loyal friends a person could have. Her revelation had thrown Carolyn at first because she hadn't expected it-- Carolyn went into friendships with men expecting that someday the men might want it to be sexual, but she'd never assumed that with Erika, and so having circumstances suddenly turn this way had startled her badly enough to make an idiot of herself. But she was recovering her equilibrium now, and her mind was racing, trying to analyze this and how she felt about it, and if she could find it in her to reciprocate, and if she wanted to. Part of her felt an overwhelming tenderness toward Erika, and pity, and a desire to spare her the pain of loving without being loved in return. But Erika wouldn't want sex for pity's sake. If she was going to give Erika what she wanted, it had to be something Carolyn could find it in herself to want as well. And then there were all the issues of making a friendship sexual, and the issues of having a lesbian relationship in this prejudiced world-- hell, back home the psychiatric community still classified homosexuality as a mental illness, though Carolyn's experiences as a telepath had taught her that this was ridiculous.

Erika misinterpreted her silence. "I don't ask you to feel the way I do," she whispered, her hands twisting around each other, as she sat back down again. "I wouldn't have-- wouldn't have said anything, except that you said Gabriel was out of the question, but you're lonely and you miss having someone to love. Someone who thinks you are the most important person-- and aside from my children, you are that, to me. But it-- we can forget I said anything, if it makes you uncomfortable. We don't-- we need never again acknowledge this night, or anything we have said, if you prefer..."

She looked so desperate, so afraid she'd lost her friend forever. Carolyn got out of her chair and crossed the room to sit next to Erika on the sofa, taking the nervously twisting hands in her own and stilling their motion. "Erika. No. We aren't going to forget this, because there's no need. I'm honored and flattered that you feel that way about me, though I don't know yet if I can return your feelings the way you want. No matter what I decide on that score, we'll always be friends, all right?"

Erika drew a ragged breath, her hands clenching onto Carolyn's as if Carolyn had extended them to her to save her from drowning. "You don't know yet?" she asked, her eyes locked onto Carolyn's. "You are-- are you saying-- there is a chance? That you could-- love me?"

"I do love you. The question is, could I be your lover, and the answer is I don't know. I mean--" She released Erika's hands, flinging her own into the air and laughing nervously. "This is the first time I've thought about it! You know me, I plan everything a year in advance, I analyze things to death when I enter a situation. So this-- I've never really looked at my own feelings for you to see if there's any element of sexual desire in there. Just-- I've had a few dreams, but as I said before, I assumed they were symbolic. I can't say if this is something I'd want or not." She laughed again. "Also, I've never been with a woman before, so I'm afraid I'd be completely incompetent at it..."

"I have, and it would be no distress for me to teach you what I know, I assure you. If you wish to factor that into your decision." Erika smiled weakly, and took another deep breath. "Thank you, my friend. I should have known better of you-- I should have known you well enough to know you would not turn on me. Forgive me my fears."

"No, I understand perfectly. After your husband tried to kill you for being a mutant, I'm amazed you've gotten up the courage to tell someone you care about something that society would despise, again. I wonder sometimes if we'd even have told each other about our mutancy if I hadn't read it in your children's minds. God knows I don't think I'd have had the courage to admit to it."

"You told Malcolm, though, and your lost love Michael."

"I had to tell Michael. I thought I might be going insane, hearing voices, and I needed to talk to someone. As for Malcolm, at the time I was big on the idea of being totally honest with your lovers, and I was miserable that I'd slept with him without him knowing. Now, to be frank, I don't know if I'd do that. I was so lucky with Michael and Malcolm; Cain wanted to kill me for it, and then there's the experience you had."

"I think silence is wiser myself, but I have an obvious bias." Erika stood up. "I have a new record I wanted you to listen to."

It was an utterly transparent attempt to change the subject. Carolyn allowed it. "What is it?"

"Mussorgsky. Night on Bald Mountain." She grimaced. "It may not be the most appropriate fare for the conversation we've been having..."

"Well, you know, if you put on Bolero I might think you were going just a wee over the top," Carolyn said, grinning. "It'll be fine. Who's doing it?"

"The New York Philharmonic."

"Sounds good to me."

As they listened to the record in companionable silence, Carolyn studied Erika again.

She didn't have to make a decision tonight. She knew Erika would not bring the subject up again, and if Carolyn ignored it as well, Erika would assume the answer had been "no." Which was, very likely, the easiest and most sensible thing to do. But if you spent your life doing the easiest and most sensible things, you never had a chance to live.

She felt no visceral attraction toward Erika, no pounding of the heart, no small thrill of sharp shooting desire racing through her body like a delicious pain. On the other hand, she felt no repulsion either. Carolyn had never been comfortable with casual touching-- hugs, hand holding, embraces... she lived in a little bubble and disliked having others penetrate it unless they were lovers. Even her mother, she had had little physical affection for-- she had always been more like her father, reserved and brilliant Brian Xavier, who showed his love in endless patience with a little girl's questions rather than the stifling hugs Sharon Xavier dispensed. Physical affection was not something she wanted or needed except from a lover. And yet she had allowed Erika to hug her on occasion, to rub her neck. She had told herself it was because Erika was a physically demonstrative person, and that was just her way, but in fact Erika never touched anyone else but her children-- if she was physically demonstrative, it was only with her kids, and Carolyn. And Carolyn had allowed it, and had liked it.

Deliberately now she imagined kissing Erika. It wasn't a thought that made her knees go weak, but there was nothing bothersome about the thought, either. She imagined then Erika kissing the nape of her neck, and that did bring a visceral and pleasurable reaction-- but maybe that was only because of how long it had been. Somehow she had to factor that out. She would not simply use her friend for sex, however willing to be so used Erika might be.

On her 16th birthday, Carolyn Xavier had thrown away her virginity with both hands, an event she'd eagerly awaited for almost two years. As a teenage telepath, living in a house with a man who abused her mother and his son and occasionally, off-handedly, her too, and a stepbrother who loved to beat her up and who suffered terribly from his father's abuse, and a mother who would drink to escape the pain, and then shout at Carolyn and insult her and occasionally hit her, Carolyn had sought an escape. Any escape, any way to flee the pain all around her and the fear she lived in. She'd found that she could release her mind at night, let it drift away, and it would be drawn to strong emotion-- and since pain and fear and grief were as bad as what she endured at home, she latched onto sex instead. While other girls her age were dreaming of actors and singers, too ashamed and ignorant to connect pleasure to the feeling between their legs, Carolyn had been voyeuristically observing sex from inside the heads of the people having it, people who loved each other, people who passionately strove to please each other. So she'd known what sex was while still virginal in body, and had known she would like it. She and Michael had engaged in a great deal of petting in the interminable year and a half between when they started going out and when Carolyn would turn 16, legally free to do whatever she wanted with her body. And while actually doing it at long last hadn't entirely matched her expectations, it had come close.

This experience, and her political views, made Carolyn think of herself as sexually daring, a wild free-thinker, erotic and earthy. It was a far cry from how the world saw her, as the repressed, controlled, aloof career woman. It was also, in its own way, as incorrect a vision as the sexually prudish one others had of her was. Carolyn only slept with those she loved; she still believed sex belonged with love, and she loved few, being emotionally repressed enough to let very few people in under her walls. She was friendly with everyone and friends with almost none, most of her relationships superficial. She'd been too driven for that. When Malcolm had offered her love, she'd been working on a second doctorate, and hadn't had time for the demands his feelings placed on her. She hadn't found time and energy for love in the intervening years, either; she'd driven herself ruthlessly to accomplish her goal, had gotten there, and had become completely burnt out within three years, fleeing her work to travel the world. And there'd been pleasure in that, and adventure, but no close friendships, not until she met Erika and stopped her wandering for a time.

The 16-year-old wild girl who'd thought getting pregnant would emancipate her from her stepfather's clutches (thankfully, the plan hadn't gone through by the time Marko had died, and afterward Carolyn had been more careful) had given way to a 31-year-old responsible adult who went to her narrow bed alone each night. It wasn't what she wanted to be. She'd felt truly alive when she'd been stealing Marko's car at night so she and Michael could tryst in the large back seat, parked out by the woods with no one to disturb them. It had been a painful, tumultuous time, full of terror and joy in equal measure, but she'd been alive then. Not like this even, flat existence she'd been having. Even adventuring around the world, as exciting as it had been at times, had never opened her up to emotional risk, to the ups and downs of being involved with a lover again. Doing something wild and daring, opening herself to pleasure and pain and feeling again, was a thought that both excited and terrified her.

Sex hadn't destroyed her friendship with Michael-- though in her more paranoid moments she sometimes feared that her friendship with Michael had destroyed his individuality, it was certainly true that sex hadn't stopped them from being friends. It hadn't destroyed her friendship with Malcolm-- breaking up with him had strained things between them, but she still wrote him long letters and got letters back in response. She and Erika were both mature adults, and should be able to handle adding a sexual dimension to a relationship that was already so close. And the more Carolyn considered the idea, the less it disturbed her and the more it excited her. No, she'd never been attracted to a woman before, but what of it? Michael hadn't become attractive until he'd become her best friend in the world-- he'd grown into a strapping, muscular young man, but as a teenager he'd been overweight, freckled, and had bad acne and glasses, and she wouldn't have given him a second thought if she hadn't loved him completely already. Malcolm had been quite handsome, but Carolyn had actually been planning to give him the "let's be friends" speech the night that her emotional control had cracked and she'd ended up seeking solace from her grief in his bed. Attraction had come after romantic involvement in both cases. Why not this time?

When the record ended, and the needle reset itself back to its cradle, Erika gestured at the record player, which obligingly shut itself off. She turned to face Carolyn, showing no sign that she'd noticed Carolyn studying her all through the piece. "What did you think?"

"It's a good rendition," Carolyn said. Her heart had started to race again. Excitement or fear, she couldn't tell which. Both, probably. "I've been thinking. About your idea."

"I-- I see." They looked at each other all the time. Why did she suddenly feel so uncomfortable about meeting Erika's gaze? "And what did you decide?"

Carolyn took Erika's hands in her own. "I think I'd like to."

Erika's eyes widened slightly, and her breath came suddenly short and sharp, her hands tightening on Carolyn's. "You are sure?"


Erika released her hands and hugged her tightly, rubbing her head against Carolyn's neck. "Thank you," she whispered. Carolyn was shorter than Erika by a good bit, but it was mostly because of Erika's legs, which were quite long-- sitting, much of their size difference vanished, and what was left was taken up by the slight distance between their seated bodies still. It was no strain on Carolyn and probably only a bit on Erika when Erika lifted her head and kissed Carolyn's lips.

She hadn't known what she expected. Her friend tasted no different than a man-- Erika wore no cosmetics. Her face was completely smooth, but Carolyn had never liked stubble. She felt as if she were losing her balance, and reached to hold Erika's head, running her fingers through the other woman's thick white hair. Erika's tongue traced Carolyn's lips lightly, without breaking the kiss. The movement sent a slight thrill through Carolyn, and her breathing quickened. She couldn't quite believe she was doing this. The excitement she felt seemed as much if not more adventurous than sexual, the thrill of doing something new. She parted her lips, letting Erika into her mouth, kissing her just exactly as if she were a man. Mostly Erika tasted of grape juice, with a hint of alcohol but not enough to be bothersome.

Erika shifted, turning so she was half-kneeling on the couch, more or less facing Carolyn, and pressed her body against Carolyn's harder, pushing them both back against the back of the couch. Her hand went up to the back of Carolyn's head and touched her there. Sudden realization hit. Carolyn jerked her head away and pushed Erika back, not hard, but enough that Erika drew back of her own accord.

"What's wrong?" Erika sat back, away from her. "You-- do not wish this, after all, then?"

She had to control her thumping heart. "It's stupid," Carolyn said, and then realized how Erika might take that. "I mean, not you. Or this. But I, uh--" She had to say something to get rid of that wary look, the sense of imminent heartbreak she saw in her friend's eyes. "I, um, I wear a wig. I was afraid you were going to accidentally pull it off."

Her face flamed with embarrassment. She hadn't been with a lover since adopting the wig. But it couldn't possibly hold up to lovemaking-- better she got the secret out now, before Erika accidentally yanked it away and embarrassed them both.

"I see. You are not ill, I hope? No chemotherapy or some such?"

"No, no. It's just-- my hair went gray by the time I was 18. Not like yours. I used to be a blonde, so it went ugly gray. I bleached it, and then I tried darkening it, and around then it all started falling out. I, uh, there isn't much of it left. It's really rather awful-looking."

"Carolyn, the first time I made love, it was with one with a shaved head. I am not going to be put off that you are less hairy than me."

"It's different with men, though. They can look all right if they're bald, or their heads are shaved. And in any case, I doubt under those circumstances you were thinking much of physical appearances."

"I wasn't, it's true. But it was not a man. I told you I have been with a woman before. My first lover, Rebecca, in the camps."

"I remember you mentioning a woman named Rebecca. I thought she was your best friend."

"That as well. Clearly I am repeating history." She sighed. "If you do not want to do this, we can stop now and forget it happened..."

"No, it's all right, I'm just-- embarrassed."

"Close your eyes."

She wasn't sure why she should, but did it anyway, curious. Erika's arms went around her, holding her close. She could hear the other woman's heartbeat, smell sweat and soap and the faint trace of ozone. Light fingers went to her wig and plucked it off, leaving her head nearly naked, exposed. Carolyn shivered involuntarily, knowing what Erika would see. Thin, colorless hair and not enough of it, drawn back from her forehead and spotty all over. It was really very ugly. She'd taken up wearing the brown wigs four years ago, but hiding the deterioration from the eyes of the world hadn't slowed it.

She felt Erika's lips against one of the exposed, nearly hairless spots on the top of her head, in a gentle kiss like butterfly wings. This time her shiver was not out of self-revulsion. The bald spots were actually very sensitive. Erika kissed her again and again, trailing kisses over the top of her scalp, before releasing her. Carolyn sat up, pulling back out of the embrace, and opened her eyes.

"You have no need to be ashamed," Erika said, looking at her with those impossibly intense eyes. "You are still beautiful."

Carolyn laughed, a slight embarrassed sound. "I see. You're not attracted to women in general, just bald women."

"I am attracted to telepathic mutants from America named Carolyn Xavier. A perverted fetish, I know." She lifted Carolyn's hand and began kissing it-- not the courtly kiss on the back of it, but tender kisses to palm and fingers, tracing her way up each finger and down, sucking lightly on the tips as she finished with them.

It had been a long, long time since Carolyn had shared her bed with anyone. Surely that accounted for the strength of her reaction. She felt as if she were melting, as if she couldn't move because all her muscles had turned to goo. Fiery flares of an almost-painful excitement raced through her in irregular pulses. If this is how I react to her simply kissing my hand, I'm going to be passing out by the time she gets to actual erogenous zones. It wasn't a fully welcome thought. Carolyn didn't like losing control.

She stood up. "We really ought to take this to the bedroom."

"As you wish." Erika took the hand she was still holding, stood, and tugged slightly, walking backward toward the bedroom. Carolyn followed, hand in hers.

Erika's bedroom was small, a sacrifice she'd made to give the twins separate rooms. But it had a window, overlooking the small fenced yard in back of the house. Like the windows in the living room and kitchen, the window was glazed with dark glass so that those outside could see nothing but shadows within, and barred on the inside. At the moment, also like the other windows, the glass had been lifted to expose a bug screen, and a window fan had been magnetically inserted under the bars, blowing the cool night air of the desert into the tiny room. Through the top part of the window, not blocked by the fan, the moon shone through brightly, almost full.

Carolyn sat down on the edge of the bed, nervous. Telepathic voyeur of a thousand sex acts in her adolescence, and yet she'd never seen two women together-- in staid Salem center, where she'd spent her teen years, there had been a large number of married couples, and an unexpectedly high number of unmarried (or married, but not to each other) ones, and a small number of homosexual men-- but no lesbians. By the time Carolyn had gone away to college and seen a less insular world than a small, old-monied town, she'd grown out of using her powers to spy on other people's sex lives. She didn't know what women did together, and the fact that Erika did wasn't necessarily reassuring. She couldn't stand to look like a fool in front of Erika, and she also wondered how she would compare to Erika's dead friend Rebecca. It was very hard to match up to the dead. Carolyn knew part of the problem with her love life was that no man ever matched up to Michael; it would be poetic justice if the same thing happened to her.

Erika sat down next to her. "Are you sure you wish this?" she asked again.

"Do I look that nervous?" She laughed. Nervously. "I'm not having second thoughts, just... I've never done this before. I feel like a virgin all over again."

"Is this a good feeling or a bad one?"

"I don't know. I'm just... a little anxious."

"Ah, that is my revenge, you see. I've been near-ill with anxiety since I made the decision to ask you for this, certain you'd say no." Erika nuzzled her neck. Carolyn shivered. It felt good, but frightening, because she wasn't entirely certain how much she wanted it to feel good. Was this normal? If she did this, did that make her a lesbian? Or was she only a lesbian if she liked it? You're being ridiculous, she told herself, willing herself to relax. Deep breath, in, out.

"Realx," Erika said softly, as if she were the mindreader. "Nothing bad will happen to you. Nothing will happen that you do not want. Just relax."

"It's hard," Carolyn admitted. "It's been so long... and it's always been hard for me to relax."

"I know. I know." Her hand stroked Carolyn's back, warm and soothing. "I have that difficulty as well. Perhaps we can help one another with the problem?"

"I thought that's what we were doing."

"Of course."

Erika kissed her on the lips again, bearing the two of them flat onto the bed. Carolyn closed her eyes as Erika started unbuttoning her blouse. She couldn't read Erika's mind. She could get emotions, like flame flickering behind walls of smoked glass, and thus she could sense tenderness, affection, nervousness, desire, all emotions that reassured her and made her feel it was safe to be here-- Erika wanted her, cared for her, and would not feel anger or contempt at her own nervousness because Erika felt the same way. But Carolyn couldn't actually read her thoughts. She had no idea what Erika was going to do until she did it (soft kisses against her breastbone, along the line above the cups of her bra; fingers undoing each button, exposing more flesh to the light breeze of the fan in the window.) Surprise was a luxury she'd never had before. With Michael, with Malcolm, she hadn't been able to stop reading their thoughts; sex shattered control, demanded as great a closeness as she could achieve, and when she'd tried for Malcolm's sake not to, she'd felt cold and used and uptight, and release had remained a million miles away. Not knowing was new. With her eyes closed, the sensations were magnified, each kiss and caress a sweet small surprise.

A spot on her back tingled slightly, and then her bra hooks undid themselves, pulling together and then apart. Carolyn started slightly, her eyes snapping open. Erika stroked her head. "It's all right, it's all right. I only thought it would be easier than trying to reach behind you."

"I was just surprised. Don't worry." She closed her eyes again and raised her arms, relishing the sensation of cloth being tugged away, breasts being exposed. The removal of her bra had always felt erotic, far more so than removing any other clothing, even briefs. She moaned slightly, very softly, as she felt Erika's mouth on her breast, kissing first along the swell of flesh before finally reaching the nipple. That felt so good. She ran her hand through thick long hair, enjoying the rich feel of it under her fingers, the warm wet pressure of the mouth on her breast. This couldn't be happening. She couldn't be in bed with her best friend. It was too unbelievably strange. But the evidence of her senses belied all logic; she was here, and so far she liked it quite a bit. She hoped desperately she wouldn't regret this in the morning.

The pressure changed-- suddenly suckling hard, the sensation intensifying by an order of magnitude. Carolyn's back arched into it, although she was silent, pressing her breast up against that wonderful mouth. Then Erika released her and raised her head. "You are doing that?"

"Doing... what?" Her breathing was ragged.

"That-- I felt it. What I was doing to you, I felt against me, as if a ghost were touching me. I wasn't sure until just now, but I did not imagine that."

It took a moment for Carolyn's head to clear enough to check. And yes, there was an open channel between herself and Erika. She was broadcasting. Her face burned with embarrassment. Did she always do this, and only a woman actually had the equipment to interpret the signals? Or, perhaps, only a mutant was able to receive? Erika was the first non-telepathic mutant Carolyn had met, and she had shields-- perhaps she was a psi-sensitive, somehow? "I'm sorry. It was an accident. I won't do it again."

"No, no. Unless it taxes you to do it, I would-- I would prefer you continue." Erika smiled. "I am very much fond of the thought of knowing what pleasure you feel, as you feel it. It would not only be a help in knowing what to do for you, but... I find it exciting. So it is not that I mind, at all; I only wished to know."

Carolyn took a deep breath. It would, in fact, be difficult to stop broadcasting. It was the same open channel effect that usually led to her reading her lovers' minds, not the other way around. "You're sure you don't mind?" Normally Erika had always been wary of her telepathy.

"I can take pleasure directly in satisfying you, as well as the pleasure of satisfying you, and I am to mind this?"

They both laughed, tension broken somewhat. "Good point." Carolyn closed her eyes again and gave herself up to mouth and fingers. Erika was using only one hand to touch her, and seemed to be using her powers to take her weight; the remaining hand lay limp at her side, as usual. Carolyn reached down, sitting up slightly so she could reach the unused hand, and caught it in hers, drawing it up. The clasp of the fingers in hers was weak. "Does it hurt if I touch your hand?"

"The hand itself, no, there is nothing wrong. It is a little bit numb and there is no dexterity, but I do not mind you holding it."

It occurred to Carolyn that she'd never seen the injury that made Erika's right arm useless, and that brought about the realization that she was naked to the waist but Erika was fully dressed. She was going to say something about it, but then Erika started sucking hard on her breast again, and all desire to do or say anything that might make her stop fled. Erika's good hand went to the button of Carolyn's skirt, as her zipper undid itself, and the hand began carefully working the skirt off her hips. As soon as the skirt had cleared her hips, it tugged itself down the rest of the way off her legs by the zipper. Erika's good hand drifted over her thighs, her briefs. In the heat of the desert Carolyn didn't wear nylons; she was a famous doctor and allowed a bit of eccentricity. There was now nothing on her body but the underpants Erika was currently tracing with a finger.

Erika's mouth released her breast, and she sat back. Carolyn opened her eyes. She was lying in a puddle of moonlight, with Erika leaning back on her haunches in shadow. There was a definite imbalance here. "You have too many clothes on," Carolyn said, reaching to help Erika with the buttons.

Erika drew back slightly. "Let me draw the shades," she said, gesturing at the window. A shade dropped over the top portion, darkening the room considerably.

"Put it back. I want to see you."

"I don't--"

"Turnabout is fair play, Erika. You got to look at me naked. Besides, you're seeing me without my wig."

"All right." The shade rolled up again and let the moonlight through. "But I am... not so pleasant to look at as you are, Carolyn."

"I won't mind." She sat up to help Erika undo the buttons, but as usual Erika wouldn't let her do anything; her dress parted of its own accord, not unbuttoning, and Carolyn could see that in fact it wasn't held together with buttons at all. There seemed to be a false strip of buttons and fake buttonholes sewn all the way down the dress. Judging from the fact that the dress was moving back over Erika's arms and removing itself from her body as if being tugged by the sides that fastened together, Carolyn assumed it had magnets or strips of metal sewn into it.

Erika knelt on the bed in her nylons and bra. The moonlight made her fair skin almost glow; despite the weathering she'd suffered, she was very white, as if she'd never tanned in her life. Of course ultraviolet light was on the EM spectrum. She was lean and fit, but even in the dimness of the moonlight there were scars apparent on her body-- a livid Caesarian scar running from under the panty line to halfway up her abdomen; a thick mass of scar tissue wrapping around half of her upper left arm, where even short sleeves had always hid it. As Carolyn's eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw other scars as well, tiny white cuts and puckered burn marks on Erika's belly and chest. Erika said nothing, but from her expression and the emotions Carolyn could see flickering behind her shields, she was as nervous about exposing her scars as Carolyn had been about her half naked head.

Carolyn scooted over to sit next to Erika, and took her friend in her arms. She couldn't call Erika beautiful, because the scars did mar her; but she could demonstrate that she didn't care. She kissed Erika, pressing her naked chest against her friends' half-naked one, letting her hands run over Erika's back. Erika shuddered, violently.

"Is something wrong?"

"It is only--" Her voice broke. //It is only that it has been so long--// If she'd chosen mindspeech so her voice would not break and give her away, it was a poor choice, as an active Send carried more emotion than speech ever could. Erika was so overwhelmed with emotion-- more desperate and almost painful joy at a relief to the loneliness and the love of her friend than lust, though there was a sharp component of physical desire too-- that it was almost too much for her, hurting her, making her want to pull away from the intensity of the feelings. "So long" didn't mean how long it had been since she'd had sex, but how long it had been since she'd felt loved. Carolyn tightened her arms around her, trying to reassure her.

Erika nuzzled her ear and neck. Another strangled moan escaped Carolyn at that. Her neck was very sensitve. She gave herself up, letting it happen. Plainly Erika liked to take the lead. With a man Carolyn might have tried harder to assert herself, insist on reciprocating every touch, forging ahead, just so they didn't get the idea she was was some kind of submissive creative, the virginal icon of purity and inexperience that men expected women they respected to be. But she knew Erika didn't see her that way, and she really didn't know what she was doing, and just this once she wanted to give in. Just this once she wanted to lean on a lover and let them take over, surrender the rigid control she lived under and let someone she trusted take control.

She stroked Erika's back as Erika kissed her neck, enjoying the feel of warm skin under her hands. When she encountered the bra strap for the second time, getting in the way of her stroking, she awkwardly tried to undo it, but she wasn't used to removing someone else's bra, and the bra undid itself before she could manage it. "Will you stop doing that?" Carolyn laughed. "You're not letting me do anything!"

"Forgive me." The shoulder straps severed-- they were held together by tiny metal loops-- and the entire bra slid out from between their bodies, sliding across Carolyn's stomach. It felt harder than it should, and heavier, as if the cups were lined with some kind of metallic mesh. "There is a trick to it. I only do this because it is easier for me to simply do it than to see you struggle with my design."

"Are all your clothes lined with metal?"

"Bras have steel hooks in any event, but... well, yes. I do not have two useful arms; it's infinitely easier for me to dress myself if I put steel wire in my clothing."

"I never thought of that." She slid one hand up to Erika's neck, kneading it, while she stroked her friend's back with the other. As usual, Erika's neck seemed to be made of the same steel wire she'd just said she put in her clothes. "I forget you have a disability sometimes. I see you using your hand, in gesturing or touching things; I never had any clear idea of how bad it was for you."

"Some nerves are severed. It is fortunate that I was left-handed to begin with; I cannot write with my powers, and everything that I used to do with my right arm, I can do now with my powers. But the hand cannot grip, nor can the arm muster any true strength, for the muscles never healed properly and the bone was wrongly set." She shook her head. "I don't wish to speak of such things now," she said into Carolyn's ear, warm breath on the ear making Carolyn shiver, and then Erika proved her words by devoting her mouth to kissing again. Her good hand roamed over Carolyn's side; she slid slightly off Carolyn so her own body would no longer get in the way, and proceeded to stroke and caress the left half of Carolyn's body, the breast and part of her belly not covered by Erika's own body.

"You don't mind my rubbing your neck now, do you?"

//Mind? I will be quite aggrieved if you stop.//

Carolyn relaxed. She knew how to give Erika neck rubs. About the rest of what she was doing she was more insecure; her other hand kept encountering scar tissue on Erika's back, worse than anything she'd seen on the front of her body-- Erika had apparently been whipped to scarring, possibly more than once, and Carolyn kept being afraid she would hurt or upset Erika by touching her there. The neck was safe.

Erika's power abruptly plucked Carolyn's hand off her back, as if ghosts were holding her wrist and ticking her arm, brushing so very lightly up and down it that the hair stood on end. She clasped Carolyn's hand weakly in her own damaged one. Carolyn immediately assumed she had, in fact, hurt or upset her by touching her there. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," Erika said softly. "It cannot be pleasant for you."

"Pleasant for me?" That made no sense, and it forced Carolyn to actually look at Erika's emotions. They didn't fit her supposition. Erika seemed to be feeling rejected rather than haunted by the past or irritated by pain. "I-- did you just make me stop touching you because I was hurting you? Because I was afraid I might be hurting you..."

"Is that why you touched me as if I were a slime creature from a science fiction?" There was bitterness in her voice, but immediately Erika shook her head. "No, no, I am sorry. I do not blame you--"

"Wait." Carolyn freed her hand. "You thought I was being careful because I was disgusted? That wasn't it at all." She stroked one of the scars lightly. "Does this hurt you? That was all I was afraid of, that it would hurt you. I can't read your mind, remember."

"No. No, it doesn't hurt me. That is why--?"

Carolyn laughed, and scratched Erika's back lightly, suspecting that the light strokes might at least have made the scar tissue itch if it didn't hurt. Erika arched her back, like a cat but backward, pressing herself involuntarily into Carolyn. "Oh, do that, please."

"Certainly." She did it again, and was rewarded by a renewed assault on her neck. The breath hissed out of her. "There's nothing... about you... that disgusts me. I just... don't want to... hurt you... ohhh..." And then she couldn't reach most of Erika's back anymore, only the topmost part, because Erika had slid down her body and was suckling her breast again. She wondered if Erika would like that if Carolyn did that to her. She wondered if there was a reason Erika hadn't sat up or otherwise let Carolyn see her torso since she'd removed her bra.

Thoughts that said she should not touch a lover in a certain way, or should not take initiatives, were not alien to her. She had been raised a Catholic girl, after all. But she had always fought those thoughts, struggling to be an equal to her lovers. What Erika was doing was lovely, but Carolyn wanted to do some doing back. She pushed herself up, and then flipped the two of them over on the bed.

Erika yelped, and Carolyn's hair stood on end as sudden power rose around the two of them, levitating them both slightly, before subsiding and settling them back on the bed. "Warn me next time you do that," Erika said. "I do not like my weight landing on my right arm."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize." She felt like an enormous klutz.

"It's all right." Erika pulled Carolyn down on top of her, stroking her back to reassure her. "Just warn me."

Carolyn lay against her friend for a few moments. When she decided to sit up, Erika hugged her more tightly, so she couldn't. "You know, I'm beginning to think you don't want me to see your breasts, or something."

"If I had such a sense of modesty toward you, why would I be naked in bed with you?"

"If you didn't, why would you keep arranging our bodies so I can't really look at you?" She kissed Erika's neck. "Please, let me see you."

Erika released her and let her sit up. "Perhaps I am a bit anxious," she said, the anxiety behind her shields spiking despite her apparent efforts to control it. "I was not aware of trying to stop you from doing anything, but... well, you see. You have lovely breasts. Mine are rather less so."

They weren't particularly lovely, in fact. They sagged like soft bags all over her chest, rather than being firm like Carolyn's own. Carolyn touched one, stroking it. It was soft and far squishier than hers. Erika lay on the bed, eyes open, radiating tension and nervousness. Carolyn smiled, trying to project reassurance with her face rather than her telepathy. "Ah, but these are working breasts," she said teasingly, cupping the nipple area in her hand and running her thumb back and forth over the nipple the way she liked to do to herself. Erika sighed, visibly relaxing into it. "You've used these for what they were designed for, to nourish life. Mine may be pretty, but they may as well be decorative bits of stucco for all the value they've given the world." She grinned. "It's like the difference between one of those beautiful spotless mansions you see modeled in magazines, and a place where a family actually lives. One may be more beautiful, but who'd want to live there? The other is far more comfortable." She shifted her weight, bending her mouth to the breast she'd been caressing, and using the other hand to stroke the other one. Erika moaned.

//Am I doing this right? I've never done this before.//

"Dear God, yes. Yes, just right."

There, she could see it now. The emotions dancing behind Erika's dark mental wall glowed with pleasure. Carolyn explored with her hand while continuing to suckle Erika's breast. It didn't excite her to do so the way it had excited men to do that to her or other women, but she was enjoying the pleasure she sensed from Erika's mind.

A shiver ran along her body, and another, as if ghost hands were caressing her. Carolyn stopped what she was doing and sat up. The ghostly sensations continued. "Are you using your powers?"

Erika opened her eyes. "Yes-- do you mind it?"

"I'm not really comfortable with electricity." That was an understatement. Carolyn trusted Erika's control, but not when she was doing her best to make Erika lose that control. She kept her fear out of her voice, off her face-- it wasn't Erika's fault she'd hit on something that frightened Carolyn.

"As you wish." The ghostly sensations stopped. Erika reached up for her, ran her own hand over the front of Carolyn's body. Carolyn shivered as Erika caressed her breast. She adjusted the way she was sitting so she could return the favor with one hand, and with the other explore her friend's body, sliding lower. With a finger she traced the Caesarian scar down to the panty line, and then slipped her fingers under. She hadn't known Erika had had a Caesarian but she wasn't going to talk about scars right now. There was a wire inside the pantyhose waistband. Erika twitched as if she were ticklish. "I'm sorry."

"It will be easier if we--" Erika didn't finish her sentance, but her pantyhose slid down off her body and over her feet, leaving her completely naked. Her pubic hair was white, which didn't surprise Carolyn-- so were her eyebrows and the underarm hair that, as a European woman, she didn't shave. Carolyn ran her fingers through the tight white curls, than slid her hand lower. She'd never touched another woman there. It was wetter than she would have expected from personal experience, though she knew from the minds of others that she herself was chronically on the dry side of normal. Erika's eyes were closed. She moaned, arching, as Carolyn found the nub and rubbed it with her fingertips. Carolyn let her other hand roam over Erika's upper body, stroking belly and breasts. It was funny. She'd touched men, and her breath had caught at how beautiful they were, how exciting it was to touch them. It wasn't exciting to touch Erika, not that kind of exciting anyway. But it was just a whole lot of fun. She felt an overwhelming sense of tenderness at the sight of her friend's vulnerability, and happiness at the sight of her pleasure.

As she watched the play of emotions under Erika's shield, as she felt the muscles under the white skin, she saw and felt anxiety building in Erika. She tried to project reassurance with her mind, but the inexplicable anxiety still mounted slowly. Then Erika sat up and pulled Carolyn to her, embracing her with the good arm. "That will do to begin," she said, and kissed Carolyn. //My turn now.// The anxiety was gone.

She wanted to take the lead. That was obvious from both her behavior and her emotions-- she felt somehow anxious and insecure when Carolyn was pleasing her, and preferred to be the giver of pleasure, apparently. Carolyn didn't need her arm twisted, though. She gave in easily enough to Erika's fierce embrace, letting the other woman lay her back down on the bed and begin thoroughly exploring her body. Both hands and mouth moved relentlessly downwaed. Carolyn was mostly silent-- she'd learned to make love quietly with Michael, using body and telepathy to express her pleasure rather than a voice that could be overheard by parents-- but she did moan when Erika's mouth reached her breasts again. Long fingers found her panties, stroked her through them, then removed them, tugging down. Erika's fingers caressed her there, stroking her inner thighs, teasing the opening, stroking lightly across her clitoris. Carolyn gasped at that.

She could feel from the dryness of the fingers touching her that she wasn't wet enough yet, and was afraid Erika would take that as lack of arousal. "I'm afraid... I'm usually pretty dry down there until things get going."

Erika lifted her head. "It shan't be a problem." Instead of bending to her breast again, her mouth started to kiss and lick its way down her belly.

Despite having heard occasional lewd jokes dealing with the subject as it pertained to lesbians, Carolyn did not realize what Erika planned to do with her mouth until she had drawn kisses along Carolyn's hip, down to her inner thighs, and then started up again. Carolyn, already trembling with her growing arousal, stiffened completely in shock as she realized what was about to happen. "I-- you-- are you sure you want to do that?" she gasped.

Gentle kiss planted against her hungry labia. The touch of a tongue, like wet fire, sliding up, up toward the knot, the center of pleasure. Tongue lapping there, sending dizzying waves of sweetness through her. "You don't have to," Carolyn tried again, wanting desperately to give in to this, far too tense to. She was overwhelmed by imagined disgust and shame. Carolyn had never been with someone who wanted to put his mouth there. Oral sex seemed kinky, sordid, like anal sex or getting spanked or leather and chains, something equally depraved. Nice Catholic girls, even ones rebelling aginst being nice Catholic girls, didn't put their mouths on men like that because it was disgusting, and the nice boys they dated certainly would never want to do that in return. The thought of putting her mouth on a man's genitals was mildly repulsive, but a woman's, oozing with moisture... her gorge twitched just thinking about it. She couldn't make Erika do that. Carolyn half-sat up. "Please, I don't want you to make sacrifices for my sake--"

Erika lifted her head. "Don't be ridiculous. I am not making any sacrifice; I enjoy doing this. Now lie down." She pushed at Carolyn lightly, trying to make her lie back down and relax, while her mouth returned to its wonderful horrible ministrations.

"I'm sorry." Carolyn wouldn't lie down. The only reason she hadn't pushed Erika's head away was that it felt too damn good, and she couldn't summon up the willpower just yet. "I won't-- I really don't think you should do that, because I don't, I don't think I'll be able to... to, reciprocate... oh, stop that when I'm trying to talk you out of this!"

//Why?// The mental voice was teasing, and the sensations intensified as Erika began sucking on her clitoris. Carolyn gasped. //I do not care if you can reciprocate, Carolyn. It doesn't matter. Giving you pleasure is what matters. Now lie down.//

Her thoughts were utterly clear on the concept. Erika knew exactly what she wanted, and what she wanted was to do this perverse and wonderful thing to Carolyn, without expecting that Carolyn would return the favor. In fact, it seemed to perfectly fit Erika's expectations about sex that she should give and not receive in return. Mindspeech was never just words, and when Erika Sent to her Carolyn got more than the words, more than the emotions she could ordinarily sense-- there were images and concepts behind the words, vague wordless things which said that Erika was used to this dynamic and enjoyed it.

That was all Carolyn needed to give in and let it happen. She fell back on the bed with a soft moan, and gave herself up to the wondrous mouth on her. It felt much better than hands on her ever had, better than most of the intercourse she'd enjoyed in her life. Erika's good hand roamed over her body, while her bad hand found Carolyn's own and weakly clasped it. Carolyn's clasp tightened, clutching Erika's hand like she was clutching the bedsheet with her other. This was incredible. She whimpered deep in her throat. Erika wanted this, wanted to do this. Wanted to give her this pleasure. The thought was exciting. Her breath came ragged.

She closed her eyes, letting the burning tongue lap at her, lips kiss and suckle all the places she needed them to. It wasn't enough. She knew she was loved, because no one would do something this disgusting unless they loved the person they were doing it for, but it wasn't enough. There was a wall blocking her from what she needed. She flung herself at that wall, thinned her substance and pressed herself into it, hungering for the warmth that pulsed inside, while somewhere else her body was whimpering and writhing. She could see Erika's feelings for her, but not touch them, not feel them, bathe in them as she had with Malcolm and Michael.

With all her strength she stroked the wall, pressing everything she was against it, radiating her need and her desire for togetherness, unity, emotional closeness. The wall trembled, the way her body was trembling on the bed. She made love to the wall, rubbing her frustrated psyche against it, projecting the pleasure its owner was making her body feel, the love, the longing. This was her best friend who had never ever let her through that wall, and she loved her, she loved her, had to be close to her, enveloped in arms and psychic warmth and pleasure, had to please her and be pleased by her and oh the wall was dissolving, heat of Carolyn's need doing what no other mental probe could, thoughts and feelings rushing together and the heady delight of shared pleasure and Erika loved her and she felt it all around her in her through her and suddenly she melted, dissolving in a hot wave of pleasure. Wave after wave rode through her and she cried out, thrashing, letting herself melt into the rush of sweetness. The wonderful mouth drew away as Carolyn became too sensitive to be touched there, and the waves finished passing through her, receding. Erika slid up and into her arms, lying next to her, warm body against hers.

Erika kissed her. Before the tidal wave she might have thought that was disgusting, to taste her own bodily secretions on her friend's mouth. Nothing was disgusting now. She felt like a shipwrecked sailor who'd reached shore, tossed by the waves, exhausted, but warm, safe.

Erika's mental shields were still down. She saw her own self reflected in Erika's mind, more beautiful than even the idealized self Carolyn wore on the Astral Plane. Carolyn snuggled next to Erika, cuddling, stroking her friend's hair. Erika shivered. Too much, too much. I'll bear it but I can't tell her, she'll think she's obligated to do something for me and I can't make her do that, so lovely she is in the moonlight so unmarked do anything to keep her that way perfect and healthy and unbroken unmarred but life will scar her too good for her own good needs me to protect her because she doesn't see the darkness, needs me wish she'd touch me but I won't ask, won't impose, take care of her and protect her but I can't make her pay for it

Carolyn knew Erika would get upset if she knew her mind was open right now, her thoughts exposed. Carefully she eased away, blocking Erika's thoughts out, as tempting as it was to read her. She really sees me as some kind of naive angel, too good to survive in the real world. I should tell her about the Shadow Queen, and Milbury. Later, though. She was also troubled at Erika's automatic equation of making sexual requests of Carolyn to making Carolyn pay for her friendship with sex, or something. There was a darkness laced throughout Erika's sexual desires, fear and anxiety and some sort of weird notion of what constituted exploitation. It was deep enough, and alien enough to Carolyn's own thoughts, that she didn't really understand it, and would have to probe deeper to do so-- but she knew Erika would not want her probing into her surface thoughts, let alone the shame and fear that seemed to lay under sex for her. So she pulled away.

Because of whatever bizarre notions she had underlying her desires, Erika was not admitting aloud that she was desperately aroused, nor was her body language expressing it particularly noticeably, but from the brief contact with her mind Carolyn knew she was. She knew also that in Erika's fantasies this was because Carolyn was beautiful, but Carolyn, having a rather lower opinion of her own looks than that, suspected a more pragmatic reason-- she'd projected her own pleasure all through the encounter, and toward the end she'd half-deliberately stimulated Erika telepathically while trying to bring down the shield so they could be closer. Of course Erika was aroused. It rather bothered Carolyn that she didn't want to admit it, though. Didn't she want Carolyn to give her pleasure? Did she have to hold part of herself back all the time?

She used her body to push Erika onto her back, being careful of the arm. Erika went easily, pressing herself against Carolyn's body eagerly. At least she wasn't trying to hide her reactions; maybe she was just afraid of rejection or something, that she could not explicitly ask but she could accept what was offered. She stroked Erika with one hand, half-lying on her.

"You do not need to do this," Erika whispered.

"I want to. Tell me what to do."

"What you're doing. Anything you wish to do. I-- oh!" Carolyn's hand had drifted down to Erika's groin, exploring her there. Erika moaned, back arching. "Oh do not tease me, Carolyn, I need, please--"

Michael had done this for Carolyn on many occasions, and she'd done it for herself many more. She couldn't take the thought of using her mouth there, but there was nothing bothersome about using her hand, while she devoted her mouth to other things like Erika's neck and collarbone and breasts. Erika rolled a bit onto her side, her good arm curling around Carolyn, holding her closely. She was making absolutely no attempt to hide her arousal anymore; in fact, she was almost embarrassingly vocal about her pleasure. Carolyn had to keep reminding herself that they were alone in the house, that no one could overhear them. She kissed Erika, muffling the audible component of Erika's cries with her mouth. It didn't stop the telepathic component, but then, she wasn't afraid of that being overheard by neighbors.

feels so good can't believe she's willing to do this wants to wants me (tension/memory: exhausted/hungry/frightened clinging to Rebecca's bony body in absolute silence even rapid breathing muffled against each other hand under the gown and Rebecca touching her panting damp and silky to touch but it was too much, she was going to scream, couldn't scream couldn't let go push away Rebecca's hand while she keeps touching let Rebecca thrash and gasp but she won't let that happen to her this much no further) no! I want this, want her, no reason not to, have to relax, so good so intense never been so much so fast (Raven on top of her kissing her in two places at once, no human man, thrusting while his impossible second mouth worked down there too intense too much) won't need that oh Carolyn if you want this if you want me anytime I'm yours oh yes oh Carolyn

She should shield against the torrent of thoughts and images, but she didn't want to. Some of them were not pleasant images-- memories of Erika's past sexual experiences seemed to rise like ghosts trying to block her from pleasure now-- but the overall tone of Erika's thoughts was one of joy and ecstasy, and Carolyn simply could not find it in herself to block her out at a moment like this. In fact Erika was actually broadcasting, something Carolyn hadn't known a non-telepath could do. This wasn't hard, no more difficult than doing the same for Michael had been, back when she'd been a virgin and pleasure had come from lengthy petting sessions that ended in mutual masturbation. She could sense exactly what Erika wanted, and do it. Erika didn't like precisely the same stimuli Carolyn enjoyed for herself, but with her telepathy Carolyn could sense what Erika did want sometimes before the other woman had formed it into words or images herself.

After some minutes of being rubbed, Erika began to hunger for stimulation inside, for something inside her thrusting. This surprised Carolyn slightly-- it didn't fit her expectations for what a woman who liked women would want-- but she obliged, sliding her hand down to the opening to Erika's body and slipping two fingers inside. She tried to be careful with her fingernails, but Erika seemed to be beyond caring, wanting harder, faster, deeper, now, and never mind being jabbed with fingernails. Her body pressed hard against Carolyn's, her hips pushing against Carolyn's hand, her eyes wide and glazed with need, her kisses desperate and hungry. She whimpered as Carolyn gave her what she wanted, thrusting as rapidly and deeply with her fingers as she could. A faint glow limned Erika's body, brighter than the pool of moonlight on the floor, and the hairs on Carolyn's arm had started to stand on end. Carolyn's attention was split between the tactile sensations of what she was doing and her sense of Erika's emotions, the delicious confused chaos of a lover approaching orgasm radiating from the no longer closed mind. When Carolyn added a few light strokes to the clitoris with her thumb, Erika went over the edge, a small static shock biting Carolyn's fingers as Erika cried out, thrashing.

As she came down off her peak, she clung to Carolyn for several long minutes, her head buried against Carolyn's shoulder, breathing even more raggedly than one would expect. It sounded almost as if she were about to cry. It wasn't until her breathing finally normalized that she relaxed and loosened her fierce embrace, so that the two of them were lying next to one another rather than pressed against each other.

"That was remarkable." Erika's voice was a little bit hoarse. "The easiest ever it has been for me."

"Easiest?" That wasn't a term Carolyn normally associated with sex.


In Carolyn's experience, quick was not a compliment when applied to sex. She didn't think it had been quick-- she thought it had been maybe twenty minutes, perhaps even half an hour. "Is this a good thing?"

Erika laughed. "You have no idea. It has taken me sometimes to achieve the, I do not know the word, orgasm? Forgive me if that's too blunt."

"You can be blunt if you want. The usual euphemisms would be achieve climax, achieve satisfaction."

"Very well then. It was not even until I met Raven that orgasm became a normal part of sex for me, and with Raven it took a very long time-- three quarters of an hour was usual, two hours has happened, and the only reason there is not longer is that sometimes I'd grow too frustrated with the wanting, and make him stop. This was so quick, it was as if all the sweetness were compressed together, and the frustration filtered from it."

"Well, um, I'm glad you liked it."

"I mean it. It has been more intense for me before but only after much frustration and suffering."

"Even when-- well, do you ever do it for yourself?" She blushed even asking the question. How ridiculous. She was a therapist, and a telepath. She knew how common, and normal, masturbation was. But knowing and talking about it aloud were two different things.

"Occasionally," Erika said bluntly. "A few times before Ari was born, and since Raven left, a few times. But no. This was much better." She turned on her side, looking at Carolyn, her bad arm resting lightly on Carolyn's body. "If I wished only to satisfy lust I would have turned to a man, or remained alone. This is not just the sating of the physical. I love you."

"I know. I could feel it in your mind. You opened up to me, and I could feel what you felt."

"An enviable power. I would almost take you up on that trade." She sounded wistful.

"You didn't feel any of what I was broadcasting back to you?"

"I don't-- no. I don't think so."

Carolyn caressed Erika's face. "I'm sorry. I should have made an effort to use words. I love you too. I always have, I just... I never thought it would be like this. It doesn't feel like it did with Michael, but I think it's love." It must be, a tiny voice said in her mind. Why would you have gone to bed with a woman if you didn't love her? It's not as if you're all that attracted to her body.

"I can be content with that." Erika laid back down, pillowing her head against Carolyn's shoulder again. "It seems too early to sleep..."

"But you're tired. Go ahead. You never get enough sleep anyway."

"I have a guest. I should be entertaining you, not sleeping."

"I've been sufficiently entertained for the evening," Carolyn said, grinning. "Besides, I could use a night of turning in early myself, and if I can't get to sleep there's always your book colleciton."

Erika nodded tiredly. It didn't take long at all before she was asleep. Despute it being early for her as well, Carolyn was tired herself-- too many long hours of work recently, now that she was working again-- and the sex had relaxed her enough that sleep seemed an attractive option. The presence of a warm body next to her radiating sleepy happiness was a comfort she hadn't had in years. She snuggled against her friend and drifted off herself.