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Taking Care of a Stuffed Tiger

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“What?” Cat stared at Tara like she didn’t understand the simple request.

It was a measure of Tara’s emotional disturbance that she nearly lashed out when Cat didn’t immediately obey her. Tara paused, found a measure of control, then said coolly, “I would like to talk with you alone, Detective. Now, please.”

The poor girl still didn’t submit. A sliver of sympathy settled Tara further. If what she suspected was true, if Cat really was Faith’s previous bondmate, then Cat hadn’t truly submitted in fifteen years. She waited as patiently as possible while Cat looked all around the meeting room.

Whatever the girl searched for; she didn’t find it. Tara caught Cat’s attention again. They’d wasted enough time. She was tired. Faith had been pushing boundaries since the Seers had sent the message about the job in Boston. Between wrangling her Slayer, dealing with the less than stellar Senior Slayer and her Watcher at the Boston HQ, and ignoring Detective Rizzoli’s clear dislike of the Council… Tara’s frustration leaked into her voice. “Detective, I won’t ask again.”

Tara flirted with propriety with her request. Detective McClearen was an unbonded submissive who had no need to submit to Tara’s Dominance. Not only that, the girl was a police detective in her own right – and Tara was little more than a consultant on their current case.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Cat’s shoulders hunched, reminding Tara so much of Faith when she knew she’d disappointed Tara somehow. “Would…would you like me to schedule a room?”

What? Schedule a room? Luckily, Faith must have been listening to Tara’s thoughts in the bond.

Back up the bus, T. I know we haven’t spent too much time at the HQs and Houses, but how’d you forget those fucking punishment rooms?

Goddess. Only years of facing down demons and pretentious Watchers allowed Tara to hide her emotions from Detective McClearen. She remembered the results of those punishment rooms, recalling the day she’d witnessed Faith leaving one. No wonder Cat looked ready to run screaming from the building. “Detective,” she said, wanting to let Cat know this was nothing more than a friendly chat, “I saw a small break room at the end of the hall. We can talk there. Follow me.”

Giving Cat a moment to regain her composure, Tara snapped her fingers. Faith, who’d done an impressive job staying in position across the room, rose to her feet. Have I mentioned how beautiful you are, my Slayer?

She felt the pleasure her compliment caused. Not in the last hour or so. Then Faith’s mental tone grew serious. Everything OK? The kid’s got you all riled up.

The detective reminds me of a brash, lonely girl I met a long time ago, Tara responded as she and Faith left the conference room.

Faith’s laughter bubbled through the bond. Nah. Cat’s like a tiny stuffed tiger trying to act like the real thing.

When they got to the break room, Tara stopped and turned. Cat wasn’t with them.

“Kid’s not winning any bonus points with you, huh?” Faith stared toward the conference room. “She gonna be OK?” Despite her crusty exterior, Faith was all marshmallow core. “I mean…”

“I know.” Tara kissed Faith’s cheek. “Stay here. I’ll make sure the detective is fine.” Leaving Faith kneeling by the door, Tara stepped into the empty break room. She wandered over to the row of vending machines, staring blankly at row after row of snack food until a ripple in the bond indicated Cat was probably on her way in.

She turned in time to watch Cat rush into the room, see Tara, and freeze in place. Not so like Faith after all. Faith would have swaggered into the room as if she owned it, daring Tara to do her worst.

“Ma’am?” Cat glanced at Tara and then away. She seemed to find one particular place on the floor extremely interesting. “Should I close the door?”

What was it about this girl? Something in that wild-animal shyness mixed with the utterly competent detective attitude. Tara rubbed her burning eyes. She had to focus. Whatever actual connection Tara (or Faith) might feel to Cat, that wasn’t the issue now. She’d seen the stiff way Cat moved. Watched her flinch away from Faith’s casual touch at the crime scene.

That was why they were in the break room. Straightening, Tara noted she’d been silent too long. Cat was close to running. “Detective,” she kept her voice low and soothing. Cat hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet. “I am going to ask you several questions. I expect you to answer completely and honestly. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Cat was nervous. Her voice was high and tight, and her hands shook until Cat pressed them to her legs.

Tara frowned. Was there more going on than possible injury? Surely a member of the detective squad would have seen the signs of chronic abuse if there were any. Truly worried now, Tara got right to the heart of the matter. “I noticed you flinch this morning in the church, when Faith touched you. Were you offended by her touch?” That scenario was possible but highly unlikely given the information Faith had shared about Cat’s actions when the two submissives had visited one of the earlier dump sites.

“No, Ma’am.” Cat’s response was quick and sure. “I wasn’t offended.”

“Thank you, Detective.” Tara smiled as Cat blushed at the praise. The stiff set to her shoulders softened as well. Unfortunately, Cat’s answer meant that Tara’s other suspicion was more than likely true. Cat had been whipped, flogged, or otherwise beaten. Yet Cat didn’t have the easy movements and relaxed muscles, the “glow” of a sub who’d been well cared for.

The red cuff on Cat’s wrist meant she was free to make her own choices in her personal life. Tara believed Cat’s choices to be poor ones. The girl needed someone to help her. With that in mind, Tara set her trap.

“So, you weren’t insulted. And I know my Slayer wouldn’t use Slayer strength for a friendly gesture. Why did you flinch, Detective?” Tara asked.

Cat was smart. Tara didn’t miss the girl’s sudden intake of breath or the way she shifted her weight from foot to foot. The way Cat didn’t answer the question as she attempted to glare a hole in the floor.

Tara needed to push. Carefully. She truly didn’t have the right to dominate Cat in any way and wouldn’t…except she sensed this girl needed a Dominant before she spiraled. Tara moved closer, using proximity to intimidate. “I’m getting very tired of your behavior, Detective.”

It worked. Cat bent under Tara’s will. Her head dropped forward. Not to hide from Tara, but in clear submission. Tara’s hand rose. To reassure. To provide a tether. An anchor. She stopped before she made contact. Cat wasn’t hers. “I know you want to please me, Detective. Show me how obedient you can be. Tell me why you flinched this morning at the church.”

She wasn’t surprised when Cat answered. Cat had given in to Tara’s dominance. Was responding to Tara as a Dominant. “My shoulders and back. They hurt, Ma’am.”

Cat’s submission wasn’t entirely complete. Tara stifled a laugh at the petulant mumble that came next. “I went to a club last night and…and played.”

Unexpected anger swept through Tara. Enough that she heard Faith’s, T? What’s wrong? You need me?

Grappling with her teetering emotions, Tara could only share what she was feeling at first. She managed to regain enough control after a couple of minutes. Sorry, sweetie. You know how I feel when a sub gets hurt.

Faith’s thoughts were a reflection of Tara’s. Concern and anger. Fate, there was something about Cat that called to both of them.

I’ll handle it. If she needs to talk to someone, though, Tara thought.

Got ya’ covered. Determination radiated from Faith.

Good. Faith might be able to reach Cat on a level Tara couldn’t. She turned her attention back to the girl huddled miserably in front of her. “Did you explain to your…your partner that you needed to be fully functional for work today?”

“Not exactly.” Tara wanted to pull Cat into a hug. It was clear from her tightly closed eyes and guilty expression that Cat knew she’d made a huge mistake. “I only told her not to leave marks where anyone could see.”

Tara took a half-step forward. The girl had done what? Did Cat have no care for her own safety? Did she not understand the way a real Dominant should act? How bad had that play session been? She stared at Cat as if she could pluck the answers to all those questions straight Cat’s mind. When telepathy proved unsuccessful, Tara asked with as much self-control as she could muster, “And did you also forget to discuss limits and safewords, Detective?”

The quiet, “No, Ma’am,” should have made Tara feel better. It didn’t. Tara had a gut feeling that Cat wasn’t telling the whole truth – and that only fueled Tara’s anger and concern.

“Detective, I should report you to Lieutenant Cavanaugh. Your actions…Your complete lack of responsibility…” Tara couldn’t pull her thoughts together.

Not until Cat began to beg in a tiny, broken voice. “Please. Please, Ma’am. No.”

Tara reeled in her whirling emotions. Wrapped herself in a cloak of Dominance and stopped fighting her instincts. Cat needed her. That was all that mattered. “Did the Dominant at least provide aftercare, Detective?”

She didn’t need Cat’s, “No, Ma’am.”

Centering herself, Tara knew what she needed to do. First, she needed Cat’s permission to temporarily care for her. To act as her de facto Dominant. “You are not my sub, Detective. And you have no Dominant responsible for your behavior.” The urge to wrap her arms around Cat was crippling when Cat responded to her words by trying to cover her cuff with her shirt sleeve.

“Because I cannot go to the woman who abused you last night, I will tell you what will happen as long as you are a member of this team. I will speak with Dr. Isles. Before you leave the station house today, she will make sure you are healthy enough for full duty. After that, Detective, you will go home for the day. If you feel the urge to play,” Cat flinched away from Tara’s cutting comment, “you will come to me or to Dr. Isles. Although bonded, we are more than skilled enough to provide what you might need without crippling you.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Although Tara had not directly asked to act as Cat’s Dominant, she took the “yes” as Cat’s blessing.

“That’s not all, Detective. There is the matter of your punishment.” Tara deliberately invaded Cat’s personal space. She was so close she could see Cat’s pulse pounding in her neck. “Look at me.”

Cat obeyed…partially. Her eyes snapped up to meet Tara’s, but her posture never changed. The girl would be an amazing submissive. Tara recognized the training inherent in that maneuver. “While you are at home tonight, you will write a list. A detailed list of all of the ways your actions could have impacted you, this team, and the people of Boston. You will give this list to me here, in this room, at six tomorrow morning. Is that clear, Detective?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Before Tara could say anything else, Cat continued, repeating Tara’s directions in detail. “At six tomorrow morning, I’ll bring you my list of how my actions may have impacted you, the team, and the citizens of Boston.”

The girl was adorable. Tara smiled and enjoyed the way Cat returned the expression. All the girl needed was some care and encouragement. “Now, Detective, you’ll stay here while I find Dr. Isles.”

Tara hurried from the room, hoping that Maura hadn’t left for her lab. She was in luck. Maura and Jane were in the bullpen. “Maura, may I speak to you for a minute?” Tara didn’t want to discuss Cat’s situation in front Jane or any of Cat’s police colleagues.

“Of course. Jane, I need to finish some reports. I’ll pick you up in a couple of hours.” Maura’s heels clicked on the tile floor as she marched toward Tara. “Did you or Faith find something with the latest victim?”

Maura was always so focused on work. Tara shook her head as they moved away from Jane. “I believe Detective McClearen was hurt last night in an encounter with a Dominant. Would you mind making sure doesn’t need to go to the emergency room?”

“Of course!” Maura moved faster, and Tara knew she’d made the right choice in consulting with her.

Faith was still kneeling at the door. Her eyes flickered up to Tara. You scared the crap out of her, T.

That was the point, my Slayer. Tara dropped a step behind Maura so she could brush a hand over Faith’s bent head.

Figured that out. Unless you’re gonna be more of bitch than Buffy usually is, you might want to power down. Faith leaned into her caress. Cat’s not as rough and tumble as me. Be a bad thing if you broke her with your badass routine.

Tara reentered the break room a half-step behind Maura. She didn’t think Cat would break. Cat needed a firm hand and structure. But Tara could soften her approach without compromising on her care.

Especially with Maura’s straight-forward approach. “Cat, Tara says you may have been injured last night. I want to take a look, but I need your permission. Do I have that?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Cat was so polite and formal.

“Take off your shirt, please.” Tara saw Cat wince as she followed Maura’s command, and she flinched in sympathy when Maura ran a finger over the angry purple marks on Cat’s back. “Did you specifically request no permanent markings or were you merely lucky? Some of these came very close to breaking the skin, and I don’t have to tell you how risky it is to use a flogger on the hips where the flails may strike bone or wrap around?”

Seeing Cat’s shoulders slump again, Tara stepped in to protect the girl from Maura’s snapped inquiries. “I think the Detective understands her mistake, Maura. We had a long talk before I came to you. However, she wanted you to check on her condition before going off-shift for the night.”

Maura was renowned as a forensic pathologist. From the way Cat flinched from her poking fingers, she lacked skill with living patients. Tara moved to Cat’s side, taking care not to get in the way of Maura’s examination. “Easy, Detective. It won’t be long now. You’re fine. Just relax. Breathe in and out. Slowly. Let me see you try.”

Modeling the behavior she wanted, Tara sucked in long, slow breaths until Cat was breathing in time with her.

Focused on Cat, she barely heard Maura say, “Some of the abrasions need to be cleaned. Since Tara indicated you were unfamiliar with your play partner, there is some risk of infection. Improperly cleaned equipment may leave traces of lymph, a fluid which collects in bruises and other wounds, behind. You also have a few hematomas which display elevated temperature and hardness.”

She did remain at Cat’s side as Maura ushered the girl to the far side of the room to apply disinfectant. It had to hurt. Tara leaned even closer. Not touching Cat. Simply providing support. Cat responded by leaning closer. Tilting her head toward Tara. Her expression smoothed out, the lines of pain easing slightly.

“There. You can put your shirt back on, Cat.” Maura removed the latex gloves she’d donned. “You need to put ice on the worst of the bruising, and I’ll call in a prescription for an anti-inflammatory. If you’re still feeling pain in three or four days, you’ll need to see your regular physician. Until then, I believe you are well enough to work. I will expect you to tell me or Tara if anything worsens or you feel you can’t fulfill your duties.”

Tara moved away as Cat redressed. “Thank you, Ma’am. I’ll pick up the meds on the way home. There’s a Walgreens across the street from my apartment building. I’ll text the address to your phone,” Cat said, taking out her phone. She typed quickly and Tara heard Maura’s phone ping. “May I leave now?”

When Maura grabbed Cat’s chin, Tara went on alert. “If you ever do anything like this again,” Maura said intently, “Please talk to one of us, Cat. Or schedule an appointment with your psychologist. This type of reckless disregard for personal safety is often a hallmark of Forbidden status. We can help you find a safe outlet for you needs, Cat.”

It was good advice. Tara nodded in silent approval. No matter what time or day, Tara would come if Cat called. She knew, deep in her soul, that Faith would beat her to Cat’s side, too.

Questions remained, though. Would Cat want them there? Or would Cat want Faith there?