Moving with an easy grace through the underbrush, Diandra paused to get her bearings, and locate the objects of her hunt. There, a hundred yards or so to her left, was the heartbeat and rapid breathing of her quarry. Heading silently in that direction, she circled round, approaching the mercenary from behind. She studied him momentarily, taking in the assault rifle and body armor. The kevlar would deflect her swords if she chose to engage him in a prolonged battle. Better just to strike the killing blow and be done with it.
Stepping out of the trees behind him, she said, "Hey." He whirled on her, his finger squeezing the trigger, the shots firing harmlessly into the air as her kick knocked his arm aside, her backhanded sword stroke sliding smoothly through his neck.
Throwing her head back, she sang her thanks to Artemis, the moon goddess, shining brightly in the velvet sky. Then she melded with the shadows and disappeared into the forest.
Megan jumped as the sound of gunfire reached her ears, rocking the canoe. "Take it easy, Megan," Blair said quietly. "Dee's fine."
She swallowed past the lump in her throat, and wrapped Dee's coat tighter around herself, shivering as an inhuman howl carried across the water. She saw Blair's back muscles tighten in front of her, and his paddle hesitated for a second before dipping into the water again. Reaching forward, she gave his shoulder a squeeze, then said, "Sandy?"
"Can I ask you a question, if it's not too personal?"
He hesitated a moment, then said, "Sure."
"Those marks you and Dee painted on her face... what were they?"
Blair inhaled sharply; and she sensed he hadn't expected her to ask that. "They're kind of a summons, calling on the power of her Goddesses to help her. Athena, Goddess of War, on her forehead, Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt on her right cheek... "
"And on her left?"
Blair's answer was a soft hiss. "Death."
Shutting her eyes, Megan leaned her head in her hands, remembering the images of Diandra battling the slavers from her dream. Those men didn't stand a chance. Tears burned behind her closed eyelids as she fought back a wave of nausea. Sandy had to know what she was doing. How could he stand it, how could he love someone who could kill so easily, so casually?
"Chief?" Jim's tone was hesitant, as if he had no right to ask anything of his guide.
"Yeah, Jim?" Blair replied, a bone-deep weariness underlying those two words.
"What are the Amazon rules of war?"
Megan answered for him, the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach increasing. "There are only two. Take no prisoners, and don't be taken prisoner."
"Oh," was all he said.
They were silent for a few minutes then, each of them straining to hear something, anything, that would let them know what was happening on the shore behind them.
The raw cry of rage and triumph came again. "Two down and three to go," Jim said under his breath, but both Megan and Blair heard his quiet words.
Ah, this was much, much too easy. Diandra crouched on a low tree branch, waiting for her prey to come to her. She shook her head in disgust. They called themselves warriors... crashing through the brush, rushing toward her each time she let out a war cry, their modern weapons making them fearless. Charon would have a full boatload tonight.
The final two gang members passed underneath her hiding place, gagging in horror at the remains of their comrades. She dropped lightly to the ground behind them, making a clicking noise with her tongue to get their attention. Twin blades flashed through the air as they turned toward her, and the last of Cristo's men were vanquished.
She bit back her cry of victory this time, not wanting to spook Cristo into running. Sheathing her swords, she centered herself and listened, discarding the three heartbeats to the east, concentrating on the one closest to her. "Gotcha!" she whispered as she narrowed his position down to about a mile southwest of her. He was probably awaiting the return of his men at Simon's cabin. Her lips drawing back in a snarl, she headed into the woods once more.
Blair lifted the paddle out of the water, moved it forward, dipped it in again, and pulled it back. He put every ounce of concentration into it, mind, body, soul, everything, so he wouldn't think about what had happened, what was happening.
He vaguely heard Jim say that Cristo was the only one left. He abruptly found it hard to breathe, but kept up the rhythm. Lift, move, dip, pull. This was his fault, all of it. His arms and shoulders ached from the unaccustomed exertion, but all he could feel was the pain in his heart. He'd told her he loved her, hadn't he? He switched the paddle to the other side of the canoe, and peered into the darkness. It hadn't taken this long to get from the island to the lake's western shore; were they going in the right direction?
What if she didn't come back? He knew she'd promised, but... by the time she was finished, five people would be dead. He would understand it if she ran. He would still love her, though. He didn't think that would ever change, kind of like his relationship with Jim. Oops, shouldn't have gone there, shouldn't have gone there...
Blair had felt the tension between the Sentinel and the Champion escalating. Jim had drawn his weapon, was pointing it at Dee, her hand was on the hilt of her sword. He'd stepped between them, confident he could keep them apart. After all, Dee loved him, she would never hurt him, and he was Jim's friend, his partner, his guide, his soulmate. Jim could never shoot him.
Or so he'd thought. He'd felt the slight movement of air as the bullet rushed past his left ear, heard the shot echo over and over in the sudden silence. In that split second, everything had changed.
He had seen the frustration, the anger on Jim's face before, and always he'd attributed it to the fact that Jim just didn't like Diandra. Oh, he was more tolerant of her than he had been, but his original feelings were still there, he had just grown more proficient at camouflage. Blair had never dreamed that Jim's anger had extended to him. It had been in Jim's eyes for just a fraction of a second, before the realization of what he'd almost done had hit him.
Blair didn't want to think about that look. Jim was fine, Megan was fine, Dee was fine, and Blair would... Blair would find someplace nice and quiet to go to pieces. He closed his eyes against the tears that threatened to fall, and moved his paddle through the water.
Diandra approached the cabin slowly, keeping her hearing trained on Cristo. She had picked up the sound of hammering a half a mile away, and she wondered what in the hell he was building. He seemed pretty happy about it, laughing and chuckling to himself about the irony of what he had in store for Megan and Jim.
The sensation hit her about 50 yards from the cabin, the headache and nausea coming as a complete shock. There was no need to hide herself now, so she walked calmly into the clearing, drawing her sword. What she saw sickened her. Cristo had nailed 6-foot long pieces of wood perpendicularly to two tall pines, about ten feet up the tree trunk, making two crude, but effective crosses. Now she knew what he had meant by ironic: Jesus Cristo crucifying his enemies.
Strangely though, the drug dealer seemed unaware of her presence. He faced the make-shift crucifixes, doubled over in pain. "Cristo!" she yelled. "I challenge you!"
He turned toward her, his face registering his surprise at her appearance. Diandra realized he had no idea what he was, no notion he was immortal. For the slightest of moments she hesitated. As an Immortal, she was bound by the unwritten code to explain to him what he was, and send him to a teacher, if not to teach him herself. A brief glance with her 'other' sight told her all she needed to know, that nothing would lessen his evil.
Bringing her katana up to shoulder height, she said, "Say your prayers, because your reign of terror is over."
He laughed at her, his goateed face breaking into a broad grin. "I don't think so, bitch, or whoever the hell you are. If you kill me, like my namesake, I will be resurrected."
Diandra gave him a feral smile as her blade whistled through the air. "Not this time, asshole."
Mentally grabbing hold of the pain dial, Jim gave it another twist, and the throbbing in his arm lessened. Too bad there wasn't a dial for emotional agony. He shook his head, trying to get the image of his guide's shocked expression as he realized Jim had actually pulled the trigger out of his mind. Thank god for Megan's quick reflexes. She had grabbed for the gun just as his finger had squeezed the trigger, shifting his aim the fraction of an inch it took to turn a fatal shot into a miss. The betrayal he had seen in Blair's eyes had made him want to turn the gun on himself.
Part of him wanted to believe it had been an accident narrowly averted, but another side was labeling it a wake-up call. How had everything gotten so out of hand, so out of his control? When Diandra moved in next door, the voice inside him answered. That's when everything changed, that's when Blair had quit depending on him, had quit listening to him. Hadn't he told Blair right from the start that she was trouble? But did he listen? No, and it had almost gotten him killed on more than one occasion.
A second voice entered the argument in his head. That wasn't entirely true, she'd saved his guide's life in more than one instance. She had been able to protect Blair when Jim hadn't. Hell, she was more of a "Blessed Protector" than he was. He wouldn't be surprised if after tonight, Blair chose to be with her. She was out there right now, killing to protect him.
That was what he didn't understand. How could Blair, who would cross the street to avoid stepping on an insect, love someone with her capacity for violence? He looked back toward the western shore of the lake. There was no need for what she was doing; they would have gotten away, or could have worked together to capture their attackers. There was no reason except her own need for vengeance, for blood.
The sound of an explosion jolted Jim from his morbid thoughts. "Oh my god!" Megan cried, twisting to look back the way they'd come. Lightening could be seen illuminating the area near Simon's cabin, and the wishful thought that crossed Jim's mind was maybe all his problems had been solved.
A loud gasp from his guide brought him back to the situation at hand. "Chief, you okay?" he asked.
Megan laid a hand on Blair's back. "Sandy, what is it, what's wrong?"
His answer was a low groan, and he doubled over, his arms wrapped around his chest. "Shit, shit, shit, shit," he chanted through clenched teeth.
A final bolt of energy shot into the air, followed by another explosion, then there was silence, save for Blair's loud gasps for air. "Oh, man," he finally managed between pants, "that was not pleasant."
"Are you all right, Sandy? Are you hurt?"
"No, no. It's not me... it's Dee... our connection... " He realized he wasn't making any sense.
"Should we go back?" Megan asked worriedly. "Is something wrong with Dee?"
Blair shook his head. "No, no, she'll be... she's fine, she's okay. Damn... that wasn't something I expected to feel again." He shivered.
"We're almost to the island, Chief," Jim said, unable to discuss what had just happened in front of Megan. "Just take it easy until we get there."
"Okay," Blair agreed weakly, and handed his paddle to Megan, who joined Jim in stroking toward the shore.
The final explosion nearly deafened her. Diandra sank to her knees in the cold snow, hands pressed over her ears. Her eyes and skin burned with residual Quickening energy, and she shook herself, as if that could get rid of the feeling she'd been dipped in raw sewage.
She heard Lobo's reassuring voice in her head, reminding her to turn down the dials. Twisting them as far to the left as she could, she let out a sigh of relief. Goddess, who would have thought a new Immortal would have such a strong Quickening? If he'd had a few years and a few heads behind him, Cristo would have been formidable. Now, though, he was just dead, and a weight she hadn't realized she'd been carrying had been lifted from her shoulders.
Getting to her feet, Dee surveyed the area. Captain Banks wasn't going to be too happy about his cabin. Flames from the propane tanks' explosion still burned amid the wreckage. She hoped his insurance covered acts of God.
With a sigh, she gathered up Cristo's remains and headed to the secluded clearing where the rest of his men lay. The night wasn't over yet.
Several hours later, Dee was satisfied she'd destroyed all evidence of what had transpired. The bodies had been burned and the ashes and any items not consumed by the fire had been deposited in the lake. She'd torn down the makeshift crosses and used the wood as fuel for the funeral pyre. Finding their SUV a ways down the road from Simon's cabin, she'd driven it to the top of a cliff overlooking the lake.
Dee had hidden her swords, unable to thoroughly clean them, and not wanting to expose the ancient blades to more water than was necessary. She would retrieve them in a few days. Stripping out of her clothes, she tied them in a bundle and dropped them over the edge of the mountain into the lake. Climbing into the SUV, she started the engine, gunned it, and drove off the cliff, leaping out the open door just before the truck hit the surface of the water.
The shock of entering the cold liquid forced the air from her lungs, and she found herself struggling not to drown as she kicked her way to the surface. Her head emerged, and she gasped for breath, treading water until her racing heart had calmed, and her lungs no longer ached. Once she had her bearings, she began to swim eastward, toward MacLeod's island, pushing the thought that the freezing water and her own exhaustion might do her in before she reached it to the back of her mind.
Blair tossed another log on the fire, and pulled the blanket closer around his shoulders, reflecting on that night's events. He glanced briefly back over his shoulder at MacLeod's cabin, imagining Megan and Jim discussing his descent into insanity. Shivering, he scooted closer to the flames. Okay, so maybe waiting on the beach in 20-degree weather for Dee to show up wasn't the brightest idea in the world, but he'd needed to get out of the cabin, and away from the looks they had been giving him.
He knew they didn't understand how he could still care for her, still love her knowing she had killed five men in cold blood. He ran his hands through his tangled hair in frustration. He knew how they felt. If tonight's events had happened twenty-four hours ago, he'd have thought the same thing, would have tried to talk her out of it, would have let Jim shoot her, if that had meant saving her from herself.
But last night had changed everything. The sharing of Hale's Quickening had opened his eyes, had let him see what she saw, feel what she felt. And contrary to what Jim and Megan thought, she was no cold-hearted warrior. She was a tigress guarding her cubs, a Champion defending her tribe, a woman protecting the people she called family. He couldn't judge her for actions based on 3,000 years of experience. Hell, even if she hadn't been consciously aware of the reasons behind her rage at Cristo, she had been right. Somehow, on a subconscious level, she'd known he was a danger only she could deal with, an Immortal. And he could talk until he was blue in the face, and still not make Jim and Megan understand.
He shivered again. Damn it was cold. Blair poked at the fire, wondering again what he was doing sitting on the beach. Hell, Dee probably wouldn't show up until morning, though it was almost that now, and logic dictated that she would be coming from the opposite side of the lake, where he knew there was another canoe stashed. If she came at all... No, he wasn't going to think that. She'd promised she would come back, and he knew she wouldn't break that vow.
The sound of something moving in the lake caught his attention. Peering into the darkness, Blair saw a tall, lithe form emerge from the black liquid, droplets of water sparkling like diamonds on her bare skin, blue eyes meeting his across the fire's flames. With a little sigh, she collapsed to the sand and was still.
Blair was at her side in an instant, throwing the blanket over her, yelling for Jim, as he felt for a pulse at her throat. Oh, god, she was so cold, her skin icy to his touch. "Hang on, Dee, hang on," he pleaded with her. Where in the hell was Jim?
Ellison sat down on the couch with a sigh. The Immortal was nuts, plain nuts. Who in their right mind would take off all their clothes and swim across a lake in below freezing weather? He ran both hands through his hair and grimaced at the pain that shot through his left arm. Helping Sandburg carry her up from the beach hadn't helped that injury any. Stretching, he yawned, and checked on the trio in the next room with his hearing.
Diandra was still out of it; she hadn't regained consciousness since she had collapsed in front of Blair, and that was, he glanced at his watch, over an hour ago. Christ, was it that late? He should have checked in with Simon hours ago. And just what was he going to tell his captain, he asked himself. He decided he would save checking in until he came up with a good story. He focused on the low voices in the other room again.
Once they'd gotten Diandra to the cabin, they had to raise her body temperature, which Jim had estimated to be nearly ten degrees below normal, assuming Immortals were the same as mortals in that regard. Without hospital facilities, they'd had to resort to a more low-tech treatment: body heat. Blair and Megan had stripped down to their underwear and crawled in bed with her, and it seemed to be working, albeit slowly.
Jim wasn't too worried by the fact she hadn't woken up yet, but Sandburg was. He seemed to think Dee was in a trance state, rather than simply unconscious. He and Megan were trying to reach her, though it sounded like they were running out of steam, if the slow, even breathing he was hearing was any indication. He tuned in on the Immortal's heartbeat, and was shocked to find both Blair's and Megan's hearts in sync with hers. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. It was times like these he knew how Simon felt.
Still, he supposed there was no harm in it. It was just... weird.
He must have dozed off, because he awoke to the sensation of something poking him in the chest. Opening his eyes, he found the tip of a sword poised directly above his heart. His gaze traveled up the blade to its wielder, a small, wiry redhead dressed in an impressive amount of leather and brass armor. A band of gold encircled her brow, and her blue eyes flashed dangerously. "What is the meaning of this, Sentinel?" she growled. "Why do you not aid your Guide in his fight?"
At her words, Jim half rose from the couch, but the point of her weapon dug into his skin, and he thought better of it. "What are you talking about? Blair's fine, he's in the other room, asleep."
She shook her head, her long braid bobbing with the motion. "The Guide walks in my world, along with the young one. They seek to save his lover, her would-be Champion, from death. Why do you not walk with them?"
This is crazy, Jim thought. Who in the hell is this woman and what is she babbling about? "Immortals can't die unless you take their head. Dee's just unconscious; she'll be fine."
"She's dying, Sentinel!" the woman warrior screamed at him. "Do you think I do not know death when I see it? I have seen more death than you can even begin to comprehend. Diandra's immortality is worthless if her soul is lost!"
Jim simply blinked at her, confused.
"Oh, Athena, grant me your patience and your wisdom," she prayed, rolling her eyes heavenward. Turning her gaze back to Jim, she began to speak in the tone grownups used with very small children. "Sentinel, if a Champion does not bond with a Companion within a certain amount of time after receiving Artemis' gifts, those gifts overwhelm her. Unable to control her senses, she retreats into herself, in Diandra's case, into the spirit world, and blocks out the physical world around her. Soon, no one will be able to reach her, to bring her back."
That made a kind of sense, Jim supposed. After all, when his heightened senses had returned, he'd thought he was going insane. Why would it be any different for a Champion? "Okay, that I understand, but what's the problem? Megan's agreed to be her companion."
The woman shook her head. "The little one is afraid. She is having trouble accepting what Diandra is, accepting that part of the Champion's role is to protect her Companion, her lover, her family, by whatever means necessary, to be judge, jury and executioner, if that is what it takes to keep them safe."
Jim clenched and unclenched his jaw. "So Megan has doubts about bonding with a killer. I don't blame her."
The Amazon moved without warning, and Jim suddenly found her kneeling over him, her blade pressed tight against his throat. "What has she ever done to you, Sentinel?" Her face inches from his, Jim could clearly see the tears forming in her eyes. "Has she ever harmed you? Harmed someone you loved? What crime has she committed against you?"
He realized it was a rhetorical question when the pressure on his neck increased as he opened his mouth to answer. Wisely, he let her continue.
"Oh wait, I forgot, Diandra has committed the most deadly sin of all. She dared to love your Guide." Her eyes stared into his, their fire undiminished by the tears rolling down her face. "That is it, is it not? You hate her because your Guide loves her. What kind of man are you, what kind of Sentinel are you, that you would deny your soulmate that happiness? And what do you think will happen to him if she dies? And to you? The three of you are bound together, your life forces intertwined. She cannot return from the spirit world without your help; Megan cannot bond with her without your support." Jim could feel the edge of her sword cutting into his skin, a warm trickle of blood running slowly down his neck. "I will not let you do this to her, or to your Guide, or to hers. Put aside your own fear for once and just believe in the goodness of someone else's heart!"
He hesitated, and that must have triggered something in the Companion, for she gestured with her hand, and the interior of MacLeod's cabin became a lush meadow. The first slivers of a golden dawn shone on the horizon, turning the scattered clouds cotton candy pink. The Amazon pushed against the Sentinel's back, and getting the hint, he began to walk toward the center of the field of flowers, his keen sight picking out the familiar form of his guide kneeling in the grass, Megan next to him, something large and black cradled in her lap.
As they drew closer, Jim could see the two guides were seated on either side of the black mare's outstretched neck, her heavy head sprawled across the Aussie's legs. "Look at her," the Companion hissed. "Do you still believe she will be fine?" Jim shook his head slowly, listening to the mare's labored breathing, watching her exhausted muscles twitching under her sweat soaked hide.
Megan glanced up, as if noticing the pair for the first time. "I can't help her, Jim," she said, her voice thick with emotion. "I promised I would, and I can't."
Blair turned his face toward the Sentinel then, his Shaman's face paint streaked and blurred by tears. "Jim, man, you have to help us. We can't let her die; I can't lose her, not like this."
Stepping around Jim, the Companion knelt by her Champion, her hand stroking the quivering neck. "Please, Diandra," she pleaded, "please come back to us. It isn't your time yet. We need you, all of us need you."
Her emphasis on "all of us" was not lost on Jim. Gazing once more into his guide's anguished eyes, he saw the small spark of hope within, the hope that his Sentinel could prevail where he had failed. Jim dropped to his knees next to Megan, winding his fingers through the mare's soft mane. "Diandra," he whispered, "we're all here now, waiting for you. You have to make a decision, you have to choose a Companion. Megan is here, she is willing to stand by your side, to watch your back, to be your friend, your partner, your soulmate. She's a good guide, Dee, she saved my ass more than once over the past few days. Yeah, she's young, and inexperienced, and she'll make mistakes, but she'll learn because she'll have the best teacher in the world, you."
"Please, Dee," Blair pleaded, "you promised me you would come back to me. I love you so much, angel, please don't leave us."
Megan stoked the black mare's velvety muzzle and said softly, "Dee, you have to give me a chance. I know I would be a good companion, if I only got the chance to try."
The Amazon Queen leaned over and kissed the horse's broad cheek. "Go to her, my heart, my love. She is the one you have been searching for."
At the Companion's words, the mare shimmered, her form blurring, then stabilizing, then blurring again. When the rippling stopped, the mare was gone, and in her place lay Diandra, dressed in a long white toga, her head resting in Megan's lap. Her eyes fluttered open, and the first thing she saw was her companion smiling down at her. She reached up her hand, and Megan pulled her into a hug, the Immortal's tears wetting her shoulder. Reaching behind her, Diandra found Blair, and his arms encircled her from behind as he buried his face in her hair. Dee turned her head to the side, her eyes meeting the Sentinel's.
She held out her hand to him, the gesture unexpected, but clearly understood. She was offering him a place in her family; all he had to do was accept it. Without hesitation, Jim's hand gripped hers, and he knew the tears on her face mirrored his own.
The Companion rose to her feet, and bent over her Champion, planting a soft kiss on the top of her head. Leaping in the air, Lydia shifted into the red falcon, her strong wings carrying her rapidly aloft, her joyful cry heralding the dawn of a new day.
Sunlight was streaming through the cabin windows when Jim finally opened his eyes. It took him a moment to realize he wasn't at Simon's place, but at MacLeod's, and another few seconds to notice he was no longer on the sofa in the living area. Instead, he was lying on a small sliver of mattress in the bedroom, his guide snoring softly next to him.
Blair lay on his back, the covers bunched around his waist, both arms around his lover. Diandra was sprawled over his right side, her head resting on his shoulder, her arm across his chest, and her hand somewhere in between the two men. Jim could make out the top of Megan's head over Dee's bare shoulder. She seemed to be spooned up behind the Amazon, her arm thrown over the other woman's hips. Jim felt a flush creeping across his face as his slowly awakening brain realized that he was the only one fully dressed.
He started to sit up, and discovered his right hand was trapped. Glancing down, he found Dee's fingers still curved around his, and as he watched, they tightened briefly, then released his hand. He looked up to find her blue eyes regarding him tenderly. A small smile curved her lips, and she spoke, her voice pitched for his ears only. "Thank you."
Uncomfortable with her gratitude, he shrugged, then said, "You would have done the same for me."
Dee moved her hand to rest lightly on Blair's chest. "But it would not have cost me nearly as much." She yawned then, and laid her head back down on her human pillow. Her eyes slid closed, and she was asleep again almost immediately.
Shaking his head slowly, Jim rose and headed for the kitchen. A glance at his watch showed it was nearly 10 am. Simon was probably worried sick. After stirring up the fire in the hearth, starting one in the stove, and putting on the coffeepot, Jim tracked down Blair's cell phone and dialed the Captain's number.
A terse "Banks" greeted him.
"Uh, Simon, it's Jim."
"Ellison! Where in the hell are you? Are you and Connor all right?" The captain's bellow was so loud Jim had to hold the phone away from his ear.
"Yeah, we're fine, just fine. We, uh, decided to hook up with Sandburg and Pallas last night... "
Jim could hear Simon biting down on his cigar. "Was that before or after you blew up my cabin?"
He feigned innocence. "Someone blew up your cabin? It was fine when we left, sir." That, at least, was the truth.
"And where in the hell is Brown's truck?"
"I don't have a clue, Simon," he said honestly. "We left it in the ditch about half a mile from the cabin, and didn't have a reason to go back and check on it. Since it was stuck, we didn't figure anyone would steal it." An unpleasant thought crossed his mind. "Uh, sir, where exactly are you?"
"Same place I've been since about 8 am, Jim. Freezing my butt off while the Seacouver sheriff and the local fire department try to figure out what exactly happened to -my- cabin. Some hunter out on an early start called it in. Guess he smelled the smoking ruins and went to investigate. There are signs someone had a big bonfire up here too, about a mile from here. You don't happen to know anything about that either, do you?"
"No, sir, I don't," Jim answered, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, trying to ward off a headache. "But look on the bright side, sir, at least Connor and I weren't there."
His friend was silent for a moment, then said in a more somber tone, "Yeah, thank god for that. You don't suppose this was Cristo's work?"
"Hard to tell, sir. I'm just glad Sandburg and Connor's ordeal is almost over."
"Speaking of Sandburg, what in the world made you decide the four of you needed to be together? Friday you were dead set on staying apart."
Shit. Jim had been hoping Simon wouldn't pick up on that little inconsistency. "I'm not sure you really want to hear the answer to that, Captain. It was a, uh, Sentinel/Guide crisis kind of thing."
He could hear the wheels turning in his friend's mind. "Is it resolved?" he finally asked.
"Yes, Simon, it's resolved."
"Then I don't want to hear about it." He changed the subject. "You need any help getting back in time for the grand jury tomorrow?"
"Thanks, but no thanks, Simon. I think that's covered. I'll let you know if we need anything, but right now I think it's going to be smooth sailing from here on out."
"All right, Jim, you take care. And I'll ask around about H's truck. Maybe some over zealous ranger had it towed. See you on Monday."
Jim disconnected the call and turned off the phone. He stared at it for a moment, letting out a small sigh. He hated lying to his captain, but if he ever found out what had really happened... Blair's voice from the doorway startled him.
"Thanks, Jim." At his puzzled look, Blair explained. "For not telling Simon about what Dee did to Cristo and his men. I owe you big time."
Jim shook his head. "You don't owe me anything, Chief. Coffee?" Blair nodded, his gaze thoughtful as he watched Jim pour the steaming caffeine into two mugs. "You've got that look, Sandburg. What's on your mind?"
Blair accepted the cup he handed him, and headed for the living room, Jim following. "We need to talk, Jim, really talk, about where we go from here." He took a seat in the overstuffed armchair cattycornered from the couch.
Feeling his stomach knot at his guide's words, Jim sank heavily onto the sofa. "Okay, Chief, go ahead."
Blair sipped his coffee for a few minutes, attempting to gather his jumbled thoughts and emotions into some kind of presentable form. Finally he quit trying to find a gentle way to put it, and said simply, "I love Dee." Jim opened his mouth to reply, and Blair cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Please, Jim, just listen to what I have to say before jumping to any conclusions."
Taking a deep breath, he fingered a loose thread on the knee of his sweatpants, then spoke. "You've known me for, what, almost five years now?" At Jim's hesitant nod, Blair continued. "And in all that time, I think it's safe to say my longest relationship with a woman lasted about two weeks... well, I'm not counting Maya, that was... a mistake." He stared into his coffee mug for a moment. "When I met Dee, all that changed. I haven't looked at or thought about another woman for nearly six months. I haven't dated, hell, I haven't flirted with anyone but her. I haven't wanted to, I haven't needed to. For the first time in my life, I know what real love is."
He sat his coffee down on the table and ran both hands through his tousled curls. "She makes me a better person, Jim. Somehow she sees inside of me, sees only the good things, sees all my potential, all my pluses and none of my minuses. She makes me feel... god, it's so hard to describe... valuable, I guess. You'll have to admit there've been times this past year when I felt pretty useless, to you and to myself."
The guide shook his head. "I don't feel that way anymore, and I know it's because when I look in her eyes, I wanna be the man she sees inside me. I know you must think I'm crazy. I mean, she's nearly 3,000 years old, and I'm barely thirty, and the nature of our lives is such that each time we walk out the door, we don't know if either of us is going to come back. The amazing thing is, I can live with that, I want to live with that, if it means she'll be in my life. I know things aren't going to last forever, that in a couple years, she'll have to move on, and I won't go with her, but I want to be with her for as long as the fates allow."
He paused, taking a long swallow of his cooling coffee, then meeting Jim's eyes again. "You are my Sentinel, and I am your Guide. My relationship with Dee is never going to change that. We are soulmates, you and I, but Dee is the mate of my heart. Please don't make me choose between the two of you, Jim, because I will always choose you, and you will always wonder if I made the right choice."
Jim looked into his partner's face, seeing hope and fear mingling in his eyes. The Companion's words came back to him in a rush. What kind of man was he, to deny his partner, his guide, his soulmate, that kind of happiness? "I won't make you choose, Blair. I just need to know one thing. Does she feel the same way about you?"
"Yes," said Dee quietly from the bedroom doorway. She walked into the room, clothed, Jim was glad to note, in a plaid flannel shirt and a pair of long underwear. Settling herself on the arm of Blair's chair, she rested her hand on his shoulder, and his came up to cover it. A look passed between them, and Jim could swear an entire conversation was carried out in the few seconds before she turned her gaze back on him. "I love Lobo, Ellison, though I don't have the talent to say it quite as beautifully as he does. To borrow from him, Blair is the mate of my heart." She smiled down at him, and Jim watched his guide's face light up at her attention. Witnessing that moment between them, the Sentinel knew he'd made the right decision.
A yawn from the other side of the room broke the spell. Megan leaned against the doorjamb, stretching, dressed in clothes that were obviously Dee's. The sleeves of the sweater came down over her hands, and she'd rolled the bottom of the leggings up. She yawned again, and said, "What'd I miss?"
"Oh, not much," Dee laughed, "just the signing of the Pallas-Ellison peace treaty." She shot a glance at Jim, and was relieved to see he was smiling.
Pushing her tangled hair back, Megan walked further into the room. "About bloody time, you two." She gave Jim a playful swat on the back of the head. "See, you should have listened to me." Eyeing the coffee mug in Blair's hand, she said, "Any chance of getting something to eat? I'm starving."
"Sure, Pajara," Dee said, getting up. She started toward the kitchen then turned toward the cabin's front door, her expression intense.
"Dee, what is it?" Megan asked.
"We have company," Blair answered for her. He got to his feet, his hand going automatically to her shoulder, helping her focus. "Friend or foe?"
Dee frowned, her expression puzzled. "Friend, but... " Crossing to the door, she opened it, surprising the man standing there. "Duncan? What are you doing here?"
The dark haired Immortal recovered quickly. "Diandra," he said, pulling her into a quick hug. "Joe sent me out to check on you. He said there might have been some problems last night?" He raised an eyebrow at her, and inclined his head toward the three people behind her.
She shook her head, indicating not here, not now to him. "We're fine. Come on in, and let me introduce you to everyone." Taking his hand, she dragged him into the cabin. "Duncan MacLeod, this is Megan Connor, she's a police Inspector from New South Wales on exchange with the Cascade PD."
Duncan shook her hand, as a self conscious Megan managed to mumble, "Pleased to meet you."
"And this is Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade PD."
Jim took the extended hand, saying, "We've already met."
"Yes, we have," Duncan echoed, his eyes hard.
"Duncan, behave!" Dee warned, punching him lightly in the arm. "And this," she said, reaching out her hand to Blair, "is Blair Sandburg, anthropologist slash police observer and mi corazon, mi quierido."
Duncan turned toward her, a grin spreading across his face. "So this is the famous Blair Joe talks so much about?" At her nod, Duncan enveloped a stunned Blair in a bear hug. "Glad to hear the two of you are back together," he said softly in Blair's ear, then added, "but if you ever hurt her again, there'll be a line forming to beat the crap out of you."
"I understand completely," Blair replied, a little shocked by the other man's vehemence, but glad there was someone besides him looking out for Diandra's happiness. "I promise it won't happen again."
"Okay, folks," Dee said, a hand on Duncan's collar tugging him away from the Watcher, "who wants to help me fix breakfast?"
After breakfast, the mixed group of mortals and immortals decided to check out the remains of Simon's cabin to see if anything of Jim and Megan's could be salvaged. Duncan volunteered to pair off with Diandra in one canoe, while Blair, Jim and Megan took the other.
Once they were out on the lake, and enough distance separated the two watercraft that a conversation could only be overheard by Sentinel ears, Diandra glanced back at MacLeod and said, "Okay, you got me alone for a reason, so spill it."
Chuckling softly, Duncan shook his head. "I never could keep anything from you. All right, to be honest, I'm dying of curiosity. Who in the hell are these people, Dee? Joe talks about Blair like he's adopted the man, and then in the same breath he swears he will kill him if he hurts you again. And from our only conversation regarding Detective Ellison, I figured the next time I saw him he'd be missing a body part... or two. I'm not quite sure what to make of the lovely Inspector, but judging by the way she looks at you, there's more going on under the surface there as well.
"And most importantly, how come they feel like one of us? I thought I'd walked in on an Immortal convention when I entered the cabin. They can't all be pre-immortals."
"They're not, Mac." She sighed. "You've been around awhile; have you ever heard of Sir Richard Burton's sentinel research?"
Duncan nearly let the paddle be yanked out of his hands as he dipped it in the water without stroking. "Sentinels? This is about Sentinels?"
"So you've heard of them?"
"Heard of them! Hell, Dee, I was on the trip with Burton when he first encountered them in Paraguay."
Now it was Dee's turn to be surprised. "You never said a word... "
"I didn't know that was the subject, besides, I didn't think there were any left. They were a dying breed when Burton wrote about them." He cast an appraising eye at the occupants of the other canoe. "Let me guess, Ellison's a sentinel, right? That would make Blair his guide. So Megan's the pre-immortal?"
"She's a guide too, Duncan."
"What's a Sentinel need with two guides?"
Diandra turned halfway around to grin at him. "Megan's my guide."
This time Duncan did drop his paddle.
By the time they had detoured back for it, the others had already reached the shore and were waiting impatiently for them as the two immortals dragged their canoe up on the beach. If Ellison had overheard any part of their conversation, he gave no sign of it.
"Sorry," Dee apologized, "someone couldn't hang on to his paddle." She'd brought Duncan up to speed on some of the other particulars, such as the fact that Blair and Jim knew about Immortals, but Megan was in the dark.
It took them a good half-hour to hike to the cabin, and once there, Jim, Megan and Blair began to investigate the ruins. It didn't look quite as bad as it had the night before, Dee decided. Most of the damage had been contained to the kitchen, though the two walls on that side of the building would need serious help, and a new roof was definitely in order.
Dee walked over to where Duncan was examining scorch marks on the trunk of a large pine. "This your work?" he asked. At her nod, he continued, "That's why Joe called me. Your watcher had reported in about a Quickening, and he was afraid it was yours."
"Not this time," she replied, running forward a couple steps and leaping up to grab the tree's lowest branch. Hoisting herself up, she climbed until Duncan could no longer see her through the branches. A few minutes later she reappeared, moving easily from limb to limb, pausing on one about fifteen feet up, then leaping to the ground, tucking into a flip before executing a perfect landing.
"Show off," Duncan remarked.
She stuck her tongue out at him and fussed with the position of her swords on her back, their retrieval being the reason she'd climbed the tree in the first place. As hard as she tried to act like everything was fine, her friend sensed there was something bothering her. "Maybe you can clear something up for me," he said. "Joe told me that the people after Blair were drug dealers, not Immortals. So how did you end up taking someone's head last night?"
Closing her eyes, Dee turned her face away from Duncan, biting her lip. She felt his hands grip her shoulders gently, and she didn't resist as he turned her back toward him. "Duncan... I... he wasn't the only one I killed last night." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "I didn't know he was immortal; I just knew I couldn't let him hurt anyone anymore. I killed his men, then went after him. I challenged him, and discovered he had no idea what I was talking about; he was a new immortal, knew nothing of us, or the Game. I killed him anyway... ."
She shook her head. "I couldn't let him go, rules be damned... He was evil. If I let him escape, told him what he was, he would have become a threat to us... another Xavier St. Cloud, an immortal who disobeyed all the rules of conduct, who betrayed his own kind... "
Duncan pulled her into a hug, and she leaned her forehead against his shoulder. "Do you know what he was going to do to Jim and Megan? He was going to crucify them, right there, on the tree I just climbed." She raised her eyes to his, her expression intense. "There was no way I was going to let him do that... no way I was going to let him live for even thinking about doing such a thing." A movement behind Duncan caught her eye.
Megan stood there, her face white, her eyes wide with fear. It was obvious she had overheard Diandra's words. Letting go of Duncan, Dee moved toward her, her arms outstretched. The Aussie hesitated for a moment, then fell into them, finally giving in to the tears she had been holding in since the night she had been attacked in Seacouver. Dee simply held her, whispering "It's okay, it's over, it's over... "
Blair and Jim exited the cabin, both of them coming immediately to the side of the two women. Without a word, Blair laid his hands on Dee's shoulders, and Jim did the same for Megan, adding their strength and support. Duncan simply watched, shaking his head slowly in amazement. Even his untrained eye could see the connection, the bond, between the Sentinels and Guides. He wondered what his friend Burton would have said, had he been there. Probably something about the Sentinel/Guide bond transcending the boundaries between two humans, turning polar opposites into friends, and friends into soulmates. For a long moment, he envied them.
Glancing at the clock on the wall outside the courtroom, Dee stifled a yawn. Court would be in session soon. She still hadn't quite recovered from the events of the past three days, despite being able to sleep in her own bed last night. She had been unable to settle down, and she finally realized it was because the bed was too empty. She took a look at the anthropologist sitting next to her on the bench. He hadn't slept well either, judging by the dark circles under his eyes. The guide on the other side of her seemed to be the exception to the rule. Megan's eyes were clear and bright, and she seemed eager to get on with the show.
Or maybe she'd just had too much caffeine. Dee seemed to recall more than one cup of coffee passing through her hands that morning.
Blair leaned a little closer and asked, "How are you holding up? You didn't have to come sit with us, you know."
"I'm fine, Lobo, just wondering where Jim is. I thought he was going to meet us here."
"He'll be here," Blair said. A man in a dark suit carrying a briefcase rushed past them and into the courtroom. "Hey, Megan, isn't that Cristo's lawyer?"
Megan nodded, then turned to Dee. "Can you hear what's going on inside?"
Closing her eyes, the champion stretched out with her hearing, glad of Megan's guiding hand on her arm, helping her focus through her tired state. "He's telling the judge and the prosecutor that he's been unable to get in touch with his client. Now the judge is asking the defense and the prosecution to meet with him in chambers."
"Good," said a new voice. "Maybe then you two won't have to testify." Dee opened her eyes to see Jim approaching.
"We were beginning to wonder about you," Blair said.
"I had to drive back to Seacouver to get H's truck out of impound. They towed it as an abandoned vehicle." He grimaced. "My wallet is now $200 lighter."
"Well at least that's taken care of," Megan said. "Seems like the only thing left unsolved is what to tell Simon about his cabin. He was grilling me earlier for an explanation."
"If it's that big a problem, I'll just write him a check for enough money to make him forget about finding out what happened," Dee volunteered.
Blair shook his head, suppressing a grin. "A check that big would have the IRS sniffing at his heels, wondering were he got that kind of money on a cop's salary."
Jim sighed. "Maybe he can sell his insurance agent on it being an act of God."
"Or the four of you can come up in the spring and help me rebuild," boomed Simon's voice from behind Jim. "Don't think I don't know you had something to do with it." He pinned each one of them for a few seconds with a glare, taking in the relaxed aura about them. Blair had his arm over the back of the bench, behind Dee's shoulders, and her hand rested possessively on his thigh. Diandra's other hand was entwined with Megan's, and the look in the Aussie's eyes bordered on territorial. The really strange thing was, Jim seemed to be okay with all of this. Simon could sense none of the tension or simmering anger he'd noticed before when the Sentinel was around Diandra. Something had happened that weekend, something momentous, and if it had taken his cabin exploding to get the two Sentinels to peacefully coexist, then it would be worth every penny he had to pay in repairs.
At that moment, the doors to the courtroom burst open, and the lawyers for both the prosecution and defense came out, trailed by members of the media. An impromptu press conference was convened in the hallway, and it was announced that Cristo was believed to have fled the country.
"Guess that's our cue to leave," Jim said.
The trio on the bench rose, Megan giving first Jim, then Dee a hug. "Thank you so much," she whispered in the Immortal's ear. "All morning I kept expecting to see Cristo come walking down the hall. Now I know it's really over."
Dee squeezed her back. "You'll never have to go through something like that again, I promise you, Pajara." Kissing her forehead gently, she stepped back. "Come on, I'll treat you all to lunch."
"It's not even 10 am, Pallas," Simon growled. "These people all have work to do."
Diandra gave him her most beatific smile. "You're invited too, Captain."
"Oh, well in that case, I know this great restaurant... ." He started off down the corridor, Megan following.
Diandra turned her gaze to Jim. "I never thanked you properly for what you did the other night, for watching over Megan, and for finding the courage to help me." She slid her arms around the detective, giving him a long hug he awkwardly returned.
Blair tapped Jim on the shoulder. "Come on, man. Let go of my girlfriend, and let's go eat. I'm starving," he teased.
The two separated each giving him their own version of "the look". "Hey, no fair double teaming me!" Blair protested as a playful swipe from Jim caught him on the back of the head. He skipped backwards out of range. "Jim, man, we're going to have to have a talk about this guide abuse thing. You keep it up, and I may have to sic my girlfriend on you!"
Jim gave Dee a sideways glance. "You've been a couple for what, two days, and already he's ordering you around. You going to stand for that?"
Dee's broad grin was infectious. "No," she said, edging in Blair's direction, an evil gleam in her eye, "I'm not. Wanna give me a hand?"
"Oh sh... " was all Blair had time to get out of his mouth before Sentinel and Champion gave chase.
Somewhere in South America, a telephone rang. A button on the phone was pressed. "Hola."
"Jefe?" said a frightened voice.
"Si. Que paso, Frederico?" The dark haired, olive skinned man leaned back in his leather desk chair and steepled his fingers across his stomach.
"Jefe, algo malo ha sucedido. Su hermano... que pienso que él es muerto... murdered... ."
The man closed his eyes. Though not his brother by blood, they had been raised together, and Jesus had looked up to and admired the older man. "What happened? Who did this thing?"
"El policía, jefe. I think it was the policía. Jesús was betrayed by two traitors. He and five of his men are missing, and Connor and Sandburg still live."
Jesus' brother curled his hand into a fist. "Then we must have vengeance and I know just the person for the job. Contact the assassin for me. I have work for them.."
"Si, jefe." The caller disconnected.
No matter how long it took, he would see them pay. No one messed with the family of Juan Bautista Cristo and got away with it.
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