He didn't want to leave, but he had a few more jobs to do if he was going to successfully close the Chronicle on Eolia. Looking at the set of keys that Diandra had handed him, Jan-Michel LaFollet noted the worn emblem on one of the keys. Leaping over the fence that surrounded the park, he started looking for a car that would match up with the keys in his hand. A block and a half away from where Lee had parked the Lexus, he found it. A beat up, raggedy looking, dark colored AMC Gremlin. Oh well, Immortals that didn't have much in the way of liquid assets couldn't be too choosy. Opening the driver's side door, he slipped in behind the wheel, pushed the seat back as far as it could go, started the engine and, placing the manual transmission into first gear, took off.
After he'd been driving the wreck of a car for ten minutes, maybe more, he pulled into a closed gas station's well lit parking area and started going through the car, looking for anything that would tell him where Bradley Ventriss had been holed up for the past week.
The young, now dead, Immortal hadn't been the neatest of people, leaving trash in the car to pile up to where the interior looked like a pack-rat's haven. But his search did turn up several matchbooks, all stamped with the logo of a motel. The Ranch-O-Motel. "More like "Roach-O, if the inside of this car is any indication."
Pulling out his Watcher issued cell phone, he made what would be his first phone call of many. "Brianna? Sorry for calling so late, I need your help."
Brianna Stertz was able to give him the address to the motel and, after thanking her and promising a full report by Thursday evening, he started the Gremlin back up and headed for the hotel. One of the other items that Diandra Pallas had handed him had been a large key with the number "13" stamped into the metal.
"Just what I thought it would look like," Jan-Michel muttered under his breath as he pulled into the parking lot of the Ranch-O-Motel. The buildings had seen better days, but not in the past several years and most of the rooms at either end of the horseshoe shaped building were obviously abandoned. Windows on several of the units were boarded up and the few cars that were parked there... well, the Gremlin fit right in. Parking outside of the door marked with a crooked, handpainted 13, he got out of the car and approached the door as if he belonged there.
The key fit, and with a twist of his wrist, LaFollet entered the unit and flipped on the lights. He almost wished he hadn't. The place was just as messy, if not more so, than the inside of the car had been. "Well it's obvious you never had to clean up after yourself, Brad. But, if I were you, and was the thief that stole the DVD-RAM from your father's company, where would I hide it?"
Wishing that he'd had the foresight to bring along a pair of latex gloves, Jan-Michel LaFollet started to toss the pig-sty of a room, looking for the drive that could clear his boss' name and maybe, just maybe, sink QuestScape once and for all.
His search of the main room turned up nothing except a rat's nest, complete with little baby rats, and a whole colony of roaches. Turning his sights on the bathroom, Jan smiled. "Oh, you wouldn't have been that stupid, would you, Bradley?"
Like the rest of the hotel, the bathroom had seen better days. The mirror above the rust stained sink was cracked, barely hanging on the wall, and the once white tiles on the floor were worn through in several spots. Lifting the lid on the back of the toilet, peering down into the blackened tank, he found what he was looking for. Flushing the commode to drain the tank, he pulled the plastic wrapped item out.
Pulling a pocketknife from his trouser pocket, he slit the plastic open and unwrapped the item concealed inside. The box shaped DVD-RAM, complete with the QuestScape logo on the front, sat inside the wrap. Being very careful not to touch the device with his bare hands, Jan-Michel folded the plastic around it once more and left the hovel.
Recalling his conversation with his 'boss' in the Watcher organization, he pondered whether or not to turn the DVD over to Brianna Stertz, who'd turn it over to her contacts in the Department of Defense. Or should he hand it over to the detectives working the break-in at QuestScape, Connor and Ellison? Glancing at his watch, he decided to cruise by the park to see if, after two hours, the police were done there. And if they weren't? He'd ditch the Gremlin within six blocks of the Econo-Lodge and rest until morning, when he'd make his decision.
He spotted the flashing emergency lights before he got within two blocks of the place where Lee Eolia had died. Turning away from the scene, he headed back to his hotel. He wanted a drink, to wash the grief away, or to drown it out, but he'd made a promise to Lee. And even though the woman was gone, he wouldn't break his word.
Megan got off the elevator on the third floor, trudging down the hall to Dee's loft. She knew she probably should have headed home from the station, but she was exhausted, and her friend's place was 15 minutes from the PD, and her's was 30 in the other direction. Digging through her purse, she came up with her keys and unlocked the door. Walking inside, she was surprised to see the place had been restored to its neat appearance, minus the coffee table and rug. Cleaning up the evidence, she thought. Like you're one to judge. She'd done her own share of lying to hide what had really happened that night. Hell, she really didn't know what had happened. She'd answered all of Banks' questions with "I don't know." To add to the confusion, Jan-Michel had never returned, and Megan really didn't want to know what Dee had been burning. She had her suspicions, but...
Sighing, she crossed the studio and climbed the stairs to Dee's room. From the illumination coming through the skylight, she could tell the bed hadn't been slept in. Okay, where in the hell was she, if she wasn't here? If Dee had run out on her--she shook her head. Dee was probably across the hall with Blair and Jim. Oh, god, Jim! How would he take the news of Eolia's death? They'd seemed pretty cozy when she'd seen them the night before. Going back downstairs, she crossed the hall to 307.
Letting herself in, she paused for a moment in the darkened loft, getting her bearings. She peeked into Blair's room first, finding her missing champion curled up next to the guide, both sleeping peacefully. As long as she was here, she might as well check on Jim. Climbing the stairs quietly, she paused at the top, letting her eyes adjust. Jim was stretched out on the bed, covered with a blanket, looking like he'd fallen asleep where he'd dropped, and hadn't moved since. Tomorrow was going to be a hell of a day.
Megan left the apartment and crossed the hall again. Climbing into bed in the guest room, she was soon asleep.
The sound of labored breathing woke Dee the next morning. She rose up on one elbow, gazing worriedly at Blair. Damn it! She knew she should have gone back out to the couch. During the night she'd assumed her usual position in bed with him, sprawled over his chest. Blair, in his drugged sleep, hadn't woken up to push her off. Now he strained to breathe through the ache of his broken ribs and bruised sternum. Though still asleep, his face was lined with pain.
Better to do this now, while he was out. Sitting up, Dee held her hands over his chest, pushing her Quickening through her fingers and into his body, selectively healing the damage to his ribs while leaving the brilliant purple and green bruising on his face alone. Too many people had seen him last night for her to erase that injury. She heard him moaning softly as she worked, but whatever drugs he'd been given at the hospital continued to do their work, and he didn't waken. When she finished, the lines were gone from his face, and he was breathing much easier.
Getting out of bed, Dee stretched and looked at the clock. 11:30 am. Damn, she rarely ever slept this late. She extended her hearing, checking on Jim. She smiled at the sound of his soft snores, then her grin faded. Today was not going to be fun. Somehow celebrating the holiday and happily exchanging gifts seemed hypocritical in light of the things she'd done the night before. Penance was more in order. A long, hard workout and a couple hours meditation might help her get over the unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Exiting Jim's apartment, she crossed the hall to her own, automatically reaching for the sword she wasn't carrying at a noise from her kitchen. Megan appeared around the corner, a cup of tea in her hand. "Bloody hell, Dee! Make some noise, would you?"
Relaxing a fraction, Dee shrugged, then headed into the studio, still intent on doing a few katas. "Sorry, didn't realize you came back here last night. What time did you get in?"
Megan followed the older woman into the studio and sat down cross-legged on a bench, taking a sip of her tea. "About 1 am. I found the three of you asleep and just decided to go ahead and crash over here without disturbing you."
Dee began a series of stretches, knowing there was probably more on her companion's mind, but not eager to answer any questions about the night before. She moved into a half-speed kata, waiting for Megan to continue. After several minutes of silence, her patience was rewarded.
"What in the hell happened last night, Dee? Why did you go tearing off when Jim and Sandy were obviously hurt?"
The Immortal turned from facing the mirrors to facing Megan, but continued smoothly through her routine. "What did you expect me to do? I've just killed Ventriss, I'm covered in my own blood, am carrying a bloody sword, and you want me to stay around while the police show up? Even without my being there, I know I'm the prime suspect in Captain Banks' mind."
Megan frowned. "Yeah, he did mention it was awfully convenient that you weren't there."
Dee did a series of standing side kicks. "He's not stupid. I'm sure he knows I'm involved in some way, shape, or form."
"Well, he didn't get anything from me. I feel like I'm still in the dark here. Were you ever going to tell me what was going on between you and Lee Eolia? Or that she was immortal?" Her words were hard, accusing.
"It wasn't any of your business, Pajara."
Setting her mug down, Megan got to her feet, her hands clenched at her sides. "Wasn't any of my business? She could have taken your bloody head yesterday afternoon, and you're telling me it's none of my business! Why the hell is it Sandy's business, not mine? I'm your Companion for Christ's sake, not him!"
Sighing, Dee interrupted her kata to face the other woman. "Blair's a Watcher. Immortals are his business, as they are mine. You are neither a Watcher, nor immortal. It didn't concern you."
Megan flushed bright red. "So I'm only your Companion, your *partner* when it suits you, when it doesn't have to do with Immortals, is that it? So what if I happen to have a stake in this partnership thing too, so what if it would hurt me if you went off one day and lost your head because I wasn't there to assist you?"
"Pajara, that's not going to happen, and you can't interfere in the Game, that's the whole point--"
"The fuck it isn't! Don't lie to me! The only reason Ventriss beat Lee was because he cheated, because he shot her. Tell me that can't happen to you!"
Dee frowned, feeling the first stirrings of anger. "I'm not going to tell you it can't happen, but Lee lost her head because she lost her temper. Judging by the battleground, she played with him, toyed with him until he was able to turn the fight to his advantage. I don't know how he got the gun past her, but he did. The point is it shouldn't have gotten that far. You disarm your opponent, you take their head, you live to fight another day."
"Is that what you did?" Megan spat between clenched teeth.
"While he was still recovering from the effects of a Quickening? I've asked Sandy questions; I know living through that kind of fireworks takes a hell of a lot out of you. So you took his head while he was down, unable to fight back. You executed him."
Dee narrowed her eyes. "Yes. He didn't play by the rules. I couldn't let him kill anyone else, not you, not Blair, not Jim. And that's where he was headed. You didn't hear his message. You don't know what he was going to do. I did. I took care of the threat to my family. It wasn't the first time I've done it, and it probably won't be the last."
"What if all he wanted to do was take Eolia out, then get the hell out of Cascade? Dee, you played judge, jury and executioner with him. How can I even know you're the same person I've come to care about?"
Folding her arms across her chest, Dee looked away from Megan for a long moment, then said sharply, "You're right. You don't know me. I'm 2,800 years old. The part of me you think you know would fit on the head of a pin. The oldest, strongest, basest part of me is a warrior to the core. I live in your world of laws and lawyers, but your laws don't apply, can't apply to Immortal versus Immortal. Sometimes we have to dispense justice on our own kind because you can't. And that can get violent and messy. I am a part of the Game whether I like it or not. And it is something I have to do alone, no matter how much you want to help."
She let her breath out slowly, willing the ire to fade. She didn't want to be angry at Megan. She was angry at herself. If she had been more on the ball, if she had been paying more attention to Lee, considered her as the wild card she was, then Lia would still be alive, and they wouldn't be residing in hell right now.
Megan's hand on her shoulder was gentle, but Dee was in no mood to be touched. She whirled toward the other woman, barely pulling her blow. Megan's eyes widened, but she managed to block the punch, then threw one of her own. Dee ducked and kicked. The companion kicked back, and they traversed the length of the studio, joined in full speed, full contact sparring.
After a few minutes, Megan stepped out of the battle, holding her stomach, gesturing she wanted a breather. She bent over, resting her hands on her knees, gulping air. She gazed up at Dee, her flashing eyes indicating the argument wasn't over. "So what am I supposed to do? Run around after you and clean up your messes? Smooth things over with the authorities?"
Dee bounced in place, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. "I never asked you to lie for me, Pajara. You're free to tell Banks whatever you want."
"Oh, yeah, right. That just guarantees I'm gonna have to make up some lie, because he sure as hell isn't going to believe what really happened last night. And if I did tell him the truth, and by some miracle he believed me, I've forced you into disappearing." Shaking her head, she went after the Immortal again, her punches quickly blocked. "You've made me a bloody accessory after the fact!"
Shrugging, Diandra aimed a kick at Megan's head. "Sorry. I'm not holding you here against your will. You're free to end this partnership anytime you like." The other woman froze at her words, and Dee hastily aborted her kick to keep from injuring her. "Pajara?"
Megan ran a shaking hand over her face. "Is it that easy for you? You can just take off any time, forget about what we've started here, leave me behind? Because I thought we had a commitment to this champion/companion thing--"
Dee realized her words had deeply hurt her partner. "No, Pajara, I am committed. It's just--you didn't know the whole story when you agreed to be my companion. Now that you know what I am, have seen part of my dark side, I figure you ought to get a chance to back out, seeing as this is not what you signed on for."
Shaking her head, Megan replied, "No, it's not, but it's too late now. I'm here for the duration."
Diandra held out her hand to the other woman, and when she took it, Dee pulled her into a tight embrace. She was about to speak when the phone rang.
Joe Dawson settled back on his couch facing his visitor, and couldn't help but wonder why the man known to most as Adam Pierson had decided to accept the invitation to spend the holiday at a Watcher's home. Christmas was often a time of loneliness for many, and those who had lived through as many years as Adam had, well over 5,000 according to the man himself, the holiday only served to emphasize how few friends he really had in the world. "Adam? What's the story between you and Eolia? And before you try to tell me there isn't one, don't forget, I saw the way you treated her at my bar the other night."
Methos, AKA Adam Pierson, smiled wearily at his friend as he sipped the bottled microbrew beer he'd been given. "We have a little history together, that's all."
"From the smile on your face, it must have been a good history."
"It was, until she got tired of me one night and stabbed me through the heart." Adam chuckled over the memory. "It would have been easier for her to confront me in the city center, announce to the citizens she was divorcing me, but no... Not Eolia. She had to do things her way."
Listening to the tone of the man's voice, Joe could tell that no matter what else had happened between the two Immortals, Methos still carried some feelings for the woman known as Lee Eolia. "So? Now that you know where she is, you just going to let her slip through your fingers?"
"She's grieving, Joe. Even I have some scruples. Besides, she's interested in the detective she danced the tango with." He took another pull on the cold bottle in his hand.
"Uh, huh. It's never easy for Immortals, is it?" Joe had seen what losing Tessa had done to Duncan MacLeod, what losing Alexa had nearly done to Adam. It was rare that two Immortals would hook up for as long as Lee Eolia and Azir el'Sadih had.
"No, it's not. But the love is worth it, Joe." Picking up the TV remote from the coffee table he gestured towards the television with it. "Mind?"
"Go ahead, Adam. Everything's ready, we're just waiting for Duncan to show up." The smells emanating from the kitchen, where Joe had worked on a simple, but hearty, Christmas dinner, were enticing and if MacLeod didn't show up soon, Joe was determined to start the meal without the man.
Adam clicked on the television and started to flip through the channels, only to stop and turn the volume down when Joe's phone rang. He'd managed to stop on a local station that was actually broadcasting news. Interested, Adam slowly brought the volume back up and scooted his chair closer to the appliance to better hear the newscast without interfering with Joe's conversation.
Joe reached over and picked up the ringing phone. It was his secure line, the one that only rang when some Immortal had lost his or her head and one of the field agents were reporting in. "Dawson."
"Joe? Two down last night, fairly quick, and Diandra did something I've never seen her do." The woman's voice was almost fearful.
Sitting up straighter on his couch, the Regional Director for Watchers, Incorporated flipped on a recorder and started the tape. "Judy? I'm recording, give me your report."
The woman's voice shook at first, slowly becoming stronger as she related the previous night's events. "Diandra had taken two people up as her guests, I didn't recognize either of them, but I feel that one might have been Immortal. Anyway, last night I witnessed one of the guests, a woman who'd left the night before under strange circumstances, return. I couldn't see directly into Pallas' apartment, but something happened in there, I'm pretty sure of that. This woman left about an hour later. She walked out to where her companion was waiting and she shot him, point blank range. Gods, I've never seen anything like that, Joe!"
Joe tried to maintain his professional detachment, but something inside was screaming that maybe Diandra was dead, as well as LaFollet. Eolia was a wild card, one with a hell of a temper according to the download he'd received from the East Coast Manager, and no one was really sure what her state of mind was since losing her husband. "Judy, calm down. Take a deep breath and just let the story flow. We can always clean up the record later."
"You're right, okay. This woman, with dark auburn hair, shot her companion, pulled him out of sight and took off. I waited, wondering what was happening, and about two hours later, Diandra comes out of her home, looking like she's on the warpath again." Judy's voice quaked, and Joe recalled the last time that her Immortal had gone hunting. "Anyway, I followed her and witnessed the first of two Quickening storms. The woman who had left Diandra's place was dead. An unknown Immortal man was standing over her, absorbing the Quickening, which told me the unknown female had been Immortal herself. I wasn't aware that there were more immortals here in Cascade other than Diandra."
"At least two more, Judy. But it didn't look like they were a threat to Diandra, and you know she can take care of herself." Good Lord, Joe thought to himself, Eolia and LaFollet dead?
Judy continued, interrupting her boss's thoughts. "After the first Q-Storm was over, Diandra walked up to the survivor and, after she disarmed him, she simply executed him. She's never done anything like that before, I know, I've been pouring over her Chronicles all night, looking to see if she had."
That didn't sound like the Diandra that Joe knew either. "Judy, as soon as you can email your report to me. Along with any pictures that you might have gotten of the other two Immortals--"
"My GOD! That's HER! The Immortal from last night!" Diandra Pallas' Watcher nearly screamed into the phone, "Joe! Turn your TV to Channel 11 out of Cascade, they're showing her picture! The lady Immortal from last night! Oh, my God."
Adam halfway listened to Joe's conversation, wondering which Immortal, or was it two, had lost their head last night. He wondered if he knew them. Sighing, he flipped through the channels again, not in the mood to watch American football or any of the many movies being shown. He'd just passed one station, the one with the news on it, when his mind screamed to return to it as he realized he saw someone he knew on the screen.
There, staring out of the picture tube, was Lee Eolia. He turned up the sound just as Joe asked him to change the channel to number 35. "Already there."
"Following up on the story that broke late last night, Channel 11 News has discovered the name of the female victim of the most bizarre murder in Cascade's history. Police officials have identified the woman, pictured here on your screens, as Lee Eolia. Ms. Eolia was the president of WindHawk Securities International, based out of Rochester, New York. Her death comes just over three months after her husband, one Azir El'Sadih, was found murdered in a back alley in Seattle. Preliminary reports indicate that both may have been the victims of an assassin with unusual methods. As we get more details on this strange case, we'll pass them on to you. Now, in other news, the blackout that struck last night has crews from King County Power totally baffled--"
"Judy, I'll call you back later." Joe hung up the phone and glanced over at Methos, who appeared to be in shock. "Adam? I'm sorry...."
Methos came out of the Clan Chief's tent/hut, satisfied with the deal he'd just struck with the man for eight more horses, and nearly got run over by a fast moving girl child. Deftly moving aside, he watched as the child entered the tent, her wild red hair flying in the afternoon breeze of the Steppes.
"Eol! Watch your manners!" The Clan Chief called into the tent after the child, then turned to face the man who had promised four bags of gold in exchange for his horses. "Methos, I must apologize for my daughter; she's usually not that wild."
"Quite all right, Sceolan. Children will be children."
Sceolan nodded and then looked towards the east, where the winds were blowing. "It's the winds. Every time they blow in from that direction, Eolia gets as wild as them."
Methos nodded, not really understanding what the Clan Chief was saying, but he didn't want to offend the man who supplied such high quality horses. "I should go see to my friends." He clasped the huge, red-haired man's arm in a warrior's hand shake.
"You and your men are more than welcome to join my family this evening."
Several hours later, Methos and Kronos got into one of their increasingly frequent arguments.
"Methos, she's one of us! I say we take her now, and all the horses!"
"NO! She's too young! The Celtoi are one of the few Horse Tribes that will deal with us, and that child is the Chief's daughter! You want to have this whole tribe rise up against us?"
Kronos smiled sickeningly. "Like they could stop us?"
Backhanding the man to the ground, Methos drew his sword and rested it under his friend's chin, pricking the soft flesh of the exposed throat. "No, but I might. I've seen the way the Celtoi fight, they like to behead their victims, much like us. Or didn't you notice the 'ball' that the other children were playing with?" The warrior on the ground paled a bit. "So you did notice that it was a human skull. Good. The child is off limits, is that understood?" Kronos nodded, accepting the defeat and the orders. Turning his attention back to the Celtoi encampment, Methos spotted the Chief's young daughter and mentally wished her luck.
Oh, damn. Why Eolia? Joe, who took her out? I want their name."
"I can't do that! You know that, Methos!"
"I'll find out on my own then." He stood up from his chair and began pacing the living room. "I didn't save her from Kronos only to have her cut down later in life. She was a natural fighter; she shouldn't have been taken so easily." Adam was concerned. Eolia had been one of his wives, his best and brightest of Students, and she was gone. Another of his Students who had fallen in the Game; maybe he wasn't such a good Teacher. Then a sickening thought occurred to him. "It was Diandra who killed Eolia, wasn't it?"
"No. It wasn't Dee! She took the man's head right after he'd taken Eolia's Quickening, basically executing him. It's over, Methos!"
Adam Pierson stopped dead in his tracks, sinking into a different chair, letting the shock and grief flow through him like a cleansing fire. After he felt he had his emotions under some semblance of control, he looked over at Joe sitting on the couch. "Do you happen to have Dee's phone number? I'd like to call her, find out what happened." He tried to ignore the tingle in his mind that meant immortal nearby, knowing it could only be one person.
Joe nodded and handed the cordless phone over to the Immortal Archivist, along with his address book. "It's listed under Diandra's first name."
"Thanks, Joe." Finding the listing, he quickly dialed the number as the older Watcher stood up to enter the kitchen, only to be called to the front door by the 'shave and hair cut, two bits' knocking that had to be Duncan MacLeod arriving.
Morning came too quickly for him. LaFollet grabbed the offending alarm clock and threw it against the wall to turn it off. Flopping back on the too soft mattress, he tried to shut down his mind again. The memories of Lee and Azir Sadih had kept him from sleeping, as had the nightmare where it had been Lee, and not Diandra, who had run him through with her sword as she told him she didn't love him. No use, he just could not shut his brain off. Stumbling out of bed, he padded over towards the table where he'd placed the stolen data drive, and picked up the phone.
"Major Crimes, Detective Jorgenson."
"I'd like to speak with Inspector Connor."
"She's not in today, sir. Can I take a message or help you in some way?"
"No thanks, it's personal business." He hung up before the detective could ask any more questions. Christmas morning. If everything had gone according to plan, if Eolia hadn't died, or the security check at QuestScape had gone smoothly, he and his boss would've been back home this morning. Azir and Lee had always had a huge 'family' get together for their single employees on major holidays. While neither one of them were practicing Christians, Christmas was always very special to them and they shared that special time with their adopted family, the WindHawk Security teams.
Pushing away the thoughts of Christmases past, Jan made his choice. He'd shower, get ready to leave town, then hand over the disc drive to Connor or Ellison. Heck, maybe he'd even ask Pallas if she knew of any Immortals in the country that would be willing to take on a new student. After all, his teacher was dead and he really needed the help.
Adam Pierson nodded towards Duncan MacLeod as Joe let the other Immortal into his home. Adam waited for his call to Cascade, Washington to go through. The line finally cleared, and the ringing started on the other end. After three rings, the line was picked up.
"Diandra, Methos. I just heard about Eolia. Are you okay?" He tried to block out the whispered conversation going on behind his back, as Joe Dawson updated Duncan on the day's news.
"I'm fine, Adam. Why did you call?"
He closed his eyes, trying to hold back images from happier times. "Dee, she was my wife. For a while, anyway. She was also one of my students. She deserves a proper funeral, on Holy Ground, and I'd like to take her back to her tribal homeland."
"Oh, Goddess! I didn't know that you had been her Teacher. Adam, I'm so sorry. As for the funeral, I haven't even thought about that." Adam thought he detected a hint of shocked sadness and grief in the Immortal Amazon's voice.
"Let me help, please, for Eolia's sake." He knew some of the Celtoi's funeral rites, but not all of them. The silence on the other end of the phone disturbed him for a moment, until Diandra finally spoke up again.
"Adam, I'm not even sure I know a place where we could hold the rites. Eolia died a warrior's death, saving myself and others, and while she ultimately lost the fight, she deserves to have the Amazon within her honored."
Looking over at MacLeod, Adam started to get an idea. "Amazon, eh? Funeral pyre, the whole nine yards?"
"See what you can do to get her body released to you. I'll see what I can do on this end. If I can arrange it, I'll call you back in a few hours."
"Thanks. Seems like we both lost someone we cared about last night."
He couldn't help but notice Diandra didn't say good-bye, or wish him happy holidays, just hung up on him. Slowly placing the handset back in the cradle, he looked up to find the dark haired Scot staring at him across the living room. "What?"
Duncan quirked a sad smile at his oldest friend. "Dee's okay?" Adam didn't answer, just nodded. "And the woman that lost her head, Lee Eolia? She was one of your Students, as well as one of your wives?"
"Yes, she was. Duncan, I hate to ask... " He halted as the Highlander held up his hand.
"Methos, if you and Diandra need to use the island to honor your friend, you don't have to ask. Just let me know when, and I'll arrange things with the local authorities."
"Thank you, MacLeod." Adam Pierson stood up, crossed the floor and clasped the Scotsman's shoulder in a friendly grip.
"Think nothing of it, Old Man. Now, unless we get our butts out to the dining room, Joe's going to start without us and we'll have nothing but bones to pick over." Duncan led his fellow Immortal out of the living room.
"Can you arrange for us to use the island on Saturday?" Adam asked as they crossed into the dining room. The wonderful smell of a smoked turkey wafted toward them from the adjoining kitchen.
"I believe so," he answered as he moved to assist Joe with the traditional Christmas dinner. Calling out over his shoulder before disappearing into the kitchen, Duncan managed to surprise Methos. "By the way, I left your present on the table. Open it. Let me know what you think."
Looking over the table, he found the long box in the middle of the expanse. Picking it up, it proved to be heavier than it looked. Carefully opening the lid, he found a brass-hilted dirk, sheathed in black leather. Pulling the blade free of the scabbard, he found the steel to be quite strong, but sharp as well. "A dirk? A Scottish dirk?" Smiling, Adam caressed the long knife, testing its sharpness and feeling the balance of the weapon. Glancing up, he saw Duncan and Joe entering the room, arms laden with several dishes. "Thank you, Duncan. It's quite nice." Slipping his hand into his pocket, he pulled forth a small, gilt wrapped gift and handed it to the highlander. "I already gave Joe his gift, so here's yours."
Warily opening the gift, Duncan found an extremely old Chinese pillow book. "You have a very strange sense of humor, Methos."
Grinning, Adam started to pour the wine he'd brought from his private stash. "Oh, there's more to it than that. Check out the pictures." He chuckled as Duncan and Joe, who was looking over the Scotsman's shoulder, gasped in unison. "Never knew you visited Cathay, Duncan. Let alone inspired some artist to draw you into a pillow book."
Joe Dawson's expression showed his surprise at the images, explicit pictures which clearly showed the face and form of one of his Immortal friends. Stuttering slightly, he asked, "What the heck is a 'pillow book', Adam?"
"An instructional book for newlyweds." Adam started to chuckle a little more, as the blush that had crept up on Duncan's face deepened to a bright crimson. Yes, Eolia was gone, but life and friendships would continue.
The tingle that seemed to come from within and without at the same time warned LaFollet there was a fellow Immortal nearby. That's what he had been hoping for. Climbing the last few stairs to the third level of the building, he approached the door to Diandra Pallas' apartment, unsure of the greeting he'd get. He'd already made the one stop he really hadn't wanted to make. The trip to the county morgue to confirm Lee's identity had fairly used up the last of his emotional reserves. He raised his hand to knock, but met no resistance as the door was pulled open, not by Diandra, but by Inspector Connor.
"Where in the hell did you run off to last night?!"
"Taking care of business, Inspector. Business you might be interested in." Holding up the plastic shopping bag he'd placed the 'stolen' DVD-RAM drive in, he waited for the woman's response.
Megan slowly reached for the bag, then looked inside. "What in the hell?"
"I found that in a hovel of a hotel after I left last night."
Reaching out, she pulled on his arm and tugged the newly born Immortal into the loft. "Damn. Dee! J-M's here."
Jan-Michel LaFollet allowed the Australian to pull him into the apartment, but stopped a few steps inside the door, not wishing to offend the Immortal who lived there.
"Thanks, seems like we both lost someone we cared about last night." Diandra hung up the phone and turned to face the Immortal Watcher. "Jan. Come on in. I won't bite you."
"Diandra, I'm sorry. I didn't realize what Lee was up to... " He stopped when the woman held up her hand.
Sighing as she dropped into the chair near the phone, Diandra shook her head. "She'd changed from the woman I once knew. She lied to all of us, just some of us more than others. We believed her lies, and so were unprepared for last night." She waved Jan-Michel over to the couch, then noticed the bag Megan was holding. "Megan? What is that?"
"The missing DVD drive."
Diandra turned to face LaFollet. "You found his hiding place?"
"Yes. Living well below what he was accustomed to, I'm sure. The drive was sealed in layers of plastic and hidden in the tank of the room's toilet."
Megan sat on the arm of the chair, close to Dee, and looked at the Watcher. "So Brad was the thief at QuestScape, and he had the drive all along?"
"Yes. Diandra gave me his personal belongings after I met up with her inside the park. A little bit of research and a lot of luck led me first to his car and then to the Ranch-O-Hotel where Bradley Ventriss had decided to hole up." Jan shook his head, trying to clear his mind of the image of Lee Eolia, lying on a slab in the county morgue. Feeling two sets of eyes on him, he looked up to see both women watching him, concern coloring their expressions. "Sorry. Had to go confirm Lee's identity before I came over here."
Megan asked, "Did the Medical Examiner tell you anything? If she was dead before, well, you know?" She made a throat cutting motion with her hand.
"Yeah, he did."
"She died of the gunshot wound, didn't she?" The WindHawk Security man nodded, confirming Diandra's suspicions. Sighing, she said, "Then she didn't feel anything when that asshole took her head."
"I just wanted to bring that drive to you before I go make arrangements to take Lee home to New York." LaFollet moved to stand up, getting ready to make his escape, only to be halted by Diandra's soft voice.
"Jan? Would you mind if we honored her here on Saturday? Please? I'd like to give her a proper warrior's ceremony. A funeral pyre and the appropriate prayers for crossing over."
He sank back into the thick cushions, his body suddenly as numb as his mind. "I.. I don't know. I think that I should take her home, to her WindHawk family, but at the same time I don't want to face them. I failed to protect her, to keep her alive... "
His face buried in his hands, Jan felt a gentle touch on his shoulder as Dee said, "Jan, even if you had been there when Lee challenged Brad Ventriss, you couldn't have interfered, either as a Watcher or as an Immortal. Once the fight was engaged, it was between the two of them alone."
"I know, but it doesn't make it any easier. I have to go back to New York, face the members of the WindHawk family and tell them that she's gone, taken from us in the same manner that Azir was." He clasped her hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze, then stood up. "I really appreciate your idea for Eolia, and I'll think on it. I have to go back tomorrow and make some sort of arrangement to get Lee out of the morgue." Stepping towards the door, he glanced over at Megan. "Inspector, I don't care what you do with that damn DVD drive, but if you decide to hand it over to the Department of Defense, I have a few contacts who could help." With that, LaFollet let himself out of the apartment.
He had one more stop to make that evening and while he wasn't actually dreading it, he wasn't too sure how Brianna Stertz was going to react either. In the last three months, as a Watcher, he'd done the unthinkable -- lost not one, but both of the Immortals he was assigned to observe. Climbing into the Lexus, Jan-Michel tried to ignore the scent that seemed to permeate the vehicle as he cranked the engine over. No use. Somehow he had the impression that he'd never be able to smell either heather or lavender again without thinking of Lee Eolia.
Turning the car southward, he set his sights for Seattle and his meeting with his Watcher 'boss' -- while trying to think of the right way to tell the woman that he was, technically, out of a job, at least until a new Immortal came along who needed to be watched.
Yawning and stretching, Blair opened his eyes. Watery sunlight filtered through the curtains over his bed. Man, how late was it? Rolling over on the small mattress, he caught a whiff of Dee's unique scent, a mixture of pheromones and the flowering herb bath gel she used. Dee had been here...memories of the night before trickled back slowly. Oh, god, Lee! And Jim! God only knew how he had taken the news of her death.
Tossing the blankets back, Blair sat up, then blinked in surprise as he realized his ribs didn't hurt. Dee...a smile crossed his face, then quickly faded. Two people had died last night. He shouldn't be happy. He ran his hands through his tangled mass of hair. But he was happy, god help him, he was. Dee was alive, Jim was alive--wait, no, Jim had been hurt! That's why they'd been at the hospital last night. The Quickening! Jim had touched him during the Quickening!
A noise from the other room shot Blair to his feet. "Oh, whoa, big mistake. Head rush..." He closed his eyes to stop the room from spinning. Feeling himself sway, he reached out for something to steady him, and felt a hand close around his arm.
"Take it easy there, Chief. Why don't you sit down for a minute, and then we can try standing again?"
"Okay." Blair promptly sat back down on the futon. The mattress shifted as Jim took a seat next to him. Blair opened his eyes and examined his partner. "You okay? You look like shit."
Jim snorted. "You should see yourself, Darwin. Interesting colors you've got going on there." His finger traced lightly along Blair's jaw as Blair flinched, more in reflex than in actual pain. "How are the ribs?"
Blair felt a smile flirting with his lips again. "Fixed, I think, or those drugs are *really* good." Jim's fingers probed along his side. "Hey, man! That tickles!" he exclaimed, squirming out of the sentinel's reach. "I'm fine. The more important question is: how are you?"
Jim looked away for a moment, closing his eyes. All Blair could see was the other man's stoic profile, but the fine lines around his eyes and the firm set of his jaw gave away some of what Jim must be feeling.
"Did Dee tell you about Lee?" Jim's chin lowered fractionally. "I'm so sorry, Jim. I know you thought that maybe she might turn out to be someone special. You want to talk about it?"
Shaking his head, Jim ran a hand over his face and opened his eyes. "Not right now, Sandburg. I've still got a headache, though not nearly as bad as last night. I'm wiped out physically, and emotionally, I'm just numb at the moment. If I feel the need to talk, I know where to find you." He slapped Blair's knee lightly and got to his feet. "I was going to make something to eat, you interested?"
"Yeah, after I take a shower. What time is it anyway?" He extended a hand, and Jim hauled him to his feet.
"About 2:30. I woke up about an hour ago. Dee was across the hall with Megan last time I checked. Want to invite them over to eat?"
Blair shuffled over to his dresser, rooting through the drawers for clean clothes. "I will after I get cleaned up." He pushed the drawer shut and turned to face Jim. "Some sucky holiday this has turned out to be, huh?"
Sighing, Jim replied, "Yeah," before heading for the kitchen. Blair made his way down the hall to the bathroom, trying not to dwell on the events of last night.
Blair finally emerged from the bathroom to find Megan seated at the kitchen table with Jim. Something that looked like a part from a computer was sitting on a stack of papers and folders in the middle of the table. "Hey, what's that?" he asked, vigorously scrubbing at his wet hair with a towel.
Megan looked at him, her gaze running slowly from his head to his toes and back up again. One eyebrow arched and a grin spread across her face. Blair realized he was standing in the hallway in nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. "Um, I'll be right back." Darting into his room, he shut the door behind him and quickly dressed. When he returned, Jim and Megan were talking about the Department of Defense.
"I know LaFollet turned it in to me, Jim, but I hate the thought of giving the thing to the PD. It'll only end back up in Ventriss' hands, and he'll be free to destroy it."
Getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen, Blair walked over to the table. "Is that the DVD ram that started all this?"
Jim nodded. "I guess Jan-Michel found it last night, at wherever Brad was hiding out. He brought it over and gave it to Connor."
"So, you're trying to decide what to do with it?" At both cops' nods, Blair continued. "Technically, it really doesn't belong to Ventriss, or QuestScape. They were contracted by the DOD to create the program on there. It's actually DOD property. I don't see any reason we can't call them and arrange to give it back. I mean, we would be doing QuestScape a favor, making sure that information gets to its rightful owners." Giving them both a grin, he took a big swallow of coffee.
"Well, when you put it that way...I'll make some phone calls, Chief. I know a couple people who would be very interested in what's on that DVD." Getting up from the table, Jim snagged the portable phone and headed upstairs to where Blair knew he kept his list of phone contacts.
"Would you like some coffee, Megan?" At her head shake, Blair pulled out a chair and sat down. "You just come over this morning, uh, this afternoon?"
Megan ran a hand underneath her hair and massaged the back of her neck. "No, I actually came by last night about one, found you three all asleep, and crashed across the hall. You doing better?"
Blair set his mug on the table. "Me? Yeah, I'm fine. Well, not fine, fine, but physically, I'll live." He didn't mention he was still feeling stabbing pangs of guilt, despite Diandra's reassurances that Eolia's death wasn't his fault. "How about you? I mean, you were there right? I vaguely remember Jim, or Joel, saying something about you finding us."
"Yeah, I found you. Scared me out of my wits, you did, both of you passed out and unresponsive, and Dee god knows where, doing god knows what. Thank the stars you weren't hurt worse, because I sure in the hell couldn't rouse Jim out of the zone or whatever he slipped into." She ran a hand through her hair. "Can you explain to me what happened? Because Dee is no help whatsoever."
Blair picked up on the pain underlying her words. "Megan, did something happen between you and Dee?"
She blinked rapidly, and Blair could see tears glistening in her eyes. "Yeah, you could say that. Foolish me, I kind of thought this champion/companion thing was all for one and one for all, you know? And she says it is, just not when it involves Immortals."
Blair rubbed his suddenly sweaty hands on his jeans. Damn it. What in the hell could he say to that? "I'm sure Dee just felt there wasn't any reason to get you involved. I mean, who knew that everything was going to go so bad all at once? Sure, Brad was immortal, but Lee knew that, and she probably thought it was her problem and she could deal with it. She probably never imagined the four of us knew Brad for one thing, or that he would try to involve us, or go after Dee. That's why she went to the park to answer his challenge, because she considered it as being between her and him. Unfortunately, Dee didn't see it quite that way. When she was attacked on Tuesday, it became her problem. And she let you know that. Before then, I don't think she really saw whatever was going on with Lee involving her, or us." He waved his hand to let her know he was including Jim in that statement, as well as the both of them. "So, maybe she was wrong not to tell you she knew Lee, but as far as Dee knew, Lee being immortal had no bearing on your robbery case. And you have to remember, Lee was lying to her, too."
Megan stared at her finger, which was tracing an aimless pattern on the tabletop. "Maybe. Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. Doesn't mean I can shove what I've learned about Dee back under the bed, along with the rest of the monsters."
Blair felt his heart stop at her words. "Is that what you think of her, that she's some kind of monster? Damn it, Megan, she's been honest with you, about who and what she is, about the Game--"
The companion's head shot up, her flashing eyes boring into Blair's. "But it was a little late then, wasn't it? I was already joined, already committed before I got the 'I can't be killed by ordinary means' lecture. Sure, I suspected something, knew she was able to heal herself, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine her having to kill others of her kind to survive. I don't know if I can live with that, with knowing she may leave one day and never come back."
Blair looked at the ceiling for a long moment, swallowing past the huge knot in his throat, then he said quietly, "You're not the only one who has to deal with that, Megan. I love her, too, you know." Getting up from his chair, he headed for the door, hearing her call out behind him.
"Oh, god, Sandy! I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way!"
He knew she was hurting, but he couldn't deal with it right now; everything was closing in on him. Jim was grieving, Megan was hurt, and his own guilt felt like it was going to choke him. Opening the door, Blair left, heading for the sanctuary he knew lay across the hallway.
He entered Dee's loft quietly, some internal instinct telling him she needed calm and serenity. He walked through the living area, sparing only a brief glance at the site of last night's battle. It was fresh enough in his memory he didn't need the sight of the missing rug and table to bring it back.
Blair found Dee in the studio, seated cross-legged on a workout mat, her hands resting on her knees, palms up, her eyes closed, and her breathing deep and even. Blair sat down on the mat across from his lover. He watched her for a few moments, but she didn't acknowledge his presence, and he knew she was deep in a trance. He wondered if she was spirit walking, if she was in the jungle, or the field where he and Megan had found her a month ago, being driven insane by her senses.
He could understand her need to meditate, to escape. He knew she regretted what she'd done, or failed to do, if only for the pain it was causing Megan and Jim. Crossing his legs, Blair closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, trying to let all the stress and guilt go as he exhaled. Consciously he matched the rhythm of his breathing to hers, feeling the loft fade around him, the air becoming hot and humid against his skin.
When he opened his eyes, Blair found himself standing in a jungle glade, the sound of flowing water filling his ears. There was a large pool in the middle of the clearing, a waterfall at one end providing the relaxing sound. He looked around, but saw no signs of anyone else. Blair eyed the water longingly. It was incredibly hot, and the pool looked so cool...and...he glanced down at himself. "I'm already naked..."
Grinning, he waded into the water, feeling the cool liquid flowing like silk over his skin. Oh, this was so good, so peaceful, so relaxing. He swam out to the middle of the pool and floated on his back, gazing up at the lush green canopy overhead. Only one thing would make this more perfect--
"And that would be?"
The soft, warm voice startled him, and Blair splashed for a moment before he saw her. "Dee!"
She was already in the pool, her wet hair slicked back, droplets of water glistening like diamonds on her skin. "I've been waiting for you," she breathed, and somehow he was in her arms, her love for him surrounding Blair.
They swam together for what felt like hours, floating in comfortable silence, then splashing wildly in a water fight. Finally she exited the pool, flopping down on the soft grass under a tree, and Blair followed her, feeling her snuggle up against him, her arm going around his waist. The heat of the sun and the still, humid air made Blair sleepy, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, he was lying on the mat in Dee's studio with her curled up next to him. Her eyes were open and her gaze met his. He felt his stomach knot and twist; something was troubling her, probably the same thing bothering him. Maybe he could make it go away. Blair kissed her forehead, whispering, "I love you, angel."
Her grip on him tightened, as did the knot inside him. "Why?" Blair stared at her, wondering why she would ask such a thing. "All I seem to do is hurt you, and by extension, Jim, and Megan as well. Lee could have killed you last night; she would have if you hadn't finally stayed down. And I let her into our lives. I helped her, and she nearly killed you. I should have taken her head when we met at the church, when she first dared lay a hand on you. It would have spared all of us a lot of pain and heartache." She sat up, wrapping her arms around her knees, seemingly oblivious to the tears running down her face. "What good have I ever done you? I left you last night when you were injured, twice! How many times have you faced death because of me, because of what I am? Goddess! How selfish can I be? I should have learned my lesson the first time. I should have walked away and kept going."
Blair sat up, wanting to reach out to her, but uncertain how that gesture would be received. "Dee, no, no. You can't mean that. You can't see the future; you don't know what would have happened. If nothing else, Cristo would have killed Megan and me without you. You saved me. God, you saved me in more ways than one. You believed in me when I didn't believe in myself, didn't believe I could be a guide, could help Jim the way he needed to be helped. You love me like no one's ever loved me, completely, totally, without reservation. You never made me feel like I needed to be more than I am, that I needed to change to earn your love. I have so been there, done that, lost myself in someone else's vision of me. With you, I found myself. I love you, Dee." He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a hug. "I know you're hurting, baby. We all are. But please, please, stay with me."
He felt her relax in his arms, leaning her head against his shoulder, crying against his shirt. "I know Eolia was important to you, Dee. Maybe not as who she was now, but for who she was when you first met her. She represented the last bit of your life before you became immortal, but she wasn't that person anymore, angel. Last night, when she attacked you, I knew she was going to take your head."
Dee pulled back to look at him. "What?"
"That's all I could think, all I could see was her killing you, and I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't let her hurt you. God, when I picked up the sword, I wanted to kill her. I can't believe I actually thought about taking another person's life. I knew I should have taken her head; I was scared enough, angry enough, to do it. But when the moment came, I couldn't do it." He hung his head, all kinds of emotions surging through him. "Thank god, it turned out I didn't have to, that she hadn't really meant to take your head, but what if I'm put in that situation again? What if I have to kill someone to save Jim, to save you, and I can't do it? I mean, that's part of my job, isn't it, as a Guide, to protect my Sentinel?"
Blair felt her fingertips underneath his chin, lifting his head, bringing his eyes level with hers. "If Lia had really meant to kill me, Lobo, you would have known. I have no doubt you would have found a way to stop her, even if that meant killing her." Her thumb stroked across his cheek, and he felt her wipe away tears he hadn't realized were falling. "If the moment ever comes, you'll be able to do the same to protect Jim. Being a Guide, being a warrior, is in your blood, in your genes, is who you are. Everything else, even what we have together, is second to that." She leaned forward, her lips meeting his in a tender kiss.
And with that simple, loving gesture, Blair's world righted itself, and he knew they would get through this the way they'd gotten through everything else, together, Jim and Dee and Megan and himself. Dee had told him once, before Megan had become her Companion, that three was a powerful number. At this moment, Blair knew that four was invincible. Now they only had to convince Jim and Megan.