Immortal End Game
LaFollet insisted - no, make that demanded -the four of us heading to Seacouver take two cars. I like the man, I really do, but he's taking this 'protection' thing a little too seriously for my tastes. I guess making a comment about just how many Immortals lived or congregated in Seacouver made him nervous. He's going to have to start thinking of himself as one of us. So for the past hour, we've been following Diandra and Blair - scratch that. LaFollet's been following. I'm just along for the ride. I hate that. I'd rather be behind the wheel of the Lexus, be in control, but the man practically shoved me into the passenger's seat. This is the second time in seven days I've traveled to this city. The first time, I met with my old Teacher. I had a request of him, which he turned down, leaving me dumbfounded in the churchyard of St. Mark's Catholic Church.
I mentally shake myself, an attempt to get rid of the depressing thoughts closing in on me. No matter how much I long to join Azir, no matter the pain in my heart, I cannot. Not now. Not with a new student to train in the Game and with my heart turning traitor on me.
Oh, great Venus. Just thinking about Ellison, even in passing, is not doing the battle between my head and my heart any good. I want him, I really do, but I'm not sure I'm up to a long-term relationship with a mortal again.
Turning my attention back to the passing scenery, I realize we've entered Seacouver and Dee's leading us towards the waterfront districts. I try to smile as I break the silence that has fallen in the car. "Jan-Michel, you did remember to bring your sword, right?"
I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. The man is actually grumbling his answer. "Damn it, it's not mine, it's Azir's. Was Azir's. And it's a pain in the ass to conceal..."
"You'll get used to it."
"Right. Like I have a choice."
"Well, you do, actually. If you don't want to use Azir's sword, I could give you one of my shorter ones. But," I stress the word, "if you opt for a shorter sword and end up in a challenge with someone wielding a claymore..."
"I get the point."
"No, but you might." He glares at me. Okay, I get the message. End of that discussion. I look ahead to see Diandra's Jeep Wagoneer pulling into a good-sized lot and notice the building nestled at the back of the asphalt. It looks like a converted warehouse. The only sign it's not is the round, neon red and blue sign on the front that reads 'Joe's'. "Looks like we're here."
LaFollet pulls into the space next to the one Diandra pulled into, grousing, "Too many cars, too many people." Shutting down the Lexus, he steps out only to reach behind the seat and pull out his sword and tuck it away before anyone, other than I, can see. "I'm not sure coming here was such a good idea, Lee."
I chuckle a little as I reach out to take the offered arm and we join Dee and Blair near the entrance of the restaurant/bar. "Jan, looks can be deceiving. I'm sure the food is good. After all, I remember how persnickety Dee can be when it comes to food."
"I am not 'persnickety' - I just refuse to eat food that is swimming in grease." She nods towards the entrance. "Let's go in. I can already smell the ribs and I'm starving."
Blair holds the door open and, with Dee leading the way, LaFollet and I step into the place. The smells are enticing, the noise level is friendly from patrons all having polite conversations--
"Dee Pallas! What brings you back to this fair city?"
I look towards the owner of the voice that has called out to my old friend and see a kindly faced, older mortal limping towards us. He's using a cane. I try not to stare, but it's rather obvious to someone who's seen what wars can do to a man--prosthetic leg, maybe both, from the knee down.
Diandra hugs the man. "I wanted, no - I needed, to taste some of your famous ribs, Joe."
"Uh, huh. Sure. And Blair, how's things with you? Keeping up with Dee here okay?" Joe broke out of the hug Dee had him in, to hold out his hand towards the young Watcher.
"Just fine, Joe. Thanks."
"Great. Okay, now introduce me to your friends?" His light colored eyes are vaguely amused as he clasps Blair on the shoulders and reminds him of his manners.
"Sure, Joe. This is Lee Eolia," he gestures towards me, "from New York state and her friend, Jan-Michel LaFollet." I shake Joe's hand and don't miss the slight widening of his eyes as my name and Jan's register. "Lee? J-M? This is Joe Dawson, owner-operator of this dive and one of the best blues guitarists this side of the Rockies."
"Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dawson." I let go of his hand and watch as Jan-Michel greets the man. No words are exchanged, but the handshake is clearly designed to let the two men ID each other as Watchers. Sort of a 'secret signal' I guess.
Introductions made, Joe leads the way deeper into his place. "I've got a few tables in the back hardly anyone uses, too close to the sound system. Or I could set you all up in one of the back rooms."
"The tables will do just fine, Joe. Thanks," Diandra answers.
As soon as we're seated, at a booth more than large enough to sit more than the six of us - after Inspector Connor and Ji... Ellison show up, a young waiter shows up to take our drink order. Looks like I'm the only one in the mood to really drink. Dee and Blair order sparkling waters, with a twist of lemon, while Jan-Michel orders a large ice tea and I order a Woodchuck's Hard Cider.
"Sure you don't want anything stronger than water, Dee?" I ask, teasing my old friend.
"No, the water's fine with me. I don't like to pollute my body with alcohol anymore." She grins at me. "What about you? I don't recall you ever drinking Cider before."
"That's because, until recently, I couldn't find one I liked. Besides, I really doubt Joe stocks any Tsing-Tao, or Kousmis."
Across the table from me, Blair shudders. "Kousmis? You actually drink that stuff?"
"Been known to."
LaFollet turns to face his fellow Watcher. "Okay, I'm lost. What is Kousmis?"
"Fermented goat's milk. A very strong drink the indigenous people of Mongolia have been brewing, if you want to call it that, since before the rule of Genghis Khan..."
Diandra shakes her head, slides closer to my side on the long bench seat, and stage whispers, "And he's off. Give Lobo an opening and he'll take you all the way through the culture of any given society in two hours or less."
I hide a smile and a giggle behind my hand as her lover shoots her a dirty look, never missing a beat in his story telling. I'm saved from further laughter as the waiter returns with the drinks and I take a pull from the green bottle set before me. I nearly spit the mouthful out as I see Blair take a sip of his water, smack his lips, take a breath and continue his lecture without missing a beat. I settle back to enjoy the story, even though I know part of it from personal experience, and the company.
I'm relaxed and having a good time until that damn sensation I've come to really hate in the past few days sizzles across my nerve endings. Diandra and Jan-Michel feel it too, and all three of us start to look around to see if we can locate the source. Blair reaches out to grasp Dee's hand and starts to look around as well.
"Adam! Over here!" Who in the hell is she waving to and how did she see him in this gloom? A gentle push from her sends me to my feet, to let her out of the seat. I end up bumping into the Immortal who has set my nerves on fire. Looking over my shoulder...
Gods, I hurt all over! And it's so damn dark! I can hardly breathe. Something shifts above me, and a shaft of pure sunlight invades my world. That damn feeling is back again. I cannot pass out. There's danger nearby! A few more stones move away from my pinned body and I realize I'm stuck on my side, my back to the widening shaft of light.
"There you are. I knew you were under here." The voice is male, and anything but kind.
Feeling the pressure on my back lift, I try to twist around to see my rescuer, only to get a slap to the back of my head for my efforts.
"Not yet, Little One." Whoever he is, he's speaking the same language Lady Diandra, the Dorian, had been teaching me. There's a grunt, and the final pressure point on my upper legs disappears. "Get up."
I hesitate, willing my body to do what it's done for well over two cycles of the seasons, heal. Guess he's impatient and I find my arms grabbed from behind as I'm dragged out of the hole and into the sunlight. My rescuer drops me on the ground.
"Damn, bitch! Have you any idea what you've done?!"
I still can't adjust my eyes to the brightness, but I see something move and I flinch, my hands going up to protect my head. "NO!"
"No?!? You're right, I should just kill you now and be done with it."
The sound of steel clearing leather sends me scrambling to my feet and I back away from the man I can now see. "Great Gods! I killed you! I know I did!"
The hawk-faced man drops his sword to his side, his head tilting back in laughter, long hair blowing in the breeze that is breathing across the ruins around us. Ruins that were once a temple of worship. "You only stuck a knife in my heart, Little One. It takes more than that to kill me off." He brings his blade up, and faster than I can move, he's resting the edge on my shoulder. "You want to kill me, you'll have to take my head." He sighs. "But, alas, I see you've lost your blade, so that won't be happening."
"How?" Risking the bite of his steel, I drop to my knees and look up at him. "Are you like me, a child of the Gods?"
His eyes widen, and he drops the blade from its resting place. "You don't know, do you? 'A child of the gods,' I suppose that is one way to put it. Oh, get up!" He hauls me to my feet, his hand pulling my chin up, forcing me to look at him. "How long have you been dying without truly dying?"
I bite my lip before I answer in a quiet voice, "I was sacrificed over two turnings of the seasons back. When I woke up, whole, the shaman who had killed me took it as a sign I was the perfect sacrifice." Tears well up in my eyes, recalling that horrendous time of my life, the time before the tribe had been captured by Lady D's warriors and she saved me.
"Damn, you've had a hard life." He sheaths his sword. "What is your name? Where did you come from?"
The command in his voice sends a shiver down my back. "Eolia. My clan is gone, all killed but me. Until there was only me, to be killed over and over."
"Your clan's name?"
"Celtoi, eh?" He face turns thoughtful, softening the sharp planes, then he grins and speaks a language I haven't heard in a long time. "My friends and I traded with your people once. Horses. Do you still understand the tongue?"
I smile, nodding my head. "Yes! I understand! And my father's clan did raise horses!"
He looks around the ruins, then reaches out to take me by the arm again, only this time the touch is less painful. He leads the way over to a copse of trees not far from the rubble. Sitting me down on an exposed root then sitting beside me, he introduces himself. "I'm Methos. And to answer your question, young Eolia, we're not children of the Gods. We're Immortal. I really don't have time to take on a student, but I cannot, by my own honor, leave you here without telling you what you are. And what to expect..."
We talked for the rest of the afternoon and into the night. By the time he was ready to leave the ruined area around Delphi, where I've lived for almost a year, I'm walking behind him. I follow him for days, not allowing him to forget me. By the end of the tenth day, I'm still behind him, but only a few paces back, as befits a servant.
I move in between Dee and Adam, or as I know him, Methos. One of the few times Diandra and I met after the fall of the temple, she told me of her plans to kill the man who had brought Delphi to ruin and turned her life upside down. I cannot let my one time Savior and my Teacher tangle, or challenge each other. Not here, not in the place I know is run by a Watcher of some standing. "Pallas! Pierson! This is not the place or the time to settle old scores! I won't allow it!"
"You won't allow it, Little One?" Adam Pierson smiles down at me just as I hear Diandra start to chuckle behind me. "I think Diandra and I are past that stage in our lives. Right, Dee?"
"Oh, most definitely, Adam. But I still don't like you very much!" The mirth in her voice betrays her to me.
I stand there, in shock, until Adam pulls me into a quick hug, releasing me before Jan-Michel could move to protest. "Who is your friend, Little One?" He's draped his arm over my shoulder in a oddly protective gesture, but not before I notice he's eyeing my bodyguard with some interest. "Nice to see you again, Sandburg."
Blair nods in greeting to my Teacher as I introduce Adam to Jan-Michel. The two men warily shake hands, then Adam is shrugging out of his long coat. "Well met, LaFollet. I do hope Eolia here hasn't been giving you a hard time?" He's clever, my old instructor, for he's managed to let his own wrist tattoo to show as he pushed up his sleeves.
"No more than usual, Mr. Pierson." Ah, my Watcher noticed the blue markings on Adam's wrist. I can tell by the slight widening of his eyes.
"May I join you all?"
"Only if you sit anywhere but beside me, Adam," Dee quips as she slides back into the booth, nudging Blair over a little bit, ostensively to make room on the end of the bench - next to me - available to the older Immortal.
As I slide into place, I notice Blair seems to be nodding towards someone and I glance in the direction he's looking. Joe Dawson is standing at the end of the bar, motioning with his head towards the back room.
"J-M? Let's go get our reports filed with Joe, okay? Adam? Keep your eyes on the ladies, will you?" And they are gone, Blair nearly dragging a reluctant Jan-Michel behind him. I don't think my Watcher is looking forward to meeting with Dawson.
"So, Little One? Please tell me he's your new student and you've given up that crazy idea you approached me with a week ago?" The concern in his voice is clear. He's been worried about me. Yeah, right.
Taking another long pull from my bottle of Cider, I nod curtly. "Yes. For now. And would you please stop using that old nickname you pinned on me? I hate it."
"Oooh, someone's a little testy this evening."
Dee jumps to my defense. "You would be too, Adam, if someone had tried to kill you twice in as many days..."
I sit back, nursing my cider to death as Diandra tells the weekend's events to my Teacher. Many times I feel his earth brown eyes on me, but I refuse to look at him. I'm still miffed he turned my request down last week, not as much as I had been before finding a new student in my personal Watcher, but just enough I'm not really enjoying his company.
"Eolia? Are you listening to me?" Damn! What had he said?
"Sorry, I was lost in thought."
He sighs. "I asked if this person after you is Immortal?"
Oh, great Lilith! How in the hell do I answer that? And why is Diandra looking at me so strangely? "I don't know."
"What do you mean?"
"You heard me, Adam! I don't know!" Actually, I do know. But to admit this to them… No, it's my problem. I'll handle it.
"Keep your voice down."
"Sorry." I down the last of the cider before I tell him the awful truth. "I don't know anymore. I seem to have lost my ability to sense preemies and recognizing a 'friendly' buzz from that of a stranger."
"Lia, how long has this been going on? Was this part of the reason you came to Adam and I for assistance?"
I nod. "I first noticed it when I felt Azir's passing, Dee. It's only gotten worse as time goes by."
"Damn. You're vulnerable like that." Adam shakes his head as he casually reaches out to take a sip of Dee's sparkling water. "Shit, water. I need something stronger. Can I get you two a refill while I'm up?"
Blair followed Jan-Michel into Joe's office, where they both waited in front of the Watcher's desk until he looked up from his computer at them. Picking up a sheet of paper from his desk, he handed it to Blair. "Is that correct?"
Reading it over quickly, Blair realized it was Dee's Watcher's report of the past couple days. He glanced at Jan-Michel for a moment, then at Joe. "No," he said finally, "It's not correct. She has the gist of it, but she doesn't know what went on inside the church, or at the police station. May I sit down?"
"Of course, Blair, and you too, Mr. LaFollet." Joe must have sensed Blair's nervousness, because he said, "You're not in any kind of trouble, Blair. If I gave you that impression, I'm sorry. I just wanted to know if you could add anything to Judy's report."
Blair sank onto the deep cushions of the worn leather sofa. Following his lead, Jan dropped into a chair. Rubbing his palms on his jeans, Blair took a deep breath and launched into a description of the past few days of Dee's life. "On Thursday at Rainier, I ran into Lee Eolia on campus. She was looking for Dee, and I offered to pass on a message. She gave me a note with her address and phone, and I gave it to Dee, but she didn't call Lee until Friday morning. She set up a meeting for that evening at the church."
"Is that when Eolia dragged you into the church?" Joe asked, the trace of a smile flickering on his face.
Blair chewed his lip. "Um, yeah. Not really one of my best moments, but I turned it into an advantage. I was inside where I could hear their discussion. After some, um, territorial display, they sat down to discuss the reason for Eolia's visit to Cascade." He glanced at LaFollet. "I'm sorry, Jan, but she wasn't there just to complete the job at QuestScape. She wanted Dee to take her head."
Jan-Michel jerked in his chair. "What! You're lying, you have to be!"
Shaking his head, Blair replied, "I'm sorry, but I'm not lying. When she came to Dee on Friday, Lee was tired, depressed. She didn't think she would ever recover from her husband's death, that life wasn't worth living without him. Dee tried to tell her it was too soon, that she needed to give herself time to deal with it, time to heal. Lee didn't want to listen to her and stormed out of the church."
LaFollet leaned forward in his chair, running his hands over his face. "God, I didn't know. How could I not know? I've worked with her, with Azir for three years. How could I not see how this was affecting her?"
Blair slipped easily into the role of shaman, of consoler, of spiritual healer. "Jan, you can't blame yourself. Azir was your friend and you were grieving, too. Eolia's had a couple thousand years to learn to hide what she's really feeling. And even if she had turned to you, you wouldn't have given her what she wanted. It was only natural she'd seek out another Immortal to help her commit suicide."
"So what is she going to do now? Just walk up to the next Immortal she sees and challenge them, then deliberately lose?"
"No, because things have changed since Friday. She doesn't have that luxury any more. She has a student to think about now."
"A student?" Joe shifted his attention from Blair to Jan-Michel. "You didn't mention a new student in your report to Stertz, LaFollet."
"He didn't mention it because he didn't know how it would go over, Joe. LaFollet is Eolia's new student. His first death was Friday night, shot in the head by a thief who wanted his car. He didn't realize what had happened to him until he ran into Dee at the police station when he went looking for Eolia. Dee explained it to him, and when Eolia found out, she decided she would become his Teacher."
Sighing, Joe tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. Finally, he frowned at Blair and said, "Nothing that involves you and Diandra is ever normal, is it, Sandburg?"
Hiding a grin, Blair replied, "No, it's not. Sorry, Joe."
"As for you, LaFollet, I'll start a Chronicle on you, under a pseudonym. I'll trust you can act as your own Watcher, until such time as you choose to leave the organization. Email your reports directly to me, and I'll take care of it. Any other little bombshells you'd like to drop, Blair?"
"Then if that's everything--"
LaFollet interrupted him. "No, it's not." He turned his gaze on Blair. "How did you know Eolia had changed her mind about killing herself?"
Blair flushed slightly. "She said so this morning."
"I was in the same room with the three of you, and didn't hear a word spoken about it. Can you explain that?"
"Um, yeah. I understand enough Greek to get the gist of Dee and Eolia's conversation, the part they didn't want you to hear."
LaFollet got to his feet, muttering, "I'm going to kill her…" under his breath. He stalked out of the office, leaving Joe and Blair alone.
Joe watched him go. "I hope I don't have to pull him as Lee's Watcher. He's a good man, but…"
"He just has a lot to deal with right now, Joe, and so does Lee. Give them some time. Six months, a year, and I'm sure they'll have it worked out."
"I hope they do. As for you, my friend, you know what you did at the church was against every mandate of the Watchers. You shouldn't have been there. You are not a field operative. And if Dee was the one who told you it was okay, I'll be having this same talk with her."
Hanging his head, Blair replied, "I know. I got that lecture from Dee, too. She didn't know I was listening when she called Eolia. It was my decision to be there. I know it was wrong, but we'd talked about Eolia the night before and she sounded like kind of a loose cannon to me. I thought maybe my presence there would deter her from doing something really foolish, like challenging Dee."
"Blair, I know you love her, but you can't keep putting yourself between her and a challenge. It's liable to get the both of you killed. You have to trust her."
Getting to his feet, Blair said, "I know, Dee told me the same thing, but it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, to stand back and not interfere, to know all I can do is give her my spiritual support."
Joe rose also, leaning on his cane. Coming around his desk, he clasped Blair's shoulder with his hand. "I know how you feel, but you'll have to believe that will be enough. And knowing how strong the love is between the two of you, I'm sure it is. Now go have fun. I want to see the two of you tearing up the dance floor."
Blair looked into the older man's eyes, seeing in them an almost fatherly fondness. "Thanks, Joe. I will."
This night isn't going very well, not at all. I knew I should've stayed back in Cascade. Methos comes back with refills for Dee and I, then leaves, a short pint of beer in his hand. I take another long pull at my hard cider, mostly to avoid looking at Diandra, and shift my attention to the small dance floor.
"Lia? Talk to me. You're being too quiet."
She can't just drop it, can she? "What's there to talk about, Dee? I'm a sitting duck? Or do you want to know what I'm feeling right now, at this moment?"
"I know how you're feeling, but not what you're thinking."
Damn, she hasn't lost the touch, even after all these centuries, she can still ferret out a person's inner-most feelings. "The truth? I want to grab a few bottles and quietly crawl into a hole and hide for fifty years or so."
"So I don't have to worry about getting challenged. I've got a nice little estancia in Argentina I can hide out in."
"Running away isn't the answer, you know that."
"Yeah." I finally turn to face her. I've been avoiding that probing gaze of hers all this time. "I know, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it. I can't hide, not with Jan-Michel as my new student." Not to mention the fucking rogue Immortal who tried to kill me. Twice.
She reaches out to me, her hand coming to rest on my shoulder. "Lia, I know how deep the pain can run, but you have a purpose to keep you going. Use the time to train Jan, then when you send him on his way, if you still want my help…"
I smile tentatively, accepting her offer. I sip at the bottle in my hand, realizing I'm starting to feel the effects of the alcohol on my system.
Dee interrupts my thoughts, "Let's try something, Lee."
"Trust me. Close your eyes. Good. Now, tell me where every Immortal is in the room - not including yourself or me."
This is stupid. I feel like an idiot. Wait a minute…. "Meth--Adam's over that way." I wave my hand towards where I think the buzz I know as his is coming from. "And Jan's… Oh, crap." I snap my eyes open to see my Watcher stalking through the crowd towards us.
"What is it, Lee?" Dee's hand clenches on my shoulder.
"Jan. He's coming back, and I think he's pissed." I point at the man then turn back to my friend. "Uh, you might want to leave."
She's spotted him, and is already moving around the circular booth to slip out on the other end. "I'm just going to visit the loo, and maybe find Blair. As soon as Megan and Ellison show up, we can order our food."
She brushes by a clearly steaming LaFollet, then I'm alone with him as he slides into the booth beside me, forcing me to move deeper into the circle. "Jan? Didn't the meeting go well?"
"You lied to me, Lee. Why?"
"Your reasons for taking on the QuestScape contract yourself. I let you come ahead, catching the rental at Sea-Tac alone. You used that time to contact Diandra and asked her to take your head."
Sandburg, you are a walking dead man. He must have told the older Watcher about my conversation in the church, in front of Jan-Michel. "You don't have to worry about me, Jan. I've changed my mind."
"Only because you have a new student, right? What if that hadn't happened, what then?"
"What's with the third degree?"
Jan raises his hand, as if to touch me, then drops it. "I care about you, Lee. You and Azir were like a family to me. You're all I have left. I want to tell you…"
"There you two are!" I look up, startled to see Ellison and Connor walking up to the table. I look at my watch and smile back at Jim, who had called out.
"Right on time!" Yes, I don't want to continue the conversation with Jan-Michel. I know if I do, there is a chance I'll slip up and say something about the Immortal who cornered me at QuestScape. "Shag out of those jacks of yours and sit a spell. Dee and Blair should be back soon."
"'Scuse me." Jan gets up and leaves the table in what I can only call a 'huff.'
"What's got his knickers in a knot?" Connor asks as she slips out of her coat, draping it across the back of the bench seat on the other side of the table.
"He's a little upset with me."
"A little? Hate to see him in a real snit." The inspector sits down, and I feel the seat beside me drop down a little bit as Ellison slides into the booth.
"Lee? Got a question for you."
"Cop question or personal?" I pick up the green bottle and sip it, not really trying to hide the smile on my face.
Jim shakes his head in amusement. "Cop. For now."
I carefully place the bottle back on the coaster. "Darn. Okay, shoot."
"Just how did you get out of QuestScape without running into the security guard?"
Good thing I had studied the floor plans of my target. "Stairwell. Came out behind some potted trees in the lobby. Used the exit on the east side. Satisfied?" Jim seems lost in thought, so I look over to Connor who's nodding in agreement with me.
"I am. Jim?"
"Yeah, that's what we thought. So, any of you order dinner yet? Connor here has a stomach that has been grumbling loud enough to wake the dead for the past half hour or so." He manages to duck the extra coaster the inspector throws at him.
Dinner goes as well as could be expected for a group of people which had a few friends and a few unknown factors in it. Adam joined us at the table after Jim Ellison and Megan Connor showed up, so the table was quite full. From one end of the circular bench to the other it lined up like this, Blair, Diandra, Jim, myself, Megan, Adam and then Jan-Michel. After eating his half rack order of ribs, my Watcher/Bodyguard/Student excuses himself from the table and I watch in dismay as he makes his way to the bar and orders shot after shot of amber colored liquor. Good thing I switched from the cider to iced tea - one of us has to remain sober for the trip back to Cascade. Adam must have seen my concern, for after I watch LaFollet down his fourth glass of what I guess to be scotch, my Teacher leaves the table and approaches my student.
"Angel? Care to help me show the folks here how to really dance?" Dee merely smiles, clasping Blair's hand in hers, and they slip out of the booth and onto the dance floor. Watching them brings a smile to my face. Poetry in motion doesn't even begin to describe how well they move together. Graceful, fluid, and yet so full of energy that just observing them tells me how much they enjoy dancing, music and each other.
"You may have to drive yourself home, Lee." I didn't see Adam rejoin us at the table.
"I noticed, Adam. Thanks." I raise my glass to indicate Jan's actions are one of the reasons I had changed to drinking tea.
"Good. Now, what are you doing still sitting there? I can see you want to dance, so get out there." He waves a hand towards the dance floor and the couples who are moving there.
"Horse shit. I know you, remember?" I had managed to explain to Jim and Megan I had met Adam Pierson in New York, while in college, that he had been my student advisor. "Besides, maybe I want the chance to get to know this lovely creature beside me a little more." Putting action to motion, Adam slides into the seat next to Megan, who smiles faintly and scoots over to give him more room.
"Lee? Shall we take Adam up on his advice and dance?" Looking up to see pale blue eyes twinkling in humor, I nod. Taking Jim's hand into my own, we slide out of the booth and move towards the hardwood dance floor.
The music changes just as we touch the edge of the floor, from a dance tune with a fast, primal, beat to one that is a little more sedate and intimate. I nearly freeze in my tracks as I recognize the song, 'Till Then', by the Vagabonds, but with a subtle tug I find myself on the floor, held in Jim's arms.
As the song goes on, I find myself relaxing, actually leaning into Jim and placing my head against his broad chest. His heart beneath my ear is pulsing out in its own counter-beat to the song. We dance through at least two more songs and are just about to leave the floor when the next song over the speakers catches my attention. Looking over my shoulder, I see Jim has stopped on the edge of the dance floor. He slowly raises his hand in invitation. I feel the blush rising on my face. Is he serious? He quirks a smile at me and raises his eyebrow, as if daring me to join him for this dance. There is a trick to making this particular dance truly passionate. I cross my arms over my chest and turn, as if in a huff, ignoring the invitation of my suitor. His approach is silent, his hand warm on my shoulder and I turn to face him.
The Tango. Done right, it's a very passionate dance. Done well, it's been known to cause audiences watching it to actually experience elevated blood pressure, and even a few orgasms. At least, that's the rumor. Jim must have learned the dance as a young man, and managed to keep the skills, for I'm soon lost in the role that is required of the female dancer. Before I know it, I'm on the floor, my arms wrapped around Jim's leg to keep him from leaving me. The dance is over and we're greeted with applause. Embarrassed, I let Jim take my hands, bringing me to my feet, and we leave the floor.
Before we even make it back to the table, Jim stops and pulls me closer to him. Without a word spoken between us, we kiss, the perfect ending for such a dance. The crowd greets our action with more applause, and even a few wolf-whistles. Breaking off the kiss, we finally make our way to the table. Adam and Diandra nod sagely, as if in approval of my actions with Jim. Blair and Megan are another matter. Neither of them seems too happy, and LaFollet hasn't returned from his spot at the bar.
Picking up my tea, I drain what is left in the glass and turn to my dance partner. "Jim? I'll be right back." Rising up on my toes, I place a chaste kiss on his cheek then turn away from the table. I walk across the bar, intent on not only visiting the lady's room, but confronting my errant student as well.
As I pass Jan-Michel at the end of the bar, I notice the older Watcher, Joe Dawson, is watching my moves and just how much his fellow Watcher is drinking. While I had been on the dance floor with Jim, Jan changed his drinks from simple shots to Boiler Makers. Stopping behind him, I lean against his shoulder and whisper harshly in his ear. "Follow me. Now." I don't even wait to see if he does as I told him to, just march off down the hall towards the bathrooms and an exit door.
Bypassing the bathroom, I push open the backdoor and step out into the cold night air. A few seconds later, my student follows me. The door closes behind him and I launch my attack. "What in the hell are you doing, Jan?"
"That should be obvious, even to you, Lee."
"Yeah, it is. You're drunk. Why?" He doesn't answer me. Hell, he's not even looking at me, but staring off into the distance. "You know, being Immortal doesn't mean you won't get a damn hangover. You've never drank while you considered yourself 'on duty,' which you are by the way, and yet…"
"So fire me. I can always find another job." Finally, he looks at me, but I wish he hadn't. The venom in his hazel eyes is hard to take, let alone understand.
"I can't fire you. I'm your damn Teacher!"
"I'll find another."
"No, you won't. The first Immortal you meet will just challenge you and separate your inexperienced head from your shoulders."
"Fine. Then I'll be dead and you can do whatever the hell it is you want to really do. Maybe even follow Azir."
My anger at my student flares and I backhand him before I know what I'm doing. I watch in horrid fascination as he crumples to the cold wet ground like a boneless doll. "Damn." I bend down to check on him and find I somehow managed to knock him out. "I should just leave you right there, but I won't." Pulling open the door, I come face to face with Adam.
I reach out to him, grabbing him by the arm and yanking my former Teacher into the night. "He's drunk. I hit him, and now he's out for the count."
Adam crouches next to Jan-Michel, and with the efficient motions of a fully trained medic, checks on my student's condition. "Let me guess, right back hand? You were always quick with that move."
"Shut up, Meeth. Just help me get him to the damn car. Please?" It galls me to have to ask anything of Methos. When we had parted ways we hadn't exactly left on the best possible terms. But he agrees to help me and between the two of us, we manage to get Jan-Michel over to the Lexus and piled into the passenger seat.
"Guess this means the party's over," Adam/Methos mutters as he closes the door to the SUV. "Tell me if it's none of my business, Eolia. You're interested in Ellison, aren't you?"
"You're right, it's none of your business, Old Man." We walk side-by-side back towards the door we came out of.
"You came to me to take your head. Now you have a student and have changed your mind. If Ellison is the reason you changed your mind…"
"Maybe. I'm not sure, Meeth."
He holds the door open for me and I slip back into the warmth of Joe's. "Whatever you do, Little One, be careful. Ellison isn't one of us -- he's mortal. Guard your heart."
I stand there, stupefied, as he walks away. Shaking off the thought Methos might still care for me, I quickly use the lavatory then join the others at the table. After explaining what became of my bodyguard and hearing Jim and Megan have to work in the morning, the gathering breaks up. The drive back to Cascade has me sandwiched between Diandra's Jeep and Ellison's old pickup. Thankfully, Jan-Michel becomes somewhat coherent when we arrived at the Excelsior and Jim doesn't have to help me get my very inebriated Watcher back to his room. Before I can walk around to the passenger side of the car to help LaFollet out, Clarence Milton is there. Waving to the others, I walk into the hotel, holding doors open for C as he literally carries my bodyguard to his bed and dumps him into it.
"I'll be out in the hall until about 4 A.M., Lee. Then Sharee will take the watch."
"You don't have to do that, C…"
"Yes, we do. Jan's going to hate himself enough in the morning, and we don't fly back to New York until after noon, so Sharee and I will be fine." The large Native American is pulling LaFollet's shoes and socks off as he talks then tosses the comforter over the oblivious man. "Go on, go get some rest yourself. I'll stay in here with him for a little while."
Nodding my compliance, I leave Jan-Michel's room through the connecting door and enter my own suite. It's after eleven, and I'm beat. I strip out of my clothes and crawl between the warm sheets of my bed, as my thoughts return to the long minutes I spent in Jim's arms on the dance floor. The warmth I feel flooding my body has nothing to do with the bed clothing and I drift off to sleep, content in the idea I've made the right choice. I'm going to stay around until Jan-Michel is trained, and to see if there is a chance I can fall in love with a mortal for the seventh time in my life.
Blair followed Jim into Major Crimes Monday morning. "Hey, Hairboy! Long time, no see! I thought you were going to Hawaii over the holidays."
Dropping his backpack next to Jim's desk and shrugging out of his jacket, he replied, "Friday morning, H, Friday morning. Nothing but palm trees, sandy beaches and the most beautiful woman in the world. In other words, heaven." He flashed the big detective a toothy grin, then turned to his partner. "What's on the agenda this morning, Jim?"
Ellison was just about to answer him when Simon appeared in the doorway to his office. "Ellison, don't bother taking your coat off. You and I have a meeting with the PA's office on the Gleason case." The tall man crossed the bullpen toward them. "You can ride with me, Jim."
"Uh, yes, sir. What about the Ventriss thing? I was planning on spending some time on that today."
"Connor's working on it." His gaze shifted to Sandburg. "Blair, why don't you give her a hand? You didn't work the Gleason case, so the PA doesn't need to speak with you."
"Um, sure, Simon, uh, sir. Whatever you say. Catch you later this afternoon, Jim?"
"I'll try and make it back for lunch," Jim said over his shoulder as he followed Banks out of the room.
Hanging up his coat, Blair dug his laptop out of his backpack and set it on Jim's desk, along with a notebook and a pen. Once he was ready to get to work, he walked over to Megan's desk and gazed down at the inspector. "Simon said I'm to help you out on the Ventriss thing. I read over the preliminary reports Jim brought home Saturday morning, but I haven't seen the ones from the attempt on Lee's life Saturday, or the forensic reports."
Megan tapped a stack of folders piled at the front of her desk. "There they are. Those include the reports on the interviews Jim and I did yesterday. I'm still waiting on the forensic team's report on what they found outside QuestScape."
"Yeah, Sandy. Didn't Jim tell you we went over there yesterday? We found some interesting evidence, which may or may not have anything to do with the case. Jim found a hair caught in a tree branch, and I found the remains of what Jim thinks is a sabot slug, or rubber bullet."
Blair managed to keep his expression neutral, knowing the hair was probably his. "No, Jim didn't mention it. Of course, we didn't actually spend much time talking about the case last night."
Megan gave him a blinding smile. "So I noticed. Both of you seemed rather more interested in your female companions. I expected that of you, but Jim? What's up with him and Lee Eolia?"
Shrugging, Blair tried to keep his tone casual. "I don't know. We haven't really discussed it. I mean, where's the harm in it if Lee isn't a suspect?"
"Right now she's not, but that could change. Ventriss is still insisting there's top-secret information missing from his lab, but we found no evidence Ms. Eolia had taken it. It wasn't found on her, and there was hardly time for her to ditch it between the time the alarm went off and the time we confronted her."
Picking up the file folders, Blair flipped idly through them, noticing the case file on the Chung murder was in the middle of the stack. "Megan, what's the Chung case doing in here?"
"Oh, that. Captain Banks had me go over it to get familiar with the history of the PD and QuestScape. I meant to send it back to records this morning." She reached out a hand for it.
Blair shook his head. "That's okay, I'll make sure it gets back." Clasping the stack of folders to his chest, he made his way back to Jim's desk and began to read. An hour or so later, he got to his feet, stretching to relieve the kinks in his back, then headed for the break room in search of coffee.
When he returned, he sat his cup down on the desk and reached for another folder. The unstable pile shifted, and several folders slid to the floor. "Damn it!" Blair hissed under his breath, then bent to pick up the spilled papers. He was putting them back in order, when a sticky note attached to one of the folders caught his eye. He recognized Megan's handwriting. She had a habit of jotting her thoughts on a case down on notes then shuffling them around until they made sense. This one read, "Description of LE's attacker fits BV." Popping his head over the desk he glanced toward where he had last seen the Aussie. She wasn't at her desk.
Blair looked at the note again. "LE" had to be Eolia, but who was "BV"? There was no one connected to the case with the initials "BV". He reached under the desk for another folder and came up with one labeled "Autopsy Results: Ventriss, B." He sat up so fast he smacked his head on the underside of the desk. "Ow! Damn it!" Blair rubbed his head with one hand, blinking back tears of pain. With the other, he dug through the papers until he found Lee's statement from Saturday night. The description of the man she said had shot at her and killed John David was height: 5'8"-5'10", weight: 160-200 lbs, hair: brown/blond, race: Caucasian. That sounded like Brad, but--Brad was dead. And if Brad wasn't dead, then it was one of two things. Either Bradley Ventriss had pulled the biggest fast one ever on the folks at the city lockup, or he was immortal.
Crawling out from under Jim's desk, Blair renewed his attack on the files, quickly going through the autopsy results, making sure the photos of the body inside were actually of Brad. As far as he could tell, they were. He tapped his pencil impatiently on the desk. He needed more information. Grabbing the autopsy file, he headed downstairs to the morgue.
Once he arrived in the basement, Blair went in search of Dan Wolfe. He was very relieved to find him in his office and not in the autopsy bay. Knocking on the partially open door, he stuck his head in. "Hey, Dan, can I talk to you for a minute?"
The forensic specialist looked up from his computer. "Sure, Blair, come on in. What can I help you with?"
Tossing Ventriss' autopsy results on the other man's desk, Blair said, "This. I just have a few questions."
Taking a quick look at the file, Dan answered, "You too? Inspector Connor was in here yesterday asking questions about the Ventriss death. What is it you want to know?"
"I want to make sure it actually was Brad Ventriss you did the autopsy on. You did match his identification with what we had on file?"
Dan nodded. "Yes, everything checked out, fingerprints matched those taken when he was arrested. As I told Connor, death resulted from a stab wound to the neck, in the back, penetrating the spinal cord."
The one place Immortals were especially vulnerable. That could account for the fact Brad had stayed out so long, if, in fact, he was immortal. "How long from the time he was killed until you did the autopsy?"
Dan looked through the report. "As I remember, not more than a couple hours. They brought him over from the jail and I did the autopsy right away. There was a big rush put on it seeing who he was."
"You didn't find anything out of the ordinary during the autopsy?"
The Native American shook his head. "No, just your normal, average twenty-something with a hole in his neck."
"Okay, thanks, Dan." Blair got to his feet, and picked the file back up. "Oh, one more thing. How long was the body in the morgue? I mean, before it was picked up?"
Dan shrugged, "I don't know, less than twenty-four hours. It was sent directly to be cremated when it was released."
Blair had turned and was halfway out the door when Dan spoke again, his words freezing Blair in his tracks. "Funny thing, that. I was just signing the release for the funeral home, when one of my assistants came to tell me there was a body missing."
Taking a moment to school the expression on his face to one of vague interest, Blair turned back around. "Really? Not Ventriss' body, was it?"
"No, some homeless guy. But it happened at the same time Ventriss was in the morgue, and I told Connor about it. Figured I might as well tell you, too."
"Okay, thanks for the info." With a small wave, Blair retreated from the pathologist's office. On his way to the elevator, he passed the doors to the morgue. He paused, peering through the glass at the steel drawers. Pulling the door open, he entered, walking across the room to examine the small card attached to the drawer. If he were an immortal, just come back to life to find himself in a morgue, what would he do, especially if he wanted to stay dead? It would be a simple matter to switch the cards on the drawers, as well as the tags on the bags within. Viola, one homeless guy gets cremated and Brad gets himself a new life.
An ice-cold chill ran down Blair's spine. Get a hold of yourself, Sandburg! You're just speculating. You don't even have enough to form a hypothesis. You need more evidence. Turning around, he left the morgue and headed back upstairs. If Brad was an Immortal, possibly a new one, then he had to have found a teacher, someone to explain the Game to him. And that meant hooking up with an older Immortal, one who might have a Watcher, who would report the discovery of a new player back to Watcher Central.
Getting off the elevator on the seventh floor, Blair crossed to Jim's desk and dropped into the chair, snagging the mug shot of Brad out of the file. Scanning it into his laptop, he accessed the Internet and sent off an email to Joe Dawson. Now all he had to do was sit and wait.
Damn, but he hated waiting.
I wake up slowly, not wanting to leave the dream I was having. But even as I roll over in the large and empty bed, the images from the dream are already fading, eluding my mind's attempts to recapture them. Sighing, I throw the covers off and sit up. Glancing towards the travel clock on the bedside table, I realize I managed to grab more hours of sleep during the night than I have since Azir was killed. It's eight in the morning; check out time is noon. Time to get out of the sack, get ready to face the day, pack and see if Diandra is still serious about her offer to let Jan-Michel and I stay at her place for a while.
I don't have much in the way of clothing to choose from. I really hadn't expected to still be alive, let alone staying in Cascade as long as I have. I had only packed enough to see me through five days and the police still haven't returned the packages I dropped in the alley where John David had been murdered. I opt for the same outfit I wore to interview Norman Ventriss, with a few changes. The suede pants and matching boots are good to go, but the silk blouse has seen better days, so has the sweater. I really don't have any other shirts that will go with the pants. Then again…
Stepping over to the trunk that holds all my precious mementos, I raise the lid and start to dig in its depths. My search is rewarded when my hand drifts over the cloth I'm looking for and I pull the shirt out, shaking it free of most of the wrinkles. My pale lavender poet's shirt, a gift from someone back in one of the 'hippie communes' the Company had sent Azir and I into undercover. Back then, we were known as 'Turk' and 'Moonfire' and we managed to blend into the group.
"Nai, this is beautiful! I can't accept it." I press the shirt back into the woman's hands.
"Sure you can, baby. You helped me by watching little Bear the other night when I got so sick. This is my way of thanking you."
I shake my head, still trying to get my fellow redhead to take the gift back. "I did that out of love, Nai. Besides, you told me you and Bear are about to leave the group, so you'll need this more than I."
Her laughter tinkles across the tented grove that houses all the single women, and any children they bring with them. "We'll be fine, Moon. Trust me. Now, take this and we'll part friends, and with love between us." With a flash of incredibly long, bright auburn hair, she turns away from me and I watch as she gathers up her dark-haired, one month-old son from one of the other women.
Slipping into the shirt, with all the happy memories it brings, I hear a moan through the door connecting my suite to Jan-Michel's room. He's awake. I tuck the shirt into my pants as I enter his room. "Jan? You all right?"
I watch as he clutches his head between his hands and tries to squeeze his brains out. I choke back a giggle, but he hears me anyway. I'm nailed by pain filled, clouded, hazel eyes.
"Lee? Do me a favor, will you?"
"Maybe. What is it?"
"Take my head." He sits up, head still clutched in his hands. "I can't believe I was so damn stupid!"
"Neither can I, but I did warn you." Stepping over to his bathroom, I grab up a glass of water and a packet of BC Powder, which I know he likes to use for pain relief, and carry them over to him. "Here, take this shit, shower, and you'll feel better. When you're halfway ready to face the day, I'll have breakfast ready over in my suite." I leave him to his own devices.
By the time my student joins me, room service has delivered our breakfasts -- two hardboiled eggs and an English muffin for me, three scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and a breakfast steak for him. Coffee, black and strong, along with a half carafe of orange juice rounds out the meal, which we consume in silence.
"Have you packed yet, Jan?"
"Finished up before coming in here." His answer is low, as if he's still fighting the pain of his hangover and afraid to speak too loudly.
"Good. I called over to the mortuary that is handling John David. They'll meet us at the airport at eleven, help us get everything squared away, and then we'll see Sharee and Clarence off." I placed the call before calling to have our meal sent up.
"They awake yet?"
I wait, wondering if I should bring up Saturday night, or let him do it. I finish my coffee, pour another cup, and then realize I had better broach the subject myself.
"Lee, about Saturday…" He stops when he notices we are speaking at the same time.
"Go ahead, Jan." I prompt him, wanting to hear where he's going to go.
He squirms, uncharacteristically then starts over again. "Saturday, I talked with one of my contacts. I had to, or I would have been with you and John…"
"Jan, no. Don't go there. I'm sure there would have been more deaths that day if you had been with us." I reach across the table to clasp his left hand in my right, only to have him draw away from me.
"We'll never know, will we?" He drops his hand into his lap then looks back up at me. "My contact gave me some interesting background on QuestScape and Norman Ventriss." He becomes remote, giving his information to me in a voice totally devoid of emotion. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but he drops that his contact is also a Watcher, and his immediate superior. I just file away the data, ignoring it in light of the rest of his briefing.
"He set me up?"
"Actually, Stertz thinks it would have happened to which ever operative you had chosen to send in.
It just happened to be you. Maybe it's why Ventriss was so nervous when you told him you were to be the entry-man."
"Your contact--Stertz?" He nods, confirming I got the name right. "Did she happen to tell you if she thought the DVD-RAM was really stolen, or does she think Ventriss pulled a fast one on me?"
"She wasn't sure."
I struggle with my anger. "Best guess, then?" I'm getting really pissed with Ventriss and the whole QuestScape fiasco.
"Mine or hers?" He must have seen something of my temper in my eyes when he looked up, for he flinches and drops his gaze for a second. "Okay, my best guess is the disc has already been destroyed. Too chancy keeping something like that lying around. Or, and this is a possibility too, Ventriss hired the thief who shot at you in the lab, and the thief has the disc -- maybe as insurance against his employer."
"Maybe. But if that is the case, then we really need to find that asshole and get the disc back from him and turn it over to your contact, or even someone over at the DOD." I rise from the table, and start to pace around the room, my mind already starting to think of a way, any way, to go about tracking down an Immortal thief in a city the size of Cascade. The only thing that springs to mind is dangerous as hell, but it might just work. And if I want to implement the idea, I have to tell LaFollet the thief is one of us. I'm not sure I can do that. This running battle between the thief and myself has become too personal, and I want to take him out of the Game. Permanently.
"Lee? About what happened that night…" I turn around to face my Watcher. "I'm sorry. I behaved like an ass. You're right, what you do, and who you chose, is your business and none of mine."
My temper flares then dies a quick death as I take in his body language. He's still sitting at the table, looking for all the world like a scorned schoolboy, his shoulders slumped and his chin tucked against his chest. "Oh, Jan… I really didn't mean all of that." I smirk. "Well, maybe just a little. I couldn't help but hear your words to Ellison, or his to you, and it pissed me off." I cross back to the table and sit down again. "Look at it this way, you and I have many years together in our future. And to be perfectly honest with you, I find Jim fascinating. Maybe I just want to see if I can give my heart to another mortal."
He nods, finally looking at me again. "I think I understand, Eolia. The last mortal you married, before meeting Azir, you stayed with until he died. First as his wife, then as his caretaker, and finally disguising yourself as his 'lost' granddaughter."
"You know about Alfred?"
"When I was assigned as your Watcher, and Azir's, I was required to read the Chronicles on you both."
I sit there, speechless. I finally voice my question. "How far back do our Chronicles go?"
I can see his reluctance to tell me, but then he snorts in an odd form of laughter. "Oh, what the hell. The worst Dawson, and the Watchers, could do to me is to fire me. Azir's Chronicle was fairly complete, starting with his first death in Jaffa in 1192. Yours is less complete. The first entry I found on you was recorded in 1298 when you showed up in Scotland under the name of Leona FitzCarin. But even in that entry, made by a local priest, he speculated you were far older than you appeared."
"I am." He looks up at me, expectantly. "But that is for later. We have work to do today."
The VIP Lounge of Cascade's International Airport isn't a happy place to be. In fact, my small group manages to chase off others who thought they'd wait for their various flights in the room. Sharee Milton starts crying again as we watch John David's casket being loaded into the belly of the 747 that would take him home to New York. Clarence tries to comfort her, then gives up, knowing she has to work through her grief in her own time. Jan-Michel and I aren't much better. We hate the idea of splitting up the team, but this time, it's unavoidable. Due to our involvement in the on going investigation of the incident at QuestScape, and my involvement in the attack that took the life of my youngest bodyguard, we're stuck in the city until the cases are closed.
"LaFollet, you take care of Lee."
"I will, C. And thanks for covering for me last night."
"De nada, mi amigo." I watch as Clarence engulfs Jan's hand in his own. "It's not like you wouldn't have done the same for me."
A light touch on my arm pulls my attention to Sharee, who has dried her tears and is looking at me through reddened eyes. "Lee? When we get into Rochester, I'll ask Ruthie to send another team out here. You and Jan need some help to watch your backs."
Sharee Lindsey-Milton has been with WindHawk Securities for a long time, hired to be my personal decoy and one of our snoops. She's my height and her coloring is very, very close to my own. "I've already talked to Ruth. She's getting a team together, but they won't be able to get here until Thursday." Looking past her, I see her husband is about to comment and race to forestall his words. "Jan and I will be fine, C. I ran into an old friend here in Cascade who has offered to put us up at her place. She happens to live next door to a cop, so I'm sure we'll be okay."
LaFollet doesn't even flinch when Clarence nails him with a hard, questioning look -- just nods in agreement with everything I just told the Native American's petite wife. Before either of the Miltons can protest further, their flight's boarding call is announced over the PA system.
After watching the large American Airlines plane lift off from the tarmac, Jan and I head back out to the short-term parking lot and are soon heading back into the city. It takes us a little longer than I anticipated to find Prospect Avenue, and then after a false start, (we headed in the wrong direction) we finally locate the address Diandra gave us. There are several cars parked in the street and a few in the small parking area beside the building. Jan blithely ignores the posted sign reading "residents only" and pulls into a slot next to Diandra's Jeep Wagoneer.
"I'll move the car later," he explains as he gets out of the driver's seat and, once again, manages to tuck his sword away without drawing undue attention to his actions.
"Better. You're getting good at the tuck and hide, Jan," I compliment him as I join him at the back of the Lexus. I sense the presence of an Immortal in the area and sigh in relief as I realize the exercise Diandra led me in last night allows me to identify her from her buzz. I reach out and touch my student on the shoulder. "Diandra."
He nods, accepting my one word explanation for the buzz he's obviously reacting to. We turn at the same time and see my old friend exiting a door on the side of 852 Prospect.
"Thought I saw you pull in." Diandra comes over to us, greeting me with a hug and Jan with a firm handshake. "I'm glad you showed up. I was starting to get worried. Let's get your stuff inside and then, if you're up to it, we'll see just how much you already know, LaFollet." She leads the way to the apartment on the third floor. We carry our bags up the stairs, after she quietly tells us the elevator is down. From her tone, I guess that is a common occurrence here.
I step into her apartment and come to an abrupt halt, causing Jan-Michel to step on my heels. The place is large! A pad like this, back in New York City, hell even back in Rochester, would run several thousand dollars a month! "Goddess, Dee! When you said you had room enough to train in, you weren't kidding!"
"Of course not, Lia. Come on, let's get your gear stowed away. Have you two eaten lunch yet? No? Okay, then I'll whip something up and once your stomachs settle, I'll show you where everything is and you can get started training your student."
Blair sat in Jim's chair in the bullpen, swiveling in a steady rhythm back and forth. He chewed slowly on a veggie sub he'd had H bring him back when he went to lunch, Jim and Simon not having returned. He'd tried calling Joe to let him know about the email, but hadn't had much luck in locating the senior Watcher. And since he couldn't stand to just wait for Joe to get back to him, he was doing what he did best, thinking.
Right now, Blair was working on the theory Bradley Ventriss was an Immortal. The way he looked at it, Brad hadn't known what he was at the time of the Chung case. If he had, then he wouldn't have bothered trying to escape Jim when they had pursued the boat in the police helicopter. All Brad needed to do was force Jim to shoot him, or simply jump off the boat and let himself drown. Once everyone thought he was dead, then he could make his escape. So, that meant his death in prison was possibly his first one. Blair shook his head. This was crazy. Brad was dead. He'd seen the autopsy results.
He could just ask Eolia if the man who'd shot at her was Immortal. That would solve everything. If, and this was a big if, Blair could trust her answer. Setting his sandwich down, he took a sip of water and rubbed his temple. Just thinking about Lee Eolia gave him a headache. He was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but all his instincts were telling him she was not to be trusted. His feelings on the matter might have something to do with the fact he could tell Dee didn't completely trust her either. Dee cared about her, yes, but he got the idea that it was out of loyalty to what they had been to each other when they'd first met, a loyalty he wasn't sure Lee shared. In fact, if he went by what had gone down at the church, and the story Dee had told him of their last meeting before that, then Lee didn't trust Diandra. And if Eolia believed the other Immortal was working against her…He'd told himself he wasn't going to go there. Diandra was a big girl; she knew how to watch her head. Eolia would not be getting the drop on her, of that he was certain.
Now he had a literal headache. Opening a desk drawer, Blair pulled out Jim's bottle of painkillers and shook a couple into his palm. Downing the pills, he sat back in the chair and finished his sandwich.
There was no telling when Jim would be back, and he'd gone through all the info on the break-in and the shooting. There was no solid evidence to connect the two, unless he dropped Brad Ventriss into the mix. With a sigh, he picked up his notepad and went over his theory. Assuming Brad was the thief at QuestScape was easy enough. Brad had stolen from his father's company before, and knew how to bypass the security systems and where the most sensitive data would be kept. As for the shooting, Brad's modus operandi had been to go after the people who had interfered with his plans, such as Dennis Chung and himself. Lee perhaps could identify him from QuestScape, so it was logical he would target her. The fact she was immortal would only make it that much sweeter, if Brad himself was immortal.
Damn it! Someone had to know for sure whether Brad was immortal or not. Blair's cell phone chose that moment to ring, and he jumped in his seat before scrambling to answer it. "Hello."
"Blair, this is Joe Dawson. I got your email. The photo you sent me matches a description of an Immortal who hooked up with one Reggie Kinney, stayed with him for a couple months, then took his head."
Leaning back in his chair, Blair stared up at the ceiling, feeling his heart beginning to pound. "What can you tell me about Kinney?"
"I've forwarded his file to your email. All the info I think you'll need is in there. I also included the phone number of his Watcher, Mark Haverill. He wasn't able to get a photo of this other Immortal, but he might recognize him from the one you sent me. Oh, about Haverill, he works for the Cascade PD. He used to be a guard at the city/county detention center. I think he's asked for a transfer since his subject died."
"Thanks, Joe!" Blair clicked the phone off and pumped his arm in a silent "YES!" A quick call to personnel got him the info that Haverill had been transferred to Robbery. Gathering his notes and laptop up and shoving them into his backpack, Blair grabbed the files that needed to go back to records, and headed downstairs, hoping to find Haverill on duty.
After a quick lunch of sandwiches, Dee gave Eolia and Jan-Michel a quick tour of the studio. From the storage room under the master bedroom she produced two padded jackets and two face masks, tossing one of each to the two Immortals. "Suit up," she told them.
Jan-Michel quickly began to don his protective garb, but Lee balked. "Is this really necessary?"
"My studio, my rules. And unless you want Ellison to figure out you're immortal, I suggest you wear them. His apartment is across the hall, and he's been known to just walk in if he knows I'm home."
Lee made a face but suited up, then took a couple minutes to choose a practice blade from the ones available, while Dee selected one for Jan-Michel that was similar to Azir's blade. Taking a seat on the bench, she waved a hand at the large room. "Have at it."
After about five minutes, she could hold her tongue no longer and began coaching. "LaFollet, keep the end of your blade up. Your opponent is not the ground." Getting to her feet, she paced around the sparring pair. "Use your longer reach to your advantage. You can keep her at arm's length while still doing damage." Dee continued to call out instructions to Jan-Michel, ignoring Lee's increasing anger.
"Damn it, Dee, would you stop it? He's my student, not yours!"
Dee couldn't help herself. Lee's sword work was lazy, sloppy, and definitely not a good example. "With you as a teacher, he's sure to get killed." Okay, so that was a low blow, but it would be interesting to see how the other woman reacted.
"Fuck you, Dee! I'll train him as I see fit!"
Ah, there's that famous Eolia temper she remembered. "Train him to lose his head!" she shot back. Crossing to the weapons display on the wall, Diandra took down a Spanish colichemarde rapier. She thrust and parried with it for a moment, familiarizing herself with its weight.
Lee continued to spar with Jan-Michel, her back to Diandra. "I haven't lost a student in over a hundred years. Can you say the same?"
Dee approached them, her sword held low. "I've only had two immortal students in the last hundred years. Far as I know, they're both still alive. Unless you or Azir took Stasha's head in Bonn." She stepped in between the two immortals, catching Lee's blade on her own as she smashed her elbow into LaFollet's face, sending him sprawling.
Ignoring the fact her student was now lying on the floor stunned, Lee turned her attention to Diandra, continuing their argument. "You mean, 'Heidi'? Damn you! We lost her trail because of you!"
"Me! You were the one who had to take time out of your 'spying' to challenge me! I was minding my own business!" Dee dodged to the side, making Lee chase her across the wide space.
"You were consorting with the enemy!"
"Consorting! Some spy you were! You didn't even know she was immortal until I told you!"
Lee drove Diandra back with a swift series of blows, the noise of steel meeting steel almost deafening. "As far as I knew, you WERE the enemy! I had to take you out!" Once again Dee moved out of range, and the other woman followed angrily. "I had no way of knowing she was Immortal! I never got close enough to feel her! Azir held me back too often!"
Dee felt the harsh words falling from her tongue, goading Eolia. "Maybe that's why you're so lousy with a sword! When was the last time you took a head?"
"A little over a year ago in New York. But I practiced every damn day with Azir I could!" Lee's voice took on a whining edge and her swordplay grew a little more desperate, as if she was trying to convince herself of her skill.
"I've taken three heads in the past 3 months. And I think Azir coddled you. I'll bet I could take your head without breaking a sweat." Diandra slid her sword along Lee's and took a step forward, meeting the smaller woman's gaze confidently, a dangerous smile on her lips.
Growling deep in her throat, Lee raised her sword, stepping back a pace. "Try me, Pythia."
"I think I will." Diandra shifted into high gear, her blade whipping back and forth in tight, hard strokes, each one taking a good deal of effort on Lee's part to parry.
After about ten minutes of the sustained assault, Eolia began to back up, trying to evade Dee's blade, but the Champion was determined not to give her any room to breath, to regroup. Sensing her prey tiring, Dee thrust straight at her chest, forcing Lee to parry her blade to the side. Taking advantage of the opening, Dee kicked her hard in the stomach, sending her to the floor. "Lia, Lia, is your memory that bad? You fell for the same move in Bonn."
Lee rolled quickly to her feet, but didn't get her sword up in time, and a second kick sent it flying from her grasp. Thrusting her sword forward again, Dee was surprised to see Lee back flip away from her, heading for the weapons on the wall. There's hope for you yet, Lia.
Following her opponent across the room, Dee brought her rapier up for the final blow, just as Lee grabbed a quarterstaff from its place on the wall. She started to turn back toward Diandra, but her foot slipped out from under her on the polished floor and she dropped heavily to both knees. The staff still came up in a defensive move that would have been too little too late, if Dee had been able to complete her stroke. Instead, someone slammed into Diandra hard from behind, sending her sprawling to the floor, the rapier skittering out of her grasp.
Her arm was wrenched up between her shoulder blades, and a knee was planted firmly in the small of her back. Turning her head as far to the side as it would go, she caught a glimpse of someone looming over her. "Get the fuck off of me!" she snarled.
Two men emerged from the elevator and stepped out onto the seventh floor of Cascade PD's Central headquarters.
"Next time I get called to talk to that SOB, do me a favor and just shoot me?"
Captain Simon Banks chuckled as he patted his grousing detective on the shoulder. "And put up with Sandburg afterwards? No thanks, Jim." He understood the man's ire. PA Butler had kept them both in his office for hours, going over the entire case file, every single charge against Gleason. The man was a good attorney, but sometimes his attention to every little detail was annoying as hell.
"Damn. Forgot something." Jim executed a perfect 'about-face' and headed back towards the elevators.
"What? I could've sworn we covered everything with Butler," Simon called out to the retreating back.
Punching the call button a little harder than needed, Jim Ellison looked back at his puzzled Captain. "I need to run down to Forensics. I'll be back." The doors opened up and he stepped into the lift.
"You'd better be." The doors closed and Simon found himself alone in the hall outside of Major Crimes. "After all, you still have a bunch of reports to file before going home tonight, Ellison." Shaking his head, the tall man entered the area of his command and was satisfied to see all of his people hard at work, including a certain observer, who was nearly buried behind files that were stacked on Ellison's desk. A few of the officers in the room called out quiet greetings to him as he made his way towards his office. He answered with his patented 'captain's grumpy grunt,' which turned into a groan as he saw the nearly foot deep stack of files in his 'in' box. Slamming the door behind him, Simon shut out the rest of the world to concentrate on the job he had gotten behind on, all because some sniveling, liberal, politico of a PA wanted to make sure that every damn 'I' was dotted and every 'T' crossed on every single piece of paper in the Gleason files.
Jim Ellison entered the PD's Forensic Lab to be confronted by a rather ticked off Serena Chang.
"Wondered if you'd have the guts to show your face down here, Ellison."
"Nice to see you too, Serena."
"What in the hell did you think my weekend staff was going to find outside of QuestScape that didn't turn up in our original sweep? And why the hell didn't you or Connor stick around to brief them?"
Jim found himself backed into a corner, literally, by the head of the Forensic Team. "Did they find anything?"
Serena's eyes narrowed as she glared up at the man she'd managed to harangue, then she calmly reached over and snapped up a file from the top of the stack of paperwork she'd already signed off on. "Read for yourself." She slapped the thin file into his waiting hand, then barged past him to call out to one of her techs. "Amura! You're in charge. I'm finally going to lunch. I want the final report on the David case on my desk when I get back!"
Reading over the report in the depressingly thin file, Jim nearly jumped out of his skin when Serena slammed the door to the lab on her way out. "Damn. Nothing."
Keiko Amura approached Detective Ellison and overheard his comments. "Well, not exactly nothing, Detective… Just nothing that relates to your case." Jim pinned her with a glare. Raising a questioning eyebrow, she asked, "Unless you really wanted to know how many pinecones my team found?"
Jim smiled, appreciating the woman's attempt to lighten the mood. "No. Thanks, Amura. I really just came down here to see if you all were done with the property that was taken at the David murder scene?"
"Ah, yes. Peter told me you'd asked about that." She motioned for the detective to follow her, leading him deeper into the lab and back towards the lockers. "We cleared it last night, after we got in from QuestScape. The only things we found were trace evidence, possibly from the clerks at the stores, and the bloodstains we found were consistent with the scene. The one shirt is a total loss, but the rest was remarkably clean." Finding the locker she was hunting for, Amura used her passkey to open the lock and she started handing out the parcels.
"Nothing of interest then?" Jim started combining the bags, to make the load easier to handle, and stopped when he found a long box. Carefully opening the lid, he found himself looking at an ornate dagger, some twelve inches in total length. He admired the workmanship.
"Just that. Beautiful, isn't it? And quite sharp." Amura reached past his hands and gently picked up the blade. "This is new work, but it reminds me of the tanto my grandfather brought back from Japan. The evidence report said the owner is a woman?" She handed the knife back.
Holding the tanto by the leather bound grip, Jim nodded. "Yeah. I didn't have a chance to ask her at the scene, but maybe Lee is a collector. This looks like a collector's piece." He found himself testing the balance of the knife, finding it perfectly adjusted and enjoying the feel of holding a 'live' blade.
"Maybe. But most collectors' knives are not sharpened to such a fine degree. Tested the blade, it's sharpened to within a micron -- sharp enough to cut through bone." She watched as Ellison placed the blade back in its padded box, and he guessed she had enjoyed holding the beautiful weapon as much as he had.
"You've got a point, Amura." Placing the box in one of the four bags now stacked at his feet, Jim stood up. "This everything?"
"Yes. I just need you to sign for it and it can be released to the owner."
Returning to Major Crimes, Jim was a little surprised not to find Sandburg waiting there. Dropping the bags at his desk, he looked up to see the door to Simon's office closed, the blinds pulled down in the classic signal that told everyone not to bother the Captain unless the world was coming to an end. Crossing over to Megan Connor's desk, he quietly asked the inspector, "Any idea where Sandburg is?"
"Nope. Maybe he went down to records? He promised to return a file I was looking at." The Australian kept her eyes glued to the paperwork in front of her as her pen scratched across the report she was working on, filling in the blanks at the top of the form that would signify where the evidence she was turning in was to be routed.
Wondering at the woman's cool tone, Jim shook his head and left her to her report. There was at least one other person he could ask. "Rhonda? Maybe you can answer my question?"
The captain's secretary looked up from her typing and smiled at him. "You're looking for your shadow, right?" The woman waited until he nodded. "I overheard him muttering about trying to catch someone down in Robbery. He left about ten minutes ago."
"Thanks, Rhonda." Jim returned to his desk, and started to tackle the paperwork that was waiting for him. He had just finished finalizing his second report, working directly with the computer to input the report in the PD's database, when he realized forty minutes had passed and still no sign of his partner. Sliding his chair back, he heard the crinkling of plastic under the wheels, and recalled the other detail he needed to take care of.
Flipping open his notebook, he found the number to the Excelsior and made the call, only to discover both Lee Eolia and Jan-Michel LaFollet had checked out of their rooms around ten-thirty that morning. Putting on his best 'professional' voice, he asked the desk clerk, "It's really important I speak with one of them. By chance did they leave a number where they could be reached?"
"Let me check, Detective… Ah, yes. It's a local number, and not one I recognize, so it's not one of the hotels in the city." The clerk rattled off the number, then apologized as he cut the conversation short -- explaining he was needed elsewhere -- and hung up.
Jim looked down at the number he wrote, his brow creasing in concern and puzzlement. "That's Dee's home number." Further speculation was halted as he caught sight of his missing partner stepping off the elevator. Whatever Blair had wanted to talk to someone in Robbery about apparently wasn't good. The expression on the kid's face was pensive and serious. "Hey, Chief. Someone finally do you a favor and steal the Volvo?"
Blair looked up at his friend's jest and shook his head. "Funny, man. Real funny. Even I know that such a crime, if it had happened --which it didn't--would be handled by the Auto Division, not Robbery." He nearly stumbled over the packages lying on the floor behind Jim's desk as he moved to place his backpack in its customary place. "What's all this?"
"The stuff I promised to return to Ms. Eolia today, if I could. You have any idea why she and LaFollet would leave Pallas' home number as a way to get a message to them?" The kid had been acting skittish ever since before the QuestScape incident went down, and Jim found himself automatically tuning into his guide's heartbeat as he asked the question. It had started to race at the mention of Lee, but swiftly slowed back down to normal before the young man shrugged and dropped into a chair next to the desk.
"Yeah, I meant to tell you about that. Turned out Dee knew Eolia's husband, and thought she recalled meeting Lee in Greece a few years back, so we ducked over to the Excelsior Sunday morning and talked with her. Dee found out J-M and Lee were about to lose their room and board there at the hotel, so she offered to put them up at her place for a few days, which is really going to cramp our style, at least until they either find other accommodations or until Dee and I leave for Hawaii, which ever comes first."
No matter how many times he'd seen Sandburg do it, the young man's lung capacity and ability to talk a mile a minute -- complete with rapid hand gestures -- still amazed him. Smiling, Jim couldn't resist teasing. "Well, you two rabbits need to cool your jets for a while anyway. But that will make returning this stuff to Lee much easier." A gurgling rumble startled him into silence and he found his gaze going unerringly to his roommate's stomach. "Sounds like someone hasn't eaten."
"Nah, I ate. Henri was nice enough to bring me a vegetarian sub earlier, but I think my tummy wasn't happy with that." Blair smiled as he rubbed his abdomen.
"Well, if you'll help me by entering this evidence record, I'll finish up this other report and we can cut out of here for the day, Chief." He handed over a blank report tag and the bag containing the sabot slug Connor had found outside of QuestScape. Jim started to fill out the report tag on the other evidence he'd found in the pine tree: one strand of reddish brown hair, approximately twelve inches in length and wavy, to be checked and cross-matched, if possible, against the PD's growing file of DNA records.
They managed to leave the station's garage shortly after four-thirty PM, only to get caught up in heavy traffic. Jim leaned over and clicked the truck's radio on, just in time to catch the weather advisory on the local news station ~… Advisory for King and Cascade Counties… The National Weather Service has issued a snow advisory for the entire Northwest corner of Washington State. Accumulations from 3-12 inches can be expected with the storm front that is forecast to move into the area sometime around midnight. State Police are advising motorists to avoid travel into the Cascade Mountain range…"~
"Well that explains the traffic. When are people going to learn to keep their pantries stocked?" Jim snapped off the radio, not wanting to hear any more. He concentrated on his driving. The roads were damp, there was a light mist falling, and the other drivers on the roads seemed to be in high gear.
"What did you say, Jim?"
Sparing a glance towards his roommate, the detective tapped his brakes as the car in front of him hurried to get through the yellow traffic light. The Ford coasted to a gentle stop. "Snow. Traffic. Idiots. Bad combination on damp roads."
Blair Sandburg looked at their surroundings. They'd been in the truck, heading home, for nearly five minutes, but were nowhere near close to where they normally would've been. "Don't forget, it's only a few more days until Christmas. Bound to be a lot of accidents tonight, people not paying attention." He waved his hand towards the traffic light, one eyebrow raised in askance.
Looking up, just as the driver behind him laid on his horn, Jim realized the light had changed while he was trying to figure out where his partner's mind was. Easing back into the flow of traffic, he finally had to ask. "Chief, what's on your mind that has you so quiet?"
Chuckling, the student shook his head. "Man, most of the time you're begging me to be quiet, and the first time I am, something has to be wrong?"
"It is your usual pattern." He turned onto Prospect Avenue, only to wish he hadn't. The traffic was moving slower than it had been on the other streets, if that was possible. "Damn, this is going to take forever."
The silence filled the cab of the truck, until Jim Ellison couldn't take it anymore. "All right, spill it, Chief. Something's on your mind and it's got you thinking. Maybe I can help?"
"Not this time, sorry, Jim."
"Watcher business." Blair winced at the growl issuing from his partner. "Jim, I'd tell you if I could, but I can't. Not yet."
"Maybe later, then?" Jim sighed as he pulled into the tiny parking area nestled between 852 and 850 Prospect, noting the presence of the rented Lexus that was being used by Lee Eolia and her bodyguard, Jan-Michel LaFollet.
"Maybe. I'll have to clear it with Joe." Blair undid his seatbelt as Jim turned off the engine, grabbed up his backpack and reached for a couple of the bags belonging to Lee that Jim had brought with them. As he opened up the passenger door, the wind whipped the smaller man's jacket around him. "Damn, that storm front may get here sooner than expected. It's getting damn cold."
"Getting time for you to break out that silly hat of yours, pardner." Jim grabbed up the remaining bags and the two men raced into the building. Pulling the door shut behind him, the sound of metal clashing against metal caught Jim's attention. "Funny, I didn't see Connor's car…"
Spotting the attentive way the older man had turned his head, Blair asked, "What is it, Jim?"
"Sword work. Pretty furious pace too."
The detective took off up the stairs, taking them two, three at a time, practically running. Blair had to race to catch up with him.
The sound of someone getting kicked, in the stomach by the way the air gushed from their throat, greeted Jim as he approached the door leading to Diandra Pallas' loft. Without a second thought, he turned the knob and pushed open the door, just in time to see Dee kick a sword from her smaller opponent's hand, sending it flying. The opponent, long red hair spilling out from under protective headgear, did two back-flips in a row, avoiding the thrusting blade in Pallas' hand. Dropping the bags in his hands, he watched as the woman, Lee Eolia probably, fetched up against the far wall and grabbed a fighting staff from the racks there. She was turning back to face Dee, when her legs went out from under her. Diandra didn't back off.
Without thinking, Jim moved in with all the speed and stealth his Ranger training gave him. Plowing into Diandra's side, knocking the sword from the woman's hand, he ended up on the floor with one knee braced against Dee's back as he pulled her left arm up behind her.
"Get the fuck off of me!" The snarling voice coming from the woman beneath his knee sounded nothing like Diandra Pallas. Jim was off balance and it cost him. The Immortal wriggled, then with a wrenching movement, dislocated her left shoulder as she rolled towards him, aiming a kick in the direction of his head. It connected, not solidly, but it knocked him off of her. Rolling to his feet, Jim found himself facing an enraged Champion.
Blair rushed into the loft just in time to hear Dee's fear filled snarl. Somehow she broke free of Jim's hold and kicked the sentinel in the head with her knee. Dropping his own bags on top of the ones by the door, he hurried to separate the two warriors. "Whoa! Break it off! Jim! Dee! Cool it!"
His words must not have registered in either set of ears, for he barely managed to dodge out of the way as Diandra rushed Jim in a move that surprised Blair, but not his roommate. Jim stepped aside to let Dee's movement carry her past him, then reached out and snagged her up in a hold that looked painful. His hands locked behind her head, forcing her to look down at her own chest and the floor. Thinking Dee might be better able to hear him if she saw him, Blair moved to stand in front of the dueling pair.
Panic set in as Diandra's fear of being confined spurred her into action. The Champion raised her hands above her head, biting back a scream as pain shot through her injured shoulder. Forcing air out of her chest, she slipped the hold. Dropping to her knees, she swung in blind rage at the presence behind her, her right forearm impacting solidly on a muscled thigh. Then someone else was touching her, daring to place a hand on her! Without stopping to listen to the words they were mumbling, she lurched forward and brought her head down, head butting her second attacker in the stomach. That one out of the way, she leapt to her feet, turning her attention back to the man who had pinned her.
Her left arm hanging useless at her side, Diandra was forced to use her feet and her one remaining arm. A flying scissors kick, followed up with a simple right cross, laid her attacker on the mat. She snarled in rage as the one she'd turned her back on took advantage of her attack on the first and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her hands to her sides. The man on the floor rose to his feet, and came at her again. Using his body, she walked her feet up his torso, delivering a swift kick to his jaw before finally breaking the other's hold on her. As she fell to the floor, she reached behind her, grabbing a handful of dark curly hair. She yanked the second man down to the mat with her, plowing his face into the thick padding forcefully.
"Diandra! Lady Dorian! Stop! They're your friends!"
The words, screamed in ancient Greek, cut through the battle rage and fear fogging her mind. She clambered to her feet to see Eolia limping towards her, a bloodied Jan-Michel helping her. Blair was getting slowly to his knees, blood streaming from his nose. Swinging her gaze around, she located Ellison, flat on his back, a flaming red jaw telling her the story. She'd managed to hurt both men while lost in the dark fury of battle. "Oh, shit. Lobo? Lobo, I'm so sorry!" Tears filling her eyes, she moved to his side, her attention devoted to her lover.
Blair held a hand to his face as he waved off her apology. "I'll be fine. I don't think you broke it, angel." He allowed her to remove his hand from his nose as she looked over the damage she'd caused. "Ow! Stop for a second, will you? And tell me what happened."
"That's what I want to know, too. Hell of a kick you got there, Dee." Ellison groaned as he sat up on the mat.
Signaling for Jan to help her to Ellison's side, Lee spoke up. "It's my fault, Jim. Dee and I were sparring and got a little carried away." Loosening Jan's grip on her arm, she dropped to the mat near the detective, examining the swelling along his strong jaw. "Jan? See if you can locate a couple of ice packs, will you?"
"Sparring? Looked to me like Dee was trying to take your damn head off. Would've too, if I hadn't tackled her when I did."
"Ice packs are in the freezer, LaFollet." Diandra called out to the searching man in the kitchen. Turning her blue gaze back to her lover's roommate, she said, "I wasn't going to do anything of the sort, Ellison. It was a full contact match, and if you had stopped to notice anything, you would've realized my blade was blunted and wouldn't have hurt Lee."
Jan-Michel returned with three ice packs, handing one to Diandra. "From what I saw, Lee here was doing pretty well, until her feet went out from under her." He crossed over to where his employer sat with Ellison and handed over the remaining ice packs. "What happened, Lee? And where did you learn those Xena-like moves? I never saw you use them against Azir."
"Old injury." Lee placed one of the cold packs on her right knee, handing the other to Jim, gesturing for him to use it on his jaw. "As for the moves? I was desperate, okay?"
"Lee was doing okay, but not as well as she could've. I was pushing her." Dee helped Blair to his feet as he held the icepack to his face with one hand.
Jim looked from one woman to the other. "Okay, but why were you pushing her?"
Diandra looked over at LaFollet, who nodded. "She wants to train LaFollet. I wanted to make sure she could."
"Train him? For what? He's a Watcher, not a damn Immortal."
Blair moved in to Jim's side, dropping to the mat to get a closer look at the damage Diandra had done. "Actually, Jim, he is."
"I'm immortal, Detective." Jan-Michel reached up and removed the bandage from his temple, revealing no healing wound, just perfectly unmarred flesh. "I died Friday night. Gunshot to the head, my first death."
Dropping the ice pack, Jim stared at the former Navy man. "And Azir el Sadih?"
"My husband was an Immortal, Jim. LaFollet was his Watcher." Diandra and Blair both scowled as Lee shook her head, indicating to them she wasn't ready to tell Jim about her own Immortality. Instead, she asked, "Jan, do me a favor and grab my cane from my room?"
Dee could tell from his expression that Blair wasn't sure what Eolia was up to, but he held his mouth shut. Damn it, it was the perfect time for her to come clean with Jim, and yet, she didn't. Diandra was puzzled by Eolia's words, and her actions. Immortals healed quickly. There could be no 'old injury' to bother the woman, so why the lie?
"Uh, Dee? Maybe we should get cleaned up?"
"Sure, Lobo." She helped him to his feet then glanced down at Jim. "I'm sorry, Ellison. You sure you're going to be okay?"
"Yeah, the ice and a little ibuprofen will do just fine, Dee. Thanks." With that reassurance, Diandra led Blair toward the stairs.
Jim got to his feet just as LaFollet returned to the room, a dark cane in his hand, which he handed to Lee. Ellison watched as the woman used the cane to rise to her feet, the action so smooth that it spoke of years of having to deal with a bum knee. "Well, there goes that idea I had."
Brushing a few loose strands of hair from her face, Eolia looked up at the detective. "What idea?"
"I was going to ask you out to dinner. But if you're hurting…"
"What? This? I'll live. And I'd love to go to dinner with you. But I don't have anything to wear."
Remember the reason he'd planned on coming over to Pallas' apartment, Jim crossed the mat and picked up the bags he'd brought home with him from the precinct. "Here, maybe you have something in here that will suffice?" He handed the bags to her and LaFollet, hoping that since Lee had accepted his offer, the bodyguard would see fit to leave them alone.
"Maybe. Thanks, Jim." She went up on her toes and planted a kiss on the side of his face that wasn't bruising up. "What time?"
"Eight? That gives us all a chance to get cleaned up."
"Fine with me." Lee, using the cane in her left hand to support her weight, slowly hobbled from the room, heading towards the bedroom Diandra had turned over to her.
Jim turned to see LaFollet staring at him. Not with the rage and hate he'd seen in the man's hazel eyes before, but with concern. "LaFollet?"
"Don't hurt her."
With those words, the man left the room, heading down the hall to the other spare bedroom Jim knew existed. The sound of a radio being turned up, in the bathroom according to the echoes he picked up, followed the sentinel as he made his way over to his own place. He had a date to get ready for with a woman who fascinated the heck out of him.
Diandra and Blair don't run the water for very long. I'm glad. I really want to rid myself of the dried sweat covering my body and slip into the new pants suit I'd bought Saturday, which Jim Ellison has just returned.
I spend very little time under the hot water myself. I've always have been proficient and never wasted time on my toilet. Calling out to Jan-Michel that the bathroom is free for his use, I step into the bedroom, only to find my hostess waiting for me there, sitting on the bed. "Diandra…"
"Wait a minute, Lia. I have something to say to you and I need to hear the truth. Okay?"
I nod, accepting her gentle rebuke.
"You are going to tell Jim that you're immortal, right?" Her blue eyes bore into me, reading my soul. I cannot lie to this woman, I never could.
"Yes, but not right away, Dee." I finish toweling my hair dry then reach for the comb on the table next to the bed, to work the tangles out. She stops me.
"Let me. Sit down." She points to the floor in front of her, and I sit, scooting back against the bed and closing my eyes as she starts to work the comb through my hair. "I just wanted to make sure, Lia. Jim is Blair's best friend and, as such, I cannot allow you to hurt him, physically or emotionally. He's been through too much in his life as it is."
"I don't want to hurt him, Lady D. But I want to get to know him before telling him that I'm Immortal. You saw how he reacted earlier, can you see him just standing by while I take on a Challenger?"
She stops combing for a few seconds, then starts up again as she sighs. "Jim's a cop, Lia. He's sworn to protect others. But he also knows about us, and the Watchers, and I think once you explain to him what you are, he'll probably kick your ass back into shape so he knows you can take care of yourself."
I pull away, turning to face her from where I sit on the floor. "You were right, you know that, Diandra?"
"Azir coddled me. The head I took last year? I was lucky. The man was a newborn who got overconfident in his new found skills with steel." I drop my eyes, "I was only able to take him because I was quicker on my feet."
She smiles at me. "Well, at least you're still honest with me. And there is a chance that if you hadn't slipped on the flooring, you would've saved yourself. But you still need to get back into top form if you're going to seriously train J-M."
"I know. Will you help me?"
"Of course. Now get back here so I can work on that hair of yours." After a while, once my old friend is done getting the tangles out my unruly mass of hair, she plaits it in a braid. That done, she turns me to look at her. "Now, why the story about a bad knee earlier?"
I smile as I get up off the floor, no injury to hinder my movements, and reach for the cane I used earlier. "Can you think of a better way to get a sword past a cop?" I pull the top end of the cane, exposing the blade within. "Azir had this made for me, years ago, while we were stationed in Saigon."
I hand the blade into her waiting hands, watching as she tests the balance of the weapon, and the feel of the hard wood scabbard. "Sweet. It's perfect for you, Lia. And the scabbard, it's sturdy enough to use as a weapon as well?" She hands the blade back to me.
"Yes. Azir had it made of ironwood."
"Okay, so you use it tonight as a cane, then what?"
"I don't know. I want to see how the date with Jim goes before I decide when to tell him the truth." I place the sword cane, a Japanese Zatoichi actually, on the bed as I reach for the outfit I've chosen to wear.
I hear her sigh again as she gets to her feet. "Fine. But, Lia, I'm going to put a time restraint on your telling Jim you're Immortal."
"Why?" I ask as I slip into the white silk shirt.
"Because, Blair and I are planning to leave on a vacation this Friday and I feel you should tell Jim before we leave." She crosses the floor and pulls open the door, stopping to look over her shoulder at me. "That way, I can handle any questions he might have before we go. Now, finish getting dressed, you wouldn't want to keep the man waiting would you?"
Blair stood at the doors leading to the balcony, watching as the snow flurries started. "Jim? You sure you and Lee going out in this weather is such a good idea?"
"We'll be fine, Chief." Jim's voice floated down from the loft's upstairs bedroom. "I'm just taking her to the Dragon Pearl, not up the coast to Seacouver." The detective started to come down the stairs, fiddling with his tie as he did. "Damn, I'm all thumbs tonight. Can you help me with this damn thing?"
Turning to help his friend, Blair was shocked to see Jim dressed in his best suit and trying like crazy to get the tie unknotted. "Whoa! Don't you look nice? What's with the suit?"
The suit was brand new, dark gray wool, blended with silk and tailored in such a way as to hide the fact he was carrying a gun. The shirt was light blue and the tie was one Brian Rafe had helped him choose: one of the last Rush Limbaugh 'No Boundaries' ties ever made. It was silk, and had not only blues and greens, but black, gold and orange as well. Very pleasing to the eye.
"I felt like it. Now, help? Please?" Jim held the tie out to his friend, begging the younger man for assistance.
"Sure. But let's do this over by the stairs. You know I can't do this without being behind you." Within a few moments, Blair had the tie done and was admiring his handiwork. "That'll do. So tell me the real reason for this outfit?"
His dress shoes clicking across the wood floor as he made his way into the kitchen, where he grabbed a bottle of water from the 'fridge, Jim tried to tell him. "Chief, have you ever felt that, maybe, love at first sight was real? Not lust, but real love?"
"You're joking, right?" Blair saw the pain in the sentinel's eyes and realized he said the wrong thing. "Oh, man, you're not. Lee?"
Opening the bottle of water and taking a healthy swallow, Jim nodded. "I think so. And no, before you ask, it's not a pheromone thing either. At least I don't think so."
"Man, this is so not you, Jim. I'm the one who's supposed to be a table-leg chaser, not you." Walking into the kitchen to stand beside his roommate, Blair took the bottle from Jim's hand and placed it on the counter. "Just be careful, okay? I'd hate to see you get hurt."
Jim scowled at his partner. "Sandburg, that is the third or forth time you've told me that. Are you holding out on me? Is there something about Lee you know that maybe I should know?"
"I'm just worried, that's all. I mean, she does have someone out there," he waved his hand towards the balcony and the cityscape beyond, "who has tried twice to kill her. I just want to make sure you're on top of your game, ya' know?"
Jim smiled as he delivered a soft cuff to the back of his guide's head. "I'll be extra careful, Mom."
"I'll 'Mom' you…" Blair managed to get a light punch landed on the sentinel's arm, then he looked up into Jim's face, noting the bruising that was getting quite colorful along the jaw. "You really ought to let Dee take care of that for you."
"No, I don't think Lee would understand…"
"Lee knows. When Dee and I talked with her on Sunday, she asked why you had called out to Dee in the alley, so we had to explain." The single knock on the loft's door was the only warning either man got before the object of their discussion walked into the room.
"Lobo's right, Jim. Lee knows about my ability to heal, and I think it's only fair I heal what I did to you." Diandra approached her fellow sentinel, obviously having heard everything he and Blair had talked about. "Besides, a suit that nice really clashes something fierce with the bruising."
"Fine. Looks like I'm out numbered anyway." Blair watched as Jim gave in as gracefully as he could, allowing the woman to lead him over to the dining table and sit him down so she could easily reach his sore jaw. Reaching out, he laid a hand on Jim's shoulder to anchor him, to keep his partner from zoning on the peculiar sensation he knew Dee's gift caused.
"Damn, I do good work." Dee stepped back away from him, admiring her work. There was absolutely no trace of the bruise or swelling left on Jim's face. "Lee's almost ready, just give her a few more minutes and then go on over."
"Thanks, Dee." Jim stood back up and walked over to the table by the door, picking up his keys and his handgun, slipping the latter into its holster under the suit coat at the small of his back. Then, as if he'd remembered something, he trotted back up to his room. By the time he came back downstairs, long black overcoat on his arm, Dee and Blair were cuddling next to each other on the couch. "You two rabbits behave… At your place tonight, Dee."
Looking over her shoulder at the dapper detective, Diandra stuck her tongue out at him. "Party-pooper."
Closing the door to his loft behind him, Jim took the few steps needed to cross the hall to Diandra's place, only to stop, suddenly a little nervous about the whole thing. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he knocked. The door was opened by Lee herself.
The woman was dressed in a teal green pants suit with a blinding white shirt underneath the jacket, her hand resting on the cane she'd used earlier. "Jim, my, you do clean up well." She stepped back to let him inside.
"I tried." He closed the door behind him as he stepped into the room. "You look very nice as well, Lee."
"Thanks. I just need to grab my coat and we can go."
He watched as she used the cane to steady her gait as she disappeared down the hall to her room. LaFollet came out before she did. "It's against my better judgment, but Lee convinced me to leave the two of you by yourselves tonight. Otherwise, I'd be right on your tails."
"I'll take care of her, LaFollet. You have my word on that."
"That's all I'm asking, Ellison." Jan-Michel turned around when he heard the tap of Eolia's cane on the floor of the hallway. Moving over to her side, he silently helped her into her coat, then disappeared down the hall to his room.
"He's not happy with me, but he won't follow us. Not tonight anyway." Lee smiled up at Jim, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "I'm ready if you are."
The walk down the stairs to his truck was silent and for the first time in a long while, Jim regretted having 'classic' set of wheels as he handed Lee into the passenger seat. Her words to him on that matter, as he climbed into the driver's seat, made him chuckle in relief.
"This is such a beautiful truck, Jim. A 69, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is." He cranked the engine over and backed out of the parking space.
"That was back when Detroit still knew how to make a car. You ever think of 'tricking' this baby out?"
The talk on the drive to the Dragon Pearl was about classic cars and trucks and the show circuit for such things. Jim found out that while Lee enjoyed classic trucks, she really loved the 1955 Thunderbird and was actually looking for one to restore.
Mr. Singh, the owner of the Dragon Pearl, sat them at his best table, situated close to the indoor waterfall and Koi pool and, per Jim's request over the phone earlier, had a bottle of plum wine ready for them. He also refused to give either of them a menu, just asking Lee about any food allergies, reassuring the detective that he and his chef knew of his, and then disappeared into the kitchen. A waiter came over and opened the wine, quietly pouring a small amount for Jim to taste. At his approving nod, he poured a glass for Lee, then topped off Jim's glass and then he, too, disappeared.
Part 6Immortal Series