Immortal End Game
Dee leaned closer to Blair on the sofa, her fingertips tracing across his cheek and over his nose lightly. Catching her hand in his, Blair pulled it gently away. "My nose is fine, Dee. It was an accident."
Biting her lip, she shook her head, and he could see the tears forming in her eyes again. "I could have killed you, I could have killed Jim…"
He pulled her closer, cradling her against his chest. "No. Never. I refuse to believe that. It was an accident. I've taken worse punches sparring with you."
"But I lost it. I was completely out of control. That hasn't happened to me in years…"
"No, angel. You were terrified. You believed you were fighting for your life." He ran his fingers through her hair.
"How…how did you know that?" She straightened up to look him in the eye.
Blair tenderly wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I felt it, in here." He laid his hand over his heart. "You were so scared, like the other night, when you had that nightmare about being buried under the temple." He rubbed her back as she leaned up against him again. "You're claustrophobic, aren't you?" He felt her nod against his shoulder.
"I guess you could call it that. I have a fear of being buried alive, and when there's anything on top of me, making me feel like I can't escape, I panic. And because of that, you got hurt."
Pressing a kiss to her forehead, Blair said, "It's okay, baby. I'm okay, Jim's okay. You need to forgive yourself."
"I'll try," she whispered.
Giving her a quick hug, Blair got up from the couch then extended his hand to her. "Come on, I know what we need."
Taking his hand, Dee got to her feet. "What's that?"
He gave her a grin. "Some food, some hot water, and lots of bubbles. Follow me." Gripping her hand firmly, he led her out of Jim's loft and across the hallway.
Water sloshed against the sides of the deep bathtub as Blair got in behind his lover. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he settled himself against the end of the tub, then pulled her back to rest against his chest. She leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed. "See," he told her, "isn't this better?"
"Mmm, much," Dee answered him. She laid her arm along his, lacing their fingers together. There was silence between them for several long minutes, as they both enjoyed the hot water's effect on their tired bodies. Finally, she spoke, her words soft and a little hesitant. "I love you so much, Lobo. I don't ever want to hurt you."
Blair could feel her trembling and he hugged her closer, resting his cheek against her hair. "I know, angel, I know. I feel the same way." He held her tenderly, knowing she needed this, knowing she needed him. And that was an interesting feeling, being needed. It wasn't one he'd ever been really familiar with, always being somewhat of a loner in his life. Oh, Blair had always had plenty of friends, but nothing ever deep, or lasting, until he had met Jim. Through his relationship with Jim, he'd met Dee, and found something he hadn't even known he was looking for--love. And though he knew Jim needed him, that together they made something much bigger than the two of them apart, he also knew the sentinel's background wouldn't allow him to show that need, not this openly. Dee had no such qualms. She was as open and vulnerable in his arms at that moment as she'd ever been. Blair felt incredibly honored by her trust.
"Did Jim and Lee get off on their date okay?" Her question startled him out of his ruminating.
"Yeah, yeah. Jim's got it bad for her. He was asking me if I believed in love at first sight."
"Oh, damn it," Dee said softly. "If I'd known that, I wouldn't have given Lia a time limit. I would have made her tell him tonight, or I would've told him myself she's immortal."
"Time limit? What are you talking about?" Blair asked, suddenly a little worried.
She trailed her fingers through the bubbles on top of the water. "I had a talk with her before she left. I told her she had until Friday to tell him, if she's serious about him."
"She said she wanted to get to know him a little better first, and I agreed with that. But if he's already in love with her…"
"I don't know, Dee. Jim might have been just thinking out loud. Maybe he wants to be, but isn't sure. I mean, he hardly knows her either." He tightened his arms around her. "Man, I'm so glad we're past that point. I can remember being so scared when I realized I was in love with you."
"Weren't you? I was so afraid I'd walk out of the bathroom at Joe's, and you would see how I felt written on my face, and--I don't know, laugh at me or something."
"That's when you knew? The first time we went to Joe's?"
"Yeah. It kind of snuck up on me. I mean, I knew I wanted you from the moment we met, but I was so pitiful, making all those passes at you, and you just politely ignoring them, like you didn't know what I was talking about."
She smiled. "Oh, I knew. The time just wasn't right. You want to know when I knew I was in love with you?"
"When you showed up on my doorstep with breakfast the morning after we'd met. You were so concerned and so sincere, and a little bit nervous. You were just so--real. I needed that in my life. And I knew I could trust you with my secrets when the time came for us to take that next step beyond friendship."
"I knew I could trust you, too." Thinking of trust turned his thoughts back to the talk he'd had with Mark Haverill that afternoon. Involuntarily, his grip on her tightened.
She moved in the water, tilting her head back to look up at him. "Lobo, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, forget it. I don't want to spoil the mood."
"I'm not going to let you just drop it. You know you can talk to me about anything." Her hand came up to stroke his cheek, and she kissed the line of his jaw softly.
He shivered, amazed at how loved those simple gestures made him feel. And she was right, he could talk to her about anything, but…"I don't know. It just feels kind of weird talking 'shop' in the bathtub." He felt her fingers tickling along his ribs and he squirmed, splashing water and suds over the side.
Rising out of the water, Dee turned around and sat down again, straddling his legs so that she was facing him. "And anywhere else isn't going to be weird? You have my total attention now, so spill it."
Blair smiled at her. "Okay. I went to the station today and was going over the files from Friday and Saturday's incidents involving Eolia. I found a note Megan had stuck to one of the files, about how Lee's description of her attacker in the alley matched the general description of Brad Ventriss."
"That kid you were telling me about? The one who had you beat up? The one who's dead?"
Nodding, he continued. "That's the one. I thought Megan might be on to something, so I went digging. I found there was a mix-up at the morgue while Brad's body was there. They had one go missing. So just for kicks, I sent a copy of Brad's picture to Joe. He called me back to tell me the photo fits the description of a new Immortal who was last seen hanging with an older Immortal, one Reggie Kinney. Kinney lost his head a couple months ago, and the general consensus is this new Immortal took it. So Joe tells me where to find Kinney's Watcher. Guess where he is?"
Dee shrugged. "I don't know. But I think I can guess where this is heading."
"He's working for Cascade PD, in robbery. But before that, he was a guard at the city/county detention center, where Reggie Kinney was an inmate until his release four months ago, right after Brad's death."
"So did Kinney's Watcher confirm that Brad was the guy with Kinney?"
"Well, yes and no. Haverill, that's Kinney's Watcher, didn't work Brad's cell block, so he never met him up close. But he said there's a resemblance between the photo of Brad I showed him, and the guy Kinney was training. But he never really got a close look at him either. Since Kinney knew him from prison, Haverill had to keep his surveillance long distance once Kinney was out. But I'm wondering if Brad and this new Immortal are one and the same. Which answers a lot of questions, but also raises new ones." He paused, waiting for Dee to catch up with his train of thought.
"You're thinking Brad was the thief at QuestScape, and the shooter in the alley?" At his nod, Dee swore. "Damn it! Then that means Eolia lied to me." Getting to her feet, she climbed out of the tub, snagging a towel angrily off the rack.
Pulling the drain, Blair followed her. "You've got that look in your eye. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking Lia is playing games with me, and I don't like it." She slipped into her robe and walked into the bedroom.
Hastily wrapping a towel around his waist, Blair followed her. "You don't think Jim's in any danger, do you?"
Dee was pacing back and forth across the floor, chewing on her thumb. "Hmm, Jim? No, I don't think so. At least not from Lia. Whoever's after her, mortal or immortal, is the person we should be worried about." Sighing, she flopped down on the bed. "But we don't know anything for certain. Maybe Lia's telling the truth; maybe this guy is mortal. What we need is to show her the photo of Brad, see if she thinks it's him."
Blair sat down next to her. "We'd have to do it by the book. Stick his photo in with a bunch of similar ones and see if she can pick him out. I can pick up some other mug shots at the station tomorrow, or have Jim do it."
"Okay, sounds like a plan. Now I seem to remember you mentioning something about food earlier?"
He dove for the telephone. "I'm on it. You want Chinese or Italian? Or we could be really decadent and make someone from that new French place deliver in this weather."
She grinned at him, reaching for his towel. "Make it French, and promise them a big tip if it's here within the hour. That should be long enough for what I have in mind."
The staff of the Dragon Pearl had outdone itself on their behalf. The chef had prepared a special 'Pu-Pu' platter for an appetizer, then the main course had arrived. The first dish was a mild, meatless, Mou-Shou Tofu platter, which was immediately followed by the restaurant's infamous "Dragon's Crown" -- a mix of chicken, beef, pork and seafood in a black bean and garlic sauce. Through out the dinner, the couple seated next to the waterfall kept their conversation on 'safe' subjects: politics, weather and their jobs.
Jim settled back in his chair, a cup of hot jasmine tea in his hands, as he watched Lee. She had finished up her meal, allowing the waiter to clear the table, and surprised him by thanking the man for his services in his own language. Waiting until the happy young man had left, Jim smiled at his date. "You speak Vietnamese?"
Picking up her own cup of tea, she nodded. "A little. Just enough to be polite."
"How many other talents do you have hidden in that head of yours?" His probing question was met with a smile and a tinkling of laughter. "And where did you learn to move like you did earlier?"
"Earlier? Oh, the gymnastics." Lee set her cup down on the table and leaned forward, her elbows braced on the arms of her chair. "I trained as a gymnast when I was younger, even had my hopes set on the Nationals, until a lousy dismount from the uneven bars blew my knee out and ruined that for me."
"Bad break. Does it bother you very often?"
"Only when I forget and try to relive the glory that was once my dream."
A stench suddenly assaulted Jim's nose. The rank odor of overindulgence in alcohol caused Jim to look away from his date and scan the restaurant. Lee, seeing his movements as someone who suspected he was being watched, did her own covert surveillance. But neither one caught sight of their target until the man was practically looming over their table.
"Well, well. Isn't this just too special for words? Nice to see my tax dollars at work, Detective Ellison. Is this some new interrogation technique that the PD is using?"
Jim stood up, carefully placing the teacup on the table, and turned to face the clearly drunken man. "Mr. Ventriss, nice to see you again."
"Bullshit. Has there been anything done about the break in at my company, or are you just schmoozing with the lead suspect for the hell of it?"
"Ms. Eolia is not a suspect, Ventriss. She's been cleared of that."
Lee moved away from the man as he leaned over her, his smile gloating. "How very nice. Looks like you might actually get away with it, my dear. All you have to do now is fuck the detective here and you're home free."
No one could say, later, who moved first against Mr. Norman Ventriss, Jim Ellison, his lady friend or the man's own bodyguard. However it happened, the man ended up on the floor, only to be helped to his feet by the detective and his driver.
Jim moved aside as Lee moved in, leaning on her cane, confronting the man who had slandered her in public. "Mr. Ventriss, any and all future contracts between my company and yours are now terminated. And just to make sure that you know just who in the hell it is you're dealing with, I'll be calling the DOD with my suspicions that they look deeper into your contracts with them as well."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Try me." Lee's voice was as cold as liquid nitrogen.
Mr. Singh hurried forward and broke into the group. "You leave now, Mr. V. Don't come back. You no longer welcome here. Go. GO!" Four of his waiters stepped forward as well and they, plus Mr. Ventriss' driver/bodyguard, escorted the man out of the restaurant. "Damn drunken fool. I apologize for his actions and his words, Mr. Ellison. I neglected to tell my bartender to keep tabs on him, to limit his intake." The Asian man's broken English dropped in favor of the more educated words now coming from his mouth.
"Mr. Singh, no need to apologize for him." Jim moved to Lee's side and handed her back into her chair. "Lee? You okay?" He'd felt her arm trembling when he'd touched her.
"I'll be fine." She grabbed up her tea and swallowed the last of it while muttering under her breath, "See if he can get any security company to work for him after this…"
"Let it go, Lee. Vendettas have a nasty way of coming back to haunt you," Jim admonished her as he resumed his seat across the table.
"This isn't about vendettas, Jim." She looked up at Mr. Singh, who nodded his understanding and left them alone. "Jan-Michel was able to dig up some interesting information about QuestScape from his sources." She told him about the findings that her bodyguard had managed to dig up, omitting only that his contact was also a Watcher.
"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?"
"I didn't even find out myself until this morning. Jan was a little pissed off, in more ways than one, Saturday night. And Sunday we had too much company and I had too much to think about to recall that he'd gone in search of the information."
Leaning back into his chair again, hands steepled in front of him, Jim digested everything he'd been told. "One question, Lee. When were you going to tell me about this?"
"Today. Tonight, in fact. I just didn't think you'd want to hear it in such a public setting." The sensual look in her eyes was almost a challenge.
Nodding his acceptance of the woman's unspoken suggestion, Jim caught the attention of their waiter and requested their check. The total was ridiculously low and after haggling about it with Mr. Singh, he paid the bill and added a very generous tip. Helping Lee into her coat, then slipping into his, Jim escorted her out of the restaurant and into a true snowfall.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" Lee exclaimed as she took in the sight of the city slowly being shrouded in a blanket of snow.
"It can be. Unless you're a cop, then all you see is the potential traffic nightmares." They walked to his truck in silence, Lee leaning on Jim's arm instead of using her cane. The drive back to their homes took a little longer as Jim was overcautious about his driving on the slick pavement.
When Jim turned into the small parking lot by his building, he noted that the Lexus was gone and wondered if LaFollet had lied to Lee. But he shook his head as he realized that he'd not seen anything out of the ordinary while at the Dragon Pearl.
"I wonder where Jan-Michel got off to?"
Jim snorted in laughter. "Maybe he decided that sticking around Dee's place wasn't a good idea."
"Oh?" Lee looked at him, then it dawned on her. "Oh! I asked her if we were imposing!"
Glancing at his watch as he climbed out of the truck, coming around the back to assist her out, he said, "Maybe we should give the two lovebirds a little more 'quality time' together? I think I have a nice bottle of Eiswine that we can share."
"Eiswine? Jim, no that's too much…"
"No it's not. I raided my father's wine cellar a few years ago, have had the bottle ever since." Seeing her discomfort, as he held the door open for her, he made another offer. "Or I could just let you choose?"
"I'd like that, thank you." Lee looked up the stairs in front of her and sighed as she reached for the handrail.
Jim followed her up two flights of stairs, then gave in to his impulsiveness. Coming up behind her before she could start up the last flight of steps, he tapped her on the shoulder and then swept her up into his arms. "Much easier on your knee this way."
Choking back a giggle, she nodded as she brought her arms up around his neck. When they came to the door of his apartment he slowly lowered her to the floor. Unlocking the door he preceded her into the darkened loft and flipped on the lights. Once she was inside, and he'd helped her out of her coat, he gestured her over to the kitchen. "Wine is in the lower cabinet by the 'fridge. See if there's something in there that strikes your fancy."
Jim climbed the stairs to his room, shedding his coat and jacket on the way, dropping both to the bed. He slipped off his belt and slid the holster and gun off. Returning down stairs, he found Lee still in the kitchen, looking over two rather dusty bottles on the counter. "Did you find something?"
Smiling up at the detective as he came around the island, she gestured to the bottles. "Maybe. Which one do you like?"
Glancing over the labels he realized she had managed to find his secret stash. "Either one is good. I'll get a couple of glasses while you decide." Reaching up into another cabinet, he pulled down two glasses and turned back to see Lee holding up the bottle of Korbel Brandy. He snickered. "Good thing I picked the snifters."
"I saw you reach for them, and I happen to like brandy."
"Fine, go make yourself comfortable and I'll bring the glasses out." After pouring the liquor into the glasses, he looked around for the remote control to the stereo and found it, by the stove of all places. Aiming the remote, he tapped on the play button and the sounds of classical guitar wafted through the loft. Walking over to where Lee sat on the couch, he handed her a glass then sat beside her. "I hope you don't mind the music?"
Placing the glass on the low table, Lee shrugged out of her suit jacket, then picked up the snifter again. "Mind? No, I like all of Carlos' work." She carefully sipped at the amber liquid, then grew concerned when Jim got up from beside her and crossed over to the fireplace. "Jim?"
"It's bound to get a little chilly in here. I thought I'd start a fire." Placing a few logs in the fireplace, Jim lit up a starter log and then returned to Lee's side. "There, that should help keep the chill at bay."
"Thanks, but I was doing just fine. Really."
Picking up his own brandy, Jim settled back into the cushions of the sofa. "Yeah, well maybe I just like the idea of sitting here with you, the snow falling outside and us enjoying the warmth of a fire."
Lee blushed a little. "I didn't realize you were a romantic, Jim."
"It 's been known to happen from time to time." He took a careful sip of his own brandy, then turned to face her, one knee coming up to rest beside her thigh. "So, tell me. Do you ever take a break from your job at WindHawk?"
"Occasionally, why do you ask?"
Gently reaching out to tuck a loose tendril of dark red hair behind her ear, he said, "I guess I'm kind of hoping you could stick around here for a while."
"Jim…" Lee turned to face him, her own leg coming up to rest on top of his on the couch, "Are you sure? I mean, you know nothing about me…"
"I want to learn." Leaning in towards her, placing his hand on her leg, he gave her a kiss, one that rapidly changed from 'I like you' to 'I want you,' in the space of a few rapid heartbeats. The strains of Santana's Black Magic Woman started to fill the loft, and Jim found himself falling into a sensory overload as he tasted her lips, then her tongue, savoring the nearly overpowering taste of the brandy and the subtle aftertaste of the plum wine she'd drank earlier. There was more. Her heartbeat had quickened and he could feel it pulsating through her body where his touched hers. He inhaled the scent rising off of her hair as he gently held her close, the scent of wildflowers…
The smell took him back in time to Saturday night, even as his hands continued to explore the soft, yet firmly developed body now nearly trapped beneath his on the couch. Then the voice in his head, one that sounded a lot like his guide, crashed into his awareness. "… you know you and redheads don't mix. Besides, Lee just lost her husband. She's probably pretty fragile right now. I…I just don't want you getting hurt." Maybe Blair was right. This was moving rapidly in a direction that he wasn't sure he was ready to go. He wasn't even sure Lee was ready to go there herself. They needed to talk, to get to know one another.
Feeling her hands starting to work on his shirt, unbuttoning it with a subtle skill, Jim pulled back, taking her hands in his, effectively stopping her. "Maybe we're going too fast." The crushed look that crossed her face right before she stood up and grabbed her jacket surprised him. "Lee?"
"I should go..." Shrugging into the teal jacket, she turned back to face him. "Maybe you're right, maybe we are moving too fast, but I thought you wanted me." She stopped to softly curse herself as she wiped tears from her eyes. "Damn, I will not cry over this."
Moving to stand next to her, Jim tried to reach out to her, only to have her brush away the contact. "Lee, I do want you, but not like this. Not some one night stand." He didn't flinch as she turned her amber brown gaze to him, meeting his eyes. "Please? Lee, don't go away like this…" Holding out his arms, he smiled and invited her back into his embrace.
Lee was just starting to move back into opened arms when the door to the loft burst open and a half dressed, passion-mussed Blair Sandburg whirled into the apartment. "Whoa! I didn't think you were home yet, Jim!"
"Oh, Gods! I'm leaving." The words came out in an oddly strangulated tone, as if she was holding back more tears. Lee barely used her cane as she stalked out of the apartment, grabbing her coat from the rack behind the door and crossing the hall to enter Diandra's place.
Jim shook his head, wondering what in the hell had gone wrong, his temper starting to fray. "What are you doing here, Chief?"
"Uh, just came over to grab some, uh, massage oil for Dee…" His intelligent gaze took in the scene, the fireplace, the deserted brandy glasses, the way Eolia had stormed out. "Oh, I interrupted something, didn't I?"
"No shit, Sherlock." Moving towards the stairs to his room, Jim snarled back down to his roommate, "Make sure you lock up on your way out. I'm going to bed."
Gods above! What a mess my night out with Jim has turned into! I dash across the hall, thankful that Sandburg has left the door to Diandra's place ajar, and rush into my room. Before I slam the door shut, I stop to gather my breath and softly close the heavy door. Throwing my jackets to the bed, along with my zatoichi, I collapse onto the mattress.
I don't want to overhear, or possibly intrude on, Dee's life with her lover so I reach over to the nightstand and grab up my Walkman radio. After scanning through the local stations, I find one that is playing older rock and roll and turn up the volume as I slip the earbuds in and start to undress.
Just as 'Riders on the Storm' starts to play, I'm crawling under the blankets. Too many years working undercover in America's counter-culture exposed me to more music than I appreciated at the time, but when I'm feeling particularly low I find the older tunes soothing. I close my eyes and allow my mind to drift with the music and words saturating my ears.
It has been years since I heard the next song the DJ puts on the airwaves, but the words strike me like a physical blow…
Well we all have a face, that we hide away forever,
And we take them out and show ourselves,
When everyone has gone.
Some are satin some are steel, some are silk and some are leather,
They're the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on.
Well we all fall in love, but we disregard the danger,
Though we share many secrets, there are some we never tell
Why were you so surprised, that you never saw the stranger?
Did you ever let your lover see the stranger in yourself?
Goddess! I know this song! Damn, the singer could have written this about me. I've hidden my true self from others for so long that I sometimes forget who I am, getting lost in the roles that I've been assigned to play over the centuries. Especially the roles the Company threw my husband and I into. The feel of moisture on my face brings my hand out from under the covers, wiping away the tears that have started to fall as Billy Joel continues to sing.
Don't be afraid to try again, everyone goes south, every now and then.
You've done it, why can't someone else?
You should know by now, you've been there yourself.
You may never understand, how the stranger is inspired,
But he isn't always evil and he isn't always wrong.
Though you drown in good intentions, you will never quench the fire,
You'll give into your desire, when the stranger comes along.
Damn it. Diandra's right. If I even think things between Jim and I are going to go beyond mere friendship, and I'll admit that I want that, then I need to tell him who and what I am. He knows about us, about Watchers, and if he knows that much, then maybe he'll understand the Game. Yes, I have to tell him. Tomorrow. When I'm sure I'm in control of myself. And after I pay a certain Cascade businessman a little visit.
Rolling over, placing my face against the soft pillow, my mind starts to race, going over possible strategies, disregarding some, and keeping others to examine closer. Glancing at the travel clock, it's just after eleven PM. I hope Jan-Michel gets back in time for me to go for a little trip. No one, absolutely no one, has ever lived for long, unharmed, after speaking to me the way that oafish bastard did.
Tuning the radio to another station, one playing strictly instrumental music, I drift off to sleep. The soothing strains of Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas music taking me to a place that there are no troubles, where I can be my true self.
Blair stood in the entryway to the loft, watching his friend climb the stairs to his room. Shit. He heard the door across the hallway close. Damn. He hadn't meant to mess things up for Jim. Blair walked into his room and searched through the drawers in his dresser until he came up with a nearly empty bottle of massage oil. Well, that was a waste of time. Sighing, he dropped the bottle in the trashcan and headed back across the hall to Dee's apartment. He paused at the bottom of the staircase, listening for any sounds from Eolia's room. Nothing. Shrugging, he started up the stairs. He would apologize in the morning.
Blair entered Dee's bedroom to find her sprawled across the bed on her stomach, fast asleep. "I can't win tonight, can I?" he asked the air. Crossing to the bed, he pulled the covers up over his lover, and kissed her temple gently. "Sorry, angel. Glad you can sleep; you've had a hard day."
Spying his backpack on the floor by the desk, he walked over to it, and took out his laptop. As long as he wasn't sleepy, he might as well do something he'd been meaning to do ever since he first met Lee Eolia--go through her chronicles.
Settling himself on the bed, propping a couple pillows behind his back, careful not to wake Dee, Blair hooked up to the phone line and dialed up Watcher Central. Typing in his password and accessing the archives, he began to read. The more he read, especially about the past fifty years of Eolia and Azir's lives, the more disturbed he became. He'd guessed from the hints she'd let drop that they had been spies, but he hadn't realized they had worked for the CIA. The mere mention of the CIA brought up memories of Lee Brackett and the hell he had put Jim through.
Finishing the last of the file, Blair felt sickened. Some of the things mentioned in there he couldn't imagine doing, even if it had been in service to his country. They had been experts in subterfuge and the double cross, thinking nothing of sleeping with the enemy if it would get them what they were after. Lying must come as easily to Eolia as breathing. Blair had to consider every word issuing from her lips as suspect.
He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, then took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. God, what if this whole thing was a setup? What if, from the very beginning, she had been setting them up? What if this wasn't about her struggling to carry on after her husband's death, or the robbery at QuestScape? What if it was about Jim? About getting close to him and discovering his sentinel abilities? He took a few deep breaths, willing his racing heart to slow. Panicking wasn't going to help anything. He could deal with this. If anything, he had an edge she didn't. He had CIA contacts she didn't know about.
With a few keystrokes, Blair exited the Watcher site and flipped on Instant Messenger. As he read the list of friends online, he looked up at the heavens and gave thanks. Jack was online. Composing a message, he sent it into cyberspace. Jack Kelso replied quickly, and Blair asked his questions. Jack promised to get back with him by email within the hour. Thanking him, Blair headed back to the Watcher's site, and began going through some of the cross-references to Eolia's file. He noted the name of the man who had been Lee's Watcher when she had been with the CIA, and looking him up on the Watcher operative list, he sent off an email. Maybe this Huddleston guy could shed some light on what she'd been up to then.
When his email chime went off, Blair looked at the time at the bottom of his computer screen. Man, Jack was fast. Only 45 minutes had gone by. Opening up his email, Blair discovered that what his friend had turned up wasn't much. Most of the files regarding Leandra Evans and Emil Saunders were sealed. What he could tell him was that the two had left the Company under something of a cloud, in the late eighties, about the same time as Lee Brackett had gone rogue. This, Jack pointed out, didn't mean that the husband-wife team had ever worked with Brackett, but the dates they were stationed in South America matched up.
Damn it. This was getting him nowhere. All he was doing was scaring himself. He had just hit shut down when Dee stirred beside him.
"Mmm…hey, Lobo, what's the matter?"
Closing his laptop, Blair set it on the floor, then laid his glasses on the bedside table. "Nothing, angel." He slid down in the bed until he was lying flat on the mattress. He felt her arm go around his waist, and she snuggled up to his side, kissing his shoulder.
"Something has you all tied up in knots. My stomach feels like a pretzel." She leaned in closer, her lips nibbling at his earlobe. "Talk to me, baby."
Rolling onto his side, Blair gazed deep into her eyes, seeing in them love and concern. "I…I was doing some checking--on Eolia."
"And you found out?"
Letting out a long sigh, he rolled onto his back again, staring up at the snow-covered skylight. "Look, Dee, I know she's your friend…" He felt her shake her head as her fingers traced over his chest.
"No. You and Megan and Jim are my friends, are my family. Lia is…someone I once knew. I'm not so certain I know her anymore. Not after what you said earlier."
"Okay." Blair took a deep breath and launched into his explanation. "I read what I could of her chronicle, and I had my friend, Jack Kelso, do some checking into her work with the CIA. Most of what I got was incomplete, and a lot of it rumor and innuendo, but…when I look at you, I see an Immortal who has lived her life in the light. When I look at Lee, I see someone who has spent their life in the shadows, and who doesn't know the difference between light and dark anymore. She plays whichever side can be of the most benefit to her at the moment, regardless of the consequences for anyone else."
Dee propped herself up on her elbow and regarded him seriously. "So which side do you think she's playing now?"
Blair closed his eyes for a long moment, then said, "I don't know. And that's what scares me."
She considered his comment for a long moment, then replied, "I think her grief over Azir's death is genuine. And I think she really does care for Jim. Do I think she would be good for him? Probably not. But that's not our decision to make, Lobo. That's up to Lee and Jim."
He sighed again. "I know. I just hate not being able to tell Jim what I know. Not that he's ever listened to me when it comes to women anyway."
Settling back down beside him, Dee said, "Well, I gave her an ultimatum. She has three days to tell him who and what she is. Thursday night, all bets are off and he hears the truth from me. Now close your eyes, Lobo. There's nothing we can do tonight."
Turning onto his side, Blair tugged the covers higher on his shoulder, feeling Dee spoon up behind him, her arm snaking around his waist and hugging him closer. In spite of his worries, his eyes finally closed, and he slept.
Jan-Michel LaFollet hated lying to his boss, but there was no way in hell he was going to trust her safety to just one man. Especially not if that man was one James Ellison. Diandra had left her apartment earlier, stepping over to Sandburg's place, leaving him alone in her loft with Lee as she finished getting ready for her night out.
Knocking lightly on the door to her room, he called out. "Lee? You decent?"
"Come on in, Jan."
Stepping into the small room, he was surprised by the change in his boss's appearance. She'd changed into a suit that he'd never seen before, the teal green color highlighting the auburn in her long hair. Hair that had been done up in a fancy braiding that cascaded down in her back. "Lee, I know that you want to be alone with Ellison, but I really want you to reconsider. The man, or men, that tried to kill you are still on the loose. You need someone to watch your back."
Smiling, Lee Eolia stepped over to her bodyguard's side and patted him on the cheek. "I'll be fine, Jan. Trust me?"
"It's not you I don't trust…" The words slipped past his lips before he could stop them.
"Jan?!? You sound jealous." Her hand dropped away.
Snatching up her hand, he gave it a fast squeeze. "That came out wrong. I trust you and I think I can trust Ellison. It's the person that's after you I don't trust."
"That's your job." She let out a short laugh. "Well, one of them at least. Have you told anyone of the Watchers that you're now an Immortal?"
Jan-Michel nodded. "Yeah, it kinda came out while Sandburg and I were talking with Dawson. I get to be my own Watcher, sending my reports to Dawson who will set up a Chronicle on me, under a pseudonym."
"That's for the best then. Remind me when we get back home to start helping you learn how to set up your next identity. It never hurts to be prepared." With that cryptic comment, she slipped past him and out of the room. He made to follow her, only to stop as he heard the knock on the front door of the apartment. Glancing down at his watch, he realized he couldn't fault Ellison's timing -- it was 20:00 hours on the mark.
Slipping into his own room, he listened as Lee greeted her date, then waited until he heard the rhythmic tapping of her cane sword on the hall floor before exiting his room to step out into the living/workout area of the loft. He approached Ellison to have a few quiet words with the man.
"It's against my better judgement, 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, checking to make sure that she had removed her backup sword from its proper place, then disappeared down the hall to his room.
The waiting started. He gave the couple plenty of time to make it downstairs, praying to the Lord above that neither Diandra nor his fellow Watcher returned. He opened the window in his room, straining to hear the sound signaling their departure. After several minutes had passed, the roar of a powerful truck engine cut through the moist, chill air. Grabbing up his coat and side arms, both his gun and Azir's sword, he headed out.
He wasted no time in leaving the apartment, trotting down the stairs to the Lexus, thankful Lee hadn't requested the keys of him. Carefully, he pulled out of the parking area and, with his training in tailing a suspect, was able to spot the taillights of Ellison's truck a few blocks away. Not wanting to alert the detective, Jan-Michel held back as far as he could and not lose sight of his charge.
They pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant which was lavishly designed to look, on the outside, like an ornate Far East Pagoda. Finding an empty spot near the curb, the security specialist parked and waited.
By his watch, it had been 98 minutes since Ellison and Eolia had entered the Dragon Pearl, and the snow, which had been predicted to start after midnight, had arrived 42 minutes earlier. Taking the chance that no one would notice the oddity of a car parked with snow starting to stick to the metal, but with the front window clear of the frozen precipitation, his patience was rewarded in a way he couldn't believe.
Raising the opera glasses to his eyes to confirm the identity of the businessman being assisted to his car, Jan-Michel felt the warm glow of satisfaction curl in his gut. "Well, lookie who's here. Mr. Ventriss. Okay, Ellison, you'd better take care of Lee, because I cannot pass up this opportunity." Tossing the glasses back to the passenger's seat, he started up the Lexus, and when the stretch Cadillac pulled out of the Chinese restaurant's lot, it had a discreet tail.
He halfway expected the owner of QuestScape to return to his home, but was surprised when the car pulled up outside of the Cascade Jockey's Club. "What? Not enough booze onboard, Ventriss? You're probably well on the way to a severe case of pickled liver." Waiting until the man's driver had pulled away from the covered entrance, Jan pulled into the 'member's only' parking lot. The parka encased attendant stepped out of the heated gatehouse to challenge his right to park there. After digging in his wallet, Jan showed the shivering young man his membership card to Jockey's Club, International and the boy raised the gate for him.
The membership in the exclusive men's club had been a gift from Azir two years ago for his services. It was a lifetime membership, which granted him immediate access to any Jockey's club, anywhere in the world, no questions asked. Entering the posh, yet stately club, Jan signed the member's book and, after asking the location of the bar, was escorted to the doors of the watering hole.
Spying Ventriss sitting at the bar, Jan walked over to him and sat down next to the man, who was already halfway through what appeared to be a whiskey sour. The bartender came over to take his drink order and he gave his usual request. "Glenlivet. Neat."
Norman Ventriss tensed as he heard the voice of the man who had sat next to him. He carefully swiveled the barstool around to look at him. "Christ. Your boss having you tail me, LaFollet? It is LaFollet, isn't it?"
Putting his best 'mission' face on, Jan looked over at the man and smiled. "Mr. Ventriss, how nice to see you again, sir." The bartender placed his drink order in front of him and the Watcher took a sip of the potent liquor. "And why would you think Ms. Eolia would have me follow you? She gave me the night off, since she had a little date with a Detective, and I just thought I'd drop in here to see if this Jockey's Club matched up with the others I've visited."
"Ellison. She's out with Ellison. Son of a bitch." Ventriss slammed back the last of his drink and signaled to the man behind the bar that he wanted another. "Damn bitch had the audacity to threaten me! She doesn't know who she's messing with."
"Lee threatened you, Ventriss? That's not her style -- unless you pissed her off?" Jan was curious, wanting to know what went down inside the Dragon Pearl. He hoped he could get the man to spill the beans.
"Pissed her off? I only called it like I saw it, LaFollet."
The older man took a healthy swallow of his fresh drink then returned his attention to the man sitting next to him. "Your boss is a whore, you know that, LaFollet? A thieving, conniving slut who will probably get away with stealing from my company because she's fucking the lead detective."
Jan-Michel had to fight hard to hold his temper. "I've heard Ms. Eolia referred to as a lot of things, but never a thief and certainly not a whore, Mr. Ventriss."
Norman leaned in closer to the man. "She fucking you too?"
"No." The answer growled out of his throat.
"Shame. I bet she's good in the sack, nice tight ass like that."
He couldn't take it anymore. Reaching out, as if to hold the man steady as he started to slip out of the chair, Jan-Michel clamped down, hard, on the man's shoulder. His voice was deadly in its quiet tone. "I wouldn't know. And I'd be careful who you're calling a thief, Ventriss. After all, the DVD still hasn't turned up and I think, once it does, you can kiss your contracts with the Defense Department good-bye."
"Fuck. That's what she said too."
Before he could dig further into the inebriated man's mind another gentleman approached them. The man was dressed in a dark silk suit, his hair nicely silvered and his mustache neatly trimmed. "Norm? Everything okay here?"
"Goddamn, not another fucking Ellison! Get out of my way, William." Ventriss rudely brushed past the other man, yelling at the top of his voice. "Carl! Carl! Get the damn car, we're leaving!"
The man Ventriss had called William watched as Ventriss moved, unsteadily, towards the door, then sighed as he turned to greet the man that had been seated next to Ventriss. "I'm usually pretty good with faces, and I don't think I've ever seen you around here. I'm William Ellison."
Shaking the man's hand in greeting, Jan said, "Jan-Michel LaFollet, sir. Nice to meet you."
Taking the seat Ventriss had abandoned, William called out to the bartender. "Tony? Get me another scotch, and refresh Mr. LaFollet's while you're at it."
"Yes, sir. Pinch as usual?"
"What else?" Turning to face LaFollet, he asked, "So, LaFollet, where are you from?"
The conversation with William Ellison, father of James AKA Jim Ellison, proved to be rather interesting. LaFollet found out the man had kept track of his son's career, even if he didn't like it much, and was rather proud of the idea his son had been named "Policeman Of The Year" several years running. He'd also discovered that Ellison, the son, had been an Army Ranger. The friendly rivalry between the military elite -- US Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, USAF Parajumpers, and Marine Force Recon was intense -- but only because the men in those units knew they were the best. Jan-Michel allowed himself to relax, secure in the knowledge Lee was safe from harm while with Jim Ellison.
After sharing two drinks with LaFollet, the older man had excused himself, stating that he needed to get home before the roads got really bad, but Jan-Michel wasn't ready to leave. Not yet. He had too much to think about, and every time his thoughts led him back to the developing 'relationship' between Eolia and Ellison, he ordered another glass of Glenlivet.
Tony, the Jockey Club's 'mixologist,' cut him off after the tenth glass. "Mr. LaFollet, I think you've had more than enough tonight. Do I need to call a cab for you, sir?"
"No." Jan-Michel carefully set his empty glass back on the bar. "Tell me, Tony, does this Club have rooms available for members who get a little too tanked? The one in New York does."
"Of course, sir. You just need to talk to the manager."
"'kay, I'll do that." He rose, unsteadily, to his feet. "After I visit the head." Leaving the bar area, he slowly made his way to the men's room, took care of business, then left the Club. He knew that getting behind the wheel of the Lexus was stupid, but he couldn't just leave it in the parking lot over night. He and Lee might need it later.
The streets were starting to pack over with snow, turning into ice in places, and were lightly traveled. Not too many people were out and about in this weather. "Pansies. We get worse than this back home in New York." Even so, Jan-Michel found himself being rerouted around a rather nasty accident, and he was thankful the cops working the scene didn't stop anyone -- just waved them around the pile up and on their way.
It was a few minutes before midnight when he finally pulled into a parking spot outside of his, and Lee's, temporary home. The buzz that greeted his arrival did nothing, this time, to clear the alcohol induced haze in his mind as he made his way up the stairs to the third floor. His thoughts kept returning to the hateful words that Norman Ventriss had spoken. "Lee's not a whore, she's not a thief either. I would know, right? After all, I love her. Oh, gods!" He stopped on the last landing and turned his gaze upwards, "Azir, forgive me my friend, but it's true. I've loved your wife, your widow, for a long time. But I never would act on that love, I couldn't. Not while you were still around."
A peaceful feeling enveloped him, making Jan-Michel think that, maybe, Azir heard his words and forgave him. Sighing, he slowly trudged up the last few steps and, using a key Diandra had given him earlier, let himself into the Immortal Amazon's loft.
Dee rolled over on her back and stared up through the skylight at the still falling snow. It was well after midnight, and now she couldn't sleep. She listened to the deep, even breathing of the man beside her. From the sound of it, Blair would be out the rest of the night. She ran a hand lightly down his back, his warm presence next to her giving Dee a sense of home, of belonging. It was a feeling she hadn't felt in years, millennia perhaps. The only other person in her life to touch her this deeply had been Lydia. Wherever Lydia had been, had been home, whether it had been the Queen's palace or a battlefield. She had that now with Blair and, it occurred to her, the beginnings of that kind of connection with Megan. How had she ever gotten so lucky? Moving closer to her lover, she leaned her head against his shoulder, inhaling the familiar mixture of scents that signified "Blair" to her. Contentment filled her. This must be what heaven feels like.
Closing her eyes again, she tried to go back to sleep, but the couple hours she'd gotten earlier seemed to have been enough. And now she was thirsty. Sighing, Diandra crawled out of bed, tucking the covers snugly around Blair so he wouldn't get cold while she was gone.
Walking downstairs to the kitchen, she opened the fridge and took out a bottle of water. Unscrewing the cap, she'd just taken a sip when she felt the electric tingle down her spine that heralded an approaching Immortal. She heard unsteady footsteps coming up the stairs. They paused outside her door, and she could pick up the sounds of someone trying to fit a key in the lock. Even before the door opened, she could smell the alcohol fumes rolling off of Jan-Michel.
Dee shook her head. Drunk for the third night in a row. It was amazing he still had his head. Someone ought to teach him a lesson. And I guess it's going to be me. The door finally opened after much noisy fumbling, and LaFollet staggered in, not even sparing a glance in her direction. In fact, she could swear he didn't know she was there. Setting her water bottle on the counter, Dee crossed to her duster, which hung on a peg beside the door. Her hand went unerringly to the hilt of her katana, and she drew the weapon, her eyes never leaving the inebriated Immortal as he wove across the studio, struggling out of his overcoat, dumping it in a heap on the sofa.
Coming up behind him on silent feet, Dee debated simply running him through. As drunk as he was, he would probably think he just passed out and not realize he'd died. Instead, she took two running paces toward him, planting a flying kick between his shoulder blades.
Jan-Michel went to the floor, rolling to face her quicker than she expected, his gun in one hand and his sword in the other. A snap kick sent the automatic skidding to the far corners of the darkened room. He brought the blade up in a defensive posture, clearly uncertain of where the attack was coming from. She circled around him, letting the gray light from the French doors leading to the balcony back light her for a moment. He lunged at her silhouette. Dee stepped to the side and kneed him in the stomach, then moved back, letting him chase her. She didn't even bother parrying his sword; his muscle coordination was so bad he could barely hold it steady. Toying with him as a cat plays with a mouse, she let him draw close, then struck with a kick or a punch, only to skip out of the way again.
They danced together in silence for several minutes, then Dee picked up the first scent of genuine fear from him. Fear is good. And you're going to be very afraid… For the first time since she'd engaged him in battle, Diandra brought her sword into play, slashing a shallow cut across his bicep. Jan-Michel grunted, and raised his sword again. She whirled around him, her blade flashing in the dim light as she carved her marks into him. Never a mortal wound, but enough to let him know she was in complete control, that he was at her mercy.
"Please…" he finally begged. "Why are you doing this? Please…stop…"
The Amazon brought her blade across the back of his thigh, the steel biting deep this time, hamstringing him. Jan-Michel tumbled to his knees, losing his weapon in the process. He gazed up at her, the realization of his helplessness visible in his eyes. "Remember this night, Jan-Michel," she intoned softly, then ran her katana through his heart.
Pulling her weapon from his now dead body, Diandra crossed to the seat underneath her weapons wall. Opening a box under the bench, she took out a silk cloth. Seating herself cross-legged on the bench, she proceeded to clean the blood from her blade as she waited for him to return. Almost fifteen minutes later he did, with a convulsive shudder and a gasp of air. She watched him from her seat as he looked around the studio. His normal eyesight couldn't find her in the shadows, and after a frantic search for his sword and his gun, LaFollet retreated down the hallway to his room. Dee smiled as she heard him engage the lock on his door.
Hanging her sword in its accustomed place on the wall, she padded up the spiral staircase to catch Blair crawling back into bed, and she knew he had witnessed the fight. "Lobo?"
Blair shook his head, then held out his hand to her. She sat down on the edge of the bed, and he pulled her into a hug. "That was cruel, angel," he whispered in her ear. "Cruel and sadistic. But it may just save his life someday."
She nodded against his shoulder, but kept quiet for a while. Finally, she said, "Tomorrow I'll have a talk with Eolia. I don't think she's going to do him any good as a Teacher."
He clasped the back of her neck with his hand for a moment, squeezing gently. "You may be right." Scooting up toward the head of the bed, he pushed the covers down. "Come on, you're going to need to be well rested to tackle that conversation."
Smiling, Dee crawled up next to Blair, and wrapped herself around him.
Waking long before the rest of the people in the apartment, I dress and stealthily make my way into the living area, carrying my shoes and heavy winter coat. Spying LaFollet's coat on the back of the sofa, I dig through the pockets and find the keys to the Lexus. I walk all the way to the first floor in my socks, sitting down on the last few steps to put my hiking boots on. Checking to make sure that I have the tools I need in my pockets and my waist purse, I leave.
The SUV handles the snow covered roads easily, and my years of driving in such conditions serves me well, even though the city's road crews are working hard to clear the roads. I'm taking a huge chance this morning, I know that, but I cannot allow Ventriss to think I wasn't serious. The man must have forgotten he gave me his home address. After all, if the security check had gone as planned I was to have turned over the dummy prop to him.
One of the things that was drilled into my head, over and over again in my long life, was 'know the area - study the lay of the land - make it yours.' Memorizing maps produced in these modern times is far easier than it was two-three hundred years ago. Back then, I would've had to have walked the entire city to know it.
This part of Cascade is obviously the place where the wealthy and the influential gather to show the world who they are. Parking in the man's driveway, I get out and approach the huge manor house. Spotting the home alarm system, I pull out my tools and disarm the damn thing, then pick the lock and let myself into the house. I stop on the threshold, straining my ears to check for sounds of movement. Nothing. Apparently no one is awake yet. I move off to my left, looking for the man's home office or library. If he was responsible for the disappearance of the DVD from his development lab, he might have it hidden here. I find the library, which also doubles for the man's office, and start my search.
Nothing! Damn him! Maybe he didn't steal the damn disc. What's this? I reach out and pick up a framed photo of Mr. Norman Ventriss and a younger man, and nearly drop it as I recognize him. Ventriss knows the Immortal thief who has been dogging my heels? Son of a bitch! Well, that certainly explains a few things, like who the old man hired to steal the faulty program.
Someone's awake, and moving in this direction! Well, Fate has been known to favor the bold. I smile and relax, seating myself in the chair behind the desk, waiting patiently.
Norman Ventriss couldn't believe his stupidity. Being drunk was no excuse for his behavior last night, either at the Dragon Pearl or the Jockey's Club. He'd have to call William and apologize to him later. Slowly making his way down the stairs towards his office and the dry bar, intent on taking a little bite of the hair of the dog -- nothing like a little shot of vodka to cure a hangover -- he entered the converted library.
"Son of a… Who let you in here?!" He stared in shock at the red-haired woman seated behind his desk.
"I did. You really have lousy tastes in security programs, Mr. Ventriss." Lee Eolia stood up and came around the desk to face him. He suddenly felt very underdressed in his pajamas, a maroon smoking jacket in place of a proper robe.
"You broke in here?" He backed away from the woman, not sure what her intentions were.
"Yes. I did." The expression on his face apparently amused her, because she chuckled. "Oh, do relax, Ventriss. I'm not here to do anything to you. Unless you force me to."
"What do you want?"
"I already got part of what I came here for. Too bad I didn't find the DVD-ROM disc, then I really could put the screwing to you that you so richly deserve." She handed him the framed photo. "Nice looking boy in the photo with you."
"My son, Bradley." His fingers traced the form of his son, the heartache welling up again, as it did every time he thought about his boy.
"My adopted son, but I loved him like he was my flesh and blood." Norman brushed past the small woman, gently placing the frame back on his desk. "He died a few months ago. I never got the chance to say goodbye. He was killed in a stupid jailhouse brawl…" He spun around at the sound of the front door slamming. Lee Eolia was no longer in the room. Moving towards the foyer, pushing curtain aside on the window, he saw a black Lexus 300 pulling down the snow covered drive and turn onto the street. "What a strange woman."
Fuck! The man's adopted son is the same damn Immortal who tried to kill me twice! I race from the house, slamming the door behind me as I run. The kid died a few months ago, a newborn with no sense of honor. Who trained him? Did he even have a Teacher? Pulling the satellite phone from the glove compartment when I slow the car to a stop at an intersection, I place the call that might get me the information I need.
"I need to speak to the DDO, please. Tell him that Leandra Evans is calling." I'm placed on hold as the man's secretary informs the Deputy Director - Operations that he has a call. The light changes as the man himself answers my call.
"Leandra? What in the hell?"
"Lew, I wouldn't call, but I need help."
"What can I do for you, Eolia?"
"I need to know everything you can find out about a Bradley Ventriss, last known location Cascade, Washington. You may want to contact the Archivists on this one."
"What's the story?"
"Let's just say that he needs to be kept track of." I turn onto Prospect Avenue. "I need the information as fast as you can get it to me, Lew." I give the man, my former Watcher and Deputy Director of the CIA, my cell phone number and close down the link. Llewyllyn Huddleston was an honorable man, and a good friend to Azir and I. In fact, it is because of him that Azir and I were able to work for the Company time and time again without anyone ever suspecting that we were Immortals. Hell, he even managed to bury our files so deep, after the fiasco with the agent that went rogue on the Company, that it would take an act of Congress and God to find them. If they haven't been shredded.
Jim's truck is gone. He must have gone in to work early. Hope he got more sleep than I did. I climb the stairs to Diandra's apartment, and as I crawl back into bed I realize I need to get serious about training Jan-Michel and getting myself back into shape. Yes, I want to live. Forgive me, Azir, but I'm not ready to join you in the after-life.
It was nearly noon when Blair got off the elevator at Major Crimes. He'd meant to get an earlier start on the day, but both he and Diandra had overslept. Then they had decided to wait a little bit to see if the streets got any better before heading out on their separate errands for the day. He walked into the bullpen to the cacophony of what sounded like every phone ringing at once. For a split second he considered turning around and walking right back out before he got drafted into answering calls. Too late. Jim had looked up from his phone and spotted him.
Crossing the room, Blair dropped into the chair next to Jim's desk, and waited until his friend had finished his call and switched his phone off before speaking. "Hey, busy morning?"
For a moment Blair thought Jim was going to bite his head off, then his friend's expression softened. "Yeah. I came in early to try and get caught up on paperwork, and Simon stuck me on the phones. Haven't got a damn thing done." He changed the subject, glancing around the room. "Where's your shadow?"
"What? Oh, Dee. She had some last minute holiday shopping to do, and with Lee and J-M staying with her, she needed to pick up groceries, too." Blair looked down at his feet for a moment, then back up at his roommate. "Look, Jim, about last night. I'm really sorry about what happened. I honestly didn't know the two of you were back yet."
Jim shrugged. "It's okay, Sandburg. I shouldn't have snapped at you. Things were tense before you walked in."
Blair blinked in surprise. "Tense? Tense how?"
"I'm not really sure. I think she wanted to take our relationship to another level, and I realized I wasn't ready for that yet. For some reason she took that as a rejection, I guess."
Blair pondered that for a moment, then said, "And I only made it worse. Like I said, I'm sorry. But I think going slow is a good idea. I mean, she really doesn't know you, and you don't know her. And she's probably still dealing with her husband's death, so maybe she's not really sure of what she wants."
Jim looked at his partner, his brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Any thing else, Dr. Crane?"
"Hmm, uh no, not really." He eyed the computer longingly.
"So did you have some particular reason for stopping by today?"
"Uh, yeah actually. I had an idea regarding the QuestScape break-in I'd like to follow up on."
When Blair didn't continue, Jim spoke up. "And? You planning on sharing that idea with me?"
The anthropologist fidgeted in his seat. "Not right now, Jim. If I told you, you'd laugh at me, so I'd rather just do it, and have it not pan out, and then have you laugh at me."
"Suit yourself. I have to get back to answering the phones." Jim made a face and switched his phone back on. It immediately rang and he picked it up.
Blair took over the computer, searching through the files for mug shots of men whose general description matched Brad Ventriss', then he printed them out. Picking them up at the printer, he was stuffing them in his backpack when Megan Connor walked into the bullpen.
Taking off her winter coat, she tossed it on her desk chair. "Hey, Sandy, how're you doing today? The roads are murder." She made a face, then said, "I'm going to get some coffee. Want to join me?" By the way she was looking at him, Blair knew it wasn't a request.
"Yeah, sure." He followed her out of Major Crimes and into the break room. "So what did you want to talk to me about?"
She poured coffee into her mug and added a liberal amount of sugar. "What in the hell is going on with Dee?"
Blair blinked at her. That was not what he had expected. "Nothing that I know of, why?"
Megan let out a long sigh. "I'm just feeling a little left out, I guess. As far as I knew, everything was fine Sunday night, but I call her up this morning, and she tells me Lee Eolia and her bodyguard are staying with her. Try as I might, I can't come up with any possible reason for that. I can't help but feel that somewhere along the line I'm being lied to."
The anthropologist shook his head. "That's not it at all, Megan. And I'm sure Dee meant to let you know, but things have been a little hectic the past couple days. They're staying with her because LaFollet is a new Immortal." He figured that was safe enough, and not betraying any confidences, since they had revealed Jan's secret to Jim the day before. "She offered to help him train. And of course Eolia was part of the package."
Leaning against the counter, Megan sipped at her coffee, her expression neutral. "Okay, I guess I can buy that. So what's the deal with Jim and Eolia? They were all over each other Sunday. Is he interested in her?"
Once again her question startled him. "Jim likes her, yes. They went on a date last night, but when did Jim's personal life start interesting you? I thought he wasn't your type."
The Aussie's cheeks flushed pink. "He's not. Not really. I mean, it's been a long time. No, that's not what I meant. It hasn't been that long, but a long time since I was last interested in a guy." She ran a frustrated hand through her hair. "I'm not making any sense, am I?'
Blair sat on the corner of the break room table and gave her a grin. "I think I got the gist of it. It's been a long time since you've been attracted to a man, and if you were attracted to a man, it wouldn't be Jim, since he's not your type." A thought struck him. "Oh, no, Megan, don't tell me you're interested in Lee!"
Connor's eyes widened in horror. "Sandy! Definitely not! She's attractive and all, but there's just something about her that bothers me. I can't quite put my finger on it. But just the thought of her being around Dee, around Jim, just sets off all my alarms."
The guide's expression went from amused to serious. "I know what you mean, Megan. I felt the same thing when I met her. I think we perceive her as some kind of threat to our partners. And I did some checking up on her. She's not what she seems. She used to be CIA."
"What! Does Jim know this?"
Blair shook his head. "No, and please don't tell him, not until I have some more proof that she's up to no good. All I have right now are suspicions and a gut feeling, and Jim really, really likes her. I'd hate to mess that up for him if I'm wrong. You and I are both new to this spiritual bond business. Maybe what we're feeling is just a reaction to one of us having feelings for someone outside of our little quartet."
She seemed to consider that for a moment, then spoke, "If that's true, then are you saying I'm paired with Jim whether I want to be or not? Because I don't think I like that idea. Not that Jim's not a nice guy, but he has a lot of baggage, and well, he's a guy! And I'm not so sure I like the idea of my love life being preordained."
"I'll ask Dee later. Maybe she knows something. Oh, by the way, I think you were right about Brad Ventriss."
Frowning, she asked, "What are you talking about?"
"I found one of your post-it notes on the files when I went over them yesterday, about Brad matching the description of Lee's attacker on Saturday. So I asked around down in the morgue, and I think Brad might have faked his own death."
She stared at him. "That was just a wild idea I had, Sandy. I was looking for a connection and that's the best I could come up with. It doesn't mean it's real."
"Maybe not. But it won't hurt to have Lee look at a photo line up. I ran off some mug shots of a couple guys who look similar to Brad. I'm going to show them to her this afternoon, along with Brad's picture. Maybe she'll pick him out."
"And if she does? What then?"
"Then we have a place to start looking. Oh, and please don't mention this to Jim, either." He hopped down from his perch on the table and headed for the door.
"You can count on that. Jim already thinks I'm a little nuts. I'm not going to mention that theory and have it confirmed for him. See you later this evening?"
"Oh, yeah, that's right. Dee said something about you coming over to wrap presents. Guess I'll see you later." Giving her a wave, Blair shouldered his backpack and headed for the elevator.
Damn it, Jan! Keep your damn guard up!" With a forceful flick of my wrist, I send my student's blade flying from his grasp again, and it clatters against the far wall. "What is it with you this morning? I've watched you practice with Azir. You are much better than this."
Glaring at me, my student stalks over to his sword and picks it up. "Maybe I'm just tired, Lee."
"Tired?!" I rush him, my blade aiming for his neck. Steel clashes against steel, sparks actually flying as he finally shows me some real spirit and the skills I knew he'd been holding back. He barely manages to block my first blow, and soon, we're exchanging volleys of blows in honest to the gods combat.
I lose myself to the emotions coming over me, letting the feel of the blade in my hand rule me, the sheer joy of combat engulfing me in its dark embrace.
"You did what?"
"I sold myself to the Coliseum, you, too."
I stare at him, not believing my ears. "Why? For love of the Gods, tell me why!" I pace around the small bathing area, skirting the edge of the shallow pool.
"Because I cannot pay my debts any other way."
"Debts? Meeth, what debts? I thought we were doing okay!" I finally sit down on the lounge next to him, adjusting my stolae around my legs, as I catch a glimpse of something in his dark eyes.
"We were. The mines near Herkuleium have gotten too dangerous to keep the workers in them." His hand reaches up to lightly brush against my upper arm. "The terms of the deal I made with my debtor, our sponsor, are fairly simple. We both fight in the arena for one year. If we survive our, my, debt is paid in full."
"There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
"I've trained you well, Eolia. Your skills will see you through the upcoming fights." I stare at him, suspicious of his words. "Or, I can talk to Aurelius, arrange to keep you out of the arena." His hand, so vicious when holding a blade to instruct me in its use, is gentle as it traces the curve of my shoulder, flowing down to lightly caress my breast. "He likes you, you know that. Use that against him."
"Like I did with that bumbling idiot, Praetor Neimus? I'd rather fight in the arena in front of the Emperor." I feel my body starting to respond to my Teacher's touch and, shaking my head, I grab his hand to stop him. "What do you want me to do, Methos?"
"I won't make that choice for you, Little One." He rises off the lounge, pulling me up with him. "Tonight is my last night of freedom before I go to train as a Gladiator. Let's spend it together." I follow him, willingly, to the part of the house where we've slept for five years, as man and wife. Tomorrow, I'll join him in the training; I'll fight in the Coliseum. I'll survive, and make damn sure that he does too.
The training I received at the hands of Rome's best Trainers, and from my Teacher, served me well. I quickly rose to be a favorite of the people, and of the Emperor's. I never lost a match. Neither did Methos, and after our year of servitude was up, he joined the Legions.
Jan-Michel actually manages to get a glancing blow past my guard to rattle my protective head gear. Shaking my head, I clear my thoughts and concentrate on the here and now.
The blade is coming at me from the left. I dodge and roll away from the contact, coming back up to my feet behind my student. Smiling, I kick my right foot out and hit him over the kidney. He stumbles, but he's already coming back at me, his swing wild. I manage to avoid it by somersaulting away.
"Better, Jan-Michel. Much better," I call out as I salute him with my blade. "Ready for a break?"
"Am I ever!" He drops to his knees on the mat, one hand still clenching his practice sword, the other reaching around to rub at the left side of his back. "I can't believe you kicked me."
Crossing over to place the sword I chose for this morning's session back in its rack, I laugh. "You need to learn to use all your skills, not just the ones with steel. If you're smart, after we've rested, you'll come up with a few surprises for me." I step back onto the mat, then instead of walking over to him, I hop into a full Randolph and end up standing right over him. "Sometimes, the only thing that will save your head is doing something your opponent won't expect."
I never see the move. The next thing I know, he's got me pinned to the mat, his body pressing against mine, his blade against my throat. "Like this?" His voice growls in my ear.
"Exactly like that." He made a mistake. My student didn't trap my arms, and he's forgotten one little detail. "Jan? Before you get too comfy, look down." I point with my eyes and watch as he follows my gaze to see my throwing knife placed against his stomach.
"Shit!" He moves off of me, eager to get away from the blade.
I sit back up, laughing as I sheath the sharpened blade in its hidden place on my belt. "Never underestimate your opponent. She may just be sneakier than you." Pulling my feet under my thighs, I rise off the mat and walk towards the kitchen. "Let's get some water, rest a little longer, then we'll try again."
After getting my glass of water, and handing Jan one, I lean against the counter and study my student. There are signs, little ones, that he's more than just worn out from the practice session. "Jan? What happened to you last night? Has it got something to do with why you're tired?"
He avoids my gaze, looking anywhere but at me. "I, uh, followed you and Ellison. I wanted to make sure you were safe, Lee, nothing more."
My tone of voice is cold, almost detached. "Go on."
"I saw Mr. Ventriss leave the Dragon Pearl and, deciding I could trust Ellison to protect you, I followed the man to the Jockey's Club." Something happened at the exclusive club. My student is actually blushing and still avoiding looking directly at me. "I got cozy with him in the bar, said a few things that maybe I shouldn't have, but he was slandering you and I couldn't let him do that."
Oh geez. Even when he's not right by my side, or guarding my back, the former SEAL still tries to protect me. "Let me guess, Ventriss called me a whore, didn't he?" Jan nods in agreement. "I've been called worse, believe me. And it'll probably happen again in the future, so don't let it get to you. I don't."
"It gets worse."
I sigh, wondering where this is going. "So tell me already."
"I got drunk. Really drunk, shit-faced, totally wasted."
Aw, damn it, Jan. When are you going to learn? Maybe I should start looking for another Teacher for you, my friend. One who will kick your ass when you need it. His next words still my thoughts completely.
"When I came in last night, this morning actually, I got my first challenge. Only they didn't take my head, just ran me through the heart and left me for dead."
"Diandra." How DARE she! He's my student. It was my lesson to teach -- if it needed to be taught. Shit, maybe it did. This is the third time I've seen him suffering the effects of too much alcohol. And I never heard him come home. Maybe I should hand him over to Diandra to teach.
"I think so, at least I think it was her voice that told me to remember this morning. I never knew that dying could hurt so much, or that reviving was such a great cure for being drunk." I watch as he slides down the wall he's leaning against, tucking his long legs under his buttocks. "I'm never going to drink again. The Pallas One Step Program to Sobriety sure beats AA's Twelve Step deal all to hell."
I can't help it. He probably didn't mean to be funny, but I'm chuckling as I walk back towards the exercise area. "I'm going to hold you to that promise, Jan-Michel." I pick up the practice blade he'd left on the mat and toss it to him. "Let's try again, shall we?"
Later, when Diandra returns, I'll ask her if she wants a Student, and if she doesn't, I'll make some phone calls. There are a few Immortals I'd trust to train my friend; maybe one them would be willing to let me call in the favors they owe me.
Jan's first move surprises me, a hard shot to the sword, followed through with a backhand to my face and a kick to my hip. Damn, that was a good combination. I dance away, out of the reach of his blade, smiling. "Very good, Jan. Now, let's play the Game."
The sound of steel meeting steel reached Blair's ears as he got off the elevator on the third floor of 852. Good, that meant that Lee and Jan-Michel were in. Using his key to Diandra's loft, he let himself in and shrugged out of his backpack and jacket, then pulled the mug shots out and crossed the living area to the studio. He stood in the passageway between the two rooms for several minutes, watching the Immortals spar.
Lee finally noticed him and lowered her sword, jerking her head in his direction. "Let's take a break, Jan."
"Fine with me." The Watcher set his sword down on a bench and headed for the kitchen. Lee kept her blade in hand as she approached Blair.
"There something you want, Sandburg?"
Blair felt the hair on the back of his neck raise, and it was all he could do to keep from pulling his lips back in a snarl. He really didn't like her. But, he reminded himself, she's Dee's guest, and Jim is stuck on her. Smile and use some of that Sandburg charm. "Hi, Lee. I've been helping Jim and Megan out with the QuestScape break-in and I pulled some photos of some guys with a background in computer piracy. I was wondering if you would take a look at them, see if you recognize any of them."
An emotion flashed across her face too quickly for him to catalog, then she said, "Sure, I'd be glad to. But I don't know how much good it will do. You know I didn't get a good look at the thief."
"I know, but you did get a glimpse of the guy who killed your bodyguard, and right now we're operating on the theory they're one and the same." He held out the photos and she took them, tucking her sword under her arm.
She flipped through them quickly and handed them back. "Nope, sorry, don't recognize any of them."
Oh, great, she was really being helpful. Either she knew the guy wasn't going to be there, or she knew he was, and didn't want to let Blair know. He held the photos under her nose again. "Take another look, and take your time. If anyone looks even vaguely familiar it'll at least give us some place to start."
Once again the Immortal leafed through them, pausing for a lengthy two seconds on each photo. "Sorry, but none of these look like the man I saw. But like I said, I didn't get a good look at him."
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Blair thanked her and headed upstairs, pausing to grab his backpack. All the cop instincts he'd picked up from hanging out at the PD were screaming at him she was lying, that she had recognized one of the photos and it had been Brad Ventriss'. And if he followed that line of reasoning, then she had been lying all along to Dee and to Methos. He distinctly remembered both of them asking if her attacker had been immortal. Both times she had replied "no" or she "didn't know."
Sitting down on the bed, he tugged his laptop out of his pack. Maybe Eolia's old Watcher had responded to his email. Hopefully with information he could use to pry the truth out of her. Just as he was opening it up and switching it on, his cell phone chirped. Rummaging through the pockets of his bag, Blair finally pulled it out and clicked it on. "Hello."
"May I speak with Blair Sandburg?" a male voice inquired.
"This is Lew Huddleston. You sent me an email regarding Leandra Evans, or Lee Eolia as I understand she's going by now?"
Blair fairly bounced on the mattress. "Oh wow, this is great. I was just getting online to see if I had an email from you. I have so many questions I need answered about Eolia, and I keep running into brick walls."
"Well, I'll help you as much as I can, but my hands are still tied as far as most of her CIA records are concerned. Most of her assignments are still classified."
The anthropologist sighed. "That's what I was afraid of. My sources tell me that she was working in Peru the same time as Lee Brackett. That's the time I'm most interested in. Can you tell me what she was working on?"
"No, sorry, that's still classified."
Blair thought a moment, then asked, "What about Brackett's projects? Could you see if Leandra is listed as ever working on any of those?"
"Ah, I can tell you're used to making your way around governmental red tape, Mr. Sandburg. Give me a few minutes and I'll see what I can come up with." The sound of computer keys being tapped came over the line.
"Well, working with the PD has given me an insight into the governmental mind, not to mention all my experience filling out grant forms," Blair replied with a laugh.
"Here we go. Eolia worked one project with Brackett, his last one before he left the Company. It was actually kind of a joke around here. We couldn't believe he actually got the funding for it."
A nasty knot began to form in Blair's stomach. "Could you tell me what that project was?"
"Sure, it's not classified any longer, as nothing ever came of it. Brackett was testing people for heightened senses. Most of the people he tested only had heightened taste or scent. You know, the folks coffee and perfume companies hire. It made him a laughing stock, maybe pissed him off enough to send him into business for himself."
The young Watcher thought he was going to be sick, but he managed to end the phone call without raising the other man's suspicions. "Thanks, Mr. Huddleston. You've been a great help. Goodbye." Clicking the phone off, he fought back the urge to throw it across the room. God damn it! Some Guide he was, allowing someone who was a danger to Jim and to Dee to get that close to them. He should have spoken up, voiced his suspicions earlier. Now the snake was in their midst. Well that was going to come to an end right now.
Getting to his feet, Blair trotted down the stairs, finding Lee and Jan-Michel preparing to spar again. "Eolia," he snapped, "I need to talk to you--" He was interrupted mid-speech as Diandra staggered into the studio, covered in blood. "Dee? Oh, god, Dee!" Blair rushed to her side, catching her as she collapsed. He went to the floor with her, cradling her in his arms, feeling her life slipping away.