Immortal End Game
Jim sat back on the couch, staring at the young woman seated next to him, the one who didn't look old enough to have been a National Intelligence Officer for years. "The Farm? You mean the CIA's training facility in Virginia?"
"Yes." She angled her body a little bit on the seat, halfway turning to face him. "Jim, when I met Azir, he was already an agent, and after a while, I decided to join up as well."
She quirked an oddly sad smile. "Because the Company prefers its Field Officers to have partners, or spouses, they can trust. Besides, who would suspect a young couple of being intelligence officers? Especially if one is listed as an Embassy attaché while the other was listed merely as a secretary?"
He had to admit it did make sense. His own experiences with 'spooks' like Lee Brackett, and the one who had done the piss-poor pre-mission brief for his insertion team, had left Jim with a sense of foreboding when it came to any federal agent, be they CIA or FBI. He was brought back from his mental wanderings as Lee stood up. "Lee?"
"You need to think about what I told you, Jim. I think it's warmed up enough in here now. I really want to try to relax." She placed her empty mug on the table. "I think I'll see if there's any hot water in the tank, then take a shower."
Jim watched as she disappeared down the hall. Draining off the last of his own tea, he stood up, collected the mugs in one hand and returned to check on the progress of the stew he'd started. The idea that Lee Eolia and her husband had been, or in Lee's case may still be, involved in the CIA brought a few old fears of his rising to the surface. Having worked covert operations, he knew if you were going to work your way in close to a target, you didn't move fast. In most cases, you took your time, up to a year, to get close to your target. Mainly to make them more comfortable with you as their newfound friend, before you asked anything too detailed from them. Field craft was the way you managed to get your information, the way you passed it on to your contacts, all neatly lined out in such a way you never really knew who was handling your assignment. That way, in case something went down -- like getting your cover blown to hell -- there was no one you could name to the 'enemy.'
Five days since he met her, five days. Too fast for her to be part of some larger operation to get close to him, or to Blair, so maybe she was just what she appeared to be: a mere victim of circumstance, a part-time NIO for the CIA, and the owner and President of WindHawk Securities, International. Tasting the broth, he decided to add a little more pepper to the mix that he'd thrown together from various canned goods before grabbing another mug of tea for himself. He'd just settled back down on the couch when the sound of the shower greeted his sensitive ears.
The shower I take does wonders to decrease the tension in my back, and dressing in my faded blue jeans and a heavy green sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo of WindHawk helps me to relax further. While I was in the shower, Jim finished up the stew he concocted and he also managed to find a small radio somewhere.
While we eat, Jim takes the time to reassure me that my past, or future, with the Company doesn't really bother him, but I sense that maybe he isn't being entirely truthful. I tell him that while I was ready to tell the Agency to shove off, I have also requested an assignment that could very well take me out of country. Llewyllyn Huddleston has managed to find me such a post, and I have to take it, if only to honor my word to the DDO.
Jim insists on cleaning up the kitchen himself, and I use the time to myself to meditate. I really feel, well, pressured to get back into top form, and meditation, followed by a few katas in the room I picked out, would help me to get there. I am halfway through my last routine when a soft knocking on the bedroom door allows me half a second to compose my thoughts before my latest watchdog walks in.
"You doing okay, Lee?"
"Yeah. Just trying to work through a few things in my mind." I watch him closely as he leans that strongly built body against the doorframe.
Damn, he's doing it again, that head cocking motion which had intrigued me earlier. Could it be? Only one way to find out. "I've been watching you, Jim. I've seen you do something that tells me that I'm in the presence of one of two things." He doesn't answer aloud, just raises that eyebrow of his in askance. "You're either a psychic, or you have a highly tuned sense of hearing."
"Why do you say that?" Goddess. He's almost as good as me at letting the subject run off at the mouth.
"Because, I worked on a team while on hiatus from the Company that was studying such things."
"Psychics, or the other one?"
"Heightened senses." Okay, that does it. The blood nearly rushes from his face.
My eyes pop open in amazement when he starts to laugh. "Heightened senses? That's a good one. Never heard of the government looking into that."
"It's true! I personally tested four subjects with heightened hearing. They all had one thing in common -- they'd tilt their heads towards whatever they were to listen for and then parrot what they heard." Even as I let the words out, I realize if Jim does have exceptional hearing, it's heightened to a degree I never saw before.
"Okay, I guess I can tell you. After all, you spotted the signs and told me of your involvement in the CIA. I test out at near ultrasonic levels for sound detection. Dog whistles nearly drive me to my knees."
I hold my breath, shocked that this man who barely knows me, has just given me a weapon to use against him. Good thing my old Training Agent is no longer in the service or Jim would come under very close scrutiny by one Lee Brackett. "How do you cope with it?"
He shrugs, then motions for me to follow him back out to the living area as he explains. "I've learned to tune out most things. Sandburg's helped me in that area. He's helped a number of people do the very same thing. He's quite good at teaching others, especially stubborn cops."
I follow him out of my room, wondering what could be going through his mind. Maybe telling him of my association with the Company wasn't such a good idea. No, I had to tell him. It would be seriously unfair to the man if I am to get involved with him, only to have the phone ring some day and then disappear on him. I don't want to hurt this man and by being up front with him from the beginning, then I protect him. Right?
The soft sound of music from the late 40's drifts to my ears as I enter the living room. My breath catches in my throat when I realize the only light illuminating the place is from the handful of candles he must have found somewhere. The fireplace is lit as well. "Jim?"
His expression is soft as he turns to face me. His eyes are thoughtful but not cold. "Lee, I won't lie to you. The idea that you're a spook, that you work for the CIA, bothers me. But I'm willing to try to live with it, as long as you don't try to pull me into it as well."
"I wouldn't do that" Well, if I needed a cover&
"You could, even if you didn't want to." Damn, maybe he is psychic. "I've dealt with the CIA before, and both times, I came away from the experience with a bad taste in my mouth." He's reaching out to me, guiding me towards the couch, then pulls me down to sit beside him, holding me close. "I was once part of the Army's Seventh Group, Rangers. One of my last missions was conducted under less than ideal conditions and on bad intelligence the CIA had reportedly gathered for us. It went wrong, very wrong."
The pain in his voice, the haunted look in his azure orbs, nearly breaks my heart. How many of his team members died, needlessly, because of bad intel? "Jim, I understand. And I promise you, no matter what happens between us, I'll never allow the Company to pull you into the shadows." I'd rather take my own head before letting the assholes in Ops get a hold of this man. For some reason, I want, no, I need to protect him from that type of exploitation.
He hugs me closer and, for a while, we're content to just sit there; watching the fire dance in the fireplace, listening to soft music, holding each other close. Two trilling phones decide to interrupt our moment of mutual simplicity.
One is ringing close by, on the end table beyond Jim. The other is chirping from the coffee table, where I had placed my waist bag earlier. Jim and I reach for our phones, barely pulling apart, but whoever is calling me, hangs up before I can answer. I only get a dial tone, and they didn't leave a voice mail. Oh, well. If it was important, they'll call back.
"Ellison. Yeah, sorry, I meant to call you earlier, Captain. We got in about an hour or so ago." I clasp his hand, which is reaching out to me as he talks to his commander. "Oh? Was he hard to shake? Yeah, that sounds about right. He's tenacious& What? She did? Oh, that's just great. Uh-huh. Sure, I'll be in in the morning, providing the weather holds, about nine. Yeah, I'll be there. No, I left a message for her bodyguard, and I'll have her contact him in a few minutes and ask him to meet us at the station. Thanks, Simon."
I'm curious, I'll admit that, but if I needed to know, I'm sure Jim would tell me. "I guess I need to call Jan-Michel?"
"Might want to."
"Okay." I pick up my satellite phone and get up off the couch. "I'll be right back." I look to see him staring at me. "Uh, if I do manage to get him on the line, he may need to have his feathers smoothed. I do that better without an audience." I start to walk back towards my room. "You told your Captain 0900 hours, right?"
"Yeah." I leave the room and, after closing the door to the smaller bedroom, I dial the familiar number. I'm connected to LaFollet's voice mail. "Jan? Lee. I'm okay. I know you must have gotten the note Ellison left. I just didn't want you to panic, or try to locate me. I'll be fine. Lay low. Keep your eyes open and your weapons handy. If you do manage to run into a problem, shoot first, run like hell, and we'll handle the rest later. Also, plan to meet me at the central precinct house, where Major Crimes is, at 0900 hours. Don't lose your head." I disconnect, making sure I send any incoming calls to my voice mail. I can't help but wonder where Jan-Michel has disappeared to. He made me a promise, and Diandra taught him the lesson, so I know that he's not out drinking. I hope.
Jim waited until he was sure Lee had closed the door of her room before picking up his cell phone again. Connecting to his voice mail service he listened to the one message logged there. "Jim, this is Blair. When you get this message, call me. I need to let you know what's going on here. Dee and I are safe, just in case you were worried. We're staying the night at Megan's. You got her number right? And watch your head."
Watch my head, Chief? You've been spending too much time with Dee and other Immortals and Watchers. Better get this out of the way. Dialing the familiar number, he sighed as he realized that he'd just been shunted over to Sandburg's voice mail. "Chief, I got the story from Ms. Eolia. I want you to know we're at the safe house. And it's better if you and Dee avoid the loft for a while. Staying with Connor is a good idea. I'll call you if anything happens. And before you start to worry that longhaired head of yours -- I spotted the tails that Simon sicced on me. Jorgenson and McMillian are good, but not good enough to hide from me. See you at the station tomorrow."
He closed down the phone just as he heard the door to Lee's room open back up.
The living room is still bathed in fire glow when I return, and I have a hard time spotting him at first. He's over by the wood stove, closing the door after checking on the banked fire. "Did you get a hold of him?"
"No. I got his voice mail. I left a message." I cross the hardwood floor, only to be intercepted by my 'guardian.' "Jim?"
"Would you be willing to at least think about coming back to Cascade, after you return to New York?"
What is he asking? "Jim, I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to that just yet."
"Not ready to settle down again?" He reaches out and picks my hand up from my side. "I know, you're still grieving Azir's death, but I'd like to know if I have a chance with you."
I reach up to caress his face with my right hand. "You've always had a chance, Jim. I'll think about it."
He presses those sensual lips to my palm, and the fire that runs through my body is traitorous. "That's all I'm asking, Lee. Because, as shallow as this sounds, I'm not sure I could leave Cascade."
With a subtle dance move, I twist into his arms, his hands ending up on my shoulders, my back against his chest. "I would never ask you to leave your home. Besides, this was to be my last trip as President and CEO of WindHawk, so I could retire out here. But I have an assignment for the Agency to take care of first. I report in two weeks, but I could come back here when I'm through. If you want me to?"
Lips lower to my neck, leaving a burning trail from behind my ear to my shoulder. "I think I would." Then I'm spun around to face him. "Now, since we've decided that you might just come back here, and we're both adults& ?"
"And there's no one for miles to barge in& " My arms go around his neck.
"Exactly." His hands are on my hips, pulling me even closer to him.
"It really wouldn't be a one-night stand, now would it?" I'm on my toes, leaning in towards that wonderful hard body of his, my tongue coming out to lick my lips.
"My thoughts too." We move together in unspoken mutual agreement toward the couch, our hands beginning to explore, our mouths meeting in a kiss so deep my toes actually start to tingle with excitement, along with the rest of my body. It's been a while since I've felt this stirring in my gut, and I love it. Always have. If that makes me a whore, so be it, but I enjoy being a woman.
Megan looked up from her desk as her Champion stalked into Major Crimes, Blair practically trotting to keep up with her long strides. "Dee! Dee, hang on a minute! Think this through! You were calm about this ten minutes ago--"
"I had the drive over here to consider just how inconsiderate and insensitive Ellison's been today. We both have cell phones, answering machines, voice mail, email. Even a goddamn note addressed to either one of us would have been nice." Megan felt Dee's intense gaze fall on her, and Diandra changed course, heading toward her. "Pajara, have you seen Ellison?"
"Um, yeah, Dee. He was here about an hour ago, all packed for an overnight trip with Lee Eolia in tow. Why? What's happened?"
"Brad Ventriss," Blair broke in before Dee could speak. "That theory we had. It's not a theory anymore."
"Are you sure?" Megan rose from her seat, picking up on her friends' agitation.
"I'm sure," Dee hissed in a low whisper. "Six bullets in me sure. He's immortal, and he doesn't play by the rules."
"Dee! Oh my god!" From the look on Blair's face, Megan could see just how close she had come to losing her champion. She reached out to the older woman, for the first time since she had learned of Dee's immortality realizing there was a real possibility of Diandra being killed. She felt Dee pulling her into a tight hug, whispering reassurances.
"I'm okay, Pajara, truly. I'm just mad at Ventriss and Ellison and Eolia."
Megan stepped back to arms length. "Jim and Eolia? Why?"
"Dee was attacked outside the loft. She managed to climb up the fire escape and crash through the window into my room, then left a trail of blood across the hall to her place. There's no way Jim didn't notice it when he came home. And Eolia was there when it happened. I don't think she told Jim the truth, and she's been lying all along." Blair would have continued, but Simon walked into the bullpen at that moment.
Disentangling herself from Megan's grasp, Dee planted her self in the tall man's path. "Banks! Where is Ellison?"
Simon's expression turned wary, and he seemed little stunned at the Champion's commanding demeanor. "Detective Ellison is at a safe house. In order to keep him and Ms. Eolia safe, he asked that I not divulge the whereabouts to anyone. That includes you, Blair," he said, peering around Dee's imposing form at the anthropologist.
"Simon!" Blair cried.
"That does it. My office, all of you. You too, Connor." Once inside the office, Simon closed the door and pulled the blinds. "Now, are you questioning my authority in this?"
"No--" Megan began, just as both Dee and Blair said, "Yes!"
"Simon, how much did Jim tell you about what is going on?" Blair asked.
Pulling a cigar out his pocket, the captain prepared to light it.
"I really wouldn't do that, if I were you," Dee said icily.
Simon looked from Megan to Blair. "Sandburg, Connor, can't you keep your Sentinels under control?" All three of them glared at him. He put the cigar away. "Fine. All Jim told me was your lofts had been broken into, presumably by the person who is after Ms. Eolia. They were no longer a safe place for her to stay. He asked for the use of a safe house and a car from the motor pool. I gave them to him, along with the promise to keep his location secret. You have a problem with that?"
Megan watched an entire conversation play out between Dee and Blair with just a glance. Finally, Diandra said, "We just want to make sure that all precautions have been taken, since you sent Jim to gods know where without his Guide."
"Yeah, Simon. What if he zones? And what if they were followed? That's how the killer found the loft; he followed one of us there."
Banks leaned against the front of his desk and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well sure they were followed, Sandburg! I had an unmarked unit make sure they got to their location and that unit will be relieved of "watchdog" duties about four am. You think I'd let Jim go off totally on his own?"
"Well, we know how stubborn Jim can be, sir," Megan answered.
"And we weren't sure how much he told you about what's been going on," Blair said.
Simon gazed long and hard at each of them. "What is it the three of you aren't telling me? Is it more Sentinel/Guide mumbo-jumbo?"
"Yes," Dee replied quickly. "We were worried about Jim being all alone somewhere without a guide. However, you've reassured us he has the protection of the PD, and Ms. Eolia is a security expert. I suppose he's safe enough." She headed toward the door, looking back over her shoulder at Megan and Blair. "You two coming?"
"Sure, Dee." Blair followed his lover out the door, but Megan hesitated before leaving her superior's office. "May I go home, sir? Things have quieted down quite a bit, and I'm going to have to put those two up for the night."
Pulling his cigar from his pocket again, Simon waved it at her. "Go, go! And I don't envy you the rest of the night. Thank god they didn't ask to stay with me."
Crossing the bullpen to her desk, Megan gathered up her things. "Come on, let's go. I think you both have a lot of explaining to do." Once again the guide and champion exchanged cryptic looks. "And none of that telepathy stuff! If you're going to kick me out of my bed, I deserve to know what's going on."
Blair nodded, but he didn't look happy about it. Sighing, he said, "You'll get your explanation, but let's get out of here first." The trio left Major Crimes and headed for the elevator.
By mutual consent, we don't stay on the couch for very long. And I'm not sure exactly how it happens, but I end up on the large bed in the room I didn't choose, wearing far less than I was. So is Jim. Oh Great Gods above! The man is gorgeous! From the top of his military haircut all the way down to his toes. And everything in between! I think if the Gods I knew were to look upon this mortal before me, even Adonis and Apollo could find themselves in the grip of envy.
His hands are very expressive, tantalizing and very subtle. Feather light touches become passion inspired hardness. And his mouth! Eros! I reach out to him, pulling him from the attention he's paying to my abdomen, bringing him higher up on my body. Every cell is practically singing for release.
"Jim, please& " I'm begging, I know not what for, hoping that he understands.
"Lee, let me do this." Do what? Oh! I didn't believe it possible, but I'm melting even further as his mouth closes over mine. His wonderful hands work their own brand of magic as they soothe my quivering stomach. Then his mouth is gone, trailing a path of fire and moist heat from my chin to my shoulder, then down to my breast. He stops there for a moment, paying lavish attention to one nipple, before making sure its twin is not lonely for his touch very long, then the heat is moving further 'south'.
I'm lost, well and truly lost. And if I don't get him right where I want him, I'm going to scream. I rise up on the bed, and he moves with me, making sure not to pin me down. "My turn, babe." His blue eyes lock with mine and I can see the concern in their depths. "Please, let me make you feel good."
With gentle hands of my own, I direct him to lie back on the bed and I straddle his hips. I position my center over his groin, not allowing him in yet, and I start my own teasing. First, I knead the muscles of his chest, getting the reaction I desire as his nipples start to harden under my fingertips. I lean over him, placing kisses on those nipples. I work my way up, stopping only to barely nip at his shoulder, then I capture his delectable mouth in mine. Even as we deepen the contact between us, I feel, more than hear, the almost cat-like purr he's making. And the part of him that is responding to me, jumping and twitching against my core, tells me it's time.
"Jim& now& before I lose it completely& "
"Yes& " That was a growl, a purring growl, which changes to a gasp as I slowly lower myself onto him. Yes, the attributes of his ancestor, if Ellison is indeed descended of Laird William McAlasdair, have been fully passed down through the generations. I can no longer hold back my own desire, and I start to move in a rhythm that is older than civilization. I use my hands to guide his fingers, caressing my body then his, as the beat of the dance starts to increase in tempo.
Lost in the throes of passion, my head snaps back and forth on my neck, my long hair flying everywhere. Conscious movement becomes a thing of the past, beyond my control, and the pressure building up in my womb is intense. I'm barely aware of who my partner is, my mind filling my head with images of lovers and husbands of the past. Then I open my eyes.
Our hands clasped tightly together, we both fight for control over our bodies. The noises coming from my throat are very basic, not words, not exactly purring, nor simple grunts either, but something much more. I barely manage to still my movements for a second, looking deep into the eyes of my lover -- eyes that once were a light blue, now darkened in passion to a color to rival the depth of the oceans.
"Oh, god, don't stop, Lee. Not now!" I wriggle, feeling his shaft fill up my core with its hard length. Then I'm lost again, that slight move was the wrong thing to do, for the pace that my body is requiring is harder, faster than it had been.
"Now. Oh, Goddess! Jim! Please! Now!"
The engulfing madness sends me into a tailspin, spiraling me into the near death of an orgasm so complete I nearly lose consciousness. Collapsing against his sweat-covered body, I can hear his heart thundering in his chest under my ear.
Unlocking her apartment, Megan swung the door wide, letting her companions enter first, watching Blair and Dee as they passed by her. They were still touching, his hand going to the small of her back to guide her in front of him. As far as she could tell, they hadn't lost contact with each other from the moment they had left the police station. In a way, it was kind of sweet, if you didn't know it was an unconscious response to what they had gone through that afternoon. When she put their gestures in that light, it was heartbreaking. Both of them were trying to hide it, but underneath the frustration and the anger, they were scared. And so was she.
"Just plop yourselves down anywhere," she said as she took their coats and hung them in the front closet. "Give me a minute or two to straighten up in the back, and then you can stow your gear. Sorry, I don't have much to offer in the way of food. I'm trying to clean out my fridge for the move up to Seacouver. Phone's in the kitchen, and there's a delivery menu on the fridge for the Chinese place down the block." She moved down the hallway to the bedroom, wondering if she had enough pillows.
Blair dropped onto the sofa cushion next to Dee after calling in the food order. He couldn't remember now what he had selected from the menu. They would probably end up with nothing but rice and egg rolls. Pulling the hair tie out of his ponytail, he leaned his head against the back of the couch, running his fingers roughly through his curls.
He glanced over at her. Her head rested against the sofa in almost the exact same position as his, her eyes closed, her face worn and tired. Not opening her eyes, she scooted closer to him, leaning her cheek on his shoulder. Several long seconds passed, then she said, "Ow."
"You okay?" he asked, concerned.
She wiggled around in her seat, her hand snaking behind her back. "Yeah, damn thing's poking me in the ribs."
Blair frowned, puzzled. "What thing?"
Dee's arm reappeared, and Blair's eyes widened at what she held in her hand. "This. I forgot how much I hate wearing a gun."
"That's not a gun, Dee, that's a cannon." He couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice. He hadn't even known she'd owned one.
Leaning forward, the Immortal laid the automatic in its belt holster on the coffee table. "The bigger the hole you put in an Immortal, the longer they stay down. I don't like carrying it, but right now I don't feel I have much choice. I have you and Megan and myself to think about. I'm going to take any damn advantage I can. And when I find Bradley Ventriss, I'm going to take his head."
Blair felt a shiver run through him at her words. This was the side of his lover that frightened him, the millennia-old Amazon warrior. He couldn't deny that that facet of her personality had come in handy; it had saved all of them from Cristo a little over a month ago. But to see that look in her eye& cold, relentless, deadly. He'd seen the same expression on Jim a few times, and felt the same thing in the pit of his stomach--dread. Part of him wondered if it was the sentinel part of them providing that ability to shut everything off to the exclusion of the mission, or if it was their military training. Or maybe it was just their fiercely protective instincts. Feeling the light pressure of her hand on his arm, Blair looked over at her.
"Sorry, baby, I don't mean to scare you. I just& " She shrugged. "I can't bear the thought of harm coming to you or Jim or Megan. I don't know what I would do without you."
The image of her torn and bleeding body breathing its last in his arms washed over Blair. He'd felt that pain this afternoon, if only for a moment. He didn't ever want to put her through that. Pulling her into a hug, Blair held on tightly, feeling the hot sting of tears against his closed eyelids.
"Okay, bedroom's all set..." Megan's voice trailed off as she caught sight of them. "Whoops, sorry, didn't mean to interrupt."
Pulling away from Blair, Dee shook her head, wiping at her eyes. "No, Pajara, you weren't. We're fine."
Megan walked the rest of the way into the living room and dropped into the chair opposite the couch. "No you're not, and I don't blame you. I'm jumping at shadows, and I only have your vague account of what happened to go on." She caught sight of the gun on the table. "Bloody hell! Since when did you start carrying a gun?" She picked it up, making sure the safety was engaged before removing it from the holster. "Desert Eagle, right? 50 millimeter rounds? Makes a frigging big hole, Dee."
Blair heard Dee sigh as she replied, "Before tonight, the last time I carried a gun full time was World War II."
"But I thought Immortals were forbidden to use firearms."
"Only when they're used to give us an advantage in the Game. I wouldn't be carrying one now, but& Fight fire with fire, as the saying goes." She was interrupted by a knock at the door. Blair turned his gaze on her, as did Megan. Dee laughed lightly. "It's okay. It's the food. I can smell it from here. What in the world did you order, Lobo?"
Shrugging, Blair gave her a sheepish grin and went to answer the door.
I awaken a short while later to movement against my thigh. Lifting my head, I see that Jim's not really awake, but a certain part of him certainly is. I feel the smile gracing my face grow wicked as it seeks to match the thoughts in my head. I move slowly, not wanting my prey to wake before I 'm ready for him to. With a little pain, I'm settling back onto the shaft, using the muscles in my body to gently squeeze. Tighten, relax, tighten, tighten further, relax. Over and over, until he's awake.
"Insatiable aren't you?" His eyes snap open and lock with mine, just as his shaft bucks up inside of my channel.
Feeling my juices starting to flow, I tighten as hard as I can against the muscle inside of me. Jim's gasp of pleasure/pain is the only response I get. "Very insatiable, Jim. I want you, and I always get my man."
Before I know what has happened, I'm on my back, looking up into his face. "Well, I hope you don't mind, but the way you woke me put ideas into my head." He's lifting my legs, draping them over his shoulders without ever losing our intimate contact, and then he's thrusting deeper than I thought imaginable into me.
"Gods! Jim! Don't stop!" I can almost touch his hips with my hands, but fall just short. Frustrated beyond belief, I grasp the part of him that I can reach, rolling the sacs between my fingers, stroking along the shaft when he pulls back, only to slam back inside me.
"This is going to be close, Lee." I glance up at his face, contorted with the effort to hold back. Smiling I take my hand and grab his right one, guiding it to caress the part of me that is begging for attention.
"Touch me, Jim." And then he's using his callused thumb to stroke my passionate fire into a higher temperature zone. I'm burning, filled with a fire so deep I know I could die from the excitement. The scream ripped from my throat is matched by the growling groan from him as we both manage to climax at the same time.
Megan and Dee were putting up the remains of dinner in the kitchen, debating over whether or not it would get eaten over the holidays, and was it worth dirtying Tupperware to keep something in the fridge for a week and then throw it out. Blair smiled to himself as he flipped open his cell phone. If they weren't careful, they'd end up in the land of color-coded leftovers. The phone chirped and the voicemail symbol appeared on the screen. Maybe there was a message from Jim. Accessing his mail, he listened to the short message. "Damn it," he hissed under his breath.
Dee glanced over her shoulder at him. "What is it, Lobo?"
"Finally a message from Jim. And in it he says exactly nothing. Says Ms. Eolia gave him the story. I'll fucking story her--"
Blair had the good grace to blush. "Sorry, Megan. I just feel so damn helpless. Jim's off god knows where, doing god knows what, while Eolia tells him goddamn lies. This is all my fault."
The two women looked at each other for a moment, then back at him. "What?"
"Jim would be here with us if I'd just said something this afternoon. He asked me what I was working on, and I told him I'd tell him later. If I'd just told him our suspicions about Brad& "
Megan shook her head. "Sandy, he would have thought you were nuts, especially if you added in all that stuff about Eolia being CIA and working with Brackett. He'd be checking you for feverish hallucinations. Besides, you had no hard proof, only a few tenuous paper trails and a big leap of imagination. And even if you had told him, it wouldn't have changed Brad's actions any. Dee still would have been shot, and Jim probably would still have gone to a safe house with Lee."
"I know, it's just--"
Crossing to his side, Dee slid her arm around his waist. "Come on, Lobo. What's done is done. We came through it okay; we're safe. We've heard from Jim; he's fine, too. And I'm tired. Can we go to bed and worry about this in the morning?"
"No. I am not going to let you torture yourself over this anymore. Bed." She pushed him gently down the hall toward the bedroom. "Night, Megan, and thanks for giving up your bed."
The companion's "No problem" was cut off as Dee closed the door behind them. She turned around to face him, her lips parting as if to say something, but the words never came.
Instead she raised her hand to his face, her fingertips tracing lightly over his features. He blinked at her, a little surprised by her actions. "Dee?"
She leaned in closer, her hands cupping his face, her lips pressing gently against his temple, his eyelids, his cheek, the corner of his mouth. A tiny sigh escaped him, and Blair opened up the spiritual link between them, feeling her love pour over him like warm, sweet honey. "Angel..." he breathed, then whatever else he might have said was lost in her kiss.
Hands roamed freely, unfastening buttons, undoing zippers, layers of fabric pooling on the floor. The cotton bedspread was cool against his back, contrasting sharply with the fire of her hands and mouth on his chest. Her fingers glided further downward, her touch intimate and arousing. His low moan gave voice to his need, and grasping his hand, she pulled him to his knees. He swayed for a moment, then her arms went around him, steadying him as she swung her leg over his thighs, straddling him.
Her fingers tangled in his hair as she tilted his head back, pressing a kiss against the skin in front of his ear, her tongue trailing across his cheek to delve between his slightly parted lips. Blair returned the deep kiss, his hands stroking down her back, pulling her closer, feeling the warm brush of her breasts against his chest. Rising up on her knees, she lowered herself back down slowly, her silken heat surrounding him. He gasped as she squirmed, driving him deeper. Then she began a kind of rhythmic swaying of her hips, her muscles clenching and releasing over and over.
He clung to her, his hands on her hips, his mouth on her neck, her long hair whipping back and forth as she tossed her head. He felt her nearing the precipice, her fingers digging into his shoulders, her body tightening against his. Fireworks exploded in his groin, and he groaned, his cry mingling with her moans of pleasure as she followed him over the edge.
Blair fell back against the mattress, his heart racing, his chest heaving. She collapsed on top of him, her face buried in the join of his neck and shoulder. After a few minutes had passed, he found enough strength to wrestle them both under the covers. Diandra attached herself to him again, pillowing her cheek on his chest, throwing an arm around his waist and a leg over his thigh. He stroked her shoulder gently, whispering he loved her as she drifted off to sleep.
Not sure, at first, what had awakened him from his sated sleep, Jim slowly opened his eyes, only to find that Lee was snuggly curled against his side and dawn was slowly breaking through the bedroom's single window. Moving as carefully as he could, he slid out from under the very lithely muscled leg entrapping him and got out of the bed. Dark red hair, almost dark brown in the slowly gathering light, spread out over the pillows and barely covered one enticingly pale shoulder. Snapping his mind from the thought of crawling back into the warm bed and warmer body lying there, Jim walked from the room, pulling on the sweatpants he'd packed the evening before.
Moving down the hall to the kitchen, after a fast trip into the bathroom, the chirp of his cell phone drew him from his intent of making coffee. Picking up the phone, he saw that someone had left a voice mail for him. Entering the proper code, he listened to the message.
"Jim, I hope to hell you're all right, since Simon wouldn't tell me where the hell you are. Like I said in my previous message, we're at Megan's. We're all fine, in case you're wondering. Call me."
Shaking his head, Jim closed the phone and walked into the kitchen. "Later, Chief. Like when I get back to the station." His back to the rest of the cabin, he nearly jumped out of his skin when two soft hands touched his waist above the band of his sweatpants.
"G'Morning, Jim." Her voice was soft, almost smoky in its tone. "Blair's worried?"
Turning around to face her, he placed a kiss on top of Lee's sleep tousled hair. "He's like that. Morning, Lee. Sleep well enough?"
Stretching like a cat, hands above her head and going up on her toes, the black silk robe parting to reveal the wealth of alabaster and rose skin, Lee Eolia smiled. "Better than I have for months. You were amazing."
Clamping down on his physical response to the woman's teasing ways, Jim met her sensual smile with one of his own. "You amazed me as well, Lee. And as much as I would love to leave the coffee and carry you back to the bed, we really should get everything cleaned up and packed for our trip back into the city."
She pouted her lips. "Are you sure we can't stay here a little while longer?"
"Not if we're going to meet your bodyguard on time."
Shaking her head, Lee reached for his hands, pulling him with her as she backed out of the small kitchen. "Then, in the interest of saving time and water& "
The drive back into the city isn't as tense as I thought it would be, even if Jim and I seem to have lost the will to communicate verbally. What more could we say anyway? Our hands are doing the talking for us, twined together, fingers interlaced, where they meet on the bench seat of the Jeep he's driving. All too soon, we're pulling into the garage at the police station and I've spotted my student. Jan-Michel LaFollet is waiting for us, his body insolently leaned up against the black body of the Lexus RX 300 I had driven up from Seattle earlier in the week, his facial expression thoughtful. My oh so recent lover manages to park right next to the car and my bodyguard and I'm soon out of the Cherokee, greeting my friend.
"Jan! I see you got my message." I reach out to clasp his shoulder in friendship, only to have him take my backpack from my hands while remaining uncharacteristically silent. Confused by his actions, I turn to make my farewells to Ellison, while my Student watches my back.
"I hope we can talk again tonight, Jim."
Blue eyes I have watched go through a myriad of emotions are almost sparkling in their intensity as the tall detective turns to face me with the most mischievous smile on his face. "Talk? Tonight? Are you sure you just want to talk?"
I'm in his arms, the place where I feel safe, protected and most of all, where I have learned I want to be. "Well, yes. And maybe something else afterwards?" I stifle an inward groan as I suddenly recall my promise to Diandra. "Actually, Jim, there is more I really need to talk to you about. Things you need to know if I'm to seriously consider coming back to Cascade once I retire from WindHawk and the Company."
"Hmm, sounds serious. Give me a hint?" I shake my head, then he's leaning down to place a chaste kiss on my forehead. "Fine, I'll wait. I'll have to call you though. I'm not sure what may be in store for me today here."
"That's all right. Use my cell phone, you have the number, right?" He nods, patting the left pocket of his leather jacket. "I'm not sure what my day has in store for me either, but I really want to talk to you. Heart to heart and mind to mind." We part and I wait until I see him enter the elevator before climbing up into the Lexus. Jan-Michel's already waiting inside.
"You didn't tell him, did you?" My student mutters as he turns over the engine and pulls out of the parking garage.
I sigh. "No, not yet. He'll find out about my Immortality soon enough. Tonight. I'll tell him tonight." And I find myself praying to deities I haven't spoken to in a long, long time, asking that they grant my wish and that Jim will understand why I didn't tell him the truth from the very start.
Startled out of my meditations by Jan-Michel hitting the steering wheel in frustration, I stare at the man. "Not that, damn it! You didn't tell him that his buddy practically kicked us out of his lady friend's place after the attack on Diandra, did you? Or that you know that the man who has tried to kill you twice, nearly killed Pallas, and did murder young David is one of US!" Venomous, dark hazel eyes bore into my own as he pulls to a stop at a traffic light. "And just how long have you known that?"
"I couldn't tell him. Not yet." I drop my face into my hands. Everything is becoming a very tangled mess. "Friday night."
"I knew the other man at QuestScape was a possible Immortal when he walked into the lab and tried to blow my head off with that blasted shotgun of his."
"Shit! Didn't you think I had a right to know that?"
Oh, goddess! He's right! By not telling him, I've endangered my Student. Not to mention pissed off my bodyguard. "I wasn't sure, Jan. Honestly. I've lost so many of my skills since Azir was taken from me that I wasn't sure. For all I knew, the man could've been a pre-emergent or a full-blown Immortal -- I just didn't know! Not until he cut down John David and came after me again." Not exactly a lie, nor the full truth but it'll have to do for now.
"Then you told Sandburg the truth? You didn't know, for certain, that the thief from QuestScape was Immortal?"
"Yes. I couldn't lie to him just then, not with Dee dying in his arms like that." I turn my gaze outward, studying the passing landscape for a few tense moments before deciding to tell Jan-Michel more of the story. "I paid a little visit to Norman Ventriss yesterday, before everything went so damn bad."
"When? You were still in bed when Pallas and Sandburg woke and left& " He cuts himself short as he pulls in the parking lot of an Econo-Lodge. A far cry from the Excelsior, but we really don't have a choice now, do we?
"I was up way before the sun. I broke into Ventriss' home, hoping to find the DVD and instead, I found out the name of my Immortal enemy." Yes, that is how I've come to think of the kid -- an enemy. One to be taken out of the Game with extreme prejudice, and I'm the one to punch his ticket to Tartarus.
"Oh? And just who might that be?"
"Bradley Ventriss. The old man's adopted son."
It doesn't take me long to unpack the meager belongings I had stuffed into my pack before running off with Ellison last night. Then I have to face the music, or rather, my bodyguard and Student. It takes over an hour for me to convince him I have to go back, if only to apologize, to Diandra's home -- to face both her and Sandburg. To tell them the truth, even if that might mean having to face the Amazon in a Challenge. To get him to agree to take me there, I have to tell my Watcher everything about my past: my involvement in the CIA, my life as a spy and agent provocateur and my true age. That nearly floors the man, until he recalls his duty as my Watcher and asks for a condensed version of my life story. He manages to use up all of the microtapes he'd brought with him and has to resort to taking notes by hand.
It's nearly four in the afternoon when he pulls up to 852 Prospect Avenue and I gesture for him to wait in the car. This is something I have to do, alone.
The zip-zing of warning ripping up my spine tells me there is an immortal nearby, but I'm still having trouble telling where so I don't know if it's Diandra I'm sensing or someone else. I climb the stairs to the third floor and the buzzing gets stronger as I approach the Dorian's home. Raising a hand to knock, I step back when the door is pulled open and I'm face-to-face with a pissed off Amazon wielding her deadly katana.
"What the fuck do you want, Lee?"
I raise my hands at my side, weaponless, and hang my head. I'll gladly accept whatever punishment this woman wants to give me, after all, I deserve it. "I came to apologize, Dorian. And to beg your indulgence and ask you to listen to me." Her blades whips upwards, coming to rest on my throat. I don't move, barely breathing, accepting my fate.
The silence between my old savior and I is broken, not by her, but by Sandburg. "I should let Dee take your damn head, Eolia, but we just got the last of the blood cleaned up and I do not want to do that again anytime soon."
The hard steel edge drops from my throat.
"Maybe I'm just too curious for my own good. Get in here, Lia." And Diandra is pulling me into the loft, slamming the door behind me. All too soon, I'm seated in a straight-backed chair in the living area of the apartment. Facing me are Diandra and her consort, who opts to stand behind her while she sits in another chair, her sword resting on her knees. She's looking at me through hooded, vibrant blue eyes -- gazing into my soul, seeking my truth, like she used to do at Delphi. "Tell me your story, Eolia."
I lock my gaze with hers, never flinching from those far seeing orbs, and the truth spills from my soul. "I knew, Friday, that the thief at QuestScape who shot at me was possibly immortal, just like I knew it was the same man who shot down John David in the alleyway. At the time I thought he was after me because I could identify him to the authorities." Diandra nods, accepting that truth. "But yesterday morning, I found out this Immortal's name and his connection to Norman Ventriss -- which made me think the man had set me up." At the edge of my vision I see Sandburg flinch and I turn my gaze to the young man. "You knew. Yesterday, you knew, didn't you?"
"I suspected. It was the only way the pieces fit together and made any sense. Then Dee stumbled in here, dying, and I snapped."
"You had every right to explode on me. I hadn't told you, or Dee, the truth about my attacker. If I had, then maybe you wouldn't have had to watch as she died in your arms."
"What do you plan to do now, Eolia?" Diandra's calm voice pulls my attention back to her.
"What is right. Dee, I spent last night in a safe house with Jim and we talked. I told him almost everything about me -- what I've done for a living--and he said he's willing to try to put that behind us if I am. And I think that I am. I want out of the business, Dee."
"You haven't told him you're Immortal yet." It was a statement, not a question. She knew I hadn't. I nod and the Amazon sighs as she leans back in her chair. "You'll tell him. Tonight, and I'll be there with you to make sure you don't back out."
"I had already planned on telling him tonight, but thanks. I could use the support."
"Wait a damn minute! You told Jim you're CIA and he took it well?" Sandburg looks as though he doesn't fully believe me.
"Yes, I told him. He seemed to understand, admitted that he didn't like the idea, but I don't blame him."
"What do you mean?"
"Sandburg, he told me about his last mission as a Ranger. He's special, isn't he?" He nods, his eyes turning curious, probably wondering where I'm about to go with that statement, and Diandra's watching me like a hawk, her fist closing on the hilt of her blade. "Have you had a chance to read over my Chronicles?"
"Only part of them, why?" His voice is leery. He's frightened? Of me? Or the Company?
"Then you read about my involvement with the CIA. You have to know that Leandra Evans left the Agency under a cloud of suspicion, right? And that Emil Saunders followed shortly there after?" He nods, and I gather myself for the pain that is to come. That part of my life was very difficult and just thinking about it brings the old festering wounds back to the surface. "I left, under orders from both Directors -- Intelligence and Operations -- to follow a agent they suspected had gone rogue on us, but was still operating under the Company's black operations budget."
I can no longer sit still, I get up from the chair and find myself pacing the floor of the living area. "I followed him into Peru, where I managed to get hired on at the Embassy as a clerk. I tagged along with him when he returned to the States, where he started to set up experiments at the Sandia Labs in New Mexico, looking for people with heightened senses. I think he was hoping to find someone, anyone, with more than three 'hyper' senses. I was working as his aide, maintaining discreet contact with Azir, and we started to find people with extreme sensitivities. People like Jim."
"WHAT?!" One outburst, then a deep breath, and now Blair Sandburg is facing me where I stand next to the couch. He's toe to toe with me, Dee's sword in his hand, and his dark eyes flashing blue fire at me. "You have no idea what you're talking about, lady. What was the name of that agent? I have contacts who can confirm or deny your story."
What is it with this mortal? First Dee, and now Jim? He's protecting them, but from what? What makes them so special to this young man that he's willing to pick up a blade to defend them? I smile, a sad grin really, as I push the sharpened steel away from my chest with the back of my bare hand. "I know you do. You've already talked with Llewyllyn Huddleston and, I suspect, Jack Kelso as well?" I don't wait for him to answer. "I've seen the way Jim tilts his head, the way he seemingly picks up on things no one else can hear. He's special and I will NOT allow anyone -- especially my old training instructor -- to get near him. I'd rather take my own head than to see Jim fall into the clutches of Brackett."
The young Watcher is fuming. He looks ready to take my head for me, but then Diandra's there beside him, gently coaxing the sword from his white-knuckled grip while softly speaking to him. "Lobo, give me the sword. This is a Champion's fight, not one for the Companion." Champion? Companion? What the hell?
"Dee! She worked with Lee Brackett! She's a danger to you as well as Jim! I knew I was right not to trust her!" How does he know Brackett's first name? And why are those terms Diandra used setting off bells in my head?
"It's my fight, Lobo. Jim's, too, if he wants to get involved. But you heard Lia, she's willing to give her life to protect him from that man." She's finally gotten the sword from him and sets it down on the coffee table. "Lia? Go get your stuff from the bedroom, but then I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"I understand, Lady D." I leave the room, the words still ringing in my head. As I gather up the items I had left here, packing them, I slip my new tanto under my belt, keeping it handy. One can never have too many weapons on hand when being hunted by an immoral Immortal. The Lady Smith and Wesson handgun is still in its place in my waist bag, and I'll use it if I have to against Bradley Ventriss but only to slow him down, not kill him. I want to hurt that son of a bitch. Zipping my nearly overstuffed suitcase closed, I can barely hear Diandra and Sandburg as they argue behind my back.
"Damn it, Dee! If Brackett were to get a hold of you, he'd never cease testing you! And he wouldn't be happy testing just your senses - he'd try to figure out why you're Immortal as well!"
"Lobo! Cool it! I've avoided such men all my life. There is no way anyone can take, let alone keep, a Champion who doesn't want to get taken."
"You don't understand Brackett -- he'd come after the Companion first, to assure your cooperation! Trust me! I know this!"
There's those damn words again& Could it be? Diandra a Champion? A warrior blessed by the gods with all of her senses heightened? The Dorian? And that would make Sandburg her Companion. Oh, mighty Athena! If that's true, then I cannot allow Dee, or Sandburg, to come to harm! The Amazon Champions were to be protected, at all costs, just like their Companions. I never met such a pair, but the legends were quite explicit -- for the safety of the tribe, down to the last child, all would fight to protect the Blessed Partners of Artemis. The phone in the living area rings, but no one moves to pick it up. They are still arguing, though I can no longer hear the words, just the harsh whispering filtering down the hallway through the open door. I pick up my suitcase and step out into the hallway.
"Dee, you'd better check that message, it could be Megan."
"Not until I'm sure you're okay with this."
"I'm not okay, but I understand. You're right; it's your fight, not mine." Yes, I was right! Blair Sandburg is a Companion! And a Shaman as well, very powerful mix -- not a person that I would want on my case.
"I'll be careful, Lobo." I step back into the living area, just as Diandra starts to play back the phone message that was left on her answering machine. The suitcase falls to the floor from my nerveless fingers as the familiar voice fills the room.
"Hey, Sandburg! Interesting taste you have in women, Professor. I never would've guessed you liked older women. I like older women too. How about you send one of them to me? Either that Pallas bitch or the redhead, I don't care. Oh, but if you don't? I think I'll see just how hard it would be for me to go after Ellison at the station house. Or maybe I'll just plant a bomb in his truck. You'll never know until the deed is done, Police Consultant Sandburg." The laughter that follows is anything but nice. The shivers it sends down my spine chill me to the core. That son of a bitch would go after Jim? Just to hurt Sandburg? Not on my watch! "I'll give you until six tonight to make your choice, Sandburg. If you want to come and watch, that's fine. I'll meet the lady of your choice at the old duck pond down by the docks. You remember the duck pond, don't you, Blair? The one Lash should have drowned you in?" <click>
Blair's normal complexion has gone a pasty white and Diandra has to hold him up. From the words I heard it looks as though Bradley Ventriss and the Companion have a history together, and not a very pleasant one either. Then Diandra's talking to him and I overhear.
"Blair, it's got to be me. I can beat him, you know that. This is exactly what I was talking about, the Champion's Fight. If I don't go, then he'll just go after Jim and maybe get Megan killed as well. I cannot allow that."
"Let me go with you! I know how he thinks, I know where the pond is! I can help you!"
"Lobo, no! All that will do is get you hanged by the Watchers! Better that I do this alone."
A cold sense of purpose falls over me, I can actually feel myself slipping into my 'mission' mode -- the one that kept me alive through a year in the Arena, the one that allowed me to operate in war zones. Pure, hard, cold resolve, I'm in full mission 'tick.' Neither the Champion or her Companion is looking at me, they only have eyes for each other at this moment. Good. This isn't the Champion's Fight -- it's mine and mine alone. I pull the tanto from its hiding place, controlling my heart rate and breathing with an iron will, holding both steady despite what I'm about to do.
"Lady D!" And just as she turns to face me, I throw the deadly blade, watching as it buries itself deep in her chest. "This is my fight, Champion. You stay out of it!"
"What? Oh my GOD! You BITCH!" The Companion is moving like lightening as the words leave his mouth.
He tackles me, crashing us both into the bookcase near the entrance to Dee's workout room. I feel a rib in my chest give way under the point of his shoulder. I ignore the pain. Using his forward momentum, I kick Blair off of me and roll to my feet. "I don't want to hurt you, Companion."
He's quick; I'll give him that much. He's back on his feet, his eyes glowing with a fire so intense I can almost feel the heat of his anger. "Too fucking bad. I'm gonna kill you, bitch." And he's coming back at me, using the few steps to build up speed before launching into a flying kick.
I barely manage to avoid the blow. It lands on my cheek instead of my chest, and I let the impact spin me around as I bring my left leg into the melee, snapping out and catching him on the hip. He falls into the couch behind him, actually rolling over it and onto the coffee table. Wasting no time, I charge after him. Leaping easily over the couch, I land on him, planting my feet in his chest. The impact breaks the table underneath him, and I bounce off of him, turning to face Sandburg as he once again clambers to his feet.
The adrenaline rush is on him; I can see it in his face, pain held at bay by sheer determination of will. "Sandburg, keep this up and I may end up killing you. Don't make me kill a Companion. Please!"
It's no use, he's moving back into range. Fine. I'll do my best not to kill him, but he's going to be hurt in the process. Using a move that Brackett taught me, I drop to my back just before he can fully close with me, my feet flying up to catch him in the stomach, then I roll backwards to rise on my knees. The bantam rooster is still coming at me! His fist connects to my jaw line and I fall back, only to kick out again, giving him a return tap to his chin. I don't have TIME for this crap!
Springing back to my feet, I see my opportunity. He's backed away from me a few feet, but it's enough. I step into a flying move and wrap my ankles around his neck, pulling him to the floor to deliver a solid blow to his sternum with my heel. That had to have hurt.
Thinking this whole bullshit scene with Sandburg is now at an end, I rise to my feet and start to head over to where Diandra lies on the floor. Agony shoots through me as the Companion strikes me from behind, something very hard and sharp cutting deep into my side, felling me to my knees.
"Stay the hell away from her, Lee."
Growling low in my throat, I stagger to my feet. Sandburg's armed himself with Diandra's katana, plucked from the wreckage of the coffee table. I could take him out with a well-placed throwing dart, but I don't want to kill him -- just keep him from following me or allowing Dee to revive in time to stop me from meeting the Challenge of Ventriss. There is a simple way to fight a man who is armed, the trick is to know you will get hurt but to try to minimize the damage done to your body, if you're mortal. Immortals don't have that worry.
My breath catches in my throat as I realize Sandburg managed to inflict quite a bit of damage with his blow, and I'm losing blood at a fast rate. Great. Jumping back from a wild swing of the sword, I manage to kick the blade out of his grasp, then I move in quickly. Closing the distance between us, hardening my fist into a claw, I deliver a full strength blow to his already abused chest, connecting with the solar plexus, driving the wind out of him. He drops to his knees, gasping for breath like a fish out of water. I double my fists up and chop him on the back of the neck.
He's down and out, sprawled at my feet on the hard wooden floor. The ribs he managed to break on my body are already healing under the power of my quickening, as is the deep gash, though I've left quite a bloody mess on the carpet. If he hadn't hesitated to go for the kill, to take my head with the blade, he really might have stood a chance against me. Next time, he'll know better -- a tough lesson for the Companion of a Champion to learn.
Crossing over to kneel beside Diandra, I'm surprised to see she's not dead yet. "Dee, I'm sorry, but I cannot allow a Champion of Artemis to fight my battles for me." She's grasping the tanto's hilt, trying to pull it out of her body. I place my hands over hers and stop her futile attempts. She's soon gone. I'll have to leave the blade where it's at or risk her recovering too quickly. She cannot be allowed to interfere with my mission.
Going back to my dropped suitcase, I dig in a side pocket and come up with several other items I'll need, shurikans, night vision binoculars, and my polymer throwing darts. Tucking the items into my coat pockets, I pause to check on the Companion. He's out, but his pulse is strong. He'll survive to truly hate me now. I can live with that. I'll never be able to come back here. Jan-Michel and I will have to flee this country, hiding someplace where I can train him while avoiding these two and Jim.
My heart starts to break. By attacking Sandburg, Jim's partner, I've doomed any relationship I might have enjoyed with the detective. Once again, I'll be alone. Fine. Bonfarkar, Egypt is a good place for me to hide and the CIA still maintains a small outpost there. I leave the apartment, pondering my next move as I walk down the stairs. I cannot take the chance that my student, my Watcher, will follow me. Besides, I've already spilt friendly blood this evening. What's one more body to the count? Before I leave the building, I realize I've already doomed my student. I'll have to leave his training up to someone else. Maybe Diandra will take him under her wing, especially when she realizes what I'm about to do to him.
I approach the Lexus, not even trying to hide my movements. Why should I? He's Immortal; he'll sense me coming. Better to face him outright than try to sneak up on him. He's opening the driver's door, stepping out to greet me, and I shoot him. Center of mass, another heart strike. Damn, I was always better with a gun than Azir was. Nice to see I haven't lost that skill. The gunfire echoes strangely in the parking area, but no one seems to notice as it sounds more like a car back firing than a gunshot. I catch his falling body before it can hit the ground and, with a little effort, I tuck him away in the alley near the dumpsters. His third death, by my hands. It should take a while for him to recover. By the time he does, I'll be long gone.
"...You remember the duck pond, don't you, Blair? The one Lash should have drowned you in?" <click>
Blair felt the blood rush from his face, leaving him light-headed. No, god, no, this can't be happening. Dee's hands grasped his upper arms, supporting him.
"Blair, it's got to be me. I can beat him; you know that. This is exactly what I was talking about, the Champion's Fight. If I don't go, then he'll just go after Jim and maybe get Megan killed as well. I cannot allow that."
Blair shook his head. No. Yesterday was too close, too close. Better to call Simon, send the SWAT team, the cavalry, anyone, anyone but her. One look in her eyes told him those ideas were out. Quickly he replied, "Let me go with you! I know how he thinks; I know where the pond is! I can help you!"
"Lobo, no! All that will do is get you hanged by the Watchers! Better that I do this alone." She pulled him into a quick hug. "You understand, don't you, why I have to do this?"
He nodded against her shoulder. "Yeah, I do, I just..." He moved back to look at her, wanting to believe this wouldn't be the last time he gazed into her eyes. "The duck pond is in a run-down park near where they tore those warehouses down on the waterfront. It's locked up all the time now; nobody will be there."
"Okay. I'll just get my weapons and head over there, make sure it isn't a trap." She let go of him, one hand coming up to caress his cheek. "Don't worry, I'll--"
Eolia's sharp yell interrupted the moment. "Lady D!"
Diandra turned toward the other Immortal, then staggered back, her hands wrapped around the hilt of the dagger protruding from her chest. Eyes wide in pain and shock, her knees buckled and she dropped to the floor, a small cry escaping her lips.
For a moment, Blair was too stunned to move, then rage took over. "What? Oh my GOD! You BITCH!" He charged her like a linebacker, head down, hitting her full force, slamming her into the corner of the bookcase. Both of them tumbled to the floor and he felt her foot connect with his stomach as he rolled away.
"I don't want to hurt you, Companion."
Springing to his feet, he growled, "Too fucking bad. I'm gonna kill you, bitch." A hard kick to her cheek snapped her head back. Her return kick sent him tumbling over the back of the sofa, and he fell hard on the coffee table, slightly dazed. Leaping over the couch, she landed with both feet on his chest, and he felt ribs as well as the table snap. He hit the floor with a grunt, wanting nothing more than to stay down, but he knew he couldn't. He got to his feet again, adrenaline deafening him to whatever it was she was shouting at him. All that mattered was defeating her, was keeping her from killing Dee.
Again he charged her. She dropped to the floor, using her legs and his momentum to toss him across the room. Blair was up before she was, his fist connecting solidly with her jaw. Her foot returned the favor. He moved back, warier now, but still not prepared for her next move. Leaping into the air, Lee wrapped a leg around his neck, pulling him down amid the wreckage of the coffee table. Her heel stabbed at his sternum, and Blair felt the air rush from his lungs.
He lay there gasping, watching helplessly as she approached Dee, and for the first time he realized she was still alive, her fearful blue eyes glued on him. Oh, god, no, he couldn't let this happen! He had to do something. His arm flailed against the carpet and his fingers brushed against something smooth and solid. Without looking, Blair knew it was the hilt of her katana. His fingers tightened around the carved ebony, and he forced himself to stand.
Eolia's back was to him. Gripping the sword with both hands, Blair brought it around as he'd seen Diandra do hundreds of times, the razor-sharp edge biting deep into Lee's side before he pulled it out, the gleaming steel now blood red. She dropped to her knees, a gasp her only sound.
"Stay the hell away from her, Lee." He brought the weapon up to shoulder height.
Lee grabbed hold of the arm of a chair, using it to pull herself up, turning slowly toward him, one hand pressed to her wound.
"Stay down, damn it!" God, he didn't want to kill her; he just wanted her to leave them alone! He swung the sword as she moved toward him, misjudging the distance and missing her entirely. Her foot shot out, connecting with the blade, sending the katana flying from his hands. No, no, this wasn't happening, he couldn't let it happen! Her fist hit him in the chest like a sledgehammer, and this time he saw spots as the oxygen was driven from his lungs. Blair fell forward, something hard connecting with his neck as he hit the floor.
Darkness danced in front of his vision, but he fought it, fought to meet his lover's eyes one last time. The love and terror he saw there shook him to the core. I'm sorry, angel, I'm sorry. Then everything went black.
My first stop upon leaving the Champion and her Companion for dead is a fast-food joint to change my torn and bloody clothes in their restroom. My next is the city library to access their periodical files. Using the computers there, I type in the word Lash (as a proper name) into the search engine and I'm rewarded with several articles from the local newspapers. One even includes a map of the city with the duck pond where this serial killer liked to drown his victims clearly marked. Glancing at my watch, I realize I only have about fifty minutes to meet Bradley Ventriss at the pond. Thanking the librarian, and leaving a generous donation in their 'Friends Of The Library' collection box, I leave.
The drive to the docks is long. I have to reroute a few times around traffic accidents and one closed off street, but then I'm there. Parking to the west of the fenced in area, I pull out my nightscope binoculars and search the park for signs of life. Nothing yet. Oh well, I am a bit early. Reaching up behind me, I disable the dome light before I climb out of the Lexus. No sense in giving away my position.
Holding my Zatoichi cane sword in one hand, I shrug out of my coat -- I don't need the distraction or the potential hazard of getting my blade caught in the leather -- and double check to see I still have my revolver on me as well as my other tools. Then I'm slipping through the darkness like a vengeful wraith, sticking to shadows where I can, running like the wind where I can't. I manage to clear the fence in a move that would've surprised my physical trainers at the Farm and hit the ground on the other side of the fence, pulling my handgun free of the fanny pack.
Still nothing. He's not here yet. Good. That gives me time to set up and wait for him to arrive. There's a young redwood, weathered and gnarled from exposure to the harsh winds that surely blow off the Sound, that will suit my purpose. Holstering my gun, I run for the tree and shimmy up the trunk to rest on a high branch.
I see the lights of a car approaching, then they flick off before the car comes to a halt just out of sight of my Lexus. Keeping my eyes on the car, I see the lanky form that emerges. Ventriss. Bradley& My target. Get your ass over here, you goddamn, misbegotten son of Loki.
He's wary, his head snapping up in realization just as I feel the tingle that tells me he's Immortal. He knows one of our kind is here waiting for him. He's moving towards the fence, climbing it with the ease of youth, then he's calling out.
"Well, I can tell that someone's here. Come on out! I won't hurt you--much!" Cocky asshole.
I pull my gun free of its hiding place one last time, take careful aim and pull the trigger. Once, twice, a double tap to the chest -- just like I've been trained to do. He's on the ground, and I'm flowing down the tree from my aerie, cautiously approaching his fallen form. A quick search of his coat and body reveals two handguns and one well-worn sword. Pitching the guns into the putrid waters of the pond, I leave him only his blade. This time, he'll fight like an Immortal is supposed to fight -- honest combat with crossed swords.
I settle back on my haunches to await his return from the dead, making sure I'm not too close to him. The cold night air starts to penetrate my black running suit as time slowly crawls by. I ignore the chill, focusing intently on my prey.
Jim pulled into the parking area behind his home, and sat there with the engine idling for a few minutes before slowly crawling out of his truck. He hadn't done much more than sit around the department that day, filling out report after report -- until he and Connor had been handed an unremarkable case to follow up on. The day before Christmas and all through Cascade, the burglars were prowling, their sights set on easy gain. And his headache was back, with a vengeance. He'd had to keep the mental dials on his senses backed off to near zero most of the day and that, coupled with the inactivity, made him feel every day of his age. He was stiff, sore and not looking forward to listening to Blair, Diandra and Megan's laughter while they took care of last minute details for the holiday.
Entering the building, he was happy to note the elevator was back in working order and gladly used it. He hadn't relished the idea of climbing up three flights of steps, not with the way he was feeling. Maybe he'd be able to catch a little 'private' time with Lee tonight. Have that talk she wanted to have.
The grin he had felt on his face vanished as the door to the lift opened up and he was once again assaulted by the overwhelming smell of freshly spilt human blood. Pulling his sidearm, the Sentinel started to track the odor, automatically separating at least two different blood smells. His hearing picked up the sound of labored breathing, and he traced the stench to Pallas' loft. Not again!
Scanning the rooms beyond the closed door as best he could without Blair's guidance, Jim couldn't sense anything out of the ordinary -- if you didn't count the cloying, metallic smell and the ragged breathing. Reaching out with his left hand, gun at ready in his right, Jim opened the door with a solid push.
The devastation that met his gaze was horrendous. The normally neat apartment was a shambled mess, tables, bookshelves broken, couch over turned and blood everywhere. Then he spotted Diandra. Her normally vibrant blue eyes, clouded over in death, were open and gazing at something he couldn't see from the doorway. Stepping cautiously into the apartment, he followed the haunting gaze of the Immortal Amazon and found his partner.
Moving quickly to Blair's side, Jim dropped to his knees and felt for a pulse. Sandburg was on his stomach, bruising already showing up on the side of his face that Jim could see. His breathing was raspy, and Jim was able to identify it as the noise he'd heard from outside in the hallway. Placing his Sig-Sauer on the floor, medic training coming to his aid, the detective cautiously rolled the battered man onto his back, being careful not to let his spine shift in the process. Blair's breathing steadied out and Jim took the time to glance over his shoulder at Diandra.
The knife protruding from her chest shocked him. He knew that blade, had held it, and admired it, in the evidence room. It was Lee's. Knowing Blair could possibly be dying from unknown internal injuries, Jim steeled himself to do what had to be done. Still on his knees, he leaned over the fallen Immortal, grasped the hilt of the tanto and, choking back the bile rising in his throat, pulled the blade out of Diandra's heart. Dropping the weapon, Jim stared at the blood on his hands then his vision focused in on another pool of blood.
It was a relatively small pool, but it wasn't connected to the one that had formed under the Champion. Its odor was slightly different, not belonging to his guide or to the woman Blair loved. Could it belong to whoever had attacked them?
The violent intake of breath, echoing in the open loft, pulled him back from the edge of a zone-out, and Jim was heartened to see that Diandra was reviving.
The soft-spoken plea of his roommate pulled Jim's attention back to Blair. "Yeah, Chief, it's me." He reached out to keep the younger man from moving too much. "Whoa, not so fast there, pard'ner. Wait until Dee can check you over."
"Dee? She okay? That bitch didn't& " Blair snapped his mouth closed, not finishing the sentence.
"She'll be fine. I removed the knife, and she just took her first breath right before you called out to me. How're you feeling? Did you see who did this to you?" Who was the 'bitch' his partner had inadvertently referred to?
Blair struggled to sit up, biting his lips in an effort to block the pain Jim knew he must be feeling. "I've been better. And, yeah, I saw who did this to us." Denim blue met ice blue and Jim saw reluctance in his eyes. "It was Eolia."
"What?!" Jim rocked back off his knees, landing on his butt as he tried to deny what his friend had just said. "Why, Chief? What happened here that would force Lee to try to kill you both?"
"I don't know. One moment, Dee and I were arguing about who should respond to the challenge Brad issued, the next thing I know, Lee called out to Dee, threw something and I saw the knife enter Dee's chest." Jim could see Blair was trying to push back the pain threatening to overcome him again, fighting against the encroaching blackness with a will of iron. "I went berserk, tried to take Lee out by myself, even used Dee's sword against her& "
"Christ's Blood! Jim, what happened here? Where's Diandra?" Megan Connor, supporting an obviously hurting Jan-Michel LaFollet, stood in the doorway of the apartment, her face paling with shock.
Looking over the man's condition, Jim started to put together the small puzzle pieces that had been eluding him since he first met the WindHawk team. LaFollet's coat and shirt were bloody, two neatly placed bullet holes in the linen showing the skills of the shooter. A double tap so closely grouped together it had to have been a pro that had shot the new Immortal. Had Lee felt threatened enough to shoot her own man? Who was this "Brad" that Blair had said had issued a challenge? And what did Connor mean? Diandra was right there& Only she wasn't. The woman, her sword and the knife he'd pulled from her body were gone.
Her first breath was like inhaling fire. Everything hurt, and it was all she could do to keep from screaming. Dee curled in on herself, feeling each individual cell finish its regeneration process. She thought the sensation had been bad with her senses at normal. Her Champion abilities made coming back from the dead a thousand times worse. She rested for a few moments, her eyes closed against the light, listening to Jim tending to his guide.
At Blair's mention of Eolia's name, she remembered what had happened. She looked at the watch on her wrist. Six PM. Damn it! Rolling to her feet, she silently gathered up her sword, and tucked the tanto Lia had used on her through her belt. With one last glance at the two men, neither of whom was paying any attention to her, she slipped out the open door of the loft and down the stairs. She reassured herself that Blair was awake and talking, and if he was seriously injured Jim would make sure he got to the hospital.
Dee had to be at the pond, even though she was probably too late now to stop Lee from engaging him in combat. If the other woman failed, Bradley Ventriss could not be allowed to escape. So why did chasing after Eolia feel like she was betraying her friends?
Thirty minutes? It takes his body thirty damn minutes to recover from my deadly assault? Whelp. Puppy. Mongrel. The first, violent, intake of air echoes in my ears as he sits up, reaching for the guns he no longer carries on his body. "I tossed them, you son of a bitch."
He scrambles to his feet, unsteady as he's still healing, clutching his purloined sword in his right hand. Probably his predominate hand, good, gives me a point of reference to his skills. "You shot me!"
I smoothly rise to my feet from the dilapidated merry-go-round I had moved to while awaiting his return. "No, I shot you twice."
"God, I hurt! Damn it, healing shouldn't hurt this damn much!" He's rubbing his chest where I'd placed my rounds, still clutching the saber in his right hand.
"You'll live. For a while anyway." I pull my blade from its scabbard, and gesture with the naked blade. "You're Bradley Ventriss, aren't you? Son of Norman?"
He's finally bringing up his blade in a 'en guard' position. Fool, I hope he doesn't think this is going to be a simple sparring match. "Yeah, I am. As well you know. You saw me in the lab, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes. I saw you there, in a photo in your father's study and in the alleyway where you killed my friend." I slide forward on the snow packed ground, moving into position to engage him in combat. "You should've shot me first, asshole."
He's grinning as he shrugs his narrow shoulders. "I missed. I take it you want to do this the old fashioned way?"
I'm ready and bring my sword up to touch his, the blades crossing in the sodium colored light of a distant street lamp. "The only way to go, Brad. If you're not a fucking coward."
His face, barely discernible in the poor light, darkens as he bats my blade away in a move so clumsy I doubt that he's ever had any serious training. "I'm no coward!" His next move is disappointingly predictable, rushing towards me, sword held like a baseball bat swinging to connect. Sparks fly where our blades make contact as I parry his blow, then dance away to let him slide on the snow covered ground past me.
"What do you think this is, Bradley? A ball game? Or a bullfight?" Before he can recover his footing, I let my steel reach out and caress his face, slicing it open along the jawbone.
"Damn!" He's distracted by the pain of a minor wound? His teacher, if he's still alive, must have not taught him very well. The grin blooming on the man's face is almost friendly. "First blood. Doesn't mean you'll win."
I answer his grin with my own, my voice dropping half an octave as I glare at him. "No, it doesn't. But then again, I've been fighting punks like you all my life and have managed to stay alive."
He's back, swinging the blade in his right hand with a bit more control, like he's remembered his lessons. The effort it takes to parry his blows is almost laughable; I've taken worse hits from Diandra when we sparred last. Remembering my friend, I recall her favorite move. With a vicious, backhanded blow to his blade, I kick the kid in the stomach. Hmm, works well. Thanks, Dee; I'll remember this move.
Bradley is backing away from me, sword still held, somewhat, in a ready position, but he's trying to suck air back into his lungs, wheezing like an old man, how pathetic. He stumbles over something buried in the snow, falling on his backside and, not being one to waste such an opportunity, I move in and give him a shallow slash across the chest. I move out of range of a wild, uncontrolled, swing of his sword. He loses his grip on it, and it goes flying.
"Tsk, tsk. That was really stupid of you, throwing your blade away like that." The ground isn't too cluttered with broken playground equipment, and I cartwheel away from him as he stands, coming back up with my blade in one hand, my scabbard and his blade in my other.
"This is it, isn't it? You're going to take my head, aren't you?" He's almost whining, his face drained of all color as he realizes I could kill him now.
"Not yet." I drop his blade from my grasp, and with a solid toe kick, send it flying back towards him. "I prefer to fight an armed opponent. Pick it up!"
Slowly, he bends over to pick up the old Confederate States of America saber; I'd taken a good look at it before giving it back, and I move in again.
My scabbard is ironwood, solid, and nearly as hard as the steel it houses. I'm used to fighting with two blades. My hands and arms move in fast motions, blurring the weapons in front of me as I move in. He's trying to block my hits, but he's concentrating on the steel, not the wood, and it's the wood that makes contact with his ribs, then his neck as he reels away from the impact. I use his pain filled distraction to switch hands, moving the scabbard to my right, the blade to my left. I twirl around him and give him another "love tap" with my foot over his kidneys. He drops to his knees.
"Bradley, Bradley& You really must not have paid attention to your Teacher, never turn your back on your opponent." To help him remember this lesson, I slice open the back of his jacket, catching the skin below it and almost ripping his spine apart in the process. Damn, I haven't felt this charged by a Challenge in a long, long time. It'd be so easy to take his head right now, but I'm too pissed at him, so charged with battle lust that I want to toy with him. Make him pay for what he did to Diandra, pay for even thinking of threatening Jim.
He's slow to rise to his feet again, but I let him, standing just beyond the range of his sword arm. Yes, I'm giving him the chance to recover; I want this son of a bitch to hurt before I dispatch him to hell.
"It's funny, you know? I've taken a few heads since I became Immortal, and it's amazing how the voices of those taken like to whisper in my head." What the hell is he talking about? "You see, I think I just realized who you are& Houri."
My world crashes to a stop. "What did you just call me?"
"Houri. That is correct, isn't it, Eolia?"
Goddess! "You!" My rage is building to atomic proportions. "You're the headhunter who took him from me!?!"
"Azeem, Erzi, what ever the hell the name of that camel jockey was in Seattle. Yeah. He never even saw me coming, then actually begged me not to kill him."
"AZIR!!!" Battle rage becomes pure berserker and I'm after the man who took my husband from me. Steel and wood flying, I give no quarter, pressing him back across the park. Blow after blow slips past his ineffectual guard to cut him to shreds, cracking ribs, breaking his left arm, totaling a knee cap. Revenge really is sweet; I'm slowly destroying a monster.
He falls to the ground near a large, concrete sewer pipe then, like the vermin he is, he's scuttling inside, away from my righteous vengeance. "Damn you! Come out of there, you goddamned sewer-rat! I'm going to gut you, use your innards to strangle you, then I'm going to take your head!" I dare not go in after him, even though the conduit is large, it's not large enough to use my sword in, and I managed to lose my gun. Yes, at this point, I think I could do the dishonorable thing and kill him by headhunter methods.
"You want me, come in and get me, bitch!" The voice is full of pain and fear; he's hurting that's for certain.
"Get out here and fight like a man!" I'm pacing the area to the side of the long concrete pipe, not knowing when, or where, he'll come out of his hole. "Son of a Bolshevik bastard! Azir el Sadih was my husband! He was an honorable man! Not a craven scum-sucker like you! Ares, give me strength! I'm going to enjoy ending your misbegotten life!"
The laughter echoing out of the pipe is weak, yet full of malevolence. "Ares? You pray to a dead God for strength?"
"Get out here and find out just how 'dead' Ares is, Brad! As long as one person on Earth believes in him, Ares -- God of War, exists! In me!" I'd never really prayed to the War Gods before, but in the heat of battle, maybe this once Mars will answer me.
"I don't think so, sister. I'll come out when I'm good and ready and not a moment before."
Temper flying, I decide to go after the man. "Not bloody likely." I step in front of the bolthole of my prey. The loud report of gunfire and the blossoming pain in my stomach tells me the ultimate truth. My temper will be my downfall.
Blade and scabbard drop from my hands, landing in the snow as I clutch the fatal wound, staggering backwards several paces before falling to my knees. Because I forgot the first rule of combat -- know the field, make sure that there is nothing the enemy can use against you -- I'm dying. This upstart of a headhunting, immoral Immortal had hidden a gun here, just in case whoever answered his challenge got the better of him.
The sound of snow crunching under approaching feet makes me look up. He's standing over me, sword in hand, balanced on his shoulder. "Any last words?"
He's won; I'm dead. Dying slowly before he completes the job. But I still have a little fight left in me, not much, but enough. Calling out to the heavens in the ancient tongue, I accept my fate. "Nemesis, hear my plea! Revenge upon this child! Take him to judgment, to Tartarus take his soul!" The breath leaves me, the pain in my gut flaring.
"Are you done?" His tone is so gloating, reveling in his victory.
Almost. I bow my head, readying for the final blow, quietly whispering my last words on Earth. "Jim, I could have loved you& "
Diandra parked her Jeep next to Eolia's Lexus, scrambling out of the car, leaping onto the hood and then over the chain-link fence. Dropping to the ground, she drew her sword and paused, ranging her hearing outward, searching for any sign of the other immortals. The sound of a gunshot made her scramble for the dials, losing precious seconds of time as she struggled to get control. Once she had it, she began to run toward their voices.
Topping a small rise, she gazed in shock at the scene below her, Eolia on her knees, her arms wrapped around her bleeding stomach, Ventriss standing over her, his sword resting lazily on his shoulder. Dee started down the hill, knowing she would never reach them in time, knowing she couldn't interfere if she did. Lia's curse floated across the snow-covered ground, and Diandra stopped where she was, straining to hear her last words.
Ventriss' sword descended, and to Dee's horror the blade didn't go completely through on the first stroke. It took him two tries before Eolia's body slumped to the snow. The Amazon watched as her friend's Quickening seeped from her still form, hanging close to the ground for long seconds, then floating upward, twisting as it rose, becoming a whirlwind of electrical energy. Lightning sprang from the spinning funnel, striking the trees, the rusted playground equipment, and finally Ventriss, driving him to his knees.
Dee waited until the last flickers of power faded away, then she approached the other Immortal. His head came up as her buzz washed over him, and he staggered upright, leaning on his blade. Snapping a kick to his chest, the Champion sent him sprawling backwards on his ass, his sword skittering across the icy ground.
He peered up at her, and she knew he was trying to make out her features in the darkness, but the only illumination came from the wan moonlight behind her, the Quickening having shattered the solitary street lamp. "Who in the hell are you?" he finally gasped, and she could smell the fear pouring off of him.
Dee brought the katana back in preparation for the killing blow. "Diandra of Delphi. But tonight my name is Nemesis." Steel flashed in the air, slicing silently through flesh and bone. She took a step back, feeling the energy building around her. Throwing back her head, she screamed, giving voice to her rage and her grief. And then she was swallowed by the storm.