Immortal End Game
If he hadn't witnessed the devastation with his own eyes, hadn't heard the desperation in his partner's voice, Jim Ellison never would have believed the younger man's story. It was crazy; yet there was no doubt in his mind that it had been Ventriss' voice on the answering machine. Blair had insisted he play the message, to prove to the stubborn sentinel there was a reason for Lee's attack on him and Diandra. What Jim couldn't understand was why Lee felt she had to be the one to confront him. And what had been that crack of Brad's about older women? Lee wasn't immortal; she couldn't be immortal...
The truck's tires slipped on the icy pavement, and all thoughts other than driving flew out the window. They had to be in time to stop what was going to go down. Catching a glimpse of a bank's digital clock as he sped past it, Jim changed the thought to what had gone down. Twenty-five after the deadline hour and, with the conditions of the roads, they still had about fifteen more minutes of driving before they arrived at the old duck pond.
Sliding through a sharp turn, Jim heard Blair hiss in pain. "Sorry, buddy."
Holding his abused ribs, taking shallow breaths in an effort to control the pain flaring through his body, Blair Sandburg moved away from his contact with the door. "Jus' keep goin' -- I'll live."
Both eyes on the road, hands clenched around the steering wheel, the detective started the conversation again. "Chief, you were telling me how you came to the conclusion that Brad Ventriss was/is Immortal."
"I didn't. Megan did." He glanced out the rear window, seeing the lights of Megan's car several blocks behind them.
"But you were the one that made the connections, right?"
"Damn. Can't that son of a bitch just stay dead?" Jim turned the final corner that would put them on the straight road leading directly to the pond without fish-tailing the truck too much.
"We can only hope." Blair muttered between clenched teeth, bracing one hand on the dashboard.
Jim heard the pain filled voice, the sharp hissing breath and the rapid tattoo of his friend's heartbeat. "As soon as we find them, I'll get you to the hospital, Chief."
The flash of lightning over the docks ahead of them heralded the sudden black out of power in the area. Jim slowed the truck as he watched the electrical display. He saw the brilliant bolts of power snake out, destroying windows, blowing out street lamps, then seemingly curl back into themselves as the display died. The horrified, whispered mantra caught his attention.
"It's not Dee, it can't be Dee. Let be Brad, please let it be Brad."
Spotting Diandra's Jeep, parked near Lee's Lexus, Jim pulled in beside the cars and jumped out of the truck after shutting the engine down. Walking around to assist Blair, he sent his hearing out, searching for the voice of either the Immortal Amazon or the Security Specialist and CIA Agent.
"Diandra of Delphi. But tonight my name is Nemesis."
"Chief! Dee's over that way!" Jim started to move towards the fence, intent on getting to Diandra, something in her voice worrying him.
"Oh shit! Too close! Way too close!"
Concern for his friend over took Ellison's need to find and arrest the not-dead-after-all Immortal Brad Ventriss. He turned to see Blair trying to scramble away from the fenced in park, a look of sheer panic on the man's face as the strangely luminescent fog started to build around them. "Sandburg?" He reached his partner's side and made to support the unsteady student.
Blair could feel the sense of righteousness emanating from his lover through their 'psychic' connection, knew when the warrior he loved brought her blade down. He started to move, stumbling away from the epicenter of the Quickening that was rushing in to fill the void.
Blair's panic grew to new heights as Jim reached for him. He realized that if he and Jim were in contact when the second Quickening hit him through his connection to Diandra, it could have devastating consequences for both of them. "No! Don't touch me! Dial back, Jim! Zero all the dials out…" The pain stabbing through his head stopped all further thoughts from being voiced.
The absolute terror in Blair's voice unnerved Jim, but not as much as the sight of the student dropping like a poleaxed steer to the icy ground. Jim moved to try to cushion his friend's head as he started to convulse, not wanting the Guide to further harm himself. The hairs on the back of Jim's neck stood up and his skin started to tingle strangely, like it had when he was a child and he'd stood too close to a Tesla Generator at the Museum of Science. He could feel himself starting to zone out on the peculiar sensation, and tried to pull back. But something was powering the sensory feedback, causing it to loop back, over and over again, coming at him from three directions -- outside of him, through the Sentinel/Guide connection and from Blair himself.
Megan Connor cursed under her breath as she swerved to avoid a car sliding through the intersection, barely avoiding getting hit herself by the out of control station wagon. Jockeying her Chevy Tahoe back onto the road from the sidewalk, she snapped at her passenger. "Bloody hell. Why couldn't Sandy and Jimbo have waited for us? Grab me that cell phone in the glove box, J-M."
Jan-Michel LaFollet released his death grip on the door and the dashboard, found the cell phone and handed it to the Australian Inspector. "Do you know where they're going?"
"No." One hand on the wheel, she hit the auto-dial function on her department issued phone and nearly screamed in frustration as it took several rings before someone picked up her call. "Rafe! Bloody well took you long enough!"
"Connor? What the hell?"
"No time, mate. I need to know how to get to the duck pond by the docks. Don't ask, I'll tell you later."
"Duck pond by the docks? Meg, I'm not sure I know… Wait a second." There was silence on the other end then another voice chimed in on the line.
"Connor, you wanting to know about the one where David Lash did his work?"
"Yes, Henri. I don't know where the hell it's at and I have to meet an informant there soon."
"Take West 34th from South Main. It leads right to it." The normally jovial detective's voice was full of concern. "And Connor? Watch your back. That's a really bad area of town. Better yet, wait for Brian and I to back you up…"
"No time." She slapped the cell phone closed and threw it to the seat between her and LaFollet. "Hang on," was the only warning she gave as she whipped her forest green SUV into a 180 and gunned the powerful engine, heading back the way she had just come. "Passed the damn street I need three blocks back."
Jan-Michel merely nodded as he pushed off the door he'd been slammed into. "Do you always drive like this?" He flinched as the Inspector barely missed side swiping another vehicle. "Kyyyrist! Don't answer that!"
Megan took the left onto West 34th, power sliding through the turn, her thoughts already far ahead of her position. "Bloody bugger, I knew there was something strange about your boss. She's another damn Immortal, isn't she? That's why she left to answer Ventriss' challenge."
"Yes, she is. But I don't understand why Lee felt she had to attack Diandra, Sandburg and myself."
She heard the confusion in the blond Immortal Watcher's voice and tried to sympathize with him, "Maybe she thought she was protecting you? I mean, you are new to this damn Game of theirs."
"Maybe." He was keeping his eyes forward, looking for the signs that they were getting close to their destination, when he saw it. "Shit! Quickening storm straight ahead. Step on it, Connor!"
Catching sight of the massive electrical storm forming in front of her, Megan felt her heart clench in fear. "Oh, God! Please, not Dee. Please don't let it be Dee…" Her foot pressed harder against the accelerator.
Spying the distinctive blue and white pickup, Megan slid her Chevy to a skidding halt behind it. The Tahoe had barely come to a stop when LaFollet jumped out of the car and was running for the fenced in, darkened park. The Quickening storm they had seen had blow out the power grid for blocks and the second one that followed worried them both. She shut off the engine, jumped out, and was approaching the fence line herself when she found Blair and Jim.
Jim was on his knees next to Blair, his expression blank, his body rigid in the classic signs of a deep zone out. And her fellow Companion/Guide's body was still shivering in what looked to be the after affects of a grand mal seizure. Dropping to their sides, Megan reached out and pulled Jim's hand into hers, unknowingly severing the connection between the Sentinel and Guide, and cutting off one of the sources of his zone out. "Jim? Ellison! Damn it." No response from the detective. Looking down at the unconscious student, she said, "Sandy, I could use your help here." But there was no quirky, smart alec remark to answer her.
Thinking back to what she had seen of the Quickening storms, she decided to take a chance. "Okay, there was a hell of a light display, but you're both too close to the center. So maybe it was an overload on your sense of sight or maybe touch? Is that it, Jim?" Dropping her voice to a soft, quiet alto, Megan pulled the Sentinel's slack hand towards her chest, placing it, palm open and flat over her heart. "Jim? Feel that? Come on; focus in on the feel of my heart. It's pounding like a rabbit's, I know, but you're scaring the hell out of me. Sandy's unconscious. I don't know why and I could really use your help here."
Jan-Michel cleared the fence in a smooth jumping motion, adrenaline giving him the extra boost to hurdle the obstacle without a problem. Two Quickening storms, so close together, could only mean one thing. Out of the three Immortals that had arrived at this park, only one was left. Even as he ran deeper into the park, the former Navy SEAL made a silent vow. If it was Brad Ventriss, he'd kill the man with a well placed gun shot, then take his head in retribution for the loss of two of the oldest women Immortals on Earth.
Sliding to a halt, spotting a slumped figure on the snow covered ground, he pulled his gun and Azir's sword, ready to take revenge. The figure threw their head back, long dark hair cascading over her shoulders as a keening cry issued from her throat. Shocked, the weapons dropped from his hands, as the answer became clear to him. Two Quickenings, two Immortals dead and only Diandra of Delphi remained alive. He collapsed to the ground, giving voice to his own grief. "NO! NO! Oh, God! Why Lee?"
"Jim? Feel that? Come on, focus in on the feel of my heart. It's pounding like a rabbit's, I know, but you're scaring the hell out of me. Sandy's unconscious. I don't know why and I could really use your help here."
The words barely penetrated the cotton in his head, but they, along with the feeling of a rapid heartbeat under his palm, helped Jim to slowly find his way back from the edge of the abyss the electrical storm had sent him to. The hand that wasn't registering the speaker's heart curled around the wrist of his Guide. The weakened pulse there brought the Sentinel all the way back. "Chief?"
The wan moonlight, the only illumination in that darkened area, showed the detective the shallow, pale coloring of his best friend's face, the shudders still running rampant through the young man's body. Then the pain hit Ellison hard, behind the eyes. He'd suffered from migraines before his senses had kicked in, stress induced tension headaches really, but since learning to control his Sentinel senses, they'd gotten worse. But only when he'd overloaded on one sense or another, like now. Groaning, he slumped over the gently quaking form of his Guide and heard the jaguar scream in protest as he allowed the darkness to consume him.
Megan nearly cried at the sound of Jim's tentative query for his friend as she clutched his cold hand closer to her
breast. Blinking away the few tears that escaped her control, she watched, horrified, as the Sentinel stiffened, then collapsed over the prostrate form of his friend. "NO!"
Shaking hands reached out to both men, searching for pulses she feared she wouldn't find. She was relieved when she did locate them. Sandburg's was a little thready, as was Ellison's, but neither man responded to her pleas, her prodding or the out right poke that she gave the detective in the ribs. She'd had the presence of mind to grab her cell phone when she exited her Tahoe and now pulled the device from her coat pocket.
"This is Inspector Connor, Major Crimes. I have two men down, both are members of my department, at the old park at the West End of West 34th. I need an ambulance and back up here ASAP." Her voice was hard, leaving no room for argument as she told the Dispatch Office her situation. "Thank you." Shutting down the phone, her head snapped up as the sound of two voices screaming, in what could only be called grief, shattered the cold night air. "Oh, gods! Now what?"
She was torn. The cop in her needed to investigate the disturbance, but the part of her that was friend to Ellison and Sandburg wanted to stay with them until the medics arrived. And the part of Megan that was Companion to Diandra's Champion had to find out if the Immortal Amazon was okay. The Companion won out and she clambered over the hood of Dee's Wagoneer to jump the fence, pulling her gun as she hit the ground on the run. The faint moonlight was her only guide as she searched for the source of the grief stricken cries.
Diandra got to her feet slowly, picking up her katana and tucking it inside her coat. She was bone-tired and totally wired at the same time. Shaking her head to clear the last of the ringing from the Quickening, she shuffled over to Ventriss' body and began to methodically go through his clothing, pocketing keys, I.D, anything that could possibly identify him. She found the gun he'd used on Eolia, and tucked that away too. Damn it! He had to have a car here somewhere. She'd have to find it. But first things first. She had to get rid of his body. Otherwise people would be asking all kinds of questions, like how did a dead man end up dead again.
Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a small can of lighter fluid she'd taken from Brad. Popping the top off of it, she sprinkled the fluid on his shirt. It wasn't much, but hopefully it would be enough to get the fire started. She'd have to look for more fuel, but maybe it'd at least catch his clothing on fire. Striking a match from the booklet she always carried, she dropped it on him and walked a few paces away to where Eolia had fallen.
She gazed down at the lifeless body of the other Immortal. "Aw, damn it, Lia, why couldn't you let me be the one to challenge him?" Dee pushed her hair back off her face and wiped at her eyes. "And what am I going to do with you now?"
The sound of footsteps crunching on snow reached her ears, followed by an immortal warning tingle. She looked up to see Jan-Michel approaching slowly, his shoulders slumped. Stepping over Lee's body, Dee moved to block his view. "Jan," she said softly, reaching out a hand to stop him. "You really don't need to see this."
She watched him swallow convulsively. "Yes, I do, if only to close her Chronicle."
Shrugging, Dee stepped aside. LaFollet gazed at his fallen teacher for several moments, then turned away, retching. When he was through, Dee said, "Jan-Michel, you really want to help Lee, take these," she handed him the items she'd pilfered from Brad's pockets, along with both Eolia's and Ventriss' swords, "find his car and get out of here."
"You'll take care of her?"
"I will. I'll contact you later, okay?"
He nodded, and then before turning to leave he tossed something at her. "Here, use it with my blessings." He walked back across the park, vanishing into the darkness.
Diandra looked down at the object the Watcher had thrown her and offered up silent thanks for the man's thoughtfulness. Uncapping the liquid accelerator -- a mixture of magnesium flakes suspended in a gelled alcohol, standard issue for Watchers in the field -- she tossed the volatile fluid onto the barely burning body. Adding another couple of lit matches to the pile, she watched as the fire finally caught to her satisfaction and the flames burned brighter and hotter than she could've hoped for. Soon, there would be nothing left of Bradley Ventriss except bad memories and scattered ashes.
Megan carefully crossed the icy ground. Slipping in a patch of reddened snow and ice earlier had made her cautious. When the fire glow ahead of her became blinding white, she broke into a run. Finding Diandra standing guard over a fallen body, her face set in what appeared to be an emotionless mask lit by the bright fire, the Companion choked back a sob of relief. The slight wind shifted at that moment, blowing the smoke rising from the fire towards her. The bile rose in her throat, as she smelled the unmistakable odor of burning flesh. "Dee?"
She approached the Champion, glancing down to see what the Amazon was guarding. At the sight of Lee Eolia's headless form, the woman's head not too far from the body, the neck showing signs of having been hacked at, Megan could no longer control her stomach.
The light touch of a cool hand on the back of her neck as she heaved into a bush near the edge of the pond helped her to control her reaction. "Oh, Dee… Lee didn't deserve that, no matter what she'd done."
Diandra's voice was cold. "No, she didn't. But Nemesis heard her plea and answered her. Brad Ventriss is dead."
Megan swallowed, trying to rid herself of the vile taste in her mouth. "Where's LaFollet?"
"Taking care of Watcher business." The Amazon's eyes were locked on the fire that was slowly starting to sputter out, having nothing left to consume.
The strange mood the Champion was in bothered the Companion, who was expecting more emotion from the woman. "Dee? Sandy and Jim were here when the second Quickening happened. They're hurt."
She said nothing, just started running towards the fence line where the cars were parked, and where, conveniently, the Sentinel and Guide had fallen, leaving Megan to catch up to her. Diandra never approached the fallen pair after climbing over the fence, just cocked her head in the motion that told the inspector the woman was scanning them with her hearing. "They'll be fine, Pajara. Move your car so I can get out of here. I can hear company coming and I cannot be here when they arrive."
"NOW, Megan." The order snarled across the short distance between the two women.
Confused, hurt and pissed, Megan didn't answer the woman who no longer acted like the friend she was. She moved her Chevy as Diandra started up her Jeep and pulled away at a high rate of speed, disappearing around a corner at the end of the docks, just as the ambulance pulled onto 34th street two blocks back in the other direction.
Captain Simon Banks was a very happy man as he and his son, who looked to have grown a couple of inches since he last saw him, sat at the dining room table participating in a Banks family Christmas tradition, stringing popcorn and cranberries for the tree. Except for the ongoing investigation into the break in and reported theft from QuestScape, the department had had a relatively quiet week. Well, not counting the winter storm that had fouled up the scheduling and phones two days before.
He'd been able to cut out of the station early, leaving Joel Taggart in charge, and had arrived at the airport to pick up Daryl just as the young man's flight had landed at 4 PM. They'd had an early dinner, nothing fancy since his son had been 'dying' for a pizza from Volari's, then they had popped the dried corn while watching the George C Scott version of Scrooge. The loud ringing of the phone hanging on the kitchen wall shattered their quiet time.
"I'll get it, Dad," Daryl volunteered as he moved towards the phone. "Probably Mom wanting to make sure you haven't throttled me yet."
Simon chuckled as his son flashed him a brilliant smile, then turned his attention back to pushing a sharp needle through a rather thick cranberry.
"Hey, Daryl! You made it in! That's great!"
"Hi, Rafe. I suppose you're calling for Dad?"
The needle punched through the berry at that moment and, not paying attention, Simon yelped as he speared his thumb. "Yeowch!"
Daryl couldn't help it, the sight of his father sucking his thumb was funny and he started to chuckle. "Oh, man, that had to have hurt. Dad? Rafe's on the phone for you."
Gently cuffing his tall son on the back of the head, Simon accepted the cordless phone from him and pulled his thumb out of his mouth before answering. "Rafe, this had better be good. I'm off duty until Monday, remember?"
"Yes, sir. It's just that H and I got a strange call from Megan and the more we thought about it, the more we thought you should know."
"Spill it, Rafe."
"Uh, she called asking about the duck pond where Lash worked, said she had to meet an informant but didn't want to wait for H or I to back her up."
The hackles went up on the back of his neck. That part of his city wasn't safe and even the patrols that worked that area were double manned. While Connor was good at taking care of herself, he wondered if she was walking into trouble. The only case that she was actively working was QuestScape. "Damn. You were right to call me, Brian. Keep me posted, I'll be in my unit in a few minutes." He hung up the phone and looked at his son. "Daryl, I'm sorry--"
"Dad, it's okay. It's your job and I really do understand. I'll be fine. Go." He finished up the last of the garland, tying off the end of the long strand and walked over to the tree in the corner of the living room. "Besides, I was wondering if I'd get a chance to let Santa know the coast was clear."
Simon smiled, wondering what he'd ever done to have such an understanding son when Joan never could understand that sometimes his job had to come before family. "I'll try not to be too late. Just make sure you lock up when I leave." He looked down at his clothes, faded jeans stained with red berry juice, red sweatshirt and his ragged, old running shoes. It'll have to do, not like I'm going to be walking into a crime scene. The commander of Major Crimes grabbed up his heavy Seattle Seahawks jacket, keys, ID folder and badge, tucked his gun into the holster he hadn't taken off, and headed out the door. Pausing only long enough to hear Daryl slide the deadbolt home, he walked to his sedan.
Pulling out of the driveway, he flipped on the police band radio, listening to the idle chatter between patrol units that were bored by the light traffic and lack of action on Christmas Eve. The Captain was happy for the boredom. It meant that he might actually be able to spend a relaxing holiday visitation with Daryl, who was close to graduating from High School and wanted to look into attending Rainier University the following fall.
The three tone alert breaking over the police radio caused Simon to clench his hands around the steering wheel, dreading the words that would shatter the calm evening.
"Officer Down, Officer Requesting back-up and Med-Squad. West 34th, near the old city park. Called in by phone, Officer ID is Zebra 16."
Zebra 16, Inspector Megan Connor's assigned call sign. Simon reached out and grabbed up the microphone from its holder. "Zebra 1, Dispatch, responding code 3." He threw the mic to the seat and flipped the switch on the dash that would activate his emergency lights as he pressed the gas peddle to the fire wall. "Damn it, Connor! What the hell have you gotten yourself into? And who the hell is hurt?"
Dispatch had relayed the information from the ambulance that the power was out for five blocks around the area where they were responding.. A couple of police units confirmed that as they drew closer to the scene. Simon noted the blackout conditions as he pulled onto 34th Street. By the time he stepped out of his sedan, he had spotted the paramedics working on two people on the ground, next to a distinctive blue and white Ford truck. He noted the dark colored Lexus SUV parked close to that. Using the emergency lighting strobing through the dark, he spotted the officer who had made the call to dispatch and approached her.
"Connor, what the hell happened here?"
"Uh, I got a tip that Ms. Eolia had been contacted by a subject claiming to be the thief that had broken into QuestScape, and that if she wanted to clear her company's name, she was to meet him here at six."
"And?" he asked quietly, hoping to pull more information out of her.
"I didn't get here in time, sir. Jim and Sandy beat me here, but I did find Ms. Eolia. She's dead, sir. Looks like the same method that killed her husband in Seattle. Shot, then decapitated." Her eyes never wavered off the paramedics who were treating their friends.
Noting how she seemed to be fixated on the treatment of the two fallen men, he wasn't really surprised to see that it was Sandburg and Ellison. He chose to stand beside her and watch the paramedics work on his men. Once they were loaded up, and he knew which hospital they were heading to, he placed a quick phone call to Joel Taggart, quietly asking the man to meet the ambulance at the hospital and to see what he could find out from the staff there.
When the inspector turned to face him finally, he never had a chance to say a word before she spoke. "The scene's a real mess, Captain. I'm not sure we'll ever be able to tell what happened to Ms. Eolia."
"Can you tell me what happened to Ellison and Sandburg?"
She shook her head. "No, they were like that when I arrived, Sir."
Simon Banks wasn't sure if he fully believed her or not. She'd been hanging around Sandburg for a while. The student was a great teacher and Obfuscation 101 was a favorite subject. "Maybe the staff at Cas-Gen will be able to figure out what happened to them. In the meantime, show me the scene. You said Ms Eolia was shot and decapitated?"
"Yes, sir. Uh, the scene's a real…"
"Mess, you said that already, Connor. I'm not exactly wearing my best shoes, lead on."
Connor had greatly understated the devastation of the crime scene. There was blood everywhere, bright red stains on snow that had been disturbed by a lot of busy feet. It looked like a damn war zone with all the spilt blood and blackened or scorched trees and playground equipment. When he was shown the body of the WindHawk Securities owner, he had to clamp down hard on his body's reaction to seeing the once vibrant woman lying on the ground like a broken doll.
The Medical Examiner on call, Dr. Dan Wolfe, was taking his preliminary notes and trying hard not to contaminate the crime scene himself. Hearing the snow crunching under approaching feet, Dan stood up to face the visitor. "Captain Banks."
"Dan, what can you tell me?"
"Not much, yet. Cause of death appears to be decapitation, but she was also gut shot. Either would've killed her and the decapitation was a real hack job. A sharp instrument, maybe a long blade or ax, was used, but the perpetrator had to strike twice to complete the job. Nasty way to go if she was still alive when it happened." He motioned to his two assistants to move in and bag the body as he walked back to the other part of the scene that was bugging him.
Simon followed the ME and noticed the burned area the doctor stopped at. "What the heck happened here?"
Dan bent down and carefully scooped up a sample of the ash and placed it in an evidence bag. "I'm not sure. I'll have to analyze the ash to find out what was burned here and when." He put a hand, still gloved in latex, over the center of the burn area. "Still a little warm, so it's recent. Maybe a homeless person was camped here before whatever happened here went down."
"Then we might have a witness. Let me know as soon as you can find out, Dan. And I hate to ask this of you, but can you put a rush on the autopsy of Ms. Eolia? Her husband was killed in a similar manner a few months ago down in Seattle."
"Assassination or serial killer?"
Simon shuddered. "God, I hope not. I don't think Cascade could put up with another serial killer."
Dan stripped off his exam gloves, placing them in another evidence bag to preserve them and shook his head. "I hear that. I'll get started on the post mortum examination of the victim as soon as I get back to the office."
The Captain watched as the Medical Examiner walked toward the van where the remains were being loaded and moaned as he saw the news vans pulling up. Maybe he should let Connor talk to the press? No, it was his responsibility. He'd hear from the Chief and the Commissioner about his appearance, but they'd have to understand he was called from home and didn't exactly have time to climb back into his suit and tie. "Let the circus begin," he muttered under his breath as he slowly walked to where the patrolmen who'd responded were holding the press back from the crime scene.
Dee drove slowly back to her loft, barely controlling the Quickening energy that surged through her. She'd hated to leave Blair and Jim like that, but there was nothing she could have done for them in the state she was in. She could just as easily killed them as healed them.
Parking her car outside the loft, she got out and went upstairs. She cleaned her blade immediately, years of battle training having taught her that weapons care was the first step to keeping her head. Exchanging her customary boots for track shoes, she discarded her coat, changed into a sweatshirt, and headed out again. Hitting the street, she began to run, quickly settling into a ground covering lope, forcing her thoughts to concentrate on her stride, her breathing, the scenery rushing by, anything but that evening's terrible events. She closed her mind to the vision of her lover's face, the bruises Lia had inflicted upon him standing out in stark relief against his pale skin. And poor Jim, zoned on the Quickening energy surging through his partner.
She shook her head. They would be fine; their senses were just overloaded. Staying to help them wouldn't have been of benefit to anyone if she'd been found at the scene. Banks wouldn't have any reason not to arrest her for Eolia's death, and there would be no rescue in the nick of time by the FBI on this occasion. Better she left than have to explain her bloodstained appearance, and why she was holding a bloody sword standing over a decapitated corpse. A grim smile crossed her face. She hoped Megan was a good tap dancer, because she was going to have to come up with one hell of a story to explain what happened.
An hour later, Diandra returned to her apartment, not completely drained, but enough of the edge burned off that she didn't feel like she was bouncing off the walls. Grabbing the phone, she punched in Megan's cell number. At her companion's sharp "Connor," she said, "It's me. Where did they take Blair and Jim? I want to head over there."
"Cas-Gen. But I just spoke to Joel. He said they were insisting on going home, so as soon as they can check themselves out, that's where they'll be heading. Probably would get to the loft by the time you made it to the hospital."
"Okay, Pajara, I'll wait here for them." Hanging up the phone, she took a look at the remains of her living room. The coffee table was done for, so was the throw rug. And for the second time in two days there was a pool of drying blood that needed mopped up. Sighing, Dee grabbed the cleaning supplies from the kitchen and went to work.
Captain Joel Taggart had made the unfortunate mistake of stopping by the Major Crimes division after his evening workout in the PD's exercise room, and had compounded that mistake by answering a ringing phone. He hadn't heard the radio traffic earlier, having turned off his portable radio while he exercised, and the news from Simon that Ellison and Sandburg were both enroute to Cascade General Hospital had shocked him. Not even during the hopefully peaceful holidays could those two catch a break.
Joel parked his department-issue maroon Crown Victoria in the Emergency Room parking lot and hastened inside the bustling environment. Pausing at the registration desk long enough to flash his credentials and to inquire after the whereabouts of his fellow detective and Jim's civilian partner, he walked back toward the treatment rooms.
"Sir? Excuse me, you can't be back here."
He turned at the sound of that tired voice and found himself face to face with a very worn out looking, older blond nurse. Reading her name badge, Joel smiled his best I'm-harmless smile and held up his badge and ID. "I'm here to see about the officer that was brought in earlier, Kristine."
"Oh! That one. Ellison, right? And his friend, Blair something or other?"
"Follow me." Kristine turned sharply on her heel and led the way to exam room 8. "Your detective is in x-ray right now, but you can see the other one while you wait. Poor soul really had the crap beaten out of him." She pushed open the door, then excused herself as a patient started howling from inside one of the other exam rooms.
Entering the softly lit room, Joel found his eyes quickly lighting on the graduate student. Blair appeared to be resting, nearly buried under several blankets. His face clearly showed the effects of having been brutalized. Shaking his head, he sat down in the only chair available as he quietly observed, "I hope who ever did this to you got their ass seriously kicked, Blair."
He had heard the soft footsteps enter his room, but opted to play 'possum' until he was sure it wasn't another nurse, x-ray tech or doctor that had entered. Hearing Joel's concern, Blair cracked open one eye and whispered, sadly, "She did, Joel."
"Sandburg! You're awake?"
The student tried to sit up. "Owch! Yeah, I heard you come in." The pains shooting through his abused ribs made him think twice and he settled for just lying there. "Where's Jim?"
"He's here, down in x-ray. Blair, what the hell happened to you?" Blair felt the older man appraising him. "Something really terrible happened, didn't it?"
He wasn't sure what, exactly, he should tell Joel about Lee Eolia's attack on him. Sighing, Blair closed his eyes, "You could say that, Joel."
Leaning over the bed, the detective reached out to brush a strand of hair from Blair's forehead. "Blair, you have to tell someone, make a report on your assault. Tell me what you can, for now, and I'll follow up with you in a couple of days. I'll try to keep it 'in the family', so to speak."
He knew that Joel was right, that he'd have to talk to someone about the incident and the idea that the man was willing to help him, to follow-up with him personally, keeping it inside Major Crimes… "I was at Diandra's place, Lee Eolia had been staying there for a while, and she came in, upset and not in the best of moods." It wasn't the truth, not entirely, but it would be one way to lay the ground work for the rest of the report. Once he knew what had really happened and what the others, namely Jim and Megan, put in their reports, he could tailor his version to match theirs. "She'd been contacted by the real thief from QuestScape, who wanted to meet her, alone. I tried to stop her, asked her to wait until Jim or Megan showed up. She went nuts on me..."
James Ellison regained consciousness with a yell. Then he backhanded the person who had just shone a very bright light in his eye. "Get the hell away from me!"
The Doctor pushed off the wall that he'd just been thrown into, waving off the nurse who had burst into the room, and in a very sarcastic voice said, "Well, I see you finally decided to wake up, Detective." He dimmed the overhead lights to a soft twilight.
Blinking away the tears that had formed due to the assault on his sensitive eyes, Jim took a good look at the young, blond man with the quirky smile on his face. "Sorry, I tend to wake up meaner than a snake."
The physician nodded. "I should've known better, I read your file before I came in here. You're extremely photophobic, have a number of idiosyncratic reactions to common over the counter drugs and have been treated for severe concussions and migraines in the past." Jim watched as the doctor placed the light pen back in his pocket, then cautiously approached his patient. "By the way, I'm Dr. Matt Douglas and I have to admit, you've had me stumped for about an hour, Detective."
"You an intern?" The doctor looked too young to be a full fledged physician, "What do you mean, an hour? Where's my partner?" Jim tried to push up on his arms, only to be firmly pushed back on the bed.
The doctor chuckled. "I'm a neurologist, did my internship years ago." He put a restraining hand on Jim's chest, holding him immobile on the exam bed. "As for your partner, he's being treated for a number of cracked ribs and a bruised sternum by another doc. IF you behave and let me finish my exam, I'll make sure that you can see him before I place you in a room upstairs."
"No way, I'm not staying overnight, Doctor."
Doctor Matt Douglas scrubbed his face. "I see Kristine was right about you." He was starting to wonder if moving his practice to Cascade was such a great idea after all. He'd never had this much trouble from the cops he treated in Los Angeles. But his dealings with those street-tough officers had taught him how to deal with stubborn patients that were permitted to carry weapons. Putting all the steel he'd learned over the years into his voice, he pinned the Detective with his eyes. "All right, Ellison. I'll make you a deal. Pass my exam, convince me you can take care of yourself if I discharge you, promise to follow up with me in two weeks, and I'll consider not admitting you for observation."
Staring into the flint-hard blue eyes of the patient, Matt could see the man striving not to lose his temper. The officer's jaw line was actually twitching as Ellison ground his teeth. "Fine, Doc. I'll pass your damn exam, I have a roommate or a neighbor that can help me -- if I need it, which I won't -- and I'll gladly follow up with you in two weeks. Now, can we get on with this?"
"Certainly." Matt smiled, as he helped the patient sit on the edge of the exam bed, then tried to hold his tongue when the man's eyes widened at the sight of the rubberized mallet he pulled from a storage drawer.
"Jim? You awake?" While the doctor left Jim alone for a few minutes, Joel must have taken the opportunity to slip into his room.
Sitting up on the bed, his head still spinning from the pain meds Dr. Douglas had administered, the Detective smiled crookedly and greeted his friend. "Yeah, I'm awake. Have you seen Sandburg, Joel?"
Reaching out a steadying hand, Joel helped Jim to sit up as the man slowly swung his legs off the table. "I've seen him. He seems to be doing okay for someone who got the shit beat out of him. The doctor's in with him now, and she kicked me out. How are you doing?"
"Then he's doing all right?" He waited to see the detective nod an affirmative before he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to cut off the pain in his head. "Good. As for me, I've been better."
"Jim, I have to ask this… What happened tonight?"
Having had the chance, while being examined by Dr. Douglas, to stretch his hearing and listen in on the conversation his guide had had with the concerned Captain, Jim was able to back up Sandburg's story. "I'm not really sure, Joel. I came home from the station, saw that Dr. Pallas' apartment door was open and went to investigate. You'd heard that we'd had a break in there yesterday?" He waited until the former bomb squad leader nodded to continue. "Well, I thought that maybe the burglar had come back, only when I entered the apartment, I found Blair unconscious and pretty well banged up. When he started to come around, a few minutes later, I found out Lee Eolia had gotten a call from someone claiming to have the hardware that was stolen from QuestScape, that she wanted to go meet this man on her own and Blair tried to stop her."
Joel nodded. "That's pretty much what Blair told me. He said she went a little nuts on him; when he tried to restrain her, to hold her back, she attacked him."
Jim sighed. "Yeah, that's what he told me too." Trying to keep his answers short, Jim answered the rest of Joel's questions to the best of his muddle-brained ability. The medication that Douglas had given him earlier was starting to cut through the headache, but it was also making it very hard to think. He was still concerned about what he thought he'd seen, and felt, when that second "Quickening Storm" had blown over him and Blair, but it was his Guide's physical reaction that worried him.
"Excuse me, gentlemen." Doctor Douglas stepped into the room, interrupting the quiet interrogation that was going on. "Detective Taggart, I understand you have a job to do, but I wish you had asked me if I thought Ellison was up to talking, before you sneaked in here."
Joel looked at the tall young man. "Sorry, doctor, I didn't think you'd mind and if Jim here didn't want to talk, he would have tossed me out himself."
Matt tossed the film carrier onto the counter. "Oh, that wouldn't surprise me a bit." Stepping over to his patient's side he looked into the man's eyes, happy to see the pupils were finally starting to retract back to 'normal' for the level of light in the room. "Your CAT films came back normal, Ellison. And I can see that your eyes are starting to react normally again. Is the shot helping the headache?"
"Yes. Does that mean I can get out of here?"
"I suppose so, but you'll have to do so against my better judgment…"
"AMA. Got it. Just give me the paperwork and I'll sign it."
Sighing, Matt shook his head and gathered up the film carrier then handed his patient his business card. "I'll get Kristine or one of the other nurses to bring the discharge paperwork in. That card I just handed you has my office number on it, as well as my pager number. Remember, you have an appointment with me in two weeks and you're to page me if you have any problems with vision, hearing, vertigo or nausea for the next 24 hours."
"Thanks, Dr. Douglas. But I'll be fine." As if to prove his point, Jim hopped off the exam table and started to slip out of the patient gown he'd been dressed in, reaching for his shirt and sweater.
Matt Douglas knew when a patient worked that hard to prove he, or she, was all right, the only thing you could do was give in gracefully. He stepped out of the room, walked over to the Physician's desk and started writing up his notes. Handing off Ellison's chart to a passing male nurse, along with a prescription order, the young doctor washed his hands of the whole mess.
The man that had entered the exam room with such authority was dressed in faded blue jeans, a light blue dress shirt, a slate blue tie barely tightened around the neck and white lab coat. Joel wondered if he was just getting older, or if the doctor really was as young as he looked. He listened carefully to every word that was exchanged between Ellison and the Doctor, knowing that the Doc was going to lose the argument before it even really began.
Joel smiled to himself as he watched the young doctor leave in disgust, barely making it to Jim's side before the man fell to the floor. "Jim? Are you sure you should be leaving the hospital?"
Jim straightened his legs, pushing off the table to regain his balance and finished dressing. "I'm fine, Joel. It's just the drugs Dr. Douglas gave me that are making it a little hard to navigate."
"Okay, if you say so." He wasn't convinced, but he also wasn't about to stand between this man and his partner, which is where he guessed Jim wanted to go. A male nurse, dressed in purple scrubs, walked in carrying a clipboard and a small bottle of pills.
"Jim Ellison, I thought I recognized the name on the board." The man was just over six feet tall, dark hair rapidly graying at the temples, his light brown eyes laughing behind gold framed glasses.
"Hey, George. That my paperwork?"
"Sure is, standard Ellison AMA stuff. And I took the liberty of getting your 'script filled at the hospital pharmacy." George handed over the clipboard and bottle of Fiorinal. "I understand that you broke Doctor Douglas in just right."
Jim scribbled his name on the paperwork, tore off the carbon copy underneath to stuff it in his pocket, where he'd shoved the bottle of five painkillers and returned the clipboard. "Don't tell me, his first night?"
"First night on call for the ER. He's been practicing here for about four months. Pretty sharp doctor, for a twenty-five year old prodigy." George smiled as he left the exam room, paperwork in hand.
"He's younger than Sandburg?"
Joel led his friend to Blair's room, where the kid was also signing AMA paperwork. Ten minutes later, he was helping them out to his car to drive them home. After contacting Megan Connor at the crime scene and asking her to make sure that Ellison's truck found its way home, which she promised to do, they were on their way.
Doctors Douglas and Celeste Willhite watched as the two men they'd treated walked out of the emergency room, escorted by a rather solicitous Detective, then they walked back into the blessedly silent ER. "Celeste? Did your patient AMA on you as well?"
"Sure did. But I'm used to that with those two." The forty-something, tall, brunette answered as she handed her co-worker a cup of coffee. "By the way, welcome to Cascade and congratulations on handling Detective Ellison so well, Matt."
Sipping the overly strong brew, he nodded. "Thanks. I take it those two have a history with the hospital?"
Glancing at her watch, Celeste indicated the Doctor's Lounge and started to explain as she led the way into the private sanctuary. "Oh, Matt, you don't know the half of it…" The door shut, closing off the rest of the world and allowing the two doctors a respite.
Dee had just dumped the last bucket of dirty water down the drain, and was bagging the sponges and towels she'd used to clean the blood from the floor when she heard the elevator ding, indicating its arrival on the third floor. Voices reached her ears, one of them Blair's, though it was soft and slightly slurred. Stripping off the rubber gloves she'd been wearing, she dropped them into the trash too, and headed for the door. Opening it, she found Joel Taggart juggling both Sentinel and Guide while trying to get the door to 307 open.
"Oh my god. What happened?" she said, feigning surprise for the captain's benefit while smoothly relieving him of Blair. She slid an arm around his waist gently, feeling him lean against her, his eyes half-closed.
"Right here, baby."
"He's right here too, sweetheart. Joel's just getting the door open, and then we'll see about putting you to bed."
"'kay." He started to slide down her body, and, afraid to squeeze him too tightly, she simply scooped him up with a grunt.
"Damn, Lobo, you've put on weight."
Joel had finally gotten the door open, and after helping Jim inside, he turned around to give Dee a hand. She shook her head and turning sideways, carried Blair through the door and across the loft to his bedroom. She set him down gently on the bed, very glad they had come back to the loft that morning and finished cleaning up the broken glass, as well as having a repairman replace the window. Sitting down next to him on the futon, she began to work on his shoelaces.
Taggart poked his head in the door. "Everything under control in here?"
She looked up at him. "Yeah, we're fine. I'm just going to put him to bed. What happened?"
The big man shrugged. "I'm not sure. He says Ms. Eolia beat him up in your apartment, but he and Jim were both found unconscious clear across town. They went by ambulance to the hospital, and released themselves AMA. They're both pretty doped up."
"That would explain the mess I found when I got home. I just figured I'd had another break-in." She dropped one sneaker on the floor and started on the other. "You know, Joel, I think I have it covered here. I'll make sure they both get to bed, and stay with them the rest of the night."
"Yeah, Joel, I'm sure. It's--" she glanced at the clock on the bedside table. "--Christmas morning. Go home, be with your family."
"Well, okay, but only since you're sure. Lock the door when I leave, all right?"
Dee nodded her response, and the man left Blair's bedroom. She could hear him talking quietly to Jim as she undressed Blair and managed to get him under the covers. Leaning over, she kissed his forehead tenderly, and was just about to leave when he said, "Dee?"
"S'rry bout Lee...if I'd st'pped 'er, she wouldn't be..." The blue eyes gazing up at her were cloudy with both physical and emotional pain.
She bent back over him, hugging him gently. "Not your fault, baby. Nobody's fault, just the quirks of the Game. She knew the risks when she went to meet him."
"No. If there's any blame to be placed, it goes on my shoulders. Now close your eyes and go to sleep, Lobo." She'd apologize tomorrow for leaving him lying in the snow back at the park, unconscious.
His eyelids drooping, Blair gave her a big yawn. She sat with him for the few minutes it took for him to go to sleep, listening to Joel leave, and the sounds of the sentinel moving around quietly in the next room. She tucked the blanket a little closer around Blair and got to her feet. She was almost out of the room when it dawned on her Jim didn't know what had happened at the park. Blair knew what the two Quickenings meant, but Jim had no idea Eolia was dead.
Steeling herself, she entered the other room, quickly locating Jim leaning against the counter in the kitchen, his eyes closed, a bottle of water forgotten in his hand. Dee approached him slowly, not wanting to add to the pain she could see in the lines around his eyes. But it was better the news come from her. "Jim..."
His head swiveled toward the sound of her voice, and his eyes opened slowly. "How is he?"
"Asleep. He'll be fine. I'll help him in the morning."
Ellison took a small sip of water. "Thanks." There was a pause as he drank a little more.
She found herself just blurting it out. "I'm so sorry, Jim."
He blinked at her quizzically. "About what? Did you see Lee? Is she okay?"
She felt her insides clench, and she brought a hand up to her mouth to hold back the scream she feared was just below the surface. Blinking back tears, she finally replied, "She's gone, Jim. I didn't get there in time."
The color drained from the sentinel's face, then he shook his head. "No, you have to be mistaken. She can't be gone."
Diandra had to force the words past her unwilling tongue. Some part of her thought that if she didn't say them, it wouldn't be true. "He took her head, Jim. She's gone."
His face grew even paler, and she could hear him take a shaky breath. "Took her head?"
Tears were rolling down her cheeks. "She was Immortal. I'm so sorry."
The bottle of water dropped to the floor as Jim pushed roughly past her and into the bathroom. She tried to close her ears to the noise of him being sick, but her hearing was suddenly wide open, and she heard every agonizing sound. Sliding down the front of the fridge, she leaned her forehead on her knees, very aware of the fact she was shaking violently.
The toilet flushed, water ran in the sink, then footsteps approached her. She didn't bother to look up, not wanting to see the accusation in his eyes.
His words, when they came, were sharp. "How old was she? Was she a student of yours?"
As if she would let a student fight in her stead willingly. She shot him an angry glare. "She was my age. She was the first Immortal I ever met. I rescued her from a life of slavery and sacrifice."
Something in her expression must have affected him, because he extended a hand to her. Grasping it, she allowed him to pull her to her feet. "Dee, please. Tell me about her. I need to know."
The Immortal shook her head. "Not tonight, Jim. I can't do this tonight. It hurts too much. And we're both exhausted." She gave him a push toward the stairs. "Upstairs. Bed." She walked with him as far as the couch, then watched him climb unsteadily.
He paused halfway up, looking back over his shoulder at her. "She died well, didn't she? Just tell me that, and I'll try to sleep."
Diandra chewed her lip for a moment, then said, "She died trying to protect Blair and me." He didn't need to know she had lost her life trying to teach Brad a lesson. Lia never had understood you couldn't teach a dead man anything. She watched him climb the rest of the way to his room, and listened to him lay down on the bed. Within a few moments, his breathing evened out, and she knew he was asleep.
Tiptoeing up the stairs, Dee found him passed out on top of the bedspread. She snagged a blanket from the closet and draped it over him. Going back downstairs, she wrapped herself in the afghan from the back of the loveseat, and curled up on the sofa.
Sleep, however, eluded her. Memories flooded her mind, moments from thousands of years past suddenly as fresh as if they had happened yesterday. Tears forced their way between closed eyelids, blazing hot trails down her cheeks. Rolling onto her back, she stared at the ceiling, ignoring the emotions churning inside her. This was ridiculous! She'd lost friends before, mortal and Immortal, to the Game, old age, disease, war. People lived and died around her every day, just as they always had. Why then, did it hurt so much tonight?
Because it could have been you, the voice inside her whispered, despite your long life, your experience, your skills. A twist of fate, and it could be you lying in the morgue.
"Angel?" It was the barest of whispers, but she heard it clearly. "I know you're hurting, Dee. I can feel what you're going through. You don't have to be alone."
Rising she walked into Blair's room to find him propped up on the pillows, his eyes shining in the darkness, his expression one of love and concern. He patted the space next to him on the small bed. She lay down beside him, leaning her cheek against his shoulder, and carefully wrapping an arm around his waist at his urging.
"Even though you parted ways years ago, angel, Eolia was an important part of your life, an important part of who you are. It's okay to grieve, to let it out. You're safe here with me." He ran his fingers lightly over her cheek, and she gave in to the pain she was feeling, sobbing quietly against his shoulder until she fell into an exhausted sleep.Part 10