Rafe squirmed uncomfortably in the lecture hall seat. Why did he let Sandburg talk him into going back to school? Sighing, he took out his pen and a spiral-bound notebook, opening it to the pristine first page. Going back to college to finish his degree, who was he kidding? It had been nearly seven years since he'd last cracked open a textbook not related to police work. First time he'd gone to school, he'd concentrated on the courses he needed to finish his criminal justice major and ignored those pesky electives. Now he found himself trying to finish the last twelve credits he needed to graduate. That was the only reason he could justify taking this class, Ancient Myths and Their Relevance in Modern Society. He stifled a yawn. He was beginning to remember why he hated night classes.
The shrill ringing of the bell signaling the start of class startled him out of his irritated musings. The door at the back of the room opened and shut, and the instructor approached the blackboard, writing her name in bold script before turning to face the class. "Good evening, everyone. I'm Dr. Pallas and this is Ancient Myths. If it doesn't say that on your schedule card, you're in the wrong room." Her eyes roamed the auditorium, a pleasant smile on her face. A few students got up and left.
"Okay, now that everyone's sure they're in the right place, let's get started." Moving to the board, she began writing.
Rafe dutifully copied down the information, trying to contain his surprise. Diandra Pallas, that was the name of Blair's girlfriend, wasn't it? And she taught with him at Rainier, so this must be her. He paused in his writing to scope her out. Damn, she was good looking. He shook himself. Down, boy, she's taken. Still, there was no harm in scoring a few points with the teacher. He grinned and returned to his note taking.
After class, Rafe had hoped to introduce himself to Dr. Pallas, but a small horde of students surrounded her, asking questions. After listening from the back of the crowd to a few of her answers, he wondered if maybe he wasn't in over his head after all. He decided to catch up with her some other time, and headed out of the building. Pausing on the steps of Hargrove Hall, he glanced across the commons to the Student Union. The bookstore was still open; he could pick up the required books and get a head start on the reading for next week.
Forty-five minutes later Rafe headed for his car, a bag of books in one hand and a cappuccino in the other. College sure had changed since the last time he'd been there. Starbucks in the cafeteria, the whole world was going corporate. Shaking his head and grinning to himself, he unlocked the car door and tossed the books on the passenger seat. He was about to climb in when a strange sound caught his ear.
Setting his coffee on the dashboard, he closed the door and listened. There it was again. Steel striking against steel. It seemed to be coming from back of the Union, where the river cut behind the campus. Investigative training taking over, Rafe headed toward the noise at a trot, hoping his instincts were wrong and the sound didn't mean trouble.
He followed the asphalt bike path through the small grove of trees lining the river. As he drew closer, the sound became louder and seemed to have a strange kind of rhythm to it. Coming to the intersection of the bike path and the trail that ran alongside the water, he hesitated, unsure of which way to go. The noise came again, and off to his left was a flash of light, like a spark.
Moving in that direction, he realized that about a hundred yards ahead of him a footbridge spanned the narrow part of the river, connecting the path with a parking lot on the other side. Street lamps illuminated the path and the bridge, but they were thirty yards apart and the light they provided was dim. It was enough, though, to make out two figures on the bridge, engaged in some kind of battle, with, of all things, swords. Each time the two blades met, sparks flew.
He moved to the end of the bridge, observing the duel for nearly a minute, trying to decide if they were just a pair of jokers fooling around, or if they were serious. The slightly smaller fighter brought their weapon down in a slashing motion causing the larger man to stagger back with a cry. That answered that question; they were serious. Drawing his weapon, Rafe stepped onto the end of the bridge. "Cascade PD! Freeze!"
The smaller person glanced over their shoulder in the detective's direction, her feminine features visible in the lamp light directly over the combatants. It was a fatal mistake. The other fighter plunged his sword into her midsection, impaling her. While Rafe watched in horror, her weapon dropped from numb fingers as her enemy pulled his blade from her body. She staggered back against the railing, then rolled backwards over it, her limp body silently swallowed by the cold water.
The victor glanced at Rafe for a brief moment, then he, too, leapt over the guardrail and into the river.
For several seconds, Rafe was too stunned by what he had witnessed to move. Then he was running for the center of the bridge, yanking his cell phone out of his pocket. As he waited for his call to be answered, he peered down into the murky liquid, straining for any sign of the two people. Unfortunately, the rains had been heavy that winter, and the water flowing under the span was a raging torrent. There was no way they could have survived.
Cascade PD dispatch came on the line, and the detective quickly gave a summary of the events and his location. Assured the police and the fire rescue squad were on their way, he closed the phone and put it away. Squatting on the wooden planking, he took his first good look at the sword the woman had dropped. He knew a little something about weapons, and recognized it as the sword of a samurai, a katana. An old one, too, by the looks of it. The carving on the ebony hilt was worn and shiny from many years of use.
His thoughts turned again to the woman, the only one of the two he'd gotten a good look at. Who was she? Closing his eyes he went back in his mind to the moment she had turned her face toward him, trying to come up with a description to give the other cops when they arrived. She'd been tall, only a few inches shorter than her opponent, and wearing a long, dark trenchcoat. Her hair was dark and had been pulled back in a ponytail. In fact, she looked a lot like& oh, god, like his instructor, Dr. Pallas.
The thought startled him so badly he lost his balance and sat back on his ass. But the more he thought about it, the more he believed it was her. Getting to his feet, he glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes had passed since he'd called it in. Where in the hell were they? He'd given good directions, hadn't he?
A bright flash of lightning lit up the night. Now what was going on? The sky was cloudless; he could see the stars clearly. Another bolt of electricity struck the ground, about a half-mile down river from the bridge. As he watched several more strikes hit the ground, and it looked like a small fire had been started. He hated to leave the area before the police arrived, but his gut was telling him the strange electrical storm was connected the people on the bridge.
He picked up the sword in his gloved hand, knowing he shouldn't, but not wanting to leave it where it was in case someone other than the police came along before he got back. Leaving the bridge, he began jogging down the trail. As he passed the place where the trail bisected the bike path, he heard his name being called. Pausing, he turned around to find Jim Ellison walking up to him.
"Rafe, I was driving by when I heard the call on the radio. What's up?" Jim looked him up and down, a puzzled expression on his face.
He realized he was still carrying the sword. "Uh, it's evidence." He pointed to the bridge. "There were two people fighting up there, a man and a woman, with swords. The man stabbed her and they both went over the railing. They just disappeared. The water is really rough there; I don't think they could have survived." He followed Jim as he headed to the crime scene. "And there's something else, Jim. I got a pretty good look at the woman's face. I think it was Blair's girlfriend, Dr. Pallas."
Ellison pulled up so fast Rafe ran into his back. Turning around, he said, "Let me see that sword."
Holding it out for his inspection, Rafe asked, "Does it look familiar to you?"
A flicker of emotion crossed the big detective's face, then it was gone. "I know she owns several swords like this," he said carefully. "I don't know if this is one of them, though." He continued toward the bridge, walking out into the center of the span, inspecting the planking and the railing. Rafe stood back a bit, letting Jim work.
Jim looked up from examining the railing. "Is this where they went over?" Rafe nodded. "There's some blood here on the rail." He moved closer to the edge, looking down into the swirling, churning water. Finally, with a long sigh, he straightened. "I don't think we're going to find them, at least not here, maybe downstream." He looked back toward the campus. "I think the fire department's here. You want to go send them down?" He stretched his hand out. "Leave the sword here, though."
Handing it over to the senior detective, Rafe turned to go, when Jim spoke again. "While you're up there, can you check the parking lot for Dee's truck? It's a '77 Jeep Wagoneer, blue, with wood panels. Call me on my cell if you find it."
"I'm on it, Jim." He headed back toward the Student Union building, part of him a little irritated at the way Ellison had just taken over, but more relieved that he would be the one fielding the other emergency personnel's questions. It had been difficult enough relaying the strange story to Jim.
Meeting the rescue crew on the way, he pointed them in the right direction, then paused. He hadn't gotten a chance to investigate that weird lightning. It would just take a minute, he rationalized, and if Dr. Pallas' car was in the parking lot and she was in the river, it wouldn't be going anywhere, now would it? Instead of turning to go up the hill, he jogged along the river, slowing as the smell of ozone and burnt foliage reached his nose.
Pulling a small flashlight out of his pocket, he flicked it on, and began a slow inspection of the riverbank. There wasn't much to find, some burned bushes, a couple long scorch marks on some tree trunks, and to his surprise, some crushed long grass, like someone had walked on it. Nothing to connect the area with the fight on the bridge, except& . He ran his light over the area again. Blood. Not much of it, but it was fresh. There was no trail though; nothing to indicate that anyone injured had walked away from the area. He moved closer to the river's edge, shining his light out on the water. The slim beam didn't penetrate the darkness very far, and he quickly gave up. As he turned back to the trail, he shined the light over the ground again. This time he picked out what looked like some kind of drag marks in the mud. Whether they were from someone being hauled out of the river, he couldn't tell. All in all, there wasn't much to be found. Still, he should probably let Ellison know. Taking out his cell, Rafe hit the speed dial as he walked back toward the campus.
"This is Rafe. I haven't made it to the parking lot yet, but there's something kind of strange about 800 yards down stream from the bridge. I found a spot with some scorch marks and what looks like blood. No sign of either person though."
"Thanks, Rafe. I'll send someone to check it out. And call me if you find the truck."
"Will do." He clicked the phone off. Crossing the commons, he headed for the faculty parking lot next to Hargrove Hall. One vehicle remained, an older model, light blue Jeep Wagoneer. Turning on his flashlight, he peered through the windows. There was a briefcase on the passenger seat, the initials DP embossed on the side. Damn it. Rafe glanced at the building. Maybe she was in her office. After trying all the doors and finding them locked, he gave up and called Ellison again.
He relayed his information, and was told to go home, that the other detective would take care of it; he could write his report in the AM. Rafe went back to his car and climbed in, then dumped his ice-cold coffee out on the ground. He shut the door and stuck his keys in the ignition, but made no move to start the car.
What in the hell had she been doing? Why would a respected college professor be on a bridge in the middle of winter having a sword fight with some guy? Rafe shut his eyes, the battle playing out against his closed lids. Each lunge, each thrust perfectly parried until the moment he'd yelled. He could see it in slow motion, her head turning toward him, her ponytail swinging, her eyes widening as her opponent's blade slid through her, the point gleaming in the faint light as it emerged from her back.
He'd killed her as surely as if he'd been the one wielding the sword.
Rafe exited the elevator and walked slowly down the hall. Never had the journey to the door of Jim and Blair's loft seemed so long. He'd started to drive home, then decided he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't tell Blair what had happened, tell him how sorry he was, not that that would make up for his loss, but& .God, he couldn't even put two thoughts together, he was so badly rattled by the whole night.
Reaching the door, he tried to compose himself then knocked. After a long wait, it was finally opened. Blair Sandburg stood in the doorway, dressed in a T-shirt and sweats, his hair rumpled and his eyes red. For a moment Rafe thought he'd gotten his friend out of bed; it was almost 1 AM. Then he noticed the tracks of dried tears on Blair's face. He already knew; Ellison must have called him. Maybe they found the body, maybe--
"Rafe? What are you doing here at this hour, man?" Blair asked, his voice husky.
"Jim called you, didn't he?"
The other man frowned. "Jim? Is something wrong, is he in trouble?"
If Ellison didn't break the news to him, then why had Sandburg been crying? This night was getting weirder and weirder. Taking a deep breath, Rafe opened his mouth to confess when movement behind Blair stopped him. A dark head of hair appeared over the back of the couch as the person rose, followed by the rest of a very feminine form clad only in a man's bathrobe. He felt the blood rush from his face.
"Rafe, you okay? You're scaring me here." Blair's fingers closed around the detective's elbow and gently tugged him into the loft.
He couldn't tear his eyes away from her. When he could finally speak, the only words Rafe could force past his lips were "You're dead."
Diandra Pallas walked around the sofa to stand beside Blair. She raised an eyebrow and inclined her head in Rafe's direction. Blair commenced with introductions. "Um, Dee, this is one of Jim's colleagues, Detective Brian Rafe. Rafe, this is my girlfriend, Dee Pallas."
Rafe couldn't get past the vision of the sword plunging into her. "I saw you die," he said aloud.
"Are you sure you feel okay, Rafe?" Blair asked, his tone slightly patronizing to Rafe's ears.
"I'm fine!" he snapped. "But I know what I saw!" He thrust a finger toward Dee. "You were fighting with some guy, on the bridge behind the student union. You both had swords. He killed you! I distracted you, and he just& he just shoved his blade right through you." His eyes dropped to where the robe was belted at her waist.
"Detective Rafe, I don't know what you thought you saw, but I am perfectly fine." Taking his hand in hers, she held it to her throat. "Feel that? That's my pulse. I'm as alive as you are."
Rafe snatched his hand away, shooting a glance at Blair, finding his expression to be one of amusement. "You think this is funny, Sandburg? I come over here all worried because I thought I'd witnessed your girlfriend being murdered and& ." He looked back at her, his anger highlighting what his shock had overlooked. Her eyes and cheeks showed traces of tears like Blair's did. What in the hell was going on?
Her hands tugged at the belt of the robe, loosening it, then flinging it casually open. Rafe stared; the first thought going through his mind was she must do hundreds of sit-ups to have abs like that. His second thought was there was no cut, no scratch, no gaping wound. In fact, there wasn't a mark of any kind on her skin, of which there seemed to be quite a lot. And that was when Rafe realized he was staring at Blair's naked girlfriend. He shot his friend a glance, noticing that he was beet red, but there was no anger in his eyes, only mild embarrassment.
"I think he's done looking, Dee."
She closed her robe and tied the belt again. "Are you satisfied now, Detective?"
Rafe nodded. "I believe you. Only now I have to ask myself again, who was the woman on the bridge?"
Diandra shrugged. "I'm sorry I can't help you. I wasn't there."
"Why is your truck still in the university lot?" Despite his earlier words, Rafe was having a difficult time letting this go.
"It wouldn't start. I called a cab for a ride here."
Blair nodded. "She's been here a while."
Both of them seemed so calm, so self-assured, like two people fighting with swords was an everyday occurrence in their lives. Rafe sighed. They weren't going to tell him anything else. "I'm sorry to have bothered the two of you. Glad it was just a case of mistaken identity." He was turning to leave when he spotted the black trenchcoat hanging on a hook by the door. There was a small puddle of water underneath it.
He snatched the coat off the wall, his fingers hunting for and finding the slash through the back, as something long and heavy inside it banged into his leg. "Ow, damn it!" He opened the coat to find a broadsword attached to the left side of it with a strap. Ellison still had Pallas' katana; this wasn't her sword. It belonged to her opponent, and he knew the man would not have given it up without a fight. Things were coming together way too fast for him, and dropping the coat, he drew his weapon.
"Rafe! What are you doing?" Blair yelled. "Put that thing away."
Rafe shook his head. "I don't know what's going on here, but I have a very good suspicion your girlfriend killed the man on the bridge. How else would she have his sword?"
Blair's voice lowered into the soothing singsong Rafe had heard him use time and again with Ellison. "Rafe, you're not making any sense. First you tell me that Dee was killed, and now you're saying she killed someone. Which is it, man?"
Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, Rafe swung his gun to bear on Diandra, his eyes meeting hers. He felt her gaze going straight through him, stripping him bare, paring him down to his true nature. He was suddenly very afraid.
He took a step back, and she went with him, her hand closing on the wrist of his gun hand. She pulled him toward her until the muzzle of the gun rested against her chest, directly over her heart. Rafe tried to break away, but her grip on his wrist was like a vise. Bringing her left hand up, she slid her finger over his on the trigger. His eyes widened in horror as he realized what she was about to do. His scream of "No!" was buried beneath the roar of the gun.
Her hands fell away from his as she collapsed, Blair's arms going around her waist, carrying her to the floor. Rafe simply stared at them, his weapon dangling loosely in his hand. What in the hell had just happened? Why had she shot herself? Why wasn't he moving to call for help? Spying the phone on the wall in the kitchen, he picked it up and attempted to dial. The gun still clutched in his hand bumped four numbers at once, and with a curse, Rafe flung it away from him.
"Rafe." He heard Blair, but didn't turn around, the effort of hanging up and redialing the phone taking all his attention. "Rafe, hang up the phone." When he didn't comply, Blair raised his voice. "Hang up the phone!"
The detective turned toward Blair, the receiver clutched to his ear, his finger poised over the keypad. Blair was cradling his girlfriend in his arms, making no attempt to try to staunch the flow of blood. Only& there wasn't much blood, not much at all. As Rafe watched, Diandra's body jerked as if she'd been struck, and she inhaled sharply as her eyes snapped open. The phone slid from his hand to thump against the wall. Somehow, sometime tonight, he had entered the Twilight Zone.
Blair pressed a kiss to his lover's forehead as she murmured, "Mmm, what a nice way to come back. Much better than awaking up in the freezing river."
He gave her a squeeze then helped her up. "Explanation time. Rafe, you think you can sit down on the sofa?"
He walked over to the loveseat and sat down, his body on autopilot, his mind still trying to come to terms with what he had just witnessed. This time he hadn't been 20 yards away, at night, on a dimly lit bridge. He had shot her, point blank, in the heart. She had died almost instantly, and recovered just as quickly.
Diandra sat down across from him on the couch, Blair beside her. Rafe watched as she pulled the top of the robe open enough to show him she was uninjured. He finally found his voice. "What in the hell are you?" he asked hoarsely.
She leaned back against the cushions before she answered him, Blair's arm automatically going around her shoulders, as if to protect her from whatever reaction Rafe might have at her next words. Her blue eyes regarded him coolly, then she said, quite matter-of-factly, "I'm immortal."
Two hours later, Rafe exited the loft, feeling more confused than he had been when he'd arrived. Immortals. People who couldn't be killed by ordinary means, who spent a good part of their lives training, preparing to kill each other. Even now it turned his stomach. How could she stand it?
He snorted softly to himself as he climbed into his car. She'd had nearly 3,000 years to get used to the idea, of course she could be calm and collected when talking about it. She'd had plenty of practice. It was Blair's reaction, or lack there of, that had really thrown Rafe. He knew the anthropologist had probably heard the story more than once, but still he'd never flinched, never shown any sign of discomfort as Diandra had answered Rafe's questions. How could Blair, who got physically ill at crime scenes, be in a relationship with a woman who woke up every morning prepared to kill? And what kind of life could he have with someone who stayed eternally young while he grew steadily older?
It was just--freaky. He had agreed to keep their secret only because he couldn't see any benefit to anyone for Immortals to be exposed. Besides, he had a sneaking suspicion that if he'd said no, he would have vanished without a trace. He shivered, remembering the look in Blair's eyes as he'd made Rafe promise not to repeat what he knew to anyone. At that moment, he'd been more afraid of his friend than the Immortal.
He stopped for a red light. And what in the world was up with Jim Ellison? The detective had returned home near the end of their little chat, and informed Rafe that there was no need for him to file a report on the battle he'd witnessed, that it was "all taken care of." Rafe had taken that to mean everything had been swept under the carpet. A man was dead, and Ellison, the biggest straight arrow of all, was covering it up.
Rafe pulled into a parking space in front of his apartment building. He was going to go to bed, and try to forget this night ever happened.
Two months later
The bullpen erupted in chaos, the sound of automatic weapons fire, breaking glass and screams filling the air. Rafe caught a glimpse of Klaus Zeller, dressed as a beat cop, an AK-47 in each hand, striding through the station, screaming something at the top of his lungs. He was reaching for his weapon as the bullets tore through him. The impact sent him flying back to slam into the file cabinets. His last thought was a silent prayer to keep his partner safe.
Darkness and cold surrounded him. Somehow, when he had imagined dying, he had never pictured it like this. There should be light, and warmth, and maybe a tunnel to walk through. Not this& nothing. There was no time, no up or down. He thought he might be floating, but since he didn't seem to have a body any more, he wasn't sure.
Something tugged at him, pulling him back, toward what he didn't know. The force yanked harder, and he was falling& falling!
Rafe's body convulsed as his heart began to beat again, and, sucking in a lungful of air, his eyes flew open. His head felt like it was about to explode, and his stomach rolled ominously. He instinctively curled into a ball, trying to escape the overwhelming sensation that seemed to be inside him and around him at the same time.
A hand rubbed his shoulder, and a familiar voice called his name. "Blair?" He opened his eyes again, rolling onto his back to look up at his friend. Someone knelt beside Sandburg, a tall man with long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Diandra's friend, he remembered vaguely, Duncan something or other, the one she'd sent to look out for Blair when she had to leave town. As his eyes met those of the other man, he realized his discomfort was fading. Somehow Rafe knew the stranger had been the cause of it.
Seeing he had Rafe's attention, the man spoke, his voice containing the slightest trace of a Scottish burr, "Welcome to immortality, Detective."
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