New York City - January 7, 2003
Sara pounded impatiently at the door for the second time. It was cold, dark, and she wasn't dressed to be outside for longer than it took to go from car to apartment. After another pause, she shouted, "C'mon Gabriel, move your ass, we're late!"
When there was no response, Sara tensed and pulled out her gun. With her free hand, she touched the door and concentrated, but felt and saw nothing unusual from the Witchblade. With the way their lives attracted trouble, though, she wasn't going to take chances. Taking out her spare key, which she used too often in just this kind of situation, Sara slipped it in the lock and opened the door.
The alarm went off and she immediately punched in the code. Moving further inside, Sara looked cautiously through the cluttered room and saw nothing except the artifacts and books that Gabriel had strewn everywhere. Mentally shaking her head at the chaos, she continued her methodical, careful search until reaching the note taped to the bathroom door:
Had an opportunity come up that I couldn't miss. Sorry for bailing. I'll catch you later.
"Damn it, Gabriel," Sara sighed, holstering her gun.
Nothing like giving her a heart attack thinking that something had happened to him. He couldn't have left the damn note outside where she'd see it right off? Grumbling to herself, Sara tore the note from the door and was assaulted with a vision.
Gabriel. Hands shaking. Writing the note with a gun shoved in his back. His frantic thoughts of, Hurry Sara, hurry. They're gonna take me away. Hurry!
Three men, well dressed, of varying ages, nothing to distinguish them.
"Come along, Mr. Bowman, we don't have all day."
Coming back to herself with a jolt, Sara didn't move at first. Her breathing was heavy as she tried not to give in to the panic threatening to overwhelm her. Someone had taken Gabriel. Sara closed her eyes and concentrated on getting more details from the vision, something that she and Gabriel had been working on the last few months.
After several minutes, Sara had to concede that the Witchblade wasn't going to give her anything else to go on. Frustrated, Sara pulled out her phone.
"Danny, it's me."
"Pez? What's wrong?"
"Gabriel's been kidnapped."
"Just today. We were supposed to get together on a case tonight, but he wasn't here when I arrived."
There was a pause before Danny sighed and said, "Sara, don't you think you're overreacting? That doesn't mean anything. Did he leave a note?"
"Well yeah, but I know that he was forced to write it."
The hard tone to her ex-partner's voice reminded her of why they weren't partners anymore and caused a wince as she answered lamely, "I just do."
"Look, Pez, we've had this discussion before. A lot. If you can't be straight with me, then I can't help you. It's that simple."
"Good bye Pez."
Fuck! Sara stared at the cell phone, tempted to throw it across the room. Getting control of herself, Sara looked around and wondered where in the world she could start. Even with Gabriel here to explain things, Sara had trouble figuring out his world. It always felt like she was there by proxy, that with all his esoteric knowledge, Gabriel should have been the one to wear the Witchblade.
Moving towards the computer, which seemed to be the center of Gabriel's world, she muttered, "Right. Piece of cake."
Cascade, Washington - January 4, 2002
Jim groaned, coming back to consciousness on a wave of nausea. It took a lot of control not to lose his stomach, but he managed it. Opening his eyes spiked agony through his brain as the light stabbed into his eyes. He could feel the pain in his ribs and abdomen, felt the sharp agony in his left wrist that told him it was broken. His left ankle didn't feel all that great either, but that's what happened when you fell two stories to the street below.
Or, more accurately, when you were thrown two stories to the street below.
They'd been ambushed and it had definitely been a professional hit. It had happened in the shopping mall garage when he and Blair had been finishing up a last minute shopping excursion. On the way back to the car, Jim's hearing had flared only seconds before the attack, catching the click of a gun being readied. There were so many people, it was such a public place, that Jim hadn't thought twice about the men behind them. A mistake he would never make again, once he got Blair back.
Rolling onto his back brought even more pain to his attention, but Jim knew he had to act fast. From the position of the sun, a couple of hours had gone by since he'd been tossed, and Blair was getting further away. Pulling out his cell phone, Jim was shocked and relieved to find it not only in one piece, but still working.
"Simon, I need help."
"Jim!? Jim, what's wrong?"
"They took Blair, I couldn't stop them."
Simon inhaled sharply and barked, "Where are you?"
"Uh, in the alley behind the Fallbrook Mall parking garage," Jim answered, wincing as he tried to sit up. Giving it up, he collapsed back and added, "I wouldn't object to an ambulance."
"Shit!" Simon swore. "All right. Stay put, I'll be right there."
Jim would have laughed, since it was obvious he wasn't going anywhere, but it would have just hurt his ribs more. "I'll be here."
When the connection broke, he stared up at the clear blue sky and wondered desperately if Blair was all right.
New York City - January 8, 2003
Sara carefully scrolled through the emails in Gabriel's fifth email account. She didn't understand why he needed so many, there were twelve altogether, but was going through them all with a fine-toothed comb. There had to be something to show her what he'd done, why someone would want to kidnap him. She was just lucky that she knew all his favorite musicians, or she'd be SOL in trying to guess passwords.
There were a lot of emails on this account from an SGuide and they were all very strange, having to do with mystical connections and the spirit world. Sounded completely loopy to her, even with her bond to the Witchblade, which was a mystical weapon. Seeing that a number of them originated in a mail list group, she signed onto the group, SpiritQuestors, and looked around.
It looked like Gabriel, Sguide, HeavnSnt and JobsTryls were the heaviest contributors, though SGuide stopped posting a few days ago. There were several worried posts to the group where Gabriel had reassured them that he would find out what happened and let everyone know. She saw there was a chat in process and signed in, but stayed hidden.
HeavnSnt: Anyone heard from Gabriel today?
JobsTryls: Wondering that myself. He didn't check in last night like he was going to.
Luckygrrl: he had a hot date.
HeavnSnt: Gabriel?? A Date??
JobsTryls: Get real.
Luckygrrl: I am! It was his True Love.
HeavnSnt: Oh. Her. Siiiigh. Wish I had someone like that.
JobsTryls: Are you sure it was a date, date? I mean, from what he said, she's pretty clueless about how he feels for her.
Sara's cheeks burned at the information, but she kept watching.
Luckygrrl: Well, I thought it was a date. He said that he'd be out most of the night with her.
HeavnSnt: pfft. that doesn't mean anything. the woman keeps him out all the time doing that damned PI work. doesn't know what she's missing either, because that boy lives to please her.
JobsTryls: back to the subject at hand, tho, no one's heard from him since yesterday?
Luckygrrl: not me
HeavnSnt: me either. You don't think something happened to him, do you?
JobsTryls: God, I hope not. I'm still sick with worry over Blair.
HeavnSnt: you don't think…Gabriel was going to try and find out what happened to Blair. Maybe he did and the same thing happened to him?
JobsTryls: don't even think it!
Luckygrrl: hard not to.
So SGuide's name was Blair. That wasn't too terribly useful, but it wouldn't hurt. She logged off, deliberately not thinking about what else she'd just learned.
Cascade, Washington - January 6, 2002
"Jim, I'm telling you that we've been all over the crime scene," Simon insisted. "There is nothing for you to do except get yourself hurt even worse."
Teeth clenched, Jim answered, "I have to check it out, Simon. I need to make sure nothing was missed."
"You're lucky that you didn't puncture a lung, you know. The doctors want you to stay put and for once, I am not going to override them. You were unconscious for over a day and you're nowhere up to speed, not even close!"
Jim glared at the other man. "I have to find him, Simon!"
Simon reached out and gripped his shoulder with, "I know, Jim, I do. We've got every available person on the case, but you won't do Blair any good if you kill yourself trying to find him. The doctor's are still worried about the knocks you took to the head. Phrases like 'permanent brain damage' and 'lucky SOB' were bandied about. That makes me distinctly nervous."
Sighing, Jim had to concede the point. It still felt like his head was going to come off his shoulders. Sometimes the throbbing got so bad that he couldn't do anything except lie there and cry with the pain. He couldn't take a chance that he'd zone on a painkiller without Blair around, so he just had to suffer through it. "All right. What have you got?"
Well. That figured.
"Like you said, it was a professional hit. Oh, and Megan wants to know if you know anyone named Gabriel."
Jim frowned and answered, "No, why?"
"She said that he left a message for Blair and he sounded worried."
"Probably a university friend," Jim offered.
"No, she already checked the phone records and said the call came from New York."
"Blair hasn't talked about knowing anyone in New York," Jim said slowly. "You think it might have to do with why he was taken?"
"Can't hurt to find out. It's probably a long shot, but I'll give it a call."
New York City - January 8, 2003
Sara jumped when the phone rang, engrossed in reading Gabriel's address book. Getting up, she walked to the phone and picked it up. "Hello?"
A man replied with, "Gabriel Bowman, please."
"He's not here, may I take a message?" Sara asked, leaning against the counter.
"Yes. My name is Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police. I'm sorry to bother him like this, but one of my officers went missing five days ago. Mr. Bowman called and left a message on his machine, so I was hoping to talk with him, to see if there was connection to the situation."
"My name's Sara Pezzini," she said after another moment. "I'm Gabriel's best friend. He was kidnapped yesterday. I've been going through his things since then, trying to figure out what might have happened. Is your man named Blair?"
"Yes," Banks confirmed sharply. "You found something?"
"Well, the only connection that I've been able to find between them is an online group called SpiritQuestors."
"You're a cop."
"Private Investigator, but I used to be a cop, yeah," Sara explained. "I don't have the power to get any information on the group or its subscribers, though, not anymore."
"I do. Look, did the cops find anything at the scene?"
Sara pursed her lips, then answered honestly, "No."
"Damn. We didn't find anything either."
"Where is Cascade?"
Sara stiffened when a gray wolf ambled out of the kitchen to sit in front of her. Blue eyes stared at her expectantly and it looked for all the world as if the wolf could open its mouth and start talking. It didn't, though, so she asked, "Ah, this is going to sound pretty weird, but, does your missing man have a thing for wolves?"
It was a good minute before Banks answered carefully, "Why?"
Which meant 'yes,' in Sara's book. "Because I've got a big-assed wolf staring at me and it's got blue eyes."
"Jesus. No one's ever seen it but Jim."
The wolf barked sharply and Sara jumped. "Jim who?"
"Ellison. He's Blair's partner."
Getting to its feet, the wolf padded to her and sat back down. Sara eyed it cautiously and said, "I think it's probably a good idea if I come out there."
The wolf's jaw dropped into a frightening facsimile of a grin, way too many fangs for her comfort, and it yelped before fading into nothing.
"Ms. Pezzini? You still there?"
Shaking her head at the strangeness of her life, Sara answered, "Yeah. I'll ah, I'll be out on the first flight."
* * * *
Gabriel was pretty sure that his life was forfeit.
The men who had kidnapped him showed every intention of killing him and he had no idea why. Well, actually, he didn't know that they would kill him, they hadn't said a word one way or the other since leaving his apartment. But wasn't that what happened in these kinds of situations? Once you saw the kidnappers face, you were dead, right?
He'd kept expecting Sara to show up, but it hadn't happened. Not while they had him cornered in his place, not on the walk to the car outside, and sure as hell not on the way to the airport. She'd always come for him before, always found him in time. That it hadn't happened this time was still a shock.
He had no idea how they'd gotten through security with the guns, but they had. The guards hadn't given any of them a second look on their way to the private jet. All of which told him that whoever was in charge had a lot of money to throw around.
All the questions he'd asked had been ignored. And when they'd gotten to La Guardia, the gun had pressed into his back again letting him know that any attempts to escape or get help would be dealt with in the worst fashion. Once inside the plane, he'd been handcuffed to a chair and abandoned. He could get out of the cuffs easy, but there was nowhere to go.
Looking out the window, he whispered urgently, "Find me, Sara, please."
Cascade, Washington - January 11, 2003
Not wanting to bother with airport security, Sara had left her weapon at home. She didn't know how the Witchblade managed not to set off the metal detectors, but there hadn't been so much as a ping when she walked through, on either end. Hitching the duffel bag over her shoulder, she strode down the corridor towards the exit.
Just before reaching the doors, Sara found a dark haired, slender woman holding a sign with her name on it. Angling towards her, Sara stopped and said, "That's me."
Smiling, though she was obviously tense, the woman replied, "Inspector Megan Connor. Captain Banks asked me to give you a lift to the station."
"Ah, thanks," Sara agreed. Privately, she wondered at the accent and the title.
"Where's your luggage?"
"This is it."
Connor looked surprised, then shrugged and motioned her towards the exit.
The drive was pretty short, not to mention silent. Sara kept her eyes open and looked around the city as they headed for the precinct. It seemed nice. Like a smaller version of Chicago or St. Louis, with the smell of water hanging full in the air. Connor pulled into the garage and walked her through security to retrieve a visitor's pass, then brought her upstairs.
Connor knocked perfunctorily and opened the door to Banks' office with, "I've got Ms. Pezzini for you, Simon."
A large black man with glasses waved her in. "Thanks, Connor."
Connor nodded and retreated while Sara entered the office and said, "Thanks for the lift, Sir."
"No problem," he replied, motioning for her to sit. He held up a pretty thick file and continued, "I hope you don't mind, but I pulled your record."
Sara forced a smile as she sat down and answered, "Of course not, Sir. I'd do the same in your situation."
"It looks like up to a couple of years ago, you were a highly decorated officer. What happened?"
Though she'd put up with a lot to get Gabriel back, this had no real bearing on anything. "I'm afraid that's personal, Sir."
Dark eyes gazed shrewdly at her as he leaned back in his chair. "Your record reads like something out of a television show, Detective. There are a lot of unexplained resolutions to cases of yours, resolutions that usually wind up with people dead. Suspects dead."
Stiff, Sara replied, "Yes, Sir."
"And you don't care to explain that?"
"Not to you, Sir."
"I see." He paused and brought out a cigar, chewing on it thoughtfully. "I'm inclined to leave the questions for now, Detective. I'm also inclined to give you full visiting privileges. There's just one thing."
Wary now, Sara asked, "What's that?"
"Are you as good as I think you are?"
A faint smirk surfaced and Sara replied steadily, "I'm better, Sir."
"Hmm. Well, we'll see about that. Here you go, Detective."
Sara caught the small object that flew at her and opened it with a frown that changed into shock. It was a badge and her name and picture were on the other side. Looking up at the man, she asked, "Uh, Sir?"
"Right now, you work for me. On a trial basis, of course. The mayor gives my department a lot of leeway in how I do things because we keep this city safe. Well, barring the occasional explosion in the course of a case here and there. Half of my lead detective team is missing and the other half is out of commission. I need someone to take up the slack. All of my people are damn good at what they do, but I have the suspicion that we're going to need the kind of results that you can get."
With that, he reached into his drawer and set a standard .38 pistol on the desk. "Welcome to Major Crimes, Detective Pezzini."
For a long moment, she just stared between the dull gleam of metal of a police issue on the desk and the badge in her hand. After over a year without either, Sara was surprised by just how badly she wanted it. Leaving the force under a cloud, even if it wasn't in outright disgrace, had left a sour taste in her mouth. No one there except Jake had believed that she was on the level and she knew that a lot of them had been glad to see her go...even Danny.
Coming to a decision, Sara stood and pocketed the badge, picking up the gun and clipping it to her belt. Holding out a hand, she said firmly, "Thank you, Sir. You won't regret this."
He gave her a wry grin but stood and took the hand with, "I sure as hell hope not, Detective."
* * * *
It was roughly an hour later that Sara stood where Detective Sandburg had been kidnapped. Standing off to the side was Captain Taggert, Joel, she corrected herself with a mental grin. He was a friendly, welcoming man, bigger around the middle than a cop should be, but he was older, too. Anyone who could make it almost thirty years on the force and still be as obviously good as Joel was, deserved the slack.
Squatting down, Sara touched the burn marks where the car had peeled away. They were faint now, but still visible. The area was still marked off with police tape, which helped preserve things. Glancing at the broken wood where Detective Ellison had been thrown through the barrier, Sara stood and walked over there, trailing her fingers over the shattered area.
A black panther howled from a short distance away, scaring the crap out of her, and morphed into a large, muscled man. His eyes were wounded with an echo of her pain at the loss of Gabriel and she knew instinctively who the man was.
Her partner. His partner. Both gone for no apparent reason.
"I'll find them," she promised.
He shook his head, mute, and fell to his knees, transforming back into the panther and padding away on silent feet. She followed him down the main garage passage to the stairwell. The panther passed right through the door and she blinked in surprise, then pulled out her gun and opened it.
There was nothing inside that she could see, but then a menacing growl echoed through the air and she spun towards it. The panther sat on the next platform up, teeth bared with his scruff up in hackles.
Moving cautiously, Sara ascended the stairs and flicked off the safety of her gun. Figures she'd have to use it on the same day it was given to her. When she got to the platform, the panther vanished much as the wolf had, and she was left with nothing. There was no one there and nothing out of place that she could see.
"Damn it," she swore, kicking the wall.
Looking out the open section of wall, Sara saw herself standing where Detective Ellison had been tossed and Joel trying to wake her from the apparent trance, though he wasn't touching her. Oh. She was in a vision. Well, that made sense. But why? What was it supposed to show her?
That was when she noticed the red dot centering on her chest and looked across the way at the vacant apartment building. A rifle was aimed directly at her and she knew the bullet would pass through her, into Joel.
Sara snapped back to herself and tackled Joel to the ground and safety a split second before the gun went off. She crawled back to the area and peered out the open area, aiming and firing off a couple of rounds. They exchanged fire, but then there was silence, which told her that he was making a run for it.
Lurching to her feet, Sara shouted, "Call for backup!"
She took a running leap out of the large hole that Detective Ellison had made, accompanied by Joel's horrified shout. She spun a few times mid-air to land in the well-filled trash container below. Even with the wind knocked out of her, Sara forced herself to crawl out of it and run into the alley behind the building.
Reaching the fire escape door, Sara waited not ten seconds before it flew open and her would-be killer ran outside. She grabbed him by the shirt and used his momentum to slam him around into the wall. Holding the gun to his head, she snarled, "Who do you work for?"
Instead of answering, he shoved back against her, knocking the gun from her grip. Automatically, the gauntlet spread over her forearm, the cold metal soothing as she regained her balance. The sword tip pushed against the man's throat and she backed him against the wall. Furious, she demanded, "Who do you work for?"
Eyes wide with shock, he shook his head, staying silent.
The blade cut into his throat and she said, "Where're Gabriel and Sandburg? Who's got them?"
Grimacing from the pain, the man just shook his head.
Sara pushed forward, crowding him into the brick with, "If anything happens to my friend, I will find you and kill you and no one will be able to stop me."
That seemed to shock him into exclaiming, "You're a cop!"
Driving the edge even further into his throat, she hissed, "I'm his friend, first."
"Sara! Sara, are you okay?"
Cursing at the interruption, Sara closed her eyes and forced back the fury that kept the Witchblade extended. A couple of seconds later, the blade retracted into the bracelet on her wrist and she turned the suspect around, pulling her cuffs off the loop on her belt. Joel arrived a moment later and she assured him, "I'm fine. Got a treat for Captain Banks, though. This guy was about to spill his guts to me about what happened to Gabriel and Sandburg. Weren't you, buddy?"
* * * *
Simon watched through the observation window as the suspect kept a wary eye on Pezzini and sighed to himself. Another ball-buster, just like Ellison. Of course, he'd figured that much from her record. He just hadn't expected to have it show up quite so soon. Then again, he hadn't expected an assassin to try and take her off the job, either.
And jumping two stories to land without a scratch? Not even Jim had that kind of luck. Well, okay, it was pretty comparable, but still. Outside of Sandburg and Ellison, he'd never encountered that kind of circumstance.
"MacDonald, right? A freelance," Pezzini said, tossing the file on the table and sitting across from the suspect. "Not very high up on the food-chain, but a decent kill sheet. At least as far as the Feds have been able to tally. Why don't you tell me why someone wants me dead? Because I'm pretty sure that no one would hire you to kill Captain Taggert."
The man stared into space, ignoring her completely.
Pezzini glanced at the glass for a second, then leaned on the table. "Let's start with something simple like, who hired you? We can get into the why and wherefore later."
Still no answer.
Getting to her feet, Pezzini crossed over to the man and sat on the table right next to him. Simon jerked forward in worry, but the suspect flinched when she put her hand on his shoulder, afraid of her.
"You and I both know that you're not going to make it to prison," she said, soft enough that Simon could barely make out the words. "Not without a lot of help and protection. I can get that for you, but you have to give me a name. That's it. I don't need dates or accounts or anything except a name."
The man swallowed heavily, his gaze dropping to the floor.
Simon could see her hand tighten in what had to be a painful grip as she leaned closer and whispered something into the man's ear. He knew that she was threatening him, knew it without having to hear a word. Yet, if it got them a name that led to getting Sandburg and this Bowman kid back, how could he justify stopping it?
Besides which, he would keep her from carrying out any threat that she made.
* * * *
"Right now, Captain Banks thinks that I'm threatening you. He's the head of Major Crimes, which is pretty much the most powerful department in the city. And if he's not doing anything to stop me when he's a good man, what chance do you really think you have with your previous employers? They're going to assume that you talked, whether you do or not. Unless you give me a name, I'm going to just stand back and let whatever happens, happen."
MacDonald looked up at her and said, "All right, but you have to get me protection."
Nodding confidently, Sara agreed, "Done."
"Robert Halstedt is the man who hired me. I don't know why and I don't have any idea if he's the one who took your friend," MacDonald informed her. "And that's the God's honest truth."
Sara snorted. "Like you'd know the God's honest truth if it bit you on the ass. But in this case, I'm considering believing you. I'm going to make a few phone calls, don't go anywhere."
She released him and hopped off the table, leaving the room and meeting Captain Banks outside. "Did you enjoy the show, Sir?"
A dark eyebrow arched at her as he said, "I hope you didn't do what I think you did, Detective."
Assuming an innocent expression, she replied, "And what's that, Sir?"
"Threaten a suspect."
"Me, Sir? Of course not!" Sara exclaimed.
"Right. It's just as well Ellison isn't around, the two of you together would level the city in a day," Banks muttered. "I'll go see what I can dig up on this Robert Halstedt."
Nodding, Sara said, "Thanks. I was going to go visit Detective Ellison, get his take on what happened."
"Sure. Just check in with me if you're going to be more than a couple of hours."
* * * *
Blair flinched when the door opened unexpectedly, but stayed where he was.
Someone was shoved inside, stumbling to catch his balance and not making it. Sprawled on the floor, he groaned and clutched his head, saying, "Watch that first step, because it really bites."
Hesitant, Blair asked, "Are you okay?"
For someone who was hurt, the other man moved remarkably fast, rolling to his feet and putting his back to the wall. The newcomer was young, probably his early twenties, with dark hair and eyes, pale skinned. He stared warily at Blair and answered, "Fine. Who're you?"
"Name's Blair Sandburg."
For some reason, the revelation provoked a huge grin and the other man exclaimed, "Blair! Oh, my God! I can't believe it's you!"
Frowning, Blair asked, "Do I know you?"
"It's Gabriel! Gabriel Bowman!"
Astonished, Blair moved closer and demanded, "Gabriel? New York Gabriel Bowman?"
"The one and only!"
Laughing, Blair and Gabriel hugged in relief then stepped back, talking over each other.
"What happened to you, man?"
"How'd you get here?"
"Some douchebags kidnapped me about a week ago."
"Me too! But, ah, just a couple of days ago, I think."
"Do you know what's going on?"
"Not a clue, you?"
"I can answer that, gentlemen."
Blair grabbed Gabriel and pushed him protectively towards the wall, stepping in front of him and facing the door.
"I hate it when people do that," Gabriel muttered from behind, but stayed put.
Their visitor was in his mid-forties and dressed much like one of Naomi's friends with a flowing shirt and pants. He had long, jet-black hair tied back in a braid, which set off the severe features and pale eyes very similar to Jim's, well, except for the too bright look in them. "If you'll follow me, I'll explain this whole situation."
The door opened further to reveal two other men carrying guns.
Blair scowled and observed, "Like we have a choice."
"No, that's quite correct. This way, please."
Tugging Gabriel up to stand beside him, Blair fell into step behind the stranger. They walked through a long, colorfully painted corridor into a large foyer, then through double doors into a room bare of everything except two other people and a glass case in the center. There were large windows evenly spaced along the walls, but it was dark outside, so Blair couldn't make out where they might be.
One of the other captives was a black woman about Blair's age, and the other a young white kid in his late teens. Frowning, Blair demanded, "What do you want with us? And who are you?"
The man smiled, a frighteningly mad thing to witness, and replied, "Of course, where are my manners? My name is Robert. I'm what you would call a collector of rare and ancient artifacts, weapons in fact."
"Oh great. Another Irons," Gabriel muttered.
Robert looked at him sharply and replied, "Kenneth Irons and I are nothing alike, young man."
"So you've got more hair than he did. You look just as nuts."
Though his jaw tightened with anger, Robert only said, "Insanity and brilliance walk hand in hand, Mr. Bowman."
Speaking louder, Robert continued, "This particular artifact is a weapon, an amulet that allows the wearer to see into the next world."
"Doesn't sound like a weapon to me," the woman observed. "You can get that by calling a psychic."
"Oh it is. You see, the wearer can control what he or she finds on the other side, much like an animal tamer controls his beasts. He or she can order the spirits to do whatever they want," Robert explained.
"Spirits aren't that easily controlled," Blair stated quietly.
"Hence the amulet."
Gabriel questioned, "Why us?"
"I've been watching all of you for quite some time and you have many traits in common. You have all died and been brought back. You have all touched the other realm and lived to tell the tale. You are all very spiritual and enlightened people."
Gabriel held up a hand with, "Ah, I haven't died."
"Yes, Mr. Bowman, you have."
Frowning, Gabriel shook his head and replied, "I'm sure I'd remember something like that. Honest."
"Not when time itself changes to bring you back."
Blair looked at Gabriel and found the other man pale, but composed and accepting of the statement. Very, very interesting. Blair vowed to get the story out of him just as soon as they escaped the loony bin.
"I still wouldn't call me spiritual," Gabriel said, moving closer and brazenly looking over the artifact. "Matter of fact, I haven't been to church since I was old enough to say, 'no way,' and not get spanked."
That disturbing grin reappeared and Robert corrected, "Spiritual, not religious, Mr. Bowman. There is a difference."
Recognizing that Gabriel was trying to keep the focus on himself, Blair groaned to himself and thought, Great. Another hero in the making. Why am I always surrounded by people who have no self-preservation instincts?
As Yoda would say, 'Look to yourself, young Jedi.' Blair stepped in with, "So you've got some mystical doo-hickey that needs someone pure of heart to wield it. That gives you an automatic paradox, don't you think? If we have to be good enough to use it, then we wouldn't use it for any kind of evil purpose, which is presumably what you've got in mind."
"Well yes, there is that," Robert conceded. "However, I do have some means of persuasion at my disposal."
Blair quirked an eyebrow at him. "Such as?"
"I don't think I need to reveal that, just yet."
Of course not.
"I think we'll start with you, Ms. Olsen."
Gabriel stepped in front of her, blocking the way to the artifact. "I don't think so."
Arms crossing over his chest, Robert asked, obviously amused, "And why not?"
"Because if she touches it, she's going to die," Gabriel snapped.
"Not if she's the one who's destined to wield it."
"Gabriel? What is it?" Blair asked, moving forward.
Gabriel spared him only a glance before looking back at Robert and answering, "That's Orpheus' Stone. Legend has it that those who seek to use its powers will be cast down into the underworld in the most painful of ways for their temerity."
"That's just legend, Mr. Bowman," Robert chided.
"Right. So are its powers."
Blair looked over the amulet and saw a rough-hewn stone fixed in an iron or pewter setting. It looked like a plain rock to him, not even a gem. He didn't see anything to mark it as Roman or Greek in origin, let alone anything by which to identify it.
Robert motioned for the guards to come forward and they did so, two of them aiming at Gabriel, while another two dragged him out of the way. He struggled, but they were too strong for him to get free. Robert motioned towards the woman and ordered, "Ms. Olsen?"
Casting a fearful look at Gabriel, she stepped to the glass case and pushed the cover back. She took a deep breath and wrapped her hands around it, eyes closed. When nothing happened, she breathed a sigh of relief and pulled it out of the glass box.
A wind picked up suddenly, howling through the room with savage and undeniable rage. Something unseen picked the woman up and started throwing her around the room, slamming her into walls and the ceiling as she screamed in pain and fear until she dropped to the floor, dead, and the wind stopped.
Blair released a shaky breath, trying to control his limbs from collapsing and barely managing it. He looked at Gabriel and saw tears in the young man's eyes as he stared at the woman's motionless body. Anger surged and Blair welcomed it, used it to steady himself as he glared at Robert. "You didn't have to do that! You knew it would kill her!"
But Robert shook his head and replied, "She had as much a chance as any of you to be the one. It's too bad that she wasn't, she was really quite lovely."
Blair lunged for Robert without warning, tackling him to the ground. He wrapped his hands around the taller man's throat and squeezed as hard as he could. Before he could finish, something slammed into the back of his head and sent him crashing into darkness.
* * * *
Jim jolted awake as fear, rage, and pain slicing through his bond with Blair before it cut off altogether. Without thinking, he started methodically pulling the tubes and wires from his arms, knowing that Blair was in serious trouble, that there was very little time left.
"Whoa, wait a second there, big man! Don't do that, you'll hurt yourself!"
Shocked that he hadn't noticed the woman, Jim rolled off the other side of the bed into a defensive position, his back to the wall.
Hands up, placating, she assured him, "It's okay, Detective Ellison, my name is Sara Pezzini and I'm here to help. Captain Taggert's right outside if you want me to verify this."
Wary, Jim nodded and ordered, "Do it."
She backed to the door and poked her head outside, calling, "Joel! I could use some backup here. Ellison's freaking out."
"I am not freaking out," Jim muttered. When Joel entered the room, he relaxed a little and asked, "Joel? What's going on?"
Joel grimaced and apologized, "Sorry, Jim. I should've known that you'd want someone to say she was okay. She's a cop and we think that her friend was kidnapped by the same people who took Blair."
Scowling, Jim moved out from behind the bed and walked to the closet, pulling out the bag with his clothes and bringing them to the bed. "Unless you want a view, I suggest that you turn around."
She smirked. "It's a nice view."
Eyes rolling, Jim carefully pulled off the hospital gown and started getting dressed as he asked, "Where are we? Anything new since yesterday?"
Pezzini grinned appreciatively at his unobstructed body before dragging her eyes up to his face and answering, "We have the name Robert Halstedt. Ring any bells?"
Slowly pulling his shirt on, Jim hissed in pain. "No. Why?"
"Because he hired someone named MacDonald to kill me. Or, actually, anyone who looked like they were starting to figure things out," Pezzini amended.
"MacDonald's in custody?"
"Yeah. Under lock and key."
"Good. I want to question him."
"I already did. He's given up everything he's going to."
"Not to me, he hasn't."
He and Pezzini locked glares until Joel started chuckling, getting both of their attention. Grinning broadly, Joel said, "I think the both of you have met your match. And if you're through acting like little kids, I'm betting that you know something we don't, right Jim?"
Annoyed with his own behavior, Jim answered, "Time's running out. I think we've only got another twelve to twenty four hours, tops, before Blair's killed. Probably your friend, too."
Frowning, Pezzini demanded, "How do you know?"
Since there was no way he could explain, Jim replied, "I just do."
She opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again, looking thoughtful. "Joel, would you excuse us a minute?"
"Do I need to worry about bloodshed?"
Snorting, Pezzini shook her head and assured him, "Not this time."
"Okay then," he agreed, leaving the room.
Leaning against the bed, Jim crossed his arms and stated, "I've said all I'm going to say. You just have to believe me."
Pezzini shook her head. "If we're going to find Gabriel and Sandburg, we need to get all our cards on the table and I think you've got a lot more hidden than you're willing to show. I'll go first, since you've got no reason to trust me."
Jim watched as she held up an arm covered only in a silver bracelet that contained a red stone in the center. It was beautiful and he was reminded of ancient things, knew that Blair would probably know where it came from and what it was called. "Yeah? So?"
With a fierce grin, Pezzini made a slashing motion with her arm and Jim watched a severe metal gauntlet encase her skin, section by section, starting from the bracelet and working its way out. The disturbing click of each individual part joining with the next was nothing in comparison to the sword that erupted from her fist.
"This is the Witchblade. It gives me speed, agility, and visions, as well as other powers that I don't know how to control yet," she explained, gray eyes lit by something ancient within. "Gabriel is not just my best friend, he's teaching me how to use it, how to control it, as much as it can be controlled. He's…"
"Your Guide," Jim finished for her softly.
Though she looked startled for a moment, after turning the word over in her mind for a few seconds, Pezzini nodded. "Exactly."
Jim went one further with, "And you're in love with him."
This time, there was stark denial on her face, as well as fear. "No! No, I'm not. Gabriel's my best friend and I love him, but I'm not in love with him."
Now that sounds really familiar, Jim thought, snorting to himself. "If you say so. I guess it's time for me to lay down my cards. Could you put that thing away?"
Pezzini grinned and focused inward for a moment, the gauntlet and blade retracting a damn sight faster than it had appeared.
Breathing a little easier, Jim informed her, "Blair is my Guide. I'm what's called a Sentinel, which is…"
"A tribal guardian with enhanced senses."
Jim's mouth dropped open a couple of notches and he demanded, "You know about Sentinels?"
The grin turned wry as she explained, "I've come to accept that Gabriel knows everything. He tries to pass this knowledge on to me, whether I want him to, or not. He was actually comparing me to…oh…wait…"
Jim frowned. "What?"
"That's the connection!" Pezzini exclaimed. "I couldn't figure it out, but now it makes sense! They met because Gabriel was trying to find out more about Sentinels because he thought I might be one! He and Blair have been exchanging emails for months now. Someone must have been monitoring their conversations and it had to be someone on that group!"
"They were both part of this online group called SpiritQuestors," Pezzini informed him.
Feeling like he was behind the eight ball and hating it, Jim snapped, "Let's go. Simon can get us access to account information."
Pezzini stepped in front of the door, blocking him. "He already is, and you shouldn't be going anywhere."
"I am not going to sit here while someone kills my lover," Jim stated baldly. "You can either help, or get out of the way."
She eyed him for a long moment then held out a hand. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. The name's Pez."
After the faintest of hesitations, he took it and replied, "Jim."
* * * *
Simon wasn't sure what worried him more: that Jim was out of the hospital, or that he and Pezzini were working together like they'd been doing it for years. It was damn eerie to watch them working in such a way that he'd only ever seen Jim do with Sandburg. They'd even taken to finishing each other's sentences, which was seriously starting to creep him out. It was like they'd bypassed ten years of getting to know each other.
Shaking his head, Simon crossed the rest of the way to Jim and Blair's desks and held the file out to Jim. "We've accounted for everyone except three people: Jenny Olsen, Karl Drum, and Harold Mayes. The local police will check things out and get back to me."
"Residences?" Pezzini asked.
"Olsen lives in Seattle, Drum in Chicago, and Mayes in some tiny town called Helfsburg in Wisconsin," Simon replied.
"How soon will we hear back?"
Simon looked at Jim and said, "It's a top priority, so within the hour."
"Simon, you've got a call from a Captain Welsh in Chicago?" Rhonda called.
"That's one, I'll be back," Simon said, heading for his office. As he sat down, his eyes strayed back to where Pezzini and Jim were talking quietly. They made for a striking couple, Simon definitely had to give them that. She was beautiful with the long, chestnut hair, green-gray eyes and a gorgeous body. Basically, the best match he'd seen for Jim in a couple of years.
At least they didn't have to worry about her trying to kill him, if things went in that direction.
* * * *
"It's not the woman," Sara said decisively.
Jim nodded agreement. "Mayes or Drum, then. Which location do you think more likely?"
"I don't think any of them are right," she answered slowly. "This is someone with money, a lot of it to burn. They could be anywhere."
Unfortunately, Jim had to nod again. "That's true."
They were silent for a few moments, then she said, "What about asking the group? Surely they'd know if there was someplace sacred that would be involved?"
"It's worth a shot."
Sara brought up the group and signed in as Gabriel, going directly to the chat.
JobsTryls: Gabriel! Welcome back, man! We were worried about you!
HeavnSnt: Thank Goodness!
BladedMan: Actually, it's not Gabriel. My name is Sara Pezzini, a friend of Gabriel's. Maybe he's mentioned me? He probably calls me Pez or Sara.
There was a brief pause where no one typed anything.
HeavnSnt: What's happened to Gabriel?
BladedMan: He was kidnapped and I've been trying to find him since. Blair was taken by the same person, and it was by someone on this group. I need to know if any of you can think of some kind of sacred place that was talked about a lot. Maybe in conjunction with an ancient relic or artifact?
For almost a full minute, no one responded. Sara waited impatiently, glancing over at Jim who looked just as ready to explode.
JobsTryls: I thought he was just messing around.
BladedMan: Who was messing around about what??
JobsTryls: RomnFan. Last month he was going on about using Morpheus' Stone to bring about a change to the whole cosmic spectrum.
BladedMan: He didn't say where this would happen, by any chance?
JobsTryls: Not specifically, no. But he did say something about starting where it all began. Where he first discovered the power. I've got the talk saved. I can send you the file.
BladedMan: YES!!! Right now if you can.
JobsTryls: hang on.
A private message pinged and Sara immediately accepted the file.
BladedMan: THANK YOU!! Does anyone else have anything that could help?
HeavnSnt: Just our prayers that you find them both safe and unharmed.
Signing out of the chatroom, Sara immediately printed out the file.
* * * *
Gabriel didn't know why he and Blair had been tossed back in the same room, but he wasn't about to question the good luck. He only wished that the other kid had been put in there with them, too. There was nothing in the small, white room and he was reminded of the stereotypic mental asylum room, minus the padded walls. There wasn't anything they could use to pry the door open or make a weapon from.
Sighing, Gabriel wished that Pez would come blazing through the door and get him out. He knew that after so long, it was seriously doubtful that she would, though. He could be anywhere, courtesy of the plane ride, and she had limited means to find him. Well, unless she went to Nottingham, which he fervently prayed that she didn't.
Gabriel would rather die than see Sara indentured to that psycho in order to save him.
Blair groaned and Gabriel looked down at his friend, brushing his fingers through the long hair soothingly. He pillowed the other man's head on his lap, the only comfort he could give to Blair's injury. He hadn't been given anything to treat the bloody scalp wound, so it had bled all over them. Gabriel had been forced to hold pressure on the wound with his bare hands to get it to stop bleeding.
"God. Damn. Sunuva…"
"Yeah," Gabriel agreed wryly. "How's the head?"
Dazed blue eyes squinted up at him and Blair answered, "Wishing it was cut off."
Wincing sympathetically, having received his own head wounds in the past, Gabriel said, "Sorry, man. I tried to get to you, but they had me pinned."
"Not your fault," Blair assured him weakly. "How long was I out?"
Gabriel shrugged. "You got me. No watch."
"Speaking of time. You reversed it somehow to come back to life?"
Gabriel's thoughts instantly went to Sara and the dreams he'd had when they'd first met; that somehow he'd known her a lot longer than was possible. How they'd fallen instantly into friendship and trust, and how he knew the second he laid eyes on her that she was it for him, that no one else was going to do. "Not me, no. I don't have that kind of power."
"But Sara does?"
"I guess so."
They fell silent and Blair's eyes closed as he drifted into sleep. Gabriel watched over him, worried, as he thought. How weird was it that he could talk about the Witchblade, however obliquely, and not worry about being thought crazy? Weird, but very cool.
"Jim'll find us."
Startled by the out-of-the-blue statement, Gabriel looked down and answered, "How?"
"He just will."
Sighing deeply, Gabriel's head leaned back against the wall and he whispered, "I hope so."
The door opened and Robert entered with, "I'm sorry to burst your bubble, Mr. Sandburg, but no one is going to find you. I've made quite certain of it. Not even a cop as good as your partner will be able to track us down. Come now, it's time to finish this."
* * * *
Jim heard the soft snick of metal as the gauntlet made its first appearance for the night and met Sara's eyes before nodding and heading for his entry point.
They were outside what was an abandoned temple for a cult that had killed themselves in the early 70's. Robert Halstedt had been a twelve-year-old boy at the time. He had hidden in the closet while his parents had participated in a blood ritual that left themselves and thirty others dead, including eight kids. Since that time, he'd been in and out of institutions at the expense of his wealthy grandfather, who had recently died under suspicious circumstances.
Over the years, Halstedt had collected a number of mystical artifacts, as well as a group of followers in a cult very similar to the one that had killed his parents. He was their born-again leader with visions of ruling the world by conquering the afterlife. Or so they'd been able to piece together from the conversation JobsTryls had sent them. Through it, JobsTryls had obviously been trying to counsel Halstedt into a saner way of life, but he'd been unsuccessful.
If Pez hadn't had a vision, they'd probably still be trying to find this place. As he'd watched her gaze focus inward and she'd lost all track of where she was, Jim realized that he probably looked just like that when he zoned. Then she'd shouted in horror and pain and lurched back so suddenly that she'd fallen out of her chair.
Her shout had brought everyone running, but between the two of them, they'd managed to convince the others that she'd fallen asleep at the desk and had a nightmare. Which, she'd confessed to him later, had been absolutely true. Pez had watched the entire murderous vision of the cult killing themselves and the kids, all from Halstedt's point of view.
It was a heavy burden, Jim knew from the haunted look in the woman's eyes. What she dealt with every second of the day was something that he couldn't even begin to imagine. Blair probably could, because he was the Shaman. He felt and touched the spirit plain on a regular basis to keep them both grounded and balanced.
Jim knew that he got off light in comparison.
Moving swiftly through the yard, Jim reached the window and looked inside. It was grimy, but not difficult for him to filter through with his vision. Picking up his radio, he said quietly, "It's them, Pez. We've got six armed civilians in addition to Halstedt, and I can hear approximately ten more moving around the house."
"Copy that. I just took out three on my way to my position."
Jim could hear the repressed fury in her voice and ordered, "Keep it together, Pez. We need to be clear to get them out of this safely."
"Copy that. Pez out."
Jim moved to the main entrance and slipped inside. He jogged up behind the man at the double doors and knocked him out with the butt of his gun. After dragging him off to the side, Jim listened at the doors and waited for Pez to start the distraction.
* * * *
Gabriel's heart nearly stopped in shock when a window burst in, glass shattering as Sara rolled to her feet and demanded furiously, "Is this a private party, or can anyone join?"
Without waiting for the bullets to start flying, Gabriel tackled Blair to the floor, covering him protectively. He knew that Sara would never accidentally hurt him, but in a killing rage, which it looked like she was in, she might get Blair by mistake. The doors burst open behind them, but Gabriel kept his head down.
Something pierced his shoulder and he shouted Sara's name in pain, but didn't move from his spot over Blair. There was another slice of fire along his shoulder and he screamed, "Sara! Help me!"
Just hearing her voice calmed him down and he shifted enough to look up and see Robert holding a wicked looking knife in his hand, covered in blood. His blood, Gabriel realized, feeling sick. The look in the other man's eyes was feral and Gabriel saw his death in them as the blade descended a third time.
* * * *
Jim knocked down his last opponent and lurched to his feet. He saw a young man, who had to be Gabriel, lying protectively over Blair, his arm upraised to stop Halstedt from killing him with a long, sharp blade. Before he could do more than take a step though, Pez was there.
In one savage movement, her knee slammed into Halstedt's chest, driving him off of the young man to the floor. She followed it up by slashing with her sword, sending the dagger flying and then pressing the tip into his chest.
"Sara! Sara, stop!"
Her face was a mask of cold rage that sent chills through Jim. He didn't think she was going to listen to Gabriel, who had staggered to his feet and crossed to her. Soothing hands gripped her arm, just above the metal that encased it, and he spoke quietly, softly, just as Blair did to bring him back from a zone.
"Sara, he's harmless now, you can show him mercy," the young man whispered.
"He hurt you, was going to kill you!" she ground out, the sword sliding deeper into Halstedt's chest.
Gabriel put his hand on her face and gently brought it around to look at him, breaking the death-glare aimed at Halstedt. "Don't do this. For me, Sara? Don't kill him. You're better than this."
Indecision warred with the obvious need for her blood-lust to be quenched. She roared her frustration and kicked Halstedt in the head, the gauntlet withdrawing back into the bracelet. Without another word, she pulled Gabriel into her arms and held him tightly, protectively. His face was hidden by her hair as he returned the hug.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Jim moved to his own love, who was now sitting up groggily, hand at his head. Kneeling beside Blair, Jim cupped his face and asked, "Where are you hurt?"
Blair stared at him a moment, then a harsh laugh escaped and he countered, "Where aren't you hurt?"
Now that the danger was passed, Jim was forced to acknowledge the throbbing throughout his body. Grimacing, he sat down and answered, "Nowhere."
"Did you see her?" Blair asked in awe.
Jim looked back at the couple who were still wrapped around each other and still as a statue. "Yeah, Chief. I saw her."
* * * *
Sara hovered anxiously as the doctor finished stitching up Gabriel's back. It was a shallow wound and would barely leave a scar, as opposed to the puncture wound, which was now tightly bandaged against infection. There were circles under his dark eyes and his face was pinched tight with pain. His hand squeezed hers almost too tight when the needle pulled the thread through his skin, but Gabriel hadn't made a sound since being placed on the gurney at the crime scene.
She knew that he'd witnessed the chewing out she and Jim had received from the Captain and winced as she remembered the flaming language from the black man. Gabriel had been pretty much in shock by then, but it was clear that he'd heard and understood everything. She was dying to tell him that it didn't matter, that they'd be going back to New York just as soon as he could travel, because that's where his life was. Unfortunately, there hadn't been even a minute alone since being reunited.
Finally, the doctor finished and said, "We're going to keep him overnight for observation, but he's going to be fine."
Sara nodded. "Thanks, doctor."
The man grinned unexpectedly and replied, "It's nice to know that Ellison's got someone to keep him in line now. Maybe you can keep them both from winding up here so often. An orderly will be by to bring Mr. Bowman to his room shortly."
Snorting at the thought of anyone keeping Ellison in line, Sara nodded again and shook his hand, repeating, "Thanks."
Then they were alone and Sara realized that Gabriel hadn't let her hand go, though his grip had loosened. His eyes were closed and a little of the tension had left. Soft, she asked, "Gabriel? You sleeping?"
"Nope. Resting my eyes."
A smile blossomed at that and she said, "Good. Cause I wanted to tell you something."
His dark eyes opened, staring at her guilelessly as he guessed, "You're staying here."
"I'd like to," she corrected. "But only if you stay with me."
Gabriel frowned and asked, "What?"
Taking a breath, Sara brought their twined hands up and kissed the back of his hand. "I want you to stay with me. Now. Always. Forever. I ah, I love you."
Astonishment broke over his face and he gaped at her.
Flushing, Sara muttered, "I'm an idiot," and started to pull away. His hand tightened on hers, though, and he yanked her to him, pressing their lips together probably more by luck, than by aim. For a moment, Sara tensed, remembering only that the last man to get close to her was still in a coma. But then, this was Gabriel and he'd survived a hell of a lot for less than this to be at her side and she relaxed into the kiss.
Then, unexpectedly, everything felt right. Something deep inside clicked into place and she opened her mouth to his questing tongue. It was a gentle, longing kiss, and she could feel his love like a physical connection. Breaking apart slowly, Sara pulled back enough to look into his eyes and saw everything she ever wanted right there.
Grinning broadly, she kissed his nose and complained happily, "Getting all of your crap here is going to cost a fortune."
He snickered and closed his eyes with, "Then it's a good thing I'm rich."
Startled, Sara repeated, "You're rich?"
"Gabriel, how much money do you make?"
"How much is enough?"
* * * *
Jim laughed softly as he listened to the soft banter between Pez and Gabriel, then grimaced at the residual pain in his ribs.
"And how ironic is it that I'm the one allowed to go home?" Blair asked, impudently rubbing his face in the news.
Snorting, Jim replied, "That's because you're a brown-noser."
"Nah. Mild concussions aren't nearly as pesky as potential brain damage."
Wincing at the pointed statement, Jim protested, "I stayed in bed until just yesterday!"
"I believe you. Really. Not!"
Jim gave a long-suffering sigh, but it was ruined when the grin returned. "So it looks like Pez and Gabriel are going to stick around."
"Oh, cool! Really?" Blair exclaimed, bouncing on his toes. His fingers played with the heavy stone pendant hanging around his neck as he continued, "That would be so awesome!"
Nodding, Jim confirmed, "They're arguing over the details now. We might even be invited to a wedding in the near future."
Blair chuckled and corrected, "Not if Gabriel's in charge of the planning. He's about as traditional as Simon is new-age."
"Detectives? It's time to get you settled in for the night."
Jim grimaced but nodded at the orderly. "Yeah, all right. Look, Sandburg, why don't you offer Pez a bunk at our place if she can be torn away from Gabriel's side? I don't think she's slept since she got here."
Blair nodded and kissed him lightly, then agreed, "I will. You behave. I'll be back tomorrow."
Jim tracked him with his hearing and listened in as Gabriel badgered Sara into leaving for the night to get some sleep. As he closed his eyes, it occurred to Jim to wonder about his lover's new necklace, then yawned and decided to ask about it later. Right now, his head was still throbbing and sleep sounded really good.