Gabriel zipped his jacket closed as he headed out of the apartment, grimacing at the bite of the air outside. For all the fact that it was technically warmer in Cascade than New York at this time of year, somehow, it seemed more severe to him, more bitter. Blair had laughed at his complaints and told him to be grateful that at least he wasn't used to tropical weather.

Which was actually a good point.

He and Sara had taken an apartment only a couple of miles from Jim and Blair's place, though it wasn't nearly as cool in Gabriel's opinion. Of course Sara hadn't wanted to use his savings to get a really great place. He grinned, thinking about how uncomfortable she was with the fact that neither of them actually had to work for a living if they didn't want. Gabriel could easily support them both for a decade if he was really smart with his investments and made a few sales here and there.

He'd agreed to keep things even between them financially because he knew how important it was for Sara to pull her own weight, to be independent. So they'd agreed on halvsies for rent and utilities and settled on a mediocre apartment in a fairly good area of the city. It had taken the better part of a month to find a place they could both agree on.

They both needed a lot of space, though for different reasons, so they'd wound up with a real 'loft' apartment, similar to the one Sara had had in New York. It used to be an old mill that had converted into a fairly bland set of condos. The one cool thing about the apartment was the breakfast corner. Sara had scornfully called it a 'yuppie nook,' but Gabriel had seen the way her eyes had lingered over the secluded corner, which was bounded by large, bay windows. It had a view of a park across the street and there were almost always kids there, an extra bonus.

He'd told the realtor then and there that they would take it. Sara had grumped at him about it at the time, but privately been very appreciative that he'd seen through her. He grinned and flushed a little as he thought about just what form the appreciation had taken. Even though they'd only been together for a month, he knew that wasn't something that he'd ever take for granted, no matter how long they were together.

She was just too incredible and he was the luckiest jack on the face of the planet to be with her.

It was kind of weird how, other than his relationship with Sara and the location, his life hadn't really changed; a benefit of being invested with mostly online friends. Though he did get out a lot more often, since they seemed to double-team it with Blair and Jim a couple nights each week. And Sara wasn't shy about calling him down to the station if she needed something, so that took up a few days, too. Blair had only half been joking when he'd commented about breaking Simon in to having an 'observer' around the office.

Gabriel was still pretty damn sure that Simon hated him and had from the moment the black man had laid eyes on him, though he still didn't know why. Blair and Jim had both reassured him that Simon was like that with everyone he didn't know, but he hadn't noticed any problems between Sara and Simon.

Sighing, Gabriel hitched his bag up further as he reached the bus stop and looked at his watch. He was a few minutes early, which was essential to getting anywhere on time when using public transportation. Of course, Cascade had nothing on New York for convenience, but at least there was something in place. He was still debating whether or not to buy a car.

And as the bus sailed right past him without stopping, another vote was cast in favor of his own, personal mode of transportation. Adding insult to injury, it started raining again.

* * * *

Sara looked impatiently at her watch, muttering, "C'mon, Gabriel, where are you?"

"Cursing on his way up in the elevator," Jim answered, tossing a folder at her.

Catching the file, Sara opened it and frowned. "What's this?"

"The Beaman case."

"I can see that. Why are you giving it to me?"

"Because it's your area of expertise."

"Why, because it's a ritual thing?"

"Yeah."

"Jim, c'mon, we've talked about this. I don't know any more about ritual murders than you do," Sara snapped.

Jim grinned, unrepentant, as he answered, "Maybe not, but you're guy knows more about that stuff than mine does."

"About what?" Gabriel asked, joining them.

Sara looked over at her lover and winced. Gabriel was soaked to the bone and shivering as he took off his coat. She opened her bottom desk drawer and pulled out a towel, holding it out to him. She kept it there for just that reason and would continue to keep it there until he finally gave in and bought a car.

It was her first exercise in nagging someone and it seemed to be going pretty damn well.

"Thanks, Pez," he muttered, rubbing his head quickly.

She hid a grin at the way his hair stuck up in spikes when he was done and took the towel back with, "Ritual murders."

Interest peeked through Gabriel's expression. "Really? Cool. Let me see."

Practically groaning at Jim's smug expression, she handed the file over to Gabriel with a sigh. "You were supposed to say, 'ew, gross, Pez,' and pass on it."

His dark eyes flickered up to hers, amused, and he answered, "Unless we develop telepathy, you're gonna have to give me some kind of signal when you want me to shut up."

"Hey, man, you look wet," Blair commented, stopping on his way to his desk.

Gabriel snorted. "Really. I hadn't noticed."

Blue eyes twinkled back at Gabriel as Blair said, "I told you to get a car. I have experienced the wonder that Cascade Transportation isn't and am wise in its ways."

Sara grinned as they continued to banter back and forth, shifting naturally to the file in Gabriel's hands within moments. Sometimes, she thought that the two of them should be partners, the way they fed off each other. Out of a morbidly fascinated curiosity, much like viewing a car wreck, she'd kept track one night of how many times the conversation had completely changed subjects.

112 times in less than two hours and that was including a couple of bathroom breaks and a false fire alarm.

Shaking her head, she left them to it and walked to Simon's office, knocking when she saw he was engrossed in a file of his own. He glanced up and waved her in, so she entered, closing the door behind her.

"What can I do for you, Detective?"

Sitting in the chair before his desk, Sara answered, "I realize that this kind of thing isn't really your favorite kind of subject, but I was wondering if you wanted to come to our ceremony."

Simon frowned. "Ceremony? What ceremony?"

"Uh, wedding ceremony? Me and Gabriel? It's just going to be a low-key thing at town hall," Sara explained slowly. He hadn't noticed?

Startled, Simon demanded, "Since when have you and Gabriel been going out?"

Apparently not. Surprised by the reaction, Sara answered, "Since we've been in Cascade, sir. But we've known each other going on three years. Is there a problem?"

Simon sighed, pulling off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Sara, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but isn't he a little…"

Sara arched an eyebrow as his words faded away and finished for him, "Young for me?"

"No! No, I was going to say, ah, a little too out there for you," Simon corrected. "You're a very down-to-earth woman and he's…well…not."

If the other man hadn't been so earnest, even a little worried, Sara would have laughed. As it was, she smiled and agreed, "He is definitely out there, Simon. As a matter of fact, sometimes I don't think we're even on the same planet. But he knows me, and understands me. Despite that, he loves me. And even as strange as it seems, I get him, too."

Simon sighed, replacing his glasses. "Well, all right. I hope you know what you're doing."

"Not exactly the ringing endorsement I was hoping for," Sara observed dryly. "But I guess I'll take it."

Flushing slightly, Simon apologized, "I'm sorry, Sara. You just took me by surprise. Of course I'll be there and I really hope he makes you happy."

It was then that she realized that Simon had entertained thoughts about her for himself and groaned silently. Why did things have to be so complicated in her life? Just when she found a great boss, it turned out that he liked her romantically. When their eyes met, she saw the Simon knew she knew and he looked away.

Thinking quickly as she got to her feet, Sara said, as though she hadn't noticed a damn thing, "It's going to be next week and I'll email you the details. Oh, since I'm here, I do have one favor to ask, unrelated to that."

All business once more, Simon asked, "What's that?"

"Please tell Ellison to stop shoving cases off on me? It's getting a little ridiculous," Sara said, eyes rolling.

Simon nodded and agreed, "I will. Anything else?"

"No, sir."

"All right then, get back to work."

"Yes, sir," Sara agreed, leaving the office.

The bellow of, "Ellison!" followed her out of the office and she grinned outright at Jim's startled expression. His gaze narrowed at her grin and he moved warily towards the Captain's office. As he passed by, she whispered, "Sorry Jim. Had to change the subject quick and couldn't think of anything else."

His look told her they'd have words later, but she wasn't worried. Chuckling softly as she rejoined Blair and Gabriel, she complained, "Haven't you two geniuses solved the crime yet?"

"In five minutes?" Gabriel demanded.

She grinned and shoved him lightly. "What'm I paying you for, huh?"

"You don't," he snorted.

"Oh that's right. You do it for the fringe benefits," she teased wickedly.

It just killed her that Gabriel still blushed.

Gabriel grimaced at her chuckle and muttered, "Pez, you're such a jerk sometimes."

Still grinning, Sara took the file from him and looked it over. Three men had been murdered in identical fashion, each on the night of the waxing moon. It was the only connection that they'd been able to find, aside from how they were killed. One white, age 17, one black, age 35 and one asian, age 63. They were from different walks of life and had never met each other in any way that could be found.

"So what do you think?" Blair asked.

With a smirk, Sara answered, "I try not to."

"I can vouch for that."

She glanced over at Jim's glowering expression and hid a wince. "Sorry, Jim."

Snorting, he answered, "I bet. And just for that, you're buyin' tonight."

Curious, Gabriel asked, "Just for what?"

Sara and Jim's gazes met and they answered simultaneously, "Cop stuff."

"God. Now you're both doing it," Blair groaned.

"C'mon, Darwin, we've got our own caseload to take care of," Jim said, grinning at his partner. He glanced back at Sara and asked, "See you at six?"

Sara looked to Gabriel, but he was already buried in the case file that he'd swiped back from her. Snickering softly and finding an knowing grin on Jim's face, Sara answered, "Probably. I'll call you when we get done here."

Nodding, Jim snagged his jacket from the back of his chair and put his hand on Blair to guide him towards the elevator.

Sara put her hand on Gabriel's shoulder and steered him towards her chair. She caught a glimpse of Simon in his office and looked over at him, but either she was hallucinating or he'd turned away just in time. Shrugging to herself, knowing that the man would get over it, Sara asked, "What do you think?"

"Huh?" Gabriel murmured, flipping a page.

"Should I be worried that you find none of this the least bit disturbing?" Sara questioned with a grin, sitting opposite him.

Startled, Gabriel finally looked up. "What?"

"This. Murder. Blood. Death," Sara elaborated, rubbing at her eyes. It had been a damn long day, getting called in early to relieve Brown on a stake-out when food-poisoning had struck. She hadn't wanted to leave Gabriel, especially when he was so cute sprawled out on the bed where a bomb could go off and he wouldn't wake up.

Smiling finally, Gabriel answered, "All a part of life. Though, you remember the first time we met? I mean, the really first time we met?"

The murdered gay man. Right. "Yeah."

"I thought I was going to puke after seeing him. That was my first dead body that wasn't already prepared for a funeral."

Sara frowned at the thoughtful tone that belied his words. "What?"

Shaking his head, Gabriel answered, "Nothing, just, I'm reminded of Maiden, Mother, Crone."

God she hated it when he switched conversations on her. "What?"

Grinning, Gabriel explained, "Earth religions based on the faces of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone. The phases of the moon. The murder reminds me of that except with men, not women. A young man just starting out who would equal the Maiden, a man in the prime of life who would be Mother, and an older man, retired to signify the Crone."

With a grin, Sara snorted and commented, "So...what? Equal rights for men under psychotic serial killers?"

Gabriel shrugged. "Something like that. I really don't see anything else to make sense of it, but I'm no profiler."

"Yeah, right," Sara snorted.

They were quiet for a while as they each made notes on different cases and Gabriel worked on her paperwork. Every so often, she'd take a moment just to watch him, enjoy the way his forehead scrunched together in concentration. God, she could so easily have not had this, any of it. She wouldn't have Gabriel, the friends that they'd made, or the home that he gave her with his love.

If she hadn't destroyed Irons'...well...ghost, or whatever the fuck he'd been by that point, the bastard would've kept up residence in Gabriel's body. A cold shiver ran through her at the thought. Sara had no doubt that she would have killed Gabriel in order to protect the world from Irons. It would have broken her, but she'd have done it and the Witchblade would have passed to the next successor.

"Hey. You okay?" Gabriel asked softly.

Sara gazed into the dark eyes staring at her with worry and forced a smile. "Yeah. Just thinking."

"Oh now, don't do that," Gabriel teased. "You might strain something."

Before she could make a suitable retort, a woman asked, "Excuse me? Detective Pezzini?"

Sara looked over at the double doors to find a pretty young woman with dark hair and eyes waiting there with an grieving expression. Getting to her feet, Sara asked, "Yes? Can I help you?"

Lower lip quivering, the woman nodded. "M-my husband? Albert Gibson? I was told you were working on his, his case?"

Cursing whoever had let the woman up without warning her, Sara nodded and heard Gabriel pull the file together and close it up so it couldn't accidentally be seen. Motioning for her to sit in the chair Gabriel had just vacated, Sara said, "First, I'm very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Gibson."

"Pez, I'll be over at Blair's desk," Gabriel informed her quietly.

Sara nodded. "Thanks, Gabriel."

He smiled briefly, glancing at the widow, and moved away.

Taking her own seat, Sara said, "I'm afraid I wasn't expecting you tonight, Mrs. Gibson, so you've caught me by surprise. I was just given the case about an hour ago."

"Oh, should I come back?" Mrs. Gibson asked, hesitant.

"No, no this is fine," Sara assured her. "I'll just be asking you some questions, and feel free to tell me if someone already asked you so we don't make you go over everything a hundred times."

The woman smiled faintly. "Thank you."

Grabbing a notebook, Sara offered the woman an understanding smile and began, "Tell me what your husband did for a living, Mrs. Gibson."

* * * *

"That was rough," Gabriel commented when Mrs. Gibson finally got on the elevator.

Sara nodded and picked up her jacket. "Let's go. I'm done."

Not surprised, Gabriel got his mostly dried jacket and followed her to the elevator. He nodded to Rafe, who flashed him a grin on his way into MC, and waited silently for the doors to open. It was crowded with people heading home for the night, so Gabriel stayed quiet, just remaining in reach of Sara.

They exited through security onto the dark, cool and damp street and Gabriel immediately shivered. Sara's arm went around his waist and he obliged the silent request by putting his over her shoulder. "You okay?"

Sara nodded, resting her head on his shoulder. "Yeah. It's just...I could feel her pain, you know? If anything ever happened to you..."

"Hey, I'm not going anywhere," Gabriel assured her, kissing her temple. "You and me are going to be old and gray and you'll be yelling at me to get off the damn computer. Or, whatever passes for computers fifty years from now."

She laughed and hip-checked him, but not hard enough to dislodge him.

He liked that they were almost the same height and that she was as strong, if not stronger, than him. They were a good match emotionally too, he knew. They were both mostly loners and knew how to give each other privacy and space, but one or the other of them always made sure that it wasn't too much time alone. "Why don't you just use the garage?"

"Because it gives me the creeps," Sara answered. "You know that."

"But it's such a pain for you to find a parking spot. I have to listen to you bitch about it every night when you get home."

"I could bitch about someone leaving the toilet seat up and never turning off the lights in empty rooms all the time instead, if you like?"

"Uh, no."

"Uh, didn't think so."

Gabriel laughed and was about to tease her leaving her underwear on the floor when the all-too-familiar cocking of a gun clicked in his ear and he froze, pulling Sara to a stop beside him.

"In the alley."

Sara slowly pulled away from him and glanced over her shoulder. "I don't think you want to do this, buddy."

"Don't tell me what I want to do, bitch! Just get in the fucking alley!"

Gabriel met her eyes she nodded, so he walked into the alley. Turning to face their mugger, he found a young man with wild eyes and his heart sank; completely drugged out. The man was wired so tight that he looked ready to snap.

"Wallets!"

Reaching into his pocket, Gabriel started pulling it out when the man's hand gripped his throat, pushing him into the wall and driving off his ability to breathe.

Sara took the opportunity to grab the gun-hand and savagely twist it behind and up their assailant, then slammed him into the nearest wall, face first. She leaned close to him and snarled, "You fucking idiot! What the hell made you think that mugging someone outside the police station was a good idea? Gabriel, go get the sergeant on duty and report this while I read this asshole his rights."

Gabriel nodded and turned to do as she asked. It wasn't until he was out of the alley that he realized Sara hadn't used the Witchblade to defend them, despite there being no one around. Worry flooded through him and Gabriel mentally reviewed his memories of the last couple of weeks. He couldn't remember Sara mentioning using the Witchblade at all, now that he thought about it.

Cold clenched his gut as he entered the station. This really couldn't be good.

* * * *

The restaurant was quiet and Blair leaned against Jim, dry, tired eyes closed as he leaned on his partner's strength.

Warm lips briefly kissed under his ear then Jim murmured, "They're here."

Yawning, Blair opened his eyes and straightened up to greet their friends. Sara looked like she'd been put through the ringer and Gabriel was hovering more than usual. Frowning, he asked, "What's wrong?"

Gabriel opened his mouth to answer, but Sara cut him off sharply with, "Nothing."

Jaw tightening with irritation, Gabriel nonetheless subsided and agreed, "Nothing."

Right. Blair absolutely believed them, too. Not. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he wasn't sure which, the hostess came up to seat them right then. Slinging his arm around Jim's waist, he followed the woman towards a table in the back and grinned a little when Sara and Jim looked like they were going to knock heads about who got to sit with their back to the wall.

He nudged Jim pointedly with his elbow and Jim gave in with a long-suffering sigh, sliding into the non-walled side of the booth. Meeting Gabriel's eyes, he saw a brief glint of amusement, but it was quickly gone. Frowning to himself, Blair contained his questions for when he and Gabriel had a few minutes alone, probably when they split to go to their cars.

Dinner passed quietly for a change. Conversation ranged easily between the four of them on a number of topics, though the 'wedding,' was kept top billing throughout the night. There were no interruptions from work and nothing happened at the restaurant to need the services of three cops and a consultant. Thankfully. No one ordered desert, which was good, because Blair was exhausted and about to keel over altogether.

Gabriel was quick to snag the bill and put a credit card on it. Blair grinned, loving the identical expressions of outrage on Sara and Jim's faces. He stood, dragging Jim to his feet and said, "You can get the next one, if you really want to. I want to go to bed."

Snorting, Jim ruffled Blair's curls and said to Sara, "I think I need to put Junior to bed before he falls asleep on me."

She grinned and agreed, "Sounds familiar."

"Hey!"

"Watch it, woman!"

Jim and Sara laughed, and began to walk out the restaurant, talking about the reception. Blair watched them go, shaking his head at the domestic picture they presented. Turning to Gabriel, he found his friend also staring at their respective mates, but with nothing like the fond amusement Blair was feeling. "What's wrong?"

"I love her," Gabriel whispered, pained.

Frowning, Blair said, "I know that. So does Sara and anyone else who's seen the two of you together. What's wrong?"

Gabriel finally looked at him and explained bitterly, "It's the Witchblade."

"What about it?"

"It's pulling us apart, I can feel it."

"Gabriel, it's not..."

"Yes, it is," Gabriel interrupted. "Sara's special, Blair, so special. She has this focus, it's so intense I can't even describe it. And to have it all turned on me...fuck. It's like nothing I've ever felt before in my life. But the Witchblade is a jealous mistress who doesn't share. It's taking longer to respond to her, if it has at all recently, I can tell from what she hasn't been saying. And one of these times, it isn't going to answer her at all and she'll be dead. I'll only be able to blame myself for it."

Blair's heart went out to the young man who was obviously being torn apart. What had happened in the few short hours that they'd been apart? Something had to have occurred at the precinct. "Gabriel, don't do anything stupid."

Turning bleak eyes on him, Gabriel asked, "What's stupid? To break up with Sara to save her life, or to stay with her and know that it could cost her life?"

"Gabriel..."

"Look, Blair, I appreciate the help, but this isn't something that you can fix, despite your power as a Shaman," Gabriel said softly.

Then the waitress came back with Gabriel's card, he flashed her a smile and took off down the aisle. Blair stared after him for a long moment, then sighed and followed. There had to be something he could do to help his friends.

* * * *

"So can you do anything about it?" Jim asked, closing and locking the door behind him.

Blair sighed, rubbing his eyes and collapsing onto the couch. "I don't know, Jim. It's not really my area of expertise."

"But you've been talking to Gabriel about this since before they moved out here," Jim pointed out, moving to check the locks on the windows and french doors.

"In theory only, man. It's like...it's like Gabriel trying to figure you out," Blair offered finally. He pulled off his boots and socks and continued, "Sure, he knows the basics, but he hasn't been studying it for the last fifteen years like I have. I mean, I have all the information that he's given me on the Witchblade, but you wouldn't believe how much there is!"

Sitting beside Blair, Jim asked, "A lot?"

"Fuck yes."

Jim snorted. "What about, you know, other methods?"

Glancing sideways at his partner, Blair questioned, "The pendant?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know, maybe," Blair said slowly.

Putting his arm around Blair's shoulder, Jim pulled him close. "You'll figure something out, Chief, you always do."

A little disconcerted by the utter faith Jim's voice conveyed, Blair admitted, "I wish I had your faith in me."

Jim shrugged and said, "I have enough for both of us. You've got an incredible mind, Blair. Once you figure out exactly what the question is, you'll find the answer."

Blair froze, then started laughing.

"What?"

Kissing the side of Jim's neck, Blair said, "It does help to know the question, doesn't it?"

Jim snickered softly. "Just a little."

"Well, I am beat, so how about we table the discussion and go to bed?" Blair suggested.

"Sure."

Jim stood first, then pulled Blair to his feet and guided him towards the stairs, massaging the tense muscles under his hands as they walked. "God, why didn't you tell me you were so stressed?"

Blair groaned and, as they climbed the steps, answered, "Didn't stop long enough to realize it."

Jim grinned as he watched Blair flop onto their bed and instantly burrow underneath the covers, still mostly dressed. "I'm going to have to talk to Simon about keeping you out so late. No more stakeouts for you, young man."

Blair flipped him off.

Laughing this time, Jim pulled off his shirt, then toed off his sneakers and socks and crawled onto the bed beside his lover. Nuzzling the back of Blair's head, breathing in the soothing scent of his hair, he murmured, "You tired?"

"Just a little exhausted," Blair yawned, snuggling back into Jim's arms.

Jim kissed the bare skin he'd cleared and pushed his groin against Blair's ass. "Too tired?"

With a warm chuckle, Blair took Jim's hand and put it on his own hardening cock and answered, "Tired Jim, not dead."

"Good," Jim said, pulling free and tugging the blankets down. He ignored Blair's wordless complaint at exposure to the chilly air and started undressing him, kissing the skin he bared.

It wasn't long before they were both naked and Jim covered Blair with his body, keeping most of his weight off the smaller man. Taking Blair's mouth gently, he explored the already familiar territory, taking his time and enjoying the wet heat that never failed to excite him. He was already hard and the continual press of their cocks together was driving him quickly towards the edge.

It had been a number of days since they'd been in the same bed together, never mind had enough time or energy to do anything about it. And the lazy, tired quality just served to slow things down. Jim refused to come before Blair did, and his lover was half-asleep. He sucked lightly on Blair's collarbone and gripped both their cocks in his hand.

Blair shuddered at the contact, exactly what Jim had been waiting for. His hand moved slow but hard, tight around them both. Blair's breath caught and Jim watched as orgasm rippled through his lover, thrilling at the sight of Blair arching into his touch as seed spilled between them. His own release came a few seconds later, all the more devastating for having waited.

Thinking vaguely that Blair had well and truly cured him of any obsessive cleaning tendencies, Jim curled close to Blair, ignoring the stickiness between them as he drifted into sleep.

* * * *

Waking up to the shrill ringing of the phone wasn't Jim's favorite thing to do. The fact that he was in Blair's arms when it happened soothed some of the irritation, but not all of it. Jim groaned and rolled away from Blair, snagging the phone and grunting, "What?"

"Good morning to you, too, sunshine."

Fuck. Naomi. Clearing his throat, Jim stated, "Do you have any idea what time it is? He's sleeping."

"Almost six in the morning, your time. I'd have thought the two of you would be getting ready for work already."

The sweet tone set Jim's teeth to grinding, but the phone was plucked from his hand before he could make an appropriately cutting response and Blair said, "Mom? What is it?"

Though tempted, Jim refrained from listening in. He yawned and returned to his former position of lying on Blair, his fingers sifting through the chest-hair. Eyes closed, he felt the tension seep into his lover as the one sided conversation made apparent what, exactly, was going on.

"Look, Mom, I can't just drop everything...no, but...of course I love you. Right. Yes. I said, yes. When? Sure, I'll pick you up at the airport. Two o'clock, got it. Flight 414, Delta. Got it. Yes, I'll remember. I'm writing it down right now. See you then."

The phone accidentally clipped Jim on the forehead on its way back to the night stand table and Jim grunted at the impact, but didn't complain.

"Sorry, love," Blair apologized.

"She's not staying here, I don't fucking care what she says."

"Jim, c'mon man, she's got nowhere else to go."

Staring at the slightly wrinkled skin leading up to Blair's nipple, Jim snapped, "I'll pay for the hotel."

Blair sighed deeply, one of his arms going around Jim as he said, "Jim, she's my Mom. I can't make her stay at a hotel."

"Only because you've never tried it," Jim muttered. Fuck! It wasn't as though he could tell Blair that Naomi had hit on him again the last time she'd been around. That there had actually been near-intimate contact before Jim had beat a hasty retreat out of the loft altogether. Driven out of his own God damned home!

"Please? For me?"

Double fuck! That soft whisper got him every God damned time. "Fine. But I'll be working overtime while she's here."

Blair was silent for a while, his fingers trailing absently over Jim's shoulder. "I'll call Professor Wilkins and see if they'd like her to speak at the women's studies program again. She was a big hit."

"Yeah, she was."

"I hate it that you two don't get along."

Sighing, Jim said, "I know, and I'm sorry, Chief. It just is."

Blair kissed the top of Jim's head and murmured, "It's okay. I'll survive."

Yeah, but would Jim?

* * * *

Gabriel sighed with pleasure as Sara kissed and licked her way down his body. Being with her wasn't like any other woman; she was aggressive and possessive with him nine times out of ten, always urging him to let go, that she wouldn't break. Given that they were equally matched, well, when she wasn't using the gauntlet, he mostly knew that was true in his head, but he was still not quite there.

He couldn't help it. All the women Gabriel had been with before had always been the soft and gentle sort. He'd always had to take care of them, which was awesome, he had loved it, but it made all of this very new to him. Generally speaking, he'd always put his own pleasure last, concentrating on whatever the woman needed. It had made him very popular, even with women no one would expect him to be with.

He smirked a little to himself, remembering Jake's look a couple of years back upon catching him with a Swedish model.

Sara's mouth closed around his cock and he groaned at the wet heat, all thoughts driven away, his hands twisting in the sheets. Her tongue moved over and around him as suction began, sending heat and need coursing through him. Then it was gone and he groaned again, in disappointment this time, eyes blinking open to find her staring at him with a mix of amusement and exasperation. Panting, he demanded, "What?"

"You're a pain in the ass, Bowman."

Still foggy, and hey, intelligence during sex hadn't yet been asked of him, so it took a second for Gabriel to make sense of that. "What?"

Sara straddled him then sat unexpectedly on him, completely enveloping him in one move. They both groaned, and she leaned forward, hands on his chest, mouth slightly open as she got control of her breathing. Chuckling, the green-gray eyes opened and she demanded, "Do you think you could manage the idea that I'm not made of glass? Just once, okay?"

Sighing, finding it nearly impossible to think while like this, Gabriel gasped, "It's, I'm trying, Sara."

She lifted up, then slammed down, provoking another dual groan, and ordered, "Try harder!"

"So, not glass, huh?" Gabriel asked, his hands moving up to cup her breasts and then pinch her nipples, twisting them sharply.

Sara shuddered, head dropping back, hair cascading as she started to ride him. "God, yes!"

He pulled her forward and seized her mouth, twining his fingers through the long, chestnut hair to hold her in place as his hips began to undulate. She moaned into his mouth and one of his hand shifted from her head to her slit, finding and rubbing her clit, hard. A full bodied shudder was the response and he rolled them over, fully lying on her since both hands were occupied, pressing her into the mattress.

Another moan into his mouth as he continued to devour her mouth and humped into her while his finger rubbed her. Long legs locked around him and finally, he went up on one hand, pulling free of her mouth to look at her, passion-flushed and gasping: the most beautiful and erotic sight he'd ever seen in his life.

When he took his other hand away, she groaned in disappointment. But now he could angle things differently, resting completely on his hands and slamming into the magic spot deep inside her with each savage thrust. Gabriel couldn't ever remember being this hard, or this needy. His head dipped down to suck on her nipple, tongue flickering over the impossibly hard nub.

He watched her, watched as each movement sent a jerk of pleasure through her, causing her to catch her breath and moan. This was eternity at his fingertips, Gabriel knew, this woman in his arms, shuddering in orgasm on his cock.

Moving harder and faster, his thrusting grew more ragged as Sara's contractions of coming tightened and squeezed around him, urging him to his own. Her fingernails raked his back, shocking him and shattering his control so that he cried out, his come spilling hot and devastating into her only to be safely captured in the condom.

Collapsing, utterly wrecked, Gabriel relished the arms that went around him, holding him through the aftershock as his cock continued to spit come inside her. Shuddering, he breathed deeply, loving her scent and nuzzling at her throat, licking and biting it lightly.

Sara sighed just as deeply, a warm chuckle and near purr of satisfaction assuring him of pleasure found. "You know what?"

"Hmm?" Again. Intelligence after sex? Not really.

She kissed his sweaty forehead and murmured, "I love you."

Gabriel was glad she couldn't see him in their current position, because tears sparked at her words and he just held tighter, unable to speak.

* * * *

Sara moved gingerly as she sat, ignoring the somewhat smug look on Gabriel's face as he glanced up in time to see it. It wasn't fair to him, perhaps, but she really did forget how big he was sometimes. But it had more than been worth it to finally tear off those kid gloves. She didn't know where he'd learned to be so incredible careful around women, but it was a definite change of pace for her.

Damn, he was hot in bed! She didn't remember being this sated from any of her previous lovers.

"You all right, Pez?" Jim asked with a smirk, stopping by her desk.

Glaring at him, Sara replied, "Fine, thanks. Oh, and Mrs. Gibson stopped by last night."

Jim accepted the change of subject with little more than a knowing look and said, "Find anything?"

"Not a damned thing," she sighed.

"Ellison! Get your ass in here now!"

When Jim looked at her, Sara held her hands up and exclaimed, "Not me this time."

He snorted. "Right."

Grinning, Sara watched him go then returned to her own paperwork. A chill suddenly slithered down her spine and she stiffened. Her good mood evaporated into nothingness as the Witchblade pulsed in warning on her wrist.

Instantly picking up on the change, Gabriel asked in a low voice, "Sara? What's wrong?"

"I don't know," she replied, looking around the office.

She hadn't felt this particular edge since…

"Nottingham!" she hissed.

Gabriel was hot on her heels as she rushed out of Major Crimes and she vaguely knew that Blair was right behind him, but ignored them both. All her concentration was on finding the threat that Nottingham represented to Gabriel. She knew that Ian would never harm her, as much as he hated her for accidentally killing his master, Irons. There was too much programming and brainwashing in his head to ever hurt Sara personally.

But hurting and killing Gabriel was another matter altogether. It was probably something he would take pleasure in, as much as he took pleasure from anything. She slammed the stairwell door opened and just as quickly shut it, preventing Gabriel and Blair from following by wedging a nearby Fire Extinguisher in the handle.

There was pounding from the other side and Gabriel shouted, "Sara! God damn it! Open the fucking door!"

She closed her eyes, concentrating on the sensation that she'd always associated with Ian: deep, dark, and sensual. If Irons hadn't killed himself on the Witchblade, things might very well have turned out differently between them. Given what she had with Gabriel, though, she didn't regret how things had gone down.

"Show yourself, Ian," she demanded loudly. "I know you're here!"

The soft tap of feet on the stairwell above told her that he was heading for the roof. She ran up after him and in short order, they were outside, the alarm having been disarmed. He was familiarly dressed in black overcoat and fitted sweater. A dark braid hung thick and long over his shoulder, which was new, and the equally as dark eyes were filled with a mix of hatred, love, and obsession, which was not. "What do you want, Ian?"

"What does anyone want, Sara? Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness," Ian replied, his voice smooth, his breathing even.

"Cut the crap. Why are you here?"

A faint smirk crossed his face. "Do you know that I can smell him on you? You didn't take a shower this morning, did you?"

"Fucking psycho," she snapped. "Don't you lay a finger on him!"

"Sara, I would never hurt someone so important to you," he admonished. "I am here with a warning."

Suspicious, Sara demanded, "What warning?"

"The Witchblade tolerates no interference nor leverage, Sara. If you love him, I suggest that you set him free. Otherwise, well, circumstances dictate a messy end to your young scholar. Don't you remember what happened the first time?"

Violent images ran through her mind, pulsing with emotion. Nottingham, but not, with his hand around Gabriel's throat. Herself, begging for Gabriel's life, giving up the Witchblade for his safety. Nottingham snapping Gabriel's neck and the insanity, the overwhelming grief that had pounded within her at the carelessly bestowed death. Even Irons had been shocked into crying out, she remembered vaguely. "That wasn't the Witchblade, it was you!"

Shaking his head, Ian replied, "I was not myself, not as I am now, but that matters not. The Witchblade has shown you that there are no coincidences. His death before, leads to a parallel death now. Every move you make puts those you love in danger. Why do you suppose the Wielders are always alone? Why do you think that they have no one in their lives at the bitter end? Because to love the one who Wields the Witchblade is a death sentence."

"No, Gabriel would have said something," Sara denied hotly.

A self-satisfied smirk crossed Ian's face as he pointed out, "The boy loves you, Sara. He thinks he can protect you."

"She doesn't need protection."

Sara's head snapped around at Jim's statement and found the big man with his gun drawn, aimed at Ian's forehead.

"Witchblade or not, Pez is the best cop I know and doesn't need some mystical bullshit weapon to do her job, to do what's right," he continued.

Arching a dark eyebrow, Ian replied, "And the time when she relies upon its strength and protection to find it gone?"

Jim shrugged. "Is the day she dies. It's a risk we all take, every day.

"A risk we all understand and accept," Blair agreed, coming up behind Jim with his own gun out and aimed at Ian's chest.

"Some more than others, perhaps," Ian allowed, dark eyes switching from Blair to Gabriel, who was beside the cop. The smirk still hovered as he continued, "You can't protect her from herself or the truth."

"I don't need their protection or anyone else's," Sara snapped.

"Not even the Witchblade?" Ian questioned.

She could feel the pulsing on her wrist, the violence lurking just below the surface. It was another level of being, one that was urging her to an answer, but she didn't know what answer to give. It was a test, she knew that. Just like destroying Irons' spirit and truly accepting the Witchblade as part of herself had been.

For a moment, she met Gabriel's frantic gaze and smiled at him, trying to reassure him. Straightening, feeling the truth inside, Sara confirmed, "Not even."

The expectant look on Ian's face shifted to curiosity. "Interesting."

But Sara was no longer paying him any attention. Debilitating heat was creeping up her arm from the Witchblade, which was visibly pulsing. Light flared from it, blinding and all-consuming, and the pain that surged through her threw away the world.

She distantly heard Gabriel screaming her name.

* * * *

Even before the light flared, Gabriel knew something was going on from the way Sara looked at him. Dodging around Blair to get to his lover, Gabriel shouted her name as the light flared, reaching her at the height of the silent explosion and throwing his arms around her, ignoring the fire that surged over him.

It was fully what he expected being in a blast furnace to feel like, only worse, because he was still conscious of what was going on. In a removed way, Gabriel knew that he was screaming with the pain, but there was no way he would let go, not with everything he knew about the Witchblade.

If it was going to take her to another time and place, then he was fucking well going with Sara and that was that!

* * * *

Simon and Joel burst onto the roof and stopped in shock. Gabriel and Sara were unconscious or worse on the far side, while Blair was cradling a motionless Jim in his arms and rocking back and forth, keening softly. Regaining the power of speech, Simon ordered, "Ambulances! Now!"

"Simon, all the cell phones and power are out, remember? We can't even get them down from here!" Joel reminded urgently.

"Fuck!" Simon swore. He had forgotten. "Go check on Pez and Gabriel!"

Joel nodded and hurried across the roof while Simon rushed to Blair and crouched down. Gripping the younger man's shoulder, he asked gently, "Blair, Blair, what happened?"

Raising scarily blank eyes, Blair gasped, "I don't, I don't know! There was a man, Pez was arguing with him, then, then Jim jumped on me. He must have heard or sensed something just before it happened. I looked over at Pez and Gabriel just as there was some kind of bright light, an explosion maybe?"

Fear running through him, Simon waved his hand in front of Blair's face, but the other man didn't even flinch and he breathed, "Oh, no. Blair, can you see anything?"

Shaking his head, Blair answered, "Everything's whited out. It's like staring into the sun only, no headache. Simon, Jim's on overload too, I can't bring him out of it!"

"Don't panic, Blair, just...stay calm, okay?" Simon ordered, running a shaking hand over his head.

There were more footsteps and Simon looked up to find Megan and a couple of uniforms stopping in their own shock a short distance away as they took in the scene. "Megan! We need three backboards asap! We'll have to carry them down to the ground level. Someone get on the emergency radio and get ambulances here now!"

She nodded and immediately started giving orders to the uniforms.

Knowing that was taken care of, Simon turned his attention back to Blair and said, "I need to check on Pez and Gabriel, will you be okay here by yourself for a few?

"Yeah. God, Simon, Gabriel was screaming, he was in so much pain," Blair whispered brokenly.

Simon flinched at the information, but kept his voice steady as he replied, "I'll be right back."

Nodding, Blair's eyes closed and he hunched over Jim again.

Getting to his feet, Simon rushed over to his other fallen officers. His eyes widened as he took in the sight that their clothes looked fused together, with Gabriel wrapped around Sara from behind and over her, as though trying to protect her from a blast. "Holy Mother of God."

Joel looked over at him and said, "Yeah. They're alive and there aren't any burns on their skin, but neither will come around."

"What the hell happened here?" Simon demanded, looking around for the man Blair had spoken of. There was no sign of a fifth person and his jaw tightened in anger. "Who the hell did this? Why?"

Megan and the rescue party arrived just then and the questions were put aside as they took care of their own.

* * * *

She was, again, facing herself. Though of course, it wasn't really her, just a previous incarnation of herself, different through the course of events of the previous life. Irritated, Sara demanded, "What do you want?"

The other woman shrugged, chain-mail scratching against armor as she countered, "What do you want?"

Oh great. Another Q&A session. Sara sighed and answered, "To live my life. To help people. To put the bad guys away where they can't hurt anyone else."

"And the Witchblade? Where does it figure into that?" the woman questioned.

Honest, Sara replied, "I don't know. I won't have Gabriel hurt or killed because of it, though. I'd rather give it up."

Sara had heard it said that being on the receiving end of her 'interrogation' stare was unnerving and now she had personal experience with it. She might be separated from this part of herself by a good four hundred years, but it was still herself.

"He would protect you."

"Yes."

"He would give you children."

"Yes."

"He would love you, on your terms, however you were willing to do so."

"Yes."

The gauntlet covered the woman's arm and the blade touched Sara's throat. "You would have all that he offers, where none of us did before. Tragedy is part and parcel of the Witchblade."

Shaking her head, careless of the blade that drew a sliver of blood and fire into her throat, Sara insisted, "It doesn't have to be!"

"Prove it to us. But if you fail, his life is forfeit."

Before Sara could agree or disagree to the terms, she was surrounded by mist and tumbling into nothingness again.

* * * *

The hospital was busier than usual, due to the sudden power loss of five blocks out from the police building that had resulted in a lot of traffic accidents. Blair could hear it all going on around him, but was focused only on Jim. One hand gripped his lover's while the other rested on the broad chest, feeling the steady, even heartbeat.

Everything was still a blinding white light but, since Blair was conscious and otherwise unhurt, he'd been relegated to an eye specialist who wasn't currently available. Sara and Gabriel had been brought to another area of the emergency room and Simon had told him that Gabriel was on life support.

"Blair?"

Blair turned towards Simon's voice and asked, "Yeah, Simon?"

"How are you doing?"

Shrugging, Blair replied, "All right. Starting to get that headache, though."

"Still nothing?"

"Nope."

Simon moved closer, a hand coming to rest on Blair's shoulder. "And Jim?"

With a heavy swallow, Blair whispered, "No change."

"God, Blair, I am so sorry."

"Th-there's nothing for you to be sorry about. It's not your fault," Blair answered, struggling to keep in the emotions rioting inside from getting free.

Simon's hand squeezed his shoulder as the older man said, "Jim's going to come out of this and you're going to get your sight back. That's all there is to it."

Smiling at the firm order, Blair asked, "How're Sara and Gabriel?"

Simon sighed and informed him, "Sara's still unconscious, but doing okay. Gabriel...they don't think he's going to make it, Blair. Seems he took the majority of the blast that was aimed at Sara."

"Fuck," Blair breathed.

"Yeah. You know, I didn't think he was good enough for her," Simon admitted heavily. "She invited me to the wedding and all I could think was, 'that little punk doesn't know what he's got.' I was jealous, and now I feel like a first class jerk. He saved her life, there's no doubt in the doctors' minds about that."

Half-smiling, Blair observed, "I think a lot of people underestimate Gabriel, Simon. I wouldn't worry about it. He's sure not going to hold it against you. Though he'll probably get ticked if you carry a torch for Sara or something. If she doesn't punch you out first."

Simon chuckled and agreed, "Yeah, that's Pez. Sandburg, I've gotta ask you something."

Not liking the sound of it, Blair said neutrally, "Yeah."

"I know this has to do with Sara. What is it? What happened on that rooftop?"

Blair thought back to it, but could only answer, "I don't know, Simon, and that's the truth. I think something went wrong, but I really, I don't know. Any luck finding Nottingham?"

"No," Simon said. "We've got an APB out, but nothing so far."

Nodding, having almost expected that from what Gabriel had told him of the other man, Blair commented, "I doubt you'll find him."

There was another sigh before Simon said, "I'm going to check on Sara and Gabriel again."

"Good," Blair agreed. "I'll be here."

Snorting, Simon's hand tightened again, then he was gone.

Bringing Jim's hand to his lips, Blair murmured, "Come back to me, Jim, please, please come back to me, love. I need you so much."

It was a few minutes later that Blair sensed that he was being watched and straightened, demanding, "Who's there?"

"Blair, sweetie."

Fuck. Exactly what he didn't need. The day's events had completely pushed aside the fact of his mother's arrival. "Mom, I'm sorry, I forgot..."

"Blair, honey, of course you did," she interrupted, moving closer.

He smelled her perfume just before her hand cupped his cheek and then she hugged him. It was an awkward hug because he refused to let go of Jim's hand, but a comforting one. Breathing in her unique, floral and spicy scent, Blair was transported back to childhood where a simple hug from his mother had seemed to set the world right again.

Then she drew back and whispered, "Th-the doctor said they were waiting for a specialist to check your eyes?"

Blair nodded and told her, "I should be more freaked out than I am, but I'm just going to assume that it's temporary. Like, like an overload or something."

"Of course it is!" she agreed instantly. "And, and Jim? Do they know...?"

Swallowing down the fear, Blair replied, "He's just unconscious. He'll come out of it."

"Blair, honey, you don't have to be brave for me, I'm your mother, remember? Tell me what's really going on with you," Naomi prodded gently.

Shaky, Blair said, "I-I can't do this, Mom. If I start...expressing myself, I won't stop screaming."

There was a pause, then she asked, a hint of wonder in her voice, "You really love him, don't you?"

Surprised by the question, Blair answered, "With everything I am, yeah. And, if, if he..."

"He won't," she interrupted firmly. "You're both going to be just fine."

"How do you know?" Blair whispered.

"Because I said so, and I'm your mother, that's how."

Half-laughing, half-crying, Blair nodded and wiped at his eyes, grateful when her arms wrapped around him in support.

* * * *

Simon watched as Blair shook in Naomi's arms even as the young man clung to Jim's hand, then turned away to give them what little privacy could be had. He turned towards the room where Gabriel had been set until an ICU room became available and frowned as someone who obviously wasn't hospital staff exited. He looked vaguely asian, with dusky skin and dark eyes, but wild, yellow hair. It was, well, it was hard to tell how old the man was; anywhere from forty to sixty.

Striding forward, Simon demanded, "Hey! What were you doing in that room?"

The man gave him a mysterious look, then vanished as a crowd of technicians and nurses passed between them. Frowning, Simon headed for Gabriel's room, a twitch of alarm running through him. Another shock rippled through him as he found Gabriel completely minus the life support equipment and struggling to sit up, looking around blearily.

"Captain? Where's Sara?" Gabriel demanded hoarsely. "I've gotta get to her."

Snapping to attention, Simon rushed forward and pushed him back onto the bed, keeping the young man firmly in place. "Sara's fine, just unconscious. You were the one we were worried about."

Surprise flashed across Gabriel's face. "Me? Why?"

"Because you took the blast meant for Sara," Simon explained.

"Blast? No, it wasn't...ah...blast, right," Gabriel finished, looking away.

Frowning, knowing that Gabriel had been going to say something else, Simon was rudely pushed aside when medical staff suddenly entered the room and started fussing over the young man. Shaking his head, Simon resigned himself to being kept in the dark at least a little while longer. Though he'd get the truth out of them one of these days.

* * * *

Blair had seen the specialist, his mother hovering anxiously in the background, and the man had no explanation. There was no way to tell if it was permanent or temporary, or even what had happened unless Blair allowed himself to be brought out for a battery of tests. And Blair wasn't going anywhere until Jim woke up.

It had been a long afternoon, first when Jim had been moved to a private room, and with all people coming in and out to check on them. Blair's voice felt like it was going to give out from providing a vocal point of reference for Jim, but finally, things quieted down. Simon told him that Gabriel was out of the woods and dragged Naomi out to get some food. And though grateful for her support, Blair was more than a little relieved when she left.

"Blair?"

Startled by Gabriel's voice, Blair turned towards it and exclaimed, "Gabriel? Oh man, what're you doing out of bed?"

"I'm fine," Gabriel answered. "Well, relatively speaking. Sara woke up a little while ago and she's fine, too. But you, and, and Jim. Fuck, Blair, I am so sorry."

Blair half-smiled. "It's not anyone's fault, Gabriel, definitely not yours."

"Definitely...not," Jim groaned.

Blair's hand tightened instantly on Jim's and he lurched forward, his other hand cupping his lover's face as he gasped, "Jim? Oh God, Jim, are you okay?"

Clearing his throat, Jim demanded, "What's wrong with your eyes?"

"Uh, they don't know yet," Blair answered.

Jim pulled him onto the bed, careless of the monitoring wires, and his arms twined around Blair, hugging him fiercely. Assured of his partner's recovery, Blair finally let go, burying his face against Jim's throat and holding tight.

* * * *

It had been more than a little disconcerting to look at Blair and find nothing in the blue eyes staring back at him. Gabriel didn't stick around beyond the moment that Jim woke and pulled Blair into bed with him, wanting to give them privacy. That and return to Sara, who had been really groggy and not making much sense. They'd given her a sedative, the only reason he'd actually left her side to check on Blair and Jim.

He moved slowly down the hall to his lover's room, feeling as though he'd been sat on by a horse. Not that that had ever actually happened, yet, but Gabriel figured this was what it felt like to be squashed flat. It took a few minutes to get there, but he sat in the chair beside Sara's bed and took her hand.

"She will never truly be yours."

Gabriel stiffened and staggered to his feet, ignoring the pain in his body and keeping between Sara and Nottingham. The other man leaned casually against the doorframe, arms crossed easily over his chest and his hair loose over his shoulders. The fitted shirt accentuated his powerful body and Gabriel saw the glint of a knife tucked into each heavy boot.

"She and I share a bond that you never will," Ian continued, eyes locked onto Sara. "Our Destiny is one that cannot be changed."

"I think Sara might have something to say about that," Gabriel challenged.

Nottingham laughed softly, dark eyes flickering up to Gabriel as he swiftly crossed the room. He grabbed Gabriel by the shoulders and hauled him close before Gabriel could even think to hit the call button. This close up, the dark eyes were mesmerizing and menacing both. Gabriel was frozen, unable to attempt to get free, the dark curtain of Nottingham's hair seeming to close them off from everyone and everything else.

One hand released a shoulder and covered Gabriel's mouth as Ian touched their foreheads together and informed him, "Destiny is changed by no mere mortal, Gabriel, you should know that by now. I am hers to do with as she pleases, even more so now that she has taken my Master from me. And I understand her, as you never will, because we are forged of the same iron. When she wakes, give her a message for me."

Gabriel nodded slowly, not looking away for an instant.

"Tell her...tell her that the Witchblade craves not an equal, nor a partner, it looks only for submission. To go against that is to court her death, and yours. And I will always be here, her faithful...servant."

Gabriel jerked in shock when Nottingham seized his lips in a brutal, punishing kiss, his tongue thrusting into Gabriel's mouth as though to conquer him. Then the taller man bit through Gabriel's lower lip and savaged it badly before pulling away. He watched as Nottingham licked the blood from his lips with a smirk and reached out to caress Gabriel's face saying, "I can see why she likes you so much. You taste sweet."

Still in shock, mostly from the warning, Gabriel just watched him leave without raising an alarm. Everything that Nottingham had said, both on the roof and just then, reinforced what he'd found out on his own. If Sara remained with him, she would die because the Witchblade had no use for a happy, well-adjusted Wielder. There was no way for Gabriel to protect her from that unless he left.

A few seconds after Nottingham left, Simon came tearing into the room, gun in hand and looking rapidly around the room. "Gabriel? Are you all right? Gabriel, answer me!"

Gabriel's eyes snapped to the black man and he struggled to find words. Finally, he managed, "I'm fine."

"Bullshit," Simon contradicted, not unkindly, as he put away his weapon. "What happened? Jim said that Nottingham was here and you were in trouble."

"He um, he had a warning for Sara," Gabriel related.

Simon nodded and observed grimly, "And a fist for your face, it looks like."

Startled, Gabriel gingerly touched his torn lip and winced as the pain suddenly came to his attention. He also noticed that there was quite a bit of blood on his shirt. "Ow."

"I'll get a doctor to stitch you up," Simon offered.

Gabriel nodded and turned to Sara as the other man left the room. Brushing a non-bloody finger over her cheek, he whispered, "I love you, Sara, more than life. Good bye."

Thankful that he'd insisted on getting dressed once the doctor had cleared him, Gabriel didn't linger in the room for Simon to get back. He grabbed a towel from the bathroom and held it to his mouth, grimacing at the renewed pain, but not slowing down a bit. He had to leave right then and there, or he wouldn't find another opportunity.

Not to mention that he'd never find the strength to leave Sara if she was awake and demanding that he stay.

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