Danny groaned as the phone woke him out of a sound sleep. He grabbed it and pulled it off the hook before it could wake his wife, mumbling, "'lo?"

"Danny?"

Instantly awake at Sara's voice, he rolled out of bed and walked out of the bedroom. "Sara? What's wrong?"

"Danny, I-I need you," Sara whispered.

She sounded...scared. Scared? Pez? That was like, an impossibility. "What happened?"

"I-I'm in the hospital and Gabriel's vanished. It was Nottingham, he followed me here across the whole God damned country!"

Danny sighed, running a hand through his hair and switching the phone to his other shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"I will be. Just concussed with some scrapes and bruises. Banks said that Gabriel looked like Nottingham had wiped the floor with him just before he disappeared, though. He showed up when I was knocked out and I guess, shit, I guess Gabriel was trying to protect me."

Wincing, knowing just how powerful Nottingham was, Danny could well imagine the younger man getting his butt whipped. "But he was okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, Banks said he was walking and talking anyhow."

"Who's Banks?"

"Oh. Ah, my new boss. Captain Simon Banks of Major Crimes here in Cascade."

Shock rippled through Danny. "You're a cop again?"

"Yeah. Yeah. Remember how I told you that I thought Gabriel had been kidnapped?"

Another wince, and an added measure of guilt thrown in to boot. "Yeah."

"Well he had been. And Ellison's partner had been taken by the same psycho, so we wound up working together and Banks made me a temporary employee, but it turned out to be permanent when we got Gabriel and Blair back."

"Ellison's partner?"

"Right."

"Who's Ellison?"

"Top-notch detective. Someone I work with."

Danny's head was reeling with all the new information.

"Oh hey! Did you get my package?"

Blinking in surprise at the change in subject, Danny felt a slither of shame run through him at the reminder. Despite what was obviously an incredibly wild change in her life, Sara had managed to find out about the birth of their third daughter and send a card and baby outfit. "Yeah, I got it, thanks. Lee loves it and so does Lisa."

"You named her Lisa? That's great, Danny!" Sara enthused. "I bet she's beautiful."

"She is," Danny agreed, thinking of his newest bundle of joy with the same thrill he always got. His Dad might've been traditional and standoffish, but no way in hell was he going to be.

"So ah, can you come?"

Which brought his attention square back to the situation at hand. "I don't know, Pez. I don't want to leave Lee alone with the kids for too long. Can you call Jake?"

"I don't trust him like I trust you. I need you, Danny."

"Danny? Who is it? What's going on?"

Danny looked back at his wife standing sleepily in the bedroom door and felt the all too familiar conflict rise. Covering the phone with his hand, he answered, "It's Sara."

Lee's face tightened with a complex seething of emotions that staggered Danny: anger, surprise, jealousy, friendship and love. "Whatever she wants, tell her no, Danny. Please. She hasn't been part of this family for almost two years and the last time she was, she almost got you killed. You have to think of us first!"

And it came down to this every time: his wife, or his best friend. Because despite all the secrets and evasions, Sara was and always would be his best friend. He felt the lack of her like an ache, an actual hole in his heart and soul. Not seeing her every day was still a surprise, even after all this time. Sighing, he protested, "She's in the hospital, Lee, she needs my help."

"I just had a baby not a month ago. I need your help," Lee snapped.

"Danny?"

Turning his attention back to the phone, he answered Sara, "Yeah, Pez?"

"Don't worry about it. Forget I called. Lee's right. It was…I was selfish to call and put you on the spot like this."

"Pez, wait…"

But she hung up and he only had a dial tone. Scowling, he looked at Lee and exclaimed softly, not wanting to wake the girls, "Do you think, just once, that you can cut her some slack? She's in the God damned hospital, Lee! Gabriel's missing and she's alone with a bunch of people who she barely knows! You used to be friends, for crying out loud!"

"She made her choice, Danny," Lee reminded, quiet but firm. "You said that yourself."

Gritting his teeth, Danny began to wonder if that was true. If faced with the prospect of being the cause for her partner's marriage breaking up or leaving, Pez would have left. If protecting him and the girls meant lying and keeping secrets, that's exactly what she would have done.

Had she really left, or had he and everyone else except Gabriel, shoved her out the door?

* * * *

"You all right?"

Sara looked up at Simon's question and smiled weakly. "Yeah. Just…it hurts, you know? We were partners for years, best friends, and then…not."

"Best friends make the worst enemies, isn't that the saying?" Simon offered, sitting in the chair beside the bed.

Snorting, Sara agreed, "Something like that, yeah."

"Well, I just got through talking to the doctor and he said that you can leave in the morning. They just want you here one more night."

Which was and wasn't a comfort. She didn't want to stay in the hospital, but going home without Gabriel there just didn't seem possible. It would be too…empty. "Any word?"

"No. But he couldn't have gotten all that far. I'm sure one of the unit's will pick him up," Simon assured her.

"Gabriel's very good at disappearing. He's always lived on the fringe and knows how to make friends in low places. Hell, he probably already has. I'll tell you something, if the room wasn't doing that wobbling thing, I wouldn't be staying here no matter what the doctors said."

"I know," Simon said dryly. "You and Jim. Stubborn mules can take lessons from you both."

Laughing shortly, Sara pointed out, "You can talk?"

Simon conceded the point with a grin, then asked, "Aside from the wobbling thing, how're you feeling?"

"Fine. Sore. A little unsteady."

"Are you ready to tell me what really happened up on the roof? Because there was no sign of a bomb anywhere to be found."

With a sigh, Sara pleaded, "Can we do this another time, Sir? Please?"

"Hmph. All right. But just remember something Pez."

"What's that?"

"I've kept Jim's secret for five years. I can keep yours just as well."

* * * *

Getting out of the cab, Danny looked up at the precinct and sighed deeply, nervous about seeing Sara for the first time in over a year. Despite the fact that she'd only just left New York a little over a month ago, they hadn't seen each other since she'd left the force. Something that Danny was really regretting, among many other things. It seemed as though once he'd allowed himself to consider the possibility that Sara had been keeping secrets to protect him and everybody else, every slight, and insult, and angry word that he'd hurtled at her came back to haunt him.

Danny shouldered his bag and headed inside, stopping at the front desk where the sergeant there looked him askance. "Detective Danny Woo to see Detective Sara Pezzini."

The man's gaze narrowed even further. "Detective Pezzini is on medical leave."

Casting his memory back through their brief conversation, Danny said, "How about a Captain Banks or Detective Ellison? Are either of them available?"

"I'll see."

Danny nodded, not surprised by the older man's protective attitude. Pez seemed to invoke that feeling in all of her friends, despite the fact that she could wipe the floor with most of them.

The desk sergeant hung up the phone and waved him forward, thrusting a clipboard at him with, "Sign in. Here's your pass. You got a weapon?"

Nodding again, Danny pulled it out and set it on the desk.

The sergeant checked the weapon and handed him a slip. "You can pick it up on your way out."

Danny took the paper. "Where do I go?"

"Fifth floor, Major Crimes. You can't miss it."

After walking through the metal detectors, Danny headed for the elevators and waited with a group of people there. It didn't take long to walk through the double doors of Major Crime and he looked around for the Captain's office. Standing across the room, staring directly at him, was a broad shouldered black man with glasses and an unlit cigar.

Their eyes met for a few moments, then the man came towards him. "Detective Woo?"

"Yeah. Captain Banks?" Danny answered, accepting the hand.

Banks nodded. "That's me. Come on into my office."

Danny followed him in and closed the door behind him. He set his bag on the floor and sat in the chair indicated by the pointing of the cigar.

"Didn't expect you to show up," Banks stated, leaning back in his seat. "Detective Pezzini is under the impression that the two of you aren't on good speaking terms."

Uncomfortable, Danny agreed, "We aren't. I'm hoping to change that, though."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Well, we'll see about that. What's she told you?"

"Just that Gabriel was missing and two of your men went down in the blast," Danny replied.

Banks' jaw tightened with repressed emotion. "Three of my men, counting Pez."

Danny allowed that with a nod of the head and asked, "Any leads on Gabriel or Nottingham's whereabouts?"

"Not yet," Banks answered, the tone conveying that it was a personal insult. "I think that Gabriel's probably left the state and Pez agrees. Nottingham, on the other hand…"

"He'll be where Sara is," Danny said.

"Yeah. That's what I figured, even if she's being more tight-lipped than usual. Look. I need to know what I'm dealing with here and Sara isn't talking. I need you to tell me."

The earnest expression in the dark eyes staring at him convinced Danny that Banks was someone he could trust. He didn't normally make snap judgements, but there was a straight-forward air to the man that reminded Danny of his old Captain, Joe. "Nottingham used to work for Kenneth Irons, though Pez was positive there was more between them than just a working relationship."

Banks' jaw dropped a little. "The multi-billionaire that was murdered last year?"

"Yes. Irons was obsessed with Sara, stalking her," Danny explained. He remembered the few times he'd seen them together and shivered lightly at the intensity and hatred that had flowed between them. He'd felt like he was choking on it. "Anyhow, after Irons died, Nottingham fixated on Sara just like his boss had. It was both adversarial and…not."

"Not?"

Shifting uncomfortably, Danny replied, "I think in some twisted fashion, Nottingham's in love with Sara. Really twisted because before we split up, Sara let slip that she thought that they were related."

"Related," Banks echoed flatly.

"Yeah, Sara was adopted and had only recently started to find out things about her biological family."

Taking off his glasses, Banks pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered, "That figures. All right, look. Sara's out of the hospital and searching the city for Gabriel, just in case she can come up with something on her own. I'll call her in. The two of you talk this thing out, because she needs someone right now, and we just don't know her well enough for her to accept the kind of support that she needs, from us. If you can't work it out, then it was nice to meet you."

Danny knew a dismissal when he heard one and got to his feet. "Where should I wait?"

"Her desk is across the way there. Go on and have a seat."

He nodded and said, "It was good to meet you, too, Captain Banks."

Banks waved him off and picked up the phone, dialing without really looking at the number pad.

Danny left the office and headed over in the direction that Banks had waved towards. He saw Sara's nameplate and sat down, looking the desk over curiously. It was covered in paper, non-organized in the classic Pezzini style, he saw with a grin. He was surprised to find their Academy picture placed amidst the few photos on her desk, and the smile turned wistful.

Then his jaw dropped in shock upon finding a picture of her with Gabriel, the two obviously posing because of the dance dip position that Gabriel had Sara in. They were both grinning like loons and staring into each other's eyes with what could only be love. There was another picture of the two of them on a couch, in some kind of loft apartment with weird aboriginal styled masks on the walls. Sara was asleep with her head on Gabriel's lap while Gabriel was asleep sitting up, head tilted back on the cushion with a hand twined in Sara's hair.

Well. This was definitely a new development.

* * * *

Jim yawned and rubbed his eyes as he waited for Blair to get finished with yet another series of tests. So far, the entire medical staff was mystified as to why his partner's eyes couldn't see. Apparently, everything was normal physically. Now they were moving onto the psychosomatic reasons and tests. Though what that might encompass, Jim hadn't a clue. Blair was the most well-adjusted person he'd ever known, especially considering his history.

"Is this seat taken?"

Grinning faintly, Jim glanced over at Sara as the woman approached and said, "It is now."

She smirked a little as she sat down. "More tests?"

"Yeah. Should be back any time now," Jim confirmed. "How goes the search?"

Sara sighed and answered, "It's not. I've looked everywhere I can think of, but Gabriel's really vanished. And this thing's been no help whatsoever."

With a shrug, Jim questioned, "Did you expect it to be?"

"No, not really. I'd hoped, though." They were silent for a moment, then she continued, "How are you doing?"

A little surprised by the hesitant tone, Jim replied, "Me? Fine. Head still rings on occasion, but it's much better. What about you?"

Sara sighed and looked down the hall, away from him. "Wishing Gabriel was here so I could wring his neck. Wishing Nottingham was here so I could kill him for spooking Gabriel like that. Wishing…"

"Wishing…?" Jim prompted.

"That Danny was here," she admitted. "He always knew what to do when I didn't."

Not liking the bleak tone, Jim nudged her and teased lightly, "Which isn't often."

Her lips twisted into a brief smile, then she said, "I'm stumped now, though."

"You'll find him, Pez. Or he'll come to his senses and come home," Jim assured her, even though he wasn't at all sure either would happen. Blair had told him a little of Gabriel's background and from that, he knew the young man knew exactly how to stay hidden. Indefinitely.

Sara's phone rang, startling them both, and she answered it, "Pezzini. Oh yeah, Cap'n. What? Uh, really? Yeah, okay. Thanks. I'll be right in."

Taking in the dazed expression, Jim asked, "What's going on?"

Gray-green eyes looked at him as Sara replied numbly, "Danny's at the station, waiting for me."

Jim nudged her and pointed out, "You'd better get going then."

Snapping to attention, Sara nodded and stood. "Right. Thanks. I'll see you later, Ellison."

He watched her leave the room, relieved to see the animation back in her. It was then that he heard Blair's voice complaining as the wheelchair made its way out of the doctor's office and into the waiting room. Getting to his feet, Jim met them at the door and said, "Stop your bitching, Sandburg."

"Bitching? Bitching, he says," Blair muttered.

Jim met the nurse's eyes and shrugged. She just grinned and informed him, "Mr. Sandburg's almost a model patient."

"Really? That's a surprise," Jim observed.

Blair made a face. "I heard that!"

Teasing, Jim replied, "I hope so. Otherwise we'd have to get your ears checked out, too."

"Screw you, Ellison," Blair snapped, arms crossing over his chest.

Uh oh. Actual temper there. He nodded to the woman and took the nurse's place, pushing the wheelchair out of the office.

They made it all the way to the elevators before Blair sighed and apologized, "Sorry, Jim."

Jim squeezed his shoulder and leaned down to kiss the side of his neck. "No apologies necessary. I know this is hard for you."

"Still, that's no excuse for biting your head off," Blair pointed out.

Changing the subject, Jim asked, "What did the doctor say this time?"

With a scowl, Blair answered, "That there's no physical reason for my blindness that they can see. There's a possibility that my head injury caused it, but since there's no brain tissue inflammation, there's no real explanation."

Jim pushed the wheelchair onto the elevator and, with guilt clogging his throat, said thickly, "I'm sorry, Blair."

"For what? You didn't cause this," Blair said, surprised.

"But I didn't protect you like I should have. If I had, you'd be fine," Jim replied.

Blair's hand reached up as he twisted in the wheelchair and gripped Jim's hand. "You kept me alive, didn't you?"

"Yeah, but…"

"Did you try your best?"

"Well yeah…"

"Then it's not your fault. End of story. And if you keep feeling guilty, I'm going to make Sara kick your ass," Blair threatened.

Jim half-smiled at that. "Speaking of which, her old partner Danny showed up after all."

Surprised, Blair exclaimed, "Really?"

"Yeah. Simon called just before you got done," Jim informed him.

Turning back around, Blair murmured, "Good, good."

The elevator doors opened and another man entered the small compartment. Jim's senses flared uneasily, his nose twitching with the effort not to sneeze at the incense smell that floated around the oddly blonde Asian man. He lost the battle and succumbed to a violent series of sneezes that doubled him over. He vaguely heard a long murmur from the other man, but couldn't make out the words.

By the time he was done, the elevator had stopped and the other man got off, the trail of incense going with him. Catching his breath, Jim wiped his eyes clear and panicked when he found Blair unconscious. "Blair! Blair, wake up!"

Afraid that shaking him might damage something, Jim caught the door just before it closed by sticking his foot in the opening. He pushed the wheelchair into the hall, calling for help.

* * * *

Sara hesitated only a moment before entering Major Crimes. Glancing around, she saw Danny was sitting at her desk, reading a magazine. As though sensing her, he looked up and met her gaze. Without realizing it, she was suddenly by his side and he was on his feet, pulling her into a tight hug. She held onto him, hard, breathing in the faint scent of spice that was still present, even under the dirt and sweat of travel.

"God, Sara, I'm sorry," Danny murmured at last.

Pulling back a little, she managed a wobbly smile and replied simply, "Me, too."

He stared into her eyes for a long moment, then nodded. "You okay?"

Snorting, she answered, "Yeah, I'm fine. How's Lee? You didn't leave her alone with the kids, did you?"

"Absolutely," Danny countered dryly. "No, my mother is staying with her for as long as it takes to sort this out."

"Ouch. I bet that went over like a lead balloon."

"Yeah, well, it was the best I could do on such short notice. My best friend needed me."

Sara's smile broadened a little, even as her heart warmed at the statement and gentle look in Danny's dark eyes. It had been too long since she'd seen the echo of friendship there and felt damn good to have again. "So. You hungry?"

"I could eat."

"Pezzini!"

Turning sharply at Simon's bark, Sara caught sight of the hard expression on the black man's face and her stomach dropped. "What's wrong?"

"Sandburg just went into a coma," Simon reported, joining them.

Sara blanched.

"Jim wants you there, asap."

Nodding, Sara answered, "Yeah, of course, on my way."

Simon grimaced and said pointedly, "I'll drive."

A brief flash of humor surfaced as Danny interjected, "What, you don't trust her driving in an emotional state?"

"I don't trust her driving on a good day, in sunny weather," Simon replied, his own lips quirking.

Sara snorted, complaining, "Everyone's a critic."

* * * *

Jim heard Sara and Simon coming long before they got to the ICU area, but didn't move from his vigil beside Blair. He felt superstitiously certain that if he left, Blair would die. His hand was wrapped around Blair's as though it were a lifeline and maybe it was, Jim didn't know.

"Jim?" Sara asked quietly.

Clearing his throat, Jim looked towards her and said, "He's stable now. Almost lost him again though."

She winced and crossed the rest of the distance to put her hand on his shoulder. Her eyes got that faraway look that he associated with using the Witchblade and for several long moments, Sara didn't say anything. Finally, she blinked and replied, "You should get some sleep."

Jim shook his head. "I don't want to leave him."

"He'll be fine. It's you that I'm worried about. You need to rest," Sara stated firmly.

Eyes narrowing, Jim demanded, "What did you see?"

"Nothing certain," she answered. "Just…I really think it's a good idea for you to go home and get some sleep. Please? I'll stay here and keep watch for you. I promise."

Torn, Jim finally acquiesced and nodded. He stood and leaned against the bed, brushing his fingers across Blair's face before bending down to kiss his forehead. It took a lot of willpower to let go of his partner, but he did. Facing Sara, he warned, "Call me if anything changes."

"I will," she promised.

After one last look at Blair, Jim left the room. Out in the hall, he found Simon and another man waiting. A quick glance at the Asian man showed a compassionate, and yet edgy, persona. Definitely East meets West. Jim nodded to Simon and greeted, "Simon."

"Jim. This is Detective Danny Woo, Pez's old partner," Simon introduced.

The two men shook hands and Danny offered, "Sorry about your partner."

"Yeah, thanks," Jim replied, releasing the strong grip and switching his gaze from one pair of dark eyes to another. "Look, Simon, I'm going back to the loft to grab a couple of hours' shuteye. Give me a lift?"

Though surprised, Simon nodded. "Of course. Car's out front. Detective Woo? You need a ride somewhere?"

"No, thanks. Pez and I need to talk still," Danny explained.

"Right. Good luck."

It went against the grain to let a virtual stranger in the room with Blair, but Jim knew that the man could be trusted or Sara wouldn't have the man as a friend, let alone a partner. Turning abruptly, he walked towards the elevators, suddenly needing to get as far from there as possible.

* * * *

Danny slipped quietly into the ICU ward and walked over to where Sara sat beside a bed. In the bed was a man about their age with long, curly, brown hair and strong, handsome features. He looked fragile in the bed, but hospitals had a way of doing that to anyone, even if they weren't in a coma. "Hey."

She looked up at him and smiled faintly. "Hey. Have a seat."

Nodding, Danny picked up the chair by the wall and brought it over, then sat beside her. They sat there in companionable silence for a few minutes before Danny asked suddenly, "You and Gabriel? Really?"

Sara laughed softly and confirmed, "Me and Gabriel. Really."

"But, he's so…not who I expected you to wind up with," Danny commented, still incredulous. He liked Gabriel, always had, and respected the monster of a mind the young man had, but romantically involved with Sara? It just didn't fit. He was definitely missing the vital piece to the puzzle.

Sara's smile turned inward as she replied, "Me, either, Danny. Believe me. For a long time I kidded myself that we were just good friends, that I loved him, but wasn't in love with him. When he was kidnapped last month, well, it opened my eyes to how things really were between us. I was on the edge, Danny, I would've killed the bastard who'd taken him from me, but Gabriel stopped me, pulled me back. Even after everything he'd been through."

"What did he go through?" Danny questioned.

Pausing a moment, Sara said, "I need to go a little further back than that for the kidnapping to make any sense."

This was it, Danny knew. This was when he got all those answers that he'd hounded Sara for, for months before she'd left the force.

"Do you remember that day in the Metro Museum when we went after Gallo's favorite hitman?"

"Yeah."

"Well, it all started then. The reason I survived the explosion is because of this."

Danny looked at the bracelet on Sara's wrist and frowned. He'd seen it before and always thought it was older than Sara let on, but protecting her from an explosion? "Sara. It's a bracelet."

Another soft chuckle, slightly bitter this time, echoed through the room and Sara said, "It's way more than a bracelet, Danny, way more. This thing on my wrist is called the Witchblade and it's a mystical weapon that can only be worn by women. It was in Irons' possession at the time and he'd loaned it to the Museum for a display. Really though, it was just a gambit to bring out the next wielder, which is me."

A mystical weapon. Okay. Sure. Eyebrows furrowing together, Danny began, "Pez…"

"No, Danny, hear me out," she interrupted. "You wanted to know what's going on, so I'm telling you. Or I should probably just show you. Seeing is believing, after all."

Danny half-smiled and gestured for her to proceed.

Smirking, Sara looked around to make sure they were alone, then got to her feet and brought her arm up in a defensive move across her chest.

Danny's jaw dropped as the bracelet exploded into motion, expanding into a medieval gauntlet with the red stone pulsing on the center of the wrist, exactly where it had been in its more innocent state. To which the metal glove reverted after only a few seconds, the metal clattering in on itself until only the bracelet remained.

Still gaping, Danny finally managed to close his mouth so as not to look like a complete idiot. So okay. A mystical weapon. Sure.

* * * *

It was a good thing that Gabriel always kept a stash of money hidden, or he'd have been shit out of luck when it was time to leave. He knew that Sara would look for him and credit and bank card transactions were the first thing she would look for. She'd also expect him to leave the state as quickly as possible to make sure that she couldn't find him. And though staying in Cascade made things difficult with the APB that was surely out on him, it wasn't impossible.

Stirring the lukewarm coffee, Gabriel thought about what to do next. He couldn't stick around indefinitely, there was too much risk that he'd bump into someone he knew. But there was something that was keeping him around, too, more than just the gaping hole in his chest where his heart used to be.

It was hard to think. He was so tired. Gabriel was running on fumes and didn't know which way to turn. What would be the best thing to do. It was all a confusing jumble and all he really wanted to do was go back to Sara and curl up with her under the blankets and sleep for a week.

"Escuse me?"

Gabriel looked up at the question and found a blond, Asian man returning his gaze. "Yes?"

Dark eyes looked at him seriously. "You are perhaps looking for someone?"

Shaking his head, Gabriel answered, "No, man, I'm not."

"Someone is then, perhaps, looking for you."

With a frown, Gabriel negated, "No. No one's looking for me."

"Then the dark man who dogs your steps is merely window shopping?"

Dark man? Gabriel's head whipped around to the window of the diner and there was Nottingham, grinning at him. "Oh, shit!"

Without another thought, Gabriel was on his feet and racing towards the back door.

* * * *

Ian smiled faintly as his eyes met Lazar's, inclining his head to the man in respect. They might be adversaries, possibly even enemies, but that didn't mean there couldn't be civility between them. His Master had taught him that. Ian jogged towards the alley, arriving just in time to stop Gabriel from escaping. Blocking the way out, he moved forward and observed, "It's a bit chilly for you to be out dressed like that, don't you think?"

Backing up as Ian moved forward, Gabriel answered, "Look, Nottingham, you got what you wanted, okay? I left her. I left Sara."

"But you're still here, where she is," Ian pointed out. "That means you probably intend to go back, whether or not you yet realize that."

Gabriel shook his head. "No, I'm not going back to her. I want to, yeah, but it's not safe for her if I do."

Shrugging, Ian replied, "I can't allow you to harm my…Sara."

Looking around for another escape route proved fruitless, as Gabriel discovered. Ian moved suddenly with a punch that connected to the barely scabbed over lip that he'd savaged a couple of days before. Blood burst from the wound and he followed it up with an uppercut that sent Gabriel staggering.

Faster than the eye could follow, he grabbed Gabriel by the throat and shoved him into the wall. Gabriel's head rocked into the brick and he grunted at the impact. Pinning the smaller man there with one hand, Ian used his other to slam into Gabriel's gut. Breath expelled in a rush and Gabriel moaned with pain when Ian released him, only to fall to the ground.

Ian kicked him in the ribs and heard a couple break with satisfaction.

"Ian."

Mid-kick, Ian froze at the call of his name. He glanced back towards the alley opening and found Lazar staring at him intently. Settling his foot on the ground, Ian said, "This is none of your concern."

"The destruction of the wielder's soul is my concern," Lazar countered, his accent lilting the words in an almost pleasant fashion that belied the content.

"The wielder's soul?" Ian echoed with disbelief. His eyes flickered down to where Gabriel was curled in a ball on the pavement. No. Absolutely not.

"She is not for you, Ian."

The gentle rebuke hit Ian harder than anything had since his Master's death. "It is not for you to say!"

Lazar's eyebrows quirked up and he replied, "It is for me to say. Leave him, or face your own peril."

Staring intently at the old man, Ian hesitated only a moment longer then crouched down until his lips were at Gabriel's ear. "We'll continue this another time, Gabriel."

Placing a tiny kiss at the juncture of jaw and throat as a taunt, enjoying the wordless protest from the other man, Ian strode from the alley.

* * * *

Simon stalked through the hospital lobby to the emergency room, not stopping until he reached where the doctors were working on Gabriel. A bare-chest showed his midriff had been taped and a square bandage on the back of the younger man's head told of stitches. And how sad was it that he was so well acquainted with injuries to know just what was being done by sight.

Stopping at the bed, Simon's arms crossed over his chest and he demanded, "What the hell did you think you were doing, Bowman?"

Gabriel winced as the thread stitching his lip together was knotted and snipped before the doctor stepped back. His tongue flickered out to test it, then said, "I was trying to protect Sara."

"Worked out well, didn't it?"

Glaring now, Gabriel snapped, "I'm not sticking around and you can't keep me here!"

"Says who?" Simon snapped back. "Do you know what taking off like that did to her? She's done nothing but look for you when she should be recovering from whatever the hell just happened!"

Gabriel took a deep breath, obviously keeping a rein on his temper. "Look, Captain, maybe this isn't the best way to help, but it's the only thing I can think of, okay?"

Frustrated, Simon demanded, "Help with what?"

Mouth clamping shut, Gabriel settled back with a pained grimace, and stayed silent.

Practically growling, Simon wanted nothing more than to smack the kid upside the back of the head to knock some sense into him. Damn fool idiot! It didn't improve his temper to keep knocking his own head into the proverbial brick wall when it came to whatever secret it was that Sara was keeping from him.

Making a decision, Simon wagged a finger at him and said, "You're not going anywhere. The doctors are going to move you to a private room, which I am going to put a guard on. Then I'm going to tell Pez where you are and let her deal with you."

A distinct surge of satisfaction ran through Simon at the widening of Gabriel's eyes. Nodding, he thought, That's right, boy, fear the wrath of a righteous woman and expect no mercy.

* * * *

Danny trailed after Sara who was like a homing pigeon set on course once Simon told her what was going on and where Gabriel was. The cops on guard duty didn't even blink when she tore into the room, though he got a judicious look from both when he followed.

Inside, Sara was standing by the bed, arms crossed over her chest and glaring at Gabriel, who glared right back at her. His eyes flickered passed Sara to Danny and he blinked in surprise, exclaiming, "Danny? What're you doing here, man?"

"He was going to help me look for you," Sara answered pointedly.

"I wasn't lost!"

"Could've fooled me."

"Sara, look…"

"No, Gabriel, you look," she interrupted. "The one thing I need to know, is that I can count on you. That you're going to be there for me, no matter what. Without that…I can't do it, Gabriel. Not without you beside me."

Gabriel's expression softened into the wide eyed look that Danny was all too familiar with; a combination of irritation, stubbornness, and love. Why Danny hadn't recognized it before, he didn't know. Maybe it was true about being too blind to see what was right in front of you. Whatever the reason, he saw it plain as day right then and the doubts he'd had before seeing them together like this were shot down.

Clearing his throat, Danny said, "Why don't you two each take a breath and go back to your corners? I think we need some clarity here."

Sara looked at him sharply, but didn't reply. She just sat on the bed and took Gabriel's hand, holding it in her lap.

Gabriel half-smiled and covered it with his other hand, looking up at her with, "Hey."

With a faint smile, Sara murmured, "Hey."

Good start, Danny thought wryly. "So. Gabriel. Who beat you up?"

"Who do you think?" Gabriel answered sourly. "Three guesses and the first two don't count."

"Yeah, that's what I figured."

Sara frowned and asked, "Did he say anything to you?"

Gabriel shrugged, then winced with pain. "Just that I should've left when I had the chance. I'm still not sure what stopped him from killing me, because I could see it in his eyes. He was going to."

"Did the cops show up?"

Looking over at Danny's question, Gabriel shook his head and answered, "No, they showed up after. I remember hearing voices, but couldn't make out the words."

Danny met Sara's gaze and speculated, "Someone interrupted him."

She nodded, agreeing, "Yeah."

"So ah, what do we do now?" Gabriel asked hesitantly.

"Now," Sara began. "we wait until you get the all clear to go home and then I tie you to the bed to make sure you don't sneak away again."

Danny snorted and protested, teasing, "Pez, c'mon, too much information here."

Grinning, Sara replied, "Tough."

"Sara, you can't ignore that the Wit…ah, do we need to talk privately about this?" Gabriel finished, shooting a cautious look to Danny.

Sara shook her head. "I told him everything."

"Oh, good. I was going to say that you can't just ignore the danger that I am to you."

Danny straightened up suddenly. This was new. "What are you talking about?"

Glaring at Gabriel, Sara replied, "Gabriel seems to think that loving me is going to get me killed."

"It is."

"No, it's not."

"Sara…"

"Gabriel, you don't know everything anymore," Sara interrupted.

With a frown, he asked, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, that on the roof, I met up with, well, myself again. The Past me, from before," Sara explained. "She said, she said that we could be together but your life would be forfeit if I didn't live up to the Witchblade's expectations. So it's your life that's in danger, not mine."

Stunned, Gabriel croaked out, "Me?"

More than a bit wry, Sara nodded. "Yes, you."

That seemed to stump Gabriel because he leaned back against the pillows, thinking deeply from the way his gaze turned inward. Suddenly, his eyes snapped onto Sara and he demanded anxiously, "You aren't going to use this to push me away, are you? Because I never would have left if I hadn't thought it was protecting you!"

A soft smile crossed her face as Sara brought his hand to her lips and murmured, "I keep telling you that it's dangerous to love me, but you stick around anyway. I'm not going to push you away because I'd have done the same thing."

"Have, in fact," Gabriel pointed out. "More than once."

Snorting, she demanded, "What, are we keeping score now?"

In answer, he tugged her forward and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair. Danny looked on for a moment then withdrew, giving them privacy. He wandered down the hall, wondering what he was going to do with himself while Sara and Gabriel figured out whatever was left.

"Escuse me?"

Turning towards the soft voice, Danny found a strangely familiar Asian man looking at him seriously. "Can I help you?"

The man nodded and answered, "Warrior's need comrades during hard times and plenty."

Arching an eyebrow at the older man, Danny replied, "Okay. And that means…?"

"Your friend might be in for a rough time."

Stiffening, Danny demanded, "What are you talking about? Who are you?"

"Detective Woo!"

"We're not done," Danny warned, half turning to find Banks coming down the hall, a broad smile on his face. When he turned back around, the Asian man was gone. Frustrated, he searched the area, but saw no trace of him. Or anyone else for that matter.

"What's wrong?" Banks asked, stopping by him.

Danny sighed. "Nothing. Ever hear the saying that it's a fine line between clarity and insanity?"

Snorting, Banks answered, "No, but it sounds like a truism to me."

"I think I'm on that line," Danny observed. "What's up?"

"I just wanted to share the good news that Sandburg's awake and aware again. Whatever happened to him, it's taken care of itself."

"That's great! And his sight?"

Banks sighed, losing some of his enthusiasm. "Well no. That's still gone."

"One out of two isn't bad," Danny pointed out.

"And we'll take what we can get," Simon agreed. "C'mon. I'll buy you a cup of coffee.

* * * *

Blair couldn't help feeling like a pin cushion. Ever since the doctors had kicked Simon out, he'd been poked and prodded even more than usual. They'd finally given him a break just a few minutes ago and he was resting uncomfortably in the hospital bed, too well aware that he was alone and fairly helpless without one of his friends around.

It was a strange feeling, too, because he'd only seldom been in such a position. Despite his lack of training when first riding with Jim, he'd always been able to rely on himself and his body to get him out of jams. Now, though, he couldn't see anything, he was surrounded by a blackness that had replaced the weird white light that had been etched into his eyes when the Witchblade had flared up.

Either way, he was alone and had no way to see anything coming at him. A situation that made him very nervous.

"Blair?"

Relieved by his lover's voice, Blair breathed, "Jim." and held out a hand. A strong, familiar hand surrounded his own and slightly chapped lips rested briefly on his knuckles.

"I was…Pez sent me home," Jim admitted, his voice heavy with what sounded like guilt.

Blair squeezed his lover's hand and stated, "As well she should have. There was nothing for you to do here and I can't remember the last time you slept. Good to know that someone can make you do something while I'm, ah, temporarily unavailable."

"Blair…"

"Hey, it's okay," Blair interrupted. "I'm okay. I'm still not sure what happened, but it isn't going to happen again, I promise."

"You can't know that."

"I do," Blair told him, realizing suddenly that it was true. He knew that it wasn't going to happen again.

Jim paused before saying, "How can you?"

"I just do."

Reluctant, Jim agreed, "All right."

"Is this a private party or can anyone join?"

Blair automatically looked towards Sara's voice then sighed to himself, remembering that he wouldn't be able to see her. He forced a smile and said, "Come on over."

He heard footsteps as she crossed the tiled floor, then, "So you going to stick around this time?"

Grinning, Blair nodded. "Definitely. No more coma's, that's my motto."

She chuckled and answered, "A good one to have. Gabriel's back."

"Is he okay?" Jim questioned.

"Yeah. Mild concussion and some broken ribs, but otherwise, he'll be fine. Or, he will be until I get through with him," she said, dry. "And uh, Danny's here."

Blair was more than surprised and demanded, "When did that happen?"

"Just this morning. Don't worry, you didn't miss much," she assured him. "And I told him everything about my bracelet."

Oh. Now that was even more surprising. "Won't there be, ah, repercussions for the disclosure?"

"At this point, I don't even care."

"I don't blame you," Blair murmured. Having the Witchblade as a taskmaster wasn't an easy thing, and he knew that she would draw the line on control of her own life somewhere. Hopefully, the icon wouldn't demand too heavy a price in exchange.

"In any case, I just wanted to see how you were doing. I'll let you guys get some rest. Danny's going to be staying with me and Gabriel for a few days, he didn't book a flight back because he didn't know how long he was going to be here. I'll call you tomorrow."

Blair reached out his free hand to say goodbye, and she took it. A jolt ran through his hand, down his arm, into his body, and he gasped. It wasn't painful, exactly, just unexpected and…odd.

"Blair, what's wrong?"

Turning towards Jim, Blair shook his head. "Nothing, just…something weird. Pez, did you feel that?"

Thoughtful, she answered, "Yeah, yeah, I did. No idea what it was, though."

"No idea what what was?" Jim demanded.

"Just a feeling," Blair murmured. "Like a mild electrical shock."

Jim's hand landed on Blair's shoulder as he said, "But you're okay?"

"Fine, Jim."

They were all silent for a few moments, then Sara offered, "I should go. Danny's waiting. Call me if anything else happens, all right?"

Blair nodded. "Definitely."

Her footsteps echoed, then he heard the muffled sound of the door closing. Yawning, Blair asked, "Why don't you go home, Jim? Get some more sleep."

"I can sleep here," Jim answered firmly.

The bed dipped unexpectedly, and suddenly Blair was pulled into Jim's arms as the larger man settled into the bed, mindful of the tubes still attached. Sighing deeply, Blair relaxed into the warm, comforting embrace and snuggled close to his lover. If there was one thing in this world that he could count on, it was that Jim would always be there for him. Sleep was easily found as security and love drifted over him.

* * * *

Ian watched the guards on Gabriel's room and scowled to himself before turning around to leave. Now was obviously not the time to make his move, but soon. Timing was everything, after all, and once Sara's allies started to fall from her side, she would have no choice but to turn to him.

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