"Well, that blows that theory," Jake said despondently, slumping against the hood of the car. The murder scene had been a gruesome one, and all four of them – Jake, Sara, Danny, and Gabriel – were rather shaken. Danny had met them at the crime scene ten minutes after the other three had arrived, and after even a brief investigation of the scene, they had to admit Jake was right.

"Sure does," Sara agreed, her face studiously expressionless as she turned away.

"Uh," Gabriel piped up, "what theory?"

"Up until now, the victims were all women," Danny pointed out.  "At least there was one similarity between them; it was a place to start, if nothing else. But with Mister Twenty-Something Drug Dealer over here, even that connection can't be made. Means we're right back at the beginning. Again."

"Oh." Gabriel, who had temporarily forgotten he was supposed to be documenting everything, suddenly remembered and brought his cameras up to focus on Sara's face. "Any ideas where to start looking?" he asked.

Sara didn't even look at him. "Put the cameras away, Gabriel," she said quietly.

Ordinarily Gabriel would have argued vehemently with that order, but something Sara's tone demanded obedience. Frowning because he was a bit stung by her rejection, he switched the cameras off and lowered them, then began packing them back into their padded bag. When Sara laid a soft hand on his shoulder, he looked up, startled – and suddenly understood.

She was going to try to use the Witchblade.

His frown faded and he gave her the slightest of nods to show he understood.

Sara knelt beside the corpse, touching its shoulder lightly, and for a moment her eyes unfocused the way they always did when the Witchlade was showering her something. But it lasted only a second before reality snapped back into focus and she stood up. "Damnit," she muttered, and then—

With a gasp, she fell to her knees, clutching at her throat and gagging as though something had hold of it.

"Sara!" Shocked, Danny crouched beside her, his hands on her shoulders to support her as her eyes rolled and she clawed at the skin of her neck. "Sara, snap out of it!" he bellowed. "What is going on?!"

Danny was never quite certain what happened next; he remembered only a flash of red light so brilliant he instinctively reached up to cover his eyes, and when he lowered his hands Sara was on all fours, doubled over on the pavement but breathing again.

Danny hauled himself upright and, together with Gabriel, stretched out a hand to Sara. "Pez… you alright?" It took them a moment to get her onto her feet.

She didn't answer his question for a long while, and when she did her voice was so calm that Danny knew she was terrified. "I'm fine," she said quietly. "I think I need to go home now."

Both men stared at her. "Pez, what happened?" Danny demanded. "I thought you were having a heart attack or something! You scared the shit out of me!"

"I'm sorry," she said in the same monotone, steady voice. "I'll see you two later." And with that, she walked off.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The moment she had closed her apartment door behind her, Sara leaned against it and let out a long and tremulous breath. "Fuuuuuuuuck," she gasped, leaning against the door and sliding down it until she was in a sitting position. "Fuck," she repeated, as if to make sure the universe understood her sentiments on the matter.

Sara Pezzini was not certain what exactly had transpired in that alleyway, but she knew what it had felt like, and it was and experience she devoutly hoped never to repeat. It had felt as if her blood were trying to claw its way out of her throat, as if something within her was fighting to break free and didn't care whether it destroyed her body in its desperate escape.

She wondered dimly whether, if the Witchblade hadn't intervened, she would have died.