Witchblade: Blood Lines
(An Alternate Season Two/ Alternate Reality Fan Fiction)
by Lady Cailin
Summary: Alt. Season Two. An accident reveals to Sara the events of the previous continuum, and a whole lot of things she didn't know about the Witchblade, her past, her future, and the blood that binds them all.
Disclaimer: Witchblade and related materials are copyright Time Warner, TNT, Top Crow, and subsequent companies. This Fan Fiction was not produced, and is not intended to be reproduced, for profit. No infringement of said copyrights is intended.
CHAPTER THREE: Loyalty
Consciousness returned quickly, the world coming into a sharp, quiet focus as Sara's eyes flew open. Her apartment was dark save for the moonlight filtering in from the windows and the soft glow of the Witchblade, already fading away before her eyes. It left her in silence with the sound of her heartbeat and the knowledge that she wasn't alone in her apartment.
Without another thought she called the Blade as she flew out of the bed, bringing it to the throat of her enemy as her feet met the cold floor beneath her. In the next moment, when it should have savaged its way through his flesh and tasted his blood, the Blade retreated as if it had never been called at all.
His dark head was bowed as always, his hands calmly clasped before him. She lowered her arm and tried to slow the frantic beat of her heart. He hadn't even bothered to protect himself when she had gone to attack. Had he known it wouldn't work? Or was he really that suicidal?
My life is forfeit to you. But consider this. . .
"It appears your little toy doesn't work on me Sara. Perhaps because you don't really wish it to?" His voice was silky in the darkness, and held that hesitant element of teasing again.
"More like it doesn't want to." she snapped out angrily before thinking about the words. Sara flinched when she realized what she had said. Just what she needed her enemies to know, that her greatest weapon might not work on them. Nottingham looked surprised for a moment, but it faded quickly as if that revelation made sense to him in some way. She wondered again, did he know about his heritage?
Sara turned towards the kitchen, knowing he would follow. He hadn't yet delivered whatever message Irons was throwing out as bait this time. She'd get something to drink and try and gather her battered confusion tolerance before he laid down whatever tantalizing trail Irons had decided to send her off on. Just as she turned she heard it, the barest of whispers:
"Blood of my blood."
She stopped abruptly, her back still to Nottingham's dark form and her spine straight in leashed agitation.
There were a lot of things to worry about when considering Nottingham's connection to the Witchblade. Things like threats, and allies. Men could not wield the Witchblade. Irons had failed, and others had lost their hands in the attempt. But Irons didn't have the blood of the other line of wielders flowing through his veins. Nottingham did. It increased his chances of succeeding in any attempts to wear the Witchblade. It also increased his threat to her as a wielder.
If he knew about it.
Knowledge. That was the thread on which the whole world seemed to dance. Who wanted it. Who had it. Last time it had been Irons and Nottingham leading the game, but now Sara knew something Nottingham didn't. Something Irons didn't want him to know, which could only mean it was knowledge that would lead Nottingham farther away from Irons. She knew what it was like to dance on Iron's strings, and Nottingham had probably been living with it his whole damn life. Nottingham had always been a bit of a wild card in this game. Without Irons, would he be another enemy, or a new ally?
Time to find out.
"I'm not your sister," she turned back to him slowly, her words sharp with her determination, "or your cousin or niece, or whatever it is you think I am."
"Sara," he hesitated for the space of a breath, "there are things you don't-"
"Elizabeth Brontes is not your mother."
He took a step back as if she had struck him, his feet spread and his hands curling to fists at his sides. Sara took a step forward, watching him closely as he refused to meet her eyes. His eyes remained lowered, searching the floorboards of her apartment as if his salvation lay in the lines of the wood. He was afraid of what she was saying, she realized. Afraid because she had knowledge that she shouldn't, afraid because with it she was threatening to throw his world into chaos.
You're afraid of losing control.
The silence of the room was deafening as she continued to watch the questions fly behind Nottingham's eyes. For a moment she hesitated. She knew what it was like to find your life balanced on a cliff edge, ready to fall. All you want is to stop that next moment when the ground will slip out from under you, but you can't.
You're afraid of losing control.
Don't worry, you never had any to begin with.
He looked up from his frantic perusal of the floor, meeting her intent gaze with a look of almost childlike confusion, and for a moment she had hope. Without Irons controlling him, warping him, Nottingham might just turn out alright. If he could just get past this step that would take him off the cliff. She took another step towards him, reaching out her hand as if to comfort him. It seemed to be the trigger his control needed. He fell into his usual position of subservience, his eyes downcast, hiding himself away behind a fall of dark hair.
"I've come to deliver a message."
Her hand fell back to her side, and after a moment she squared her shoulders. He had fallen back into his role, and she found herself doing the same. It was safer and more comfortable in all its strangeness, but left her feeling irritated. The Witchblade purred beneath her skin in comfort, sensing the frustration that road her below the surface. She ran a hand down her arm and across the stone's surface, acknowledging the reassurance it had offered her. If it was one thing she had learned in the past year, it was that the answers came when you were ready for them. If you were smart, and a little lucky, they came before it was too late. Nottingham would come to her when he was ready.
"So talk, I've got work in a few hours and I need to get back to sleep." Her voice was tired, but still sharpened around the edges by her frustration. Nottingham glanced at her once through the curtain of his hair before speaking.
"There are dangers that surround you Sara."
"Tell me something I don't know," she snorted, turning back to the path that would lead her to her kitchen and sanity. Nottingham followed after a moment, and she ignored him as she set about preparing a cup of tea. Coffee was a cop's best friend, but Pop had always pushed a cup of jasmine tea on her when she couldn't sleep. She was pretty sure he'd stolen the idea from Mrs. Chow, who had lived across from them most of Sara's life. She kept some around for some of the more stressful days. Tonight it was either this or take one of the pain killers left over from her shoulder, and she'd resisted any form of inebriation after obtaining the Witchblade. Even if it would ensure a good nights rest.
"A difficult task. Your connection with the Blade. . .you seem to know things you should not."
He sounded confused, and she left the silence to lengthen as she filled the kettle and set it on the stove. Let him think about that for awhile and he might even get up the guts to ask her about what she'd told him tonight. Sara ignored him as she pulled out a cup and the box of loose jasmine tea. She pulled off the lid and inhaled the soft scent, letting it calm her tense nerves.
That was when she felt it.
Since the Witchblade had come to her Sara had become extraordinarily aware of her surroundings, especially her immediate surroundings. Right now she was sure of one thing: Nottingham was close. Closer then he should be, close enough to touch her. She could only remember him being that close a few times before. Sara closed her eyes to block out the distraction sight offered and the feeling immediately intensified along with the scent of jasmine. She could almost see him in her mind's eye, his gloved hand hovering a breath away from her, gliding over her hair, her shape. . .
Her eyes flew open and she set down the container sharply, her heart beating too fast for the second time tonight. She felt a shiver run from her wrist to her spine and turned quickly to tell him to back off.
Nottingham was standing more then a reasonable distance away, his eyes downcast again and his gloved hands held behind him. The image struck her as odd. Nottingham almost never held his hands behind him like that. They were always clasped before him, respectful, but prepared for the possibility of an attack. She frowned and ran a hand firmly down her arm, dispelling the lingering memory of that shiver. She had almost convinced herself that the moment before had been her imagination running wild when he spoke.
"There are things that elude every man's touch." The sentence lingered in the air like a caress, a carefully worded message. His eyes crawled their way up to meet her own. A brief flash of dark beauty, followed by a look of. . .shame? Guilt? She couldn't grasp the emotion before his eyes darted back to the tiles of her kitchen floor.
"Knowledge is often one of them."
Nottingham had always had a way of saying things without really saying things. Figuring out what he was really trying to tell her had never kept her up at nights. His little mysteries had just been piled up and lost among all the other mysteries the Witchblade flung into her life on a daily basis. She had tried to pay attention when he was telling her something important, but she'd ignored him more often then not. She'd always lumped him with Irons, figured he was toying with her just as his boss did. He'd warned her about Dominique, about Jake. He'd even warned her about himself. He'd told her to run if she ever saw him again. It was amazing how many times not listening to him had gotten her in trouble.
Maybe it was watching everyone she cared about die. It had made her grow up. Or maybe it was getting the chance to really think before she acted. Even she could admit that she wasn't that good at the whole planning ahead thing. She went with her gut reactions, always had as a cop. Maybe it was knowing more about him that made it all different this time. Either way, she was listening more often. Listening to the Witchblade, listening to Nottingham.
She just didn't know if she wanted to hear what he always seemed to be trying to say.
He turned from her suddenly, circling the counter, looking anywhere but at her.
"There are those who will try to take the Blade from you Sara," his voice was all business again, and she knew it was Irons words he was delivering now, "Those who will do anything to obtain it."
"But Irons can protect me, is that it?" she asked, crossing her arms and leaning against the counter once more. He stilled, and she could feel the new tension in his frame.
The urge to throw the offer back in his face, and thereby into Irons', was almost overwhelming. She still remembered the words she had spoken to Irons the last time. She had told him she'd do it on her own, and she intended to. But if she wanted to bring down Irons and keep those she loved safe, she had to play along. The knowledge left the bitter taste of barely leashed anger in her mouth.
"Like I said, I'll think about it." she said finally, giving him the same answer she had this afternoon.
He nodded once and then stepped to the side as if to leave, hesitating briefly as some further rending of loyalties rushed across his features.
"Trust the Witchblade Sara, and it will lead you to those you can trust."
The kettle began to whistle sharply and she turned to pull it off the stove. Sara knew before she turned again that he was gone, the force of his presence no longer filling the room around her. She sighed and pored the water for her tea. She leaned back against her counter with the cup, watching the shadows of her apartment and trying to convince herself she could do this without getting everyone killed again. The curtains behind her pillows billowing inward, carried by moonlight and cool breeze after Nottingham's exit.
If she didn't know any better, she'd say he'd been warning her not to trust Irons. It could be she just wanted to believe in him though, the way the Witchblade seemed to believe in him.
She sipped her tea, cradling her suddenly cold hands around the warm mug and watched the curtains move in the wind.
Soon the real battle would begin.
Ian watched Sara sip her tea from the building across the street, his eyes never leaving her face. More then ever he worried for the future. Sara had not yet given a definitive answer to his master. It was an unusual turn of events considering she usually reacted immediately and honestly to any given situation, relying on little more then instinct and her own intelligence to guide her. Irons would not wait for her to decide. Irons would force her hand, and thereby force Sara out of his grasp. Once that happened lines would be drawn, and Irons would set himself against the Wielder. The knowledge weighed heavily on him.
Ian was convinced Sara was a true Wielder, perhaps more so then any that had come before her. So many of the Wielders faced the Blade with distrust, anger, and fear. Sara did not seem to fear the Blade, although he had detected a certain bitterness when she dealt with matters concerning it. Did she trust the Witchblade? She must, to know all she did. How else could she know about Elizabeth Brontes? He turned away from his watch as he came to the real reason for this sudden flux of unstable emotion. Elizabeth Brontes, his mother. Or so he had always been told. Now it appeared that Sara and the Witchblade might know differently.
Part of him knew only disappointment for the possibility. It would mean his father had lied to him, not unexpected, but still painful. It would mean he was not a descendant of the warrior bloodline of the wielders. It would mean that he shared no bonds with the women for whom he had always had great respect and admiration. Yet there was another reaction, something that wanted to roar within him his satisfaction, his freedom.
If Elizabeth Brontes was not his mother then he had as much right to love Sara as any other man.
Ian pushed away from the rooftop, returning to the streets below and the car that waited. He would be allowed a few hours of rest before the dawn. He would have to choose a path and clear his mind before he reached his bed, or sleep would remain illusive. No one approached him as he walked silently down the street towards his car. It was one of the more unsavory neighborhoods in the area surrounding Sara's apartment, but he had become a frequent fixture here in the recent weeks. After that first night, the filth of the streets had stayed in the shadows, afraid to approach him, afraid of the consequences. He entered the car and started the engine, pulling from the space and onto the empty streets.
Ian knew what he was, something unnatural, something created for his master's use. These were the daily reminders he had lived with, some of the first lessons he had learned. He lived only because Iron's had willed it. He was not even the first of his kind, and had been given the memories to prove it. Ian had few memories from the first. Many surrounded Irons, perhaps because he was a common link between the boy he only half remembered being and the man he was now. He remembered various lessons, brief moments of kindness that he himself was jealous of. He ignored many of these memories. They were either too painful or too detrimental to his own training for him to focus on and preserve them within his own mind.
But there was one memory which held a golden seat above all others, cherished in the recesses of his mind as none of his own memories were save his first glimpse of Sara. It was the memory of his mother. Not Ian's mother, but the boy's. The First's. She was Ian's mother only in a matter of genetics, but he had stolen the memory of her for himself and refused to let it die with the boy. She was the only thing he had ever taken for himself, this memory of safety and kindness, and he often felt like even more of a monstrosity for having stolen her. Yet the feeling had never been strong enough to make him relinquish her to the grave of the boy who had given her to him.
He remembered dark hair and the tune of a lullaby. She was turned away from him in his mind's eye, illusive even in his dreams. Her form was shriven in the light of the moon and her voice hummed away an unnamed fear he knew had once been there with them. Whatever it had been, he could not remember and it did not taint the peace Ian felt with the memory. He had always thought this was Elizabeth Brontes, humming a throaty lullaby to her son. It was what he had been told. What Irons had told him, and like so many other things, something he had never questioned. Perhaps because he knew that if Kenneth Irons willed it, no other answer would be found.
Ian pulled into the garage three miles from Irons estate where he hid the vehicle each night. He locked the door, pocketed the keys and closed the garage before turning to the road beyond. Shadows fell strongly here, barely opposed by the light of the waning moon. Ian became one of them easily, making his way towards Irons home and his own bed.
Sara offered another answer from where she stood, just beyond the bounds of Irons control. She had offered it to him on the condition he step outside those bounds as well. It was not something he was sure he could do, even for Sara. His duty, his training, was too deeply ingrained. Irons was too central to his life, his very existence.
He focused on his breathing, realizing its pattern had become erratic with emotion. It was something he hadn't had to concentrate on since the very early days of his training. His focus was drifting, along with the focus of his life. Even Irons had noticed, warned him from the new path that had appeared. It was ironic that it was a path Irons himself had trained Ian for: The Wielder. Sara.
The air around him was chilled and he breathed carefully so that the warmth of his breath would not give away his position as he came upon the house. The guard at the gate was noticeably surprised when he stepped from the shadows and into the large lights which illuminated the world around the mansion. He glared sharply at the man, aware that he had been on the verge of dozing off just now, and the large guard immediately took up a more alert position. Ian carefully removed a glove and placed it on the keypad next to the door adjacent to the main gate. After a brief scan it opened for him and Ian replaced the dark leather. He made his way towards the house in silence.
The Witchblade and its Wielder had been almost as central in Ian's life as Irons. Yet they had always been distant figures of the future. Now the future was here, the time had come, and he was about to be torn between the two giants around which he orbited. To choose now would be to give up the still strong hope that his two masters would become one force. He could not do that, not yet.
Ian moved through the house silently, making a sweep before heading towards the small room he had been designated years ago. From it he could easily access almost any room within the house. The mansion was a maze of secret corridors and hidden rooms which only Irons and Ian knew the full extent of. In one such room lay in frozen grace the form of Elizabeth Brontes.
Elizabeth Brontes is not your mother.
He would find the truth. If lines were drawn between Sara and Irons, he would not be able to straddle them forever. The very attempt would tare him apart. He must find in himself the answer to these questions of loyalties. He must be armed with the truth if he was to face the inner battle which would follow.
He slipped from his clothes quietly and prepared himself for bed. As he moved between the cool sheets his hand reaching for and found the comfort of the hilt of his sword, still warm from being taken from its place at his side. The weapon was always within reach and had not been otherwise since he had received it. It was the weapon of a warrior, and meant more then a mere mass of steel to him. It was the embodiment of all he had once hoped to be when he was the boy that he had never really been.
Her alarm clock blared out the arrival of seven am with a vengeance, and Sara rolled out of bed feeling like she'd never been there. She'd hardly slept after Nottingham had left, and it didn't promise to be a good day. It was with barely leashed annoyance that she dressed and slapped on her sidearm and extra piece. She headed for the coffeepot. It was set on a timer and allowed her at least one cup before she headed in for the day, but the dark brew was still streaming from the coffee maker when she reached it. She was ahead of schedule this morning, but it didn't put her in a better mood. Something felt wrong, out of place and she felt tense because of it. The feeling that there was something she needed to do road her as she sat down at her counter.
Sara scribbled angrily on a sheet of paper while she waited for the coffee to finish dripping out. She stared at the six words that had been released from her pen for a moment, transfixed by them. The feeling of unknown need ebbed slightly. They'd been waiting to be written all night, crying out in her head for their significance to be acknowledged. But she knew they weren't words for her to acknowledge, they were for someone else.
Her coffee maker made the horrible grinding, buzzing sound that announced it was finished and she tore her eyes from the sheet of paper. She made her coffee quickly, trying to ignore what had just happened. It didn't work. It was as if she could feel the presence of that paper behind her, screaming for attention. She took one gulp of the dark brew, and without having intended to do it, slammed the cup down on the counter. Coffee sloshed across the surface as she turned back towards the pad, ripped the first sheet from its place and made her way towards the window. She grabbed a roll of tape off the desk on her way, feeling tense and frustrated. The feeling slowly dissolved as she fixed the sheet face out to the inside of the window.
Sunlight streamed through the yellow paper, outlining the dark pen of the words as she stepped back and looked at her work. The words were backwards and barely legible through the paper, but she knew them too well not to recognize them still. Three names, six words. Elizabeth Brontes, Diana Nottingham, and Sara Pezzini, in that order. The last three true Wielders, in the order in which they had held the Witchblade. She glanced down at the Witchblade, quiet on her wrist. She felt the same quiet within her now, and wondered who had really been feeling that previous tension.
"Sometimes," she mused as she touched the gem, "I'm not sure who is wielding who."
The thought disturbed her and she turned, grabbing her jacket and helmet in one quick motion as she fled the scene of the crime. When she burst out the door and into the unforgiving New York winter, she stopped to look back up at the window Nottingham reserved for his entrances and exits into her life. The yellow sheet of paper was clearly visible, even from the street.
At least she could take a perverse sort of pleasure in knowing she was the one being cryptic this time.
"So I don't even get a heads up that your going on a date with a billionaire? I thought we were friends Pez." Danny faked a hurt look and received a very rewarding lifting from the corner of his partner's mouth. Sara had been in a bad mood all day, and if Kenneth Irons was the cause of it then he wanted to know. If not, then he wanted to know that too. He tended to be a nosy kind of a guy that way.
"I'm not going on a date with a billionaire," she drawled, raising an eyebrow as she shuffled through the paperwork littering both their desks. "I've been invited to a charity benefit that a billionaire happens to be throwing. Its not remotely date like in any sense of the word."
"That's not how Vicki's telling it." He grinned this time, a cheeky one that was sure to both annoy and amuse Sara. She rolled her eyes at him and continued to focus on the file in front of her, a sure sign she was attempting to act like nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Which meant something out of the ordinary was definitely going on. Danny wondered silently what it was, and how long it would take him to get it out of her.
"Did she tell you I was invited by one of his employees, not the man himself?" Sara asked, her voice getting an underlying edge that told him he was starting to annoy her a bit. Danny grinned.
"Actually, she said quite a bit about him. I thought we were going to have to hose her down." The expression that comment garnered from his partner was as near to priceless as they get. He chuckled and pulled out another file. One of them had to get some work done around here. They still had follow up interviews to do with the rookie later, and Sara had been staring at the same file for about half an hour without showing signs of much progress on finishing its paperwork. She'd seemed to have zoned out, which was why he'd started teasing her about the gossip flying around about her and Kenneth Irons. He didn't like it when she started brooding. It usually lead to bullets and explosions.
"I'm not dating Kenneth Irons, or his buddy Nottingham," she growled, putting it in black and white for him and letting him know she was getting tired of the conversation in the same sentence. Danny took the hint, but just because she'd cut off that line of questioning didn't mean he couldn't start another. Something was up, he was sure of it. He was going to find out what it was.
"No need to get edgy. I was just hoping you'd gotten over those soulful bad boys," he teased, but received no comment from the desk across from him.
"So if its not a knew boy toy then what's up?" he asked as casually as he could. He busied himself filling out the first page of the closing reports on a case they'd finished just before the Downtown Museum had blown up, leaving only Sara alive.
"What do you mean?" she asked, taking a sip of her coffee and avoiding his eyes by browsing that same old file again. She should have had it memorized by know. Oh yeah, something was up.
"You know what I mean Pez. You've been acting weird, and I don't just mean this knew habit you've got of staring off into space for hours at a time." He stared at her directly, willing her to make eye contact, to tell him what was going on.
Her eyes shifted to the door, away from him, and a sudden silence stretched between them. That was new too. No proverbial fists swinging, no defensive growls or fast exits. Instead Pez had these knew quiet spells, simple refusals to answer questions. She'd done it about the Downtown, the Alley, and now about all of this. He didn't like it, something was up and his partner was cutting him off. It wasn't just him either, she'd put this distance up with everybody. He had this bad feeling she was cutting herself off from the world, and it was going to get her killed.
If he knew one thing though, it was that when someone decided to shut you out you couldn't force your way in. He'd either figure it out on his own, or he'd have to wait for Sara to let him back in. Either way, he didn't have to like it. He frowned at her in the continued silence, his own decent mood dissolving.
"Forget it. Lets just collect the rookie and go."
Kenneth Irons looked out over the city, his alabaster complexion and gray suit making him appear smoky and unnaturally white in the light coming from above them. He had the look of a man who was unchallenged master of all he surveyed. Behind him in the shadows knelt Ian Nottingham, a dark contrast to his master's ivory nobility. He was black obsidian among the darkness, smooth and warm, ready to melt away if not for the time and hardship that had shaped him. He stood outside the unnatural lights which illuminated Irons, warmed by the light of the fire beside him instead. It flickered and flared, dancing across his features.
A pagan prince kneeling before the marble grace of a roman emperor.
Ian waited silently for his master's reaction to the latest news of Sara Pezzini. Inside him a new emotion was howling for release and he struggled to hold it under tight reign. He forced his face to be expressionless, his body to relax, and he carefully lowered the fiery coals of his eyes to the well polished floor. It was a paper folded innocently within his pocket that had started this new fire. The paper, and the names scrawled across its surface. He had read this paper, absorbed its meaning, and come before his master. When he had seen those familiar features something inside him that he didn't know he possessed had roared to life:
The years of servitude, a lifetime of training barely restrained him. His rational mind knew he must control it, but below that the beast still growled in its cage.
The fire behind him snapped.
"So Sara has not yet accepted my invitation," Irons mused over the evening reflection of the city below "She shows more caution then I thought possible of her."
"It would be wise not to underestimate Sara Pezzini. I suspect she is a more worthy vessel then we. . .you. . .give her credit for." He could feel his masters eyes upon him, and he knew his mistake, knew he should be taking steps to correct it. But instead he remained motionless, barely controlling this new wealth of emotion inside him. He had not known these feelings were there, and was unprepared for their intensity. They were savage emotions he had only ever flirted with before, and now they were directed at his master. He had to control them.
Without much examination, he knew where these feelings came from. A sense of betrayal, of loss. His father had lied to him, and worse: His father had stolen his mother from him. His attachment to the memories of his. . .the boy's mother were stronger then he had ever realized. He felt as if he had been robbed of something he couldn't put a name to.
Elizabeth Brontes was not his mother. Diana Nottingham was. Research through barely-there channels had shown her to be the only child of a rich English nobleman, the sole heir to his empire when he died. A death which may have been orchestrated by Ian's own father, and seen the Witchblade into Diana's possession. The signs were subtle, but Ian had served his master for far too many years not to recognize them.
How the woman had died was a mystery yet to be solved, but there was one thought that swirled through his blood like a revelation. She had a son. Her estates, an empire really, lay in holding waiting for him or his children to claim. They lay in Kenneth Iron's holding. Sara might call it motive.
He had lived his life in the pure knowledge of the sanctity of the Wielders, the nobility of his bloodline and his absolute duty to protect those that were chosen from its ranks for greatness. Now he felt himself swept into a sea of doubt. His mother had been a peasant, a pretender. It left him feeling unclean and he shuddered inwardly at the thought.
He closed his eyes and bent his head lower and the beast inside clawed at him for his subservience.
Control. He must control it.
"You seem to have forgotten your place Ian, as well as your duty," Irons voice slid like a razor across him, cutting and wounding the thin bindings to which he now clung, "you have been neglecting your duties to me in favor of those to Sara Pezzini."
Irons waited one tense moment, and Ian carefully lowered his head that fraction needed to satisfy his master. Ian forced himself not to flinch as Iron's hand curled around his shoulder.
"I trust you will rectify this in the future?"
There was only one answer.
Mobius smiled as he watched the Maiden from the shadows. She was a warrior as well, a goddess of old. The Dragon was unworthy of her, and the Flame afraid to touch her. He would have to take her from them. The darkness closed around him, warm and comforting. He no longer feared it. He had stolen the shadows from them as well, they bent to him now.
kill her. . .
They spoke to him now.
kill her. . .
Whispered in black comfort what he must do to bring down the Dragon.
kill her. . .
He must kill the Maiden.
A night out playing pool and getting drinks with Danny and Jake and helped to relax the wary tension she'd had all day. Two days already since she'd left that note for Nottingham taped to her window. The charity benefit was this weekend and there'd been no reaction. Some part of her kept expecting Nottingham or Irons to show up at any minute with swift punishment on their heels. Hell, threatening his control of his pet assassin might just be the quickest way to get Irons to turn against her again-
A ebony skinned man with intense black eyes. A dragon roaring its flames across a marble room. A winged monstrosity of muscle and wrath painted upon a warehouse wall.
Mobius. Sara stopped abruptly, several feet away from her bike. It had been daytime then, and that had happened well after the charity event, hadn't it? Things were happening out of order again.
You're in danger Sara. Run. Run now.
Nottingham's remembered voice still ringing in her head, she grunted and shoved herself into motion, darting down the alleyway beyond her bike and out of sight. Mobius had shot at her last time from a vehicle, hadn't he? She scanned her horizon quickly, trying to spot a familiar van and her dark-skinned attacker. She never saw him, had no hint that he was there, until the man stepped from the shadows that seemed to almost cling to him. She skided to a halt in the gravel, her breath leaping out in painful gasps for air fueled by adrenaline.
"The Dragon woos the Maiden fair and sends his Flame to follow," his smooth voice resonated in the stillness of the night around them, "What interest can such a woman hold, who distains a Maiden's ways?"
"Poetic. Mildly insulting, but poetic," she muttered around the pounding of her own heart.
What in the hell was he doing here? It was too early for this. What had changed the timeline?
"Just so, but not as compared to the message of your death," There was a white flash of teeth that was too disturbing to be called a smile as he pulled his weapon from his side and aimed it at her. He couldn't miss, not at this range.
The voice of the Witchblade welled up inside her, stronger then she could ever remember having heard it before. Beyond its words were the hissing whispers of a thousand voices filled with disgust, hate, anger. The intensity of its reaction startled her, drove her into heated action.
The gauntlet responded, metal scraping to growling life on her wrist as the first bullet left the chamber and sped hot through the cold evening air toward her. Sparks flew and she felt the impact of the bullet as it was sent skidding harmlessly into the darkness around them.
Fevered, mad eyes widened in Mobius' dark face.
"Their interest might have something to do with this," she mocked, allowing the blade to slip free with a metal hiss. She swung abruptly, but the blade met and scraped along the brick wall her target has stood in front of only a moment before. A low, savage growl left her throat as she turned towards the direction her prey had darted in the shadows.
There were lifetimes in which she had hunted such creatures in the night.
The odd thought, the truth of the sensations behind it brought her up abruptly. Foreign emotions pumped through her veins and Mobius sprinted down the ally, increasing the distance between them at an alarming rate only Nottingham could have matched. Sara pulled back, forcing feet which desired nothing more than the chase to stop and root themselves.
She needed to understand what was going on here.
Dark creatures, shadows moving beyond the fire's light. A danger to the world since time began. A lifetime in which she was worship as a goddess of the moon, hunting them beneath it's light. The infection. That which must be cleansed.
You are the cleansing.
The rush of feeling and information was disorienting and she stumbled briefly, away from the prey that had already disappeared and back towards the safety of the lights of men.
What in the hell was that?
By the time she reached her apartment, sliding off her bike and shaking her hair out of her helmet, Nottingham was already waiting for her. Sara wasn't surprised. Irons had to have felt whatever the hell that had been, and there was no way he'd have settled for remaining in the dark about it. Unfortunately for them both, Sara didn't have any answers either.
She was honestly still freaked out about the whole thing.
Nottingham's eyes assessed her with a quick intensity and for a brief moment a look of wild concern skated across his features, tightening his eyes and the skin around his full lips.
Her stalker was worried, how touching.
"Guess you're here for my RSVP, huh?" she joked, breezing past Nottingham and up the stairs that lead to her apartment. He followed hesitantly, as if he wasn't quite sure of his welcome. Although, now that she thought about it, she'd never actually invited Nottingham into her home. He had always just kind of showed up whenever he wanted to drop another mystery in her lap or give her some dire warning.
Her helmet met the counter and her jacket met the couch on her way to the kitchen. Nottingham closed the door behind her with an almost inaudible click. She grabbed a beer, popped it open quickly, and allowed herself a long draw of the cool brew before turning to address her shadow again.
She might as well get this over with, the thought of it had already been making her feel slightly nauseas the last few days. Better to bite the bullet, and maybe put off any further reactions from Irons to these new developments.
"I guess you can tell Kenneth I'll be at the museum," she bit out, rubbing a hand against the tense lines of her neck.
Nottingham remained motionless, barely standing out from the shadows inside the dim lighting of her apartment. His eyes though, they had no trouble standing out. Dark, intense, watchful. She hadn't thought the man could watch her more closely than he already did, but it appeared she'd been wrong.
He really had been worried, she realized.
"Mr. Irons will be pleased to hear that Sara," he said finally, casting his eyes downward. His throat worked silently for a moment and she wondered what he was trying to make himself say, or perhaps make himself not say.
"My master is connected to you Sara, through the Witchblade," when he spoke his voice was strangled, as if he were choking on the words. She merely raised one dark eyebrow at him, taking another long pull from her beer. Maybe that piece of paper had gotten through to him a bit more than she'd originally thought. He looked. . .conflicted.
"That explains how you always seem to show up when something happens with it," she said, feigning ignorance.
"You were in danger tonight," it wasn't a question, but a statement. Sara nodded in agreement with it, gripping the counter behind her lightly just in case her hands were shaking still from the adrenaline and Witchblade-fueled fire. He seemed to expect her to fill the silence that followed with an explanation, a complaint, a question. She wasn't going to give in to fear and curiosity this time. She had meant what she had said to Irons in his death throes. She would find out for herself. But she would also string him along for as long as she could, until she was strong enough to fight Irons, and win.
It was merely a more terrifying prospect after that evenings odd encounter. There had been something different about Mobius, something that still left her nauseous with a soul-deep feeling of wrongness. What it Irons wasn't the biggest threat she was currently facing?
"Why are you here Nottingham? What do you want?" She asked instead.
He seemed confused by the question, as if no one had ever asked him about his own motivations before.
"To fight beside you. Protect you," he said softly. The words were a promise, a caress that left her uncomfortable with their honesty.
"No," she drew out the word, and then threw down the gauntlet "that's not why you're here tonight. So just get on with it so I can get some sleep."
He shifted cautiously, uneasy under her scrutiny.
"…Who was Diana Nottingham?" came his suffocated whisper.
Sara had never heard a voice so small, so hesitant to breath a question that was so important. The Witchblade hummed within her veins, and she knew she couldn't just give this to him. He needed to earn it, to hear it from his own lips if he was really going to take it in.
If he had any chance of freeing himself from Irons control.
"Why don't you tell me," she asked. She watched him now as carefully as he had always watched her, trying to will him into taking the step off the cliff that lay before him. She kept her eyes on him calm, steady. It was all she could offer him in reassurance as he began to speak in a voice rough with emotion.
"Diana Nottingham was the wielder before you Sara. A-" his voice broke and he began moving around the room with less grace then normal. Emotion in motion, "A Pretender. She was reported to have been the lover of Kenneth Irons. . . ."
He stopped moving as suddenly as he had begun, his gloved hands tensing into tight fists at his sides, squeezing in a way that made the leather protest audibly.
"She may have had a child with him. . ."
He wandered off and his shoulders pulled forward in a non-verbal sign of some kind of pain. Sara felt a flash of sympathy, she could only guess at what that outburst had cost him. God only knew what kind of conditioning Irons had put him through. Black Dragon obedience training would have only been the beginning.
"She wasn't a Pretender," she corrected after a moment. His reaction was instant, sharp and biting.
"Impossible. The bloodline of your family has been carefully observed and recorded. . ."
Sara didn't bother arguing. Instead she confidently unbuttoned the slim row of pearled buttons from her collared shirt and shrugged out of the warm cloth, leaving only the sleeveless white cotton t-shirt beneath. He had stopped talking. Nottingham barely breathed as she threw the crumpled fabric onto the counter, watching her as she slowly approached him, her hand coming up to move the strap off her shirt and reveal the twin circles that marked a Witchblade Wielder just above her heart.
"Two circles Nottingham," she glanced down at them as she spoke, and when she looked up it was to find his eyes transfixed on the skin beneath her fingers, "Dark, and light."
There was open admiration in his eyes, they raked over her revealed flesh with a boldness that she had never witness and she suddenly realized how cold the apartment was when he looked away abruptly. An unwelcome blush crept up her cheeks and she stepped back, unsure why she suddenly felt . . .
Bewilderment pulled at the smooth lines of his face, a muscle in his jaw working as his eyes drifted across the horizon beyond her windows.
". . .A second bloodline?" he whispered.
Sharply, he turned on her and she was suddenly reminded by the lethal fluidity of his movements who he was. Ian Nottingham. Bodyguard. Trained killer. She'd let herself feel sorry for him, let the Witchblade's desire to free him from Irons cloud her perception of the danger he could represent.
Sara didn't back away from him, but her shoulders squared and she set her jaw, eying him carefully again.
"Why-" his voice cut off and before she could speak, stop him, or even move he was across the room. Large strides brought him over her bed, out a quickly opened window and soundlessly into the night beyond. The white curtains floated for one heartbeat next to a billowed black coat, and then he was gone.
Sara dropped down onto her counter as the tension in the room suddenly released. She had no idea what that reaction meant, much like everything else that had been happening recently.
Why, indeed. That was the question, wasn't it? Why would Irons keep this from Nottingham? Kenneth had always taken steps to insure only he had control of the Wielders, the Witchblade. So what threat did Nottingham pose that Irons would keep him so close, and so ignorant?
Sara glanced down at the dark gemstone as she moved to the couch to take off her boots.
She could only hope she hadn't just made a terrible mistake.
"Pezzini, phone! Line 2!"
Sara swallowed her mouthful of hot black coffee and reached for her phone, nodding to Danny as he signaled he was heading down to evidence with Jake.
"Pezzini. Go," she grunted, glancing out the window at the frosted New York morning spilling gray and cloudy before her.
"Looked in the morning paper yet, Sara?"
Nottingham's voice was low, too purposefully mysterious for the light of early morning, gray or not. A memory ran across her nerve endings, illusive. This had happened before though, she was sure of it.
"What?" she asked intelligently.
"The morning paper, Sara. Take a look at it," he urged. He sounded almost. . .playful. Definitely better then the anger and confusion from the night before. Still, somewhat unreasonably, it annoyed her.
She realized as soon as she picked up the paper on the edge of the desk what she was forgetting. She cleared her throat before she read the first paragraph.
"Organized crime figure Thomas Gallo committed suicide last night. Jumping from the balcony of his heavily guarded apartment after screaming something about an avenging angel. Gallo was out on bail on pending charges of murder and the attempted murder of a police officer."
A pause, allowing her to take in the significance. Nottingham had known, then and now, how badly she had wanted revenge on Gallo. She couldn't deny if felt good to know that scum was off the streets, that he'd been punished for everything he had done. God knew there was no way the justice system would have been able to manage it. Especially not with the White Bulls still in action. Gallo had been one of their contacts, and she knew down to her fingertips that they would never have allowed Gallo to go to jail.
"It looks like Tommy Gallo had a crisis of conscience," Nottingham's voice was mild, speculative. It almost made her smile. Almost.
"Either that or he had help," she responded wryly, chucking the paper back to the desktop. Part of her still wanted to be angry that he had broken the law, that he had killed someone. However, Gallo was someone who had wronged her personally. Not once, not twice, but three times. It was harder to keep the lines of justice clear when it was her own loved ones that had suffered. When she still had so many to protect.
"Perhaps.. a bit of both. Thank you for the information Sara. It proved most useful, and has relieved a crisis of conscience I myself suffered from."
She snorted into the phone. Trust Nottingham to kill her enemies as a thank-you gift.
"Anything I can do to keep you from throwing yourself in front of any more bullets Nottingham," she said half-seriously.
"Are you concerned for my safety Sara?" he asked, detecting the thawing in her tone.
She paused, because that was yet another question she didn't quite have an answer too yet.
"You keep telling me to trust the Witchblade. It has its own opinions about people, and I'm still trying to figure out whether I agree with it about you. I'd rather have you alive until I decide." It was the most honest answer she could give him. Somehow, it felt like the time to be honest.
"Don't worry Sara, I will always be here for you," he gave the promise almost reverently.
Back to uncomfortable truths she didn't want to deal with then. His crush was less important than figuring out what the Witchblade wanted from him, what Irons wanted from him, and whether or not he was an ally, or an enemy waiting to happen.
"Hey, Ian," she barked with a little more authority.
"Get a thicker coat."
She hung up.
…Surprised? I suppose a decade between updates will do that. I'm in need of a beta if anyone out there is interested.
This chapter was intended to settle a few more things, but I've decided that I can't push these much beyond twenty pages without making it unreasonable to read a chapter in a single sitting.
Next Chapter: The battle with the Black Dragon approaches, and Irons begins his seduction of Sara in truth. Sara is hit with a death she was not expecting and it drives her to some rash interactions with those she cares about.