New

LIFE FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE

By Gracie [email protected]

August 5, 2001

My take on what could happen after Thanatopsis *minor spoiler*.

Disclaimers: Not mine, just playing, etc., etc.

Chapter 1

Flesh and blood?

Jake's betrayal?

I love  you.

Sara pounded the bag in a desperate, frustrated rhythm.

Who is he?

Who am I?

Alternately the bag was Jake's face…then Nottingham's.  At the moment she didn't care which one it was.  Both of them raised her adrenaline level about equally.

Mental images flashed through her head – not visions, thankfully – just strange, uncontrollable screenshots. 

Nottingham reading comics?  Somehow the thought of him sitting and looking at a comic book was unbearably poignant.  Did he read them when he was a boy?  She shook herself then threw a flurry of quick punches.  He was probably pulling the whiskers off kittens when he was a boy.

Irons.  Looking at her with that amused disdain that made her want so badly to light him up.

Dominique Boucher.  She still hadn't fathomed that whole old/not-old thing that had happened.  One more item on a long and growing list of things that couldn't be fathomed. 

Then, more seriously, Jake…  Nottingham seemed convinced that Jake was not what he appeared.  Was this more of Irons' manipulations of her loyalties?  It did seem like Dante had warmed up to Jake lately.  Or maybe you're getting even more paranoid, Pezzini.

She kicked the bag over and over.  Left.   Right.  Left.  Right. 

Shit.  There isn't one thing in my life that makes sense any more.

Overcome by her rising level of frustration, Sara grabbed the bag to still it, then hung there with her breath coming in hard gasps, trying to shut down her mind.  Nottingham's face lingered there, despite her efforts.

Freak.

Even to persistent jerks who refused to understand a get-lost message she was not usually so…cruel.  Again she saw the bleak expression that came over his face after her thoughtless remark.  Did Irons send him to her at the precinct?  Or had he come on his own in some sort of personal rebellion? 

I love you...

More likely Irons had instructed him to say those words, thinking she would be unable to resist a handsome face and the offer of an ally in her confusion.  What could Ian Nottingham possibly understand about love?   An armored Ian flashed across her memory and she felt a sharp, inexplicable tug of some unnamed emotion.  Perhaps he understands more than most men.  Instantly she thrust away this last unbidden, unwanted thought. 

Then, finally, her own words came back to her.  I believe me.

She looked at the Witchblade.  As if sensing her regard, the center began to glow warmly, just enough to be seen but far short of its sometimes agitated pulsing.  After a moment she felt a kind of reassurance seep gradually into her confusion.  With a heavy sigh she sank down to the floor and draped her arms over her upraised knees.  Maybe it's not reassurance, maybe it's simple resignation.  I'm tired of it all.

A minute later she dragged herself up off the floor and headed for the shower.  Quickly she ran herself under the spray and was pulling on a sweater when rapid footsteps approached and Jake flung himself into the locker room.

He stopped short, unable to prevent his eyes from sweeping her from head to foot. 

"Yeah?" she prompted him, pulling the sweater down without haste.

"Uh…sorry.  We gotta go, Pez."

"What?" she shot back, moving more quickly now, pulling on jeans, socks and boots.

"Misner got a line on a guy for those arson deaths last week.  Dante wants us to go in with the team to pick up the suspect."

"Misner?" she said doubtfully, pulling on her jacket and reaching for her weapons.  She

pictured the doughy, graying detective.  It was well known that Misner was simply biding his time until retirement.  "I thought he was in total risk-avoidance mode."

"I don't know," Jake said, already retreating toward the door.  "I was told to jump.  I'm jumping."

She grabbed her keys.  "Fine," she shrugged.  "Let's jump."

* * *

Chapter 2

"Man, I guess crime pays," Jake whispered.

The marbled building squatted, broad-shouldered, between its two taller neighbors.  Immaculately maintained and offering the view of a landscaped interior courtyard, the building was clearly a step up from the usual rat-holes they rousted looking for killers and informers.

Sara looked over Jake's shoulder, then her own, checking the loose perimeter the teams  had set up around the front exit points.  Dante's voice crackled harshly into their ears.

"Heads up.  Misner and Johnson will be flushing this waste out the door any minute."

They waited silently.  Down the block uniformed patrolmen re-routed foot and vehicle traffic.

Suddenly a small, wiry man burst from the front door.  Without pausing, he ran on a beeline straight out from the front door, his head swiveling to look around as he traveled.

"Freeze!" someone shouted. 

Behind the fleeing suspect, the apartment building door slammed open again and Misner lumbered out.  Johnson was behind him, and quickly caught up with then passed the older man as they ran.

"Stop!  Police!" came additional shouts, and the perimeter began to close in. 

Suddenly the fleeing suspect changed trajectory.  Head up, arms pumping, the man circled around until he was headed almost directly toward Dante.  Sara was instantly up and running, focused on the running man.  Around her, the other concealed detectives began to move.

A single shot rang out.  Then, "He's got a gun!"

Sara threw herself down behind a parked car and looked over the hood.  Beside her, Jake dropped down and peered cautiously out on the scene.

"This is out of control," he muttered.

"I don't see a gun," Sara said, her eyes searching frantically.  "Do you see a gun?"

Misner and Johnson had their weapons drawn, closing on their prey from behind.  At the first shot the suspect went down hard and Johnson was on him almost immediately.  Then, before Sara's disbelieving eyes, Johnson turned and trained his gun on Misner as he labored to close the distance between them. 

Johnson fired.  Misner stopped in his tracks, fell to his knees, then pitched forward to lie still on his surprised face.

Jake dropped down with his back against the car's fender, his face pale.

"Jesus," said Sara.  "Johnson just shot Misner."  She began rising to her feet.  "My God, Johnson shot Misner."

"Sit," Jake hissed, pulling her sharply down.

Sara wheeled on him, her eyes shooting green sparks.  "Didn't you see that?  He shot him!"

"I…didn't really see.  It could have been the suspect, Sara."

"The suspect!  What do you mean, the suspect?"  She stared at him.

"It's over, people".  Dante's voice came through their earpieces, summoning them.  Guns still drawn, the group of detectives straggled in to stand in a rough circle around the two fallen men.  Johnson was kneeling next to his partner, staring down at him.  In the distance the wail of an approaching ambulance could be heard.

Sara looked at Dante and found him staring back at her with eyes flat and black like a circling shark's.  His long face wore a strangely satisfied expression.  After a moment his gaze shifted over her shoulder.  Following it, she saw Jake walking slowly toward the group, his gun still hanging from his hand.

Sara stepped up to Dante.  "You have to have seen that."

"See what, Detective?"

She took a step closer.  The others began to cluster closer, interested in her sharp, accusing tone.   "Johnson shot him."

"Detective, you're out of line."

"Captain…"

Dante looked around the loosely assembled group of a half-dozen men.  "You all saw who shot Misner, am I right?"

Murmured replies identified variously, "the runner", "the scumbag" and "the suspect".

Sara whirled and tugged sharply on Jake's arm to pull him forward next to her.  "You saw," she hissed.  "Tell him what we saw."

Jake shifted uncomfortably, not meeting her eyes.  "Pez…you know…"

Sara's eyes narrowed and she let go her grip on his arm as though ridding herself of something disgusting.  "Tell him what we saw, Jake," she repeated through clenched teeth.

Jake glanced uneasily at Dante then looked down at his own shoes.  "From where I was…it looked like the suspect was the shooter."

There was a long, awkward silence.  The ambulance arrived.

"That's a wrap, people," said Dante dismissively.  "Give 'em room."

* * *

Chapter 3

Jake made himself scarce the rest of the afternoon.

Sara sat in their office, trying to do paperwork but still stunned by what she had seen.  Was sure she had seen.  Or had she?  She ground closed fists against her forehead in frustration.  I can't even trust my own eyes any more.

The phone on her desk rang.  Jake?  Sara picked it up quickly.

"Yeah, Pezzini."

"Sara," a voice whispered urgently.  "I think you have a problem."

"Vicky…" Sara began.

"Shh.  Shut up and listen.  I just finished working on Misner.  When I filed my report I saw what ballistics had in there."  Vicky paused. 

"Yeah?" Sara prompted.

"Sara, the ballistics report says it was your gun that killed Misner."

"What?"   She felt her a hard knot clench tightly in her midsection.

"Look," said Vicky nervously, "I gotta go."  She paused.  "Maybe you should too…until you figure out what's going on.  I'll see what I can find out.  Call me if you can."

With a hurried click, Vicky Po was gone.

- - -

In Kenneth Irons' quiet office Ian Nottingham stood near the door, his hands folded and head bowed in habitual respect.  As Irons read through a stack of closely-written documents on his desk he paid no attention to the servant who attended so him silently. 

Irons did not notice the dark head suddenly snap up behind him, did not see the intently focused expression.

The office door whispered open, then shut again.

Though Irons swiveled immediately in his chair, Nottingham was already gone.

- - -

Without stopping to think things over, Sara grabbed her jacket and her gun and began walking swiftly out of the building.  Nearly at the back exit, she heard Dante call out.  She lengthened her stride, ignoring him.  Almost there.

Again he called her; heads were turning.  Again she ignored him.  Pets-ini.  What a dick. Mispronounces my name like some 3rd grade schoolyard taunt.

Sara hit the door at speed and began to run as soon as she was outside.  A short sprint and she was at her bike, simultaneously buckling on her helmet and throwing her leg over the saddle.

Bodies burst from the precinct door as the bike roared to life, and Sara accelerated out the far end of the parking lot.  Blindly she sped down the street, her peripheral awareness keeping her out of traffic, but her main thoughts still wrestling with the events of the day.

At least she no longer had to wonder if she had imagined seeing Misner's partner shoot him in cold blood.  Had Misner been killed simply to set her up?  Why had all the others gone along with Dante?

She really didn't need more unanswered questions.

Then Sara heard the sirens.   Amazed that she could feel any further shock, she realized suddenly that the sirens were in pursuit of her.  As fast as she dared, Sara made turn after evasive turn as more patrol cars joined the pursuit from converging directions.  Her anger and disbelief grew with each passing second.  I'm actually running away from the cops.

Then it happened.  A kid on a skateboard.  Pants halfway down his ass.  Spiked chartreuse hair with a scarlet nose ring.  And no way to get around him.

Sara closed her eyes and dumped the bike, sliding and sliding toward an alley opening to the side.  She could feel her jeans shredding, burning pain on one leg, and she wondered why in hell she hadn't put on her leather pants today of all days.  Gravel funneled up under her jacket, but the jacket itself remained intact, protecting her.

Finally she slid to a stop and her helmeted head thumped against something solid and metallic.

Scarlet Nose Ring stood watching long enough to take in Sara's spectacular slide, then grabbed up his skateboard and took off at a lope, clearly not wanting to be involved.

Groaning, Sara dragged herself upright and staggered to her feet, still numb from the violence of her spill.  She was in a closed alley lined with trash bins and boxes from the day's deliveries.  Rooflines hung low, and by this time of the day the sun had long since departed this forsaken passage. 

Wailing sirens closed in.  On her wrist, perhaps reacting to her growing panic, the Witchblade glowed and spat color.  No, she thought at it furiously.  Not now, not in front of the whole police department.  The blade seemed to subside a little. 

Desperately Sara searched for a way out.  Battered and weary, she hobbled toward the rear of the alley, hoping for some way to postpone the inevitable.  She threw back her head and stared up into the wedge of darkening sky above her, screaming despairingly to the heavens.

"Help me!"

A dark figure appeared at the edge of the roof above her.

"I'm here, Sara."  He reached down to her.   "Take my hand."

Sparing only the briefest glance at the black & whites screeching up to the end of the alley, Sara stretched to the limit of her strength up toward that beckoning hand.

He reached across the distance between them and in a long smooth motion, pulled her up out of the dank passage into fresh evening air.

"Let's go," Sara gasped.  She struggled to her feet and promptly collapsed on her badly abraded leg.  A sob of furious frustration escaped her.

"It's all right."

He lifted her into his arms and they fled over the rooftop.  Sara buried her face in the shelter of his black overcoat, too drained to muster up any embarrassment at her own weakness.

* * *

Chapter 4

"My bike," she said forlornly.

Where her ear was pressed to his chest, she felt the reverberation of his soft response.

"You have greater concerns now."

He stopped at a decrepit rooftop doorway and took a quick visual survey, then bent slightly, turning the knob without letting go of her.  Though it was dark inside, he made his way through the room without hesitation and Sara felt herself gently deposited on a soft surface.  She heard a lock turn.  Low light filled the small space.

Her leg, ravaged by the pavement, throbbed and burned with each small motion.  A hiss of pain escaped her as she pushed herself to a more upright position on the low futon.

She watched as Nottingham rummaged briefly in a cabinet and laid some supplies on the small table near her.  He shrugged off the long black overcoat and draped it over the back of the futon, helping her then to remove her short jacket.  Kneeling beside her, he lifted a pair of scissors and began to cut the leg of her shredded jeans.

"What are you doing?"

"Your leg needs attention."  Gently he worked his way up the pant leg, lifting the bloody denim away from raw flesh beneath.  She looked once, then closed her eyes to the dirty, oozing scrape.

"Can you stand?"

"Stand?" she echoed.

"Your jeans.  They have to come off."

"Oh."

He pulled her legs gently over the edge and wrapped his hands around her waist, lifting her to a standing position.  She leaned heavily on his shoulders, wincing as blood rushed back toward her lower extremities.  Christ, what fix.  No bike, no idea what to do…and now no pants.

As if he read her thoughts, he said, "I'll get you something to wear while you're resting."

He looked up at her then from his kneeling position, his hands still at her waist.  Slowly he moved them into contact with the bare skin between her short sweater and the top of her jeans.   She stared into his face, acutely aware of his hands, ungloved, touching her bare skin.  She felt slightly faint and closed her eyes.  You're shocky, Pezzini, get a grip.

Leaving her to steady herself on his shoulders, Nottingham returned to his work.  Carefully he snipped the last few inches of fabric away from her injured leg, then reached  for her zipper.  She opened her eyes to meet his dark gaze, and for a heartbeat of time she was no longer aware of the misery of her leg.  Gently he slid the jeans down over her hips until she could lower herself back to a sitting position, then he drew the ruined garment completely off.

Always wear clean panties, you never know when you'll have to go to the hospital.  The inane mother-cliché popped into her mind and Sara suppressed hysterical laughter.  She was close to her emotional limit, and part of her recognized this fact.  Grimly she clung to that tiny rational thought as she rolled into her uninjured side.

"This may hurt."

Despite the warning she flinched violently away from the stinging antiseptic he was using on her raw leg.

"God, that's harsh," she said, gritting her teeth.  "What are you using, battery acid?"

"I am sorry."  His hands were gentle but persistent as he continued to clean and disinfect the leg.  He glanced up at her.  "It will be much worse if I don't take care of it."

She gritted her teeth and studied the tiny details of the upholstery weave at the end of her nose.  Little by little the pain became more bearable and her mind began to rebound, pushing away the unaccustomed despair that threatened to lodge there.

At last he finished covering the wide scrape with protective gauze, then sat back on his heels as Sara rolled onto her back and looked at him.

"Thanks."

He nodded once, then reached up and pulled his overcoat down to cover her warmly.

"Get some rest."  He tucked the coat here and there.  "I'll keep you safe."

The wonderful lassitude of warmth, safety and delayed shock was seeping into every bone.  Sara felt her eyes slipping shut.  The last thing she remembered before sinking into oblivion was a gentle hand on her hair and one more soft reminder.

"I'll keep you safe."

* * *

Chapter 5

When she awoke the gloom had begun to lift slightly, as though morning was not far away.  She focused on Nottingham, who sat in a chair nearby with a book in his hand.

As if feeling her eyes upon him, he looked up instantly and closed the volume.  Light cast by the small lamp half-shadowed his face.  He watched her but did not speak.

Sara lay still, letting her mind gradually catch up to the circumstances of the moment.  Harshly she forced logic into her thoughts, assessing the situation.  Set up by Dante.  Betrayed by Jake.  Wanted for – what?  Manslaughter?  Murder?  Coldly she catalogued  her minimal resources.  Vicky, information.  Gabriel, maybe a place to hide.  The Witchblade, defense if push came to shove.   Curiously she glanced across the small room.  Nottingham?

He watched.  Waiting.

"Do you live here?" she finally asked.

"No.  It is just…a place."

"You mean, like some kind of bolthole or something?"

"Something like that."

She nodded.  He probably had more than one of these around the city. 

"Does Irons know this place?" she asked, curious to know what kind of truth she might receive in reply.

 "No."

Somewhat surprised, Sara considered this for a moment then asked.   "Does Irons know I'm with you?"

Nottingham hesitated.  "If he knows, it is not because I told him."

Sara glanced down at the quiescent bracelet on her wrist.  Did you tell him? she wondered, thinking of the curious connection Irons sometimes seemed to have with her.

Outside, a low rumble of thunder echoed warningly and shadows seemed to thicken in the room.  Moments later a flicker of lightening confirmed the approaching weather.

Carefully Sara pushed herself upright, realizing immediately that the pain in her leg had subsided significantly.  Gingerly she checked under one edge of the gauze and saw with a start that a protective scab had already formed over the abrasion.  So fast.  She looked curiously at Nottingham.

"You are healing," he stated unnecessarily.

"No kidding."  She gestured with her wrist.  "Because of this, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Nice perk.  No wonder he wants it so bad."

She studied him curiously. 

"I don't think Mr. Irons would be happy if he knew you brought me here, do you?" 

"No, Sara."

"So…why is it you do all these other unspeakable things he wants you to do, but somehow you find strength of will when it comes to the Witchblade?"

"I have not always agreed with what Mr. Irons asked of me."

"But you did it anyway."

"Yes."

"Why?"

The simple question hung between them for long moments.

"There is no easy answer to that, Sara.  I have been with him since I was very young."

Eventually, she knew, there would be a reckoning with Irons that nobody was going to enjoy.  He would not tolerate Nottingham's growing autonomy.  And he most assuredly was not finished with the Witchblade.

Sara shifted uncomfortably and the chill of the room hit her bare legs when the overcoat slipped to the floor.  Nottingham stood and picked up something from atop the cabinet.  He held it out to her and she recognized her favorite sweat pants.

"How did you get into my apartment?  They had to have the place staked out."

"Yes, they did."

She waited, looking at him expectantly, but got no further information on how he had managed this feat.

"Your partner left several messages on your answering machine.  He wants you to call him."

Sara began reaching automatically for the cell phone in her jacket pocket.  She stopped and her lips tightened.

"I don't think I have anything to say to him right now."

Suddenly a crack of thunder boomed loudly and Sara jumped, feeling foolish.

Outside, the rain arrived, beginning with a series of slow taps and building to a steady muted rumble, curtaining out the rest of the world.  A flicker of lightning illuminated Nottingham's face as he continued to watch her.

"I'm sorry," Sara blurted into the silence.

"Why?"

She felt a blush of shame on her cheeks.  "I called you a…freak.  Sorry."

His expression saddened.  "But you were right, Sara."  He bent his head.  "And you need never apologize to me."

"Ian…"  She paused, wondering even as it left her lips whether she really wanted to ask this question.  "Why are you helping me?"

"You already know, Sara."  He glanced up with a faint hopeful expression in his eyes.  "Or did you only wish to hear the words again?"

I love you…in unguarded moments.

Sara closed her eyes.  You asked for that, she chided herself.  Why did you ask for that?  Not a question to be examined too closely just now.

She looked down, not knowing what to say.

"By the standards of others," he went on, "I am…a freak.  I will never have a life that is normal by the standards of people who pay mortgages, coach soccer and spend Christmas with their families."

He looked at her gravely.   "Neither will you."

It was as sudden and undeniable as if he had thrown her into a pool of ice water. 

He's right.

It wasn't like she seriously daydreamed about kids, dogs and picket fences.  If she was honest with herself, she wasn't sure if she had ever wanted that.  Still, to have it set forever beyond her reach was somehow…wrenching.  After today, even her cop's life - abnormal as that had been by most peoples' standards - was gone.

Many circumstances set Ian Nottingham apart from normal society.  Now, many of those same conditions described Sara Pezzini.

She hung her head, feeling the weight of her realization in every difficult breath.  She felt painfully alone.  The drumming rain filled her consciousness, and when he spoke again he was very near, startling her.

"I know, Sara.  I know how it feels to see life from this perspective."

He knelt next to the edge of the futon, not looking at her, not touching her.  She had to concentrate to hear every soft word.

"Perhaps you believe that I understand nothing of emotions.   It is true that I have no experience of other women, but I have the memories of many lifetimes of love.  With you, Sara.  No one else understands you as I do."

 

He looked up then, his eyes as black as the shadows that surrounded them both.

"My loyalty to you is absolute."

Sara felt an extraordinary connection click tightly together.  Time would tell whether that loyalty could transcend his long servitude to Kenneth Irons.  She felt her doubts fading before the devotion so plainly written on his face.  Time would tell.  Tonight, she would savor a few brief moments of feeling that she wasn't, after all, completely alone.

Slowly she leaned into his broad chest and felt his arms come around her.  The rain tapered off to a light patter. 

Finally, all she could hear was the steady beat of his heart.

* * *

Chapter 6

Late that evening, Sara stood in front of Jake's apartment building, her hand hovering near the buzzer.  Hesitating.

What the hell do I expect to find here?

A glance at the Witchblade showed…nothing.  Taking a deep breath, she pushed the button sharply.

"Yeah?"

"Jake, it's me.  Let me in."

"Sara, my God!  Come up."  The buzzer went off immediately and she pushed through.

He was looking for her as she got off on his floor, the door flung wide.  On his face was a mixture of surprise and – she thought – relief.

"Sara…where have you been?  They told me your bike was totaled and I thought…"  He grasped her arm and pulled her into his apartment, looking her up and down.  "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, Jake, I'm fine now."  All that was left of her injury was some residual stiffness. 

She stepped aside and he reached to push the door closed.  Suddenly he found it blocked by a familiar large frame clothed in black.  Jake stepped back quickly.

"What the hell?"

He looked at Sara.  She shoved the door open with one hand and Nottingham entered the apartment to stand just behind her.  Jake's eyes traveled back and forth between them.

"What's this, Pez?  Is he your pet now?"

 "He's nobody's pet," she answered curtly, her eyes cold.  "I want some answers, Jake."

He shot an angry glance at Nottingham.  "I'll talk to you, Sara."

Nottingham stepped forward, crowding Jake against the door and looking down from his greater height. 

"There is only one reason you are alive at this moment, Detective.  If she should change her mind, it will be my pleasure to end your life."

Jake looked at Sara, his anger turning to dismay as he saw that she was making no move to mitigate the threat.  He swallowed, remembering how effortlessly Nottingham had taken him apart at the seams.

"Don't provoke him, Jake, " Sara said.

Jake backed away and Nottingham swung the door shut, putting his back to it as it closed.  His eyes were fastened on Jake like a cobra anticipating its prey.

Sara crossed her arms.  "All right, Jake.  Talk."

He looked at her for a moment, as if weighing something in his mind.

"Nottingham's right," he began abruptly.  "I'm in the department for a reason."

He shoved one hand into his jeans pocket and came up with a bullet, which he held out for her inspection.

"Joe Siri gave me one of these with my father's things," she said, turning it over in her fingers.  "What is it?"

"It's a symbol for a group – some kind of vigilante subculture in the department.  Your father and Joe Siri were both members.  Dante is running it now.   I'm here to try and figure out how extensive this is and exactly who the members are."

He ran his hand through hair that was already standing on end.  "At your apartment, when I saw that bullet in your father's stuff, I had to wonder how much you knew about it.  For all I knew, you were in on it too."  He looked at her pointedly.  "Especially since you were always acting so weird."

Sara looked at him.  If you knew, Jake.  The reality is much, much weirder.  Aloud she said only, "Go on."

"I don't have proof yet, but my theory is that your father wanted out, was maybe going to talk, so the rest of the group had him killed.  Same thing with Misner.  Joe Siri was given the option of either retiring or ending up like your dad.  Knowing you, Joe probably put that bullet there on purpose for you to see.  He figured that sooner or later you'd start asking questions."

"I see.  Only now you're here asking questions."

"Well, I'm here.  Not asking questions, though.  Just getting in with the right people.  And I'm close, Sara," he said vehemently, "really close."

"Close enough that you'd let me go down the way you did when Misner was shot?" she accused quietly.

"I had no idea Dante would use our partnership to pull you into this."

She turned to Nottingham.  "So this is why you were prepared to kill him?  Because his pursuit of this group would have repercussions for me?"

"Yes.  And it has," Nottingham replied, with a look that said, see?  "Everything but your life has been taken from you because of his actions."

He directed an unfeeling look at Jake.  "It's nothing personal.  Detective."

"Oh.  I feel so much better now," Jake said.

"Who are you working for?" Sara asked, taking control of the conversation once more.

Jake shook his head.  "You'd be better off not knowing."

She looked at him.  "Really."

"Really, truly, Pez."

She stepped closer to him, her eyes flashing fiercely.  "And what am I supposed to do now, Jake?   Dante has me on the run from a manslaughter charge.  I can't go home.  I don't have a job.  I don't have a life any more.  Am I supposed to just believe that you're telling me the truth?"

Jake lifted his chin toward Nottingham.  "Ask him."

Sara turned.  Nottingham's gaze left Jake and went to Sara, who raised one eyebrow expectantly.

"Will you believe my answer, Sara?"

"For Christ's sake, Ian," she hissed in frustration.  "For once can't we just do a simple yes or no?"

He lowered his gaze.  "Yes.  He is being truthful."

Jake moved close enough to put a hand on her arm.  "Look, Sara.   I'm really, really sorry things had to go down the way they did when Misner was killed.  If I'd backed you up it would have blown everything I've done for months.  If Dante didn't have such a personal issue with you we wouldn't be in this mess.  The only way I can help you now is by going through with it all.  By nailing these bastards on everything I can find."

Sara looked down at where his hand still touched her.  Self-consciously, he removed it.

"Sara, if you let me see this through I can give you answers about your father's death.  I can give you your job back.  And I can clear out this nest of vipers so it doesn't happen again."  He stopped speaking, watching closely for her reaction.

For a long moment Sara studied him.  "All right."

He let go a pent-up breath.  "Where will you be?"

Sara glanced at Nottingham, whose eyes were on her once more.  "I'll be safe."

"How am I going to get in touch with you?"

"I'll get in touch with you."

"What," he persisted, "am I supposed to shine some sort of bat-signal or something?"

Sara backed toward the door, stopping in the lee of Nottingham's body, suspicion remaining in her eyes. 

"Don't take too long, Jake."

Behind her, Nottingham opened the door.  Sara slipped through the opening and disappeared from view. 

Nottingham paused to direct a cold, meaningful look back at Jake.

"Don't take too long.  Detective."

* * *

FIN

* * *