Disclaimer-- I own nothing, I merely like to play in their sandboxes. I have nothing worth sueing for, the only characters that are mine are the ones no one knows. kitsa

Changes

Sara walked into the warehouse cautiously, her hand never far from the gun clipped to her belt. Have I completely lost my mind? she asked herself for about the tenth time in the last ten minutes. You are walking into a room with three stone killers to ask them for a favor and pray they don't shoot you on sight. But if it worked it would all be worth it. For just a moment she allowed herself to reflect on the reason she was standing here, all that had led her to this, standing outside an apparently abandoned building preparing to walk into what could very well be an ambush.

It should have been easy, anti-climactic even, after the meeting with the commissioner and his deputy, the questions, the depositions. Even with Dante's meddling everything had turned out better than hoped for. They had left the precinct together, hand in hand, almost like the end of a bad B Western, until they had returned to the Irons mansion.

Ian had been quiet, a little withdrawn on the ride back, even while he held onto her hand like some kind of lifeline. Upon arrival however he was suddenly filled with nervous energy, the need to do something, anything active after a week of relative calm. It began simply enough, another sparring session in the training room. Sara squared off against him willingly, her own nerves in desperate need of a workout as well, to rid her of the stress of the day, of the last two days. Sparring with him was a true joy, watching him flow through the motions with a speed and grace that was sometimes so distracting that she found herself observing when she should have been defending.

It had ended predictably enough as well, her pinned to the thick matt with him on top of her. But this time there was a look, a desperate intensity in those dark eyes that called to something very primal in Sara. The result was a passionate explosion far beyond anything either of them had ever experienced. In the end, they lay breathless and boneless, covered in sweat on the training room floor.

"Sara, I am sorry, I..."

"Shhh, you have to stop apologizing. We've both been under a lot of stress and I really can't think of a better way to release a little of it."

"It is just that I..." She looked at him; he was clinging to her like a ship's mast in a hurricane, as if she were the only thing anchoring him. It was a little frightening and Sara did not know what to do or to say so she lay there quietly and listened. "We have come so far, done so much. I am now freer than I have ever been, released to build a new life for myself, and I do not know what to do..."

The pain in his voice, the realization that by solving her problems she had in fact exposed him to a world of new ones, of uncertainty and confusion, had not even occurred to Sara. Somehow it had been a matter of just getting through. She tightened her grip on him and held him close as he allowed... spewed out all of his fears and uncertainties, as he let the tears flow and finally exhausted himself into uneasy sleep, curled around her in the cool air of the training room.

It had been only the beginning. The days that followed saw him vacillating back and forth between withdrawing from her, and clinging desperately. The potential explosion between them lay always just below the surface in a way that it had not been since they first met. Finally, with no end in sight and no ideas of what to do, she had been forced to a choice… seek the advice of the Witchblade or lose both Ian and any hope of a future that included him to the forces that she had helped set into motion. And so she was here, in the last place she ever thought she would be, the last place she had any desire to be, to take a gamble on her future by confronting his past.

She locked herself down firmly and entered the door into the back of the warehouse, scanning the room quickly while trying to appear casual about it. She was aware of the two men immediately, one on either side of the upper gallery. The only problem was the catwalk behind her, which was out of her line of sight. She kept walking, waiting for them to address or at least threaten her. She was pretty sure they were unaware that she had spotted them.

"That's far enough. Who are you, and what do you want?" Talon Green… she identified the face from the file.

"I'm here to find Hector Mobius. I want to speak to him." She spoke calmly, wishing that she really felt that way. "And I know you aren't him, so where is he?"

"Why don't you tell me what you want and I'll relay the message."

"Sorry, can't do that. I'll talk only to Mobius."

"What makes you think that he's interested in anything you have to say?"

"I guess we will just have to see, now won't we? Where is Mobius?"

"Behind you," a new voice came from the shadows of the catwalk above and behind her. She turned quickly to see the tall black man descend to the warehouse floor with the grace of a panther. "I believe you were asked a question. Who are you?"

"Sara Pezzini. Detective Sara Pezzini."

"And what does a member of New York's finest wish with me? I have broken no laws, Detective."

"That's not why I'm here," she told him, trying to figure out what to say now that she was here, how to explain what she wanted.

"You look familiar to me, but I do not believe we have met."

Sara saw a quick flash, a man with a flame-thrower, threatening a bound Ian and Irons in the den at the mansion. She shook it off quickly, hoping that she was sufficiently blocking that Ian would not catch either the vision, or what she was doing. "I'm here for a friend, a brother of yours."

"That's impossible." A new voice from the right, McGill. "We are the only ones left. Except…" He stopped as Mobius raised a hand, but they all heard the unspoken name hanging there between them. There was an awkward silence as Sara tried to find the words to tell them, make them understand, for him.

"Ian. You are here about Ian Nottingham. Does he know you are here?" he asked perceptively.

"What does he need anyway? He left. He's Irons' lapdog now," Green said, anger and disgust tingeing his voice. "He left us. He can't crawl away from his master now and expect…"

Once again Mobius stopped him. "Let her speak."

"Irons is dead. It will be in the papers tomorrow and Ian is alone." Her voice was flat, trying to keep the emotions out of her voice and her mind.

"He chose his path; it cannot be changed now," Mobius told her.

"You know better than that. Did any of you really choose? And he had even less of a choice. Mobius, you know the truth, or you would if you thought about it. Why was he with you? And why did he leave? Who gave him to you?" She was getting upset and frustrated and the fact that the other two were still training weapons on her was not easing the tension any.

"Irons. So the whole truth comes out now. I suspected, but I do not deal in speculation and rumors, and Ian would never say." He looked at her, a slight softening of a face rarely used to such things. "How is my brother?"

"As well as can be expected, but he needs you. You are all the family he has left." She wished she were a better speaker, could convince this strange man to understand and to come.

"Family? Mobius, what is this crazy chick talking about? Ian's an orphan."

"No, he is an orphan now," Mobius said slowly, giving the other two a chance to catch up. Realization hit them both like a freight train and left them wondering why they had missed it for so long. "But he is not completely alone, is he? I know you now, Sara Pezzini," he said and for the first time, he smiled.

"Then you will come?"

"We will. Tonight?"

"Yes. Just be at the Irons house around five o'clock, I'll see that you are let in. Call it a surprise."

"So be it. And Sara…"

"Yes?" she asked as she turned to go.

"Thank you."

"Don't thank me, just be there," she said abruptly, turning to leave the warehouse and its occupants alone.

The rest of the day passed in a blur as Sara reassured herself once and again that she had done the right thing. What other choice did I have though? she asked herself once more. Ian was falling apart in front of me, going back and forth between that sort of desperate clinging that has always made me want to throw someone out a window, and the kind of depression that I have only had in dreams, dreams where I lost Danny, lost someone, anyone that I cared about. The kind of dreams I had a lot before I met Nottingham, she admitted with dark humor to herself, knowing that she would certainly never admit it to anyone else, not even Ian.

Ian Nottingham arrived at the house at six o'clock, tired and frustrated. He had been looking forward to a quiet evening at Sara's apartment before tomorrow and the announcement that would end his quiet life for some time. He knew that he had been difficult, but the changes were starting to catch up to him. Ian recognized that he was trying in some ways to push her away, but only to save her from the whirlwind of pain and confusion spinning inside him. The demands of the business, of carrying on a relationship, and now facing the need to step out of his old life and into a new one, they were all tearing at him, and he was out of his depth. He wanted tonight to be special, a night alone, just the two of them. Finally having brought himself to the realization that to save their relationship, he needed to talk to her, explain what was happening inside, the call to return to the house had been an unwelcome intrusion into his plans.

It was frightening to see that he had been pushing her way, only to run to her to avoid going home, running from one terrifying uncertainty to the other. The mansion held memories and tasks he needed to accomplish, things like going through his father's belongings, the accumulated memories of close to one hundred years of life boiled down to so many papers and trinkets. He had done what was necessary to keep the business going and left the others to wait, his other choice, to run to Sara and bury his pain and uncertainty in her sweet embrace. But even that was not enough to soothe his heart. He feared that in his own confusion he would drive her away, prove himself unworthy of the love that he had devoted his life to. When he tried to keep it to himself though, she accused him of shutting her out and in a small part of his mind, Ian knew he was doing exactly that. But tonight had been his chance to find the words, to explain and correct his mistakes before the world came crashing in.

Besides his father's memorial, there were the holidays to consider. For once, it was very important to him to do things right. When Irons had been around, Christmas had been a subdued affair, just the two of them, a discreet gift left in his room, a quiet dinner, and an evening of chess before the fire, with no one else around. There were always invitations, but his father had long ago stopped accepting them, preferring to have the quiet. It was one of the few times that the barriers between them, so carefully developed over the years would slip just a bit, a private time between father and son. The only true hint of fun their own unique game, played since childhood. His father had not been one to cultivate sentimentalism, and thus the game began. He would buy the gift secretly and find new and creative ways to leave it somewhere to be "found". But Ian had seen enough of other people to know this was not the normal way of things, and was looking forward with wonder and dread to spending it with Sara. He still had no idea how to buy her a present though, and was in fact considering talking to young Bowman. It was a little embarrassing to have to ask advice like this of the younger man, but it was that or ask her partner, and while he and Danny had managed a peace, he was not sure he wished to presume upon it.

And now this, Ian thought, driving furiously toward the house. He had tried to call Sara but she had not responded and when he reached for her all he got was the feeling that she was safe, so he tried to put it out of his mind. With any luck he could handle things quickly and get back to her. As he walked into the door, he was met by Mrs. Hancock in the hall.

"Good evening, Sir. Miss Sara is here. She asked that you meet her in the den when you arrived." Sudden concern lit his face as he brushed passed her abruptly and sped down the hall. Sara was still not completely comfortable here and had never come out unless they had specific plans, and usually not without him by her side.

He rushed through the double doors so fast they banged back against the walls and stopped cold, a look of shock on his face. Sara stood before the fire with a tall, familiar form that he thought he would never see again… Mobius. Green and McGill were sitting on the leather couch with drink glasses in their hands, conversation having halted at his dramatic entrance.

"Ian, my brother." Mobius turned and stepped towards him, Sara at his side. Ian was trying to get his bearing. This was something that he had never imagined he would see. He tried to find words but they failed him.

Sara came up to him and kissed him gently on the cheek. "Enjoy, I'll be in your room. You and your friends need some time." She looked up at him and smiled, then with a squeeze of his arm she was gone through the doors, closing them behind her.

As the hour grew late and fire burned low, Ian and Moby sat across from one another, brandy glasses in hand, finally alone to talk. There was a sense of contentment, of completion that Ian felt, and he wondered if the others felt the same. Since he had left the service, there had always been a small niggle of something, as if there was a part of him that was missing. Oh, it was not overwhelming, just enough to make him think about them when he was alone with his own thoughts. He studied Moby, settled in the chair across from him, looking for some indication, something indication of how to proceed. McGill and Green had retired after perhaps a little too much to drink and the two old friends had much to say to each other.

"Hector, why did you come?"

"Because you had a need, although you would not ask," he told Ian calmly. It amazed him to see the changes in his brother as he sat across from him in the large chair, tie loosened, jacket off, sleeves rolled up to reveal the tattoo, the twin of the one on Mobius' own arm, the ever present black gloves nowhere in sight. He seemed more relaxed, as if he had finally reached some form of peace with himself, had come to terms with his life. "I notice that you have made some changes," Hector commented, nodding towards the pale, bare hand holding the heavy crystal snifter.

Ian looked down at his own hand, as if seeing it for the first time. "Yes. Sara finds them...disturbing."

"She does not understand, does she? The need to shield yourself?"

"Yes, and no. I am afraid it is not as easy as I had once believed it would be," Ian answered vaguely.

"I remember her now. She is the girl from the photographs, is she not?" he asked, remembering the day that Ian had finally broken down and told him at least some of the secrets he kept so close. Green had been ragging him hard, had gone as far as to pick up the photograph that he had kept near him at all times and teased him about his "girlfriend". Ian's usual stoicism had broken down into a rage, and Mobius had been forced to break them apart, to once again find a way to forge these very disparate people into a single team. But it was worth it, he thought, a family, something we all needed in ways we could not even begin to understand. "Was it everything you dreamed of, my brother?" he asked softly, hoping that Ian had finally found the peace he sought.

"Everything, and so much more. I wish I could explain it to you, but words are more your forte than mine."

There was a soft smile on Ian's face that spoke volumes more than words ever could.

"I believe I understand. She is a very persuasive young woman."

"That she is," Ian said with a soft smile, "and I would have her no other way."

"Then it is a good match. I am pleased that you have found the life you wished."

"Not completely," he said, taking another sip and wondering how to broach the subject of the plan that had been forming in his mind all evening.

"In what way?"

"I had always hoped that it could have come about differently."

The sad note in his voice caught Mobius' attention. "Your father?" he asked.

"She told you?" Ian was startled by the revelation, that Sara had given away his secret, even to those closest to him.

"I had guessed as much. She merely confirmed it, in order to convince the others of the need."

Ian calmed visibly; it was not as if the world would not know tomorrow, when he would need to stand tall, prove himself the son his father had wished him to be.

"He is dead." Ian said simply, "I have a new life, a new purpose even, but still I wish it had been otherwise."

"Would you give up your Sara, that your father might live?" Mobius asked, canny as always.

"No, I would never trade to lose her, but still..."

"There is no profit in what might have been. If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite."

"Still the poet, my friend."

"Better a poet who understands his folly that a warrior who does not." Mobius replied.

"You are correct though, and it is to the future I must look now, a future I wish you to be a part of."

"I am lost, and there are the others to consider. Make your meaning clear." Mobius' voice sharpened a little, wondering what it was that Ian had in mind.

"I need you." The words were simple, the tone conveying a sense of loss still unhealed by time.

"We shall remain, to stand by you tomorrow, and as long as you require us," he said vaguely.

"I require you permanently."

"You know that is not possible. I will accept no charity. Do not attempt to soothe your heart by throwing gold at my feet; I am no Judas to sell my soul." Mobius began to rise, but Ian was there before him.

"It is not money, nor charity I offer. Please, sit and listen to me."

The pleading note in Ian's voice convinced him that no offense was intended and he lowered himself reluctantly back into his chair, turning a cautious eye to his friend. "I will listen," Mobius said, but his tone made it clear that he would not concede the point. There was too much… too many miles and too much death. They had taken everything from them, both of them, all of them. They had survived the training, most of them. Time had taken the rest… missions, self-destruction as they were systematically mustered out and thrown into a world they were no longer capable of handling. Mobius had gathered to him as many as he could get, commander before, commander always. He had kept them together, kept them feed and safe, all but Ian. He had no idea what it had taken for Ian to survive. In some ways, he had been the youngest of them, but then he had never faced the world before. He lived a shadow life, and now he was being thrown out into the harsh light of day with nothing but his dream lady beside him. Can he manage this, is it in him to survive for himself, or perhaps for her?

Ian took a deep breath while he tried to give voice to the plan forming in his mind. "Mobius, I need you. I can no longer pretend to continue with my former occupation, I have no one to protect, and I cannot simultaneously guide the company and guard it. In the end I would do neither well."

"What is it that you are asking of me?"

"There is more than enough work for you, for all of you. You could come in, have a life again."

"I am not sure that I would know how," he said dubiously. "The world holds so little for us."

"We would be together again. If the world does not understand us, still we would have each other. It is time, Mobius, time and past that we corrected the mistakes. Help me?"

"I will speak with the others on your behalf but it must be their decision as well."

"They will follow your lead, as always," Ian said, a glimmer of hope starting to show through.

"Perhaps, but it will be their decision to make. If nothing else we will stand beside you tomorrow."

" For that alone I am grateful, and will be for the rest of my life. You owe me nothing, indeed less that nothing."

"You are a Black Dragon, you are one of us. No matter what else you may be, Kenneth Irons' son, Vorschlag's heir, the fair Sara's lover, none of these things changes that fact. Brothers always."

"Thank you for that at least. Tomorrow I stand up before the eyes of all the world and announce my father's death."

"You, like me are a creature of the shadows; the harsh glare of the limelight is not for us."

"No, but if I avoid it, they will only become more curious, and more persistent. I will attend to this, and then sink once more into obscurity."

"Do you believe that they will allow this?" Mobius asked, the disbelief showing on his face. "Or is this why you want to have us with you, to encourage them to keep their distance?"

"A bit of both, perhaps?" Ian responded with a smile. Suddenly it seemed that things would be alright. Finally he had the opportunity to make peace with his past, and with his future. "There is still one thing between us, one final piece of our past that I…Jeff." The name fell like rock in a quiet pond, ripples of things better left dead and buried. Silence descended between the two of them, a chill wind as if this ghost of the past had returned in person to shatter the still healing peace.

Mobius considered the glass in his hand carefully, looking for the words he needed. "There will be time for that later," he said. "Not all wounds can or should be lanced at the same time."

"But…"

"Later. For tonight, leave it," he said. "There will be time."

Ian stood watching as Sara slept peacefully in the chair beside the fireplace. The bedroom was warm and she had changed into the robe he had lent her and that she had essentially confiscated. So beautiful, he thought, what have I done to deserve her? He was still reeling from the evening. After all that they had been through, after his confusion and efforts to push her away, to put her close, she had done this, had brought his brothers back to him. He watched her sleep for a moment longer, hair pushed back from her face, a case file in her lap almost ready to spill onto the floor. With a smile, Ian moved across the room and knelt at her feet, collecting the file before it dropped.

"Sara." She heard her name whispered as in a dream and shifted a little, not at all sure she wanted to wake. After all, she was warm and comfortable, why should she? "Sara?" This time the question, the voice familiar in her ear, she opened her eyes slowly. First came recognition, she was in Ian's room, then remembrance, she had fled here to give him time with his friends, and to get away from an evening of old war stories, battles rehashed again and again, changed with the perspective of time and alcohol. There would be time for that later.

"Did you have fun?" she asked softly, looking down at the glowing chocolate eyes and reading her answer in their depths.

"I…I have no words for what you have done, how can I…"

"You can stop pushing me away," she said, knowing this probably was not the time for the discussion but a little afraid to leave it any longer. "I know this has been hard, going through everything, trying to figure out where to go, and getting involved in a relationship was probably not the best thing either of us could have done under the circumstances…"

"Sara…" There was a note of fear in the voice, a panic in the soft eyes that looked up at her.

"Stop that," she told him, a little irritated. "Don't go all 'you're going to leave me'. I never said that. I said it wasn't a good plan, not that I was going to go out and do something about it." The sigh of relief was audible and she looked down to reassure herself that he understood.

"I know that I have been behaving badly," he began, trying to dig up all the things he had planned to say to her earlier before her surprise had changed everything.

"Yes, you have," Sara told him bluntly. "I know this is new, and I know what it is like to have to deal with your father's death. When you finally get to the grieving, when you are ready to let go, it's almost like losing him all over again. But you don't have to do it alone. We have each other now. You just have to learn to talk to me, let me know what is going on. God, I know I'm one to talk. I have ruined more relationships because I couldn't let the other person get close to me. Maybe that's it, maybe because I'm seeing it from the other side this time, or maybe because it's more important now, I don't know. All I know is that for once I am ready to fight to make it work, and I guess I don't want you to give up on me."

Ian sat staring at her stunned, trying to process the information through his fogged mind. After a moment, Sara reached out and shook him a little. "Hey, Nottingham." The look he gave her was pure love, almost frightening in its intensity, but she was starting to get used to it. "I know it's too late for this kind of crap, but just promise me that you'll stop trying to go through it all on your own, that you won't push me away."

"I promise, Sara," he said as he laid his head in her lap. She ran her fingers through his long hair, listening to the sigh of pleasure that came from deep inside. She felt his hand sliding up, caressing her gently, taking her thoughts away from relationships, or problems, or anything but the man in front of her. "You have done so much for me tonight… what can I do for you in return?" he asked, looking up with just the edge of a wicked smile.

God, she thought vaguely as his hand slipped beneath the robe, easing up the inside of her thigh, when he learns to do something…Thoughts fled as he continued his caress, looking up into her eyes, watching her. "How," she started a little breathlessly. "Where did you learn to do that?" His hands had found a particularly sensitive spot, tracing it with the edge of a fingernail as he lowered his head to nibble the inside of her knee lightly, the slight roughness from his beard bringing a rough edge to the very gentle touch.

"I read… a lot," he whispered against her skin as he continued to kiss his way up her thigh, licking, caressing, enjoying the feel, the taste of her skin, not to mention the warm buzz of her pleasure in his mind. After years of isolation, the reality of his relationship with Sara had been an experience beyond his capacity to image, to even dream.

Sara tried to think about what he said, to respond in any coherent way, but his mouth was doing things to her that made all coherent thought flee. "Ian, I…" she started as she felt the gentle brush of his hand across the thin fabric separating them. She arched up against his touch, reaching down to tangle her fingers in his hair, pull him closer to her. "We should move…"

"Shhhh," he whispered, pulling the sash of the robe slowly, smiling seductively as the fabric slipped open. Ian sat still for a moment, watching her skin glowing with firelight and pleasure. Beneath the robe she was wearing nothing but thin panties, and his pleasure became almost overwhelming. He wanted to throw his plans out the window and draw her down into his lap, onto the floor and ease the ache that was building faster that he thought possible. A swift glance at the expression on her face told him that she was having some of the same ideas. That turned it as he reined in his desires. How much better to make my lovely Sara lose control? he thought as he used one hand to push her back into the chair while his other hand slipped beneath the fabric to continue his caresses.

Sara reached out, trying to pull him closer, trying to get out of the chair, to get her hands on him, but he merely laughed and leaned back out of her grasp, his shoulders pinning her legs to the large chair, allowing her very little movement. She struggled a little, but just the look in his dark eyes, the heat, was enough to melt her resistance. Leaning back in the chair she closed her eyes, and abandoned herself to the promise they held.

Reaching for her, Ian knew that he had won at least for the moment. Her knees still pinned to the chair, he leaned further, as if he meant only to lay his head in her lap, but Sara knew better and she shivered in anticipation. Sara squirmed beneath the gentle brush of his lips, and wondered at the hidden sensualist that she had released.

With movement so swift and gentle that it was barely visible, Ian relieved Sara of what little clothing remained, and focused himself completely on her, her feel, her taste, her smell. She squirmed under his touch, soft sounds of pleasure giving way to cries as she found herself completely lost in his touch. The spreading heat was almost unbearable, and yet he did not stop or even slow. He lost himself completely to the new discovered desires that had so long been denied him.

"Ian…" she cried out. She could not stand it anymore, she locked her hands in his hair, trying to pull him away. Not that she wanted him to stop, but she wanted to continue somewhere else, where she could touch him. Sara ached to feel him, his skin against hers, run her fingers through his silky hair. "Please." She tugged at his hair a little, trying to pull him away from the sweet torment he was inflicting upon her.

"Oh?" he whispered a silky growl in his throat. "Do you wish me to stop?" He blew the words softly over her damp, sensitive skin and watched as she shivered.

"No, I want you to continue, but not here…the bed…" Sara tried to string together words that made sense to her desire sodden brain.

"Perhaps." He said, sliding his fingers back up the inside of her thighs. "In time…" The soft laughter in the back of his voice told her that she was not going to get away so easily. Ian looked her deliberately in the eyes, as he lowered his head slowly back to her warm waiting flesh.

Sara gasped as he continued to tease her, with slow kisses, up to her center and back down again, ever closer to her center. Just when she thought she could take no more, that he would taunt her until her brain leaked out her ears, he traced his tongue across her, bringing her right to edge and pushing her over before she even realized it. Her breath was still harsh, blood singing in her ears when Ian pulled away from her.

She opened her eyes trying to focus. He had a wicked smile on his face but his eyes glowed gold in the fire light, like a jungle cat. He rose quickly, lifting her along into his arms while she was still trying to find her breath. Ian had her in his arms and across the room in mere seconds, laying her down gently on the soft covers. Sara grabbed out as he moved away, grabbing a handful of his shirt and pulling him down to meet her. The night was far from over, and even in her pleasure fogged brain, she was determined to make it last as long as possible.

Hmmm, I could get used to this, Sara thought as she woke up curled next to Ian, his warm body half draped over her almost protectively. Today, the big day. As much as she would love to be there for him, it had been decided that it was best if she went to work as usual and was no where near that press conference. The last thing that they needed was a reporter getting even a hint of their relationship. It was going to be hard, for both of them but she knew there was nothing she could do about it. At least he had his friends, his comrades, or whatever. Kind of like me and Danny I suppose, or maybe that's how they used to be, how it is supposed to be.

"Hey Sara," Ian said, leaning his shaggy dark head into her thoughts. There was a smile on his face and he seemed to be a little calmer, a little more peaceful than before.

"Hey Ian," she answered, feeling warm and comfortable after last night. She knew the problems weren't over, that would be too simple and mystical connections and all that crap might help smooth the way, but they weren't going to make their relationship just magically perfect. No relationship was perfect, Sara was well aware of that, but maybe just maybe this one was worth making the effort. Hard to believe that two weeks ago she had considered him just this side of enemy, and a few weeks before that she had never even heard of him. Not that he was the first guy she has just fallen madly into bed with, but this was different. She looked into those dark eyes smiling down at her…Yeah, this is definitely different, she thought as she leaned into his arms and stretched a little. "Feeling a little better this morning?" she asked.

"A little," he admitted. "It is not going to be easy. I…I wish we could just…go away somewhere and forget it all, Vorschlag, the NYPD, the Witchblade, all of it. But it is not that easy, I cannot just walk away from everything and neither can you. And I will not do it without you."

Sara was shocked by the admission. It was hard to believe she was actually hearing him talk about throwing it all away, about running away from it all. Ever since she had known him he was all about duty, now it seemed that even that was changing.

"Perhaps it is just the press conference; I admit I am not comfortable. I am feeling…vulnerable, exposed."

"Yeah, I know. I kind of have an idea about that, if you're interested."

"I am always interested in your ideas, Sara."

It took a while after Sara explained her idea to Ian for the necessary things and people to be assembled. Sara sighed and thanked her good luck that she did not have to be at work until noon. While they waited, Ian told her of his offer to Mobius and the rest of the former black dragons.

"Are you sure that is such a good idea?" she asked. There were flashes in her head, the kind of quick, instinctual impressions that had started with the Witchblade, but some how ended in her own head and heart, like the visions were twined in and out with her own memories and experiences, or those of the other wielders.

Mobius threatening her with a flame thrower, pain, she could feel the pain rising up from him, from his head. Madness, monkeys in a cage, flashes of the strobe light. Ian in convulsions on the floor of a dirty van. Men in fatigues, crouched in a dark jungle. Mobius and a hairless Ian buried in a sandy bunker in the desert. A laboratory, with Dr. Immo and men she had never scene. Video images that burned and caught fire.

"Sara?" Ian asked, as he leaned over her. The vision had struck very fast and then vanished before he could get more than a brief glance. He had just enough of it to understand she was seeing things from his past. It concerned him a little. There were things in his past that were best left there.

"Nothing, I… I'm really not sure what it was about," she said, deciding that this was not the best time to try to work it out. "Now, about Mobius and them, how do you know you can trust them?"

"Sara, I cannot really explain. It would be…" Ian stopped for a moment, trying to find the proper analogy to make her understand. "If you had lost Danny, and had a chance to bring him back, to make things right, nothing would stop you would it?"

"No, but I'm not sure…"

"Sara, it is exactly the same. I need to do this."

"Do you think they'll take it? I mean, they seemed a little reluctant at first." Sara tried to put her misgivings aside. She knew how much last nights visit had meant to him and she was not sure how he would feel if they rejected him. They sat in silence for a time, enjoying breakfast, waiting for the next crisis, the next interruption. Sara leaned over and laid her head on Ian's shoulder, just a few minutes of peace before the world crept in again.

Hector Mobius waited while the maid put down the new pot of coffee and left the room before speaking. All night he had been thinking, about Ian's offer, about what it would mean to him, to all of them. He was offering them an opportunity to return to some kind of normal life. While Mobius himself had given up long ago on such things, it was not fair to deny them to his men. If Ian could find his life again, in spite of his father, of everything he had been through, then surely there was hope for Green and McGill. Maybe even for you? A soft voice whispered in the back of his mind. Could there be another…For a brief moment the room faded and he could see Khadijah, sitting as he had last seen her, in the front room of her mother's house, tears shining in her soft brown eyes. He shook his head to clear it, to try to forget. It does not do to dwell on the past, he reminded himself.

"This place is pretty awesome," Green commented as he poured himself another cup of coffee and reached for another piece of bacon. "I could get used to living like this."

"There is that possibility, yes." Mobius said quietly. The other two stopped eating immediately to look at their commanding officer. The quiet in the room was sudden and complete. McGill had a piece of toast half way to his mouth and Green was looking into his coffee cup as if he could find the future in it.

"What're you talking about?" McGill said, the first to find his voice.

"Yeah, and a straight answer would be nice for once."

It took a moment for Mobius to find the words he wanted. How to express Ian's offer to them in the best possible way? They were all tired, tired of running from everything, the feds, the law, even themselves. Ian was offering them a new chance, a new life. But would they be willing to take it from him? "Ian would like us to stay on."

"What, you mean like guests? I don't do char…" Green started angrily. Mobius looked at him. Green had been the last one to accept Ian. A hard young man from a not particularly pleasant part of New York, he gave his trust sparingly and cautiously. He was brash and outgoing, reluctant to accept the quiet, shy young man with the martial prowess and he had been the hardest hit when Ian had left. But that would be for the two of them to work out between them.

"He is not offering charity." Mobius cut him off.

"What is he offering?" McGill asked.

"A chance?"

"Plain English, LT? Remember it?" Green smarted off, obviously trying to figure out what was up.

"He is taking over from his father, and he wants us on board to take over his security team. Is that plain enough for you? Now that Irons is gone, he will be a target for everyone who wants a shot at him. What he wants is for his brothers to join him, stand with him now that he has to expose himself to the full light of day."

"His father, man, that still wierds me out." McGill grabbed another cup of coffee, trying to cover his thoughts with action. "And what is with that chick? She is pretty tough. Never thought he had the balls for it. He always seemed so focused."

"That chick, as you call her, has been a part of Ian's life for a very long time."

"What, the girlfriend he had way back when? No way…"

"The world has changed, he has changed, and now…"

"Now he wants to balance the books and get us off his conscience, is that it?" Green asked. He wanted to be angry, they could both see it in his eyes, but at the same time like them, he also wanted to believe. No more running, stealing, hiding, no more hurting, feeling split in two. They could have a life, the possibility of a future that did not involve living on the fast track straight to the grave. Someone had turned on the light at the end of the tunnel and this time it was not an oncoming train.

"Do you really believe that is all Ian wants?" Mobius turned his dark eyes toward the two of them. He held them both with his gaze for a long moment, before returning to his own breakfast.

"So, what's it pay?"

When the knock came Sara was sitting sideways in the big wingchair while a fussy little man bustled around Ian in front of the fire. They both looked up as Wilson admitted the three Dragons.

"Hey Ian, what's with the new threads? Finally decided to take some fashion advice?" Green said as he circled his former comrade with a big grin. Ian tried to turn but the little man tugged at him and pulled him back into position.

"From you, no."

"Please Mr. Nottingham, if you want this done quickly, you must stand still. Just like when you were a boy, never could stop fidgeting and now instead of ordering a nice new suit, you have me…." His voice trailed off as he stuck a pin in his mouth although they could still hear indistinct muttering from time to time as he scuttled around adjusting here and there.

"So what are you trying to do, play dress up?" McGill asked. Mobius merely stood back and watched.

"It was Sara's idea," he said lamely as he stood ill at ease beneath the tailor's flapping.

"And a fine idea it was too," Mobius said, speaking for the first time, his deep voice cutting through the tension in the room. "The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are."

"Ah, but I hold a gentleman to be the best dressed whose dress on one observes," Ian replied with a smile. The simple game of quotes with Mobius was familiar and comfortable. It reminded him of his father, standing before the fire in his own room, while Mr. Cohen tailored the latest in a long line of power suits, one of which he was now refitting for Ian's frame. Sara's idea was sound, he knew that, but the suit felt strange, too tight. He felt exposed without the bulky layers of his usual attire. There was no place to properly hide much in the way of weapons and the jacket restricted his movement a bit. Irons was accustomed to it and the suits where fitted to make it necessary, but in having to fit it for him lost him a certain amount of movement. He twisted a little trying not to think about his father standing there, to concentrate on the game and not the memory of the first time he had been fitted for a suit under Irons' strict eye.

"A sense of being…"

"Alright, knock it off, please or we will have to put up with it all day," McGill broke in. He looked at Sara lounging in the chair and explained. "In training they wanted us to be some kind of scholars of warfare. These two took it a little too seriously, they like to try to out quote each other."

"Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you."

"Awww, come on."

"Finished, now if the other gentlemen are ready?" Mr. Cohen said as he took the pins from his mouth and transferred them to the pin cushion on his arm.

"Us ready, for what?" Talon Green said, looking around in suspicion.

"It's pretty easy, I figure that…" Sara started, speaking for the first time, trying to outline her plan but Mobius cut her off.

"You did not truly believe that Mr. Nottingham would be seen in public with you dressed like that did you?" he said, laughing.

As soon as Ian was finished, Sara gave him a quick kiss, much to the amusement of his comrades and left the room while the blush was still glowing on his face. She had no real desire to be there for the next part of the procedure and the arguments she was sure would follow. There was nothing much she could do with time to kill and a desire to see Ian before she left, Sara tracked down Mrs. Hancock and found out that Gabriel was at the mansion, happily ensconced in his usual spot.

Gabriel had taken to the job like a duck to water. Since they had asked him to help with the research, and the lure of getting his hands on the Irons' artifacts, he had spent a lot of time in the work space set up for him in the gallery. Sara knew that the staff took care of him. She had heard from Ian that Cook had been trilled to have another person to feed up a bit and she had seen for herself the dishes that seemed to surround him when she made the rare foray into that part of the house. Deciding that it beat wandering around the mansion on her own, she told Mrs. Hancock where she was going and braved the twists and turns of the house to find him.

As usual, Gabriel was huddled in front of his computer, a coffee cup in his hand, the music turned to earsplitting volume and a pile of books littering the table around him. There was the usual tray of half eaten food on a table behind him and he seemed lost in whatever bit of esoterica he had found this time. So far none of it had been anything useful, but the last time she had been by he told her he thought he was on to something interesting. Now seemed as good a time as ever to see how it was going.

Sneaking up on Gabriel was not exactly her intension, but with the stereo blasting out something that would have probably been vaguely familiar if it was not causing auditory numbness, there was not a lot of choice. "Hey Gabriel," she hollered, trying to be heard as she walked up behind him. "Yo, Bowman!" she shouted, her voice echoing as the music suddenly disappeared.

"Hey Sara, you don't have to shout," the young man said with a grin. He was wearing a tee-shirt with the saying half worn off under a paisley shirt that looked like it had gone to the original Woodstock. Both looked like they had been slept in or probably more accurately failed to be slept in. Gabriel himself was a little grey around the edges and his usually smooth face was showing what might have been a hint that he gave up shaving. Of course, Sara thought, on him it looks more like the guys in high school who were trying to prove they had something there to shave.

"I'll stop shouting when I can hear again, got some more of that coffee?" she asked pointing to the mug in his hand. "And where did you swipe the mug, all I get is fancy china cups?"

"Coffee's in the pot, and I guess they like me more. Hey, have I got something to show you. You are not going to believe what I dug up. Actually I'm waiting on an email from a friend of a friend, but that is kind of a different thing. Not really different, more like a sideline, but anyway…."

"Whoa, too much caffeine, not enough sleep. Care to slow down and start from the beginning for those of us still joining the waking world?" she asked as she snagged one of the spare mugs off the tray and filled it with coffee. The staff must have figured that the best way was to leave him an assortment of mugs and sneak the dirties away with the dishes because there three mugs on the tray and she could not see anyone in the house except maybe Ian braving the music to spend time with her friend. Even she had only done so a couple of times, all those images in the hall wierded her out, seeming to whisper to her as she passed along the corridor to Gabriel's confiscated hideaway. She wondered briefly what Irons thought of the loud music, if his ghost wandered down here only to be driven back by the wall of sound. The mental picture was almost enough to make her laugh out loud.

Mug in hand she dragged a chair over and fell into it while Gabriel did some fast typing on the keyboard, presumably looking for that e-mail. "OK, what's so amazing and why haven't you come and told us about it?"

"Well, I haven't come and told you because I am still working on it, and it is not really amazing, but it is definitely interesting. Ok, long story. I found this book…"

"Gabriel, there are about a million books in this house, probably a more than a few hundred right here, be a little more specific."

"Hey, chill and let me finish. Ok, I was looking through cataloging the books. You know, what's in 'em, value, whether or not they are something important or something that can wait, that kind of thing. Anyway, this one I found kind of buried on the shelf between a couple of others, kind of pushed to the back. I figured as neat and lined up as everything is, it can't be a coincidence. Anyway it turns out to be a kind of combination geneology/journal thing. It was started about a hundred and fifty years ago by a man named Thomas…care to guess what his last name was?" Sara looked over at Gabriel. His brown eyes were dancing like a little kid trying to keep a secret and almost bursting with it.

"Well," she said slowly, letting him enjoy the moment, although she was still in the dark about where this was going. "I am going to guess that it isn't Irons?"

"Nope, Thomas Nottingham."

"Whoa, as in Ian?" she said, nearly spilling her coffee on her.

"Yeah, like that. Thomas wrote down a bunch of family stories, stories about how his ancestors were connected to this object of power, the Witchblade, and how they had watched over it for centuries. It gets kind of complicated, and this old writing is not exactly clear but I am still running through the family tree he made and trying to get all I can. Anyway, when Thomas died, his son took it over, although he did not seem to do much put add to the family tree and make a few cryptic notes that are illegible at best…Anyway, nothing much happens for a while, except for additions to the family tree, kind of like a family bible and the brief mention of the church putting it in the way of a couple of women… then in 1941, all of a sudden it starts up again. There are notes about the 'blade being transferred to Berlin, and the writer noted that he was going to do his duty. He never took up the journal again, the next reference is by someone else, saying that the 'blade was in the hands of a true Wielder, Elizabeth Bronte, the rest is a little strange, something about bloodlines, and someone else picking up what was lost, there is some damage to that section and all the ink is blurry, but one thing is clear, the name of the writer…"

"Ok, waiting for the other shoe here," Sara said as she tapped her fingers on her mug. A hundred questions were chasing there way through her brain, she kept wanting to ask things but Gabriel was talking to fast and there were little voices, little whispers in the back of her head telling her that she knew all this, that she could see it. It was almost like a vision except that it never completely formed, only hovered there, like a mosquito she knew was going to bite her but that she just couldn't manage to slap away.

"The guy's name was John Nottingham. Now I thought the coincidence was too much, you know, John/Ian?" Sara looked at him blankly, she thought there was something she should know here besides the last name but she was drawing a blank. "John and Ian, they are the same name," Gabriel explained slowly, with a teasing small.

"Ok, I get it, so who is this guy, what do we know about him? Is he still alive, and what is his connection to Ian? Some kind of Uncle or something?" she asked. Sara felt a little thrill running through her. Not only had the Black Dragons some home to roost or whatever it was that dragons did, but with nothing but luck she may have a line on some more family. At the very least maybe they would know something. At the moment, neither she nor Ian even knew where he got his name, maybe there was an answer here.

"Well, he was a British businessman, finance, investment banking, that kind of thing, old established family, all the right schools, all the money in the world. But he died back in the sixties. I did some research and there were a few articles, an obituary, some photos. Bad news is this stuff is too old to have made it onto the web yet, but I know someone who knows someone who is scanning them in, that is the e-mail I am waiting. Also I am trying to trace what became of the company. Most of the traces disappear in late '69, early '70. I am also waiting for more biographical data. The name Nottingham is not that unusual, neither is the name John, so without doing a county by county…"

A beep interrupted him as a mail icon appeared in the corner of the laptop in front of him. Gabriel broke off to check it, while Sara got up to refill her mug. It was like information overload, all of a sudden there was some new person in the picture, but who was he and what did he have to do with Nottingham, and with Irons? She took a big gulp of coffee while she tried to consider what it all meant.

"Holy Shiiii…." Gabriel whistled suddenly causing her to almost spill the cup. "Uh, Sara, you need to see this. Like Now!"

Sara leaned over his shoulder to look, not even bothering to return to her chair. The article appeared to be an obituary, and as she leaned over, Gabriel scrolled down to show her what had caught his eye. The photograph was grainy, obviously old and not incredibly clear, but she could still make out the familiar figure of Kenneth Irons, icy face, impeccable suit, arrogant posture, looking almost identical to the day she killed him. Next to him, closest to the camera, a dark shadow, black hair, black suit, and although there was no beard, he could almost be a copy of Ian, although his features were a little harsher. Or any of the black dragons you just left playing dress up with the tailor, I guess, she thought, wonder if he ordered them to spec? But none of that was as startling as the remaining figure. Centered in the picture, clinging to the arm of Kenneth Irons was a woman. Her age was indeterminate in the grainy photograph, and Irons was holding a hand up to ward the camera away from her, but it was there, the same eyes, peering over the protective hand as she tried to pull a pair of shades up and leaned on his arm, as was the hair, falling in gentle waves from beneath the black hat, dark in the picture and probably in life. She was not a tall woman, and it was hard to tell much from the picture, but somehow Sara knew. "Who…who is she?" she asked, her voice coming out a haunted whisper as she felt the jolt, the same one she had felt when she had inadvertently opened Ian's old wound, when she had asked about his mother.

"According to the caption, her name is Johanna Nottingham, and she was John Nottingham's daughter. What do you…"

"That is Ian's mother," she said with quiet certainty.

There was a moment of silence as the two of them stared at the grainy old photograph. Sara wondered what she had been like. She could still remember the little vision she had before, Irons holding the baby Ian, telling them not to mention her again. She looked at the picture again, the young woman clinging to Irons' arm as if the were the only thing stable in an uncertain world. "Well, the picture is from '68, John Nottingham's funeral. Look at Irons', he looks like he wants to hurt something. Ok, here is the rest, the obituary. Let's see…John Nottingham, graduated Oxford, served with the Foreign Office in World War II…Ok, says here his wife died in '49, survived by a daughter, Johanna Evelyn Nottingham, nothing else here of interest." Sara sat for a moment, trying to figure out what she was going to do next. "You want me to see what I can find out about Johanna Nottingham? If you think she is Ian's mom, why don't you just ask him?"

"Because he doesn't know anything, Irons wouldn't tell him. Try to see what else you can dig up. Does it mention who the other man is?"

"Nope, looks a lot like Ian though," he said, studying the other figure. "Probably some kind of bodyguard, or something, he isn't mentioned in the caption so they must not have thought he was important."

"Probably, he does have that look."

"Hey, you don't think…" Gabriel said slowly, studying the picture more carefully.

"What?"

"He looks an awful lot like Ian, a lot more than Irons does." Sara thought about it for a moment. Irons had said that Ian was his son, certainly Ian believed it. The doctor and Wilson had both testified to it, but maybe they both had a reason to lie. Maybe they thought after all these years he deserved something. Sara thought that he deserved the truth and she was going to find it for him herself.

"Ok, Gabriel, don't tell anyone about this yet. Do me a favor, get me anything you can dig up on Johanna Nottingham, and make me a copy of that picture. I think need to go ask a few questions."

"You got it, chief," he said, turning back to the computer. "You know me, I can keep my mouth shut when I have to."

"Wilson, how do I get in touch with Dr. Immo?" Sara asked the older man. She did not want to have to ask Ian, and surely as long as he had been here, he would know. Most of all, Sara wanted to know if they had lied, and why.

Wilson looked startled for a brief moment, before his usual neutral expression took over. He did not completely trust the old Doctor, in spite of years of acquaintance and he was concerned. "Are you ill, Miss Sara?" he asked, trying to keep his disquiet to himself.

"No, nothing wrong with me, I just have some questions. Maybe you can help?"

"If I can," he responded cautiously.

"Ok, do you know who this man is?" she asked, trying to be casual and not act like she was interrogating a suspect. It was hard, Sara tended to open her mouth first and deal with the fall out later. She handed him the picture that Gabriel had printed for her. It was still grainy, very little that even his expensive computer equipment could do to fix to a thirty-some year old newspaper photograph. He had managed to blow it up though; she could see clearly the young woman who looked a bit like Ian, clinging to Irons' like a jumper clinging to the bridge railing, and behind them the other man, the one who also looked a bit like Ian.

Wilson was startled by the picture. He remembered it, but did not know how Sara had come upon it. It had been a long time, and there were questions, questions that had been waiting for a long time, questions that even now, he was not sure it was his place to answer, or even if he could after so long. He nodded, all the while keeping up the masque of neutrality. "His name was Renfrew, James Renfrew. He was the head of security and Mr. Irons' personal bodyguard for years."

"And now?" she asked, a little impatiently.

"He died, shortly after Mr. Nottingham came home from the service. He was killed in an attempt on Mr. Irons' life."

"Ok, I understand that, now for the twenty five thousand dollar question…Is he Ian's father?"

Wilson was startled and angered by the question, and turned sharply on Sara. "Miss Pezzini, Detective Pezzini, Mr. Irons' was his father. Regardless of what you may or may not believe, it is the truth. Why you persist in looking for someone else who does not exist I do not know. Jaime was a friend, a mentor. He taught Ian everything he needed to know to do his job well and safely. Was he his father? No, but he would like to have been, would have been proud of him. But Kenneth Irons was his father, there was no other, and regardless of how you would like to cast him as the villain in this piece, he loved his son. Not the way in which most people do, perhaps, not as well as anyone would have liked, but he did. He understood the connections. Everything is connected, Miss, and you would do well to remember that. Now if you will excuse me…" It was the longest speech she had ever heard from the man, and certainly more emotion than she had expected of him. He turned on his heel and started to walk away, leaving her standing shocked in the hallway.

"Wilson, wait…please." Sara realized that she had really stuck her foot in it this time. These people meant a lot to Ian and here she was fighting with them already. Wilson turned back towards her and waited for her to continue, but his look was still hard and cautious. "I just wanted to help Ian, he is so lost. I wanted to find him something, some kind of past. I'm sorry; I'm not good at these things. I thought if I could find him some family, alive…"

The old man nodded. He understood now and her heart was in the right place, although her methods were somewhat aggressive and hard to fathom. He knew he should tell her more, give her something to keep her from bungling on alone, but he could not bring himself to do it, not yet. "In the future, if you would please bring what you find to me first, I would appreciate it. It will save from further misunderstandings."

"Can't you just tell me what I need to know?"

"I don't think so, not yet. It is not my story to tell and I have kept it for too long. Maybe…in time?" Sara nodded. It seemed that some secrets in this house were still too painful, and she knew all about hiding from pain. "I will tell you this, that woman in the photo is Miss Johanna. She was Ian's mother."

"I figured that. She…er….she died, didn't she?"

"Yes, on the day he was born." The words were raw and painful, and Sara turned away. She could remember the pain in her father's voice, and how they had avoided talking about her after she died because the hurt was too close. Maybe she could understand Irons a little bit, and that thought scared her more than anything else.

Ian checked the monitor and took another deep breath. Leaving the house this morning had been perhaps the hardest thing he had ever done. Watching Sara ride away on her Buell while the limo warmed behind him, all he wanted to do was be on that bike with her. Instead he gritted his teeth and stepped into the car with his comrades for the long ride into the city to face the piranha.

"Ready for your close up, Mr. Nottingham?" Green teased as Ian tried to sit patiently beneath the stylist's ministrations. The younger man shot him a dirty look as Mobius came around from the other side.

"McGill has everything set up," he said, a tacit reminder of the task of the moment. He handed a wireless earpiece to each of them and waited for them to put them on. It took Ian a moment to manage getting it in without upsetting the young woman who was making him "presentable". It was irritating; he did not possess his father's talent for dealing with people. For the most part, he tried not to think about it and just wish it was over. With the earpiece in it was much easier. He listened to the familiar background sounds of security sweeps and set ups. He could visualize the room, deliberately small to keep the reporters as cramped and uncomfortable as possible, minimizing their desire to stay and shortening the need for these little exercises. He has turned McGill loose with the electronic security. He had a deep love for electronic gadgets and gizmos and had always been the member of the team who had excelled with everything from hi tech surveillance gear to old fashioned radio operations. At the moment he was keeping an eye on the reporters as they milled around outside, waiting for the conference to begin.

"All quiet out here so far. Most of these guys look like they haven't lifted anything more strenuous than a pencil in years," McGill's voice came derisively. "The camera men are a little different, not very happy about having their equipment messed with, but they decided that they preferred it to being shown the door. Your guys are good, Nottingham. Not as good as I am, but good."

"In your dreams, fish boy," Green shot back good naturedly. The half forgotten but still familiar camaraderie made him smile, made it a little easier to face up to what he was about to do. Finally the girl announced that she was done and Ian looked into the mirror and grimaced.

"The best way to disguise yourself is to look like what people expect you to be," Mobius reminded him, a little reminder of their infiltration training. It was logical but it did not help the stranger who was peering back at him from the mirror.

"I look like….I…" Like you are Kenneth Irons' son? Some strange voice whispered into his ear. Or at least that is what you are trying for. Yes, he reminded himself, but does it have to be so….

"Incoming." The voice over the receiver warned Ian that the time for thinking was over. Now was the time for action. He stood up and was straightening his jacket when the head of PR came bustling over to him only to have his way blocked by the two large ex-dragons.

"I…ah…We are just…Mr…" he sputtered, looking from one to the other and then to Nottingham, who smiled at him which did not make it any better.

"I trust that everything is as I required?" Ian asked sharply. They could almost hear Irons whispering through his quiet voice.

"Yes, if you would just…" the nervous man waved in the direction of the door and Ian nodded. Green took point, Ian and the PR man following, with Mobius on rear guard. Some things had not changed. They entered the room through a back door close to the podium. Green placed himself to the left while Mobius took the other side. Scanning the room, Ian could feel them at his back, see McGill just inside the other door, the door through which their guests had entered, a hand held scanning device in one hand, and one suspicious eye on the read out, the other on the room. It was reassuring to be surrounded by his old comrades; it made it much easier even without his father or Sara at his side. He saw Green tug subtly at his tie while Mobius stood like a Zen rock, his eyes unfocused on the room around him. Ian knew that look, knew that his old commander was in his zone, like any good spotter completely attune to everything that Ian was doing. He took a deep breath and waited for his intro.

"Ladies and Gentleman of the press," the agent said as he began the intro. "It is with deepest sadness that Vorschlag Industries announces the death of its' founder and President, Mr. Kenneth Irons." Ian heard the words as if he was down a well, his ears full of water. Mr. Kenneth Irons, dead, dead, dead…the words reflected back in his ears like an echo. The room exploded with sound and light, flash bulbs went off; reporters surged forward like a pack of hounds on the scent of a fox, baying and slobbering. McGill leading several other security men moved in to enforce order, as Green and Mobius stepped forward in concert. Very few of the assembled reporters could stand up to the glare of the two men, and went docilely back to their seats although it was clear that they were none to happy with the situation.

The man continued for a few more moments, reading the prepared statement that had been rewritten dozens of times under Ian's impatient control. Now that it was finished it was even possible that the writers down in PR would start breathing again now that they were no longer working under the Dragon's watchful eye. Ian took a moment to center himself. He could feel Mobius, his solid bulk comforting at his back; McGill and Green, seemingly focused on everything else but still aware of every move he made, and even farther away the glowing faint concern and reassurance from his beloved lady. Ian wished desperately that Sara could have been here, waiting with him for the words that would completely change his life forever.

"Mr. Irons has been ill, suffering from a previously undiagnosed disorder…shock brought on by the brutal murder of two executives…had been previously assumed in good health…" Ian marked each point as it passed, ticking down the seconds as they passed far too quickly. "…his son, Mr. Ian…" The room exploded again, reporters trying fighting over one another to get closer. Ian had stepped forward at the sound of his name, feeling like a fool in his remodeled Irons power suit with his hair slicked back in a ponytail. He felt like a dandy, like there was a target on his forehead.

"Mr. Irons, Mr. Irons," they were all shouting. He did not try to dissuade them. Ian raised his hand much as he had seen his father do in the past. Now was the time, the place. He stepped forward to the podium in the now quiet room. Mobius was no longer against the wall but directly behind him along with Green, two paces back, one pace to either side, in a variation of the flying V formation. It was show time.

Ian read the prepared statement, keeping his voice level. It was strange, the feeling that he was taking a step back from everything, allowing the training of a lifetime to take over. When he finished, Ian stepped away from the podium and the insueing pandemonium. He was finished with this dog and pony show. With all the dignity of Kenneth Irons on a bad day, he turned on his heel, his companions behind him and exited the room, leaving the sweating spokesman to deal with the beehive that they had kicked over.

The conference room in the basement of the Vorschlag building was well maintained but old. When the four men entered, it was already more than half-full, men and women lounging around the table with the studied lack of concern on their faces belayed by the watchful tension in their bodies. At Nottingham's appearance they all slid into what were obviously their regular seats. There were nods, a few cautious smiles, even as their leader took his place at the head of the table; the three strangers standing behind him like a well muscled wall.

Ian looked at his staff, the best security money and power could buy, men and women drawn from the military and special operations sections from all over the world, the best of the best. Klein, his second in command, in charge of corporate security, was a veteran of the Mossad, lured away by Irons under circumstances they had never discussed. O'Connor, an Irishman with a background in the IRA, had contacts all over the world in places both legitimate and not. He handled hardware, weaponry, and had sources that had proved quite useful in the past. They were all here, the best in their fields, and now he was going to drop his brothers on his team. He would know in minutes if it was a fit or not.

"You handled that well, Sir," Klein said, speaking up for all of them. He cast a look at the men standing behind his employer. He could guess who they were. Their stance spoke of a military background, the way they clustered defensively around Nottingham told him the rest. They had the same kind of watchfulness, the same stillness that the security chief was known for.

"Thank you," he said briefly. "There are some changes that are going to be necessary, and these gentlemen are going to be helping with that." There were nods around the table, no big surprise to these experienced people.

"And who are they?" O'Connor spoke up, always curious and ever the information gatherer.

"We're his brothers, Mickey boy," said Talon Green. "Need to know more?" He was a little aggressive, but not overly, and the Irishman laughed at him.

"Hector Mobius, Talon Green, Lenox McGill, the rest of the introductions can wait. I have many more details to deal with today." The men nodded at the sound of their names. Already they were more comfortable than they had been in years, in this room full of people that, if they did not know them individually, at least they were the kind of people that were familiar, the kind of people they could be at home with.

"Good enough then, for now. But there's a story in that I'll bet."

"Enough. Klein, Mobius will be taking over my role as head of corporate security. I will rely on you to take him through the details, help him settle in. O'Connor, you and Mendoza…" he indicated the small Hispanic woman sitting at the end of the table. "You will be in charge of getting McGill everything he needs; he will be in charge of electronic security and surveillance." He could feel the excitement building in his companions. Everything they could want, plus being able to put the team back together, to blend his new team with the old. He had never allowed himself to get close to these people, not really, being too afraid that if he did, it would all fall apart and he would be left alone. Now, perhaps he could start to change that.

"Hey, bro, what about me?" Green said from behind him, that teasing big brother look in his face. Ian couldn't help himself; he smiled. The people around the table almost looked shocked, if they had not been so good at keeping it off their faces. Instead there was simply a sub audible change in the collective breath.

"I have not left you out; I want to keep a close eye on you. You will be in charge of security for the mansion, that way any of your little jokes will be on me." Green smiled, and the rest of the room had to smile with him.

"I believe you have left out something quite important," the deep voice of Hector Mobius, speaking for the first time brought everyone's attention to the large man. "Your personal security."

"I am capable of taking care of myself, I don't need…"

"He is right, Sir. You can no longer go around the way you have done in the past. There are those that will not care that Irons is dead, they will only see you as his replacement." Mobius nodded his agreement, deciding at once that he liked the quiet second in command. He had a good eye for the work.

"When I have to make public appearances, I suppose…" Ian said reluctantly.

"I believe that when you were head of security, you were also responsible for Mr. Irons' security?" Mobius asked, accepting the nods around the table as proof. "Then perhaps I should continue to do so as well."

Ian was shocked, looking for the words to tell them that he did not need it, that he could take care of himself. He wanted to be angry at them going over his head like this, but he could not find it in him. As he looked around the room, he found his people nodding in agreement. Ian knew that he had done the right thing bringing his brothers in, but he had not expected the kind of support that he could feel from his team.

"Very well, handle it. I have meetings that I need to attend to." He stood and turned to leave. "I suppose you think it is safe for me to go to my office alone, at least?" he said sarcastically. At the look from Mobius, he left the room, trying to keep the smile off his face. Perhaps it would be best and just maybe he would see just how good his new head of personal security was. With that pleasant thought to guide him, he started making plans that would keep him from running or killing someone through the rest of the meetings.

"That will do," Ian said, rising from the table, startling the speaker almost out of his mind. There are advantages, he thought, to these people who not only recognized him as Irons son, but also from his former life as Irons' implement of death and destruction. When he first took over, some of the older directors, the ones that had known him since he was quite young, had tried the father-figure approach with him, which he had brushed off easily. The younger ones had enough sense to run scared. "We will pick this up tomorrow at 11:00."

"But sir, about…" one of the bolder ones began. Ian looked at him and he trailed off, smart enough to know when to cut his loses.

Checking his watch, Ian left the conference room and headed towards his office. He did not have much time if he was going to put his plan into action.

Once he was behind the closed door of his office he changed quickly into one of the black street outfits that he kept there. Slipping once more into the familiar clothes of his former life, grabbed his old black top coat. This was right, familiar and comfortable, shedding his new skin for the old. He checked his watch, the meeting was supposed to last another half an hour, which meant he had about twenty minutes to make his escape, twenty five if they realized that he had called the meeting early.

Picking up the phone, he called for the limo to meet them at the private entrance in forty-five minutes and told his assistant he was not to be disturbed. Counting off the time in his head, Ian worked out the route and made one last phone call, checking on his brothers, making sure they were still being outfitted and telling him to have them meet him at the car in an hour. There, all my red herrings in place, he thought. Now for the real challenge. Within moments he was out of the office and on his way to the 11th Precinct.

"Pezzini." Sara pulled her cell out as she gave a black look to the pile of papers she had been after all day. Although the paper pushing had served the purpose of keeping her mind off Ian and his troubles, they had left her in a foul mood.

"Hey Sara," Ian said very softly. Even the sound of her growling into the phone brought a smile to his face. He could see her sitting near the window from one of his favorite spots on the roof across the street.

"Are you all right?" she asked. The change in her voice was immediate and obvious, making him feel a spreading warmth that belayed the chill of the winter day. "I was worried."

"I did not mean to cause alarm. It was a difficult day."

"Yeah, no kidding, I saw part of the press conference, they have been showing it all day. At least it worked; they have not made the connection."

"True, but it was odd being called Mr. Irons. Can you leave?"

"I need to finish this report, but after that… I think I can get away. I have some hours I could stand to burn. Where are you?"

"Look out your window." Sara moved the old blind aside and looked out through the waffle patterned security grate and grime covered window. Ian gave her a little wave and a smile.

"What did I tell you about spying on me?"

"Nothing, although we did have a conversation about my 'stalking'," he said. "I have brought you coffee, and at the moment it is getting cold."

"I'll meet you out back in 5 minutes."

It took less than ten minutes for the two of them to be settled in the back of a taxi headed down the West side highway towards Sara's loft. Ian checked his watch carefully, wondering how much ahead of his shadow he was. He tried to reach out but the link was long unused and it took more effort than he expected just to hit a blank wall. He made a note that they should work on that, although at this exact moment it was probably just as well. They arrived at the building and he paid off the cab while Sara opened the door.

"Hey Ian, what's going on? You left this morning in a suit and a limo, with three big guys who were practically glued to you? Now we're in a cab, you've ditched the shadows and you're back to stalker chic. What gives?" Sara had been fighting a little voice all the way from the precinct. She knew there was something not right about Ian's sudden appearance, but after all he had been through today she didn't want to tackle him right off.

"I needed to get away for a little bit, be with you. All the changes, they just got a little overwhelming." He gave her a soulful look and she found herself giving in, just a little.

"Not sure you should be running away so soon," she said, but she smiled as she closed the door behind her and reached out for him.

"I am running away from nothing, I am running towards something." He took Sara in his arms and kissed her, managing to maneuver her in the direction of the bedroom as he did so. "And now, perhaps we can both forget everything for a little while?" She nodded a little as he picked her up and walked through into the bedroom, vaguely kicking the door behind him in passing.

"So where is he?" he asked as they stood beside the sleek, black car. "You don't think that he's run off, do you?"

"I will find him; you continue with your duties. So it is to be a hunt? So be it." He turned, leaving the other two behind. He had a fairly good idea where to find his brother.

"You were all I could think about today," Ian said some time later as he lounged back, tracing a slow trickle of sweat down her bare skin. The two of them lay naked in the dark apartment, the sheets twisted at the foot of the bed, scattered clothes bearing witness to their earlier haste.

"Yeah, right. I don't believe you." Sara was on her back, enjoying the warmth and relaxation. It had been better, much better. Ian seemed a little more rested, or at least not as frenetic as he had been for the past week. He really seemed to be trying not to fall back into that pit.

"How do you think I made it through all of that? I thought about you, how important it was for us…how beautiful you look naked with your hair tousled…" He trailed off as he laid a kiss on her stomach, he eyes burning amber in the dim light from the street below.

Sara groaned and pushed him back a little. "We should get some dinner before you start distracting me like that again." Damn he has come so far, she thought as she tried to get up.

"Coffee?" he asked as he slid off the end of the bed and hunted around for his pants.

"Always, let me grab a shower and we can order."

"Very well, are you sure that you do not want me to come help you?"

"I do, but then we will never get food, maybe after dinner…is anyone expecting you?"

"I am free this evening."

Sara stepped out of the shower and wrapped herself in a robe before heading into the other room. Ian met her with a kiss and a cup of coffee. "You are spoiling me. I could get used to this."

"I hope to make myself indispensable, what would you like to eat?" Ian had already pulled the stack of delivery menus from the drawer by the phone and handed them to her as they both migrated to the sofa. The two of them jostled a little over what and where to order from, while passing them back and forth. Suddenly Ian went on alert. Sara knew that look, but the Witchblade remained peaceful on her arm. She followed his glance and saw a shadow on the fire escape outside the living room window.

It was chilly outside the window. Ian stepped out onto the iron platform, feeling the wind blow, remembering how many nights he had spent out here, cold and alone before he found Sara. "What are you doing here, my brother?" he addressed the still, silent figure standing with his back to the window.

"The task which you yourself gave me when you decided to bring us in out of the cold," he answered, his voice hard with disapproval.

"I believe that you took on that task yourself, Moby. I was perfectly content to be without a bodyguard."

"The world has changed. Do you think that just because they call you Mr. Irons, and you wear his clothes that the disguise will last forever? And what of those that hunt your beloved? What will you do now that you can no longer spend your time protecting her?"

"I...I am not sure. It seems that everything is changing, that if I could just hold it off one more day," Ian said, trying to find a way through the questions that had slipped out from behind the façade of calm he had maintained all day.

"We will find a way, I am certain that a means can be devised..."

"But can you find a method to replace the loss of my anonymity? Our freedom? You are correct, the deception will not last forever, and even if it does, they will be paying more attention to me than ever before. How will I manage to keep myself and Sara out of the spot light?"

"I take it that she would be reluctant to move to the mansion?" In spite of being both a poet and a romantic, the large man was quick to grasp the practicalities.

"We are too new as a couple and she loves her freedom too much. I would not ask it of her, not yet." Mobius nodded, trying to think of something to help his brother. They stood there for a moment, sharing the silence.

"These things will not be settled tonight, Ian. Go back inside and enjoy your time with your lady. Tomorrow is soon enough to find a way through this."

"How long have you been out here?" Ian asked with sudden, embarrassing clarity.

"I found an adequate but unobtrusive look out from the roof across the street. I only moved in closer when I saw the light go on in the living room." Ian blushed but gave his brother a grateful smile.

Suddenly the window opened behind them. "If you are going to stand out there and talk all night, I'm going to order a pizza and let you starve." Ian turned from his friend to climb back in the window, leaving Mobius to continue his vigil on the fire escape.

"So that is what happened today, he appointed himself as guard dog and you slipped the leash?" Sara asked, handing the menu to him as he followed her over to the couch.

"Sara, I am hardly…"

"You don't like being followed, do you?" She asked with a little smile. "Someone knowing your every move? You are used to being the one doing the tailing, not being tailed."

"No, I do not. I suppose this is how you felt when I was watching?"

"More or less, I start by getting mad though. I was pretty steamed when I realized that he was out there. Then I thought about it, and realized he was here for you. I guess it made me think about how this must be for you. Besides, now that you are the boss, you get the stalker."

"This does not mean that I will stop looking out for you Sara," Ian said, not wanting her to think that she was going to be able to change his mind about being her protector, that was more important than anything, than Vorschlag itself.

"You know what; it has been a long, tough day for both of us, at the end of a long tough couple of weeks. I don't want to fight with you, especially since this evening started so well, why don't I get dressed, you order enough for your friend out there, and then invite him in to join us. I have a feeling that the romantic part of the night has pretty much ended."

It took a while to convince Moby that he could both keep a secure eye on the two of them, and still eat dinner but he finally succeeded and when Sara reemerged they were in a heated debate over whether they should have Indonesian or Lebanese, each with a menu in his hand extolling his particular choice. The comfortable squabbling between the two of them increased her estimation and her happiness at the big man's presence. She took the decision away from them both as she pulled out a menu from a different and more generic middle eastern deli and left as the two of them planned to order enough food for an army. Good thing I like this stuff, I am going to be eating leftovers for a while.

It did not take long after the food arrived for Sara to revise her opinion. The two dragons had been more than happy to polish off a mountain of falafel, and couscous along with shawrma, beef kebabs, and enough pita loaded with baba ganouch and hummus to feed several third world countries. By the time they got to the honey cakes, mamoul with pistachios, and rosewater pastries, she was not sure if she needed to be impressed or slightly ill. It was nice to see Ian relax a little. Mobius, who she still had trouble picturing as a "Moby", seemed to treat him as some kind of little brother when he managed to forget that he was now Ian's bodyguard. Sara was surprised at how much she enjoyed herself especially knowing that the peace could be so fragile. The two men helped her get all the empty food containers into the trash and Mobius even took the trash down while she and Ian finished the last bit of cleaning. Something about having a regular boyfriend seemed to have her actually paying a little more attention to the condition of the apartment, although it was probably motivated by lack of space than actual interest in cleaning. Besides, if anything, now she was even shorter on time, so the phrase "clean as you go" had a lot more motivation than usual.

"I will go and bring the car around," Mobius said when he returned.

"What, not going to check the stairwells and the elevator for hidden assassins?" Sara said, sarcastically.

"I will attend to that on my way down, before I survey the block and the adjoining roofs," he said with a smile and closed the door behind him.

"He's not serious, is he?" she asked, wondering how she would explain if someone asked her why there was someone checking out the buildings security. As a cop, those questions usually ended up at her door.

"Do not worry, he can be very subtle. He found the best places to watch your apartment with little effort." He came around to the couch and pulled her into his arms. Even though time was short, he wanted to stay until the very last instant.

"Yeah, I have always wanted to know how you did that myself."

"If you do not mind a quick trip up to the roof, I can show you."

"What about Mobius?"

"He was trying to be considerate, Sara. He will wait. Besides, it is a beautiful view at night." He took Sara's hand and led her toward the door, grabbing his coat on the way out. They climbed up the last flight of stairs to the roof and Ian opened the door with a bit of effort against the wind. The air was cool, crisp in that way that only a New York fall can be as it slides towards winter and snow. Ian took his coat and draped it over Sara's shoulders to keep her warm even though the large garment hung down to the tops of her tennis shoes. She smiled gratefully at him and slipped her arms into the sleeves and her hands into the cavernous pockets. "Here, Sara, let me show you my world."

The city winked out bellow them jewel bright and full of the blinking of shop lights on the street, the blue ambient glow of televisions and computer screens flickering beyond hundreds of windows and traffic on the street. Sara tried to remember the last time she had come up to the roof to sit, a year, two? She looked across the street in front of her building. Mobius had found parking for the nondescript black sedan that was no doubt de rigeur for stalkers and other kinds of nocturnal predators. Although in this case the predator had turned out to be a pussy cat…well, not a pussy cat exactly. She knew that he was extremely dangerous, lethal in ways she still had yet to discover. But she also knew he would never hurt her, not intentionally anyway.

"You see, Sara, from here you can see everything without being seen. There is a kind of safety in these shadows," he said wistfully and she knew that it was another kind of shadow he was thinking about, the shadow of his father that had hidden him so long. Looking down, she could see what he meant. It was as if the two of them were the only ones in the world, hidden from the people on the street and in the surrounding apartments. There was a sense of invisibility and power that startled her. It was exhilarating and a little frightening, was this how he felt when he was up here watching the world? She looked around and saw all the people living their regular lives behind panes of glass, unaware that she was there. How lonely, she thought, suddenly, soberly. There was power and intimacy, but there was also distance, always being set apart. That was what Irons wanted for Ian, but she had never really understood how deeply it must have affected him, to stay and watch other people's lives and never be a part of it. "From here I could watch you through the sky light with comfort. There is another place, over there," he pointed to the roof of the building across the street. "I believe that is where Mobius was, until he felt it safe to come closer."

"How do you know that, did you share stalker secrets of the neighborhood or something?" She asked, it coming out a little more bitterly than she though it would. Suddenly the whole situation was starting to set off her creep o meter.

"Because it is where I would have been," he said simply. He had obviously picked up on her upset and was trying not to let it bother him. For that she was grateful and leaned against him to reassure him, her hands playing restlessly with the junk in his pockets, a couple pieces of paper, felt like, and something that she was pretty sure was a bullet in the other pocket that she really did not want to know about, along with the usual pocket lint, although less of that than she would have expected and one of those wrapped peppermints that had come with the check when they had eaten together a couple nights ago, probably pocketed absentmindedly for later. She shivered a little as the cold air blew down the too big neck of the coat and leaned closer into him. "Perhaps we should continue this later, Sara. It is cold out. Maybe one night I will take you on a tour of the cities best rooftops by night?" he was teasing her just a little but at the same time she could see that he was also trying to open up, to show her a little of what his life had been like before.

"Yeah, maybe we can take a picnic," Sara replied as he slipped an arm around her, leading her toward the door. Something was making her a little nervous and she was not quite sure where the sensation had come from. Once again she ran her hands over the pocket schmutz and tried to get a firmer grasp on where the edginess was coming from.

Ian led her back to her door and gave her a good night kiss at the door. "Don't you want to come back in for a moment?" she asked.

"If I come back in, I will be tempted to stay, and tonight, unfortunately I cannot do that," he said and with another quick kiss, he was gone, leaving her alone with her unease, still wrapped in his coat. She thought about calling after him, but it was not like he did not have other coats, he could pick this one up later. With that thought she went and slumped down on the couch and pulled it over her like a lap rug. It did not take more that a few moments for her to drift into sleep.

It started with the whispers, nothing clear, as if a roomful of people were telling each other secrets in the dark. Slowly, Sara adjusted and she could make out the odd word or phrase. Secrets, they were saying. You will never understand unless you find all the secrets. Do you know where they are? Do you know who you are? Do you know who he is? Suddenly it was no longer dark, she found herself in the corner of the great room at the Irons mansion. Kenneth Irons was there, alive with the dark haired woman in the picture, Johanna. As she watched, he pulled her down into his lap. The woman laughed and as she turned, Sara could see she was visibly pregnant, and there was a large diamond on her hand. The two of them seemed lost in a world completely of their own making, and though Sara realized that this was a vision, she was pretty sure that this time neither of them would be talking to her. The scene changed as suddenly as it had began, she was standing there looking through the pockets of Ian's coat, pulling out the papers in his pocket and reading them. The whispers had begun again, Irons' voice, "You think you want direct answers to direct questions." When had he ever said that to here? Somehow it was familiar. Who is he, who are you? Find the key, find the secrets, the voices whispered. Things are not always as they seem.

She could see Ian struggling in his sleep with an unseen enemy even as she was searching through his pockets. The two of them were once again on the rooftop, looking out on the sleeping city. He reached for her, but she was playing with something. "Don't, please," he asked her. "You will change everything." Once again a change of scene, Ian sitting in Dr. Immo's office as the doctor talked to him, a large file on the desk between them. Immo was talking about something, a key, as he wrote on a pad in front of him and handed it to Ian. "No! we have been doing all right on our own. Your kind of help I do not need." Emotions seemed to rise up from him, fear, pain. What will she think of me? Suddenly she was surrounded, a crowd of past and future wielders, some familiar, others new to her. Some of them looked like her, others were completely unfamiliar. As the mélange swirled around her, she saw the protectors, standing with their wielders, fighting, loving, arguing, ever changing, nothing sticking long enough to really make a print on her mind. She could pick out a few, an Irish woman that she knew was Cathain, although she did not know how she knew it. The man with her looked like Ian, but he stayed behind her while she moved to embrace a man with a crown that she could almost remember, but knew his name was Conchobar. Jeanne was there, a sweet smile on her face as she responded to something that Jean D'Alençon said to her, trying to lighten her burden a little with humor. She saw Elizabeth Bronte, sneaking into a back alley with a man whose hat was pulled down low over his face, dark hair visible over his collar as they ran away from the gun fire behind them. Then she saw Elizabeth again, dancing with Kenneth Irons, both of them smiling happily. Suddenly the scene changed and she saw Johanna again, this time much younger, dancing with an Irons who looked happy and a little puzzled. So much you need to learn, so many secrets that must come to light, the voice was Elizabeth Bronte's, Sara was not sure how she could be certain but she was. Times are changing, the blood lines are being brought together, but you and Ian must succeed. Secrets, they have been kept too long.

Brrrrinng

You must find your answers, but remember, secrets are not always easy… You must learn when and where to use

Brrrrinnnggg

How to use them with kindness. Do not allow your temper too

Brrrinngg

Sara woke with a start to find her phone ringing insistently. She had an oncoming headache and her brain felt like someone had poured most of a library into it without being alphabetized, much less having a card catalog. "The visions make some of the wielders paranoid, but you should trust them. They are showing you things that are real, as real as what you would normally see, if not more so." The voice was Irons.

Great, she though, now I am getting advice from Irons in the great beyond when I am awake. She picked up the phone very carefully, not wanting to move too much and shake her head off. "Pezzini, this better be fucking good," she growled low into the phone.

"Sara, are you all right?" The sound of Ian on the other end of the line calmed Sara somewhat. Wondering what he had seen sent her tension through the roof again.

"I'm fine, you just woke me up, that's all," she said evasively. She wanted time, time to dissect the images that were leftover from the vision that had rocked her world.

"Sara, I know you had a vision. Please don't try to hide it from me. We are on our way back to you. What did you see?"

"I don't know," she said evasively, trying to get a handle on all the pictures still fighting for space in her head. Some of it she knew she needed Ian for, some of it she was pretty sure she was not supposed to share. "What did you see?"

"Nothing, not really," he told her. The tension in his voice told her otherwise. He knew something about what she had seen, Sara was sure of it. She just needed to figure out what part of it was so important and why he did not want to share. She caught sight of his coat draped across her knees where she had used it as a blanket. In the vision, she could see herself reaching into the pocket, something about the paper. Something the doctor had said. She reached into the pocket of the coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper.

"Ian, what is 'the key'?" she asked as she unfolded the paper.

"Sara, I…"

"Ian, I have this piece of paper I found…"

"I will be right there. Please don't do anything until I get there." Sara leaned back against the couch and played with the paper, folding it and unfolding until she was afraid that it would come apart in her hands, and waiting for the door.

By the time he got to the apartment, Sara had worked up a nice head of steam. She hated having her sleep interrupted as it so frequently was between visions and work. But for something that seemed to involve Nottingham not being straight with her after everything they had been through the last few days, Sara wanted to punch his lights out, but not only was she pretty sure she couldn't but succeeding would not get her any answers.

Ian was fairly sure his knock disturbed a few violent fantasies as she called for him to get his "sorry ass" into the apartment. With a carefully measured tread and a knot in his chest the likes of which he had only felt in the face of his father's disapproval, he stepped into the apartment, down the short hall and into the very heart of Sara's anger.

"All right, Nottingham, what are you not telling me? What does this thing want you to tell me?" she waved the Witchblade, stone red and flashing in his face. "And what the hell is this?" She shoved the piece of paper that she had obviously retrieved from the pocket of his coat into his face, the prescription slip that he had forgotten to take out of his pocket, waving it at him like an accusation.

"You and that mad scientist promised me that everything was all right. So what the hell is this?"

Ian sighed although relief was not quite what he was feeling. On the drive back he had tried to ask advice from Mobius, but Hector had merely told him that if he wished to keep his tigress, he had to learn how to soothe her, how to stand in the face of her anger, and how to keep his soul without allowing her to consume him. Overall, while he knew the advice would serve him well in the long term when he had time to process, at the moment he would have preferred something a little more practical. Hector had also, wisely, decided to stay in the vehicle. He gave Ian a friendly slap on the shoulder and offered him one final piece of advice, "none but the brave deserve the fair." In the face of her anger, it did not help, and he could not think that she would be any the less angry if he told her how beautiful she looked at the moment.

"Sara, everything is alright. That is just…" This was not going to be easy. While he had experienced some of her vision, he was not completely certain what the Witchblade was trying to do. He had told her the truth as far as had been necessary. Now it seemed he was to bare his soul completely and he was more frightened than he ever had been. He did not want Sara to go back to thinking that he was some kind of freak.

"What??? It's on a prescription pad, it is written by a doctor. Looks like drugs to me."

"It is not a prescription, that I promise you Sara. It's really not what you think. Please, would you let me explain? I will tell you all of it, but please let me tell you this may own way. Please?" He said, pleading her to be calm and listen.

One look at those big brown eyes, begging her to have patience with him, Sara gave in. She just couldn't keep yelling at him. The vision had taken a lot out of her, she was tired, upset and as much as she wanted to just keep screaming at him, she didn't have the energy for it. If he was willing to explain, the least she could do was hear him out. Maybe after a cup of coffee and some explanation she would feel a little more inclined, although whether to fight with him or no remained to be seen. "Ok, but coffee first."

"Very well, Sara. Let me make it for you." Sara nodded and settled back on the couch. He liked doing things for her, and right now he owed her a little penance anyway, she figured. No matter what, if he had told her earlier, the Witchblade would not have felt the need for this little late night tête-à-tête.

Ian focused on the simple task of making Sara's coffee and himself a cup of tea. Putting the kettle on the stove, he pulled out the box of his tea that Sara had bought and was now kept next to her coffee. He tried to work out what it was that he would say to her. They had come so far, he did not want to be relegated back to the darkness outside, away from her side again. He was tied of being thought of as a freak, some kind of Frankenstein's monster, unworthy of her love. She has accepted so much, how much more can I ask of her?

She loves you

She has not said so.

You can read the signs for yourself, the signs are there. It is concern for you that has her so agitated, that is why she needs to know. Too much of her life has been lived alone, protecting only herself, now she wants to protect you, but does not know how.

But what if she does not want to know, what is she does not like the answers when she has them? What is the truth drives her away?

Perhaps it will, but you should have faith in your destiny. The whistle of the kettle brought him out of his reverie. No longer able to put it off, he poured the water into the cup, picked up her coffee and carried them both to Sara where she sat on the couch, hand clutched convulsively around the damning piece of paper.

Sara took the cup he offered and tried to keep her temper in check. She knew that it was not easy, but damn it, she wanted things to work out between them. But Sara needed to know everything and he just seemed so reluctant. A life of secrets did not exactly prepare him for you, be patient, she thought, even as she wanted to scream at him for keeping things from her. She took a deep breath. "Ok, Ian, now explain this to me slowly. What is it that this hunk of metal wants me to know badly enough to wake me up."

"It is not what you think, Sara," he said slowly. "What do you know about psychological conditioning?"

"Nothing, I mean just the stuff you learn in psych, and TV bullshit." Sara blew off the sense of déjà vu, a little remnant from asking Dr. Slomacker the same question not too long ago when she was trying to understand.

"My Father was…cautious. You have to understand that…"

"I didn't understand him alive; just tell me what you have to tell. I know that he used you as a guinea pig for that Black Dragons crap, I know that psychological conditioning was involved in your training, and some of the things you did when we first met were related to that. But you said it would not affect us now."

"It won't, I promise you. Please Sara, just let me tell you the whole thing, and then you can say whatever you like. Please." Sara nodded cautiously. She was not good at letting people have their say, she knew it, but she decided that she would try, at least for the moment.

Ian paused and tried to organize what he was going to say again. It was not easy, and her emotions where making it harder. Part of him just wanted to put his arms around her, tell her to forget it, but he knew she wouldn't accept it. At times like this he was unendurably angry at his father, for leaving him so unprepared. With any luck, this would be the last complication.

"The conditioning was intended to keep my emotions in check, make it possible for me to carry out my orders without question. When I went to see Dr. Immo after," he stopped for a second, trying to find the right words. "I needed to find out about my conditioning, to find out if there were any hidden orders, any booby traps so to speak. I was afraid that I would hurt you accidentally. He told me that there was not, but also explained…other things." He looked at Sara, so far she had not said a thing, but he could see the questions bubbling up inside her. "My father intended to live forever, but he was never one to be caught unprepared. He believed in destiny, his, mine, yours, but he was not above giving it a bit of a push."

"Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel," Sara said, the line from an old MASH episode seeming particularly appropriate, but Ian just looked at her and then continued. I have to got to help him loosen up, she thought, even though part of her was wondering if the chance would come.

"He made plans, contingency plans, for all possibilities. He was not one to be caught unawares, or not usually."

"Ok, so he wanted to make sure that his plans continued after him, but what does that mean?"

"It means that the conditioning needed to be reinforced on a regular basis."

"So no reinforcement…"

"No conditioning. Immo explained that it would fade away on its own. The breakdown is part of why I have been on such an emotional…"

"Roller coaster? Yeah, got that, or at least that is part of it. The rest is just the situation. When my father died I thought I was going to explode, or maybe implode depending on the day. But I repeat, what does this have to do with it all. Ok, I get that the 'blade wants me to understand why you are such a PMS poster child, especially for a guy. But what does that have to do with this stupid prescription?" Her voice was tight with frustration and she was holding on to her cup with a white knuckled intensity that was startling.

"It is not a prescription exactly. It is a kind of key, a phrase that will cause all the conditioning to crumble at once. Father knew that the conditioning would make it impossible for me to continue after him, so he arranged for a way to make sure that it was all cleared."

"That's great, why all the secrecy, why not just tell me? What do you have to do? Does Immo just say something? Come on, let's get this over with."

Her reaction shocked Ian. He was tensed, waiting for her to scream at him, turn her back on him and here she was anxious to step into the very thing he was trying to avoid. "What are you waiting for, come on," she said.

"Sara, I…"

"You are afraid of what will happen, is that it?"

"Partially that, partially…I was afraid of what you would think of me, of going back to being a freak," Ian dropped his eyes from hers, trying to keep the pain from touching her.

"Ian, you don't get it do you? I have always felt like a freak, an outsider. I was a loner long before this thing came and took over my life. It took me a while to figure it out; maybe I just needed to find a way to put it into words. You and I, like you said, we are more alike than any two other people, and now I guess now that we have each other I want to…Well, I don't know what I want to do, but I want to do it with you, and the sooner we fix things so that you aren't worried about whatever crossed wiring is in your head, the sooner we can get on with life."

Ian was shocked but pleased, unable to believe that she was so willing to overlook yet another example of how strange he was. Unable to think of anything else to say, he opened up, baring the last of his fears. "Sara, I am afraid. I have never known…"

"Ian, neither one of us is exactly a candidate for mental health. If this makes it easier for you to grieve and move on so that we can go forward with our life, I am all for it. Now who do we have to wake up to get this thing done? Immo's definitely still a doctor; I can't read a thing here." Sara took the piece of paper and looked at it again, turning it from side to side to try and figure it out."

"No one else need be discommodated. The person who needs to read the key is you." Sara was a little shocked by this turn of events.

"Me? What?"

"I told you he planned for any contingency. He thought that it was most appropriate I suppose. That and the belief that you would never accidentally trigger it."

"Ok, do I want to know how he got my voice to do it in the first place?"

"I did not ask," he said truthfully. There had been enough sharing for one night.

"Ok, so you want to tell me what this says, so we can get on with this?"

"Now?" Ian asked, startled by the speed at which she was moving.

"Yes, now, can you think of a better time? Besides, I am not sure this thing is going to let me get any rest until we do."

"It is late, and the side effects..." He seemed desperate, but Sara was determined, now more than ever to end this particular chapter of their relationship. The memorial service was coming, he had to take control of Vorschlag and between everything else they were trying to have a relationship, she was not letting one more thing stand in their way.

"We'll go to your house, I'll call in sick, whatever we need to do, we are going to get it over with now," she said, and the look in her eyes told him that there was no arguing, this would be the last. He took out his cell phone and told Mobius to meet them out front.

The trip back to the Irons mansion took time, time for Ian and Sara to fill in Mobius on everything that was going on. Ian had pointed out that they did not know what was going to happen and having a back up who was bigger and not likely to accidentally stab him if anything got out of hand. Ian told her that the Doctor had not expected there to be any external effects, but she would much rather trust the larger than life ex-Black Dragon than the elderly scientist.

The ending was rather anticlimactic after everything else they had been through. Sara and Ian retired to his room, while Mobius told them both that he would wait outside the door, just in case. "What do I do," she asked him. "All this stuff is just a little too much like magic, a little too Buffy for me," she said. "I am just way too old for this all."

"Well, as my father once said, they are the same thing, a way of explaining the natural or the supernatural realms."

"Great, advice from beyond the grave by the man that got us into this mess, so what am I supposed to do now?" she asked.

"Just say it, Sara. It will be all right. I swear," he said as he sat down in the chair in front of the fire.

"Ok, let's just do this." Sara bit her lip and looked at the piece of paper, wrinkled and folded where Ian had copied out what the doctor had written. "Ian Christian Nottingham, protector of the Witchblade, god this is dull. Why did he choice this crap?"

"I imagine that he thought it was something you were unlikely to say by accident. Now all you have to do is repeat it two times and we are done." Sara repeated the words, trying to keep a straight face while Ian was looking seriously, trying not to smile.

"You got that right, how do you feel?" she asked, all levity gone. Ian sat there, a look on his face like he was doing some kind of internal diagnostic.

"Free."

Ian seemed stunned, out of it. After checking him, Sara went and told Mobius that everything was ok, even though she was not sure that it was. She called downstairs and asked Wilson to send them something to drink, something alcoholic and then went to sit back next to him. He was still sitting there, staring into the fire. That in itself was nothing unusual, but the look on his face was strange, almost euphoric, and she wondered what he was thinking about.

"Ian," she asked softly. "Yo, Nottingham?"

"Sara." There was a strange light in his eyes when he said it, intense and almost a little creepy if she did not know how much he cared for her.

"You all right?" she asked. Free was great and all, but not exactly descriptive or explanatory.

"Yes, I think so, it is just…odd. So many things all at once, a whole lifetime worth of feelings, filling me, things I had forgotten or maybe that I never really felt in the first place. It is like nothing I have ever experienced, and I cannot even put it into words." He looked over at her, his dark chocolate eyes shining, like he was having some kind of epiphany. "Do you know how much I love you?" he asked.

"Ah, yeah, I think…that's great, you feeling so…" Before she could stumble anymore or put her foot any deeper in her throat, there was a discreet knock at the door. Sara rose immediately to answer, waving Ian back into his chair. He was still far to out of it for her to let him do anything. When she opened it, Wilson was standing there with a tray. Mobius must have told him something, he did not seem startled although thinking about it, Sara was not sure there was much that would startle the old man. He had been in the house too long, and seen to many things. The tray was loaded down with a decanter of something, two steaming mugs of hot chocolate that she could smell in passing, and a basket of something that was probably meant as a snack.

"Cook thought that you and Mr. Nottingham would appreciate something hot as well, considering the hour, and perhaps a snack. The muffins are a favorite. If you need anything, you need only call," he said as he set the tray down.

"Wilson," Ian said, lolling a little in his chair. "Is Sara not the most beautiful woman ever?"

Wilson gave Sara a look that told her that someone had filled him in. "She is a remarkable woman, Mr. Nottingham, of that there is no doubt. Have a good evening." With a haste that surprised her, the man was out the door, leaving the two of them to sort it all out together.

Sara poured herself some brandy and handed Ian a mug of hot chocolate. When she decided to go through with this, she had considered a lot of things, but this dazed and loopy Nottingham was not among them.

"I would like a brandy as well," he said surprising her a little.

"I'm not sure…"

"Sara, I am fine, and as you have pointed out to me a number of times, I am a grown man and more than capable of making my own decisions."

"Well, yeah," she said cautiously, hating it when her own words came back to bite her. But considering she really had no choice, not to mention he seemed lucid enough. She poured the glass and handed it to him along with a muffin.

"That's Cook, always knows just what to make. I love muffins." He ate what she had given him and then reached for another without saying a word, chasing it with half the small glass of brandy. Sara just sat and watched him as he finished the brandy and another muffin before starting his hot chocolate. Somehow the appetite surprised her a little but what did she know about the side effects. Probably should have called Frankenstein for the cliff notes version, she thought.

"Are you trying to put me to sleep?" he asked.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea, we both have a long day tomorrow and it has been a pretty long and strange one already." She looked up and could not help but smile. Ian had gotten a bit of cream in his mustache and she reached to wipe it away but he caught her hand.

"Sara, have I told you how beautiful you are?" He took her hand and kissed it slowly, eyes locked on hers. "I do not have words to describe how much I desire you." He pulled her close and she could feel him, feel everything that was going through him, pushing at the walls of her mind. It was almost too much. Suddenly it seemed that everything he had ever felt, everything that he had pushed to the back of his mind was suddenly rising up from some deep place, needing to get out. She had always known his feelings were intense, but this was stronger than before. While she was still trying to get a handle on it, he grabbed her and pulled her to him. The kiss that followed was slow, almost painfully so, like he was trying to make up for something, or relive something. Like kissing for the first time, she thought. It kind of is our first kiss, the first with him a completely free man. Then her thoughts melted out her ears and nothing more coherent occurred. He was experiencing it all again for the first time, with nothing between them, no boundaries, nothing but the two of them.

Sara put her hands on his chest, trying to steady herself but the sense of equilibrium only lasted a moment as he swung her in to his arms, rising all at once. "Ian," she gasped, startled once again by how fast he moved.

"It's all right, Sara, everything is going to be all right." After that she could not think anymore.

It seemed an eternity later, the two of them lay in a damp, exhausted heap, limbs and bed clothes tangled with hastily removed clothes. Sara smiled a little at Ian's content expression. At least some things were going well. Obviously he was not anxious to get rid of her. In fact it had been wonderful, cleansing, not like the frantic passion that had been starting to worry her last week. Even better than before, she thought. If this is what he is like, hmmm, things are definitely looking up, she thought snuggling closer to watch the fire burn down.

"Happy?" he asked, as he shifted to make them both more comfortable, evicting his trousers that had somehow become wedged in the small of his back.

"Yes, actually, I think you are starting to grow on me, although…"

"Yes, Sara, what is the matter?" He followed her gaze across the room and stifled a laugh at the sight of Sara's bra, which somehow had ended up hanging from the candlestick on the mantle above the fire. "I need to work on my aim?" he said, trying his best to look innocent, or as innocent as he possibly could wrapped naked around her in the same bed.

"Lucky you missed the fire, buster. I have to go to work tomorrow!"

"You could go without," he suggested playfully, pulling her down, intent on making his case in a more physical fashion.

"Oh, yeah, Danny would never let me live it down, besides I don't want to give Jake an eyeful. Might encourage him."

"Jake the rookie?" he said, mood shifting like the winter sky.

"He's harmless, nice enough kid but not real bright about some things. Danny thinks he has a crush on me. I think he's just shopping for a new training officer, Burgess is useless. I mean, Danny and I do have a great clearance rate, best in the house."

"Do you wish me to discourage him?" Ian said, clearly willing to do whatever was necessary to stake his claim. The mercurial mood shifts were not something she had though through before they did this, and Sara was starting to see some of the concern he had.

"No, like I said, probably just trying to learn, can't fault him for that."

"Very well, if that is what you wish," he said, but he clearly wanted to argue the point. He remembered MacCarty. When Sara had been claimed by the Witchblade he had run a background check on everyone she interacted with for both himself and his father. MacCarty's file had come back clean, boring even. That in itself raised a red flag for him, especially in someone who was a hot shot ex surfing champion. They were not known for staying clean and out of trouble. It had bothered him at the time, but then his world fell in and rebuilt itself in a new and different shape. Perhaps now would be a good time to take a deeper look at the blond rookie cop who had an eye for the woman he loved.

And the morning started so well, Sara thought. It was supposed to be a quiet day, paper work; a few follow up calls, Danny had a meeting with an ADA to do trial prep for next week, just things as usual. She hadn't counted on walking into a murder. She didn't even make it to the office as Danny was already heading out the door. He grabbed her arm and turned her around, handed her a cup of coffee from the PAX around the corner and told her they had a body. She pronounced the coffee barely drinkable as they jumped into the blue sedan. Danny slid into the driver's seat, telling her to drink her coffee while he filled her in. Sara listened, trying to drink and occasionally smacking the heater to try to get it working.

While Danny was giving her the few details he had, her mind slipped back to the beginning of the morning. It had started out great, Ian obviously was trying to make up for years of isolation all at once. She had opened her eyes just a few hours ago to see those beautiful brown eyes looking back, warm body pressed…Nope not going there, she thought, suddenly less concerned with getting the heater to pump out a few more BTU's and more with Danny not noticing her sudden blush as he kept up some morning small talk, mostly about his family. He was used to her zoning out before her morning coffee. Instead she mentally glossed over it, thinking about how much better it had been when Wilson had delivered them a tray of fabulous coffee and some muffins and scones fresh from Cook's oven with little pots of jam that she was pretty sure didn't come from any store. Good food, good coffee, good…well everything necessary for a good day. Then she got to work and was met by Danny and dead body in a subway station. Her partner only had the basics, a dead body found on the far end of platform by the cleaners when they started their day. They pulled up outside a corner deli next to the station, Sara concentrating her thoughts away from Ian and back on the case at hand, while Danny double parked behind the EMTs and next to the CSU van.

"Gangs all here," she commented as they got out of the car.

"What would the morning be without a circus?" Danny asked as they went down the stairs into the station.

Whoever picked the place, they had done a good job. The body was on the far end of the platform, left in a local station on the side without a manned booth. The bench was past the sign labeling that end as NO EXIT, so it was a pretty good bet that no one would pay any attention. Even if they had, most New Yorkers on a subway late act like they are wearing blinders, they stand or sit, reading, listening to music or knitting, but mostly paying no obvious attention to the people around them who are all doing the same, just people going home, minding their own business, another day in the big city.

"So what's the deal?" Sara asked the charge officer. They had been let through the service gate and found the end of the platform roped off with the ubiquitous yellow tape.

"Your vic was on the bend at the fare end of the platform. This side isn't manned and the 23rd entrance is locked past 7:30."

"How long has she been here?" Danny questioned, nodding as the tech pulled back the sheet to give them a first look.

"Uh, that's a problem. We won't know till the ME is done. It seems that one of our less than stellar citizens took her coat and left her theirs in exchange, also her shoes. It was a cold night and some of the boys are not too intent on disturbing some poor guy who's just looking for a warm place to sleep. Especially if he's quiet and out of the way."

"So someone attacks her and kills her, leavers her on the end of the platform. The question is, did they steal the coat and leave her this…thing," she said as she picked up the threadbare Salvation Army reject with a grimace. "At least the cold keeps the smell down." There was a laugh at the gallows humor but still they all kept working.

As Sara climbed the stairs into the watery sunshine she sighed. She was really hoping not to have to deal with a new case for the next few days. "You ok, partner? Want to grab a coffee, there's a Starbucks over there." He pointed to the familiar green and white logo on the window. Sara seemed a little distant this morning and she had bailed yesterday in a hurry after a phone call that he assumed was from her new "friend". "How's Ian?" he asked, figuring it had to be what was bugging her, certainly the case was too new and too common to get under her skin already.

"He's doing pretty well, considering. I was really hoping we wouldn't catch anything new until after the funeral, memorial, whatever this stupid thing is. I know its bugging him, but I just wish it was all over and the old bastard was already in the ground."

"You think it'll be easier for him?"

"I don't know, bit I know that I'll feel better." As she said it, her phone beeped a return to service now that they were above ground and almost instantly began to ring. Somehow she knew who was on the other end and she couldn't help but smile as she moved to answer it.

"I'll go ahead and order the coffee, you catch up," Danny said as he waved her off and headed for the land of promised coffee. Come to think of it, maybe I should call Lee.

Ian sat behind the ultra modern desk that had been his father's. He hated it; somehow he could not seem to get comfortable there. He preferred the heavy antique in the private office; it was solid, with plenty of room to spread out and more than enough space for his legs underneath. How Irons had ever been comfortable he had no clue. But it matched the room even thought it looked like it belonged on a space ship. Ian knew his father preferred the private side himself, but he always managed to make it look smooth. With an effort he pulled his mind away from his own discomfort and focused on someone else's, or at least making someone else uncomfortable. "How are you settling in? Are you finding everything to your liking?"

"You know how to get the best toys, I'll say that." From Green that was as close to an effusive compliment as he was likely to ever hear. It brought a smile to his face and made the discomfort fade just a little. "Good. Are you ready for a special assignment?"

"Sure, like you could come up with something difficult?" The words were brash and dismissive but they all knew he was blowing smoke, dying for the kind of real challenge that they had mostly been denied in their years on the run.

"This…" Ian said, passing a folder over the desk to them, "is one Jake McCarty, former surfing champion and California beach bum. Presently he is a rookie police detective in this city, assigned to homicide out of the Eleventh Precinct."

"Talk about having a severe change of life…" McGill commented, scanning the picture in the file.

"Exactly, I want to know why. In fact, I want to know everything there is to know about him. Do you think you can manage or should I give you some help?" He gave his old friends a sly smile.

"I thought you wanted us to do something tough, Ian. Man, you are getting soft." The words were flippant but he could feel Green's eagerness and see McGill calculating which of his new electronic toys to break in first. With purpose in their step, the two dragons took their leave. Ian wished he could go with them.

"Are you certain about this? Sara does not strike me as the kind of woman to take prying well." The deep voice of Hector Mobius, his friend, his brother, and at the moment, attempting to be his conscience spoke from the corner behind him.

So much change, he thought. Not so long ago, he had stood in that spot, guarding his father's life and Vorschlag's interests, not to mention his duty to the Witchblade and wielder. Last night seemed almost a dream even, except for the strange impatience and the feelings that seemed to strike without warning. He pulled his thoughts together before they wandered too far a field. His brother was right, Sara would not take kindly to his intrusion. "What she doesn't know…" he started to say.

"I am certain that she will find out, and I do not believe it is in my contract to save you from her," Mobius told him with a half smile as the intercom on his desk buzzed to announce the first meeting of the day.

Fifty minutes later Ian was ready to scream, or possibly kill. He didn't understand, while he had always hated this end of the business, even when it was his father behind the desk and he lurked in the corner. In those days he had been able to turn part of his mind off, to meditate on his duty, plan his schedule or day dream about his time keeping an eye on Sara, and all the while look menacing. That was not as easy sitting behind the desk but he had been managing moderately well until today. The two men in front of him were like sandpaper on sunburn, irritating and not easily scratched. He tried to look attentive, but it rankled.

He wanted nothing more than to get rid of the bickering fools, possibly via the nearest window, and then call Sara. Just the thought of hearing her voice was enough to warm him to the core. He shifted restlessly, unable to center himself and tried to concentrate.

"I'm telling you, Mr. Nottingham, if I build it the way he's got it down…"

"There is nothing wrong with the specifications, we in the R and D department do not make mistakes, we have studied…"

"You all may know your specs and your numbers, but you don't know shit about mining. If you did…" the two of them seemed completely caught up in their personal argument and Ian's usual studied patience was gone. Without thought he rose and started across the desk, but not before Mobius appeared behind them, one hand on each shoulder and an attempted friendly smile that on his dark face looked more like the baring of teeth, looking down on them. The diversion allowed Ian to get himself back under control, although by the look of panic, his control did mot make him any the less intimidations. Good, he thought to himself, they should remember for the next time they want to waste my morning.

"Gentlemen, this project is two months over due and two hundred thousand over budget, not including the penalties we will incur for not delivering on time. You have two weeks to finish, I suggest that you use that time to learn to work this out between you, NOW!"

Ian never raised his voice, but the emphatic force on the final word did the trick. There was a shuffling of feet and the two men babbling about ways they could fix the problem and assuring him that it would not be necessary to trouble him further. "It seems that your skills have not gone fallow," Mobius said as he returned from seeing the two panicked scientists out. "You are not the same though; you have lost your focus."

"No, not my focus, merely the externally imposed controls. I do not understand. I feel like I have taken a jump without a parachute, and now I am falling with nothing to save me. "

"She will save you, brother. Is that not what you have always wanted? The two of you to be allowed to save each other?"

"Yes…no…I don't know. I think so, but I am not sure what I can do. I feel like I don't know what is happening anymore."

"Time, brother, what is needed is time. 'Gaining time is gaining everything in love, trade and war.'"

"Perhaps now it is time to leave me alone to make a call," he said.

"I believe that I shall go and look over the security arrangements, I have not had enough time to study them fully. I am sure there are holes."

"I did not leave you any, but feel free to look," he said as he turned back to his phone, pleasure at the thought of speaking to his lady already clearing everything else from his mind.

Two rings and a familiar, abrupt "Pezzini," brought him intense joy.

"Sara," he whispered, his voice almost overwhelmed with emotion.

"Uh, yeah, Hi," she said taking a moment to get her balance as the sexy tone burned down the phone between them. Somehow her response seemed a little tame. "Lucky you caught me, I just came back from a scene in a subway station.

"Bad?" he inquired briefly, sorting thought all the new emotional information with sudden concentration. He knew how involved she got in her work and Ian wanted her to know that he understood.

"Well, if they call me, it's never good. No, really it looks pretty routine." As she was talking she made her way to the edge of the crowded sidewalk, moving out of the flow of pedestrian traffic. She didn't want to catch up with Danny too fast.

"Good, then nothing should interfere with you joining me for dinner. I miss you, Sara." The sexy whisper was back.

"Don't you know it's a crime to make an obscene phone call to a cop?"

"Oh, and have I?" he purred back. "I have never made one before. What exactly constitutes an obscene phone call? I need to know what it is that I am not supposed to do. Telling you how much I wish you were here, or perhaps describing in detail exactly how I intend to undress you this evening, how much I want to touch you…Am I getting warm?" his voice over the line was playfully erotic.

At least one of us sure is. This is definitely a whole new ballgame. Sara pulled the zipper down a little on her leather jacket as she stopped to wait for the light and a herd of taxis. "Yes, I think you've got the idea."

"Perhaps I need practice. I wouldn't want to do something wrong, something that would get me in trouble with the law. Perhaps after dinner you could give me some guild lines. I should know what I can and cannot get away with."

"Yeah, I think we can work on that," she said trying to keep her thoughts clear as she sidestepped the bicycle courier. "After work…I'll meet you at your office this time," she decided quickly. She was still getting razed about the last time he picked her up and she did not want to have to break a few rookies just to make her point. Besides she needed desperately to get her mind back on the case right now and Ian was just not helping. "I'll call you as soon as I'm done," Sara promised.

"I will be waiting," he said though he sounded reluctant to let her go.

"Hey, Nottingham, go before you make this day feel longer than it already is." As she clicked off she realized just how much she meant that.

Ian put the phone down but found himself possessed of even more restless energy than before. To combat the mood and make it even remotely possible that he would be able to concentrate during the afternoon board meeting, a meeting which he already felt ought to be spelled B-O-R-E-D, he resorted to the familiar. He called down to the security office to round up a few partners for "routine physical training", a code phrase that for his team meant getting paid to have him throw the around while they tried to get passed his guard. The team enjoyed the challenge and frequently those who could not participate stopped by the gym to watch, take notes, on occasion step in when he wore out the current partner or partners. Today, Ian felt a special kind of relish when he was told that both Green and McGill were free, taking a break from the assignment he had given them and looking to work the kinks out. He was fairly certain that Moby would reappear shortly and there would be real fun had by all.

It was then that it occurred to him that perhaps there was another way to make use of his brothers' talent's. His security team was made up of some of the best trained security personnel in the world, recruited from many sources legal and quasi but none could match the training the Black Dragons had received even without the drugs and the conditioning. It would take some games with the scheduling but the benefits would be worth it. While he had done some when his father was alive, his responsibilities had been prohibitive of a regular training program, but now spread out over the four of them it was a definite possibility. Ian began planning with a particular spring in his step as he headed for the gym and his appointment.

"How is Lee?" Sara asked as she took the chair across from her partner, watching him close his phone.

"Fine, wondering when you are going to bring Ian over to meet her. Speaking of which, how is he?" Danny said, reflecting that when you knew who was on the phone with out asking, you have probably been spending way too much time together.

"Holding together, I think that's it though. He doesn't really like being the guy in the big chair. I think if he wasn't so devoted to Irons, he would just get rid of it all, but he feels like he has to be responsible to his father's memory or some shit like that." Danny nodded noncommittally but he could feel the bitterness in her words. Something had really made Sara hate Irons, and her partner was pretty sure that now was not the time to ask her for an explanation. "At least he has got his brothers with him," she said reflectively as she took another moody drink from her coffee.

"Brothers?" Danny inquired. Sara realized that she had just stepped into it, but Danny was her partner after all.

"Well, that is what he calls it," she said. "Some old buddies from the military turned up the other day, they are going to be helping him out with security now. You'd like them, all hyper martial arts, like Ian. I guess Irons didn't want him to keep in touch with them, not our sort or some crap, but Ian was floored when they turned up," she said honestly.

"Hey, that is just the kind of thing he needs right now. I bet Irons wasn't much for him socializing. Too many secrets," Danny seemed to be fishing a little but the ringing of her cell cut him off.

"Let me guess, you're at the Starbuck's?" Vicki Po said without preamble. "Order me a double red eye, I'm coming down the street. Your body is on the way back, but I will give you some prelims, if you're buying."

"I'm buying."

"OK, We're here, let's get this party started," Green announced, coming out of the locker room with a grin on his face. McGill was behind them, and they both looked like they had been given early Christmas gifts. "Who's got the tunes?"

"Mr. Irons was not…" Ian started, before he realized that it no longer applied. "I don't know, who does have the tunes?" he asked the room in general. If there was any surprise, no one showed it. They were learning, and it was nice to see the boss loosening up a little.

"That would be me, sir," Mendoza said.

"Anything but that long haired shit that you used to listen to," McGill said as Mendoza came out of the ladies locker room carrying a small disk case.

"Now for the player," O'Connor said, and pulled a small gadget out of the bag of gear that he was never without. Ian just shook his head. It was obvious that this was something they had done before. He had suspected as much but it was not as if it was a rule, merely something that Irons had disapproved of, and he had ignored it.

"Hope it won't be too embarrassing when I kick your butt in front of your staff," Green said with a cocky grin as he stepped onto the mat just as some heavy music began to pulse at remarkable volume for the size of the device.

"And what in our past association has led you to think you can manage it? I think that you must have taken one too many falls." The staff watched in fascination, first because they had never seen their boss this much at ease with anyone, and second because no one else would dare talk to him that way.

"You have been lazing about with this private gig; I figure you've lost your edge without someone to really practice with." The two men were circling each other warily. In spite of the banter, they were both deadly serious. This would be full speed, full contact, and Ian's staff watched in fascination.

"I don't know, Ian," McGill put in from the sidelines. "He's got age on you."

"But I still have speed," he said, and as good as his word slipped below the other man's guard, but Green blocked and the true fighting began. For all the slow start, once they engaged it was almost too fast to see. A blur of blocks and kicks that failed to connect as the two of them danced through a series of obviously familiar warm up moves. After about fifteen minutes the two of them disengaged and grabbed some water, neither of them even the least winded.

"That was fun, now you ready for some real action?" Green said.

"I have been ready. I was just taking it easy on you." He turned back as Green came forward with a sudden burst of speed. It seemed that everything sped up, even the music. They clashed like titans, this time there was at least some contact. Green ducked under Ian's sweep to drop him, only to have his own legs swept from under him as Ian rolled under and popped back up, ending in an axe kick that probably would have broken the other man's neck if it had still been there. Ian felt the surge as he was able to completely let loose for the first time in a long time. While his training was more extensive, they were as close as anyone on the planet, and almost as fast and tough. Not that his staff were not the best in the world, but they did not have the genetic advantages that his father's experiments had bought, or the innate understanding. He reveled in the sensation as his blood sang through his veins and he felt alive in a way that he had not done in years, with a wolfish smile, he in turned back and invited McGill to come out and play with them.

From the open door to the locker room, unseen and unnoticed so far, Hector Mobius smiled. All was right with his world for the first time in a very long time. He had been reluctant when Ian made the offer, but at the same time, there had been the spark of hope, the hope that they could finally have a life, a real life, not the half life on the run that had been their lot ever since they had freed themselves. It was their last chance, that he knew. Hector was getting tired of running, hiding, taking jobs that were neither worthy nor honorable. If this worked out, he would be content, having secured the future of his men, beyond that there was nothing left. Turning his thoughts from those dark paths, he stepped in, deciding that it was time he joined the fun.

Moby slipped into the fray, declaring his allegiance with a sweep from behind which took McGill to the ground and pivoted him around to Green's other side, as Ian immediately noted his presence and changed his strategy. There were no words exchanged, no time or energy for that. Ian felt free, free to move, free to fight without fear of what he was capable of. He was faster and stronger than his fellow dragons, some, but they were close, closer than anyone else. Of course, Mobius was also slightly older, and with age comes experience, wisdom and treachery. Ian smiled at the thought as he ducked the ridge hand aimed for his head, it was a lesson he learned from his father. It took time but first McGill and then Green left the mat, leaving he and Mobius alone.

"Have you been keeping up with what you learned?" Moby asked. "Or have you let your skills lapse? I think you have become complacent."

"Think what you wish, that will not help you." Ian grinned wolfishly at his former commander, his comrade in other days, and struck.

From the sidelines they moved almost too fast, dodging blocking and even occasionally connecting. The joking and betting that had been going on had faded to nothing as everyone's attention was riveted to the two men, the only sound was the music, pumping out at blood pounding intensity and the sound of flesh connecting with flesh. Ian was thrown to the ground but was back on his feet before Mobius could do anything about it. As the two men fought, O'Connor started a little friendly wagering on the sidelines. It was not lost on the others that Green bet on Ian while McGill put his money on Mobius.

Still on the mat, the two men continued to go at one another. Mobius was happier than he had been since they had left the service. Ian seems to have kept up, I wonder with whom he has been sparring? He wondered. When they were still in training, Ian had talked about trainers, instructors, not to mention sparring with someone named Renfrew, who served as Irons head of security. Hector assumed that he had also sparred with his father; at least he knew that he had done when he was younger. Somehow he recalled the way the younger Ian had mentioned it as a pleasure. Sara had been right, he had always known at some level, though there was no way to ask. It was something in the way that Ian had always spoken of Irons, respect tinged with love and other things too complex to think about. A solid blow to the body shook Mobius out of his revere and back on to the fight.

Thirty minutes later the two men ended when Ian flipped Mobius over on his back and put a knee to his throat. It could have easily been the other way, the two of them knowing the time they had to work with. Mobius could have gotten out of the position but they both knew that to continue would be to push too long, especially when Ian was supposed to be at a meeting, no matter how much he was enjoying himself. Offering a hand to his friend, the two moved off the mat as a certain amount of money changed hands on the sidelines. Ian felt better, looser and less like he was on the edge of exploding, although he was carefully schooling his thoughts away from where they were want to go, Sara. Having just managed to get his headspace and timing back in order, he was trying valiantly to keep it that way.

"There was no gambling going on, I trust?" he said as he passed the men gathered by the bench.

"Of course not, Sir" O'Connor said with a true Irish grin.

"Never bet on the other side," Ian returned, as he headed for the locker room reluctantly, knowing that his little escape was over, wishing it was not. "Have Klein see me after the meeting, I want to discuss new training for everyone."

"Going to try to get us up to speed with your buddy boys?" The Irishman asked with his usual insolence.

"That is exactly it," he said. As he stepped through the locker room door he heard a sound of satisfaction behind him and smiled.

The main living room of the mansion gleamed, crystal and brass polished to mirror perfection, fire blazing as always in the fireplace, even the pictures and the antique knick knacks were shining like new. The large painting of Irons hung on the curtained wall, and the man himself rested in front of it at the back of the room. It had been a hard decision and a painful one, but in the end they knew that without the body there would be too many questions, too many people who would think they were hiding something. The last few days had been a real emotional roller coaster ride, with her and Ian grabbing every spare moment between her new case and his rounds of corporate meetings and time spent with the dragons but still they had managed to snatch some time.

Now she had one more thing on her plate, with the conversation she had with Wilson just last night. The elderly estate manager had stopped her on her way through the house from checking on Gabriel.

"Miss Sara?" he asked softly, "may I speak to you?"

"Yeah, ah, sure Wilson, what's up?" Sara still had not gotten used to having someone whose responsibility it was to see to her needs and wants.

"It is about the accommodations…" There was something almost delicate about the way she said it and she wondered what was up.

"Ok, don't you think that Ian…I mean I'm just…"

"You are the appropriate person to talk to. It is time that Mr. Nottingham move into the Master's suite. He cannot continue where it is. I thought that perhaps you could help…"

"Why? I mean there is nothing wrong with the room that he is in." Sara looked around, desperate for something to say that would make sense. Ian did not want to take over his father's room; she certainly didn't want to sleep in Iron's room, much less his bed. Talk about nightmares.

"It is no longer appropriate," the older man said gently. "We will, of course, change the furniture to something more…comfortable, more suited to Mr. Nottingham's needs and preferences but it must be done and soon. I thought perhaps you could help…"

"Let me think about it," Sara told him, hating the spot she was being put in. She didn't really understand but if it was important enough for Wilson to want her involved, then maybe it was something that she should give thought to.

"Very well, but it must be soon. He cannot continue as if things have not changed." With that, the man disappeared down the hall on almost silent feet. He seemed older and she knew that the stress must have been telling at his age. Maybe she should help at that, after all, if Ian lost the old man so soon it would probably destroy him.

Sara entered cautiously, checking the room one last time before everything began. As she approached the casket, a hard knot that had taken up residence in her stomach started to grow, sending little tendrils of fear and doubt through her. She approached cautiously. Even though she knew he was dead, still she could not shake the feeling that he might sit up and start complaining about the arrangements

After her last encounter with Irons, the one with his ghost, or whatever it was, she was always concerned that he would pop up when she was alone in the house. Ian had not said anything, and from the way he had been, she was fairly certain that he had not seen Irons again. Maybe the danger had passed, maybe Irons had already gone on to whatever afterlife that the evil bastard deserved. She didn't believe that she was that lucky though. Ian had mentioned something vague about a guardian or advisor, someone close who guided the steps of a new Wielder. She and Irons weren't close, but there was always that fear, and neither of them had the time or the brain space for a more thorough explanation. All she had to do now was make sure things were set up, before the herd arrived.

She peered into the satin lined box. Irons lay on a bed of white satin, his dark suit standing out in stark contrast. Perhaps it was him or perhaps it was the legacy of the Witchblade, but he did not have that waxy look that most people had when they were laid out. As much as she didn't want to admit it, the man managed to look in control, even laying there dead. Every white hair was in place, the suit was pressed, the shirt starched and gleaming white, and the tie perfectly knotted and centered. Sara hated it, she hated the need to show off the body, the pain that it would cause Ian, but she understood the need. The best they could do was keep him far enough away that he would not have to look.

"I would not have chosen that tie," the voice whispered softly beside her. Sara jumped. Kenneth Irons smiled a little, obviously amused by her discomfort.

"Jezzus, are you trying to get me to join you?" she growled at the dead man, trying to hide the fear and anger that his presence caused her. "You're dead, stay that way, we don't need you!"

"If only that were true," he said with a dramatic sigh. "And as much as I would enjoy your company in the less corporeal fashion that I am left with, there will be time for that later. But I will agree not to make an appearance tonight. I only came to warn you."

"I don't need your warnings and I definitely don't need you and neither does Ian," Sara said angrily.

"You have done well, both of you. You have freed him, just as you freed me. Now listen please, time is short and it would not do for anyone else to see you talking to yourself," he said sarcastically, one eyebrow raised in that superior manner than made her just want to slap him even though she knew it would be useless. "Tonight there will be people here, people who know far more than you do. No matter what is said, watch Ian carefully and above all, keep your temper."

"Me? I'm the soul of patience and discretion. Now that you have delivered your crypt-o-gram, why don't you get lost," she growled, wishing she was anywhere but caring on a conversation with a man she didn't like alive and certainly didn't like dead. Wield the Witchblade, see strange visions, talk to annoying dead people and if you are really lucky, you can die early either protecting the world or the 'blade from all sorts of annoying evil. What ever happened to normal life? she thought sarcastically to herself.

"I am already," he said in a voice that was bitter and a little sad, but when she turned to look he had disappeared and she was left alone with the dead body, and the usual questions.

An hour ago the room had only one occupant, now there were dozens. Kenneth Irons was too well known for this to ever have a chance of being quiet. While it was private, still there managed to be far more people than they had really wanted. Security had already had to evict at least a dozen members of the press trying to sneak in through various ruses. Of the Dragons, Mobius and Green were stuck to Ian like a pair of large and ill matched shadows, while McGill had disappeared into the maze of electronic security with a look of fierce concentration and devotion. Sara, who was also stuck to Ian, looking like a Pomeranian in the company of Mastiffs had seen him briefly as with a great deal of joy and satisfaction, he had been manhandling a particularly ingenious fellow who was trying to sneak in on the catering truck. She did not want to know if he had bothered opening the gate first, she did know that the reporter would have a long walk back to where ever he had left his car, as the outside of the grounds and the perimeter had been swept for just that kind of thing, with the help of local law enforcement on the outside and the dogs, usually only loose on the grounds at night patrolling to give a shock to anyone trying to come over the fence.

The President probably doesn't have this much security, she thought. At least he isn't here. Much to Sara's surprise and amazement, a telegram had arrived, expressing condolences and apologies for the Chief Executive's inability to attend the memorial. She had forgotten, if she had ever realized it, how well connected Irons was until the telegrams, letters of condolence and calls began coming in from the famous and wealthy, the infamous and powerful. Already there had been one or two issues with the body guards and personal security of some of the guests and Sara was exceedingly glad that they had decided on an informal reception and wake instead of a proper funeral. When asked, Ian simply answered that his father had an intense dislike of funerals. Privately, he had told her that Irons had not only hated them, but would actively avoid them, saying that he had been to enough of them in his lifetime.

They had positioned themselves close enough to the door for Ian to be able to greet people without being dragged into conversation by the need to greet all the guests and far enough away from the star attraction that he could avoid having Irons body shoved in his face. If any of the guests recognized the new 'Mr. Irons' as the quiet, menacing shadow he had been, they said nothing, save those who most definitely knew who he was. Danny had been drafted, although Ian insisted on paying him, as it was policy to hire off duty officers to supplement existing forces for large events. He had drifted past in a black suit that Sara was pretty sure she hadn't seen since the last time they had been at a funeral together. As it was, Sara discreetly tugged at the collar of the stiff black suit that she had run out and bought the day before so that she wouldn't embarrass Ian. As it was, she had found it difficult to get her weapon settled under the jacket, and the heels were killing her. She would have dispensed with them if she could have found a good way, besides they gave her some measure of height surrounded as she was by Ian, Mobius and Green. Sara was not a particularly short woman but that was enough to make her feel the need for every inch.

"Mr. Nottingham," the familiar voice of the Chief broke her out of her thoughts, "How are you managing to hold up?" he asked, shaking the younger man's hand. Sara remembered the impression she had, that the Chief was a good man, in spite of the fact that he seemed to have liked Irons.

"I am doing well, Sir, thank you."

"Good, good, glad we could get everything cleared up so quickly. That was good work, Detective." He addressed Sara briefly before heading into the crowd. Sara thought it was interesting the way people walked past Irons in his box, then after a perfunctory look, immediately wandered away as if they had urgent business somewhere else. She wondered why these people, who presumably enjoyed his company while he was alive, because very uncomfortable in the presence of his corpse. Many funerals that she had attended, admittedly mostly Irish Catholic Cops, people gathered around the body as if to make it a part of the celebration. Wonder if he is watching all this, Sara thought.

The hour was starting to wear. Ian and his entourage had drifted from their position by the door closer to the fireplace as the influx of guests slowed. For the most part he stood and let others talk, mouthing polite platitudes for the most part of people who knew the man socially but for the most part knew little enough about what kind of man he was. There were a few, but even they knew little of him. Sara could tell that Ian was tired and she hoped that people would start trickling away soon. As she was casting a weary eye around the room, she felt a pricking as the Witchblade awoke on her wrist. Reflexively, she covered the stone with her other hand as her eyes met Ian's, question clear between them. What does it see?

In the open doorway of the room, a woman entered. She was tall, blond and pretty in that thin angular way that models were. There was something familiar about her, and Ian started to move towards her, to do his duty as host when he recognized her, a face from his father's past. For a moment he froze with indecision as Dominique Boucher stalked purposefully toward where Irons' body lay in state.

The woman in the scarlet dress glided across the room with the kind of effortless grace that only training and years of practice on the runway could develop. Sara knew immediately that she didn't like her. While they had never met, the strange déjà vu sensation would not go away and the insistent niggle of the Witchblade for attention didn't help.

One look at Ian confirmed that he knew exactly who she was and that he was not thrilled by her presence either. In fact, she could see the looks of surprise on a number of the faces around the room. One of the men Sara had been introduced to earlier as a long time associate of Irons approached her, obviously intent on getting her aside but she brushed him off and continued toward her target, the late Kenneth Irons.

Ian started forward, to approach or confront her, not even sure which himself. Of all the situations that might arise, this was one he had not foreseen. Certainly he knew who Dominique was and that she and his father had been lovers, though the affair had ended before his birth. He also knew about the attempt to create her as a Wielder which had led him once to screw up the courage to ask his father the question that weighted on his mind, if she was his mother.

It was one of the few times he had seen his father truly angry. For a moment he thought that he had crossed a line best left alone. There was an anger that Ian had never seen before, no matter what he had done. Irons raised a hand almost reflexively and Ian waited. Waited what seemed like almost an eternity. After a long moment, his father's face relaxed, returned to its usual neutral expression, though colder. "No," he said carefully. "To allow that would have been a crime against genetics."

Ian started to ask further, emboldened by his narrow escape but his father dismissed him, curtly telling him not to ask again. The memory was sharp, painful, reminding him yet again of what he had lost, his father lying dead and silent in a wooden box, his mother, even less than a memory, he didn't even know her name. The pain of loss, of not knowing left him feeling wrenched apart, alone and desolate. Just when he thought that the blackness would drown him, Sara reached out and took his hand. Another hand clapped him on the shoulder with all the gentleness of a Mack truck. Between them, it was almost bearable.

The woman in red continued to stalk toward the coffin having shaken off the well meaning hands and approached the wooden coffin. Her eyes glowed with predatory glee as she looked down at Kenneth Irons, almost peaceful in his repose. All over the room conversations were starting to falter, the clink of glassware sounding inordinately loud in the large room. Sara stepped forward, placing herself between Ian and the bitch-woman in red.

"I just came to make certain that the bastard was in fact, dead."

The words fell like breaking glass in the silent room. Behind her, Sara could feel Ian shift. "Perhaps…" Ian started, voice controlled, barely. In the room, conversation started again hesitantly. Some eyed the scene with avid, hungry eyes, but one glance at the dark shadow behind Ian was enough to case them to look away quickly, returning to the bee hive buzz of chatter.

"What could you possibly tell me?" Dominique said scornfully. "I doubt you know anything, bastard boy. You, Kenneth's pride, hardly." Her voice was hard and dismissive but there were undercurrents, things that neither he, nor Sara understood. "Your mother was the same way, all sweetness on the surface, always meddling in things that were none of her business. Not that she could keep him any better…" Her voice was thick with scorn and only the restraining hand of Mobius on his arm kept Ian from flying at her as the rage and pain boiled like bile in his throat.

Sara was only managing to keep her temper by focusing on Ian and his pain. "Listen, B…"

"To you? Hardly. You think you can control it?" The woman nodded toward the Witchblade, now adamantly pulsing with its' own rage. "No one from your line ever could. And Kenneth dared to call me a pretender, me? After all that I did for him, all I could have done. No, it was all about her, about bloodlines and ghosts and destiny. Your mother was nothing but his brood mare, whatever she may have thought."

"How dare you speak of…" Ian began, voice so thick with emotion that every word seemed elongated, slowed with exaggerated care.

"Of what, your mother? Useless little bitch. Your new Wielder? How long do you think you and she can hold it, how long do you think that Kenneth would have allowed you to hold her, had he lived? Maybe he only let you have him because she was too much like his dear dead popsicle? Check mate, in the end I win, I will always win." Sara was shocked and angry, she could see the poison had been seething in the woman for a long time, festering and now she was using the funeral as an excuse to let go of some of it, for that alone, Sara wanted to strangle her.

"You need to leave, now." The new voice, the voice of Talon Green who appeared behind the woman in red was startling to all in the little tableau.

"Don't worry," she said, lightly, as if they were discussing nothing more important than the weather or the food. "I've seen what I came to see." Turning on her heel, Dominique turned and left, Green following just to make sure.

"OK, who the HELL was that?" Sara growled, trying to keep her voice down. Her head was spinning, trying to get a handle on what she had said.

"That was Dominique Boucher, she and my father were…involved once, before I was born. It did not end well." Ian seemed reluctant to say more at the moment, and Sara didn't really blame him, this was not the time.

"Yeah, I got that. And I thought I had some bad breakups." The statement was meant to lighten the mood, but inside she was still trying to think. The woman knew something about Ian's past, or at least pretended she did. And she knew about the 'blade. This was going to take some careful handling. Besides, Sara thought, looking and feeling the further pain that the woman had caused, I owe that bitch a serious ass kicking. In fact, I'm going to enjoy it.

Sara shoved Vic's report out of her way and tried to focus on the crime scene report. There was nothing unexpected in it, the blanket had been dumped by one of the city's transient residents, a forensic free for all, but little of it relevant to the case at hand. Most likely it had been swapped for the victim's newer and warmer coat. Cause of death was blunt force trauma, in all likelihood the edge of the bench where blood and tissue were found in the wood, but none of that was really sinking in. All she could think about was the way that bitch had stood there and goaded Ian, goaded her. Sara could feel the 'blade getting warm on her wrist and for once she wasn't completely sure she didn't agree.

After the memorial, she and Ian had retreated to his room, still his although Sara knew that that too was about to change. She only had a brief moment to thank God that they had not decided to move him immediately before she had been sucked in by Ian's need and distress. She had sat with him, listening while he talked and paced the room until his restlessness drove her almost through the roof. Just when she thought he could take no more, Mobius had shown up, dragging him off to the gym to blow of some of his excess energy, beating on his brothers. Knowing that they also needed the bonding time, Sara decided to go talk to the one person in the house she was certain she could trust.

"Now, you have yourself a couple of these," Cook said, pushing the plate of what she said were homemade ginger biscuits, but Sara thought were more like cookies. "You ought to be having a cuppa tea rather than coffee, better for the nerves," she commented as she poured a bit of cream in her own mug as she settled down at the table with her. "Now, what is it that's bothering you? I can't see you leaving Mr. Nottingham on a lark to come down here to take tea with an old lady."

"Ian's off with the guys, working off some of his stress," Sara said, trying to figure out what she wanted to say.

"I'm not surprised with that awful woman turning up like that. If my Henry had seen her he would have had her chucked out that fast, woman or no." Sara could see the flash in her eyes and the mix of pride and anger, it was also the first time she had ever heard her refer to her husband as anything but 'Wilson'. She was not surprised that the cook already knew what had happened; Sara very much doubted that anything went on in the house without her knowing first. It was all the more understandable when she found out that in addition to being married to Wilson, her sister was Mrs. Hancock, the housekeeper, thus an unlimited supply of information.

"Did you know her?" she asked, cautiously, working up to what she really wanted to know.

"Her? No, she was gone long before I came. You might ask Wilson, he…" Cook stopped and put down her tea. "But that is not what you want to know, now is it?" she asked, bright blue eyes sparkling with awareness.

"No, I…She said some things. I want to know, I need to know, for Ian. Irons is dead, why is everyone still going around protecting him? Ian is falling apart, and I thought you all really cared about him. Why can't you help me? I have to do something!" Sara could feel the tears start and she was embarrassed for herself. She turned her head away and heard the chair scrape back and felt the older woman beside her, patting her on the back.

"There, there now," she said, handing her clean handkerchief from one of the pockets of her apron. "I know it has been hard on you. You want so much, and it is not going to be easy. I want to help you, but it is really not my story to tell, it is Henry's. I will talk to him, but he has kept Mr. Irons' secrets for a very long time. It is not easy to put aside the habits of a lifetime, you know that yourself. Have patience, child." She got up and made another cup of tea, put sugar and cream in and passed it to Sara. She looked at it, wiping her eyes.

"I don't…"

"Drink it, it is good for the shock, and then I need to get started on dinner, and you should go see how your gentleman is doing."

"Yes Ma'am," Sara said, meekly taking a drink. She was certain that Cook would see that she got what she needed; the older woman was tougher than she looked.

The sound of her office door opening, and more files dropping on her desk pulled Sara out of her reverie. There was nothing she could do about the situation at the house, Wilson would not move any faster because she pressed, he might even back off. It was time to see what she could do herself. Making sure her door was closed, she pushed aside the papers littering her desk and pulled the keyboard towards her, typing 'Dominique Boucher' in the search line and settling in to see what came up.

Sara walked into the hyper modern minimalist lobby nervously. She hated that kind of cold, decorator crap, just like Irons outer office, it was just all too superficial. The receptionist looked like she had been ordered from a TV series, perfect makeup and a smile that was all teeth. "Miss Boucher has left for the day, I am sorry," she said with the professional lack of concern of someone who said the same thing a few hundred times a day.

"Great," Sara muttered under her breath. She wanted to get this over, not have to come back, the place gave her the creeps.

"Are you Detective Pezzini?" the woman asked suddenly.

"Yeah, how…" she said, before following her gaze. Her jacket was open, weapon peaking out under her arm.

"Miss Boucher was expecting you," she said, writing something down on a post-it note from a rainbow stack.

"Why am I not surprised," Sara said sarcastically. What is it with these people? Her, Irons, I feel like I'm walking around with a sign on my forehead, freak magnate here, she thought.

"She said to give you her home address. She doesn't usually do that, but she said it was important."

"Yeah, thanks," she said turning to leave. Probably better to do this in private anyway, she thought. No witnesses. No matter how she tried to picture this scene, she knew the woman wasn't exactly going to volunteer. She flipped open her phone and left a message on Ian's voice mail that she was going to be late, grateful that she didn't have to try to lie to him.

The tea table was set, china pot just waiting for the kettle when he came in. It was probably silly but it was a tradition they had maintained since early in their time at the Estate when they realized that it would not always be possible for them to spend much time together. So every day at four o'clock, the two of them would sit down together in her parlor, just the two of them over a cuppa to talk. Henry leaned back in the chair and sighed. It had been long several days, and he was starting to consider how much longer he could continue. Perhaps it was time to think about finding and training a replacement, maybe retire, go back home. On the other hand, there had been enough changes for a little while, and what would they do? Probably drive each other to distraction in short order, he thought as he heard Margery bustling in with the kettle.

"Need help?" he asked, though he knew she would refuse.

"Not a bit, you just stay where you are," she said as she poured the kettle into the pot and popped the top on before rushing out with it again. She returned momentarily and dropped into the chair next to him with a plate of biscuits and a smile.

"Long day, Love?" he asked, smiling at his wife as she busied herself with the tea things. It was probably a bit stereotypical of them, but they enjoyed their little ritual, it reminded them both of the home they had left behind over thirty years ago. He looked at her fondly. In all the years since they had married, he had never regretted a moment of it. The hair which had once been a rich red had faded to white, but her eyes still sparkled merrily and the years had been good.

"Not really. It is nice having a few more mouths to feed, and those boys all eat as though they have never been feed properly," she said. Margery could see the sadness that came and went in her husbands eyes. "You miss him don't you?" she asked.

"Mr. Irons was…"

"I mean Jaime," she said. "I know that you miss him."

"It has been a long time."

"Not that long, and you can't say…"

"Yes, I miss them both," he said, taking his cup from her. Henry knew what she was taking about, he could see where the conversation was going and he truly did not want to discuss it, at least not now. It was all to close and at the moment all he wanted was to sit, drink his tea and spend time with his wife.

Margery looked at him as she prepared his tea. It was not going to be easy, getting him to open up, especially considering the situation, but it was time. It had been hard on all of them when Ian's mother died, and Irons' need to bury it had not been healthy for any of them. She had been like a sister to Henry, and he had grieved inside, quietly. Jaime had been different; his feelings had been more complex. He had thrown himself into his work and enjoyed the violence in a grim way. Regardless, it was a long time ago, and it was past time that they got on with it. "Sara came down to talk to me last night," she said, lightly.

"That business with the Boucher woman?" he asked. "I'm not surprised. She does not strike me as the type to let that pass."

"She won't let any of it go, nor should she. It has all been kept quiet for too long." Margery set down the cup and looked straight in his eyes. "You need to talk to her," she said. "And to him. She is not going to stop asking questions. It is time to tell the story, and who better than you?"

"What did you tell her?" he asked, resignedly.

"Not a thing, it is not my story to tell, it is yours."

"It has been a long time, I am not sure…" Henry said with a sigh.

"Tosh, you care for Ian almost as much as you do for our son. He needs to know, don't you think that Mr. Irons would have said as much if he thought he was going to die?" she said angrily. "That girl of his is smart and she won't stop and heavens only know what that bracelet is showing her? Do you want her getting more of the wrong idea than she already has?" Margery's eyes were blazing and Henry couldn't help but smile. They were both older, but inside his wife was still the fiery woman that she always had been, and she would brook no resistance, especially when she felt she was right, and he knew that she was right. She loved the boy as another son also, and would fight like a mother bear to make sure he was safe.

"I suppose. I don't know what to say though," he said, resigned, looking at her.

"Oh, I know you, when the time has come, you will find the words. Now, how about another cup, and a biscuit before you go back to work?" She smiled, pleased that her husband had seen reason, and they would finally be able to heal.

Sara pulled up to the building on the note and busied herself chaining her bike to a street light and trying not to let the lump in her stomach distract her. I'm just here to talk to the woman, she told herself. What could possibly happen? But she could feel the restlessness of the Witchblade on her wrist and there was the seething anger left from yesterday's incident. This was more than just a woman pissed at the man who dumped her, especially since by all accounts they had parted company before she was even born and no matter how bad it ended, no one held a grudge that long for something stupid. Sara could feel that niggle that usually heralded a vision but she ignored it. Right now she didn't want to know.

Having secured the bike to her satisfaction, she turned her attention to the building. It was pretty nondescript actually, not one of those high end new condos or an upper west side style pre-war, this looked more like a small warehouse or manufacturing building, but then those were being turned into expensive lofts all over Chelsea, so you never could tell.

She walked up to the door way, just an overhang really with only one bell attached to a speaker grate and a security camera. Standing in the inset waiting for an answer, Sara felt a little exposed. The number seemed to ring forever before she heard the click and an abrupt, "Come on up, second floor," followed by the buzz of the security locks release.

Stepping through the door, Sara shifted her weapon a little closer and a little more easily, glad that for some inexplicable reason she had shifted to the shoulder holster today instead of the belt clip. Not that she was anticipating trouble; she tried to tell herself, just being prepared. As Ian would say, attack is rarely anticipated, so vigilance is necessary at all times. Sara just figured it was better to be wrong and alive.

Inside she was treated to yet another ultra modern seating area with all the warmth and personality of a high end doctor's office. Plastic surgeon, she thought, looking at all the pictures hung on the white walls. Photographs of anorexic models in various poses were displayed in thin silver frames around the room in a pattern so random it had to be planned, presumably the models from her agency. God, what is it with this shit, she thought in disgust, shivering. The upholstery was some kind of light grey simulated snake skin, the floors all white marble and even the tables were some kind of ultra modern white cubes. The only thing that looked out of place was also the one thing that looked familiar, a painting of a semi familiar woman or maybe a goddess, but regardless, the Witchblade was there on her wrist. It wasn't the same picture as the one in Irons gallery but it was a close relative. Ignoring the creepy feeling she was getting, she walked through the room toward the elevator.

The elevator came to the kind of smooth stop only money and regular maintenance could supply. The door opened into a darkened hall and Sara resisted the temptation to pull her weapon immediately. It would not do for her to have to write a report for a purely personal matter. Her career had suffered enough for this year, between the explosion at the museum and her entanglement with Ian and Irons. What she needed at the moment was to keep her head down. Stepping out, Sara immediately realized what that Boucher woman was doing. The short dark hall opened out into a loft area, the dimness highlighting the fancy chair with Dominique Boucher sitting in like the queen of Sheba. Dressed in black, to show off her light skin and hair, tight fitting with one of those Chinese collars, and a kind of thick, grey thing around her shoulders that Sara could not quite make out from where she was standing.

Cautiously she stepped out into the room. "I have been waiting for you," Dominique said suddenly. She had been sitting there like a statue, making sure that she had all the attention.

Just like a model, Sara thought disgustedly. "Miss Boucher, I am here to talk to you about…"

"Talk? This is not the time for talk. You are here because you were drawn here by the Witchblade."

"I am not here about this thing," Sara said, feeling her blood heat up. "You said some things yesterday at Irons' memorial about Ian…"

Dominique laughed as she rose from the chair. "Is that what you think this is about? About Kenneth, about that basterd of his?"

"How did you know Ian's mother? From all I have heard, Irons dumped you long before that."

"How dare you? You, you are nothing more than a pretender, just like her. It is all about the bloodlines though, at least for Kenneth. He always was obsessed with the bloodlines. He dared to call me a pretender when he was the biggest pretender of all. But none of that matters. You think you are here by accident, that I turned up just to satisfy my desire for revenge?" she laughed again, but it was getting sharper, almost maniacal.

Sara shifted to a fighting position as the other woman moved towards her. Closer Sara could see that while she was not necessarily as young as she first appeared neither was she holding up as well as Irons. Something around her chin, around the eyes that showed her age. When Sara had seen her yesterday she thought she was about the same age, but looking at her now, she looked closer to forty, maybe even older. But that did not make her any less dangerous. The thing around her neck resolved itself into some kind of segmented snake thing and even as she was moving forward, Sara could see her shifting her grip, feel the surge as the 'blade screamed in the back of her head.

"I drew you here, like a spider draws a fly. Now you will see, now he will see from whatever hell he is rotting in who the true Wielder is. All the blood in the world and she could never be a Wielder. The time has come for me to take back what is mine." Dominique swung down on her, using the snake a little like the chain whip Sara had seen Danny use once or twice. She dived out of the way but before she could raise her head, the tail was coming at her from the other direction.

"I didn't come here for this," Sara said as she slid over a table, keeping her head down. "But if it's a fight you want…"

"This is not a fight…Come," she called, and Sara knew she wasn't talking to her. "Come, I command you." Reaching out, Dominique pitted her will against Sara's.

Sara could feel the pull against the edge of her mind, but she knew that she was the stronger. If you want to, she thought. You could just let it go, let her have what she wants, or what she thinks she wants. Not completely sure what she was doing, Sara let go, following her instincts the way Ian was always after her to do. The Witchblade released itself from her wrist and flew across the room to wrap around Dominique Boucher's triumphant wrist.

For a moment, Sara felt fear, like she had done something really, really stupid. She stood up, bracing herself for the charge that she was pretty sure was about to come. The look on the other woman's face had turned from victory, to ecstasy, to insanity and now as she turned to Sara, there was only a moment to mentally apologize to Ian for the life she had promised him before she saw the 'blade transform, first to the familiar gauntlet and then to a snake form. "You see, I am the true Wielder."

Sara closed her eyes but she could feel it, the 'blade still connected to her and she knew. "You think you're the true Wielder? I don't think so. Irons was right, you're nothing but a fake, a fraud. You think you can control it? No way, it responds to me," she said, reaching out on her own. "And I say, tighten." The Witchblade responded immediately, the metal snick of the gauntlet as it changed and tightened around the other woman's wrist.

"No, you can't do this to me," Dominique cried out, trying to regain control but it was too late. "I am your true Mistress, not her, not the others, ME!" The 'blade was out of her control. Again it tightened before releasing her and returning to Sara's wrist. Dominique crumpled to the floor, crying in pain, her eyes rolling in madness. Even as she watched, the woman began to age, as if the Witchblade, now finished with her, was giving her back the years it had kept at bay.

Sara pulled out her cell phone and dialed. "Dispatch, I have an old woman here, she has fallen and I think she's having some kind of fit, send a 'bus."

As soon as she reached the apartment door she could smell it, food. The growl of her stomach overrode the tiredness, or at least some of it. Thoughts of Ian helped too. By the time the 'bus had arrived, Dominique barely had a pulse. Sara gave her the basics, but knew this was beyond the first responder training they had at the academy. Even thought part of her was angry, wanted to hurt her, mostly she was just tired. The EMTs pronounced after about five minutes, putting it down to her apparent age. Sara gave a vague statement to the portable, about coming to speak to the resident and finding the woman. She couldn't have explained to them that this was Dominique Boucher, the owner. Not the way she looked. Tired, discouraged and frustrated, she headed home. But Ian had anticipated her needs even better than she could have done herself.

Opening the door, she tried to smile. Ian was sitting on the couch, waiting for her while she hung up her jacket and put her helmet down on the shelf. It just showed how far they had come. At first he would jump up, greet her while she was still trying to change her mindset. Now he gave her the time and the space. She walked into the bedroom and put her gun away.

"I am glad you are home, I took the liberty of ordering dinner," Ian called to her. That brought a smile to her face. He was getting better but he still had this way of deferring to her that was some times infuriating, sometimes endearing. She wondered what how it would be when he stopped, or if he would but those were deeper thoughts than she was up to at the moment. Sara wanted a shower, to wash the day off her and down the drain and curling up with Ian, just to let him hold her until she felt ok again. Instead her stomach growled again, reminding her that she had missed…Everything. She had bailed out of the estate early, wanting to miss traffic, with only a cup of coffee, much to Mrs. Hancock's dismay as she gulped down the cup, handed back the mug and run. Lunch had been a stale donut that she had grabbed out of the coffee room that she had failed to eat and had been gone when she got back from her briefing. The janitorial staff probably thought it was left over from the night before. It probably had been. Stripping out of her work clothes, Sara grabbed an old tee shirt and a comfy pair of sweat shorts and headed into the living room. Ian had gotten up and was piling two plates with something that smelled so good she felt her knees go weak. He had already put the silver wear on the table, and lit a couple of candles that she kept around for power outages, as well as pouring her a glass of red wine that she was sure had not been in the apartment when she left. Ian brought her a plate and paused for a kiss before getting his own.

"Yeah," she said, smiling at him as she took a sip of wine. "This is the only way to come home after a long day."

"I will have to remember that. Was it?" he asked, curiously, as if he was not at all interested, even though she knew he was. He brought his plate over and sat down, waiting. She knew he had learned patience really well; he had talked about it a little. Hours of waiting, for Irons, for a target, surveillance, doing what was necessary. Sara understood that. She hated surveillance herself, had never been good at the long hours of waiting. As active as Ian was she couldn't imagine being stuck in a car waiting for something to happen. She knew she was avoiding it, telling him what had happened. He knew too, sitting attentively, waiting for her answer.

"Yeah, something like that. This is great, what is it?" she asked, trying to put him off again. She knew she would have to tell him but not like this.

"It is Malaysian; I stopped on the way from the office. You mentioned in your message that you would be late and I assumed that you would be hungry."

"I got a little busy," she said vaguely.

"The new case?"

"I don't know, something just feels wrong about it. They're trying to find whoever it was that stole her coat, figure it for a homeless person who rolled her for it, but I'm not buying it."

"The captain?" he asked. "How does he feel about it?"

"He's willing to listen, as long as I come up with something soon."

"He is a smart man, he trusts your instincts."

"Well, I wish that I had something more to give him," she said, turning her attention back to the food. They ate in silence for a while, both enjoying the food and just being together. Sara took a sip of her wine and looked over at him. Ian was there, sitting next to her. The candles picked up the little highlights in his dark hair and the new light in his eyes, the light she knew that somehow, miraculously, she was part of. It wasn't right to keep things from him, but it could wait, at least till after dinner.

"Sara," he said to her as they were starting to clear the dishes. They had managed to get through dinner, but he kept looking at her, and she knew she could not put him off much longer. She was tired though, bone deep tired. She wanted to just crawl into bed, instead she looked up at him, giving him her attention. "What is wrong?"

"Nothing," she said dismissively, handing him the remains of the meal to put away. "Just a long day."

"Sara," he said again. She could hear it all there in his tone, disappointment, sadness, irritation and just a bit of sarcasm. She wondered how he did it, managed to convey so much with just one word. It was barely two syllables but he managed to make more out of it that Jake could with a week and a dictionary. "I know something is wrong, I can feel it. Is it something I have done?"

"No," Sara said, more sharply than she meant it. "Not everything is about you," she grumbled, scrapping the plates into the trash with more vigor than necessary. "And stay out of my head."

"I did not…" he said, then stopped and said nothing more, taking the dishes and dumping them into the sink in silence. Sara finished the plates and started to wipe the table down; looking back she could see Ian, his face a frozen masque, the kind she had not seen since the beginning. It hurt, a lot. As she wiped, she thought about her life, as it was now. Already everything was starting to recede, the loneliness, the fear, everything that her life had been BI, before Ian. She really didn't want to think about going back to that life, the life that had been leading her down a path to self destruction. It was her fault anyway. She should have just walked in the door and told him, but that wasn't her, or at least it shouldn't be.

"Ian, I'm sorry," she said quietly. "Today was just really stressful, and I wanted to wait as long as possible before dealing."

"And you thought shutting me out would help?" he said mildly, his expression carefully neutral.

"I'm good at shutting people out, ok? Neither are you."

"I'm trying…"

"Yeah, I know," Sara said. "It is all about working together; just give me a little time, ok? Why don't you go sit down, I'll finish this." Ian nodded cautiously and gave her a little smile. He wrung out the rag and hung it on the faucet to dry, and went over and dropped tiredly onto the couch. Watching him, Sara could see that he had a long day too but he wasn't dumping on her. Carefully she considered what and how to say what she needed to, and finally just gave up. "Dominique Boucher is dead," she said straight out.

"What?" he said, half rising from the couch. "How, Sara, what did you…" He seemed to have more questions than words and all of them trying to come out at once.

"I didn't do anything to her, and I don't know the how either. What makes you think I did something?"

"I am sorry Sara, I was just concerned, the 'blade sometimes overwhelms the wielder. You know how strong the blood lust can be. My father said that it is not fond of the pretenders, and had been particularly cruel to Dominique, leaving her with an ache like a kind of addiction. But please tell me what happened, I thought we agreed to leave her alone."

"Ian, some of the things she said, I just wanted some answers, I thought I could help you." She was upset, not at Ian really but at her own failure to achieve her aims. All she had done was get Dominique angry and draw her into a fight. Sara came over to the couch and flopped down on the other end as Ian resettled himself. His hair was free, and as she looked up she could see him staring at her from behind the lock that had fallen over his eyes. She wanted to tell him all but she just couldn't find the words.

"And did you?" he asked finally. "Learn anything?"

"No, not really, when I got there she just spewed some more crap and then attacked me."

"And?" he asked, pulling the story out of her like probing a wound for infection.

"And it was weird," she told him, describing the actions of the Witchblade. It was if it was easier now, trying to solve the problem of what had happened, making it easier. When she finished they were both in the middle of the couch, snuggled up together, everything but her encounter with the snaky bitch forgotten.

"Well," he said slowly. "The 'blade hates pretenders as I said. It seems that it can remove the gifts it bestows in the presence of a true wielder."

"I don't know about that, but it was scary, she just curled up and died. The EMTs worked on her for about ten minutes but they ended up pronouncing her. Said she died of old age. I just told them I found her and got the heck out of there."

"Excellent plan, but enough about that," he said. Now that she had told him, he felt a little better, although he did not want to probe too much. Ever since her outburst at the funeral, he had been questioning himself, his past, and the mother he never knew. As much as he didn't want to think about it, he was disappointed that he knew nothing more than he had done before. It was time to think about something else.

"You have a better idea?" she said with a smile, feeling much more relaxed.

"I believe you were the one that said you would like a nice shower and an early evening," he told her with a smile.

"Where is Mobius?" she said suddenly, realizing that she had forgotten about the other man, and definitely wanted NOT to be watched.

"He is up on the roof, keeping watch. Do not worry, he cannot see us. I told him I would handle the internal surveillance personally." Sara laughed contentedly and dragged herself off the couch, reaching out for him.

In the dark heart of the night, Sara slipped quietly out of the bed and pulled on the black silk robe that Ian had bought her to keep at the apartment. The smooth fabric on her skin made her smile a little as she went into the kitchen to get some water. Ian had been sleeping poorly, tossing, and muttering in his sleep, but she held him until he calmed. Now he was at least seemingly deep asleep and she was up and restless. In the living room she flopped down on the couch and looked out. It had started raining, that heavy, blustery rain that might, if the temperature got any lower turn to snow before morning. For a moment she considered Mobius on the roof, but knowing Ian, there was some kind of nest up there to protect him from the weather. For all she knew, they were immune to the effects of weather. She had seen Ian do some pretty odd things, considering. Sara lit a candle on the table and sat back trying to think.

The evening had definitely had its high points, and for a while they had both been able to take their minds off all their troubles. Still Sara was unsettled. She hadn't meant for the bitch to die, she had only wanted to get information from her. Actually Sara wasn't completely sure what had happened to the woman, one minute she was fighting like a maniac, the next she had been laying there, an old woman with the fight out of her.

"The problem, my dear Sara, is that you believe you want direct answers to direct questions." She should have been surprised, she wanted to think that she had seen the last of him, but there he sat, incongruous with his grey suit in her shabby casual living room.

"I don't believe in ghosts," she told him, looking away.

"It is just as well, neither do I as it happens," he said. "You look very comfortable." Irons' gaze made her aware that dead or not, he was sitting in her living room and she was wearing nothing but a robe. Uncomfortably, she pulled the robe more tightly around her.

"What do you want?" she said quietly. She was not sure if Ian could see him, or how he would react.

"Dominique told you little or nothing," he said. "The answers you seek are not there."

"Great, more cryptic bullshit, just what I need. Look, is there a reason you are here haunting me or whatever, and what do I do to get rid of you?"

"The reason you can see me is the reason I am here."

"Can't you just tell me what I need to know?" she said, exasperated. It was bad enough she had to put up with him, but she couldn't even do anything to him now.

"It is not how the game must be played," he said, smiling.

"I don't like games, and I don't get all this mumbo jumbo crypto crap."

"I can only give you directions, not answers. Those you must find for yourself," Irons said. He appeared to be enjoying himself, at least a little. Sara wanted to yell at him but she was afraid that she would wake Ian. "Dominique could not give you the answers you seek, you should perhaps look closer to home, Ian's home at least," he said, his eyes wandering critically around the small room.

"Great, I have to put up with you and get insulted. What I need are real answers, Ian's mother…"

"Is dead, and you are asking the wrong questions."

"Fine, what is the right question? What happened to Dominique?"

"She tried to reclaim the Witchblade, but it will only respond to a true Wielder. Now that you have been chosen, the gifts it bestowed on others start to fade."

"Like youth? She must have been at least seventy."

"Correct. That is the right question," he said with a smile like one of those school teachers in an old movie. "Take care of Ian." He said sadly, nodding toward the bedroom where her lover slept, at least she hoped he slept. When she turned back, he was gone. Sara cursed quietly to herself and reached for her water when she heard the floor creak.

"Sara, what are you doing up?" Ian asked. He was standing in the doorway, hair loose and tousled from sleep, skin pale gold against the darkness.

"I just needed something to drink, you are going to catch cold like that," she said.

"Why don't you come and keep me warm then?" he said with that slow, sexy smile that she had only just noticed in the last week. Sara got up from the couch, putting behind everything for a little while longer. As she reached the doorway, he put his arms around her, pushing the robe back from her shoulders. "We have time before we have to be up. We should make the best of it." With his mouth on hers, he pulled her to the bed, and she forgot about Irons, about Dominique, about everything else, at least for a while.