Author's note: This is my first stab at this fandom. I find Nottingham too fascinating to resist. Critique is always welcome.

Chapter 1

Flames, flickering in the fireplace. The blade, alive in his hands. His master, a look of wry amusement on his face. Everything is familiar. Everything is right. And none of it matters because She infects his thoughts, and her presence tears his world to shreds.

"How dramatic." Irons waves a dismissive hand, unconcerned by the shining steel he wields. The old man knows him too well. But then, a father always knows his son.

"It is written no man can serve two masters. I thought I could prove the exception. I was mistaken."

"And now you agonize between your devotion to me and your passion for Sara Pezzini."

Sinking to his knees, he bows his head and holds out the blade. He can already taste the futility of his quest, sense his failure reflected back at him by cold blue eyes. Perhaps, just this once, Irons will be merciful. Perhaps tomorrow, the sun won't rise.

"You gave me life. It's yours to take back. I would consider it a mercy." Begging doesn't suit him, but honor is something he no longer lays claim to. He's betrayed them both. The only two that matter, and he's betrayed them both. Irons looks down on him as if he were a stranger, some random acquaintance from a distant unpleasant past. It's the answer he expected.

"If you don't, I shall." He lifts his head, and it is almost a threat. Almost a rebellion. Almost- but not quite.

"I am not a merciful man, Ian." Irons rises from his seat, his jaw clenched, his knuckles whitening as he grips his cane tight.

The rebellion is squelched before it has a chance to begin. Eyes drop and he awaits the fall of the blow. What he receives in its place is much, much worse. Gentle fingers, tilting his head up. Forcing eye contact. Demanding his obedience.

"I own you, Ian. Never forget that. You do not die without my permission. You haven't earned the right."

Those cool fingers weave through his hair, yanking his head back until he struggles to draw breath. Whispered words echo in his ear, speaking the thoughts that he has tried so hard to avoid. "What makes you think she would have you, Ian? What makes you think you are worthy? You want your freedom? You won't like it, I promise you. But if it is sacrifice you wish for...."

Knocking the sword from his hands, Irons stalks away. Still kneeling on the floor, Ian glances guiltily at the blade, then glances away. Please, just let this be a beating.

"It is also written, 'As for this worthless slave, throw him out into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' If that is the fate that you desire, then it is the fate you shall have. Be gone, Ian. Your darkness awaits, and it will not be found in the blessing of oblivion. I forbid you your death."

****************

The rain was still falling, the alley still reeked of piss, and New York was still a long, long way away. Jumping lightly from the second floor ledge, Ian felt muscles twinge as he landed. How long had he been crouching there, lost in the past? Too long for comfort, not long enough to forget.

Tugging his sodden jacket more tightly about his shoulders, he returned to his patrol. There was no particular rhyme or reason to his wanderings, but trouble seemed to have a way of finding him. Such small blessings were sometimes the best kind.

Absently, he jammed a hand into his pocket, riffling through the wad of cash. It was a reluctant donation from a neighborhood drug dealer, and would buy him a night indoors. Maybe even a hotel with a shower. A shower would be nice. What could be nicer still was wrapped in cellophane, and had been a 'gift' from the same dealer. The white rock might make him forget- or make him not care that he remembered. He swallowed convulsively at the thought, and dumped the baggy in the first trashcan he came to. There was only so much temptation he could take.

He stalked through deserted streets, the feeble rays of moonlight that made their way past the tall buildings telling him it was well after midnight. He should find a place to sleep. Someplace dry. Instead, he walked on. Something interesting was up ahead. Something ugly. He smiled in anticipation, loosened his knife in its sheath. Violence would be much better than drugs. That much, he was sure of.

**********************

"Cough up the ring. Come on! Come on! I will blow your fucking head off, I swear to God!"

Gritting his teeth, Robert Jameson fought the urge to throw a punch. They already had his wallet and his keys. He had a wife to think of. Children who needed him. A band of gold wasn't worth his life. At least, that's what he tried to tell himself, but his hand clenched tight shut, and he knew there was no way they were taking his wedding ring without killing him first.

"It's not worth anything," Robert said, keeping his voice even. "Thirty bucks at the most at a pawn shop. It's not worth it."

"It's worth it to me," the one with the gun hissed back, his finger cocking the trigger on the snub-nosed 38.

"I could cut it off?" Waving a switchblade in the air, the lanky blond on Robert's left side gave a chuckle that was not quite sane.

Robert's mouth went dry, an old familiar dread curling in his stomach. He wasn't going to leave here alive. Not unless he were very, very lucky. He shifted slightly, turning toward the one with the knife. If he moved fast enough....

He started to lash out, take what little chance he had. Before thought could be put into action, the blond's eyes grew round and wide. The man's feet left the ground, his hands clutching at his chest. Dull metal showed between splayed fingers, and then chaos struck.

The blond's body leapt through the air, crashing into his stunned partner. Robert was slammed back against his car, a shadowed form brushing him aside.

Tearing flesh, the glint of a darkened blade, the crack of bone. And it was done.

Adrenalin surged impotently now, and Robert wondered if he should be grateful or afraid. His good Samaritan rose to his feet, features hard to make out in the dim lights of the parking lot. Black. Lots and lots of black. Black clothes, black boots, black hair and beard. Put him in a shadow and the man would disappear. Robert doubted it was a fashion statement. He'd known enough men like this to recognize a warrior when he saw one.

"Thanks," he said, his voice still gruff with fear and anger.

Cocking his head, the man in black hesitated. "My pleasure," he finally replied, baring even white teeth in a grin that showed he meant it.

Robert felt the fear curl in his belly, but shrugged it off. "Robert Jameson," he said, stepping forward and holding out his hand. "I do believe I owe you my life."

Again the cocked head, the sense of hesitation. Finally, a black-gloved hand met his grip. "Ian. And you owe me nothing."

"I disagree, but I won't argue the point. Once the cops get all of this sorted out, I'd be more than happy to buy you a drink, though."

With a shake of his head, Ian took a step back. "I'm afraid I must be going. I'm sure you can handle the authorities on your own."

"Gotta get home, huh?" Robert replied. "You have a home to get to?"

Almost self-consciously, Ian pulled his coat closed, hiding his worn attire and the way it hung loosely on his body. "Not any more," he said, spinning on his heel.

"Ian, wait!" It was an order, the tone of command clear. It pulled Ian up short like nothing else could have. "What were you? Rangers? Seals?"

"What were you?" Ian replied, scowling over his shoulder.

Robert smiled ruefully. "Air force. A pilot. I never even got my feet dirty."

Ian chewed on that for a moment and then nodded. "Special Ops. We lived in the dirt."

"Special Ops? I should have guessed. How long you been out?"

"Forever. Maybe a month. Somewhere in between."

Staring at the tall man's back, Robert took in the matted hair, the water-logged clothes. What the hell, he'd made reckless offers before. His instincts were usually sound. "What do you do now?"

Grudgingly, Ian turned, his eyes darting toward the bodies on the ground. "Nothing important."

"If you're looking for a job, I could use a good man at my company. Most of the guys are ex-servicemen. You'd fit right in."

"A job?"

"Yea, a job. You know- work, a paycheck, nine-to-five sorta thing." Grinning, Robert took a little pleasure in the confusion he saw on Ian's face.

"Who do you want me to kill?"

"I'll make a list," he laughed. Ian didn't seem to get the joke, and Robert's faith in his intuition took a sudden nose-dive.

"Ian, seriously. I own Am-Tech Air. It's a multi-million dollar company. If you want a job, it's yours. Just show up at my office on Monday. I'll have my secretary buzz you through."

"A job," Ian repeated, as if it were a new concept he was trying hard to grasp. "A job might be good."

"Then I'll see you Monday?"

Nodding, Ian said, "Maybe.... But Mr. Jameson- I'd be very displeased if there were police officers waiting for me when I show up."

"I have a feeling that you are not a man I'd want 'displeased'. Don't worry, Ian. No police. Just a job. I owe you that much."

"You owe me nothing."

"I won't if you take the job. So, Monday it is? What name should I give my secretary?"

Ian's head snapped up, he seemed to scent the wind. Turning, he began to trot back toward the alleyway. "Smith," he called over his shoulder. "Ian Smith."

As the distant sound of sirens began to echo across the deserted parking lot, Robert couldn't help but laugh. "Smith. Of course. God- I am so going to regret this."