Chapter 11 -- Resolutions
"Ian, find her..." Irons whispered hoarsely as Immo worked on him.
The decision had not been an easy one to reach. In spite of everything, Cailean was still his little warrior. The odds that she would come back to him willingly, even with Ian applying pressure, were low. So Cailean would have to die, and there could be no replacement for her. Immo had never had any luck replicating Cailean's genetics. He called them unstable, a copy of a copy. Obviously he had been more right than he had known. Cailean, a copy of a copy, was as unstable as her genetics.
He had made two mistakes with Cailean: creating her and loving her.
"Sir?" Ian asked, stalling for time.
"Bring her back. Her or her head, Ian..." Irons gasped. "She has betrayed both of us, betrayed Sara... Bring her to me!" Irons opened his eyes long enough to glance at Ian. The comment about Sara seemed to have hit home. The assassin was pale. "Go now, my son."
Ian bowed and swept from the room, pale with rage at Irons for trying to shift the blame for this to Cailean. He had no intent to bring Cailean back to this place, to this man. Irons would kill her if he did that. But he could go to her, try once more to retrieve the Witchblade, and then help her flee the city. He opened his bedroom but paused at the threshold. One wall of his room was occupied by several different sets of swords. A single short-sword was missing from its peg.
He shook his head helplessly. "Cailean, do not force me to this..." he whispered, resting bare hands on the wall where the sword had hung.
He closed his eyes and saw a vision of Cailean staring at the swords thoughtfully before selecting the short sword. Her hands lingered over the Japanese short sword for several moments before she took it. He shook his head, confused by the significance of the vision. He knew there must be some, something about the sword she had selected, but he could find none. The sword was unfit for combat, so why take it? Taking the sword's longer twin and securing it around his waist, he hurried from the room, stopping only long enough to retrieve several thousand dollars in cash that he kept squirreled away there. It was not much, but he could provide her with more once she was out of the reach of Kenneth Irons. If anyone could ever truly be out of his reach.
He left the mansion and relied on his connection to Cailean to show him the way. She had to have sensed his mental probing for her, and Ian took it as a promising sign that she did nothing to thwart his search.
Danny gently squeezed her shoulder. "You don't have to do this, Cailean."
"I'm as good as dead already, or you wouldn't be able to do that..." she pointed out softly. She looked at him sadly. "I am so sorry about hurting your friend, Detective Woo..."
He nodded. "I know. So does she. She's not mad." Danny sighed. "There has to be another way, Cailean..."
She shook her head. "No. I brought this on myself. I have no one to blame but me." She smiled sadly at him. "Sometimes, Detective Woo, living in a world where parallel lines intersect can be very unpleasant."
"It won't always be this way..." Danny confided gently, brushing away a lone tear that was making its way down her face. "There are other lives and other times..." he trailed off, knowing that he was coming very close to giving away privileged information. Not that it mattered. Cailean was not only as good as dead, the odds were good that she knew as much about the Witchblade as Danny himself did. Always assuming that she did not know more.
She nodded. "I know. Every time before this, I was smart enough to recognize that I could not control the Blade. This time, I decided that I could. I tried to twist it to my will, like him. It was the dumbest thing I've ever done."
"Funny, this morning you were saying that the stupidest thing you've ever done was telling Elizabeth Bronte about the Witchblade..."
She glanced up at him with a humorless smile. "Dumbest thing in this life, then. As if there's really any difference between one and another. You, me, Ian, Lady Sara... we've all been here before."
Danny shook his head. "Not here, Cailean. Not like this. Something slipped this time, went wrong for you."
She looked at Danny and lightly brushed her fingers across his cheek. "Not just for me."
He smiled and bowed his head. "It won't always be this way..." he repeated.
"We always end up here..." she muttered softly, glancing up at him. "Every time, you and me, her teacher and her friend, trying to figure out what the hell we could have done differently..." She laughed bitterly. "Gods, Detective Woo... Is it just me or does the universe derive just a little too much pleasure from making us remember?"
"I didn't remember. Not until I was shot. You and Ian are different that way, special."
"Lucky us... Mentor and guardian, life after life, watching her die because we failed or dying knowing that it meant that we would no longer be able to protect her..."
"Does he remember as well, then?" Danny asked.
She shook her head. "Dreams, visions, nothing definitive, nothing solid. All he knows is that he loves her, if he even knows that much. How is she?"
"Sitting in her apartment with her gun in her lap waiting for the other shoe to drop." Danny sighed. "I wish I could tell her that everything's going to be okay."
"You'll be able to see her again soon." Cailean stared at the sword in her hands, unafraid. "He was right about me. I am weak." He had called her weak when she had failed to kill Sara. The truth was that she had been strong then. She had been weak when she had failed to kill Irons.
"No, you're strong." He patted her shoulder gently. "Stronger than you know. Look at the sacrifice you're willing to make for them..."
"A sacrifice that I never would have been forced to take if I'd been able to do what I had to before..." She shook her head and looked up at him. "All I am is a washed-up druggie prostitute with a death-wish. I'm nothing special, never have been."
"You were strong enough to spare Sara's life when you'd been ordered to take it."
"For all the good that did..."
"It spared your brother a lot of pain. And Sara's still alive. And Irons doesn't have the Witchblade. That, Cailean, is a lot of good."
She sighed and smiled at him. "Hey, next lifetime, don't get married until we've met, okay?"
Danny laughed and bowed his head. "That's the sweetest thing a girl's ever said to me."
She smiled and nodded, hugging him. "Watch her well, okay. Keep an eye on Ian, too, please."
"Cailean?" Ian's voice rang through the warehouse.
"Here, my brother..." she called without turning to the sound of his voice. She looked at Danny. "This damned thing won't come off. Tell Lady Sara I'm sorry for that, too..."
He nodded and disappeared, tears in his eyes. Ian waited several dozen yards away until it was clear that her conversation with Danny was over, then he approached her. She turned to face him, holding the sword loosely in one hand, her expression unreadable. He paused for a moment, but did not reach for his own sword. He looked at her questioningly.
"He sent you to bring me back, Ian?"
Ian nodded. "You or your head, were his words."
Cailean sighed. "I imagined as much, though I doubt he meant the latter injunction literally."
"I'm not going to force you to that..." Ian began, reaching for the envelope with the money in it.
"Ian, listen to me. My time is short, and I want you to listen to me carefully."
"Cailean, I'm not going to bring you back to him..." Ian said firmly.
"Of that I've no doubt, Ian. But the truth is that, if you don't, you put not only yourself, but also Lady Sara in peril."
"You... you would have me bring you back?" Ian asked uncertainly. He had never even considered that possibility before. He was alarmed to realize that he could no more go through with that than he could have killed her.
"No. I would never force you to do such a thing."
"I don't understand, Cailean."
"He might... tell you things about me after I die." She stared at him sadly. "They will likely all be true, Ian, but I want you to understand..."
"He forced you to those things, Cailean..." Ian whispered, lightly brushing his fingers over her uninjured cheek. Irons had forced both of them to do things that they would rather not have done. Ian could not condemn her for that. "I could never think less of you for them after the way you spared Sara. I understand now why you did what you did, Cailean, and I love you still."
"Oh..." Cailean whimpered, tears forming in her eyes. "Ian, I love you so much..." she whispered, pulling him into a hug with one arm.
Ian returned the embrace, wishing that she would put down that damned sword and hug him properly, but not willing to complain. He had assumed many things about Cailean since the attack on Sara, all of them wrong. This woman with a sword in her hand and tears in her eyes was his Cailean, not really any different from Ian himself. That meant that they loved Sara and they loved each other and that nothing could ever come between them and their loves, not even Irons.
"This is the closest we shall ever come to a happy ending, big brother..." Cailean told him gently, pulling away and smiling lovingly at him.
"Perhaps it is close enough..." Ian ventured, once more proffering the envelope with the money.
Cailean shook her head and pushed it away. She hated herself for what she was about to do, for the shock and it would cause Ian, but she knew that if she had told him of her plans he would not have allowed her to do what she knew she had to. The fact that Ian would not have forced her to come back meant nothing. If she had walked free, Ian and Sara both would have been in immeasurable danger. She herself would have been, although the fact meant nothing to her. What was important was that, with Cailean dead and Sara once more in possession of the Witchblade, both Sara and Ian would once more be safe from Irons.
"All I ever wanted was for you to be free..." she whispered, reversing the sword and driving it into her own gut. Once it was in far enough, she forced it upwards several inches and jerked it to the left, all too quickly for Ian to react, all without making a sound. Her knees buckled and she slid to the ground.
"Cailean!" Ian shrieked with his mind as well as his voice, filling her entire awareness with the sound. He dropped to his knees next to her and cradled her in his arms. "No, Cailean... No, please... Please..." He shook his head frantically. "You can't... Cailean." Tears streaked down his face unnoticed. "I don't want to be alone..."
She reached up and smoothed away his tears. "You're less alone than you know, Ian. And I will continue to watch over you always..." She grunted as he tried to pull the sword out. "Don't..." She shook her head. "I love you, big brother."
"I love you, baby sister..." Ian leaned against her, sobbing.
Cailean reached up and pulled the Witchblade from her arm, tucking it into Ian's pocket. "I never cared about myself. All I wanted was for you to be free..." she repeated. "Now I'm free, but you still aren't. I'm sorry that it couldn't have turned out differently."
"If this is freedom, I can take it, too..." Ian whispered.
"No..." Cailean told him in as firm a voice as she could manage. "You must live. For our Lady. Even in this way, you may still be able to find a measure of freedom. As long as you serve her, you are as free as you or I ever can be in this life. I know this from the experience of many lives, Ian. Dying for our Lady is easy. Living for her is so difficult, but the rewards can be great."
Ian nodded weakly.
"Are you willing to live for our Lady?"
He nodded. "For as long as my life may benefit hers."
She nodded and pulled a dagger from her belt. Hare Kari was a notoriously slow and painful way to die. She had no intention of suffering in this way for several hours and, perhaps, taking the chance that Irons might find and save her. "Ian, go to our Lady. Give her what is in your pocket."
"I will not leave you..." he protested.
"I order it. Go now, Ian. I have no wish for you to see me finish what I have begun here. I have caused you enough pain for one life. Please, my brother. Bring her the Witchblade before he recovers enough to stop you..."
"I love you, Cailean..." he whispered, rising. "Always..." Warrior that she was, Cailean had no fear of death, and Ian had no fear of leaving her to it. They knew life and death too well to believe this separation anything but a temporary one, at the end of which they would be together again, serving their Lady as they were meant to, exactly as they always had and always would. Always took on a unique, mystical significance for them. It truly meant always.
Always, Ian... she whispered in his mind, too weak to speak any more. She waited until the sound of his footfalls had faded to raise the dagger to her throat. Her final thoughts were of her overwhelming love for and pride in her brother. She broadcast them to him and felt his gently, loving touch in reply before darkness took her.
Sara lay on her floor, panting. The pain had been overwhelming, not to mention completely unexpected. It was fading now, but she was still too stunned by it to move until gentle hands raised her and tenderly conveyed her to the couch. A gentle, gloved hand wiped away her tears and tenderly brushed her hair from her face.
Enormous, tear-filled brown eyes regarded her with loving concern. The man who owned those eyes crouched before her, watching her intently and murmuring soothingly, waiting for her to recover.
"Nottingham? What the hell was that?" she managed after a few moments.
"Cailean. She is dead..." Ian managed, his voice cracking as he spoke.
Sara realized to her horror that he was covered in blood. "Did you..." she began, unable to believe it.
He shook his head. "I was given a choice of killing her or returning her to Irons. I had planned on helping her flee, but that would have put you in danger. Cailean recognized this where I could not. She took the decision from my hands."
Sara stared at him, wide-eyed for a few moments, her mouth moving soundlessly as she absorbed what he had said. "She killed herself?" Sara asked finally.
Ian nodded and abruptly began shaking. He let out a strangled moan and buried his face in his hands, rocking himself. Sara's own eyes filled with tears for the assassin and she gently pulled him onto the couch, pulling him into her arms and holding him close. Ian wrapped his arms around her and sobbed so hard that she was afraid he might hurt himself. She crooned a reassuringly lullaby and rocked him gently on the couch, waiting for it to pass. This last year had taught her a lot, including the fact that sometimes there was nothing to do but grieve for those you loved.
Ian abruptly loosened his grip on her and sat up, looking away, less ashamed of his tears than he was of treatment of his Lady. "Forgive my outburst..." He started to rise
"Shh..." Sara whispered, catching his hand and pulling him back down. "You've got every right to be torn apart, Nottingham. Ian..." she corrected herself. She gently wiped away his tears with her fingers. "I know exactly what you're going through. Let me help you."
Ian stared at her with wide, fearful eyes, as though afraid that she might be teasing him. More tears streamed down his cheeks, but he did not sob this time, only stared into the eyes of the woman he loved. She meant it, he realized. She cared enough about him to help him through his pain.
"I am grateful, Lady Sara..." he whispered, bowing his head.
"Look at me, Ian..." Sara whispered. When he had looked up she gently brushed his hair out of his face. "You look like hell, Nottingham..." she told him gently.
"I feel like hell." After a moment, he admitted, "I've never lost anyone before."
"Oh, hey..." Sara squeezed his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"I have only ever truly cared for three people before. One of them is now dead. How do I carry on, my Lady?"
"One day at a time." Sara slid next to him and wrapped a gentle arm around him, pulling him close. "It hurts, Ian. Bad. But every day it gets a little easier." She sighed. "I know it sounds trite, but it's true."
He nodded weakly. He felt so depressed that not even the fact that Lady Sara had one arm around him registered. "I hope it is."
"It is..." she whispered, patting his knee with her other hand. "Come here..."
She pulled him into her arms again and held him tightly, not knowing any other way to comfort him. They sat together for hours in a silence broken only by an occasional sniffle or hiccupping sob from Ian.
Sara held him tightly, occasionally rocking him for a few minutes or smoothing his hair out of his face. She knew exactly what he was going through, and, for once, their respective professions did not make a bit of difference. He needed comfort and she was damned well going to give it to him, assassin or not.
Ian had never felt as loved and contented as he did during those hours in her embrace. It was almost as if that pair of arms alone were an adequate shield to keep all the evils of the world away. If it were possible, his admiration for Sara increased in that time. He had seen both her strength and her vulnerability. He had never expected to be on the receiving end of her compassion.
When he saw that it was getting dark, he reluctantly broke away and rose. "Thank you, Lady Sara."
"Could you just call me Sara?" she asked, with an exasperated but tolerant grin. "Just... give it a try, huh?"
"Thank you, Sara, for everything." Ian bowed. "I am grateful."
"Hey, we all need a shoulder to cry on sometimes. Any time, you know."
He nodded. "Thank you." He turned to leave, but Sara stepped in front of him, hands on her hips. He stared at her quizzically. "Sara?"
"I mean it, Nottingham..." she told him firmly. "I want you to know that I mean it. If you need anything..."
The tears that rolled down his cheeks this time were not shed in sorrow. "Thank you, Sara. I am more grateful than you can know."
She smiled and spread her arms. "Come here..."
He looked at her uncertainly for a moment, so she sighed in irritation and closed the distance between them herself, hugging him.
Ian stood rigid for a moment, startled, then cautiously put his arms around her as well. Holding her in his arms like this was amazing, exhilarating. It did not exactly diminish the pain he felt over Cailean's loss, but it reminded him of her injunction to live for Sara. He was equally surprised to realize that they were not alone in the room. Not one but two gentle presences observed the hug with approval before vanishing from the apartment.
Although she very much enjoyed the way it felt to be held by him, Sara firmly reminded herself that he was still pretty emotionally torn-up. This was not a good time to take advantage of him, no matter how great he smelled or how inviting his body felt. Besides, she recalled when he winced away from one of her hands, he was pretty torn up physically as well. Muttering an apology, she slid her hands into his pockets instead, pulling him close that way.
She paused, startled. "Nottingham?" she asked softly.
"Yes, Sara?" he asked cautiously, dropping his arms, afraid that he had offended her by holding her too long or too tightly.
"Is that a Witchblade in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" Sara managed, barely, to keep a straight face as she spoke, but afterwards she could not help but grin.
Ian stared at her wide-eyed for a moment, startled by the innuendo. He stammered for a few seconds before replying. "Cailean wanted me to return it to you. I'd... forgotten." He bowed his head, ashamed by his lapse.
Gee, wonder why? Sara thought to herself. "It's okay..." She smiled reassuringly and extended her hand, waiting for him to hand it over.
He removed it from his pocket and extended it to her, then paused. "If I may..." he asked, amazed at his own boldness.
"Sure." Sara shrugged and let him lead her over to the couch. She sat down and waited.
Ian knelt before her and took her right hand in one of his. He started to slip the Witchblade on, then paused. As Sara watched, confused, he turned her hand over and ran his fingers lightly over the scars on the underside of her wrist.
"Did it hurt?" he asked softly.
"Yeah." Sara nodded. "It hurt."
Ian turned her hand over again. He slid the Witchblade back onto her wrist. "I hope it hurts less this time..."
Sara let out a small hiss as the Witchblade buried itself in her flesh again. She was surprised by how swiftly the integration was completely. "Hey, it wasn't as bad this time..." In fact, it had been almost pleasant.
Ian nodded and ran a gloved finger over the glowing stone. "It missed you..." he said, nodding towards the swirling pattern.
"Okay..." Sara said, confused.
He bent and swiftly kissed her hand before rising and turning to leave. "Thank you, Sara. For everything."
She nodded. "Hey, Nottingham?" she said gently.
"Hey, Sara..." he smiled faintly at the recollection of previous conversations that this aroused. She did not sound unduly upset by his boldness, either, which was a good thing.
"You said you've ever truly cared about three people?"
Ian nodded. "Yes, Sara."
"Cailean and Irons are gimmes. Who's the third?"
Ian bowed his head again. "A woman I once knew. A warrior, strong, brave, and kind. Good day, Sara. Thank you." Ian left before Sara could reply.
"You do know who he's talking about, don't you?"
Sara jumped, then smiled. "Danny! Oh, God, is it good to see you again."
"Just dropped in to deliver a message."
"Message?" Sara repeated, frowning. "Didn't know the afterlife had an answering service, Danny."
He grinned and shrugged. "Figured it couldn't hurt just this once. Cailean says she's sorry."
She nodded, frowning sadly at the waste of the woman's life. "I know she is, Danny."
"So, do you know who Nottingham was talking about?" Danny asked with a wicked grin. "I do..." he said and vanished.
Sara stared at the place where he had been, blinking. "Uh-huh..." One Nottingham in her life again, Danny being his usual krypto self, healthy dose of contempt for Irons... "Well, what do you know, life's getting back to normal..."
As Ian scrubbed the blood out of his coat, he thought about the time he had spent with Sara today. It amazed him that a woman like her could honestly care about him or his feelings, but from her behavior today, she obviously did. It was amazing, and it made him happier than he could have thought possible. It was like walking on a cushion of air. Even his grief for Cailean was less in light of it. Cailean was happy now, as she had never had a chance to be in life. He had sensed her presence again briefly after he had left Sara. She was happy, at peace, free... And she had been right. He could do so much more good in Sara's life by living for her. Perhaps he could even serve her in more ways than one.
He would tell her, he decided. He would tell her that he loved her and perhaps his Lady might bring herself to love him back in this lifetime, too. But how to say it? What words to use? He smiled as he decided. The truth, he would tell her the truth.
I love you, Sara... in unguarded moments.