“You okay, Pez?” Brian Rafe worried as they stood in the elevator as it made its way down to the precinct’s parking garage. “You usually insist on taking the stairs like the rest of us in Major Crimes.”
Sara Pezzini forced a smile to her lips, aware that her latest partner was not the clueless-but-pretty-boy-in-a-suit he liked to pretend to be. “Just been a long week. Quit worrying, Rafe.”
He studied her a moment. “Planning on hitting your favorite hardware store?” he teased lightly.
“Hey, every city should be so lucky someone turned a historic building into a pub – and keep the name.”
“You want a wingman?”
Sara shook her head. After five years of being partners, Sara understood Rafe’s friendship ran deep. He was steadfast, loyal, insightful, and one of the best partners and friends she had ever had. It also did not hurt he knew what the bracelet on her wrist could do, and worried that it would drive her insane if given enough provocation. “No. You should go home to your girlfriend before she gets jealous again.”
Rafe rolled his eyes. “Didn’t I tell you? Madison and I broke up. She tired of me telling her I had a case.”
“You’re better off without her,” Sara told him as they stepped off the elevator and into the parking garage. A few steps brought them to where she had parked her motorcycle.
“So you kept trying to tell me,” Rafe noted wryly. “Don’t stay out too late. You have a date with Steven tomorrow; he texted me to remind you. I can’t believe you two want to go hiking. In the woods.” He shuddered dramatically.
“It doesn’t count if the woods are in the city.”
“Sure it does: they’re still woods.”
Sara hugged him as she teased, “City boy.”
“Yeah, well, I refuse to be someone who spend their weekends hiking nature. Nature and I do not get along.” He studied her as she stepped back. “You gonna tell me what’s going on with you and Steven Ellison? You’ve been seeing him more.”
Sara shrugged. “I like him.”
“He’s half in love with you already,” Rafe observed. “You trying to see if it’s going anywhere?”
“Maybe. I mean, we’ve been dating already, given how many times he’s asked me to be his date for some society event.”
Rafe shook his head. “You aren’t in love with him.”
Sara glared at him. “I could be.”
“He’s the younger Ellison, and while he’s good at business, he’s unobservant and gullible with women, especially you. Does he know you like to pick up guys for one-night stands?”
“Since when is that a crime? Guys do it all the time.”
“Doesn’t make it right,” Rafe pointed out. “I’d say the same to a guy: that shit will get old, and you need love.”
Sara rolled her eyes. Her partner was a hopeless romantic. “I can get love. It goes like this,“ she saidand demonstrated by making a loose fist with her left hand and putting her middle finger into the circle her left fingers made, pumping it in and out.
Rafe’s lips thinned. “You are so crude sometimes, Pez.”
Unrepentant, Sara shot back, “You wouldn’t want me any other way. This is why I slum with society guys like Steven. They can only go downhill from where they are.”
Ignoring that crack, Rafe continued his argument. “Is he aware you’ve slept with his brother and Blair?”
“No, and you will not tell him,” Sara snapped, aware that her partner knew about the sleeping because he had shown up at Jim’s loft, looking for her. “Besides, it was only sleeping.”
“Uh huh. You know, you’re the first woman who hasn’t caused a major rift between Jim and Blair? Everyone else has turned out to be the worst kind of luck.”
Disconcerted by Rafe’s approval, Sara looked askance at her partner. “You can’t be seriously suggesting I go for a threesome.”
“Pez, if you weren’t you, I wouldn’t even recommend going near those two. Hell, if you were anyone else, I’d say you were so out of luck, you might as well buy a lottery ticket. Least then you’d have a better chance at getting something.”
At her stunned look, he smiled. “Enjoy your weekend.” He kissed her cheek, then lifted her right hand so he could kiss the bracelet she wore on her wrist. As if sensing his intent, the bracelet morphed, peeling back the cuff of the leather jacket Sara wore and revealing golden, reptilian flourishes that doubled the bracelet’s size from a thin band to a full wrist cuff. Unfazed, Rafe kissed the carnelian stone of the bracelet before telling it, “Take care of her. Don’t drive her crazy; I like her the way she is, okay?”
Sara could sense the Witchblade’s amusement and confirmation as it reached out to touch the back of Rafe’s hand before morphing again into its usual innocuous state. The ‘blade liked Rafe, but it liked certain people more. Ignoring its hints she should go visit said people, Sara put on her motorcycle helmet, zipped up her leather jacket, put on her gloves, and mounted her bike. She waved goodbye to Rafe before focusing her attention on driving out of the downtown precinct’s parking garage and into the Friday afternoon traffic.
The bar Sara liked was on the southern side of the downtown core from the precinct, in an area of Cascade known as Founder’s Park. Art galleries, trendy bars, eclectic shops, loft-style condos, and small corporate offices occupied the buildings, many of which dated back to the city’s original founding in the 1800s. The three-acre neighborhood was also home to the city’s original Mercantile Building, which had been home to a hardware store, among other businesses. Some enterprising soul had turned the hardware store into a pub. Sara liked it because the back of the pub had the best pool tables in the city, the drink and food tasted good, its prices were reasonable, and the patrons included a cross-section of the city. It also had a small parking lot in the back of the building, which Sara appreciated since it meant she was not parking her bike on the side of the street. The pub also had the advantage of being in a neighborhood on the other side of downtown from Sara’s home neighborhood of Miller’s Pond, which meant that on the rare occasions when she got too drunk to drive home, she could catch a bus that would take her across the central core to her southeastern neighborhood.
Stepping into the pub, she scanned the interior for a place to sit. It was nearly seven p.m., which meant the bar was already more than half full. She found a space near the far end of the bar and ordered a bottle of her favorite beer, paying for it before making her way back to the pool tables.
One of other regulars spied her approach. “Hey, Pez!” the slender black man said, holding up a hand. “Over here, I saved you a spot!”
Relieved, Sara made her way through the crowd and hugged the foxed-faced man before she took a seat at the small table close to one of the pool tables. Not for the first time, she marveled at how muscular he was in his narrow-framed body, courtesy of his dedication to fitness. He was the same five-foot-seven-inches as Sara, something she appreciated since she worked with people who were taller than her. Tonight, he wore a purple short-sleeved dress shirt and tan khakis, indicating he had walked over from work.
“Thanks, Matt. How are you doing tonight?”
Matthew Falk grinned. He was an architect who worked for a small firm whose offices were four blocks away from the pub. He had also become a friend, someone outside of the PD who would be there for Sara. Gregarious, flamboyant, and outgoing, he offered Sara a welcome respite from her usual crowd of fellow police. “Just finished a big project, so I’m celebrating. You keep the streets safe out there?”
Sara chuckled. “Best as I can.”
“You haven’t made the news lately,” he noted as he took a sip of his drink. “Got kind of used to your name up there with Jim, Blair, and the rest of Major Crimes.”
“We turned off the ‘major crimes happen here’ beacon for a while,” Sara joked. She was glad that the city was not experiencing the high-profile cases that had put her name back in the media. “Sent it down to Olympia, let them handle it for a while.”
Matt laughed and toasted her. “Good. I was wondering if you would get a break.”
Sara nodded briefly. She did not tell Matt that the mystical bracelet on her wrist had warned her this period of respite would end in August, or that what would come would be filled with screams of terror, blood, and death. Tonight, she wanted to focus on having a few beers with a friend, shooting a few rounds of pool, and maybe picking someone up for a no-strings-attached encounter. She did not want to think about how she missed sleeping in a Sentinel’s arms, or how Blair cuddled her close, or how she fit between them and loved that they understood what it was like to have a destiny. She had no business getting in between them, not when she had witnessed what it had taken for them to be lovers. What she had with them had to be enough, no matter what. She had already buried one lover and too many friends for one lifetime.
Two hours later, Sara leaned over the pool table and executed a perfect combination shot, dropping the ball she had called into the pocket. Lounging against the wall, Matt told the man Sara played against, “Told you she could make it.”
The heavyset man scowled. “Nobody should’ve made that shot, let alone a girl.”
Sara ignored him. Though it was true wielding the Witchblade gave her an extra edge in how she perceived the world, including being able to make impossible shots in pool, she had been a pool shark since she was a little girl. The stranger she played against would not have survived the pool halls she had haunted in New York. Deciding she had had enough of his misogyny, and wanting to play someone else, she cleared the table.
Her opponent’s scowl deepened. Looking at Matt, he accused, “You’re hustling. You her pimp or something?”
Matt laughed. “She’d have to arrest me if I was a pimp; she’s a cop.”
The stranger looked her, as if expecting her to be in a police uniform and not in a pair of black jeans and a white t-shirt, and dismissed her with a disbelieving look.
Disgusted, Matt shook his head. “Look, man, you asked if you could play. I told you she’d win. You didn’t believe me. Now if you’ll excuse us, I’d like to play a game with my friend.”
The stranger eyed him, then Sara. Disgusted, he tossed down the twenty he had bet, then walked away.
Grinning, Matt pocketed the money before turning to Sara, who set up for another game and scowled as she did so. “Hey, you okay?”
Sara shrugged. “Just wondering if you’ll scare away all the guys tonight. That’s two in a row.”
Matt lifted a brow as he waited for her to finish racking the balls. “Depends. Did you want me to?”
“Only the creeps like that last one,” Sara told him, and gestured for him to make the break.
“In that kind of mood tonight?” Matt asked, taking his cue, breaking the triangle of balls, and sinking a ball. He checked to see what it was before making a second shot, which he missed. “Because what a misogynist thinks has never mattered to you, so that means you’re looking for someone else.”
“And if I was?”
“Then I’d tell you there’s a white dude who’s been watching you and me since he came in fifteen minutes ago. He’s pretty – not as pretty as your partner, more’s the pity – but those jeans outline how that boy’s packing heat. He’d give you a good ride.” Matt took another look at the stranger. “He looks like he’s barely out of college, if that.”
Sara shot Matt a smile as she leaned in to make her shot. “So why don’t you make this quick, so I can go pick him up?”
“Hey, don’t let me slow you down,” Matt said, chuckling. He had been her wingman enough times in their three years of friendship to recognize the men she picked up. “You want him, you go for him. I don’t think he swings my way.”
Sara made her shot, which sank no balls, but blocked Matt’s options. “Wouldn’t be the first time you seduced a straight guy.”
Sighing, Matt smiled wryly. “Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you don’t cruise gay bars. Not in the mood to get laid tonight; I’ll leave that fun to you.” He studied the table before he reached for his beer and took a drink. “Shit, Pez, did you leave me any options?”
Sara laughed. “Yeah, one or two.” In the back of her head, she could sense the Witchblade stirring, intrigued by the notion someone was watching its Wielder. Who is he? she asked, aware it would tell her. Is he worth chasing?
For one evening’s pleasure, no more, the Witchblade told her, disapproving. It had picked who it wanted Sara to be with and did not care that those people were together. His name is Tyler and he will want to fuck you in the bathroom. You are better than a bathroom fuck.The Witchblade showed her the graphic scene, as if hoping by doing so it would persuade Sara to avoid that path. It also told her he was a recent Rainier University graduate, living in a shared apartment.
Thanks, Sara said. Ignoring the ‘blade’s desire too long was a dangerous path to follow, though following it had brought her to Cascade. The years since had been a salve to Sara’s soul and had allowed her to rebuild her life and her reputation as a highly respected police officer. Seven years of being the ‘blade’s Wielder had taught her the sentient, intelligent, ancient, and symbiotic weapon would respect her wishes for a time. If she ignored it for too long, the weapon would become temperamental and inclined to seek another Wielder. If she followed the ‘blade, Sara could continue to experience delayed aging, precognition, immortality, and a second consciousness in her brain that liked to comment on almost everything she did and show her the past and future Wielders’ experiences in her dreams.
Sara was playing with fire, but she could not see herself asking Jim and Blair if they wanted her as a lover. She had slept with each of them platonically off and on over the years, usually when her nightmares got to be too much to bear, or when the ‘blade fed her apocalyptic visions in her dreams and she could not find peace. The ‘blade liked them; both Jim and Blair had told her it sometimes manifested in her sleep and curled around them. That was not enough for Sara to take the next step.
You already showed me their deaths, she told the Witchblade. Why do you want me to be their lover, knowing how they will sacrifice themselves?
You need them as much as they need you, the Witchblade snarled in her head.
I will see them tomorrow at dinner. Isn’t our friendship enough?
Sara felt the ‘blade huff at her words but it went back to sleep, much to her relief.
The man who had been watching her did not take long to approach the pool table and introduce himself as Tyler. He was the pretty Sara liked, with the bravado of someone in his late twenties. That he reminded her of Blair, with his curly hair and glasses, only added to the attraction. As the Witchblade had told her, he had taken the bus to the pub, lived in a shared apartment close to the university, and had recently graduated. She took him home on the back of her motorcycle, giving him the first ride on a motorcycle he had ever taken. Once in the privacy of his bedroom, Sara fucked him until he was gasping her name like a mantra and he sated her lust. If her heart was closed off, and she pretended he was someone else, she kept those secrets to herself.
In the afterglow, Sara rose from the bed and dressed. Propping himself on his elbows, Tyler watched her.
“Guess that means you don’t want me to ask for your number so we can do this again?” Tyler asked, disappointed.
Sara pulled on her t-shirt and flashed him a smile. “You’re a smart guy. I’m not looking for a relationship.”
Tyler studied her as she stuffed her feet into her motorcycle boots, zipping them up each turn. “What about a fuck buddy? I mean, you liked what we did, right?”
“Yeah, but that’s still a relationship,” Sara countered as she picked up her jacket and helmet. “Thanks, Tyler. Good night.”
To his credit, Tyler did not protest further, but let her go.
Across town, Jim and Blair lounged on the couch of Jim’s loft. Jim had just shut off the TV, satisfied by the conclusion of the show he had been watching. He was content to have spent the evening with Blair’s head on his thigh as Blair read a novel. He could sense, however, that Blair wanted to discuss something, and had been patiently waiting for him to unwind enough to have the conversation.
“You’ve been too quiet, Chief,” Jim noted. “Which usually means you want something and don’t think I’m going to like it.”
Blair put the book down on the coffee table and sat up, turning to face his lover. “Have you noticed how Sara’s been acting strange around us? Like she’s trying a little too hard to keep it professional?”
Jim sighed. “Yeah. Did you say anything to her?”
“No,” Blair said. “Wanted to confirm with you first. I thought maybe it was something to do with Rafe, but he says they’re getting along fine.”
Jim made a face. “I shouldn’t have teased her about spending too much time in our bed a few weeks ago. Think she took it to heart.”
“Jim!” Blair scolded, appalled. “You like her there. I like her there. I was hoping we could ease into it being more than her sleeping platonically, but she probably has convinced herself she’ll be in the way.” He looked at Jim. “So how are we going to fix this?”
“Aside from bluntly asking if she wants to be with us that way?” Jim shook his head. “We tried wining and dining her; she didn’t pick up on the cues. Given the way the Witchblade curled around us when she was asleep, I’m pretty sure it approves.”
Blair let out a breath, conceding the point. “Yeah, I thought she needed a little romance but that experiment didn't go the way we wanted.” Blair paused. “Tabling the how for a moment – are you sure you want to do this? I mean, you and I are in a good place with each other and have been for years. Should we add another person to this?”
Jim leaned in and kissed him. “I know, and I’m grateful every day I get to wake up beside you. I don’t see it as just ‘another person’ – I wouldn’t want to open our relationship to anyone but her. Sara shouldn’t be alone with the Witchblade for company.” He grasped Blair’s hands. “We discussed this already. Do we need to rehash it? Because I know what I want: I want us to kiss her and love her until we’re the only thing she’s thinking of, not that cursed bracelet that’s fused to her wrist.”
Blair swallowed as the sensual image filled his mind. “Is that the only reason?” he asked. “Because the idea occurs to me this might be a Sentinel-driven imperative.”
“Maybe it started out that way,” Jim admitted, shrugging slightly. “But it’s been five years since we first met her. If it was only that, it would’ve burned out within the first few days of meeting her or gotten harder to ignore. You’re attracted to her, too.”
“But what if it is some destiny-driven shit? What if it’s not a Sentinel thing but a Shaman thing?” A desperate need to find justification for this change of course leaked into Blair’s voice.
“And if it is?” Jim asked steadily. “Would it change how you feel about her?”
Blair took a deep breath and let it out. “No. Which scares the hell out of me because I didn’t think I’d want another woman again, or hell, anyone other than you. What happens if we get that one time with her and we all rabbit back into our respective corners? Or worse, it breaks us up? I don’t want to lose you, not after everything we’ve been through.”
Hearing the reminder of his fear-based responses in Blair’s worries, Jim winced. He would never completely forgive himself for giving Blair reason to doubt his loyalty. “I love you, Blair. Ever since we met Sara, we have given her space in our bed to find comfort – do you think changing that to mean sex is going to destroy what we have already with her? Or with us?”
“No.” Blair relaxed as he absorbed what Jim was saying. “I just – she won’t accept this. Not if she thinks we’re looking for something to spice up our relationship or if –”
Jim pressed a finger to Blair’s lips. “You’re borrowing trouble, Chief. I’m supposed to be the paranoid son-of-a-bitch in this relationship, remember?”
Blair chuckled briefly. “Yeah, but when you calmly accept something this big, I worry.”
Jim acknowledged that with a slight nod. “It feels like we’ve been headed this way for years now. I love her already and don’t want to lose her as a friend just to gain her as a lover. Do you?”
“No.” Blair closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Opening his eyes, he nodded once. “All right. She’s coming to dinner tomorrow; we can ask her then.”
Jim kissed him slowly. Then, because he could, Jim deepened the kiss, loving that his Guide loved him, loving the way Blair responded now they had experienced each other’s reactions often enough to predict them. Eventually, Jim ended the kiss. “Let’s take this upstairs, Chief. I want you naked and in me.”
Nodding agreement, Blair rose.
As he always did when they had sex, Jim showed his boyfriend how much he loved him. Words were Blair’s forte; actions were Jim’s. After five years of being lovers and aided by his enhanced senses, Jim knew exactly what would bring Blair to the brink of pleasure, breathless and nearly incoherent with the need to be one with Jim. Blair once called sex the most intimate grounding a Sentinel could experience; Jim called it reconnecting with the man he loved. Lying under him, feeling Blair penetrate him and then meeting his every thrust, Jim savored the feelings of love and lust that filled him even as he tried to hold Blair closer. Needing to make Jim come, Blair reached between them and stroked Jim’s cock as he continued to thrust in and out of Jim’s ass. The twin sensations combined with the familiar sight and feel of his lover sent Jim over the crest of ecstasy, triggering Blair. Blair collapsed slightly onto Jim as he tried to catch his breath.
“Love you, Jim.”
“Love you, too.” Jim paused as an idea formed in his mind. “Think Sara would enjoy watching us like this? Or do you think the Witchblade already has shown her?”
“Oh, God,” Blair groaned. “Maybe that’s why she’s been acting strange. She’s embarrassed that it’s been sharing something so personal.” He considered the notion a moment longer. “She’s probably convinced if she tells us, we’ll be upset with her it violated our privacy that way.”
Jim kissed him. “Then we need to convince her otherwise. Right, Chief?”
“Right. But I will tell that thing to ask us next time for permission, because wow, that’s some serious boundary violations there.”
Amused, Jim shifted so he could hold Blair more comfortably. “That thing has never asked us permission to curl around us when she’s slept with us. Do you really expect it to respect a request like that now?”
Ruefully, Blair acknowledged, “Probably not, but it’s worth trying anyway.”
Fully expecting the Witchblade would show her images in her dreams, Sara did not bother to dress after showering. She had learned the ‘blade liked to manifest in her sleep, often ripping any clothes she wore as if to say she did not need the additional layer since it would cover her and keep her warm. The Witchblade could manifest as a medieval knight’s armor or a more stylized and golden or silver-and-black metallic reptilian form that often resembled a bikini with some arm, thigh, and foot protection, highlighted her curves, and left her half-naked. It could also partially manifest in some variant of either form, usually a gauntlet on her right wrist and forearm. Sara laid on bed, feeling the ache between her thighs that told her she had recently had sex, and tried to pretend that what she had with Tyler was enough.
Alone in her bed, though, she could not pretend. The Witchblade would not let her. It flashed on an image of her asleep in Jim and Blair’s bed.
“Hey, it’s Sleeping Beauty,” Jim said teasingly. He wore only a pair of boxer briefs as did Blair. Both men surrounded her and seduced her out of sleep and into loving passion.
It was a little too close to what she had wished for every morning she had woken in their bed after a lonely, nightmare-fueled night, and she had to take a deep breath to hold back the tears.
“They aren’t interested in me that way,” Sara insisted, talking aloud to the Witchblade even though it could read her mind. “And if they were, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to say something. Jim’s right – I’ve been in their bed too much and disturbing their sleep enough.”
The Witchblade laughed darkly, mocking her conviction.
Stubbornly, she shut her eyes and willed herself to sleep.
The wolf and the black panther walked Cascade’s perimeter, vigilance in their synchronized steps. They found the female knight at her station at the city’s port and spent a few minutes letting her pet them before she joined them in their patrol. Contentment radiated out through the trio as they patrolled the city, looking for trouble. They would be together, a family, the triad who would ensure the city would not be unguarded in times to come. From them would come the warriors who would continue the legacy who would keep the traditions alive. If their union were to be unrealized, Cascade would once again fall into the days before the Sentinel came online, before the Shaman was reborn, before the Wielder was tested, and those gifts would vanish, never to be known again in this lifetime.
A violent scene replaced the happy one, depicting a city full of gangs who terrorized the innocent and whose police force seemed unable or unwilling to stop the flow of crime. The Witchblade loved to show Sara futures, consequences if she chose the wrong path. She tried to argue that everyone she had ever loved had died because of her choosing a path, but the ‘blade was not sympathetic, reminding her she had served the greater good. Sara’s sleep was not restful.
Steven rang her doorbell at seven the next morning. The plan was that they would get breakfast and then hike the looping trail on the former military post on Cascade’s Magnolia Point. The trail crested at what had been the site of a lighthouse, meandered through an old-growth forest and past a beach, and was one of the longer in-city trails. Sara had been through it with Jim, Blair, and Steven, and they liked to picnic on the beach. She expected Steven would have packed a picnic lunch courtesy of Sally, the Ellisons’ housekeeper, and that he would indulge in his photography hobby.
Having fallen into a deep sleep only scant hours before, Sara did not hear the doorbell at first. The Witchblade woke her with a searing image of someone screaming in pain, and she bolted upright, adrenaline pumping through her veins. She heard its amused chuckle in her head before her gaze fell on the alarm clock she kept on the nightstand. Swearing, she tossed on a robe and went to greet Steven.
“Late night?” he asked, seeing she was not ready.
“Nightmares,” she replied. “Give me a few minutes to get dressed and we can go. Come on in.” She opened the door wider to let Steven inside her small apartment.
Like his brother, Steven was tall, brown-haired, blue-eyed, and had an oval face and a broad build. Where Jim was more muscled due to lifting weights, Steven was softer, more inclined towards hiking and running. He shared Jim’s gentle nature and compassion to the less fortunate. Today, Steven wore a blue t-shirt and brown hiking pants. He carried a small backpack with him, which he set on the counter of the galley kitchen before shutting the apartment door behind himself. “Brought you coffee,” he told Sara, producing a thermos, and handing it to her.
She took it gratefully and sipped from it. Her apartment was small enough there was nowhere to sit aside from the futon she used as a bed. Used to her space, Steven remained standing as she moved around him, gathering clothes out of her closet. Out of respect, he turned his back while she dressed.
“If you’re hungry, we could go to the Old Pancake House,” Steven said, “before going to Magnolia Point. Sally is visiting her sister today, so we won’t have a picnic basket to lug. That work for you or would you rather go to Betsy’s Place?”
Sara put on her underwear, her bra, and then her jeans as she decided between the two. She thought Steven was sweet for preserving her modesty though she was not about to tell him she had lost any sense of body modesty years ago. “Old Pancake House; their coffee is better.”
She put on a white t-shirt before reconsidering; white attracted spills. She chose a green shirt instead, remembering how shocked Rafe had been to discover the reason she wore white t-shirts was because she usually bought the men’s multipacks. He had taken her shopping, determined that if she would be his partner, she would look at least less cheap and little more professional and polished.
Thinking of her partner made Sara remember the conversation they had had. She looked at Steven as he stood, staring at her tiny kitchen as he waited for her to finish dressing, and realized she had to tell him something. It was not fair to him to keep leading him on; he was not one of her one-night stands, but a friend and Jim’s brother. She finished pulling on her shirt, tucking it into her jeans. She then put on a belt, socks, and sneakers. After a moment’s hesitation, she put her wallet, duty-issue gun, and police badge into the small leather cross-body bag she had for that purpose.
“You can turn around now,” she told Steven, who smiled and led the way out of her apartment.
Since where they were going was within the city and not one of the nearby mountain trails, Steven had driven his luxury sedan rather than the Jeep he kept for that purpose. Sara finished the thermos of coffee as they made their way to the popular brunch restaurant. One side effect of the Witchblade was that it drained her energy; she had to eat more though she gained no visible weight.
Sara was grateful that Steven made no comment about her hunger as they ordered and then ate. He talked instead of the changes he was making at Ellison Industries, instituting policy changes that expanded employee benefits, and how he wanted to ensure that part of the profits of the company went towards charities that helped the homeless and supported education in STEM. Ellison Industries had started out, like many other historical businesses in Cascade, as a company dependent on logging. It had expanded to produce equipment and engineering for construction, agriculture, and other industries where cranes, loaders, dump trucks, forklifts, and similar equipment, and knowledge of industrial engineering would be essential. Ellison Industries was one of the larger employers in the region, and one of the few who could trace its history to the founding days of Cascade.
“People think you would be a less progressive executive because your brother’s a cop?” Sara wondered as she finished her hash browns.
Steve chuckled. “Yes,” he said, grinning. “Though I’ll admit, some of these changes wouldn’t be happening if Dad was still alive. When we were kids, Dad made it clear he wouldn’t accept a homosexual son, so I was shocked when he accepted Jim and Blair. He fought me when I wanted to expand benefits to include same-sex partners, and he wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t pointed out that the city had passed an ordinance making same-sex discrimination illegal.”
William Ellison had died in his sleep two months ago. Much to the surprise of his peers, he had not retired at age 65 but had continued to lead his firm, refusing all suggestions to retire. In 2004, at 77, William had brought in Steven as the vice president of Ellison Industries, grooming him to lead the company as its president. The chief operating officer, who had been expecting a promotion, had quit, throwing the company into chaos for a brief time. Steven and William had weathered the storm, found a new chief operating officer, and had brought the company into a new age. Sara remembered a man hard on his sons, expecting them to live up to a high standard of class, privilege, and morality, but who had been willing to reverse his position if circumstances and new information proved him wrong.
“Jim said after the Army reported him missing, your dad regretted being so harsh with him and you when you were growing up,” Sara remarked.
Steven nodded. “Yes. He was thrilled when he found out Jim was alive. Then he started in with the competitive shit all over again, telling me I needed to do something as amazing as Jim had, and I had to leave before I said things I’d regret.” He looked at Sara. “He kept telling me I should marry you. I had to keep reminding him that my last marriage didn’t work out, but he was undeterred. He liked the way you and I looked together.” He paused. “Got me thinking.”
Sara set down her coffee and swallowed the liquid she had just drank. “About what?” she feigned innocence.
Steven looked at her, abruptly nervous. “You finished?” he asked instead, and Sara’s heart sank.
Still she kept a smile pasted on as they went through the routine of paying the bill. Steven insisted on paying, and Sara knew by now not to argue with his sense of propriety. Though he embraced liberal values and supported feminism, Steven had been raised to believe a man paid for meals when dining out with a female he had invited. Sara had her pride; she earned a decent salary as a senior detective, was frugal with her money, and had battled misogyny and misplaced morality in her chosen career. Steven saw it as good manners and acknowledgement of the disparity between their finances. The more he paid, the less she had to worry about scrimping on something else, ergo he was doing her a favor.
In silence, they made their way to Magnolia Point. Wanting to distract Steven from asking what she suspected he would ask, she filled the walk up to the lighthouse with talk about the policies he rolled out at Ellison Industries, which followed a trend among American businesses to expand childbirth-and-adoption-related leave and extend benefits to committed couples.
They paused their hike at the lighthouse marker, which was nothing more than a concrete slab etched with a brass plate denoting what had been there. Sara breathed in the sight of the water and land below. The Witchblade stirred and chattered indistinctly in her mind, its version of happy noise. Dread filled her as she realized what that meant: the vision she had been seeing since she first met Steven was imminent. The Witchblade loved chaos and order both; it was happiest when something went its way. Steven stood beside her, again nervous now they had stopped talking, and turned to face him.
“Sara, I feel like we’ve been dating without a road map, and I was wondering if you wanted more than just this.” He gestured expansively to the way they stood, close but not touching. “You’re so beautiful, Sara, I can’t believe someone else hasn’t captured your attention.”
“Steven, I like you a lot, and I’ve enjoyed being your date for things I would never in a million years be able to afford to attend. I don’t want to be more than a friend to you.”
Steven studied her a moment before asking carefully, “Because you met my brother first?”
Sara did not believe in pulling her punches. “Yes.”
“Damn it, Sara, you know he will never leave Blair.”
“I know,” Sara stated. “And I don’t want to feel like I’m settling for you. That’s not fair to you, because you can’t be the person I need and vice versa. I like sex a lot, and you get more out of hugging and cuddling than sex.”
“And neither of us would be happy in that setup,” he surmised.
“Damn it,” he swore. “When we met, I saw how pretty, smart, and tough you are. All I could think of was how much of a match you’d make for my brother if he wasn’t so in love in Blair, and how if I’d been single, I might have a shot. Then Lisa and I divorced, and you agreed to be my date and we hung out, and I got to know you a little more.” Steven looked at her. “I never looked at us as anything more than friends, Sara, until my dad hammered on how good we looked together, how long you and I have been dating, how he hoped that we’d progress to something more, and it got me remembering how I’d felt when we first met….” His voice trailed off.
“You’re right: I don’t have a big sex drive and that was one reason Lisa cheated on me. In all the years we’ve known each other, I never asked you if you were seeing other people, but you have been, haven’t you?”
“Yes. No one serious.”
“Because my brother’s it for you?”
Sara shook her head. “No. My soulmate’s name was Conchobar and he died before I moved here. Made me think soulmates weren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.”
“How long were you together?”
“Long enough to know I loved him. Any time I had with him was too short.”
Steven’s mouth tightened in sympathy. “I’m sorry. I should’ve asked you about this before, but I guess I wanted to take you at your word and not think too deeply about how guarded you are. Especially after the mess with Lisa.”
“You accept people at face value, Steven. You don’t ask questions other people would ask – about what secrets they might keep, how they see the world, what they do when they’re not with you, who they are when they’re alone. You’re good at business but it’s all you can see. It’s like you walk around with blinders on for the people closest to you.”
“I know, damn it,” Steven growled. “But I’d rather not go through life being a cynical hard ass. I want to believe people will tell me what I need to know.” He looked at her. “You–“ he took a breath “–you have shadows in your eyes and there’s shit you don’t talk about, but I always figured it was police stuff, just like my brother and Blair. Blair told me you lost people you loved in New York, so I thought it was part of it. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?”
Sara nodded carefully, uncertain of where he was going with this. Unconsciously, she rubbed the bracelet on her right wrist, hearing its silence as it, too, waited to see where Steven would go.
“And you didn’t trust me to keep it a secret?” Steven looked genuinely offended.
“No,” Sara said flatly. “People have died because of it. Conchobar was one, as were my partner and two of my friends.”
Her words blunted his annoyance. “I’m not a child, Sara. I’m a grown man.”
“I know.” She stepped closer. “And you deserve someone who can give you everything you need out of a relationship, who doesn’t have the secrets I have.”
He studied her. “And you will not tell me.”
She held firm, believing he would not handle the information well. “No.”
He considered that a long moment before nodding once, tightly. “Not even when it curls up your right arm like vine tendrils?”
Startled, Sara glanced down at her arm, seeing the Witchblade had transformed into a filigree version of the knight’s gauntlet. In her head, the ‘blade whispered, He was the Sentinel’s Guide when they were children, and defended Blair when it mattered.
Steven closed the distance between them and reached out to touch one tendril of the ‘blade. “Looks like iguana skin over metal, but it’s softer than it looks,” he remarked. “Does it hurt?”
Sara shook her head again. “Only people it doesn’t like. Usually those tendrils are razor sharp.”
Steven jerked his hand back as if fearing what would happen. “That’s not me right now is it?”
“If it was, you’d know,” Sara said dryly. “It’s not shy about defending me.”
“What is it?”
“The Witchblade,” Sara told him, resigned to giving him the information now it had revealed itself. “My destiny. It is ancient, alien, and has a mind of its own. I can wield it as a weapon and it represents both order and chaos. I see things that were, are, and could be because of it.”
Steven looked at her. “And you saw us like this, all this time? Here, this whole conversation?”
She nodded tightly, hating that she had to tell him this.
“Oh, God, Sara. And you knew I wouldn’t believe you if you told me sooner.” He covered his mouth, looking flabbergasted. “I still am not sure I believe what I’m seeing, but if I can believe what my brother is, then….” His voice trailed off and he paced a few feet away before turning to her. “Are you here because of my brother?”
“Yes.” Sara saw no reason to hide that fact. “Because Cascade is protected by a bonded Sentinel and a Guide, and they need the help a Wielder can provide.”
“Are you going to break up Jim and Blair?” he asked her.
Sara’s heart ached at his question. “No, never.”
Steven closed his eyes briefly before breathing deeply. “I’m guessing it means you three are linked forever. Guess that’s why Rafe kept asking me when I would stop fake-dating you.”
“Part of it.”
He straightened his shoulders. “You should have dinner tonight with Jim and Blair without me, then. I’ll take you home.”
“Steven!” Sara was aghast. “I can’t do that!”
“Why not?” he asked her blandly. “I may not pay that close attention to people but I notice when my brother asks me questions about how long you and I will be out today. He cares about you. So does Blair. If you’re linked to them, why does having dinner alone with them scare you so much?”
“Because this thing,” she tapped the stone of the Witchblade, “says being with them is what I need to do, and I hate feeling like I have no choice at all.”
Steven studied her. “Do you love them?”
Sara met his gaze and crossed her arms tightly as the Witchblade morphed back into an innocuous-looking bracelet. “The last people I loved died because of me.”
“That’s not an answer, Sara.”
“Maybe not, but it’s the one you’re getting.”
Sighing deeply, Steven said, “Since I can see we'll go around in circles on this, I suggest we talk about something else on the way down. Do you still like me enough to be my date for the Cascade Hospital Summer Gala in two weeks?”
“Yes, and I never said I hated you, Steven,” Sara said as they started down the trail.
He flashed her a grin. “I know, but I had to check.” He pressed a hand to his heart. “Since I’m suffering a major broken heart over you refusing me and all.”
Dryly, Sara noted, “Uh huh, right, that’s why you want me to have dinner alone with your brother and Blair. Because I have devastated you so utterly.”
Steven feigned dismay. “Can’t you tell?”
“Keep it up, Steven, and I might just leave you to explain why I’m annoyed with you to Jim and Blair.”
“Not that! Never that!” Steven exaggerated, then laughed at the face she made. He stopped in front of her, his expression abruptly serious. “For the record, Sara – I’m not upset you told me no. I’m more pissed that I let my father get me wound up, even when he’s no longer alive, and let myself dream of something that, if I would have stopped to think about it, would be a disaster. Whatever you need, just let me know and I’ll make it happen if it’s within my power to do so.”
Touched by his words, Sara leaned in and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Steven.”
“That said – do you mind if we skip the museum this afternoon? I need some time alone to figure out how to go from here.”
“Of course. Will you be at dinner?”
“I don’t know,” Steven said honestly. “I’m not making any promises.”
Sara nodded her understanding. In companionable silence, they made the rest of the way down the trail.
Warning: brief violence against a woman and a child in this chapter. Skip past the horizontal line if that sort of thing bothers you.
Having expected to spend the day with Steven, Sara took advantage of her unexpected free afternoon to do laundry. The laundry facility in her building was nonexistent, so she had developed ways to get all her laundry over to the nearest laundromat, which was a mile away. On the western edge of downtown Cascade, the Miller Pond neighborhood was close to the precinct, but it was a neighborhood in transition. Low-income and affordable apartments in the heart of the city were slowly giving way to upscale condos and luxury apartments. The city limited bus service to the neighborhood on weekends, a legacy of budget cuts, which meant that Sara’s choices for lugging her laundry were to wait for a bus that came once an hour or rig it up a carrying system on her motorcycle. She had chosen the latter, using bungee cords and backpacks to get everything transported.
Midtown Laundry would never win awards for the cheapest laundromat, but Sara liked that the owners kept the place clean and the machines running. An attendant was on site during the facility's extended hours. The facility’s rules were posted in large signs written in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. Sara had to wait in a short line to reload the swipe card that operated the machines, but the routine of it all soothed the ache in her heart.
She had hated knowing she would break Steven’s heart; having done it, she hated it even more. How was she going to face Jim and Blair, knowing by the time she showed up, they would know what she had done?
She told herself she had no control over what Steven felt, but it did not change the way she wished she could be the woman he wanted. Deep in her own thoughts and the need to get both her sheets and clothes done before she headed over to Jim’s loft, she did not pay close attention to the other patrons in the laundromat. It was only as she was pulling her bedsheets out of the washer when the Witchblade shrieked gleefully, flashing her an image of a terrified Hispanic woman trying to shield her daughter from an angry, violent man.
Sara paused and turned towards the front of the laundromat. The woman in question was sitting in the battered plastic chairs with her daughter, who looked to be about kindergarten or first grade age, trying to get her to color in a battered coloring book so she could get the next load of laundry loaded, and coaxing her with promises of going to get cookies. Sara measured the distance between herself and the woman before she realized half of the facility stood between them. The front door was just to the woman’s left.
Sara shoved her bedsheets into a laundry hamper, feeling as though she had only seconds in which to react, and cleared her path. Her hunch proved correct.
The man swaggered through the door, loudly proclaiming, “What are you gonna do now, bitch? Huh? You gonna make a scene or you gonna come home with me where you belong, Lourdes?” He grabbed the woman, forcibly separating her from her daughter. The child slipped to the floor and wailed, startled and in pain. Lourdes tried to free herself.
“Jesús, no, please,” she pleaded, struggling.
Jesús slapped her, then pulled out a gun and stuck it under her chin. She froze.
He grinned toothily. “Got you now,” he told her. “Told you I would – ugh!”
Sara placed the Witchblade’s sword in Jesús’s back. “Let her go.”
“What are you gonna do?” Jesús said, certain of his power. “You a cop or something?”
“Or something,” Sara agreed, and used the tentacles of the ‘blade to reach out and extricate Lourdes while trapping Jesús’s gun hand. Jesús’s eyes went wide and he turned pale.
“What the fuck?”
Sara ignored him. “Lourdes, get your daughter and your things and go. I’ll make sure you get the rest, okay?”
“Santa María Madre de Dios, what are you?” Lourdes gasped.
“Detective Pezzini,” Sara told her as Jesús tried to wriggle free and discovered the bite of the razor-sharp tendrils that flourished the tentacles.
Lourdes made the sign of the cross, but she took advantage of her freedom to hustle her daughter and what clothes she had out of the laundromat. Assured she was safe, Sara turned to her captive. “You will not harm her again,” she ordered him. “And you won’t remember me like this, either. You’ll only see these tentacles, these claws, in your nightmares.”
Too terrified to move, Jesús nodded, all too willing to accept whatever fate he was dealt. When the beat cops arrived, they found a man handcuffed to one of the bolted-down laundry folding tables, angry and ranting about alien beings and nightmare angels. Sara stood watch over him as her bedsheets tumbled in the dryer behind her. Not for the first time, she appreciated that the Witchblade’s tendrils and tentacles came in handy for multitasking and smothered a smile at the knowledge her using them to finish her laundry would only add to Jesús’s nightmares.
“Hey, Pez, what’s up with this guy?” the first cop to arrive asked, recognizing her.
“Hey, Charlie, you know I can’t seem to go anywhere without finding trouble,” she joked. “Caught this guy threatening a woman and her daughter. He drew a gun–” she nodded to the one on the table, out of reach of Jesús – “so I had to restrain him.”
Charlie shook his head. “Well, at least you got no blood on those sheets. We’ll take it from here. The woman around?”
Sara nodded to the other corner of the laundromat. She had known the woman would creep back in; she was too poor to risk losing what few clothes she had. “Name’s Lourdes. Oh, and can we make sure she knows about the domestic violence shelter? She’s been living in her car.”
“Will do, and thanks.”
Sara worked with Charlie and his partner to transfer Jesús to the waiting patrol car and get him processed. Charlie took her statement, made her sign the official report, and then she was once again free to finish her laundry. Another officer convinced Lourdes to come into the station to file a complaint. It was a ploy to enable the social worker to talk to her. The Witchblade told her that Lourdes would need more convincing before she accepted the help she needed.
Then why did you let me help her? Sara snarled at the ‘blade.
Because you needed to save her, the Witchblade told her, with just enough weight that Sara understood that this scene was a pebble in a larger pool.
Alone in the laundromat, Sara leaned on the laundry folding table and sagged. She was tired; using the ‘blade’s powers exhausted her. Maybe I should cancel on dinner with Jim and Blair, she mused.
The Witchblade growled as if to say it would transport her there over her objections. It had carried her home on multiple occasions, leaving her with no memory of how she got there and unable to do anything more than sleep. Unwilling to let that happen again, Sara straightened and finished her laundry. A glance at her watch as she strapped down her laundry told her she would cut it close to get back home and across the city in time to meet Jim and Blair.
Swearing, Sara skidded her motorcycle to a stop, wedging it into a half-parking space in the parking lot for Jim’s loft. She was late, and her cell phone’s battery had died as she sat in traffic, sweltering in her motorcycle leathers in the summer sun. The day had turned out to be hotter than she had expected, and she had opted to wear her more protective, but thicker and less ventilated, leather jacket, along with leather chaps, which meant she was sweating in her clothes. Adding to her frustration was that an SUV had tapped her back wheel, jostling her forward as she sat at a stoplight. The Witchblade fed on rage, and she could feel it drinking in her emotions, amplifying them to prepare for battle.
With an effort, she shut off the engine of the motorcycle, took off her helmet, unzipped her jacket, and forced herself to breathe and calm down. By now, Jim would have sensed her. His range as a Sentinel had increased over the years, grounded by the love of his Shaman-Guide, and by the confidence that came from knowing his abilities were partly admissible in court. He had once told her he could tell when the Witchblade manifested more than a few tendrils, thanks to the way it made adrenaline surge through her body and left a lingering scent of something old, metallic, and otherworldly on her skin.
She was not surprised to see him emerge from the rear of the building as she dismounted. He looked concerned as he met her and took her helmet. He also took her backpack, which contained a set of spare clothing, her police badge, and gun. “Who pissed you off to the point of wanting to kill them?”
“Fucking idiots in traffic,” she said, pulling out her keys and tucking them into the pocket of her jacket. “Someone tried to fucking run me over when I was sitting at a fucking stoplight. Didn’t mean to be so damn late.”
Jim hugged her, and she drank in the familiar comfort. “Works out, actually, because we were late getting dinner started.” He stood and held her. From prior experience, Sara knew if she did not submit to this moment of calming, the ‘blade would incite her more until she gave into its chaotic desires. One of the few arguments she had had with Jim, early in their friendship, had resulted from her giving into a moment of Witchblade-fueled rage. Only the fact he was a Sentinel and could tell that something else was going on with her had prevented the ‘blade from ruining their friendship.
Only when her breathing and heart rate calmed did Jim release her. He took a moment to verify what his senses told him, taking her pulse before stepping back. “Feeling a little less homicidal?”
“Yeah,” she said, exhaling. “Thanks, Jim.”
Satisfied, Jim led the way to the back door to the building that housed his loft, and, after swiping a key card, opened it.
Grateful he had taken the time to calm her the rest of the way, Sara followed him up the stairs to his third-floor loft. She was already tired; a ‘blade-fueled rage, left unchecked, would have sapped what remaining energy she had. “What’s for dinner?”
“Moroccan chicken stew, one of Blair’s recipes,” Jim told her as he opened the door. In the years since their first meeting, Sara had become familiar with the loft. Though she was loath to admit it, it felt more like home than her studio apartment. Jim allowed her to precede him into the living room; Blair was setting a pot on the dining room table, which sat just off to her right.
Once the pot was on the table, he moved to greet her, hugging her. “Did you want any wine?” he asked her as she heard Jim set her helmet down on the coffee table.
“Sure,” she said. “Is Steven here?”
“He’s coming up the stairs now,” Jim told her as Blair went to pour her a glass of red wine.
Saturday night, once a month, was family dinner night. Sara had once objected to the inclusion, figuring Jim and Blair had other people they wanted, but Jim had been insistent. (“My house, my rules,” Jim had asserted. “And you shouldn’t be alone.”) Now, relief that Steven had not chosen to cancel on the standing invitation flooded through her. To disguise it, she turned to Blair. “Anything I can do?”
“Take your jacket and boots off, wash your hands, and have a seat,” he told her. “I need to put the couscous out.”
Sara put her jacket, chaps, and boots in the corner of the living room closest to the door, moving her helmet to the pile as she did so. Sara then washed her hands, exiting the bathroom in time to see that Steven had arrived.
Dinner was slightly awkward, though she could see how determined Steven was to make sure it was like any other Saturday night dinner they had shared with Blair and Jim. Wanting the same result, she joined in his efforts. She could tell, though, that Jim had picked up that something had happened between her and Steven and wanted to know what it was. Sara resisted his probing, feeling that what happened was between Steven and her, and therefore was none of his business. She also did not mention her incident at the laundromat, since doing so would only worry Jim, Blair, and Steven and she saw no point in rehashing it.
As had become a tradition, they spent the time after dinner in the living room playing a board game, which Steven supplied. He had become fascinated with the plethora of board games that had come on the market since he and Jim were children, especially those targeted to the adult market. Tonight’s card game involved killer bunnies and carrots, a combination which produced some hilarious commentary from the three police officers as the game evolved.
Sara, however, never found out who won the game. Two hours in, Jim realized she had fallen asleep against him. Her left side was pressed against his right, and her head was against his shoulder.
“What did you do to her, Steven?” Jim teased. “Hike the mountain and wear her out?”
“No, we parted ways just before lunch,” Steven said, frowning. “We talked about what a bad idea she and I would be if we listened to everyone who thinks we make a perfect couple together, but she was fine when I dropped her off at her apartment.”
“Wondered when you’d come to that conclusion,” Jim said.
“Hey!” Steven interjected, insulted. “I got caught up in that, too, wondered what if. You’ll excuse me if I’m a little wounded still.”
“Sure,” Jim agreed, “but is it because you feel like an idiot for listening to everyone?”
Steven blew out a breath. “Because it was Dad who got me wound up in the first place, and then I noticed how many other people made similar comments, and she seemed more interested.” He paused. “Forgot to factor in the fact I care little for sex.”
Blair looked surprised at that disclosure. “Is that a new thing about you?”
Steven shook his head. “No. Never really mattered that much. You remember how public my ex-wife was about cheating on me? Well, it started because I don’t really find sex to be all that interesting. Hugs and cuddling? Sign me up. Sex? Bleah.” He shook his head.
Blair started to ask more questions, but Steven held up a hand. “You and I can discuss me and whether I’m some label you recognize or if I need medical help some other time, but we were talking about Sara. Do you think something happened this afternoon to her?”
“I’d say yes,” Blair noted. “She doesn’t get this tired unless…“ He stopped himself, realizing Steven did not know about the Witchblade.
“If you mean her magic bracelet, it showed itself when we were at Magnolia Point,” Steven told Jim and Blair. “I take it you’ve known about it?”
Jim nodded. “She asked us not to tell you.”
“I suspected she was keeping secrets, but I figured it related to Sentinel stuff, so I didn’t think too much of it.” He paused before asking, “What does she get out of it? She said it lets her see the past, present, and future, but it sounded like there was more.”
“Near-immortality – she’s bulletproof and cannot be killed as long as she is the Wielder,” Blair ticked off the list. “Tradeoff is that it speaks to her in her head and has driven a few of its Wielders to insanity. It also incites her to do things she might not do the way it wants her to, so she’s constantly fighting to stay in control.”
Steven’s eyes widened. “Does that mean some of the cases you’ve solved since she’s been here have been because of her?”
“Couldn’t have solved the Dragon serial murder cases without her five years ago, or the plot to bomb all the elementary schools in the city two months ago,” Jim said. “She’s a brilliant detective without it, but the Witchblade gives her the insight we often need to find the extra bit of evidence to close the case.”
“Sara said the billionaire who owned it offered her the chance to work for him if she used the Witchblade for his purposes,” Blair offered. “She said no. He then tried to kill her, so he could get the ‘blade back and give it to a more easily manipulated Wielder. He didn’t succeed, but she lost people she cared about and her reputation in the NYPD was in tatters. That’s part of the reason she came to Cascade.”
“That’s messed up,” Steven said, frowning. “No wonder she wanted to start over here.”
“It’s also why I’m grateful she hasn’t let that experience close her off,” Blair noted. “She’s one of the most resilient people I’ve ever known.”
Jim nodded agreement.
Steven was quiet a moment as he put the cards back in their box. Once that task was finished, he looked at the other men. “Sara said it’s been telling her she needs to be with you two. She thinks that means she doesn’t have a choice.”
Jim and Blair exchanged glances. “The fact she’s been refusing, and it hasn’t left her yet, means she does,” Jim said sharply. “Damn thing makes her paranoid. It’s tried to leave her before, but she’s always convinced it she’s the one it should stay with.”
“What happens if it leaves her?” Steven wondered.
Jim exhaled heavily. “She says it will drive her insane because she’ll remain connected to it, but she won’t be able to do anything except hope that the next Wielder will listen to her, and it will tell the next Wielder she’s not to be trusted.”
“No Wielder who has had it once has ever had it twice,” Blair added. “They either die shortly after losing it or go mad and then die.”
“Well, that sucks,” Steven commented. “I’ll get going then, so you two can convince her.”
At his brother’s look of surprise, Steven said, shrugging, “I’d rather you two were with her than anyone else I can think of, myself included. Between what she said, what you two have just told me, and the brief glimpse of it when it wasn’t a harmless-looking bracelet, she’ll need a lot of support and love. I’ll be the first to admit the best I can do in a relationship is offer hugs and distractions.”
“How much of it did you see, Steven?” Jim asked.
“Just little tendrils – it looked like a filigree tattoo on her arm. It was soft to my touch, which surprised her – she said it usually is razor sharp?”
“Must have been just wanting to say hi,” Blair surmised. “It does that to people it likes, but if you’re on its hit list – or Sara’s – it will tear you to pieces.”
Steven winced. “Remind me not to piss her off then. Does Rafe know?”
“That explains why he kept telling me I shouldn’t give Sara any gifts of jewelry for her birthday or Christmas,” Steven rued. “I didn’t quite believe him when he told me it was because of ‘bad associations with jewelry gifts.’”
Jim and Blair chuckled softly. “That’s one way of putting it,” Blair agreed.
“Good luck and good night. Don’t get up, either of you; I’ll see myself out. Thanks for dinner.”
When he had exited the loft, Jim looked at the woman slumped against him, then at Blair. “This is not how I wanted tonight to go.”
Blair chuckled dryly as he moved to the couch next to Sara. “Well, we could take her upstairs, put her between us like we’ve done before, and talk about it in the morning.”
Jim listened for a moment, checking her breathing and heartbeat, and finding both to be even, indicative of a restful slumber. For a moment, he was tempted to do what Blair suggested, but instinct told him that would not go over well. Aware that sometimes Sara woke in a blind panic, thanks to the visions the Witchblade gifted her with while she slept, Jim was gentle when he jostled her. “Hey, Pez, you fell asleep.”
“Hmm, what –“ Sara blinked sleepily, then rapidly as she realized where she was. “Damn it. I should get home.”
“Or you could stay,” Blair said. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“No, I should –” Her voice died as she took another look at Blair and then Jim, seeing their serious expressions. “Look, some fucker tried to force a woman and her daughter to go where they didn’t want to when I was doing my laundry, and I objected. He’s in custody; she’s in a shelter for the night.”
“That all?” Jim asked steadily. “A little birdie told me you don’t think you have a choice about something that involves you, me, and Blair.”
Sara froze. “You don’t know what’s coming.”
“Maybe not, and maybe you do,” Jim stated in the same even tone. “If you’re thinking all that shit about destiny and fate – consider you’ve been telling the Witchblade no for years now. How much control you have over it. And we know that cursed thing likes to show you death. Let me guess: it showed you ours.”
“And you don’t think we could want you anyway, for however long we have together?” Blair asked.
Caught off guard by that question, Sara looked at them. “And what if I think it’s a mistake?”
“I told you five years ago I got used to waking up with you in my bed,” Jim told her. “Since then, both Blair and I have gotten used to having you with us. And I was only teasing you a few months ago when I said you were there too much. I didn’t mean for you to take me literally.”
“Or for you to go running to Steven,” Blair added. “Do you know how many times I’ve rolled over when you’ve shared our bed and nearly kissed you?”
Sara held herself still, unable to believe what she was hearing.
“Tell us you don’t want us,” Jim pleaded. “Because I can tell how much you’re trying to hide, Sara. How much you’ve been hiding.”
“When he told me,” Blair added, “I didn’t want it to be real because then I’d have to admit I wanted you, too. I didn’t want to; it felt like I was failing at being committed to him. We’ve both had issues with women coming into our lives and making us crazy. You – you haven’t done that, not like they did. We’ve been talking about this for months, and we’re both tired of waiting to see if you’ll be on the same page as we are.”
All the breath rushed out of her in one swoop as she realized she could not hide how she felt from a Sentinel or his Guide. He had known, and discussed it with his lover, until they were both comfortable to be with her. Still, Sara hesitated.
Jim took her hand. “Talk to us, Sara. Tell us what you’re afraid of.”
She closed her eyes briefly. “Being alone,” she admitted. She swallowed past a suddenly dry throat. “And less than what you need.”
“You’re not,” Blair said fervently. “But if you want us to more than friends, Sara, kiss me or Jim, or hell, both of us, and we’ll live and love through whatever comes next, together. If you didn’t have the Witchblade, would you still want us?”
Sara did not hesitate. “Yes, but I’d still feel like I was intruding on your relationship.”
“Not when you’ve been fitting into it all this time, just without sex?” Blair asked reasonably. “When we’ve made space for you in our bed, in our lives, in ways we wouldn’t have let anyone else? We’ve told you repeatedly you aren’t intruding.”
That made Sara blink and reconsider. Given that, how much more difficult would it be to go that next step? She decided there was only one way to find out. “You’ll still respect me in the morning?”
“Hell yes,” Jim told her.
She leaned over to kiss him since he was closer than Blair. Nerves made her kiss more tentative than she might have otherwise been, but Jim kissed her back, coaxing her into a more confident kiss. He held her gently, kissing her slowly and stirring the flames of desire. It was a kiss to come home to, a welcome from a lover who did not feel as new as he was. When he finally ended the kiss, she had forgotten why she had been so nervous.
“Your turn, Chief,” Jim said huskily.
Blair tapped her shoulder, smiling. It felt natural to move to him and kiss him. Eagerly, he kissed her, enthusiasm, joy, and lust in his kiss. She met his kiss with passion, needing to know he wanted her as much as she did. She soon had her answer as he pulled her closer, kissing her with fervor, ratcheting up her arousal. All too soon, he ended the kiss.
“I want you in our bed,” he told her. “If you have any last-minute regrets, now’s the time.”
“And for the record – this is your choice, Sara. We’ll be sad if you stop now, but we’ll respect you either way,” Jim added.
Years of longing, of holding the love she felt for Blair and Jim close to her chest, had come to this moment, and Sara could not find an objection worth voicing. She could feel the Witchblade’s presence, waiting and watching, and knew it ached for her to take the next step. It had brought her to Cascade, promising her that a Sentinel and a Shaman Guide could support her the way she needed support, love her the way she needed love. It had not abandoned her, as it might have once done, when she had steadfastly refused to give into what it wanted.
Realizing that gave her courage. “Then let’s go upstairs and you can show me what I’ve been missing,” she told Blair and Jim.
Smiling, Jim rose and held out a hand, pulling her to her feet. He led the way up the stairs, Blair following behind her. She had been in this bedroom before, knew how comfortable the bed was, how warm the blue comforter was in the winter, how Blair always switched it for a lighter, green one in the summer. She had been naked in this bed; Jim or Blair had undressed her and put her to bed when she had been too exhausted to move without the Witchblade to assist. Now, though, she felt nervous as she shed her clothing, adding them to the pile Jim and Blair made as they, too, undressed.
“One last thing,” Blair said. “Jim and I don’t use condoms, so we don’t have them. If that’s a deal breaker, we can keep it to above the waist.”
“I’m on the pill,” Sara said. “And I trust you, and I want to feel both of you.”
Jim and Blair exchanged looks; Jim gave Blair a small nod before he said, “Okay.”
Jim pulled Sara down to the bed, settling her beside him so he could kiss her. He was gentle, easing her into arousal until she nearly forgot Blair was in the room. Then Blair was behind her, caressing her back, shoulders, and arms, stroking her breasts from behind as Jim deepened their kiss. Moaning, she leaned into Blair’s touch, reaching back to hold him. She broke the kiss with Jim and turned her head to kiss Blair. The angle was a little awkward, but they managed it before Jim distracted her again.
He had taken advantage of her focus on Blair to lick and tasting her breasts, sucking on each of her nipples before blowing on them then sucking on them again. Sara cried out in pleasure; he seemed to know exactly what would make her want him more. Then she remembered: Jim was a Sentinel and moaned again as she realized Jim was taking his time to experience her with all his senses.
Not wanting to ignore Blair, she reached for him again, but Blair told her, “Don’t worry about me. Let Jim taste you. When he’s done, I’ll take my turn.”
He moved out of the way; Jim laid her down on the bed and continued his path down her body. Sara shuddered with building pleasure as he put his mouth on her pussy and licked and suck her clit. He then added his fingers, stroking in and out of her, until she trembled.
“God, fuck, yes, please, more,” Sara panted as he continued his dual ministrations.
Blair chose that moment to stroke her nipples, and the touch sent her over the crest into her first orgasm of the night. Spent, she lay there a moment while Jim sat up. Blair leaned over her to share a kiss with Jim. She whimpered as she realized Blair was tasting her on his lover: it was filthier than she had expected them to be.
Blair licked his lips as he broke the kiss.
Jim did not wait for her to recover. He shifted position just enough to allow him to insert his cock into her pussy. He was long and thick, and bigger than her last lover. As if aware his size could be a problem, he took it slow, making her ache for more. She lifted her hips to meet his thrusts. The scent of sex filled the air, adding to her arousal.
Blair was not content to be a spectator. He switched between Sara and Jim, stroking, kissing, and complimenting them both. Sara suspected Blair was grounding his Sentinel, giving Jim a chance to focus on her without zoning. “You look so beautiful together,” he told them as he touched them both. “And so damn hot. Never thought I’d see this.”
Sara glanced at him. Blair was hard, aroused by the sight before him. A glance told him Blair’s cock was wider than Jim’s but looked to be the same length. Her mouth watered; she wanted to suck and taste him. She reached for him, intending to stroke him, but he shook his head. He kissed her hand before pushing it aside. “You touch me now, I won’t be good for later.”
Understanding, she focused her attention on Jim. He rewarded her by speeding up his thrusts and stroking her clit, making her orgasm around his cock. When she was breathless again, he thrust with intent, and she realized he was close to coming. “God, Jim, you feel so good, want to feel you come in me,” she encouraged him.
He smiled at her words, leaning forward to kiss her as he continued to thrust. It did not take much longer for him to reach his peak. His hips stuttered as his orgasm shot through him. Mindful of his weight, he kissed her once, then carefully disengaged. Blair exchanged another kiss with him before switching positions with him.
Sara realized why Jim had gone first. Blair’s stamina was impressive, and his wider cock meant he stretched her in a way Jim had not. Blair sent her crashing through two more orgasms before he let go of his control and careened down the cliff of desire with her.
In the aftermath, Sara lay spent. Jim and Blair took turns kissing her gently, then they shifted her, so they could lie on either side of her. Jim, who was closest to the door, turned off the light before crawling back into bed and pulled the covers over them. In that fashion, they fell asleep.
Sara moaned into the kiss as she was gently woken. Blinking, she opened her eyes to find Jim leaning over her, a mischievous smile on his lips. “Morning,” he greeted.
She stretched under him, feeling the pleasant ache in her pussy that told her she spent the night having sex. “Hi.”
Jim dipped his head to kiss her again, stirring the flames of desire. “Wanted to do this for years,” he told her. “All those mornings you woke up here.”
Unwilling to rehash the past, Sara reached for him, wanting to continue down the path of passion. Jim indulged her, taking her again and making her cry out his name as he plunged his cock into her. She thought he would come inside her, but he pulled out.
Wrapped up in Jim, she had not noticed Blair had joined them on the bed.
“Want you to ride me, Sara,” Blair told her, and her eyes widened as she realized he had been watching them. “Ever had anal sex?”
“Not in a long while,” she said, then realized what Blair and Jim wanted. “You want to take me like that?” She glanced at Jim. “You want me in the middle? I’ve never done that.” She hesitated before adding, “But I’ve thought about it with you two.”
He nodded. “We’ll make it good for you,” he promised.
Nervous but willing, she climbed onto Blair’s cock and lifted herself up and down until he was seated fully inside her.
“Breathe, Sara,” Blair admonished her as he reached for her hips. “You get the hard part: staying still. We’ll do all the work.”
Sara breathed out as he held her firmly, reassuring her with kisses and caresses as Jim prepared her asshole for his cock. When Jim finally pushed his cock into her, Sara thought she would die from anticipation. It was a strange sensation at first, feeling two cocks at the same time with only a thin membrane separating them. Sara felt surrounded by Jim and Blair.
“Feel so good, Sara,” Jim assured her, and she let go of the breath she had not realized she had been holding. “Ready, Blair? You go then I go.”
Sara whimpered as the two men established a rhythm of alternating strokes. It was all too much and not enough. She could not figure out what to do with her hands and settled for holding onto Blair. Soon, however, all Sara could think about was how good it felt, how much she wanted this moment to never end. Sandwiched between the two men, she tried not to move, but every stroke sent waves of ecstasy shooting through her. One orgasm cascaded into two, then three as she shuddered through pure sensation.
“God, Blair! Jim! Oh, fuck me, fuck, ah!” she cried as the pleasure short-circuited her brain.
“Yes, love, oh yes,” Blair added his voice. “Gonna –!”
Blair came with a grunt; Jim followed a heartbeat later. The scent of sex and sweat lay heavy in the air. Breathing hard, Sara could only lay in a daze on top of Blair; Jim was a heavy weight on top of her. With a deep breath, Jim removed himself and then knelt on the bed. He kissed Sara, then Blair.
Flashing a grin, he told them, “We’ll do that again.”
“Yes,” Blair agreed. “Love you, Jim.”
Jim’s smile widened.
“Did you like that, Sara?” Blair asked her.
The question did not register.
“I think we broke her,” Blair told Jim. “Too much pleasure.”
Looking smugly amused, Jim replied, “Give her a minute.”
Blair held her close and whispered in her ear, “Thank you, Sara. Loved feeling you like that, having you between us. Do you want more?”
Blair’s words broke through the haze of bliss. Blinking, she took stock of her body. “Not right away. God, that was intense, but I want to do it again.”
Satisfied with that answer, Jim told her, “Next time we’ll switch.”
The image made her breath catch and both men chuckled.
“Did we find a secret fantasy of yours, Sara?” Blair asked.
“Yes, damn it.”
Jim kissed her tenderly. “Nothing to be ashamed of,” he told her. “We’ve wanted you like this too.” As if sensing her limit, he added briskly, “We should get dressed and get on with the day. Coffee first or shower first?”
Sara glanced at him before carefully rolling off Blair and standing up. “I call dibs on the shower.”
“Go ahead,” Blair said. “I’d offer to join you, but the shower’s not that big.”
Chuckling, Sara kissed him, then Jim. She was not surprised to find an extra set of towels on the bathroom counter, or that the spare set of clothing she kept in her backpack sat next to it. Clearly, her lovers had conspired to wake her up.
As she showered, she considered the sex she had had. Experience told her that with Jim and Blair, she had finally found a pair of lovers who would give her the intense sex she craved. She wanted them again – one at a time or both at once. They had just opened possibilities she had never thought she could experience. Sara wanted to suck them off, so they could fuck each other. She wanted to be on top, in the middle, on the bottom, or just off to the side, watching. She was a little sore, but she wanted them again, and wondered when she could contrive to make it happen.
Resolutely, she ignored the little voice that said if she had not held out so long, she would have known this pleasure sooner. As if to strengthen that notion, the Witchblade flared to life, turning itself into a more elaborate filigree bracelet.
“Yeah, yeah, you were right,” she told the artifact. “But I needed the time and so did they.”
In her head, the Witchblade chittered, disagreeing, but did not change from its filigree state. It was in one of its happier moods, so Sara did not push the issue. She liked it when the ‘blade made itself look pretty without ruining her clothes or trapping her to her bed, as it sometimes did.
Once finished with her shower, she dressed in the bra, underwear, jeans, and t-shirt one of them had retrieved from her backpack. When she stepped out, she found Jim and Blair dressed and kissing in the kitchen.
At her arrival, Jim broke the kiss. Blair looked mildly disappointed but brightened as she approached. He quickly produced a mug and poured coffee into it before handing it to her. “Bagels okay for breakfast?”
Sara smiled. “Bagels are fine.” She took a seat at the breakfast bar, wincing slightly as the motion reminded her she had been very active sexually.
“Sore?” Jim asked solicitously.
“A bit,” Sara admitted. Judging from the gleam in his eyes, he was smug about why.
“Want to do it again after breakfast?” he continued.
“Maybe,” Sara hedged as Blair toasted bagels.
Jim studied her a moment. “Because you’re sore or because you’re hesitating for other reasons? I don’t think I’ve seen the Witchblade look that fancy in a while.”
“It’s happy,” Sara told him. “And yes, because I’m sore. I don’t go around picking up two men for a one-night stand regularly.”
“Are we a one-night stand?” Blair asked worriedly.
“No,” Sara said flatly. “If you were, I would’ve fucked you sooner and we wouldn’t be friends now.” Jim gazed calmly at her; he would not be content with such a brief answer. She took a sip of her coffee, needing the extra strength. “And I didn’t trust the ‘blade to bring me to you and arrange things so we would wind up fucking like that and then I wouldn’t learn why you were the good men you are. I needed to know you could –“ She took a deep breath, blinking past a sudden rush of emotion “–be more than one night. Because I can get those anytime I like.”
Jim took the seat beside her while Blair continued to get breakfast ready, pulling out a tub of cream cheese and a stick of butter from the fridge, a small container of chopped hazelnuts from the counter, and a butter spreader from a drawer. Jim took the items and pulled them closer to him and Sara.
“And?” Jim prompted when Sara said nothing.
“And I’m sitting here, wondering how we go on from here,” Sara admitted.
Jim leaned over and kissed her briefly. “What do you want?”
The toasted bagels popped out of the toaster; Blair put them on plates and passed them to Jim and Sara before putting a third bagel in to toast.
Sara buttered her bagel while she tried to find the words. She ate a bite before she said, “I guess I’m asking if you want me to be faithful to both of you.”
“Yes,” Jim and Blair said, nearly simultaneously.
“Please,” Jim added. “Now we’ve been intimate, it would make me insanely jealous if you had sex with someone other than Blair.” He grimaced, remembering.
Sara had a flash of Blair, kicked out of the loft due to irrational jealousy. She glanced at Blair, who looked like he hated that moment.
“The Witchblade’s showing you that memory, isn’t it?” Blair asked. At her nod, he scowled. “Not our finest hour. Point stands, though. He’ll be jealous, and I’ll be terrified we were headed down a wrong path. If you don’t think you can be with us without needing someone else –”
Sara shook her head and reached across the counter to clasp Blair’s hand. “I don’t cheat on my lovers. Never have, don’t plan to start now, and I think you two would qualify me for hedonism.” She hesitated before adding, “Not that I think you’d do it but if it ever becomes a thing where I’m in the way or –”
“We’ll talk,” Jim said firmly. “I learned my lesson. What Blair and I have together doesn’t work if one of us stops communicating. Any other questions?”
“Do you think we could hide the change in our relationship?” Sara wondered. “We work with very observant people.”
“As long as it doesn’t change how we work together, Simon won’t care,” Jim said confidently. “Biggest worry I have is what will happen when he retires, but I don’t expect that to happen for a few more years yet.”
“Rafe will ask,” Blair noted. “Given he’s your partner, he should know.”
Sara acknowledged that with a nod. “Wasn’t planning on hiding it from him.”
“Good,” Jim said. “I trust him.”
“He won’t tell anyone,” Sara noted. “I’m more worried about other people.”
Jim and Blair exchanged looks. “Don’t tell me you didn’t notice,” Jim remarked.
“Notice what?” Sara asked.
“That the other people in the department concluded years ago we were involved and decided it didn’t matter,” Blair responded.
Sara considered that as the Witchblade presented her with flashes of conversations between the other detectives and support personnel in the Major Crimes Department, confirming Blair’s words. “I heard it early on; didn’t realize it was still a thing. You think no one will push us on the fraternization rules?”
“Not as long as we get things done,” Jim replied. “Besides, being in the department we are means that we have a little more leeway than other departments, since we sometimes work with other departments, who might have family members of the people in our squad. If it’s a problem with a case, Simon will arrange things so another team in the department handles it.”
“Then I guess my next question is: what shall we do next?”
“Finish breakfast,” Blair said promptly, taking the last bagel out of the toaster. “Then I need to do laundry, but –” he glanced at Jim, who nodded “–you don’t have to leave just yet. We figured we could watch the movie we talked about last week since we have the DVD. I don’t want to lose the friendship we have just because we’ve added sex to it.”
“Which isn’t to say I won’t want to take you out on a proper date,” Jim added. “Or I’ll won’t want time with you to myself, not shared with Blair. I expect he wants that same.”
“A little more juggling,” Blair clarified, “but not that much different than we’ve already done. We’ve always tried to make it so you didn’t feel like it was always the both of us all the time, like you couldn’t see me without seeing Jim.”
Relieved by that statement, Sara relaxed. “Yeah, I noticed you did that and made sure you let me have time with Rafe, too. At first, I didn’t get it – I didn’t understand why you and Rafe got along, Blair. I bought into that act he does, where he’s the prettiest pretty boy in a suit you’ve ever met, and he’s too clean and proper to have ever been a beat cop or on the SWAT team.”
Blair laughed. “He’s good at that. But like Jim said, if you ever need time alone, or want to see just one of us, or hang out with Matt and his posse without us – just tell us. Speaking of Matt – how is he? I haven’t seen him since you brought him to the Memorial Day barbeque we hosted.”
Sara smiled, and they spent the time over breakfast catching up on mutual, and not so mutual, friends.
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Whatever doubts Sara had about how her relationship with Jim and Blair would work evaporated over the next seven weeks. At work, they were the same professional men, dedicated to their jobs, and did not indicate that Sara was anything other than a good friend and respected professional. Jim was not inclined to show his affection publicly, a legacy of his upbringing and military training. Blair was more open with his affections, but he had always been effusive and warm. Some part of Sara, worried about appearances, relaxed in the face of their continued normalcy.
After hours, the time she spent with Jim and Blair increased, but not to where she had no time to herself. Thursdays had always been Jim and Blair’s date night, which Sara respected. Friday nights became a rotation between her having the night free or seeing Blair or Jim on a date. Both men made a point of having sex with her individually, usually without the other around. Blair had not sold his condo, which was a few blocks away from Jim’s loft, but he had rented it out, which meant she was aware of the extra lengths they went to so she would see each of them alone. One night, Jim stayed with his brother; another, Blair saw an out-of-town concert with a few of his longtime friends from his college days.
Sara felt like a queen who had fallen in love with two men who adored, respected, lusted for, and treasured her. Caution and paranoia had her keeping the emotion to herself, but she appreciated – because they told her, and the Witchblade loved to remind her – that they loved her and had loved her within the limits she had previously set for years. Free to express that with greater intimacy, Blair was the most vocal; Jim was more inclined to save his declaration of love for when they were not having sex. Sara treasured their declarations and held them tight.
The degree to which she had become deeper involved with them was not obvious to her until Matt called her on the last Friday in July. She was on her bike, headed over to meet Jim and Blair for a date; her cell phone linked to a Bluetooth speaker in her helmet.
“Hey, Pez, will I see you tonight at The Hardware Store? Haven’t seen you in weeks. You stop playing pool or what?”
“Hey, Matt,” she greeted. “Sorry, but I have a date.”
“An honest-to-God date? Who is it?” Matt sounded intrigued.
Sara hesitated, using the excuse of needing to focus on her following distance.
“Please tell me it’s not some asshole you picked up in a bar,” Matt pleaded. “I’ve known you too long to believe you should settle for that.”
The Witchblade reminded her that Matt was a big supporter of sex if it was safe, sane, and consensual, regardless of gender or number of people. “Jim and Blair.”
“That’s not a date,” Matt replied promptly. “That’s you accepting the inevitable. Those two men have been sweet on you for years. They might be gay for each other, but they’ve been hot for you forever, babe.”
“Thanks,” Sara said dryly as she pulled to a stop at a stoplight. “I’ll add you to the list of people who very carefully didn’t tell me I was being an idiot.”
Matt laughed. “Well, you’d have kicked my ass if I did. Say, does that mean Steven Ellison’s available?”
Sara grinned. “He’s not gay, Matt, but yes.” She doubted Steven would be interested in Matt, but that was not her secret to tell.
“No, but when has that ever stopped me? Let me know when you’re free; we should grab a meal, catch up.”
“How about Sunday?” Sara asked as the light changed, and she sped through the intersection. “Brunch, you pick? Say, 10:30?”
“Hell, yes,” Matt agreed enthusiastically. “I’ll text you where.”
“See you then.” She disconnected the call just in time to be cut off by another driver. “Hey! Watch it, asshole!”
“Are you happy?” Matt asked over brunch. “Because if they’ve pressured you into this –”
“Aren’t you the one who said this was inevitable?”
Matt shrugged. “Yes, but someone needs to be the voice of last-minute reason.” He grinned.
Sara laughed. “I’m fine.” She took a sip of her coffee. “I didn’t want this to happen because I was scared of ruining their relationship before it started or impeding it somehow.”
Matt shook his head. “You’d have to, I dunno, be like Moses and the Red Sea to tear those two apart. They’re solid, Sara. I was actually surprised to learn you weren’t with them when we first met.”
Sara blinked at that news. “Really?”
“Really.” Matt pointed his spoon at her before he used it to stir his coffee. “I’ve seen you with them, remember? They’ve always cared deeply for you. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jim checked me out, made sure I was not some crazy criminal. He’s the type to do it and given how he’s gotten the city’s award for ‘top cop of the year’ multiple times, I’d be more surprised if he hadn’t.”
“Yeah, me too. But it offends a part of me you would be viewed with that kind of suspicion even if it’s Jim.”
Matt waved off her concern. “He’s entitled; he cares about you, and he’s a protector. In case I didn’t mention it: I grew up here, Sara; I graduated from Rainier University. I grew up knowing this city has a crazy, weird, and sometimes dangerous energy to it. My mom told me you need all the friends and love here, more so than other places. She wanted me to leave, said I’d be safer somewhere else. I lasted two years in Baltimore, working for an architectural firm out there, before I moved back.” He ate a bite of his scrambled eggs before finishing with, “Long as this city has good protectors, I’m not leaving.”
Startled by that wording, Sara eyed him suspiciously. “What do you mean?”
Matt smiled. “Surely you’ve heard the stories? That the reason Cascade gets some of the worst crimes in the Pacific Northwest is because someone is trying to kill its protectors, break the old protective circle that the ancestors laid down around what was then the far edges of the city?”
She had a sudden flash of an old ritual, calling upon the spirits to send warriors to protect the city from evil, a ritual that was performed again in the late 1980’s by members of a group of friends who had found the instructions in an old book in the city library and assumed they were some old version of a D&D game. The ritual called forth a team of warriors, strengthened by family and friendship, who had strong ties to the spirit world. “I might’ve heard something like that,” she told Matt carefully. “You don’t believe there’s anything to it, do you?”
Matt chuckled. “I see no harm in thinking it is. And honestly, it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve seen or heard, growing up here. When I was in middle school, some naked guy rode a unicorn down Main Street. Claimed he was a fae messenger, here to spread the word that magic was real.”
“Unicorns aren’t real.”
“This one was,” Matt insisted. “Look it up if you don’t believe me.”
Ignoring the way the Witchblade chittered, since it meant either confirmation of Matt’s words or a mental rabbit hole she did not want to go down, Sara set down her coffee cup and focused on what mattered to her. “That mean you really don’t see a problem with me being with Jim and Blair?”
Matt reached across the table to grip her hand briefly. “Pez, the only question really is: are you going to arrest yourself for it? Because I won’t judge. Now, if you tell me where a guy like me could get so lucky, that’s another story.”
Sara barked a laugh, accepting Matt’s point, and changed the topic to his nonexistent love life. “What about through that architectural society you’re always telling me you attend meetings at?”
“Pez, I do not want to date another architect. We’d never stop talking shop.”
“Then who?” Sara asked. “Because if your base criteria are gay, not a college student, and pretty, I’ve got a lot of options to choose from.”
Matt conceded that with a salute of his coffee cup. “It’ll happen, I’m sure. Is your partner gay?”
“What, Rafe? He’s bisexual, but you will not fuck my partner.”
“Oh, come on, Pez, you are no fun. At least let me see if I can get him out of that suit and tie. You know he and I already get along. What’s the harm?”
“I said no,” Sara said firmly. “He’s not someone you pick up for a one-night stand, and I don’t want to see his heart get broken again. Don’t mess with him.”
“Geez, you’d think you’d be happy to see two of your favorite people hooking up,” Matt said, shaking his head.
“And that’s why I’m saying no. Rafe is an all-or-nothing kind of guy. You want him, you better be prepared to make that commitment, and I know you both well. You aren’t into that.”
Matt sobered. “I wasn’t,” he answered honestly. “But I’d like someone to come home to, someone who’ll be there when I need them. You’re my best friend, Sara.”
“That’s why I’m worried. You two fight, I lose you, because I’m not going through and finding another partner.”
“You can’t lose me,” Matt insisted. “I’m picky about my friends, too, Pez. You’re not the only one.”
Sara shook her head, certain he was going to do whatever he wanted.
“Problem?” Jim asked Blair, who leaned on the balcony rail, looking pensive. “Besides missing Sara, that is; I know you were hoping she’d stay for brunch this morning.” He stepped closer and embraced Blair.
Blair kissed Jim before replying. “No, that’s not the problem I’m having. Just – I don’t want to jinx anything, but don’t we usually have some massive riot or someone holding one of Cascade’s prominent citizens hostage right about this time of year?”
Jim laughed. “Yes, but aren’t you the one who’s usually advocating for peace and harmony? And why is the fact we aren’t experiencing this bugging you?”
“Because it usually means we will have something worse hit us.”
Jim grimaced at that notion. “Well, until it does, I suggest you and I go back inside.”
“And do what?” Blair asked.
Jim kissed him slowly and thoroughly, reminding him that in their previous night’s activities, they had paid more attention to Sara than each other. Always willing to indulge in reacquainting himself with Jim’s body, Blair kissed Jim back, savoring the kiss and the feel of Jim’s tongue dueling with his.
Mischief drove him to break the kiss and ask innocently, “And then what?”
Jim smirked and picked him up. “As if you didn’t want what I want, Chief.”
Laughing, Blair put his legs around Jim’s waist and let Jim carry him inside the loft. Blair loved moments like this when Jim’s serious nature gave way to his rarely-seen playful side. Jim deposited Blair at the bottom of the stairs for safety; Blair took the cue to hurry upstairs. He started to undress, only to find Jim’s hands assisting him.
Jim’s touch never got old, and Blair hoped it never would. He kissed Jim now, forgetting he needed to strip off his shirt, and Jim returned the kiss for a moment before breaking it so he could take Blair’s shirt off. Jim then divested himself of his shirt, jeans, and underwear.
“What do you want, Jim?” Blair asked.
“You on the bed. Want to take my time and taste you,” Jim requested.
Blair shivered in anticipation. “Nothing for you?”
Jim flashed him a smile. “You know I can get off on just that.”
Breath hitching, Blair shed his jeans and underwear before going to lie on the bed. Jim then joined him, kissing him leisurely before moving downward, licking, tasting, touching, and kissing all the way. Blair shuddered with pleasure as Jim indulged his senses, reacquainting himself with the unique combination that was Blair. Years of experience with this exercise meant Blair’s challenge was to lie there and take it – no distractions, though he was free to vocalize and react. At first, he had thought it unfair that he could not return the favor to Jim in the moment – but then he had learned that Jim would let him do so at a future point in time. Now, Blair let the pleasure of Jim’s exploration wash through him, let Jim build him a path to ecstasy one maddening lick at a time. When Jim’s mouth finally descended on his cock, Blair cried out, gasping Jim’s name.
Jim ignored the cry and kept working, sucking Blair’s cock, stroking his balls. Just when Blair thought he would come from those two things, Jim inserted his fingers in Blair’s ass and pumped them in and out while continuing to suck and stroke.
Blair babbled incoherently as the triple sensations reduced his ability to think. He came hard, pleasure whiting out his brain. He lay limply on the bed, vaguely aware of Jim shifting position. He came back into the present as he felt Jim’s cock in his ass, and heard Jim say, “Breathe out for me, love.”
Blair moaned and opened his eyes.
Jim grinned, smug, and dropped a kiss on Blair’s lips. “That’s it, babe, not done with you yet,” he encouraged as he worked his cock into Blair.
Already blissed out, Blair barely had the thought process to do more than lift his hips to meet Jim’s thrusts. Jim waited until Blair had caught his breath before he drilled Blair’s prostate, sending them both over the last edge of desire as Blair’s orgasm triggered Jim’s. In the wake of their shared pleasure, Jim pulled Blair close, and held him.
“Love you so much, Blair,” Jim told him.
“Love you too, Jim.”
August 2, 2008
The first Saturday of August found Sara asleep, as had become their habit, in Jim and Blair’s bed. She woke to find Jim laying with his head against her stomach. When she shifted, he kissed her, then asked, “Have you been to a doctor yet?”
“What?” Sara was instantly awake, and she nearly sat upright before realizing that Blair’s arm trapped her. Mindful of her other lover, she hissed, “What are you talking about?”
Jim laid a hand on her stomach again. “You’re pregnant. I can hear a heartbeat, maybe two.”
Sara stared at him. For a moment, terror filled her, and she nearly doubted his abilities. Then she took a deep breath. He was a Sentinel, and he had been cataloging her body for years. He had seen her hung over, exhausted, driven to autopilot-by-Witchblade, and in the last seven weeks, even more intimately, in the throes of passion. “Have you told Blair?”
“Not yet.” Jim grinned. “He’s still asleep as you can see.”
Blair had been exhausted when he had come to bed the night prior, thanks to what had become an annual ‘justify the special consultant’ exercise. Jim and Blair hated it since it usually meant that Blair had to come up with statistics and data to present to some city council member who had no idea that Blair was also a qualified detective. This year was egregious since the council member in question had become known for using other people to illustrate what she perceived to be waste in the city’s departments. Blair, unwilling to be used that way, had wound up spending the evening arguing with her, pointing out every flaw in her argument. She had stomped off in a huff – a victory caught on camera, since she had thought to request the media to witness her triumph over alleged waste in the police department. Sara and Jim had thought celebrating that victory to be worth a little extra exhaustion and had agreed to let Blair sleep in.
“Then let’s not wake him with this discussion,” Sara suggested. With Jim’s help, she extricated herself of out Blair’s embrace.
Naked, she stood before Jim, who wore only a pair of boxers. He kissed her again before telling her, “Get dressed in something less distracting. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Realizing he would not let the subject drop, Sara put on a white tank top and gray gym shorts from the backpack she had brought with her the previous night before heading down to the kitchen.
“You’re sure?” Sara asked him as he started the pot of coffee.
“When’s the last time you had your period?” he asked.
Sara frowned. “Week before….”
“…we first had sex,” Jim finished for her. He tapped his nose. “When you’re on your period, I can smell it on you.”
She grimaced at the thought of him smelling her menstrual blood. “What do you want me to do?”
“First, get a pregnancy test,” Jim said, “just to confirm.”
“I don’t think that will tell me anything different,” Sara said dryly, “if you’re hearing a heartbeat.”
“No, but it would be easier for you to tell a doctor you took a test over ‘my lover thought he heard a heartbeat’,” Jim replied. “And yes, I’d love for you to have our baby, whether I’m the father or Blair is. Or babies, if there’s more than one.”
“And then what?” Sara demanded. Something about his calm acceptance ruffled her.
Jim stepped closer, pulling her into his arms. “And then we figure out how we make parenting work between the three of us. Do you not want to be pregnant?”
Sara closed her eyes briefly. “I can’t be a cop and a mother and a Wielder.”
“Why the fuck not?” Jim demanded.
“Because it’s not safe,” Sara snapped. “Something has to give.”
“Based on what?” Jim countered. “My mother left when I was a kid. She had a safe life – old money, social status, a husband who loved her but was incapable of showing it, two children who adored her. She still left that life.”
Sara stared at him; somehow, what had happened to his mother had never come up in all the years of their friendship. “My mother left, too. She didn’t want to be a cop’s wife.” She smiled bitterly. “You can’t seriously believe we’ll make it work.”
“We’re good at communicating with each other, aren’t alone in this, and,” Jim quirked his lips in a rueful smile, “in case you’ve forgotten, I’m an Ellison. I may shun the social status and act like I don’t have money, but I have both, and you and I know it makes a bigger difference than it should.” He kissed her gently. “I love you, Sara.”
She met his gaze. “I love you, too, Jim, but what if our kid inherits–”
He pressed a finger to her lips. “Any child of ours will be a Wielder or a Sentinel or a Shaman-Guide or some combination of the three; that’s a given,” he said calmly. “I’d argue our kids would grow up knowing who they are, who they’re destined to be, and have the tools and knowledge to act – or not, if that’s what they choose. That’s an advantage I wish I had. Don’t you?”
She let out a breath. “Maybe. I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me about the Witchblade and my destiny as its Wielder before it landed on my arm. I might not have wanted it, even given what I’ve been able to survive and do. But if I hadn’t – I wouldn’t be here. You might even be dealing with a Wielder who is a war-hungry billionaire’s pet, sent to seduce you and then kill you so you wouldn’t be able to keep the peace here in Cascade.”
Jim shuddered at that notion. “Thank God that’s not the case. I suspect that the Witchblade likes you more than it lets on, just because it’s a contrary thing.”
She smiled wryly as he stepped back. Both were amused to see that the ‘blade had morphed into a filigree cuff, doubling its size, as if to affirm his words. In her head, she felt the ‘blade convey a sense of approval at Jim’s deduction.
Her eyes widened as she caught sight of Jim’s spirit animal – a black panther – lounging on the counter behind him. “Jim? Were you expecting any company from the spirit world?”
Looking unsurprised, Jim shrugged. “He woke me up; told me to listen to you.”
At that, the black panther looked at Sara. You are and always have been a warrior woman worthy of a Sentinel and Guide pair as your companions, he growled. This is your reward for the sacrifices you’ve made, the patience you’ve shown in getting to know their worth and love.
Sara felt the Witchblade morph, curling up her right arm and down across her left. It hissed at the black panther as if to establish its claim.
The black panther rolled his eyes. Yes, your Wielder, my Sentinel, he reminded the Witchblade, bored. I know. He leapt down from the counter, rubbed against both Jim and Sara’s legs, ignoring the Witchblade’s tendrils that tried to reach for him, then walked past them. Overwhelmed by the black panther’s approval, Sara turned to Jim. “Thought you left that kind of thing to Blair,” she told him.
“Not when it comes to you or him,” Jim told her. “I learned my lesson on that score the hard way. Promise me you’ll make the appointment to see a doctor? And tell me and Blair when it is so at least one of us can go with you so you’re not alone?”
“I will,” Sara promised.
Blair entered the kitchen, looking barely awake. His spirit wolf walked beside him, looking as though he was acting as a guide dog. The wolf looked at Sara, then at Jim, and both heard plainly: Make him go back to bed. He needs to sleep without nightmares. Trouble is coming, and Cascade will need the Shaman.
The vision exploded in Sara’s mind: a new designer drug, a gang war, burning houses, and threats to both the Ellison name and the Major Crimes department. She gasped as the images filled her head, like a slideshow on fast-forward. The carnelian stone on the Witchblade morphed into an eye in a metal gauntlet, a precursor to the full-knight armor.
“What is it?” Jim asked, seeing Sara freeze and the Witchblade transform.
“Trouble,” Sara said, and relayed what she had seen. She looked at the wolf who looked grave; the black panther stood beside him.
Jim looked grim. “In that case, maybe we should see if we can get you to a doctor sooner.”
Sara drew up, insulted that she could not protect herself, but Jim silenced her protest with a kiss. He placed a hand on the elaborate gauntlet the Witchblade had become. “I know this will protect you, but for my sanity, I’d like to know for sure if I heard one heartbeat or two. I’m liable to zone trying to figure it out if we don’t.”
Exhaling, Sara nodded. “Why don’t we see if we can get Blair back to bed. I can get Rafe to get me a pregnancy test, and if we don’t believe it, we can find an urgent clinic I can go to tomorrow. Will that be soon enough?”
Jim nodded and kissed her.
“The things I do for you, Pez,” Rafe mock-complained two hours later, but he softened his words with a smile as he handed her a plastic bag.
Sara hugged him. “Thanks, Rafe.”
“I put two different brands in there,” Rafe added. “Just in case.” He studied her. For a moment, Sara did not see him – a tall, fashionably dressed man with a large nose, deep-set eyes, a large oval face, and an unmistakable grin – but a man who looked like him in a warrior’s armor, kneeling at her feet and pledging his loyalty to her, a princess of a country south of Egypt, where the ‘blade had found a new Wielder after Nefertiti had lost it. The Witchblade chittered in Sara’s mind, and she translated its excitement to mean it had found the reincarnation of one of its Wielder’s protectors.
You couldn’t mention this earlier, say, about five years ago? she asked the Witchblade. I only spend, oh, about ninety percent of my work life with this man.
It was not time, the Witchblade said, and fell silent.
“You not okay about this?” Rafe asked.
“Nervous, actually,” Sara said to cover her lapse of attention. She would tell Rafe what the ‘blade told her about him later; now was not the time.
“Want me to stay?”
“No, better not,” Sara said, shaking her head. “As it is, we’re hoping Blair sleeps a bit longer.”
“I heard he had to go through a circus last night,” Rafe commiserated. “And Sara – congratulations.”
Rafe gave her a ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ look before he looked over her shoulder, nodding once. Without looking, Sara knew Jim was standing behind her, wondering about the delay. Rafe’s next words confirmed it.
“Hey, Jim. Let me know when you want me to tell Simon. He’ll worry about how distracted you three are going to be, and how much slack the rest of us are going to need to take up.”
“Will do,” Sara assured him. “And thanks.”
Rafe nodded again and, with a wave, headed towards the stairs down to the ground floor. Sara stepped back inside the loft, turning to face Jim.
“Blair still asleep?”
“For now,” Jim agreed. “Ready for this?”
“No,” Sara admitted, and kissed him, needing the reassurance before she headed into the bathroom.
To no one’s surprise, both tests turned up positive. Jim held her hand while they waited, then kissed her when the results were visible. “Come on, let’s wake up Blair with this.”
“You sure he’s not going to freak?”
“Oh, he’ll freak,” Jim assured her. “But he’s always been good at rolling with it. If it’s really bad, he’ll talk to someone who’s not us.”
“Who will he tell?” Sara wondered, hesitating at the bottom of the stairs.
“His oldest and best friend, Sue Mai Roberts,” Jim assured her. “You’ve met her.”
“And you’re okay with that? I mean, we didn’t talk about who we’re telling.”
Blair walked down the stairs, stopping on the landing. “Telling what to whom?”
“I’m pregnant,” Sara announced. “We just confirmed it with the test sticks, but Jim heard heartbeats.”
For a long, wordless, shocked moment, Blair stared at her and Jim before carefully making it down the rest of the stairs. He met Sara’s worried gaze before gently cupping her face with his hands and kissing her sweetly. “I love you, Sara.” He drew back, then said, “Wait, heartbeats? Plural?”
Jim chuckled and kissed him. “Yes. Don’t faint on us now, Chief, breathe, come on, let’s go sit down.”
Blair wound up taking several measured breaths before the shock of the announcement gave way to strategizing. “So how are we going to play this? Because people are going to ask who the father is.”
“I vote for not lying,” Jim said.
“People are going to think you cheated on Blair with me,” Sara said sourly.
“And it’s none of their damned business,” Jim said pointedly.
“I say we say it’s yours,” Blair suggested, making both of his lovers turn and look at him. “Because you’re an Ellison, you’re getting older, and you’ve always wanted children. Plenty of gay couples find a surrogate.”
“That makes me feel like a damn brood mare,” Sara objected, “but you’re right, Blair. Your last name has more leverage, Jim, whether you like it or not.”
Jim grimaced. “I don’t like it. I say you tell whoever it is whoever you want, Sara. We know the truth, and that’s all I care about.”
Sara leaned over and kissed him. “In that case, I’ll tell people it’s none of their business. They can speculate all they want.” She looked at Blair and Jim. “Besides, it’s not like I know yet for sure which of you got me pregnant.”
“Good point,” Blair agreed. “Speaking of telling people – is there anyone we don’t want to tell?”
“The less people who know, the safer I am,” Sara pointed out.
“Yes, but you’ll need a doctor,” Blair noted. “When’s the last time you saw one?”
“Before I became the Wielder,” Sara admitted.
“I’ll ask Sue Mai, then,” Blair said firmly. “Beyond her – I can think of telling Steven, since he’ll be here enough to notice. Simon can wait a few weeks longer. Same with the rest of the department. Does that work for you?”
“I’d like to tell Matt,” Sara volunteered. “He’s been a good friend, knows I’m seeing both of you, and he’s been worried about me.” She paused. “But I’m in no hurry to share the news with anyone else. Are you?”
Both men shook their heads.
Sara took a breath. “Guess that means we’re going to have to figure out a bunch of things as we go, then.”
Blair kissed her. “When don’t we? Now, I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving.”
“Hey, look who showed up, and on time no less,” Sue Mai Roberts teased when she met Blair for lunch the following Tuesday. A Japanese-American woman, Sue Mai was Blair’s oldest friend, dating back to his first year of college. She stood to hug him when he approached the table where she sat in the Thai restaurant not far from the precinct. “Did Jim remind you or did you finally figure out how to use your phone’s calendar?”
“You wound me, Sue Mai.” Not for the first time, his mouth tightened as he touched the scars on her back from the whipping she had endured several years earlier. She had chosen to wear a strapless dress and had worn her long black hair down, making her look even more doll-like than usual.
Seeing that look, Sue Mai acknowledged it with, “They’re fading, Blair, and we’re both alive. That’s all that matters. Now, what did you have to ask me?”
Blair held up a hand as the server came to take their order. Given it was one of their regular haunts, neither bothered to look at the menu before giving their orders. The server took their order to the kitchen and returned with a pot of tea and cups.
Blair used the excuse of pouring tea for himself and Sue Mai to compose himself.
“Please tell me you haven’t broken up the romance of the century,” Sue Mai said into the silence.
“No,” Blair hastily assured her. “Just maybe made it more complicated.”
Sue Mai studied him. “How can it be more complicated? You’ve been with Sara and Jim for years now.”
Blair put down the teapot before he bobbled it. “What?!”
Sue Mai looked startled. “Haven’t you been, only with a semi-open relationship? I mean, I’ve lost count of how many times over the last five years I’ve seen either you or Jim with her or it’s been the three of you together, doing something. I figured she was the catalyst for you and Jim getting together.” Sue Mai shrugged and took a sip of tea.
Blair stared at her. “This feels surreal, Sue Mai. Everyone, except for Steven Ellison, I’ve talked to is convinced of the same thing: that we’ve been a triad for the last five years.”
“And you finally woke up and smelled the roses?” Amused, Sue Mai leaned back in her chair. “Look, I can’t speak for our mutual friends, but I could see she loved you both. I honestly thought she might be maybe someone you only were with occasionally because I’d sometimes see her in the same bar I was in, picking up some guy. Funny how they seemed to sort of look like you or Jim.”
Uncomfortable with that thought, Blair swallowed. “No.”
“But she’s with you and Jim now?”
Satisfied with that answer, Sue Mai nodded acknowledgement to the server who chose that moment to deliver their lunch orders. As she waved a hand over the cup of soup to cool it, Sue Mai said, “And you’re panicking about this why? Blair, for all the talk you’ve talked about alternate lifestyles and rejecting cultural norms, you’ve always longed for normal. The closest you’ve gotten is your relationship with Jim. So what’s the problem? You can’t get married in this state if you’re gay, at least not yet –“
“– Cascade has domestic partnerships that are basically the same thing–”
Sue Mai rolled her eyes. “You and I are both too much ex-anthro majors to know that the difference matters, so cut the bullshit. I’ve known you for over two decades, Blair. You get analytical when you’re running scared.” She laid a hand on his. “So spill.”
“Sara’s pregnant,” Blair admitted in one breath. He forced himself to take another breath, remembering how he had reacted when Jim and Sara had told him. Hyperventilating again did not seem prudent. “And I…I don’t know how to be a father or a…whatever the label is for what I am now because if it turns out she’s carrying Jim’s child I’m still going to want to be there–”
“Breathe,” Sue Mai ordered. “And eat your curry while I think.”
The mothering made Blair relax and smile, as intended. He took a bite of his curry, waiting for Sue Mai to speak.
Sue Mai gave up on trying to cool the steaming cup of soup on her combination plate and took a bite of egg roll instead. When she had consumed the appetizer, she said, “Look, you’re nearly 40, right?”
At his nod, Sue Mai continued, “It’s a hell of a lot different to be expecting a baby at 40 than 19. Biggest issue I can see is that you need to think about where to live, because I can tell you that loft is going to be too small, long-term, for three adults and a baby.”
“But what about Naomi –”
“Your mother doesn’t get to say squat about how you live; I’ve been trying to tell you that for years, Blair,” Sue Mai said firmly. “How long has it been since you last talked to her?”
“Six months on the phone; I emailed her about a week ago, but I haven’t heard back from her.”
“Did you tell her anything worrisome?”
“No,” Blair said.
“Is she still annoyed with you for accepting a police badge?”
Blair sighed. “Yeah. She keeps saying she has to counterbalance the negative karma I’m accumulating, so she stays away.”
Not surprised, Sue Mai nodded. “Which means you shouldn’t have to worry about her showing up unless she gets into one of her ‘must-reconnect-with-my-son’ moods.”
Blair grimaced. “Let’s hope not. She always expects me to drop everything I’m doing for her, regardless of who else it would impact if I did, and I can’t do that for her anymore.”
“You never really could,” Sue Mai pointed out, with the insight of more than two decades of friendship. “Now, let’s get back to the important stuff. What did you need from me?”
“Sara doesn’t have a doctor to go to,” Blair explained. “She’s generally healthy, so she doesn’t think to go, and now that she’s pregnant, we managed to convince her she shouldn’t just waltz into the urgent care clinic and call it good. She said that’s how she’s been doing the mandated annual physicals but I can’t see that working for a pregnancy.”
“No, that won’t work. I mean, they’re good for broken bones and general illnesses but I wouldn’t go to them for babies.” Sue Mai ate more of her lunch as she considered.
Blair waited, eating his meal as he watched his friend contemplate who would be good for Sara. A Cascade native, Sue Mai was one of Blair’s better-connected friends, thanks to her work in the city’s IT industry, her longtime advocacy for LBTQ+, and the connections she had made living in the same house, known as the Coral Mansion, as Blair. They had once joked that the Coral Mansion was Cascade’s version of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, since out of that house had come some interesting connections. That joke had gone out of fashion when one of its former residents had kidnapped and tortured Sue Mai and Blair, resulting in whip scars on Sue Mai’s back, and yet another terrifying experience for Blair.
“Debra García at City Women’s Clinic,” Sue Mai said finally, after checking her phone’s contacts. “She’s on my list for poly relationships, and she’s one of the top OB/GYNs in the region. I’ll send you an email with the info, unless you want me to send it directly to Sara.”
“She’s expecting it,” Blair assured her. “But better send it to me; she’s particular about who gets her personal email address.”
Sue Mai smiled. “Figured as much. She’s always struck me as being very guarded, but I remember when she came in to see me in the hospital and how she’s always been friendly ever since.” She took a moment to use her phone to send Blair the email with the requested info, then put her phone away. “Let her know she’s welcome to lean on me if you two get to be too much.”
“Too much?” Blair asked, offended.
Sue Mai just laughed. “Just wait. I’ve seen this a million times with my other friends who get pregnant. Either the fathers get super involved or they’re super hands-off, and I’m willing to bet you two aren’t going to settle for hands-off. Not if I know you.”
“So, you’re having aliens?” Rafe joked after Sara returned from seeing Dr. García on Thursday of the following week. He had waited until lunch to talk to her, and they sat in the squad car he had borrowed for the trip.
Sara glared at him, though a part of her was grateful he joked with her in the relative privacy of the squad car. “Twins, actually.”
“How are Jim and Blair taking it?”
“They’re excited. Blair nearly passed out, but Jim caught him before he could fall over.”
“And you?” Rafe asked, concerned at the flat tone he heard in her voice.
Sara closed her eyes briefly. “Overwhelmed,” she admitted.
Rafe looked at her. “And the Witchblade?”
“So happy I finally listened to what it wanted me to do five years ago that it’s showing me things I would normally need to coax it to show me – like who’s responsible for that cold case murder Banks assigned us a month ago.” Sara gave her partner a long-suffering look. “It wouldn’t give it because it’s too ordinary. You know how it likes the more complicated cases.”
“Let me guess: it’s the best friend, like the original detective assigned to the case thought.”
Sara nodded. “We’ll need a warrant to search the friend’s storage unit.”
“Then let’s talk to the captain so we can get one and get going.” Rafe paused. “You’re okay with being pregnant, though?”
Sara took a deep breath. “Still processing it’s not just one baby, but two. And Blair and Jim are so excited they’re talking about turning Blair’s old room into a nursery, and I don’t know how I feel about that because it assumes I’m going to be there enough to warrant it. Plus, the last time I was this happy about something, my lover died in a hail of gunfire.”
Used to the dark, cynical, and often bleak lens through which she viewed the world, Rafe offered her a commiserating smile. “You should tell Jim and Blair they need to ask you if they want you to move in before they move you in. Way I heard it, Blair was only supposed to stay for two weeks, and outside of a really fucked up few weeks and the time he moved to his own place, he’s lived with Jim. Story I heard was Jim has only asked Blair once if he would move back in – and that was five years ago. Speaking as your friend, though – your apartment’s way too small for you and a baby.”
“I haven’t even thought about that yet,” Sara groaned. “I’m still adjusting to the whole ‘I’m pregnant and with twins’ part.”
Rafe chuckled. “Tell you what: you and me, go shoot pool after work, blow off some of that whatever it is you’re feeling? Then when you’re ready, say, two days from now, we’ll discuss how you’re going to get ready for those two babies, because whether you like it or not, they’re going to be here soon enough.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Sara agreed. “Just remember: I can’t drink alcohol while I’m pregnant.”
Insulted, Rafe said, “As if I’d suggest you would. Do you think I want either of your lovers to come hunting for me? Especially after working with them and seeing what they can do to a suspect?”
Sara acknowledged that with a brief laugh. “True. You don’t have a death wish.”
“Come on, Pez, time’s wasting and we have a murder to solve.” He exited the car; a moment later, so did she.
Playing pool against Rafe helped as he had suspected it would. Taking a page out of her book, he sought to find a companion for the evening, claiming since she was now off the market, he had to fill in the gap. She was not surprised to see his choice was a pretty and smartly dressed woman, but when Rafe introduced her to Sara, she felt the Witchblade bristle.
Smiling despite the ‘blade’s sudden tightening on her wrist, Sara said, “Pleased to meet you, Carlita.”
Carlita shook hands, and Sara fought the blade’s desire to turn into a set of razor-sharp claws. “You too,” Carlita murmured, and dismissed her before turning her attention to Rafe.
Rafe allowed Carlita to charm him a few minutes longer, but Sara and the Witchblade were pleased to see he ditched her not long afterwards.
“Thought you were going to leave with her,” Sara noted as she aimed for the seven ball to fall into the left corner pocket of the pool table.
“She assumed we were lovers,” Rafe explained. “Kept asking me why I was with you tonight. Didn’t like how you reacted when you shook hands with her, like something about her was something you or the ‘blade didn’t like.” Rafe shrugged as he chalked his cue, waiting for Sara to miss her shot. “Learned my lesson with Madison – if you don’t react well to someone, not anyone worth my time.”
“What, you finally listened to me?” Sara teased, but she felt as if Rafe had escaped something and forced herself to breathe deep. Her shot missed; she set the pool cue down when she realized the Witchblade had expanded its size.
Rafe noticed and put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you look rattled. You ok or is something talking?”
Sara looked at her partner and unconsciously rubbed the bracelet. “If you had gone with her, something bad would have happened to you.”
Rafe made a face. “Maybe we should leave before someone else tries again.”
Unable to argue with that logic, Sara nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s late anyway; we have to work tomorrow.”
Rafe walked out with her, and she waved goodbye to him as he got into his car and drove away.
She heard the Witchblade hiss angrily as she walked across the parking lot to her motorcycle and paused to see what – or who – had caught its attention.
What? she asked it.
The darkness grows impatient, the ‘blade answered. It is choosing its vessels now.
“Thanks,” Sara muttered as a prickle of unease skittered down her spine. “And you want me to do what with this now?”
You cannot do anything now, the Witchblade told her. We will rage when the moment is right.
“Well, that’s…helpful,” Sara noted, but that the ‘blade was telling her not to get angry only added to her sense of disquiet. Wanting to be home, she put on her helmet, mounted her motorcycle, and headed to her apartment.
That night, she dreamed of fire, screams, and death, until a spirit wolf and his companion panther leapt onto her bed, sending her into a dreamless, peaceful slumber.
The following Monday, Captain Simon Banks brought the weekly staff briefing and assignment distribution to a close. The August heat had generated the usual increase in violent crimes, and the Major Crimes department was tracking various leads on both existing cases and new cases. So far, the statistics showed the crime rate was tracking along a normal curve. Simon hoped this would be another month where Cascade looked like any other city in the Pacific Northwest instead of a scene from a list of heist and terrorist movie plots. He did not say that aloud; he was too steeped in the ways of how weird, evil, and random worked in his city to not be superstitious.
“Last thing, people – the pop singer Veronica will play in the Arena the Friday before Labor Day. That means we will work a cross-department protocol for the 24 hours before the event and during the event. If you had plans to get out of town, you should have requested them six months ago. I will not be granting any leave unless you are deathly ill. Understood?”
He got the usual murmur of agreement from the assembled group though it did not escape his notice that the mention of the internationally famous singer/songwriter distracted the youngest officers on the squad. “All right then. Pezzini, Rafe, my office please; Lanzano and Casey, my office in fifteen minutes. The rest of you get back to work.”
Looking startled, the two senior detectives exchanged looks before rising from their chairs in the conference room to follow Simon out and into his office. Simon caught sight of the two younger detectives asking their partners why they were being singled out and hoped by giving them time to think about it, they would arrive in his office better prepared. He disliked having to give them a lecture on why being star struck was not a good idea.
“Shut the door,” Simon invited once Sara and Rafe were inside. He took a moment to seat himself before gesturing for them to sit, then he waited. “Either of you want to enlighten me what’s going on now between you two? Because I may not have Ellison’s hearing, but you’ve been doing a hell of lot of whispering and not talking about cases as far as I can tell for the past two weeks.”
Rafe looked at Simon. “She told me I was the reincarnation of a former protector of the Witchblade’s Wielder, sir. I’ve been trying to understand what that means, exactly.”
“Uh huh, and?” Simon demanded, sure there was one.
Sara glanced at Rafe. “Much as I appreciate the distraction, I need to tell him.”
“You sure about that?”
“Well, it will be obvious before too long,” Sara assured him.
Simon crossed his arms. “Please tell me this whole reincarnation shit doesn’t mean you two are doing something more than being police partners.”
“Nothing like that,” Sara assured him. “I was going to tell you later today, actually, since it will affect my status. I’m pregnant, sir. I don’t know who the father is, but I can definitely tell you it’s not Rafe’s, and we are most emphatically not that kind of partners.”
Simon stared at her, shocked. He had not thought she would be someone who would have a child, but he had surprised him before. He took a deep breath, then said, “Congratulations. When are you due?”
“Mid-March if I go full-term,” Sara said. “I’m carrying twins, so there’s a chance it could be as early as late February. I plan to work until I’m no longer able, sir.”
“And that bracelet on your wrist won’t get in the way?”
Sara smiled. “No. It's happy I did something it wanted.”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “That a good thing or a bad thing?”
“It’s a good thing this time.”
“And Rafe, this thing about you being a whatever, does it play into this?”
“Not really, sir, from what I understand. Just an interesting coincidence.” Rafe shrugged before turning to his partner. “Didn't you want a little more time?”
Sara shook her head. “Much as I hate to admit weakness, I’m discovering morning sickness is real.”
Simon let out a breath. “See Liz down in HR for the forms you must fill out, Pezzini. We’re a city department so that means you’re eligible for maternity leave and reduced duties. If your morning sickness gets to be too much or can’t do fieldwork because you’re exhausted and hormonal – and I speak as someone who watched his wife go through this with our son, so this isn’t a knock against your abilities – do me a favor and take the goddamned time off. I won’t think less of you for it. You already do a superhuman job as it is.”
“Thank you, sir.” She paused. “Anything else?”
Simon studied her. “If I asked Ellison and Sandburg about who the father is, would I get an answer?”
“Probably not, sir,” Sara replied, not surprised by the question. He had paired Jim with her when she had first arrived, and her friendship with both Jim and Blair had only grown in the five years since. “They don’t know.”
Simon arched an eyebrow. “Really. Well, that means I’ll be down three detectives come winter, not just one.” He took a breath, nodding decisively. “When you three throw the baby shower, tell me. Dismissed.”
Sara’s eyes widened, and she sat in the chair, stunned at his deduction and acceptance.
Noting her reaction, Rafe tugged on her arm, indicating they should leave before Simon changed his mind. Sara went automatically, still processing Simon’s reaction, but grateful that Jim and Blair were in court that morning, testifying on a case they had closed several months earlier.
Once back at their desks, Rafe guided Sara to sit down then pulled his chair closer to her. “Did you forget he’s more than capable of making one plus two equals five, especially when you three are involved?”
Sara met Rafe’s amused eyes. “Something like that,” she agreed. She blew out a breath. “I’m going down to HR. You need me for anything?”
Rafe shook his head. “Nah. I'm reviewing the notes on the case we got assigned this morning. I’ll give you the detail when you come back.”
Sara patted his shoulder as she rose. “Thanks. Though I’d rather be investigating that crash from Friday.”
“Between the tourist bus and the city garbage truck?” Rafe asked. “Nah, that’s going to the West Precinct’s traffic detectives, unless they find something that makes them bump it up to us.”
Despite her years of service, Sara found that she sometimes still did not understand which crimes were assigned to her department’s purview. It seemed highly dependent on personal connections, politics, and which crime statistic had floated to the top of the list that month. Even so, she enjoyed the variety and challenge; it meant that she was not always dealing with murders as she had in New York as a homicide detective.
The Human Resources Department was located close to the precinct’s main lobby, on the first floor. Blair had told that when he had first worked there, HR was across the hall, but it had moved the year before her arrival. Like most of the Major Crimes Department, Sara skipped the elevator in favor of taking the stairs down six flights.
Filling out the paperwork took fifteen minutes; the explanations around what she was eligible to receive and what rules and guidelines she needed to abide by took another fifteen. The HR representative, Liz, scheduled her maternity leave for when she was twenty-four weeks along, and informed of the guidelines regarding pregnant police officers, which amounted to a list of things to avoid, like getting shot at and being involved in car chases. Amused that Liz had to outline such common-sense things, Sara exited HR.
The Witchblade grumbled, and Sara took a moment to see if she could see what it had aroused its ire. Not seeing anything unusual, she started toward the nearest stairwell door, but the Witchblade morphed, stopping her from pulling open the door when she reached it. It was not the first time the ‘blade had directed her not to go somewhere, and usually it meant that someone on an upper floor was with a suspect the ‘blade judged prudent for Sara to avoid. Sara had learned that people who avidly sought the ‘blade for themselves put themselves in its path. If the ‘blade liked its Wielder, it would taunt the seeker or avoid them.
Okay, we’re not going that way, Sara said, and started for the elevator, but again, the Witchblade stopped her.
How about the other stairwell on the other side? Sara suggested.
The ‘blade morphed into an innocuous bracelet, albeit one the size of a cuff, indicating it preferred that idea immensely.
For security reasons, all the stairwells were locked. Sara swiped her access badge to head up the stairs. Somehow, she was not surprised to see Jim’s spirit panther at the top of the stairs, looking worried.
“Shouldn’t you be with Jim?”
He wanted to check on you, the panther told her. I will tell him you are fine.
Affronted by the implication, the Witchblade hissed at the spirit animal.
He knows you will protect her, the panther told the Witchblade in a patient tone. He does not know if you will protect her at the expense of their children.
Sara felt the Witchblade consider the notion of being hurt and insulted before it latched onto the underlying paranoia of the panther’s status check, which made it burble happily. “We’re fine. It says I am carrying the legacy and it wishes no harm to the bloodline. It also didn’t want me going up the south stairs.”
The panther nodded. A dream-stealer passed that way; it caused a double murder and is contained in Homicide, he told Sara. But it is very dangerous for someone pregnant to be near it. As if satisfied by the ‘blade’s actions, the panther vanished.
“Dream-stealer?” Sara asked the Witchblade. She got a flash of the rage-induced murder of a innocent woman and her child, killed because the murderer assumed the woman was cheating, the child the product of the affair. Sara got a glimpse of the woman, so happy that she was finally in love, with a daughter she loved, and a man who she believed was perfect. Sara also saw the detective talking to the man who claimed to have witnessed the crime, and the way the detective’s partner made sure the alleged witness stayed seated. The chair he sat in sat atop what appeared to be a mere decorative tile – but Sara’s Witchblade-assisted vision told her the entire floor tile design ensured that any negative spiritual elements remained contained within the Homicide Department.
Sara shivered as she realized the dream-stealer was a chaos spirit, one who reveled in destroying people and turning them into empty, bitter, dark shells. Joy, happiness, and hope would be candy for such a spirit, and Sara would be a feast in her current state. Deciding she was better off not lingering the stairwell in case the dream-stealer broke free of the sigils that protected Homicide, Sara headed to her desk.
“Thanks for doing this,” Sara told Sue Mai the following evening after work as they met outside the second-hand clothing shop in a northwestern neighborhood of Cascade. “I thought about asking Blair or Jim, but I realized they won’t care about what I wear as long as I’m not naked in public. I mean, I don’t care but if what I’m reading is true, I won’t be able to wear certain things and I don’t want to look stupid.”
“Yeah, that’s right, and it’s no problem,” Sue Mai said. “Going to second-hand clothing shops is how I shop for all my clothes. It’s not worth going to a maternity shop for something you’re only wearing a few months.” She studied Sara. “You’re lucky; you can wear bigger sizes for a while.”
“That’s what I figured,” Sara replied. “But I saw online how you can get stuff that stretches around your belly when you’re pregnant and it doesn’t look awful, so I’m hoping you can help with that. How do you know about this stuff?”
Sue Mai smiled. “Blair jokes I’m den mother–I’m the one everyone goes to when they need something. My parents fostered children; I grew up changing diapers and handling kids. It’s one of the reasons I’ve almost always had a roommate as an adult – I don’t know how to live without someone else in the same house.”
“But you don’t have children?” Sara asked as they stepped inside the store.
Sue Mai shook her head. “No. I have no desire to have kids, but I enjoy being aunt to someone else’s kids.” She headed to the maternity section. “Now, some of this might not be you, but we can start here and see what works.” She flashed Sara a smile.
An hour later, Sue Mai had helped Sara pick out several outfits, some of which Sara did not expect to wear soon, but Sue Mai had been insistent. “When you get big enough, you won’t have the energy to do this. Might as well get it while you do.”
Sara turned the other woman after they checked out and stood in the parking lot. “I see why Blair has been your friend for years. You’re a good person, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you sooner.”
Sue Mai shrugged as they stood near her car. “I always figured you were a private person, not inclined to be friends with everyone. Especially since you rescued me from a murderer. I’m okay with that.”
Sara stared at her, impressed. “You are amazing.”
Sue Mai grinned. “It’s my superpower.”
Impulsively, Sara hugged her. “Thanks, Sue Mai. I’ll text you and figure out when we can get together for lunch.”
“I’d love that,” Sue Mai enthused.
“Have a safe drive home.”
Sara put her purchases in the backpack she had brought along, then donned her motorcycle gear before waving goodbye to Sue Mai and getting on her bike. Riding a motorcycle past her fifth month would be difficult. Although Jim had yet to say anything, she suspected it would not be long before he showed his concern. Blair had already pointed out she could not fit into her beloved motorcycle jacket once her belly expanded since it fit snugly. Sara had taken that statement to mean Blair trusted her to know her limitations.
For the moment, she enjoyed the ride and the chance to connect with the road. Here, she was anonymous: just another black-leather-clad, full-face-helmeted rider on a sport bike, negotiating traffic with the ease of someone who had been riding a motorcycle for two decades. Here, she was neither the Wielder nor a police detective. She was grateful that her morning sickness hit her the hardest first thing in the morning, but not while she was driving.
This late on a Tuesday evening, traffic was light through the city and it only took twenty minutes to get from the store to her apartment. As she stood in the shower, a loud bang echoed through the neighborhood. The Witchblade chittered, flashing on the grisly scene of a motorcycle crashing into a city bus not far away. Sara grimaced at the level of detail, the way the ‘blade lingered over the horrific, chaotic scene.
Did you have to show me that? she complained and breathed through the urge to vomit.
The ‘blade was unrepentant. You are not ready to give up riding, it told her. And the darkness sees that as an opportunity.
Sara swallowed hard at that, hearing the implied warning. She was not ready to give up riding, but she had more to lose than her life. The longer she was pregnant, the more she dreamed of the happily ever-after she had thought she had traded away for being single, a police officer, and the bearer of a mystical bracelet.
She had just finished getting ready for bed when her phone rang.
“You okay?” Blair asked, sounding worried.
“Yeah, I was just getting ready to go to sleep, why?”
“I heard about a motorcycle crash close to your apartment,” he told her, relieved. “I wanted to check and make sure it wasn’t you.”
“No. Did you see something?”
“Just got a weird urge to check the traffic report. My wolf worries, but,” Blair chuckled, “I think we’d both feel better if you were here. So would Jim.”
“Not ready to move,” Sara said firmly.
“I hear you,” Blair said.
“But we should talk about it, since it won’t be long before I’m too pregnant to ride. I just…”
“Think one bathroom between three people is stretching things?” Blair asked, a smile in his voice.
“For long-term, yes,” Sara agreed.
“My tenants will be out August 30,” Blair told her. “Jim and I were talking about moving there, since that’s only two blocks from here. The guest bedroom has its own bathroom besides the one in the master, which is what attracted me to buying it. I figured Jim would have a tough time staying away and wanted to avoid the whole sharing-a-single-bathroom again, even if we did become lovers. And no, we weren’t talking about it because of you, but it’s sped up things.”
Sara considered it. “So why did you move into the loft?”
“Because I had a neighbor who liked to play the drums. Loudly and badly. Remember?”
“Oh, God, yes. I’d forgotten. He’s moved out?”
“Finally,” Blair said, relieved. “So I’m taking my place back. I’d love to have you and Jim there.”
“What about the loft? Didn’t Jim buy that with what he got as his last payout from the Army?”
“Yes, but it’s…” Blair swallowed. “It’s also where a lot of shit’s happened, not all of it good.”
The Witchblade filled in the details – Blair getting kidnapped, Jim reacting to another Sentinel in his territory, Jim and Blair arguing, apologizing, and celebrating – as Blair continued, “I had this thought maybe if we reclaimed the space, we could process it better, but you spending time here too is making both of us remember that too many of the wrong people know where we live. And there’s no way Jim will go live in his boyhood house. He and Steven will sell it once they can convince Sally it’s okay to stop living there. They want to move her to someplace smaller, but she’s worried about not having a reason to earn her keep.”
“Isn’t putting up with three strong-minded men for the last forty-some years enough reason?”
Blair chuckled. “I must remember that when the subject comes up again. As for moving in—let us know. If you’re not ready, we’ll deal, but we’ll insist you carpool with us or Rafe to work.”
“Blair, I’m out of the way for all of you. I can catch the bus.”
“Sara, if you think that motorcycle crashing into a bus is a coincidence, I have a spirit wolf who’d like to argue with you. He says if the Witchblade hasn’t already told you, I should warn you something’s out there and not happy you are happy. Our children are a legacy something out there doesn’t want to happen.”
Sara blew out a breath. “You see why I hesitated for five years?”
“I understand your reasons, Sara. Destiny, as we both know, sucks ass sometimes. But speaking as one of the two guys in love with you, and not as a Shaman-Guide, I want you safe, and I want our children to be safe.”
“Fine. But I renewed my lease in May, which means if I break it, I pay a full month’s penalty.”
“If you said the word, I’d come over, pack you up, and get you here. I’d pay that penalty in a heartbeat, babe, and so would Jim. You’re running out of excuses.”
“I like my independence?” Sara tried.
“You wouldn’t be the woman I love if you didn’t,” Blair replied. “But since you are a fierce, strong, competent, and independent woman, I will respect your choice. Please promise me you’ll think about moving in with us?”
“Sleep well, Sara. I love you.”
“Love you, too, Blair. Give Jim a kiss for me.”
That night, she dreamed of a horse-faced singer belting out songs about broken hearts and failed love affairs while the city of Cascade burned. In the morning, she remembered only the barest flickers of the dream, and then forgot it all when her morning sickness made its presence known.
“Fire, need to get everyone out,” Blair muttered, startling Jim awake.
Realizing that Blair was still asleep, Jim shook him gently. “Chief, you’re dreaming.”
“Something’s blocking me,” Blair continued, eyes still closed.
Jim swore. Blair was walking the spirit path while he slept, something he had done more of since accepting his responsibility as a Shaman-Guide, especially since Sara’s arrival in the city. Reaching for the tether that connected him to his spirit panther, he asked the animal to check on Blair.
The panther vanished into Blair. He appeared a few minutes later, looking worried.
Ask him in the morning to tell you, the panther told Jim. He needs to walk this vision and see it through, so he can stop it from happening. The Wielder will not remember until it is too late.
Grimacing, Jim accepted the task. Blair continued to mutter, sounding increasingly desperate.
He was not surprised when Blair looked exhausted the next morning. “Man, that was an awful nightmare,” he told Jim. “We were at a concert and someone set the arena on fire.”
“You were talking in your sleep about it,” Jim told him..
“I was?” Startled, Blair looked at the other man. “Shit. That means I was seeing a potential future. I should call Sara, ask her if she saw it too.”
“The panther told me she would not remember it in the morning.”
Blair swore. “Damn mercurial Witchblade. Makes her dream of shit like that, makes her forget it, and then makes her remember the shit she can’t do anything about.”
“What did you see?” Jim asked. “You acted like you couldn’t save people.”
“I couldn’t,” Blair said. “Something trapped you and Sara, and Sara…” He looked at Jim, horror and fear on his face. “Sara sacrificed herself so we could save more people. Because of it, only twelve people died, and…” He shook his head, remembering what he had seen. “The only thing we could find of her after they put the fire out was the Witchblade. It was ready for a new Wielder.”
“Fuck.” Jim stared at his lover, stunned. “That… no. I refuse to accept that. We need to tell Simon.”
“Agreed, but what do we tell him?”
Jim flashed a grim smile. “Same thing we always tell him when you or Sara see things in visions. He won’t like it, but at least it’ll incite him to put a fire squad on standby.”
“Too bad Joel’s retired,” Blair noted. “He would have leeway as the captain of the bomb squad. Now we have to deal with that idiot Gutiérrez since that position now reports to the head of SWAT.” Captain Gutiérrez resented that he was not in charge of the Major Crimes department, had to liaison with said department, and did not have the low turnover, loyalty, and widespread respect associated with said department. Blair hated dealing with Gutiérrez, who held the firm belief that Blair was not a trained detective. Blair suspected Gutiérrez had initiated the annual check on his status as a special consultant but had nothing to back up the gut feeling. If Sara had not announced her pregnancy, Blair had planned to ask her if she could use the ‘blade to figure out what the SWAT team captain hoped to gain by eliminating him from the police force.
“Oh, Gutiérrez will bend,” Jim assured Blair. “Simon has several infractions filed against him for what he did when Sara and Rafe were attacked in that store in Ravensgate a few years ago. Gutiérrez gets another, he gets demoted and reassigned or loses his badge – depending on how Simon wants to push it.”
Blair blinked in surprise, then smiled as he recalled the event. “I’d forgotten that. Really? Simon went through the formal procedure?”
Jim nodded. “Yeah. He said Gutiérrez questioned his authority in a crisis, nearly shot a fellow officer, and debated procedure instead of allowing a ranking officer to dispatch aid. I found out, too, that Gutiérrez got in trouble last year, too, with Mel King, the captain of Homicide. He tried to claim she was not a ranking officer and therefore was only distracting from the situation, which was a murder with a potential for a suicide. Mel was the one who convinced the murderer not to kill himself, and Gutiérrez wanted the sniper to kill him before she finished.”
“That explains why Mel was telling me I should consider myself lucky I have Simon as my captain. At this rate, Gutiérrez is writing checks he shouldn’t be trying to cash,” Blair noted as he reached for his jeans. He shook his head. “What is that guy’s problem?”
“Ego,” Jim said flatly as he put on socks. “He thought he was top dog in the PD, the way it was in his old force. He’s pissed off Major Crimes is authorized to pull all the other departments into a case, including his, and that the man in charge of the department is someone he would otherwise respect. I’d love to get him out; he risks public safety every time he puts his ego first.”
“You and me both,” Blair agreed. “I’ll have Simon talk to him. If I talk to him, he treats me like I’m not worth shit.” He shook his head. “Enough about him.” He kissed Jim briefly, a simple morning hello.
Jim’s lips curved as he returned the brief kiss. “You going to be okay to go to work? You slept like shit.”
“Won’t be the first time,” Blair reminded him. “And I’d rather Simon heard this vision from me. You know how he gets about you talking about this spirit walk stuff.”
Jim chuckled. “Yeah, like I’ve lost my mind. Even if it has saved his life a time or two.”
“Especially since it has,” Blair corrected. “He keeps hoping the weird doesn’t multiply in his world.”
Jim nodded agreement and turned the conversation to the more mundane routine of their morning.
Friday, August 29
“You going to be okay, love?” Jim asked as Sara sat on the edge of the sofa the morning of the Veronica concert. Jim had convinced her to sleep over, using the excuse of wanting to spend time with her before having to spend most of the next twenty-four hours being their professional selves. Since she could not find a hole in that argument, Sara had not refused. Now, she wished she had requested to sleep downstairs.
Blair handed her a ginger ale before returning to his self-appointed task of cleaning up the stairs.
“Give me a minute,” she said before she sipped the drink.
Worried, Jim checked her pulse, then placed a hand over her stomach. Satisfied by what his senses told him, he rose. “Doesn’t seem right that the first thing you do when you wake up is throw up.”
Sara shot him an unamused look. “Yeah, well, this is part of why I usually sleep in my apartment. Least then I don’t make a mess on the stairs.” She took a breath, feeling the ginger ale settle her queasy stomach, and set the soda bottle on the coaster on the coffee table. “And no, I’m not calling in sick. Banks wants me to coordinate with the singer’s security team, make sure she understands she can’t wander off like she’s known to do.”
Mouth tightening, Jim accepted her decision. He had long ago accepted that she was a strong, capable, intelligent, and resilient woman, but the fact she was pregnant with either his or Blair’s children made him want to wrap her up in a protective shell. She would not tolerate such treatment and he knew it, but he did not have to like it. “I’ll get your clothes so you can get dressed. Do you want me to get anything else while I’m up?”
“The trail mix that’s in my backpack, please.”
Having cleaned up the stairs, Blair washed his hands and took a moment to sit with Sara, breathing with her to keep her from vomiting again. She appreciated the gesture. “Go, get dressed; I’ll be okay.”
Blair kissed her forehead as he rose. “Love you.”
She smiled briefly as Jim returned with the requested trail mix and her clothes. She watched Jim nudge their lover upstairs so she could eat and dress in peace. Alone, she ate as she pulled on a blue Cascade PD-issue polo shirt, then a pair of black pants with a stretch waistband Sue Mai had found when they had gone shopping. She was not showing in a big way, but enough that none of her favorite clothes fit. It did not help that she had enjoyed showing off her curves; now, she wanted to pretend, a little longer, that she was not wrestling with an unexpected case of body insecurity. Her gun holster was the last thing she donned.
Sara had finished dressing when Jim and Blair returned, wearing what would be their duty uniforms for the event. Blair was going undercover: he wore cargo shorts, a t-shirt advertising Veronica’s last album that he had found second-hand, and sneakers. His badge hid in one pocket, though he had opted not to carry a gun. An Indiana-Jones-style hat completed his ensemble, which hid his hair. After some debate, Rafe had volunteered to be Blair’s partner, since Jim had been in the press too much to be undercover. Jim’s uniform matched Sara’s, though he had placed his badge on his belt along with his gun holster.
Breathing deep, Sara put her wallet in the purse Sue Mai had insisted she buy when they had gone shopping. Sara was grateful for it now; it meant she could take a bag of crackers and a water bottle with her. It would be a long, and hopefully uneventful, day.
Warning for bomb-related violence at a concert.
ETA: The wrong chapter four was posted, so I've fixed that - if you haven't gone back and read it, please do so! :-)
Veronica’s security team and her assistant met Jim and Sara just outside of her tour bus. Though it was just shy of 7:30 a.m., the singer was already up, having already completed an early morning-radio show interview. The concert would not start until 7:30 p.m., but Veronica had earned a reputation for wanting things to be her way as much as plausible. At nineteen, she had been a household name for five years, having won multiple awards for her songwriting and artistry, and setting records for her age and amount of sales. Every song she released hit the top ten.
Sara half-expected the young woman to be arrogant and self-centered, but she quickly discovered that was not the case. Unlike many of her peers, Veronica did not fit the typical mold of a pop singer. She was not conventionally pretty, with a too-prominent nose in a slim face with high cheekbones and wide lips, and a broad, top-heavy upper half that tapered down to slim hips and long legs. She also was proud of her mixed-race heritage that had deep roots in both Texas and Mexico. Her hair was a striking, long wavy mass of naturally red-streaked black. She had braided it back for the pre-concert dress rehearsal.
“Pleased to meet you, Detective Pezzini and Detective Ellison,” Veronica greeted them. She wore a button-down tank top and yoga pants. “Come walk with me; I need to check the stage.” She flashed a smile. “I’m sure you’ve heard how perfectionist I am.”
“We’re concerned about the rumor you might escape this to go shopping,” Jim noted as he and Sara walked towards the stage. The security team followed in their wake.
Veronica made a face. “Excuse my French, but what the fuck does this town have besides 11,500 of my fans?”
Jim stared at her as his senses confirmed the young woman was not lying. “Not interested in going incognito and then ‘surprising’ oh, say, 500 of those fans in a pre-arranged impromptu concert in the mall?”
Veronica turned to face him. “Look, that was one fucking time, and I learned my lesson. People got weird and possessive after that.”
“Weird and possessive how?” Sara asked.
“Like they think I owe it to them to do it every single time now.” Veronica rolled her eyes. “Please. I have better things to do, like figure out if I can overcome my fear of heights so I can climb out on a catwalk.”
“Have you had any threats against you?”
Veronica shook her head. “Run of the mill stuff. Kevin handles that; you should check with him. Kevin, if you would speak to the detectives?”
A burly man who fit the stereotype of personal security guard to a celebrity stepped out of the security contingent.
Veronica smiled. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if they set up the stage so I can do my sound check.” With that, she headed for the stage, leaving Jim and Sara at the back door with the security guard.
“We sent your captain the information,” Kevin told them, “and he assured us you would know who to look for.”
Jim nodded. “We’ll be checking, but including the known stalkers, is there anyone you would single out for being a problem?”
Kevin shook his head. “No one yet, but I heard a rumor this town’s a magnet for weird. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had to add another one to the list of stalkers tonight. Especially since most of the other cities don’t send their best cops to a concert. Something I should know, Detective Ellison?”
Jim flashed him a smile that did not meet his eyes; Kevin was not the first celebrity security chief who did his homework. If he thought it would impress Jim, he was out of luck. “If there was somewhere else I needed to be, I wouldn’t be here. Is there a good spot we can use as a base? We’ll be your liaisons for the day.”
Kevin directed them to a spot just behind stage left. Hidden from the crowd’s view by the stage assembly, it was set up as a security watch point, with padded folding chairs, a folding table, walkie talkies that connected them with both Cascade PD and the event security staff leader, and water.
“Are you getting a flash of anything, Pez?” Jim asked her.
“No. My gut says whatever is out there is biding its time.” The Witchblade chose then to chitter in agreement and flashed her an image of the wolf and the panther walking the city perimeter. She turned to Jim. “Did you and Blair walk the city perimeter?”
Jim nodded. “A few weekends ago. It’s a combination walk and bicycle ride, and we repaired the fence along the eastern perimeter of the city out by Hargrove Point. Thought we told you.”
“Huh. If you did, I don’t remember it.”
Veronica stepped on stage. Without a microphone, she sang the first verse of one of her songs, which needed her to deliver an impressive range of notes. She then repeated the exercise with a microphone.
Sara and Jim did not spend the entire time seated in the security area. They took turns doing a check of the setup of the seating, verifying it against a seating chart, got a set list, checked in with the other police teams who were staffing the event, and took food and bathroom breaks. By the time the concert started, Jim, Sara, Blair, and Rafe all had good locations for where to watch the crowd.
Sara ignored the music as she watched the crowd, looking for anyone that stood out to her. Veronica had scheduled an up-and-coming artist to open the concert and play a five-song set. Judging from the crowd’s reaction, the artist was well-received.
The rest of the concert passed with little fanfare. The Cascade-PD walkie-talkie left in the security area let Jim and Sara know of the many minor infractions typical of any large capacity concert in a medium-sized city – public intoxication, possession of illegal drugs, fighting in public, etc. It was only when Veronica began what would be her final song before the scheduled encore of three songs that the Witchblade screamed in excitement and presented Sara with the vivid 3-D of what was to come.
Swearing, Sara grabbed the police walkie-talkie. “Captain Banks, get the teams to check the doors for explosives. Someone’s rigged the exits to blow as soon as the doors open to let everyone out. Be careful; they’re pressure-sensitive triggers. Make sure the event security lets no one out. Get Veronica to sing longer, keep the crowd in. Send Rafe and Blair to talk to the…” She paused, trying to figure out where the person responsible was. “The head of concessions. His name is Louis Valdivia. He’s in the service corridor closest to where they are.”
“Roger that, Pezzini,” Captain Banks said, and issued the order.
Jim stepped closer to her, seeing the Witchblade transform into a delicate filigree-version of the knight’s armor. “What else?” he asked her. “Because you’re usually running to catch the suspect.”
“There’s another bomb under the stage,” Sara said. “And you and I are standing right on it.”
Jim swore. “And what do you suggest?”
Sara smiled thinly. “Let me and the Witchblade handle this. Don’t zone, but I need you to anchor me.”
Jim kissed her gauntlet-covered right hand, let it go, and took her left hand in his. “Go for it.”
Taking his words for permission, the Witchblade morphed again. The filigree pattern shifted into a more solid black-tinged silver. Jim breathed carefully as he watched the armor cover Sara’s entire body, then reach out, becoming a many-tentacled thing that poked at him before covering the part of his hand that joined with Sara’s. The tentacle felt like skin, albeit one with a cold metallic coating over it.
The tentacles spread out, acting as Sara’s extra arms. Jim reached out with his senses, trying to figure out where the bomb was, but the scents were too thick, the noise too loud, and he did not want to risk zoning without his Guide. He could almost hear Sara directing the ‘blade to find the bomb’s trigger. Somehow, without destroying it, the ‘blade pulled the bomb out, handing it to Jim, who quickly examined the device. Not seeing an obvious way to disarm it, he shook his head.
“Sorry, Pez, this one is for the bomb squad.”
“No time.” She took the bomb out of his hands, set it down on the floor, and wrapped it in the Witchblade’s tentacles. The bomb exploded, but the explosion damaged nothing, not even the ‘blade’s tentacles. Jim felt the heat and shock wave hit a centimeter in front of his body, only to dissipate into nothing as it hit the forcefield created by the Witchblade. No one outside their sphere even noticed anything was wrong.
Abruptly, the Witchblade retracted, and became an innocuous bracelet on Sara’s right wrist once more. Sara took a long, slow, shuddering breath, and turned to face Jim. Remembering how exhausted she became when she wielded the full extent of the Witchblade, Jim swore and caught her before she could collapse.
“Stay here, love,” Jim said, easing her into the nearest chair. “And if you need to rest, rest, damn it.” He used his senses to reassure himself that she was still otherwise healthy.
Sara looked at him tiredly and put her head down. “Wake me up when it’s over.”
When Captain Banks came by to check on them after the concert ended, he found Jim standing guard over a sleeping Sara.
“What happened?” Simon asked.
Jim nodded to the table where the remaining parts of the bomb sat. “Sara found a bomb and contained the explosion.”
Simon looked at how asleep Sara was, remembered how tenacious she was in pursuing leads, and then remembered she was the Wielder. “This more of what she can do with that bracelet of hers?”
Simon exhaled heavily and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Sandburg’s helping with the interrogation, since he and Rafe caught the suspect. You take Sara home; I’ll send Sandburg as soon as I can.” He studied Jim. “Neither of you were hurt?”
“The Witchblade absorbed the impact. It was like watching a bomb explode in a bombproof plexiglass enclosure. Sara’s exhausted.”
Simon blanched at that image. “In that case, I’ll handle the bomb remains. You get her home. Make sure she sleeps that off, then take her to a doctor, make sure she and the babies are okay. I’ll tell Sandburg where you are. Now, Ellison.”
“Yes, sir.” Carefully, Jim picked up Sara. The Witchblade reached out and opened the nearest exit. Thanking the bracelet, Jim carried her out of the arena.
He was at his truck when Sara abruptly awoke. “Jim?” she asked, startled. “Why are you carrying me?”
“Because you’re exhausted.” He set her on her feet, bracing her against the truck so he could open the passenger door.
“Oh,” she said, eyelids fluttering, and the Witchblade morphed into a support for her before she could fall over.
Jim lifted a brow at the ‘blade’s actions. “Well, if you’re doing that, would you get her into the truck?”
To his surprise, the Witchblade complied, lifting her into the cab of the pickup and shutting the door.
“Thanks,” Jim said. He went around the front of the truck and got into the driver’s side. The Witchblade had fastened Sara’s seatbelt before morphing into a secondary seat belt.
Jim caught sight of his panther, standing on the bench seat between him and Sara, looking alert and concerned. “You expect trouble on the way home?”
The panther nodded. Jim put on his seatbelt and started the engine. “Then work together and get us home in one piece.”
Later, Jim had little memory of that drive or how he got Sara and himself into the loft. What he remembered was the sense of unreality, as if he had somehow avoided multiple accidents by the narrowest of margins. His upper body ached, reinforcing the idea he had been maneuvering with more agility and muscle than he normally used while driving. He remembered undressing Sara, then himself, and fell into bed, the joint effort of his spirit animal and the Witchblade ensuring he and Sara fell asleep.
Thanks to Jennie, who pointed out Chapter 5 was a duplicate - so the actual Chapter 4 has been posted.
Blair woke them the next morning. He looked as though he had gotten as little sleep as they had and wore what Jim recognized as his ‘interviewing suspects’ outfit – a lightweight brown blazer over a blue button-down shirt, tan khakis, and dress shoes. “Sorry, but Simon wants you both at the station.”
He passed a shopping-bag lined trash can to Sara as she sat up. As if on cue, she retched. Jim hastily dialed down his sense of smell and moved out of the bed.
“Do we have time to shower?” Jim asked as he grabbed clothes.
Blair nodded. “Go first; I’ll stay with Sara.”
Jim kissed him, then headed downstairs.
Sara reached for Blair, thanking him by squeezing his hand. He had come prepared: not only did he have a small lined trash can with a removable lid, but he had paper towels, a wet washcloth, ginger ale, and crackers. When she was in a state where she could speak, she told him, “I love you most, you know.”
Certain her love ranking was for his preparedness, Blair chuckled and put the lid on the small trash can. “You know how to win a man’s heart, babe.” He rose from the bed and set the trash can by the top of the stairs. “Did you want help with anything else this morning?”
Sara toasted him with the bottle of ginger ale. “No.”
Nodding, Blair took out the trash can. Sara heard the sliding glass door to the balcony open and surmised he was putting it out there as a temporary measure so it would not stink up the loft.
Sara sipped the ginger ale and ate the crackers while she waited for her stomach to settle. Once it had stopped protesting, she stood, cleaned up her mess, and gathered the clothes she would wear.
Jim had finished showering by the time she made it downstairs. He pressed a quick kiss to the back of her right hand as they traded places in the bathroom, charming her with the random gentlemanly gesture. Grinning, she stepped into the shower. Her body ached, a sure sign she had wielded the Witchblade to a full extension of its capabilities but had gotten enough sleep to recover from the experience. Breathing deep, she let the water flow over her body, taking strength from the simple act as she always had, even before she had known anything about a mystical bracelet. Then she attended to the business of soaping up and getting clean, certain Blair had negotiated a short window before they had to be back at the station.
Jim loaded a black duffel bag into the truck, tucking it behind his seat.
“Think we will need that?” Blair asked as he noted what Jim had.
“Better safe than sorry,” Jim said shortly.
“What’s in it?” Sara asked as she climbed into the truck.
“Machete, rope, climbing gear, and extra supplies in case we get stuck or stranded. Did you want your backpack?”
“Shit, I forgot to grab it.”
Jim waved off her attempt to exit the truck. “Stay put; I’ll get it.”
“Grab my phone too, please?”
Blair climbed into the truck, neatly blocking any idea she had of leaving it. She narrowed her gaze at him and he kissed her.
“Bribery still won’t get you into my bed, Blair.”
He grinned. “Yes, but it makes you love me more. You said so just a little bit ago.”
Sara rolled her eyes. “I take it back.”
Blair’s grin widened.
Jim returned a few minutes later with her backpack and Blair’s phone. Thirty minutes and a stop for coffee and breakfast later, she, Jim, Blair, and Rafe were in the Simon’s office in a closed-door meeting.
Sara sat in the chair to the left of Simon’s desk; Blair next to her. Jim lounged against the wall to the right of the door; Rafe mirrored him on the other side.
“Appreciate you all coming in,” Simon greeted. “The good news: thanks to your efforts last night, we have arrested two people involved with setting up the bombs at the concert last night. One was Louis Valdivia, the head of concessions. The other was a Carlita Burnett, who was part of the outside security staff hired to work the event.”
At the name Carlita, Sara looked at Rafe. “She was the one at the Hardware Store the other night.”
Rafe nodded grimly. “She told Blair last night she was only doing what the voices told her to do.”
“Carlita and Louis have lawyers now,” Simon said. “They’re refusing to say anything more, and Louis’s lawyer said we coerced a confession out of him.”
Blair blinked at that. “I didn’t. I walked into the room. Two seconds later, he babbled about how Carlita paid him. He said he did not know the Shaman was in the crowd or else he would have waited.”
At that, Simon stared at him, startled. “You have something you forgot to tell me, Sandburg?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Blair replied, shrugging. “He’s not the first to call me that.”
“You’ve had that label since you worked here officially,” Rafe pointed out. “Public knows about it since that one TV reporter keeps using it every time your name shows up in a press release.”
Blair grimaced at the reminder. “Part of me wishes he would stop. I’m not the shaman he thinks I am. Way he says it, I feel like he’s accusing me of being a charlatan or a religious leader of a fringe society. Neither of those make me feel appreciated for who I am or what I do.”
Jim pressed a reassuring hand on Blair’s shoulder. “He doesn’t know you the way we do.”
Blair flashed him a smile.
Simon steepled his fingers. “Seems this sort of thing goes in waves,” he noted. “No one’s been targeting any of you in several years, and we’ve had a noticeably quiet summer. Which means we’re overdue and what happened last night is just the beginning, unless I miss my guess.”
“Much as I might wish otherwise…I’d say you’re right,” Sara agreed.
Simon looked at her and grimaced, noticing the way her bracelet had become a triple-strand filigree on her right wrist.
“Did you have any traffic problems getting home last night?” Rafe asked Jim. “Blair stayed with me because we had no less than three cars nearly hit us in less than a two-mile stretch. I wasn’t about to risk going across the city with that kind of luck.”
“Last thing I remember is telling the panther and the Witchblade to work together to get us home,” Jim admitted. “Given how I ache this morning, I suspect we had similar issues.”
“So, someone is definitely targeting you.”
“Something,” Sara corrected. “It’s using people.”
“Can you prevent it?” Simon leaned forward, impatient.
“I don’t know,” Blair said.
“I do.” Rafe found himself pinned by the others’ gaze and he shifted unconsciously. “If this city was anywhere else, I’d think it’s an urban legend, but have you three walked the perimeter together?”
Jim, Sara, and Blair exchanged looks. “No, but Jim and I have done it.”
“Do it again, and take Sara with you,” Simon ordered.
“You rarely invest in that sort of woo-woo.” Jim looked surprised.
Simon lifted his head. “I also used to not have a Sentinel, a Guide, a Wielder, and the reincarnation of a former Wielder’s protector as my top detectives. After what’s happened to you four, I’m not taking any more chances.” He stared at Jim, daring him to challenge that statement.
Jim lifted a hand. “Not objecting, Simon; just…noting the moment.”
“Take a picture; it’ll last longer,” Simon snarked.
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
Satisfied, Simon continued, “Rafe, you go with them in case they need backup. Take your weapons with you and if you need anything else, get it from the supplies locker. You have my authorization.”
“What about our suspects?” Blair asked.
“They’ll be handled,” Simon assured him. “Now get out here.”
Once the quartet stepped out of Simon’s office and into the squad room, Rafe turned to Jim. “How do you want to do this?”
Jim looked at Sara. “You feel up to doing this now?”
“Might as well. Rafe?”
“Long as we stop in the locker room. I want to change into something suitable for where we’re heading.”
“Seconded,” Blair said. “I was expecting to be in interrogations this morning, and I don’t want to head home just to turn around and start over from here.”
“We’ll wait here,” Jim told the other men.
The locker rooms for the floor were across the hall from the squad room, occupying what had been the HR department. Major Crimes, Narcotics, and the Emergency Operations Unit shared the locker rooms on this floor. Every floor had a shared locker room, accessible only to the personnel assigned to that floor. Senior detectives and selected other personnel had the perk of an assigned locker; competition for the remaining locker space was fierce.
Blair appreciated he had an assigned locker in times like now, when he could trade out the blazer, button-down dress shirt, khakis, and dress shoes he’d worn for a gray t-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots. Rafe had dressed similarly; he, too, traded his current clothes for a pair of chino shorts, an olive-green t-shirt, and sneakers. Both men put on their holstered weapons before securing their lockers and leaving the locker room. As he always did when he donned his gun, Blair prayed that today was not the day he used it.
When he and Rafe rejoined Sara and Jim, they saw Sara had changed her shirt. “Breakfast didn’t agree with me,” she explained. “So where are we starting?”
“Parking garage,” Jim said. “There’s a tunnel that connects this precinct with the waterfront.”
“I thought no one had access to that,” Rafe said, surprised.
“Previous mayor gave me access.” Jim shrugged as he led the way down the nearest staircase. “She heard about how we had a siege in the station and wondered why none of us used it. When I said I didn’t know about it, she showed me it.” He looked at Rafe. “How did you know about it?”
“SWAT has access.”
Rafe had been a member of the Cascade SWAT team, coming in as a highly praised rookie. After two years, he had grown tired of Captain Gutiérrez’s leadership and requested a transfer to the Major Crimes Department. Rafe had told Sara that Gutiérrez had approved the transfer, claiming he was happy to let go of a detective who repeatedly questioned his methods and was a difficult, uncooperative, and low-performing individual. Rafe had had to suffer through a thirty-day probation before Simon had realized how Gutiérrez had mischaracterized him.
“Of course SWAT has access,” Blair muttered. “Would have been nice to know when the Sunshine Patriots took over the building. I thought we were trapped for sure.”
“Wait, the precinct got held hostage?” Sara asked, startled.
“His first day observing me,” Jim said as they headed down the stairs.
“I heard about that,” Rafe interjected. To Blair, he said, “You took out a Patriot with a vending machine. You know some of the SWAT guys call you the king of improvised weapons?”
“Yeah, I heard,” Blair said. “When I had to take my pistol qualifications test, the range sergeant made sure I knew throwing the pistol did not qualify for marksmanship. He thought he was being hilarious.”
“Not proud of your talent?” Sara asked.
“Not really, given I’m usually panicking and terrified and out of options,” Blair admitted.
“Wasn’t that your usual status quo back then?” Jim teased.
Blair chuckled. “Yours too, don’t forget.”
Once in the parking garage, Jim detoured to his truck to pick up the black duffel bag he had stowed behind the driver’s seat. Sara took advantage of that to grab her backpack, wanting the container of candied ginger she suspected Blair had stashed in it. Discovering her hunch was correct, she munched on a large piece while Jim dug into the duffel bag and passed out water bottles. She took one and put it in her backpack while Jim zipped up the duffel and donned it like a backpack.
From where Jim had parked, it did not take them long to reach the tunnel access door, denoted by a “Maintenance Personnel Access Only” sign. Jim swiped his key card, then when the door beeped, unlocked it with a physical key from his key ring. He held the door open so Blair, Sara, and Rafe could precede him.
Jim took point; Blair followed, then Sara and Rafe. The tunnel covered the two miles from the central precinct to the waterfront.
“Can people hear us down here?” Sara wondered.
“Yes,” Rafe answered. “People put it down to ghosts from when the city was built, though.”
“Good to know,” Sara replied. “I forget – did you grow up here, Rafe?”
“Some,” he replied. “Moved here right before freshman year of high school. I was pretty upset we wouldn’t live in Chicago anymore.”
“What changed your mind?” Blair asked.
Rafe flashed him a grin. “What else? I fell in love.”
“What was her name?”
“His name was Tim,” Rafe said, enjoying the look of surprise on Blair’s face. “What, I can’t like both?”
Blair shook his head. “You had me convinced otherwise.”
“Same here,” Jim chimed in.
“Been a while,” Rafe shrugged. “Not sure I have the moves anymore to get anyone.”
“Wait, you broke up with Madison?” Blair looked bewildered. “When?”
“Months ago,” Rafe replied. “She gave me an ultimatum: her or the job, and well, I like what I do, and being a fashion model’s not what it’s cracked up to be.”
Blair stared at him before turning to Sara. “Is he pulling my leg?”
“No, he did fashion modeling in high school.” Sara smiled. “Your mom got you into it, right, Rafe?”
“Yeah, there was a fashion show at the mall and they needed young male models, so I got drafted. Probably why I can’t go anywhere near Ravensgate now without some drama.”
Jim held up a hand before the others could comment. “As interesting as this is, I think we should finish the rest of the way in silence and not feed the ghost stories.”
“Sorry,” Blair apologized. “You know me and enclosed spaces.”
Jim grimaced at the reminder. “Then talk if you need to.”
“Have you picked out names yet, Sara?” Rafe asked, picking up the thread.
“Not yet,” Sara replied. The Witchblade chittered a warning. “Any name I say now will be heard by forces good and evil.” She shot her companions an unhappy look. “Much as I might want to get suggestions.”
“Got it,” Rafe said. “I got nothing, then. Blair?”
“No, Jim’s right. Let’s get through the rest of this tunnel as quickly as we can.”
The tunnel led them to a door in the back hallway of the maritime museum, housed within a city-owned building on the waterfront. Since the museum was open, all the quartet had to do was walk out into the hallway, then walk out the back door, which was unsecured since the museum was in operation.
Sara soon discovered why they had started at this location. It was the site of the original city pier. Walking the perimeter of the city meant walking the seawall, through several parks, around various buildings, across roads, and along fences. Jim’s duffel bag produced the tools to help them traverse some of the rougher parts, including flashlights, and tools to repair broken fences and signs. The city limits were delineated, and they repaired any break in that line. By the time they finished, the summer sun had set, and Jim had brought out flashlights.
“Anywhere else we’re going to?” Sara asked as she leaned against the wall of the maritime museum. “Because I’m tired and the ‘blade says we fixed the hole. It’ll hold until after the babies are born.” She smiled tiredly. “Long as we expect the threat might come from within in the meantime.”
Jim reached for her hand. “Do you see who the threat might be?”
“Not enough for an ID,” Sara said. “Only a picture of a little girl in a yellow sundress, holding a teddy bear with one eye. Back of the picture says ‘Rose, age 7’ and I know the handwriting is a man’s. It’s tacked to a wall of a workstation…” She froze and looked horrified. “At the precinct.”
Rafe blanched. He stepped closer to Sara. “Is the picture cut on the left side, like someone’s cut out of the picture?”
“Yes, do you know whose it is?” Sara looked at him anxiously.
“Captain Diego Gutiérrez,” Rafe spat. “I think it’s his daughter. He has it tacked to his workstation. I still go talk to some of the guys on the squad; not all of them believed what Gutiérrez tried to say about me.” Rafe paused. “He also has a brother who – if rumors are true – is trouble.”
“Then we need more evidence to figure out who it is,” Jim said firmly. “We all have reasons to dislike the man but that’s not enough, and tomorrow – or hell, Monday – is soon enough to start that.” He studied his companions. “And if you want to stay here, Pez, I can go get the truck.”
She sighed. “Only if we go eat something first.”
“Only thing open that’s close enough is Ruby’s,” Blair said. “And I got food poisoning the last time I ate there.”
Sara sighed again.
“There’s also The Hummingbird,” Jim countered, pointing to the restaurant next to the maritime museum. “It’ll put us closer to where we need to go.”
“Works for me,” Sara said. “Rafe, are you joining us?”
“Might as well,” Rafe agreed.
Rafe, using the pretext of his friendship with his former coworkers on the SWAT team, learned that Rose was Gutiérrez’s beloved niece, who was currently under his and his wife’s care because her father, Hugo, was unable to take care of her. A criminal search for Hugo Gutiérrez revealed Hugo had been in and out of jail for shoplifting, loitering, public intoxication, petty theft, brawling, and other minor offenses. The night of the concert, Hugo had been arrested for causing a fight in a bar close to the arena.
Left with no other leads, the quartet reluctantly decided to leave it be for the moment. Rafe summed it up with, “Until something happens, we have nothing to go by. Let’s just focus on our existing caseloads and getting you three moved into somewhere big enough to handle all of you.”
Worried, Sara willed the Witchblade to tell her what happened.
Order has been restored, it told her, chittering happily at the result.
And the futures you showed me?
Paths destroyed by the protectors’ walk, the Witchblade replied. Time is needed to regroup and develop new ones.
Not wanting to believe it could be that easy, Sara asked Blair to check on the status of anyone who had targeted them. Much to her relief, no one was due to be released in the next six months at the earliest.
“You look unhappy,” Jim noted, coming by her desk one evening to pick her up for a dinner date. He and Blair had insisted on continuing to take her out for dates; Thursday evenings had become Jim’s night to be with her alone. “Problem with a case?”
“Trying to remind myself not to look at gift horses with suspicion,” Sara noted wryly. “The ‘blade says what we did after the Veronica concert is going to be good enough for a while.”
Jim nodded. “Let’s enjoy it while we can.”
“Well, this sucks,” Blair said, stepping into his condo a week after Labor Day. His tenants had left numerous holes in the walls from shelving as well as framed art, clearly treating the condo as if it was theirs. They had put up subway tile in the kitchen, added ceiling fans, and even remodeled the master bathroom to reflect their personal taste. “If I wanted a black-tiled bathroom, I would have made it happen.”
Jim stood in the condo with him. “What do you want to do?”
“Honestly? I want to sell the damn thing now. I’d forgotten how much smaller this actually is compared to your place.”
Jim studied him. “You okay with that?”
Blair sighed and looked at him. “Look, the reality is we’re going to have three people and two kids sharing the same space. Given how you are about moving, I think it’s best if we got into a place that had the room for a family of our size.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
Blair eyed his boyfriend warily. “Jim? What did you buy?”
“I haven’t. Not yet. Steven said his real estate buddy, Rajesh, told him about a house in Crown Hill. It’s three bedrooms, two and half baths, and a two-car garage.”
“Why is Steven looking at houses? I thought he was happy with his.”
“He is,” Jim said. “But he also has been keeping an eye out for investment properties, and this one came up.”
Suspecting the Ellison brothers had conspired to scout as soon as Sara’s pregnancy was confirmed, Blair glared at Jim. “Sara is not going to appreciate you jumping the gun.”
“Steven and I have been discussing this for years. After you made such a fuss about moving out, I didn’t think you’d want to move in with me, and I never actually asked you this time to do it. You just took it upon yourself, assuming I wouldn’t protest. Given it’s what I wanted, I didn’t see the point in bringing up the subject.” Jim stepped closer. “If we could get married in this state, I would do it in a heartbeat, but I’m not about to choose between you and Sara. Not when I love you both.”
“You’d rather declare your commitment with property?” Blair raised an eyebrow. “Jim, you hate moving nearly as much as you hate spending large sums of money. Are you prepared for what happens if Sara says no?”
Jim blew out a breath. “Not really. I mean, she’s going to have to find a place that’s big enough for her and the babies. Have you noticed how she changes the subject when we talk about getting things for the nursery?”
Blair sighed. “She’s terrified something will happen to her and she’ll lose what she loves. She always has been.”
“If you present something to her as done, though, she’s more willing to accept it.”
“True, but you’d better get Sara’s buyoff on the place before you buy it. A house is too big of a purchase to just buy without making sure she’s okay with it. I don’t care what it looks like; if it has walls, a non-leaking roof, and working plumbing, I’m good. You saw how I picked out this one.”
Jim chuckled, remembering how Blair had driven the real estate agent crazy with his basic criteria and lack of enthusiasm for the typical upgrades. “What, you don’t want stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and black tile?” he teased.
“Not when the tile looks like whoever put it up forgot to use a level.” Blair heaved a sigh. “Fortunately, it’s only if you stare at it long enough that you realize it’s slanting upward.”
“That a yes?” Jim asked, needing the confirmation.
“Yes. You always have spoken louder with your actions than your words.” Blair sealed it with a kiss. “Now, let’s get this damn place and your loft on the market, buy the other one, and get Sara moved in before she protests again about how many stairs there are to the bathroom.”
“You want to what?” Sara set down her fork carefully, uncertain if she had heard correctly, and equally unwilling to let dinner distract her.
“Buy a house,” Jim replied.
Sara looked at Blair, who sat in the booth next to Jim at what had become their favorite restaurant – a midsize, Pacific Northwest-themed restaurant within walking distance of the loft. “I thought the plan was that we’d move into your place.”
“It’s too small,” Blair told her. “And I’d have to sink a ton of money into fixing what my former tenants did to the tilework in the master bathroom, and I’m not willing to do it.” At her look of curiosity, he explained the problem with the tile.
“I don’t know how to even start to fix that,” Sara noted. She looked at Jim. “You love that loft.”
Jim reached across the table and grasped her left hand. “Not so much that I can’t be practical about how much room we’ll need for our family to be comfortable. I want somewhere where our kids can play and not have to worry about traffic. Where if our neighbor is cooking curry, it’s not permeating through the walls and making me sneeze. Where you don’t have to worry about how far away the bathroom is when you’re in bed with us at night.”
Sara studied him, then Blair. “You’re asking me to move in with you. To make what we have permanent.”
“Yes,” they said, then looked sheepishly at each other when they realized they had spoken at the same time. Jim gestured to Blair to go first.
Blair took the cue. “I know it’s a lot to ask, especially we haven’t discussed marriage and what you carrying our children means in terms of legal and financial matters. For one, they’ll have an inheritance and claim to the Ellison legacy, regardless of whether they’re Jim’s by blood or by adoption. That’s the obvious part. The less obvious part is –“ He took a breath. “Jim and I refuse to make you choose between us for who gets to be your legal husband, and we don’t think it’s something you leave to a toss of coin, especially since one of the things we’d love to be able to do is marry each other. Jim’s talked to a lawyer who swears he can come up with a legal arrangement for the three of us that’s as good as married.”
“Please say yes, Sara,” Jim added.
“What kind of timeline are we looking at?” Sara asked.
“We can call the realtor tomorrow and see if we can check the house out on Sunday,” Jim told her. “If you’re willing, we could close on the house within two weeks, max, since no one’s living in it now, and be in it before Christmas. You remember Rajesh, Steven’s best friend?”
Sara’s eyes widened. “It’s one of Rajesh’s listings? Is it the big yellow house in Crown Hill?”
“Yes,” Jim nodded. “Did Steven show you a picture already?”
“Yeah, he wanted me to see if the Witchblade told me anything about the property. Said Rajesh was worried there would be bad ghosts because the original house burned down.”
“And did it say anything?” Blair wondered.
“Just pictures of how devasted the woman was to have lost everything she had curated of her family over the years,” Sara said. “She was in tears and her sons were telling her they were just grateful that the dog woke her because she had forgotten to replace the battery in the smoke detector. She died before construction on the replacement house was finished, but her sons tried to make her dreams of an accessible, comfortable, family-oriented house come true.” Sara looked at her men. “If it’s the house I’ve seen, I want that house, and there’s no way a bank is going to approve a loan for that much money on my salary alone.”
“We’re not going in debt for that house if it’s the one you want, Sara.” Jim’s lips curved. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not poor.”
Jim tended to live frugally, and Steven only flaunted his when it was expected, so it was easy to forget they had wealth. “Right. And the lawyer you’ve been talking to –”
“Also paid,” Blair answered. “Least I can do to contribute.” He reached for her right hand across the table. “If this isn’t the house we like, we’ll find another. Either way, once we’ve bought it and we’re moved in, we can have fun picking out decorations and furniture.”
For a moment, a future full of uncertainty and loneliness played out in her head. Unwilling to let that Witchblade-induced vision be real, Sara gripped Jim’s and Blair’s hands before letting go. “Then let’s do this.”
Crown Hill was the neighborhood north of the one in which Blair and Jim currently lived. It had a more suburban feel to it, with tree-lined sidewalks and older homes, many of which were 1920s-era Craftsman style. The pretty yellow house, designed to fit in with the neighborhood, stuck out as new but was not a modern eyesore.
Jim, Blair, and Sara all fell in love with it. The house was two stories, with a loft that overlooked the living room, a front porch big enough to hold patio furniture, and a balcony off the master bedroom. The master bedroom had an ensuite bathroom, while the two smaller bedrooms shared a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. Blair was delighted to discover that the master bathroom had an oversize tub as well as a separate shower big enough for three people. The kitchen was the same layout as Jim’s loft, only on a bigger scale, with upscale fixtures. Just off the kitchen was the combination laundry room and half bath. The entire lower floor was an open plan that combined the living room, dining room, and kitchen. The loft space had built-in bookcases that framed a gas fireplace. A sliding glass door from the dining room led out to a small patio and to the backyard, which was bordered by a tall fence. The detached two-car garage connected to the alley that ran behind the houses on that street.
The Witchblade told Sara the bones in the backyard, near the fence line, belonged to the owners’ two childhood pets – a dog and a gerbil – and in doing so, had accidentally consecrated the space. Amused by that information, Sara grinned and stepped out onto the small patio. Blair noticed her smile and the way the Witchblade rippled on her wrist.
“Something we should know?”
“When the current owners were kids, they asked their pastor to say a prayer over their dead pets. He went a little beyond the usual.” Aware that Blair would be able to sense the difference since he had shamanic power, Sara held out her hand, inviting him to step out from the dining room. “You should feel it.”
Blair took her hand, stepped into the backyard, and reeled a bit at the sensation. Even on the patio, he could feel the deep reverence instilled in the area. “Whoa. Um, hi, sacred space.”
“Problem?” Jim asked, leaning out.
“No,” Sara and Blair said in unison.
Sara laughed, let go of Blair’s hand, and kissed Jim. “Just making sure your panther and your wolf know they’ll have a place here too.”
Said spirit guides appeared and stepped cautiously out in the backyard. The wolf nosed at the fence line while the panther remained regally next to Sara as if to say, “this is a foregone conclusion.” The wolf nodded once, agreeing with the panther, and trotted back to where Blair stood.
“He says the pets were loved and have passed on, but the pastor thought the children needed a safe space,” Blair translated.
“So that’s a yes, we want this place?” Jim asked.
“As if you had any doubts,” Sara teased him.
Since Jim insisted on paying cash for the property, it did not take long for the house to close. Sara broke her lease without regret, and her landlord, noting the way her stomach curved, assumed she was doing so because she was pregnant and did not charge her a penalty. Blair put his condo on the market; it sold quickly, and the black tile made the sale. Jim’s loft took longer, thanks to the history of the property, but it too, sold by Thanksgiving.
By Thanksgiving, Jim, Blair, and Sara had moved in completely, and had the nursery furnished and ready with everything two babies could need. Jim and Blair had ambitions of hosting Thanksgiving, but Steven pointed out they could host some other year, when Sara wasn’t feeling irritable, prone to snarling at everyone, and unable to focus on conversations. The Witchblade kept distracting her, telling her about how earlier Wielders dealt with pregnancy. As usual, violence, death, and loss hallmarked the Witchblade’s tales, leaving Sara torn between believing she was stronger than they had been and paranoid she was not doing enough to protect her unborn children. It left her exhausted and leaning hard on her men, needing them to assure her she was not going to lose the Witchblade or her unborn children.
“How you guys holding up?” Steven asked, a week after Thanksgiving, when he met Jim and Blair for lunch at a burger restaurant near the precinct.
Jim exchanged looks with Blair.
“That bad, huh?” Steven ate a French fry, amused. “Which is it, Sara or the thing on her wrist?”
“Both,” Blair said. “It’s been telling her how past Wielders didn’t deal well with pregnancy, even telling her that one of them lost it because she was pregnant, and Sara’s always been paranoid, so…” He let his voice trail off.
“She’s been exhausted and needing more assurance than usual,” Jim said heavily. “It’s rough seeing her so needy; she’s usually so confident.”
“Rafe warned me,” Steven said, looking sympathetic. “Figured you could use a break. Have you decided on names?”
“Sara won’t let us share the names; it’s one of the things she’s paranoid about,” Blair explained. “But we’re having a girl and a boy.”
Steven looked at his brother. “Excited?”
Jim’s lips curved. “Terrified,” he admitted. “They’re inheriting Sara’s looks and intelligence. And the doctor was worried about possible genetic disorders, so she ran a DNA test on all of us and the babies.” He took a breath. “The girl is mine; the boy is Blair’s.”
Astonished, Steven stared at him, then at Blair. “You were both convinced the other was the father, weren’t you?”
“Me most of all,” Blair admitted wryly. “Thought for sure they were both Jim’s.”
“Because you – never mind, I don’t want to know that much about your sex life.” Steven wrinkled his nose in distaste at the thought. “That means you’re going to need a lawyer to make sure you both have legal access to both children.”
“Do you know of anyone? You’re more connected than I am, Steven.” Jim looked anxious.
“I’ll figure it out this afternoon and get back to you,” Steven promised. “Least I can do.” He hesitated. “And speaking of things to take care of, Sally called me. She said she saw Sara at the Kingsway Grocery on Sunday. Sally chided me for not telling me Sara was pregnant, congratulated me, and asked when our wedding was. You haven’t told her yet, have you?”
“Not yet,” Jim confirmed. “Wanted to get to the second trimester to be sure.”
Steven looked relieved.
“How come you haven’t corrected Sally’s notion that you’re not actually dating Sara?” Blair wondered.
“Because,” Steven took a breath, “I didn’t want to make her unhappy.”
“Wait, you’re not dating Rafe, are you?” Blair asked. “Because he’s been seeing someone new and he refuses to tell us, only that it’s someone we know already, and he doesn’t want us to scare them off.”
Steven laughed. “No, not Rafe, though Sara tried to get us together, years ago.” Steven grinned.
“When?” Jim asked, curious.
“Couple of months after my divorce from Lisa was final. Sara set us up on a blind date – partly to cheer us both up – and we became friends instead. No, I’m not seeing anyone, not unless I find someone who wants the same degree of intimacy I do and not anything more.”
“Sally won’t understand that,” Jim agreed. “You want me to break that news to her instead?”
“Figured you could distract her with the truth,” Steven said honestly. “That way I can be the bad guy when I tell her I’m moving her into a small apartment whether she wants to or not.”
“Why?” Concerned, Blair set down the veggie burger he had been eating. “Is there something wrong with the old Ellison house?”
“Sally noticed a leak in the ceiling over the formal dining room and called a plumber. Plumber traced the leak to the bathroom over it, and then did a more complete inspection. The plumbing is leaking everywhere; to fix it, we’d need to redo the whole house because we need to comply with code and it’s all out of date.”
“Great,” Jim said sourly, picturing the expense. Accustomed to counting his pennies, Jim did not take his inheritance for granted. “Why are we keeping that damn thing anyway?”
“History and tradition,” Steven replied, his expression reflecting acknowledgement of the waste. “Plus, we wouldn’t be able to sell it without fixing it. I’ll handle setting Sally up in that retirement community we discussed if you handle telling her I didn’t get Sara pregnant and I’m not marrying her, either.”
“And then you’re selling it,” Jim told his brother. “Because there is no way I’m going to live in that house ever again.”
Blair studied the brothers, marveling, as he always did, at how united they were now that they had resolved the distance and separation that had marked the early years of their relationship as adults. “Guess that means I can’t count on Sally’s pies until she’s moved, then,” he mourned.
Steven barked a laugh. “Sorry, Blair, but she’s been dragging her feet. Dad wanted her to move there before he died, and she refused, claiming she wanted to be sure he didn’t need her. Now she’s convinced it’ll be the perfect house to raise kids in.”
“Maybe if the neighborhood was what it was when we were kids,” Jim agreed. “But it’s changed.” He looked at his brother, seeing the same memories reflected on his face.
“In that case,” Blair said, “you’d better take me along with you when you talk to Sally, Jim, because she is going to demand one of us marry Sara.”
“I’ll go with you,” Steven offered. “Probably ought to take Sara too, or else Sally is not going to accept whatever we tell her.”
“Friday after work then,” Jim decided. “We can make an early afternoon of it, avoid some of the traffic getting home.”
“You’re telling Simon,” Blair said, checking his watch. “Speaking of work, we need to get back to the station.”
Up next: Christmas, Naomi, and trouble...
Comments always welcome; I sometimes feel like I'm writing in a vacuum.
Sally Wong had been the Ellisons’ live-in housekeeper for decades. Hired when Steven was still an infant to serve as both nanny and housekeeper, Sally had become a part of Jim and Steven’s family. At sixty years of age, the Chinese woman looked twenty years younger, and prided herself on how fit she was and how she was still able to keep the Ellison house clean and ready for guests. The house was a mansion befitting an old family of Cascade: grand, lavish, opulent, and filled with priceless antiques. As always, the Witchblade flashed memories of the Ellison family as Sara crossed the threshold. Jim and Steven had been loved and cared for here in this house; Sally’s care had ensured a contrast to the tougher, competitive, ‘be a man’ mentality their father, William, had espoused.
Sally insisted on serving them tea in the parlor. Sara refused, needing to limit her caffeine intake, but the other men, aware of Sally’s need for formalities, took the offered tea.
Pleased that her hostess duties were accepted, Sally exclaimed over how pregnant Sara was. “You are getting big! Is that one baby?”
Sara smiled. “No, two, twins.” She deftly deflected Sally’s hands from touching her belly, not wanting to trigger the Witchblade’s protectiveness. “Please don’t; I’m sensitive these days.”
“Of course,” Sally said, but her expression reflected disappointment. She turned to Steven. “Are you excited?”
“Yes, but not for the reason you think,” Steven said, amused as he leaned back on the couch and sipped his tea.
“Sara isn’t pregnant with Steven’s children,” Jim added. “One of the twins is mine; the other is Blair’s.”
Sally stared at them, disbelief etched on her features. “That is not possible. Two babies, one father.”
“Actually –” Blair began.
Jim leveled Blair a look before he could start down a scientific rabbit hole. “Regardless, it’s the truth.”
Sally rose angrily. “You are trying to cover up something,” she accused. She turned to Sara. “You agreed to this so they could have children? Because they are –”
“In love.” Sara cut her off before Sally could say anything hurtful and met the older woman’s eyes. “I didn’t agree to being pregnant so they could have children. I love them both and getting pregnant was a happy accident.”
Sara’s calm tone took the wind out of Sally’s argument. She sat down abruptly before deliberately taking a sip of tea. Once she had swallowed, she said, “Be glad your father is not alive, Jim. He wanted Sara and Steven to be married, and he would have insisted you marry Sara now.”
“He’s not,” Jim said briskly. “And we’re not.”
“But the children!” Alarmed, Sally leaned forward. “Do you know how many times the school demanded I show I had permission to pick you boys up?”
“Too many,” Sara surmised, “because you were not the boys’ mother and you were not white.”
“They will do the same to you, Blair,” Sally theorized, her hands fluttering with anxiety. “Especially if the children do not look like you but look more like Sara.”
“We’ve spoken to a lawyer,” Blair told her. “He’s working on fixing it so we have legal permission, and –“ he placed a hand on Sally’s “– we don’t give a fuck what they think. You didn’t, did you?”
Sally let out a breath. “It was still annoying and hurtful in the moment. It did not help that William thought if he threw enough money at any problem I reported, they would stop being so hateful.” She looked at Sara. “You are braver than I would be. How are you going to handle discipline? Your children will find who is the softer parent; you must be united.”
“We were hoping you could give us advice,” Sara said. “Both of my parents are dead, and my father raised me by himself. He was a cop, too.”
“Any questions you have, I’ll be happy to answer,” Sally replied, pleased.
She turned to Steven, studying him. “I suppose you’re here to tell me I need to move to Golden Gardens because the plumbing repair is too extensive to do without tearing half this old drafty mansion apart?”
Sally sipped her tea a moment before responding. “I took a tour there on Thursday. The staff is horrible and racist, and I will not have a moment’s peace. I have a reservation for an apartment at Brightview Cascade and they will move me in, no family help necessary, on Tuesday, provided they receive a notarized statement from you on Monday before 5 pm that you will serve as my financial guarantor in case of my inability to pay.”
Jim looked at his brother. “Told you.”
Steven glared at him; Blair hid a grin in a sip of tea. Before Sara could speak, Steven held up a hand. “No comments from the peanut gallery. Yes, Sally, I’ll be your guarantor.”
Satisfied, Sally turned to Jim. “You do not want to live here with your children?”
Jim shook his head. “No.”
Sally looked at Blair and Sara. “But there’s plenty of room.”
“The energy isn’t right here,” Blair noted. “It feels like if I turned fast enough, I’d see Jim and Steven as kids being told to behave like good little men.”
Sally’s mouth tightened unhappily. “Is this your idea?” She directed her question to Sara.
“No, but it’s also not my house,” Sara replied. “I don’t have the ties to it that Jim and Steven do. I’d like to live somewhere where I don’t have to worry about what priceless heirloom I might break next. Every time I come here, I’m reminded I’m the daughter of a cop who made just enough to keep the two of us clothed, fed, and sheltered. I didn’t grow up drinking tea out of real china, much less china that’s been in one family for generations.”
Sally studied her a moment before chuckling reluctantly. “I told William his sons would never be with anyone who wanted this house. He didn’t believe me until he met you, Blair. Then you came, Sara, and I could not convince him you and Steven were anything other than good friends.”
“Yeah, he got me wound up,” Steven agreed, glancing at Sara and seeing the memory of their awkward conversation in her eyes. “But I’ll happily be uncle instead. Is there anything we can do for you until Monday?”
“Could you help me fix it so I can get to my room without tripping? Jim and Steven, if you come with me, I’ll show you.”
Sara looked at Blair after the other three left the room. “You feel the echoes?”
“Yeah,” Blair agreed. “All those old emotions – nobody aired them out and they’re etched into the walls. Are you seeing anything?”
“Snapshots of Jim and Steven when they were little, the argument their mother had with William over choosing her career, other stuff like that, like when you flip through a slideshow.” Sara shuddered. “This is not a happy house. Do you think Jim and Steven would mind if we took off? Blame me being pregnant if Sally asks.”
“Jim figured you might not want to stick around; that’s why I drove, too.”
Taking advantage of his lover’s extended hearing, Blair said, “Jim, I’m taking Sara home.”
Sara grinned as the Witchblade helped her hear Jim’s reply. “He says be careful; the rain’s getting heavier.”
Blair kissed her, then helped her to stand before they made their way to Blair’s car, a late-model sedan. Once inside the car, Sara took a deep breath, shaking off the echoes of pain the Witchblade had shown her. “Please let’s go home.”
Blair nodded and started the car.
“I do not know how to host a Christmas party,” Sara said for the umpteenth time. She sat on the tilt-swivel bar stool that had become her favorite chair in the house, since it was comfortable enough to sit in for extended periods but tall enough she did not have to struggle to leave it. “Especially since it feels like we’re coming out as a triad that’s expecting children.”
“Well, we are,” Blair pointed out, “but since everyone who’s been invited knows about us, it’s not like we’re posting a notice in the paper. Though I suppose it’s been a while since some of them have seen you, so it might be a surprise.”
Sara scowled at that. She had forgotten that tonight was the party; she had been thinking it was just another Saturday night at home with her men.
“It’ll be fine,” Jim assured her. “All you have to do is sit there and talk to people. We agreed we’d do this if Blair and I did the work. Our friends are bringing sides and dessert, so once we finish the cleanup here, we’re done with cooking until everyone shows up, which should be –” Jim checked his watch “– starting twenty minutes from now.”
Sara sat at the breakfast bar, sipping ginger ale while watching her men put together what seemed like more food than necessary. Three crockpots were simmering on the table, extension cords taped down for safety: one with vegetarian chili, one with turkey meatballs, and another with marinara sauce.
“Besides,” Blair said cheerfully as he mixed a sour cream-based dip, “It’s not strictly a Christmas party. Hanukah starts in two days.”
“We’re not raising our kids in a religion, are we?” Sara asked, alarmed.
Jim and Blair exchanged looks. “Your call, Chief.”
“Not anything specific, but enough that they’ll respect us when we say there are greater things out there than can be explained by science alone. Hanukah is one of the few Jewish holidays that mean something because it was one of the few traditions Naomi taught me to uphold. I know you’ve told us you were raised Catholic, but you’ve never mentioned attending church, and I’m sure the Witchblade has told you plenty about what the Catholic Church has tried to do to it.”
Sara grimaced. “If they had succeeded at smashing it to pieces, it wouldn’t exist now. It bit back when they tried.” She took a deep breath, one hand going to rest on her stomach. “I haven’t been in a church to pray since I became the Wielder and realized what it meant. I want our kids to believe in a higher power, even if it doesn’t always seem like much comfort.”
Blair nodded. “I figured as much.” He set the now-mixed dip in the center of a vegetable-and-chips tray before handing it off to Jim, who set it on the dining room table.
“You don’t mind if we raise our kids believing in all the weird? They’ll get teased at school if they repeat it, and they will,” Sara asked, needing to be sure.
Jim crossed the room and kissed her. “They’ll get teased about anything and everything; it won’t matter what it is. Steven and I got teased about being rich but still going to a public school instead of a private one.”
“You went to public school?” Sara looked surprised.
“Yeah,” Jim nodded. “Cascade didn’t have a good private school back when Steven and I were kids and Dad didn’t want to follow his father’s example and send us off to boarding school.” He paused when he heard a car pull up in front of the house.
“Looks like Steven’s starting the party early,” he told his lovers. “He brought Rajesh and someone new.”
“Oh, that will be Aubrey Valerio,” Sara told them. “Steven’s new girlfriend.”
“Since when?” Blair demanded even as Jim went to greet their guests.
“December 6 – Steven needed a date for the Cascade Beat Hunger Snowflake Ball and I told him I wouldn’t be his date for anything while I’m pregnant. No way I want to go find a fancy maternity dress.”
“You’d look amazing,” Blair said, but Sara waved off his flattery.
“Steven went with a professional matchmaking service and the service hit the jackpot. He’s been enthusing about Aubrey all month.”
Blair raised his eyebrows at that, but took his apron off, folded it, and set it on the counter out of the way. “Does Jim know or am I the last to know?”
“Steven told me he wanted us to all meet her at the same time.”
“Huh,” Blair said, but he went to join Jim in greeting their guests.
Rajesh was a familiar sight to Blair, Sara, and Jim, even before he had acted as their realtor. He greeted Blair with a handshake and a half-hug before turning to Sara. “Merry Christmas, Sara. As Steven’s best friend, let me reiterate: you chose the better brother,” he declared.
Sara chuckled and accepted his half-hug. “Spoken like someone who knows. Merry Christmas to you, Rajesh. You’re early.”
He held up a shopping bag. “We carpooled, since I remembered parking in this neighborhood is at a premium. I promised Steven I’d bring my mother’s coconut fudge, which meant running over to my mother’s house in the West Village, and we weren’t sure how long it would take to pick up Aubrey from her place in the south end of the city.”
“You can put what you brought on the table at the end,” Blair interjected just as Jim opened the door to more people. “We’re doing this buffet-style.”
“You are glowing,” Steven told Sara as he stepped forward. “And more beautiful than ever.”
Sara stuck her tongue out at him. “Taking lessons in flattery from Blair, Steven?”
Steven laughed. “No, should I?”
Sara pretended to consider the idea before relenting, seeing he was not alone, but had brought a woman with him. Sara blinked as she reconciled the photo of Aubrey Valerio Steven had sent her with the reality. The professionally taken photo had been from Aubrey’s corporate profile as the CEO of a diversity staffing consulting firm. In person, Aubrey’s narrow, high-boned face, with its wide forehead, straight nose, and deep-set eyes was more striking than Sara had been prepared to see. Aubrey had braided her mahogany brown hair into a multilayered crown and accented her olive-brown skin with a green dress, cut to flatter her tall, slender, but still curvy body. Sara thought she was distinctly pretty; the Witchblade told Sara that Aubrey was a good match for Steven.
“Aubrey, this is my brother’s girlfriend, Sara Pezzini,” Steven performed the introductions. “Like my brother, she’s also a detective. Sara, this is Aubrey Valerio, the CEO of an engineering employee staffing firm and consultancy. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.”
“Call me Sara or Pez; I’ll respond to either one,” Sara said as they shook hands.
“Pleased to meet you,” Aubrey said, smiling. “Steven said you expecting?”
“Yes, twins.” Suspecting Steven had deliberately failed to mention the triad relationship, Sara waited to see how the conversation went.
Aubrey looked startled. “Steven did not mention that! Is it supposed to be a secret?”
“He likes to spring things on people,” Sara informed her. “Especially if they’re being introduced to me.”
“Because I’m a better judge of people than he is,” Sara said, shrugging. “He takes people at their word.”
Astonished, Aubrey exclaimed, “I didn’t think anyone one still did that!”
“Steven’s special that way,” Sara noted. “I imagine if you work in staffing, you are a little warier.”
“Oh my gosh yes. The stories I could tell you.” She shook her head. “Do you have everyone wanting to touch you since you started showing?”
Lips curving, Sara said, “Oh, yes.”
“That would drive me crazy,” Aubrey told her. “I have people wanting to touch my hair since it’s so long when I don’t wear it braided.”
“How long is it?”
“Down to my waist. I’ve gotten rather good at slapping people’s hands, but I’m always afraid someone will say I assaulted them.”
“Not if they touched you first without your consent,” Sara told her. “I heard Steven took you to the Jade Garden for your first date. Did you like it?”
“I was surprised when the server asked him where you were,” Aubrey confessed. “Did he take you there a lot?”
Sara laughed. “More times than I can count. I’m notorious for being unadventurous with my food; if it weren’t for Steven, Jim, Blair, and Rafe, I wouldn’t appreciate a place that bills itself as modern Japanese food.” Wanting to ease the other woman’s nerves and suspecting Aubrey thought she was an ex-girlfriend, Sara added, “Steve and I are good friends and I was his plus-one for charity events because he wasn’t interested in dating anyone after his divorce. Everyone thought we were more serious than that.”
Some of the tenseness in Aubrey’s posture evaporated at those words. “I told a friend I was dating Steven and she was shocked. She showed me pictures of you with him at multiple events. Said you were his girlfriend, that everyone expected you to be the next Mrs. Ellison.”
Sara chuckled. “Wrong brother, but if it was legal, I’d marry Blair too.”
Aubrey looked startled. “You’re involved with both? I thought you were just Jim’s girlfriend.”
“They came as a package deal,” Sara shrugged slightly. “I can’t imagine loving just one of them or asking them to stop loving each other.”
Stunned, Aubrey stared at her. “Most of the people I know who are involved with two people at once are usually cheating on someone. You’re not?”
Sara grinned. “No.” She looked across the room, feeling the weight of Jim’s gaze as he listened to their conversation while pretending to be interested in Rajesh’s latest successful sale. “But we’re as committed to each other as we can be.”
“That sounds like it would take a lot of balancing and communication. I would not know how to begin to be in your shoes,” she remarked. “Do you know if Steven would want something similar?”
“I doubt it, but you’d better ask him. He’s surprised me before. Loyalty and communication are big with both him and Jim.”
“Good to know.” Aubrey studied her. “From what Steven’s told me, you’ve been a good friend. I’m not someone who has a problem with my guy having female friends, especially friends who’ll sit through multiple charity events, knowing they’ll be photographed and gossiped about. Either you trust the people you’re with or you don’t. If you don’t, then you should ask more questions of them and find out if you can live with the answers.”
“Agreed,” Sara said, liking Aubrey. “And if you’ll excuse me, I see someone wanting my attention. Matt, Rafe, come on, shy isn’t a word I’d use to describe either of you.”
Matt and Rafe stepped forward as Aubrey made room. Each man hugged Sara in greeting, mindful of the extreme curve of her stomach now she was six months pregnant.
“You look like you swallowed two watermelons,” Matt teased her.
“Some days it feels like it,” Sara agreed. She studied them, seeing how comfortable they were with each other as the Witchblade whispered that they had been intimate and had committed to each other. Relief and joy flooded through her; they had worried her about who they were seeing, since they both refused to tell her. “You two are so not fooling me. Rafe, really, I thought you had better taste, especially since you’ve known this guy for years.”
Amused and certain of how she knew, Rafe slanted a look at Matt. “Told you she’d figure it out.”
“Damn it, Pez, you always know shit like that,” Matt complained, but he beamed as he slid an arm around Rafe’s waist. “Besides, you sort of dared me.”
“I did no such thing,” Sara protested. “I told you not to fuck my partner and break his heart.”
“That still left open going on a date, discovering you aren’t the only thing we have in common, and making out like teenagers,” Matt pointed out as Rafe grinned. “Tell me again why you didn’t want us to be together?”
Sara rolled her eyes, though she was pleased they had found each other. Both craved companionship and hated being alone. Aware Aubrey was watching, Sara chose not to get into the real reasons for her objections. “Because you two together are more trouble than a woman like me needs. Aubrey, this is Brian Rafe, my police partner, and Matthew Falk, my good friend. Rafe, Matt, this Aubrey Valerio, Steven’s girlfriend.”
“You wouldn’t be the same Aubrey Valerio who is in charge of STEM Futures Consulting?” Matt asked.
“Guilty,” Aubrey admitted, surprised by the recognition. “How do you know my name?”
“I’m an architect for Cascade Design and Architecture, and part of my job is recruiting,” Matt explained. “We’ve been looking at ways to hire more diversely, and your name and company came up as part of the conversation.” Matt steered Aubrey away from Rafe and Sara, in a way that told Sara Rafe wanted to talk to her alone.
“How are you, the babies, and the ‘blade?” Rafe asked. “I can’t believe it’s only been two weeks since I’ve seen you and you look much more rested.”
“Babies are growing,” Sara told him. “I can’t run much, can’t lift as much weights, I miss riding my motorcycle, and the ‘blade likes to give me graphic reports on how squished my internal parts are.” She pouted.
“Poor mama,” Rafe teased her. “But it tells you how the little ones are growing?”
A soft smile replaced her pout. “Yes.”
“Good. Bored of vacation yet?”
“Not yet,” Sara told him. Because twins often came early, Sara’s obstetrician had recommended she start her leave earlier so she was not putting herself in harm’s way. Simon had looked at how much vacation time she had, which was two months’ worth of time, and ordered her to use at least some of it if before she went on maternity leave. “Blair got me hooked on reading fairy tales from nontraditional sources.”
Rafe raised an eyebrow. “Let me guess: they’re more bloodthirsty than the ones we grew up with.”
Sara grinned. “It keeps this thing –” she covered the bracelet on her right wrist “–sated, so I’m happy. I don’t think it will leave me soon or I will lose my babies and I can sleep finally, even though finding a comfortable position takes me a while.”
Rafe looked relieved at that news. “And you aren’t driving your guys too crazy, I hope?”
“Not like I was at Thanksgiving.” Sara shook her head, recognizing she had been out of line. “They tell you to come check on me?”
Rafe half-shrugged. “Be a bad friend, let alone partner, if I ignored you because I was in a new relationship.”
“You’d be allowed, you know,” Sara reminded him.
Rafe smiled. “And have you tease me about slacking off?”
“Speaking of slacking off, when do the new crew start?” Sara asked, referring to the four new hires in the department, one who was filling an open position, and three who would serve as temporary fills while Sara, Jim, and Blair were out on family leave.
“January. Banks wants me to train your replacement. Her name is Leticia Hill; she’s transferring over from the South Precinct and this is a promotion for her. If she works out, Banks wants her permanently, but it depends on how the others work out and how soon you come back to work. Her record looks solid.” Rafe looked at the Witchblade, then expectantly at Sara.
Sara got a quick impression of a muscular black woman with a respectable dedication to work, a deeply moral code, an African tribal arm band tattooed on her left bicep, a warm laugh, and a passion for solving puzzles. “I’ll meet her when you’re past the first two weeks,” Sara hedged, unwilling to give Rafe more. “It wouldn’t be fair to her if you already knew her beyond what it says on her resume. She’d start to wonder if all the rumors about Major Crimes being staffed with psychics is true.”
“Which means she’s not a threat,” Rafe interpreted. “I’ll take that. What? I can’t abuse my privilege of knowing what you can do?”
“Not if you get unfairly prejudiced and take what I can do for granted,” Sara warned him.
Rafe had the grace to look sheepish. “Good point.”
Not wanting to dwell on work issues since thinking about not being able to contribute that way depressed her, Sara changed the subject. “Is being with Matt making you happy? Because I can still kick his ass if you need me to.”
Rafe chuckled. “No need, Sara. We didn’t want to tell you because we both needed time to figure out what we wanted from each other and didn’t want to say anything until we were sure.” Rafe took a breath. “It’s only been two months and already I can see us being together forever.”
“Don’t let him fast-talk you into anything you’re not ready for,” Sara warned him. “He’s good at that.”
“He’s already tried,” Rafe told her. “It’s why we agreed not to tell you until we could agree about what we were doing with each other.”
Sara groaned. “Please tell me you didn’t start out as a one-night stand that didn’t stop being a one-night stand.”
“Then I won’t,” Rafe agreed, a hint of a smile playing on his lips, and Sara groaned again.
“Look, Sara, it’s not like I didn’t know who I was sleeping with after knowing him for nearly as long as you have. He’s a player; so were you. Matt’s looking for something permanent; so am I. Regardless of whatever happens between us, we will not let our friendship with you suffer if we can help it. I promise.”
“Then I’m happy for you.”
Suspecting he would ask her what the Witchblade predicted about their relationship, Sara decided a bathroom break was in order.
He noticed her leaning forward. “You need a hand getting out of your throne?”
“Not really, but since you’re offering, I’ll take it,” Sara said, grateful.
When Sara returned from using the bathroom, she found the house was full of more guests. Though Sara had limited her friendships, in part due to her inclination towards a smaller social circle, both Jim and Blair had an extensive circle that included the Major Crimes department, several others in the Cascade PD, and people outside of the police force. She was pleased to see Sue Mai show up, and several other people she knew through Jim, Blair, and Steven. They had forty people in the house, plenty of food, and enough laughter and conversation that Sara forgot that she had objected to having a party.
Even Simon made an appearance, bringing his son, Daryl, with him. At twenty-six, Daryl was as tall as his father, and was his younger clone, right down to his choice of career, though he had chosen to work in a different precinct to avoid potential conflicts. Daryl had told Sara that Jim and Blair were his heroes, and if she did anything to hurt them, she would have to answer to him, not his father. Sara believed him, aware that Daryl had known them since he was fourteen and owed his existence to their heroism. Now he went to hug Sara, exclaiming, “No wonder Dad doesn’t want you chasing criminals. You sure you can move? You look so pregnant!”
Sara laughed. “I can move, just not fast.” She hugged him, seeing a twenty-something black woman hang back. “You bring someone?”
Daryl tugged the young woman forward. “Sara, this is Carmen Green, my girlfriend. Carmen, this is one of my friends, Sara Pezzini. This is her, Jim’s, and Blair’s house.”
Carmen’s eyes went wide. Her blond-streaked black hair lay in neat cornrows that ended in clear beads, and she had a large nose in an otherwise unremarkable face. She wore a red-and-black lace long-sleeved top over black jeans. She was not as tall as Daryl, but at least six feet tall, and had a broad frame. “This is your house?”
“Yes,” Sara said as the Witchblade chittered. Sara got a glimpse of a future fight between Carmen and Daryl and sighed.
“I didn’t think a cop could afford a place like this,” Carmen said in awe.
Sara’s smile tightened. “They can if they pool their monies with two other people and save like crazy,” she noted, and watched the dollar signs fade in Carmen’s eyes.
“Oh. You don’t look old enough,” Carmen said.
One of the side effects of the Witchblade was that it slowed her aging; Sara was chronologically thirty-eight but looked ten years younger.
“Trust me, I’m old,” Sara shot back. “Old enough to be pregnant, with a house, and in a relationship with two men your boyfriend considers his heroes.”
“Two?!” Carmen looked shocked and horrified. “Isn’t that a sin?”
Daryl shot Carmen a disgusted look before turning to Sara. “Sorry. My roommate introduced us.” He turned to Carmen. “Look, if you can’t deal with that, then I’ll call Jared to pick you up because you’re not staying.”
Carmen stared at Sara before looking at Daryl. “You’re okay with that kind of relationship?!”
“When it’s safe, sane, and consensual, yes.”
At Carmen’s continued look of horror, Daryl sighed and took Carmen’s hand. “Excuse us, Sara.”
Sara was not surprised when she caught sight of Daryl alone twenty minutes later. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Daryl said, resigned. “One of the reasons I wanted to come to this is because you, Jim, and Blair give me hope that love can be found, and it doesn’t have to be a traditional setup. I knew Carmen had some ideas about money and morals, and I wanted to be sure it was what I thought it was.” He sighed. “Just glad I didn’t let it run on.”
Sara hugged him as best as she could. “Me too.”
Four hours into the party, Sara was happily demolishing a slice of Rajesh’s coconut fudge when the Witchblade bristled. Sara set down her dessert, suddenly not hungry.
She tossed the rest in the trash and made her way upstairs to the loft area, which they had turned into a second living room. Needing a moment alone to process what the Witchblade had told her, she took a seat on the sofa and closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she saw Jim crouched in front of her, looking concerned. “What is it?”
“Babies are fine,” Sara began, “and I’m fine, I just –” she blew out a breath. “Wasn’t expecting to be meeting Blair’s mother tonight.”
“Naomi’s on her way?” Jim asked.
Sara nodded. “Jim, Blair didn’t tell her our new address – she got our old next-door neighbor to tell her.”
Jim swore. “Blair figured her continued silence meant she didn’t care anymore, so he decided to stop trying to contact her.”
“Contact who?” Blair stood at the top of the stairs, looking concerned.
“Fuck. How far out is she?”
Jim focused his hearing. “I hear a car slowing down, looking for a parking space.”
Blair ran down the stairs.
Grabbing his coat, Blair quickly put it on and stepped outside, hoping to intercept his mother. Blair saw she was exiting a taxi, a large tote in hand. It was raining, and Blair stepped into the protective shelter offered by the porch.
Naomi’s floral scarf was a bright contrast to the gray coat she wore. She made her way to where Blair waited.
“Blair!” Naomi quickened her steps until she reached her son and drew him into a hug. “Why didn’t you tell me you moved?”
“Hi, Mom. You didn’t answer my last call or email this time last year, so I didn’t think you wanted to know.” Instinctively, Blair sensed something was off about his mother, but could not figure out why he was recoiling so much, other than it had been more than a year since his last contact with his mother, and nine years since he had seen her.
“Don’t be silly; of course I wanted to know.” Naomi stepped back from the hug and looked at him expectantly. When Blair did not take the cue, she asked, “Well, aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“No,” Blair said firmly. “We’re having a party and you weren’t invited.”
“But I’m your mother,” Naomi tried.
Blair crossed his arms. “I can meet you tomorrow.”
“But I have no place to stay. I was hoping you would have room –“
“No, you cannot stay here with me.”
“But it’s a big house. Surely Jim will not have a problem if I just ask –“
“Jim is not the only one who would have a problem. Naomi. I said no. If you need money, I can give you cash for a motel, but I’m not letting you inside.”
“I don’t see what the problem is.” Naomi shook her head. “You’ve let me in your house lots of times before. Why, at the loft, you never changed where you hid the key! Imagine my surprise when I went to use it and it didn’t work anymore. Then the people living there were upset I woke them up. It’s only nine-thirty, hardly time to be asleep.”
He heard the door open and glanced over his shoulder to see Daryl Banks step out.
“Ms. Sandburg, can I offer you a ride to the Cascade Motor Inn?” Daryl said smoothly. To Blair, he said, “It’s on my way home. Thanks for the great party.”
Naomi blinked. “Do I know you?”
“Simon Banks is my father,” Daryl said easily. “Last time you saw me, I was still in high school. My car is right over here. Let me take your bag; we’ll get you a nice room, so you’ll be warm and dry tonight. You must have been traveling a long way to get here so late.” Smoothly, Daryl maneuvered Naomi into his car and off the porch, never letting her get a word in edgewise. He flashed Blair a thumb’s up as he maneuvered his car out of the parking space.
Blair took a deep breath and silently promised himself he would take Daryl out to dinner as a thank you. Stepping back inside, he found Rafe waiting for him, looking concerned.
“Upstairs with Sara,” Rafe told him. “She said if one of us could get your mother off the porch to do it.”
“Why?” Blair looked bewildered.
“Because you don’t need her drama,” Rafe replied. “And she’s always brought it, even considering the one time she wound up helping us.”
Blair sighed. “Thanks, Rafe.” Suspecting there was more to the story, but that Sara would let him know when she was ready, Blair let himself get back into the party. Sara and Jim came downstairs a brief time later, but the party mood was broken. Within the hour, the only guests left were Rafe, Matt, Steven, and Aubrey; Rajesh had caught a ride with another of his and Steven’s friends.
Sara had stationed herself on her favorite chair, which Matt had moved to the living room, claiming she needed to be holding court. Someone had set chairs up to flank Sara, and Jim and Blair took up their seats.
“Thanks for the breads,” Blair told Aubrey as she and Steven said their goodbyes. “They were delicious.”
“I bake as stress relief,” Aubrey said. “I’m so glad you liked them.”
“If she's going to be baking, I guess I will be hiking more,” Steven joked as he and Aubrey took their turns hugging Blair goodbye.
“You are more welcoming than I thought you’d be, and I’m so glad to get to know you,” Aubrey said to Sara. “May I get a hug?”
Sara chuckled and leaned in to give her one, which Aubrey returned.
Steven then took his turn. “Don’t have those babies too soon,” he teased Sara as he hugged her.
“Never fear,” Sara told him solemnly.
Jim studied Aubrey a moment before hugging her. “Welcome to the family, Aubrey; I think you’ll do just fine.”
Steven’s eyes widened at his brother’s words. “Damn it, now she will be scared off.”
Jim laughed. “Nope.” To Aubrey, he asked, “Are you?”
Aubrey grinned. “No. Thanks for the party. I take it we’ll see you on Christmas Day, too?”
Jim nodded. “We usually have an early dinner and exchange gifts with family and a few close friends. Don’t stress it if you weren’t expecting to buy anyone gifts.”
Matt chimed in, “Yeah, the first year I met this crew, Sara forgot to tell me they had a gift-exchanging tradition until right before we showed up. We were late because I wanted to pick up some decent beer.”
“Decent meaning local craft beer,” Sara translated, sneering a little. “What’s wrong with Budweiser?”
“Don’t get me started,” Matt wagged a finger at her. “We don’t have all night.”
“Hey, I liked it,” Blair offered.
“Thanks,” Aubrey said, relieved. “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Rafe and Matt.
“Oh, you’ll see us on Christmas,” Rafe assured her, “but it was good to meet you too.”
Taking the cue, Aubrey and Steven exited the house.
“Go home and be disgustingly cute somewhere else,” Sara told Rafe as he helped Matt with his coat.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to stay in case she comes back?” Matt asked “You’re like a sister, Pez, and Rafe is your work husband. I don’t know what all the story is with Naomi, but when you asked us if one of us could take her elsewhere, you looked like a cat whose tail got stepped on and you wanted to claw whoever did it to you.”
“Naomi’s not all that bad,” Blair tried. “She means well.”
Rafe rolled his eyes. “Blair, there’s ‘means well’ and then there’s your mother. What she did to you and Jim could have meant no one would trust neither of you to not run with scissors, let alone be police officers.”
“Good thing Simon and Joel were thinking ahead,” Jim reminded him.
“Well, that sounds awful,” Matt remarked.
“It was,” Blair agreed. “But that was years ago. Thanks for offering, Matt, but we can handle my mom.”
“I just didn’t feel up to facing her,” Sara claimed. “You know how I’m liable to say what I think.”
Matt chuckled. “One reason I like you.”
“Be safe going home,” Jim told them. “Rain’s getting harder out there.”
“I’m driving, so we’re good,” Rafe promised. “See you on Christmas.”
Rafe and Matt exchanged hugs with Sara, Blair, and Jim before leaving.
Alone, Blair turned to Sara. “What did you see?”
“Love, I know you see bad shit,” Blair coaxed. “How bad is it?”
“She has burned bridges with all her friends and has nowhere else to go,” Sara told him. “Daryl put her in the Cascade Motel, but once checkout time comes, she’ll be back here. I know your first instinct to let her stay here, but I don’t want her here.”
“Because she hurt you repeatedly,” Sara said firmly. “And I don’t want to give her the chance to do so again.”
“I also don’t want her here,” Jim added, and Blair’s face fell. Jim took Blair’s hand. “Chief, you remember how she was in the loft – cooking things I couldn’t eat, burning sage, letting people we didn’t know into the place like it was hers, and God knows what else. Even if I exclude how she gave Sid your dissertation without your permission, she repeatedly ignored boundaries most people wouldn’t have and then was hurt I demanded she respect them.”
“She might have changed,” Blair said hopefully, but his eyes caught sight of the way the Witchblade rippled on Sara’s wrist and he sighed. “Is she broke?”
“Close and she isn’t as well as she should be.” Sara closed her eyes, letting the vision fill her head, before she opened them and added, “A shaman she met in Vietnam told her she had a darkness scarring her heart and that she needed to be cleansed of it to be well. She assumed he meant the rift between you and her. She thinks all she has to do is sweep back into your life like she always has, without apologizing for anything she said to you about you being a cop, and you will forgive her, as you always have. It’s not enough to fix it.”
“But she’s my mother.”
“And I’m your girlfriend and the mother of your children,” Sara countered. “You won’t let me get away with hiding anything from you, because you believe in being open and honest. If I pulled the same shit on you, you wouldn’t let me get away with it. You’d demand I give you reasons for acting like your feelings, needs, and wants didn’t matter. Even then, you wouldn’t stay with me if I didn’t recognize how I hurt you. Why do you let your mother get away with running over you?”
Blair heaved a sigh. “Habit,” he admitted. He looked at Jim, remembering how many discussions they had had on this subject over the years. “Remind me again how many times I’ve made excuses for her?”
“Too many, Chief,” Jim said, shaking his head. “I’m with Sara on this: regardless of why she’s here, we’ve managed well without her.”
Blair looked away for a moment. “If this darkness you claim is something I can fix, do you want me to ignore it?”
Sara stepped closer and kissed him. “No. But it means you need to set limits with her, because I will, and I won’t be as kind or as gentle as you will be.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“It’s all the bad karma she’s accumulated over the years,” Sara said seriously. “It’s taking the form of illness.”
Grimacing, Blair noted, “She’ll have exhausted all other avenues for medical care before coming here, then. Probably pissed off a few friends along the way, too, for not considering Western medicine sooner.” He looked at Sara. “And something tells me there’s more.”
“Given how I only see glimpses of things at a time, I wouldn’t doubt it,” Sara replied.
Tactfully, Jim interjected, “I vote we clean up this party mess and get to sleep. If Naomi stays true to form, she’ll be here earlier than we want her to be.”
Nodding, Blair accepted the request.
As Jim predicted, Naomi returned early the next morning. Woken by the Witchblade, Sara snarled a curse as she sat up, which in turn woke her men, since she was in the middle and they each had put an arm across her body while she slept.
“What?” Blair asked blearily as he and Jim sat up.
Jim looked at Sara; the Witchblade was morphing, covering her nakedness with the green-and-silver metallic armor. “Naomi?” he guessed.
“Ten minutes away,” Sara agreed. She reached for Blair, taking his hand. “I know this is your mother, love, but the Witchblade tells me she poses a threat to us.”
Blair pressed his lips together in a thin line. He had never doubted the mystical bracelet’s power to see threats, but this was his mother. “You said she had a darkness in her. Are you suggesting we don’t let her in again?”
Sara shook her head. “As long as she doesn’t wind up taking up space in the guest bedroom.”
“Promise me you won’t hurt her?”
Sara met his gaze. “Under what conditions?”
Blair gaped at her. For a moment, he forgot she would ask for qualifiers, given her capabilities and experience. Sara had killed other people in the line of duty and would do so again without hesitation if someone threatened the people she had sworn to protect. Then he noted the Witchblade had morphed again, covering more of her body, as if to protect her from him. Blair interpreted the ‘blade’s actions as a silent reproach. Realizing he was being unfair, Blair bent his head and looked away briefly.
“Blair, I love you, but you can’t expect me not to protect myself, our children, you, or Jim,” Sara said gently as the Witchblade’s armor receded. “You’ve let your mother get away with a lot because she’s guilt-tripped you into thinking you’re wrong somehow. I won’t let her do that again, because that way leads us arguing over how much freedom we will allow her to have with our kids. That’s not an argument I want to have with you, because the Witchblade says she will take our kids places we don’t want them to go.”
“Given where she took you,” Jim added, “I’d prefer if we didn’t continue that as a tradition.”
Blair stared at Sara and Jim, hearing and seeing their certainty. “And it begins now?”
Blair took a deep breath. “Then we’d better get dressed.”
Though Jim could hear Naomi’s approach, he let her ring the doorbell instead of opening it in advance.
“Figure you might want a chance to talk to her alone first,” Jim told him, stopping in the loft area. Sara nodded her agreement.
“Thanks.” Blair nodded and headed downstairs. Before opening the door, he took a deep breath.
“Good morning,” Naomi greeted. “Will you let me in this time?”
Blair opened the door and let her enter. He hoped she would not comment on the décor, which reflected a strong practical, modern, and comfortable sensibility, since Sara and Jim had picked out all the furniture. Blair had softened it with artwork from local artists and a few of the tribal pieces he had collected over the years. Blair watched his mother take it all in, her eyes missing nothing. His police training meant he noted that she was scoping out the valuables, and he hated that reaction.
“Are you staying with a friend?” Naomi asked as she took a seat on the couch.
Blair debated telling her, then went with his gut. “No, a third of it is mine.”
Naomi looked surprised. “Really? I would have thought you would have avoided such a yuppie neighborhood.”
“Why, Mom?” Blair challenged, hearing the disdain in her voice. “Because I can’t afford it? News flash: I’ve been earning a good salary the last nine years as a special consultant to the Cascade PD.”
“I thought you would have moved on from that job already,” Naomi noted. “All that bad energy is so draining, don’t you think?”
Blair studied his mother, seeing gray in the roots of her hair that the henna dye had failed to hide, wrinkles in her face and neck, and a general weariness to her body. She looked as if she had been living on short rations and not enough sleep. Now he was looking, he could see the dark shadows tingeing her soul, the jagged edges where she had failed to mend the relationships that should have sustained her spirit. His shamanic power told Blair his mother’s illness was tied to those choices.
“Mom, why are you here? You’ve ignored every voicemail, every email, that I’ve sent, so I stopped trying to contact you a year ago. What do you need?”
“Need? Why, time with my favorite son!” Naomi exclaimed. Her hands fluttered as she spoke. “Sit down, Blair; you’re making me nervous the way you’re standing there. All that policework must have made you unreasonably suspicious. I’m your mother.”
“Mom, I’m your only son, and yes, I am suspicious. Nine years is the longest you’ve ever gone without contacting me. I just watched you figure out nothing in this living room is worth any money, and I’m remembering how you helped yourself to my food, rainy-day cash, and whatever else you needed when I shared the loft with Jim. Plus, you have yet to apologize for holding what I do for a living against me.”
Naomi looked aghast at that. “What, I can’t come and surprise you? And I don’t see how an apology will get you to stop being a part of the authority problem. I thought I raised you to be better than a damn cop.”
Blair raised an eyebrow at her vehemence. “Wow, and here I thought you believed me when I said I was working within the system to improve things.”
“I’ve seen the reports. You carry a gun just like the rest.”
Blair could see her refusal darkening her aura and realized she would not yield. “Naomi, get to the point. Please.”
“Fine, but you are not making me feel welcome. I came because I heard you weren’t with Jim anymore and I thought if you weren’t with him, then your girlfriend ought to meet me.”
“Why?” Blair crossed his arms. “Because she’s my girlfriend and not my boyfriend? Because one of your friends guilted you into remembering you have a son?”
Naomi stared at him. “Well, because you’re not with Jim. He colored your aura so badly. So much more happiness surrounds you now.”
Blair recoiled at her assumptions. “And because I’m happy you want to be back in my life? You’ve never cared to be in it before.”
“Because her retirement plans didn’t work the way she wanted them to,” Sara announced, her eyes on Naomi.
Blair looked over his shoulder, seeing his girlfriend step carefully down the stairs. She wore a loose tunic and leggings, but the tunic did not conceal her baby bump. The Witchblade had morphed to cover Sara’s right hand and forearm, strengthening her grip on the railing. When she stepped into the living room, the ‘blade morphed into knight’s gauntlet. Blair shivered, aware that when the ‘blade morphed like that, it was a heartbeat away from being a weapon, complete with sword.
“And you must be Sara,” Naomi said brightly, rising to greet her, then stopping when she saw how pregnant Sara was.
Deliberately, Sara rested her right hand on her belly, exposing the Witchblade. “You remember seeing this once, don’t you?”
Naomi stared at her and slowly shook her head, as if she could somehow deny the truth. “No, no, it can’t be.”
“You were in a field in upstate New York, partying with friends and strangers. You told the Wielder you thought it was a beautiful symbol of female power, that you had never seen a female knight.”
Blair watched as the Witchblade shifted, transforming Sara into the knight.
Naomi’s mouth fell open, one hand flying to her chest as she gasped and shook her head. “No…no, you can’t be. You aren’t her. You can’t be Elizabeth.”
Sara stepped closer. “No, but I am of the same bloodline, and I know what she knew. She told you that someday you’d meet the Wielder who would bring your son happiness, love beyond measure, friendship, and security. You laughed and told her you didn’t want a son. You wanted to travel, to love freely, to not be tied down like a mother. But out of that wild night of sex, drugs, and alcohol came Blair, and a thousand excuses not to be the mother he needed you to be. Because every time you look at him you remember the seventeen-year-old girl who ran away and got pregnant by someone who never even told you his name, let alone showed you his face. You were too busy having fun to care about names or faces.”
Naomi stared at her, horrorstruck. “How do you know?” she demanded. “Nobody knows that.”
“I’m the Wielder your son loves,” Sara told her, meeting her an arm’s length away. “And stop running, Naomi.” She reached out and touched Naomi’s shoulder with the Witchblade’s sword. “Stop letting the demon control you.”
Naomi screamed at the touch. To Blair’s shock, black mist appeared from his mother, and her face contorted with fury. The demon inhabiting Naomi reached for Sara, only to be blocked by its tentacles, Blair’s spirit wolf, and Jim’s panther. Snarling, furious, the demon tried another tactic.
“You are not worthy of the Witchblade,” the demon snarled.
“Since when?” Sara countered pleasantly. “You are not the determiner of such things. The Witchblade chooses and the Wielder agrees. We are the child of the Light and the Dark, and you are nothing but a dream stealer. You cannot have me and her both.”
The demon reached for her. Sara took the sword of the Witchblade and cut off its head, causing it to scream in pain as its essence was absorbed.
“Grab her!” Sara warned Blair. “And pray for her soul; it’s vulnerable.”
“God, please, protect my mother,” Blair said hastily as he grabbed Naomi before she could fall, and guided her safely to the ground. “Grant her the strength to heal, the wisdom to see the truth, and the courage to take the next step.” Blair knelt, his mother cradled in his arms, and checked her pulse. “Jim? Could you check? I think she’s out cold.”
Jim knelt beside him, checked her breathing and pulse, then stood and grabbed his phone. “911? Yes, my mother-in-law just fainted, and I think she’s had a stroke.”
Alarmed, Blair looked at Sara as the Witchblade morphed again, this time into its usual innocuous bracelet. “What the hell was that?”
“Something that glued itself to your mother before you were born,” Sara told him sadly.
“Is it gone?”
Sara nodded. “But it will take her time to recover.”
Naomi stirred just as the ambulance pulled up to the curb. “Blair?” she asked, confused. “Why are you here?”
“It’s okay, Mom, you passed out,” Blair reassured her.
Naomi blinked. “I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes fluttering as she tried to make sense of what was happening. She looked at Blair in wonder. “You are so strong,” she murmured. “So bright an aura. I’m so sorry I doubted you could be happy.” She gasped and closed her eyes.
“Mom! Mom, stay with me, please.”
Blair made room for the paramedics but held on to his mother’s hand.
“Who do we have here?” the lead paramedic asked, glancing at Blair.
“This is Naomi Sandburg, my mom. I’m Blair. She fainted and seems to have problems staying conscious.”
The paramedic took her vitals and tried to get Naomi to respond before nodding to his partner. “We need to get her transported now to Cascade General. How old is she?”
“56. She has no allergies I know of,” Blair said. He glanced at Sara before adding, “And I don’t know what she might have been exposed to before coming over to see us this morning. She was not herself when she arrived.”
The paramedic nodded his thanks before using a backboard to transport her onto a gurney and into the ambulance.
It was a long, anxious wait in the hospital ER. Finally, a man wearing the white coat of a doctor appeared. He was an older man, broadly built, with a no-nonsense attitude, and the stereotypical features of someone from Northern India. “Blair Sandburg? I’m Dr. Patel. Come with me and we’ll go over what’s happening to your mother.”
“Is it okay if my boyfriend comes with me?” Blair asked anxiously. Sara, unwilling to test the theory that the Witchblade would protect her from the miasma of illnesses present in a typical ER, had stayed home.
“Of course,” the doctor said, and led the way to a family conference room off the main ER lobby.
Once everyone was seated, Dr. Tolliver said, “I’m Dr. Benjamin Patel, the chief of emergency medicine here at Cascade General. Who do you have with you, Mr. Sandburg?”
“Please, call me Blair, and this is my boyfriend, Jim Ellison.” Blair saw the Ellison name register on the other man’s face and hoped it did not mean the doctor was reading dollar signs. “How is my mother?”
“Your mother is stable for now,” Dr. Patel said. “She had a stroke. She’s underweight and her iron levels are low. We must keep her for a few days to make sure she still is stable. Has she been dieting?”
“I don’t know,” Blair said. “I haven’t seen in her nine years, and she’s been erratic in answering any email or voice messages. She teaches yoga all over the world, so she’s always been a big proponent about making sure what goes into her body is pure.”
“Is she vegan or vegetarian?”
“Mostly vegetarian,” Blair admitted. “But she makes exceptions for sustainably harvested fish and chicken eggs.”
“I see,” Dr. Patel said. “Blair, your mother is severely malnourished. Do you know if she has been eating consistently?”
Blair shook his head. “Like I said, we haven’t talked in several years. I’m a special consultant to the Cascade PD. Naomi’s one of the original hippies; she and I had a falling out over whether I had, in her words, ‘compromised my immortal soul by consorting with the pigs.’” He grimaced at the memory. “I tried to tell her I was working on changing the culture from the inside, but we argued, and she’s stayed away. The last place I knew she was headed to was Thailand, but that was nine years ago.”
Nodding his understanding, Dr. Patel said briskly, “Thanks for the information. She’s being transferred to ICU now; if you check with the nurse in ICU, she can tell you which room.”
Over the next two weeks, Naomi’s condition improved, but she had residual issues with her balance, speech, and memory. After discussions with her doctors, Blair moved her into an assisted living facility.
“You never come back from seeing her looking like it does you any favors,” Sara noted one Sunday afternoon in late January. “How did the doctor appointment go today?”
Blair offered her a wry smile as he took a seat on the couch next to her. “Naomi won’t live on her own again. She forgets things and wanders off in the middle of conversations.” Blair took a deep breath and shook his head. “She had a good day today, but the spirits tell me the damage the demon did to her is permanent.” He shrugged. “Not that I was dreaming of her playing grandma but realizing it won’t happen….” He heaved a sigh. “Nothing like figuring out a part of you hoped it would.” He shook his head. “Let’s talk about something else?”
Sara kissed him. “Did you want to finish painting the nursery this afternoon or wait until Jim gets back from visiting Sally?”
Grateful for the change of subject, Blair considered the idea. “Depends. Are you in a hurry to smell paint fumes?”
Sara laughed. “No, but if we make it an excuse to have people over, then it might actually get done before March. You do better if we have a house full of people.”
“You want to call it a combination baby shower and paint party?” Blair asked.
Sara shrugged. “Might as well. You know how much I hate shopping.”
Blair leaned in and kissed her. “I’ll send the email invites then.”
One more chapter to go! Thanks to everyone who's been reading so far.
Sara woke abruptly, the Witchblade for once choosing to wake her gently instead of its usual screaming visions. She let her eyes adjust to the darkness of the bedroom she shared with Jim and Blair. She saw their spirit animals stood alert and waited expectantly, staring at something only they could see. Realizing they were waiting for the spirit animals of her children to be born, Sara swore. Instinctively, she knew this birth was not going to go as planned.
Rising carefully, Sara made her way over to the bathroom, certain she was only a few minutes away from her water breaking and unwilling to make a mess in the bed. Her curse as she soaked the bathroom floor woke Jim, who woke Blair.
Jim rushed into the bathroom. “Your water broke,” he deduced.
“And I’m about to give birth,” Sara snapped. “Your kids aren’t going to wait for –“ She lost her breath as the first contraction hit.
Lucas Ellison-Sandburg was born on the bathroom floor of his parents’ house. His parents would later joke he was too impatient to wait to be born in a proper hospital like his sister, Abigail. Neither Jim nor Blair were surprised to learn Abigail had inherited her father’s Sentinel genes or that her first guide was her brother. Much to Sara’s relief, the Witchblade remained with her after her pregnancy, and seemed content to stay with her. It told her the next Wielder would come when she was ready to pass on the legacy, that she could choose to give it to her daughter or let it go to someone else who carried the same bloodline. Unwilling to think of that time, Sara focused instead on the joy present in her life. She was the Wielder, a detective, a mother, and loved by a Sentinel and a Guide. Cascade was not a city in flames, unable to stem a tide of crime. For the first time in years, Sara could look at her life and feel complete.
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did writing it. Please let me know what you think! :-)