Author's webpage: http://nternettrash.com/users/livia/brighid/brighid.htm
Author's disclaimer: Not mine -- not for profit. I make no claims.
He awoke to the sound of rain and the muffled throb of his mother weeping. At ten, he was well acquainted with the sound of it, the shuddering hitch and low moan of her sorrow. She never cried in front of him, but it filled his world, his nights: the smell of salt and the sourness of despair. Over and above it came his father's voice, a sharp, angry hiss, telling her to shut-up, to just shut-up, to shut her goddamned mouth, would she just shut up.
His fists balled in his airplane sheets, twisted them out of the neat hospital corners that Sally had made, and he shut his eyes against the darkness inside and out, but he couldn't stop the noise, couldn't stop it, it tore into him and twisted him up inside. At last, he could stand it no longer and he flung himself from his bed, ran down the hall to make them stop, to make them quiet, so that he might sleep in peace for once. He did not hear his little brother slip out behind him, follow him to their parent's room.
He burst through the door, stripling body hard and uncompromising against the cold wood. He was so intent, so focused on the sourness and salt of his mother's despair that he failed to notice the three other men in the wide master suite, did not catalogue their heartbeats, fast and frantic. He turned only when one swore loud and long, when his father turned the lash of his voice on him.
"Goddamn it, Jimmy!" merged with "No fucking way! No fucking way! You said they'd be out, just the kids, in and out, no witnesses!" merged with "Shut the fuck up, Ray!" and then the roar of a discharging gun, the sound of bullets hitting flesh, tearing through, impossibly loud in his ears. He saw his father jerk, twitch back, his handsome face distorted in rage and pain, saw bright crimson flare in the centre of his mother's smooth white forehead. It was a deeper red than he'd ever seen before, it pulled him into the very heart of itself, to the point where the angry voices faded to nothing, the smell of smoke and sweat and blood was lost, even the floor faded out beneath him. Once, briefly, he thought he heard Stephen whimper, "Jimmy?" but he couldn't respond, he was lost in the bloom of red on his mother's face. Everything was red, and he was nothing at all.
Blair Sandburg leaned his face into his hands and wished, for the hundredth time that day, that he didn't have to share his office with a complete and utter moron. He'd been at EllisonCorp for three months, and every week Pierre Reynard had managed to astound him with new levels of ignorance, crudity and bigotry. Today, Pierre was exercising him homophobia, and while a part of Blair just longed to stand up, walk over and slip the other man a kiss he'd never forget, another, more prudent part of him kept himself firmly in his own seat, working on the project he'd been assigned. If he were lucky, he'd get his preliminary research done, and be able to leave before lunch. Maybe he could go spend the afternoon on the local reserve he was working with, talking to the Elder's, helping to decode the web of stories that were the foundation of the land claim that was holding up a major property development that EllisonCorp had planned.
Pierre was the Chief Project Engineer, another contract employee, and Blair thanked God every day that someone, somewhere, had possessed the brains to bring in an anthropologist to work with the Band, rather than letting this man get anywhere near them. Visions of another Oka danced in his head every time the transplanted French Canadian opened his mouth.
Right now, however, he was happily expanding upon his theories about why it was morally wrong for the single most powerful organization in the western United States to be run by a "fag and a cripple". Finally, Blair could stand no more. "Why the hell do you work here, then?" he demanded, shutting down his computer and standing up. "I mean, you knew when they hired you that James Ellison was gay and Stephen Ellison was a paraplegic -- what the hell were you thinking, man?"
Pierre shrugged. "Their money is as green as anyone else's, and hey, it's not like I have to look at them. It's just disgusting! Tabernac! Ellison flaunts himself, brings pretty boys to company, society, even political events. Shit, the way the faggot gets around, the parties he goes to, it's a wonder the company isn't run into the ground. The crip, he must have a good head on his shoulders, to make up for nothing down below, eh?" He turned back to the Doom game holding on his computer. "So, Sandburg," and the emphasis on his name was not lost on Blair, "are you going down to the reserve again, to smoke the peace pipe with the Indians?"
"Something like that, Reynard," Blair agreed, going to retrieve his coat from the rack in the corner. "Except, it's more like tea with a bunch of little old ladies, and they happen to be Native Americans, not Indians ... unless, of course, they specifically ask to be called Indians."
"How very politically correct of you," Pierre said drily. "But that is to be expected of you, non? You minorities stick together, it is all the same!" He flicked an assessing glance over the younger man, taking in his long hair and earrings and woven vest. Something ugly flickered beneath the cool gray of the engineer's gaze, at once chilling and igniting Sandburg.
"Yeah, well, somebody's got to stand up against the asshole majority," Blair retorted, throwing caution and good intentions to the wind. "Listen, Reynard, you've got your views and that's your right, but I don't want to hear anymore shit out of you, all right? We're stuck with each other for the time being, so I suggest we just keep all conversation on the job and off our personal belief systems. I'm here on contract, just like you, and I'll be out once this thing is settled, one way or the other. Okay, man?"
Reynard shrugged, seemingly immersed in his game. "Whatever, Sandburg. Wouldn't want you filling out a grievance against me or anything for exercising my freedom of speech."
Blair sighed at the back of the blonde head, made an abortive hand gesture that might have been despairing or vulgar or both, and left the office in search of better company.
The ballroom was packed with everyone who was anyone in Cascade for the Country Club Ladies' Auxiliary Charity Ball. Sleekly coiffed matrons circled like genteel sharks, trying to encourage large donations out of well-heeled guests, all in the name of the Grace Women's Shelter, the charity their committee had selected to sponsor for this year's endeavours. None were currently circling either of the Ellison brothers, despite the almost legendary proportions of their personal wealth. The fact that they had donated the sprawling house, lands and state-of-the-art security system at the shelter's founding rendered them safe enough at this function, and allowed the brothers to sit back and watch the crowd.
"Jesus, Sparky, Attila's in rare form tonight," Jim Ellison drawled quietly, watching one matron, Agatha "Attila" Attenborough, go after one of the local basketball stars who'd reportedly just negotiated a multi-million dollar deal. Jim watched in amusement as the athlete tried to evade the advances of the sixty-something Rainier Properties dowager, knowing exactly what it was like to have Agnes on one's trail. Tall and sculpted on Grecian lines and openly gay, Jim Ellison was both the delight and despair of the society mamas of Cascade. Stephen was a shorter, darker version of his brother, bulkier in the arms and shoulders from a lifetime of compensating for his useless hips and legs. "She'll have Tyrell turning his head and coughing up his signing bonus in no time!"
Stephen Ellison choked on the goblet of water he had been in the middle of draining. He shot a dark glance at his older brother and reached for the napkin Jim was already holding out to him. "You timed that, didn't you?" he accused, only to be answered by the soft "heheheheh" of his brother's laugh and theatrically raised eyebrows. "You are such an asshole, brother mine. Speaking of assholes," Stephen continued, dropping his voice so that only his brother could hear, "where's Eric?" He made a point of dabbing water off his lap and the seat of his wheelchair, but watched his brother's reaction out of the corner of his eye.
Jim made a dismissive gesture. "Eric was given a new Mercedes and an invitation to the world, Sparky. He was getting ... demanding." He shrugged. "I have other commitments, and I don't like my diversions getting mixed into my commitments." He turned his attention back to the room, carefully avoiding his brother's eyes, the sadness and the pity that he knew they harboured. Stephen may have been the one in a wheelchair, but if asked, he would say that Jim was the one crippled by their past.
"I had thought Eric was more than just a diversion. I thought it was looking like true love, forever and ever and all that," Stephen said. "And your commitment ... Jim, that's a choice you made almost fifteen years ago, something you took on to try and exonerate yourself for something nobody but you has ever blamed you for. You can give it a rest, brother mine. You can let it go. The only thing holding you to it is your own sense of guilt, and Jesus, James, it's time you let that go. Please." He reached out and laid a hand on the dark sleeve of his brother's tuxedo jacket.
Jim turned to his brother, his blue eyes dark with memory. "It's not that easy, Stephen. It's just not that easy. But I appreciate what you're saying, I do. You were the only gift I've ever gotten that meant anything, don't you forget that, all right? And what's with all the matchmaker crap, Sparky? One minute you're calling Eric an asshole and the next you're trying to set me up for matching rings?" The laughter in his voice did not touch the shadows in his eyes, and Stephen bit back a sigh. Instead, he simply shrugged his broad shoulders and pulled at his brother's right ear, tugging the small diamond stud it sported.
"Everyone's in-laws are assholes, Jim. I figured Eric was just getting into the role early," he said drily. Jim laughed, and this time it reached is eyes, rendering his face incandescent. "So, since you're footloose and fancy free, are you going to let Agatha make you dance with the out-of-town money? Cha-cha with some of the blushing debutantes?"
Jim shuddered eloquently. "I don't think so, Sparky. I've eaten their rubber chicken and bad fois gras and kissed up to everyone I was asked to. I've got things to attend to this evening." He stood, throwing his napkin down on the table. "You, however, are about to be raided by Attila!" he said quietly, leaning down and patting his brother's shoulder. "I can smell her exclusive perfume about fifteen feet behind us, and getting closer!" With a grin and a wave he left the table and made his way to the cloakroom to reclaim his overcoat.
Once out of his brother's sight, he disappeared into the first darkened alcove he could find and sank down along the wall, thumbs digging furiously into his temples. His senses had been getting worse and worse the last few weeks, to the point that he had almost no control whatsoever. The noise and smells of the ballroom had him fatigued and nauseated, with a head like the fourth day of a three-day pass. At this rate he'd have to give up patrolling, because even the darkened streets of Cascade could overwhelm his fragile hold. A sudden stereo, the slash of headlights could leave him slack jawed and dazed, or even worse, in a strange fugue state that left him utterly at the mercy of the ones he hunted.
"Get a grip, Jimmy," he grated, using the voice of his father, pressing his fingers cruelly against his aching eyes. A series of slow, deep breaths and the iron will that had controlled these senses, kept them in check as they grew increasingly unruly the last few months, reinstated itself. A moment or two later, he stood and resumed his journey to the cloakroom, even managing to flirt with the handsome young clerk who retrieved his overcoat. Jim Ellison, playboy billionaire, never missed a chance to flirt with a pretty boy, because that was as much a part of what he was as anything else. Casual, facile, charming, a little arrogant: these allowed him to move undetected in their midst, allowed him to be more than they ever expected.
It was the only victory he'd ever had.
Benny's was mellow for a Friday night, the Irish band in the loft playing something soft, most of the patrons tucked in cubbyhole booths or huddled around tables, lost in private conversations. It was the third Friday of the month, and the campus pub had been pretty much taken over by the Rainier GALA. It was a diverse crowd, to say the least, spanning undergraduates to faculty, and pretty much every colour the rainbow had to offer. It was also a noisy, friendly group of old friends; Blair let himself sink into a booth with a grateful sigh.
"Rough week, hon?" the girl he sat next to asked sympathetically, sliding her beer over so he could take a swig.
Blair shook his head, passed the beer back. "Same as last week, Mags. Pierre the pisser. I may just have to kill him. I mean, kissing him would shut him up and everything, but killing him would be just so much more satisfying at a gut level," Blair replied cheerfully. "And I wouldn't have to scrub my lips off, after, and become celibate."
Maggie spluttered and her girlfriend Kyrie had to whack her a few times before she could start breathing again. "Somehow, 'celibacy' and 'Sandburg' just don't go together," she managed at last.
"You should talk," Blair chided, flagging down a waitress, ordering a bottle of Canterbury dark ale. "I hear the women's swim team posts pictures of you in their lockers." This time Kyrie whacked him. "Hey, hey, ow. Stop with the hitting already. Sheesh. Where were you when she was maligning me?" he demanded, rubbing the back of his head.
Kyrie shrugged, her strawberry-blonde ponytail bobbing prettily. "I don't have to go home with you," she explained. "Seriously, why don't you file a grievance against the asshole? I should think EllisonCorp would be the place where you'd be safe doing that."
"Not worth my time, and besides, I'm not sure if it'd make things better or worse," Blair mused. "Reynard's the kind of guy who could escalate, you know? I'm out of there within the next week or two, way things are looking. I don't want to start something I can't finish, and leave the s.o.b. primed to go off on some other poor schmuck." He handed the waitress a folded bill, waved off change, and proceeded to take a deep swig right out of the bottle. "He's a pretty fucked-up guy. Scares me, a little."
Kyrie and Maggie exchanged looks, shrugged. "Whatever, Sandburg," Maggie said at last. "Hey, any word on the full-time teaching gig?"
Sandburg leaned back into the faux leather booth and snorted. "Yeah. Word is Howell is getting it, and the tenure track, because she does a hell of a lot more than just polish Reardon's apples. Apparently my tits just aren't perky enough for him." He cupped his chest, looking down appraisingly. "I dunno. I think I'm holding up pretty good for twenty-eight, don't you?"
Kyrie just whacked him again. "You are such a dick."
"Like you'd know," he taunted, fishing into the peanut bowl.
It was Maggie's turn to snort. "Heh. Just because I don't post in the saddle doesn't mean I can't recognize horseshit," she said blightingly. "And how the hell did you hear about Howell?"
Blair took another swig of his beer, waggled his eyebrows, and leaned into a nice bit of faculty gossip, letting all the bullshit slide away for a couple of hours.
The night was dark, which he liked; something about the shadows honed his senses, made them more refined and focused. Ever since he'd come back online in the Buddhist retreat at twenty-two, he'd had to struggle with his heightened abilities, something he'd never had to do as a child. But at night, out on the streets, they just seemed to slide into place, work smoothly.
Tonight he was hunting along the edge of Rainier campus. Three women had been assaulted, and while security had been stepped up slightly, the Administration had been afraid of bad press, and was doing its damnedest to suppress the incidents. Rainier couldn't be the Jewel of the Northwest if women were getting hauled into the greenery and raped, now could it?
He snorted angrily at the price the University was willing to pay for a good name. They were, in many ways, no different than the man who was preying on the students: power was everything, and the violation of these women meant little or nothing at all. Checking the fastenings on his body armour, ensuring that his cowl covered his face, he rappelled quietly up the clock tower, the best vantage point from which to stretch his senses out over the campus.
Sometimes he felt ridiculous in this get-up, like something out of a cartoon, but Sally and Stephen had insisted when they found out what he was up to; almost ten years ago, now, come to think of it. Besides, the armour and mask gave him an additional psychological advantage over those he hunted. Over the years, his urban myth had grown, built up a mystique that sometimes managed to do his job for him. A hint of shadow, a flutter that looked like a cape, and the indecisive mugger or thief would sometimes turn tail and run.
And the armour was nice, since more and more criminals carried guns these days. He was, after all, an-all-too human vigilante, not some otherworldly super-human. He was well trained in several martial arts, had the best technology money could buy, not to mention the sensory advantage, but he still bled red.
His thoughts stuttered on the edge of 'red', losing his concentration in a sudden memory of blooming scarlet. He trembled, felt his senses spiking wildly as he remembered the smooth, white expanse of his mother's forehead exploding into sudden, violent crimson. Everything flared up on him: sound, sight, taste, smell, touch -- all overwhelmed him until he felt himself sliding into the strange fugue state that had begun to claim him with increasing frequency over the last few months; despite the sickening awareness of the coming trance, he could do nothing to snap out of it, and he knew with almost fatalistic certainty that this, then, was the end of it all, that he had been waiting for this, and a part of him almost welcomed it as a release. He knew that this time, there would be no waking.
"Aw, fuck, man, you so do not want to do this!" sliced across his hearing, snapped everything back into sharp focus. He shuddered and started, the distant voice pulling him aware and online more clearly than he had been in months. Years, even. He lifted his head, listening, scenting the air. The voice came again, along with the smells of dark beer and amber and slightly sour, fear-tainted sweat.
"Christ, Reynard, what the hell did I ever do to you?"
Ellison flicked a small switch on his gauntlet, sending a hook and line over to the nearest roof, and began winging his way over to the source of the disturbance.
Blair Sandburg couldn't believe his fucking lousy luck. Halfway down the block from Benny's on the way to his car, he'd walked into a sudden line of shoulders. That was bad enough.
It got exponentially worse when a figure disengaged from the wall of shadows, and called him by name. "Well, hello, Sand-burg," and Pierre Reynard was in his face, smiling. "How strange to be seeing you here. I thought it was queer night at the pub, not Jew night."
Blair shrugged, "Yeah, whatever, man. I've got stuff to do in the morning, all right?" He ducked his head down, tried to go around, but Reynard moved with him.
"Not so fast, not so fast! It's still early, and I often thought we should get a beer, talk over the project together, oui? Like you, I am there on contract, you know? What you find influences just how long my contract gets extended." He slipped a companionable arm around Blair's shoulders. "If this project goes south, I will be very unhappy. It is not smart to make me unhappy." There was a low rumble from the shadows. Blair glanced up, saw four or five largish men in hooded sweatshirts. He wondered, briefly, a bit giddily, when white sheets had gone out of style.
"Hey, listen, I'm just there to do a job. That's all. I've got nothing for you or against you, man, " and he wondered if he should cross his fingers, "so how about you just let me be on my way?"
Reynard tightened his hold on the smaller man. "I don't think so, Sand-burg. So tell me, are you a faggot and a Jew?" he asked, almost conversationally. "Are they doing all their affirmative action hiring by doubling up? Did you get the job by sucking the Big Man's cock?" His voice was slick and angry, and Blair knew with painful certainty that this was not going to end well.
"Aw, fuck, man, you so do not want to do this!" he cried out, shaking off Reynard, knowing he wasn't going to be able to bluff out of this, knowing he should have said something weeks ago to prevent this, hating himself just a little for his willful blindness. "Christ, Reynard, what the hell did I ever do to you?"
Reynard smiled down at him. "Nothing, Sandburg, and if you're smart, you won't be doing anything in the future. I have a family to feed, you see, and that job is more important than shit stories that mean nothing anymore, not in the real world." He leaned in, grabbed Blair's face hard enough to leave bruises. One of the shadows detached, came in behind Blair and delivered a series of sharp punches into the kidneys. Blair dropped, trying to huddle up, pull away from the pain. Reynard's shoe connected with the side of his head even as he did so, making him see stars. He braced himself, waiting for the next blow, but it never came.
Instead, there was a whoosh, several muffled thuds, and then Pierre Reynard came crashing to the ground beside him. Blair uncurled, looked up to see a tall, dark-garbed man standing over him, offering a hand. "Are you all right?" The voice was rough, sandpapery, a little curt.
Blair squinted up at his rescuer. The man standing over him, reaching down, probably should have looked ridiculous: sculptured body armour, like some sort of sexy storm-trooper, a hooded cape with mask, gauntlets and boots and a freaking utility belt, all in the mottled shades of darkness. He was, all in all, like something out of a comic book.
He was also, at the moment, the most beautiful thing Blair had ever seen, in no little part because of the unconscious Reynard and goons lying scattered on the sidewalk. It it didn't hurt so damned much to breathe, let alone move, he'd be kissing the man's boots. "Hey, I'd take the hand up, but I'd probably just puke on your cape," he offered weakly. A moment later his rescuer was crouched down beside him, going over him with intense thoroughness, the gloved fingers surprisingly gentle, even as they returned to his head, tilted it so that his eyes could be closely studied. At long last the other man released him.
"I don't think they've done any permanent damage, though you might piss blood for a couple of days," the stranger offered at last, easing Blair up into a sitting position. "Do you have a cell phone?" Blair pointed to his satchel, a few feet to the left, which the other man pulled over for him. "I'm going to restrain these punks while you call the police. Ask for Simon Banks; he prefers to handle my cases, and he's a decent man. He'll treat you with respect." He paused, touched the spreading bruise alongside the side of Blair's face. "Be careful, in future." His fingers lingered a moment, and his eyes met Blair's, impossibly bright and blue midst the shadows of his hooded face. "Call."
Blair nodded, fished blindly for his phone. By the time he'd found it and dialed 911, the men were bound with some sort of fishing line cuffs, and his rescuer had disappeared into the shadows that had seemingly created him.
Simon Banks, as it turned out, was the captain of Cascade's elite police unit, Major Crimes, and not just a beat cop with a heart of gold. A large, powerfully built man, he was nevertheless gentle with Blair, and insistent that the crime be treated as a hate crime, and pursued to the ends of the law on those grounds. "Nobody gets beat up for being different in my city," the older man insisted when Blair tried to convince him it was a simple assault. "If we don't name these things for what they are, the powers that be are only too happy to sweep them under the rug, and what happens the next time someone gets jumped because of his skin, or his God, or his lover?" He shook his head. "I'm a black man raising a black son in this world, and I'll be damned if I let intolerance win!"
Blair squinted up at him, still a little blind from the EMT's pupil check. "When you put it that way, I suppose you're right. It's gonna be my word against theirs, though. And that sucks."
Banks shook his head, and grinned broadly around an unlit cigar, pointing up into the trees overhead. "Not entirely, Mr. Sandburg. The campus is installing new security because of the recent assaults, and this is one of the trial spots -- we've got your attackers on video and audio. Along with your testimony, these assholes, pardon my language, should get what they have coming to them."
Blair peered up into the trees, following the line of Banks' finger. "Well, thank goodness for Big Brother," he said, a little drily. "Good thing I didn't need to take a leak on the way home, or pick my nose or anything, huh?"
Banks shrugged. "Yeah, I know. It's a different world than the one I grew up in, and there are definite drawbacks and concerns, but in this case, I think we should just choose to be grateful." He turned his attention back to the smaller man. "So, son, how does it feel to have the distinction of having been saved by the infamous Night Watch?"
Blair rubbed tentatively at his bruises. "Y'know, I'd read about him in the paper, little blurbs, but the reality is something different altogether. He was ... nice. Kind."
Banks snorted. "Not the usual response we get, except maybe from little kids. He's damned sweet with little kids. But otherwise, he's a pretty ill tempered bastard. You must've hit a soft spot with him."
Blair glanced back at the hidden cameras. "Hey, at least now you'll have video footage of the guy," he offered, but Banks only shook his head.
"Guy has jammers that mess up electronics. About two seconds before he appears, everything will have turned to static." He shrugged. "Officially, I condemn his actions and ask him to get off the streets, because Cascade is no place for vigilante justice. Unofficially, I thank God for him, because he's kept a lot of bad situations from getting worse. Saved a lot of lives. It's like he can smell trouble, and head it off." He shook his head again. "At any rate, son, we'll be calling you to go over your statement in the next day or two, but in the meanwhile, you should probably get checked out at the hospital. Because of the blow to the head, I'll have Detective Brown give you a lift in your car, with his partner following behind. It's on the way to the station," he said, forestalling any protest on Blair's part. "In future, might I suggest you avoid walking alone? It's not just something women have to worry about, you know."
Blair nodded tiredly, thanked Banks, and went off with the friendly, rather garrulous Detective Brown and his GQ partner, Detective Rafe.
It was only much later, when he was home, that Banks' words "smell trouble" hit him. He remembered the way the other man's fingers had searched him for injury, the odd focus of the blue gaze as he'd peered into his eyes, and something inside him made him get back out of bed, go padding through the loft and get his computer up and running. While Windows loaded, and he made threatening noises about installing Linux, he combed through his bookshelves until he found what he'd been looking for:
The Sentinels of Paraguay, by Sir Richard Burton. The gaze of the warrior on the front cover had the same, farseeing intensity of Night Watch's gaze, and Blair Sandburg knew with a frisson of excitement that he was on the verge of something incredibly important here. The memory of Night Watch's fingers on his face made him shiver in another way entirely.
Jim Ellison pulled the low-slung black sports car into the parking garage at the base of the hill where the Ellison mansion was built. Once inside he flipped a few discreet switches, and a pocketed door slid smoothly aside, revealing a long, low-lit tunnel. A few minutes more and he was well and truly under the hill and pulling into a wide, echoing cavern that the bay tides had hollowed out of the coast line years ago, when the waters had run higher. He'd found it by accident when he was a boy, and had found it useful when he was older and had a new purpose to direct his life.
Stephen was waiting for him when he got out of the car, his tuxedo exchanged for comfortable sweats. He had a glass of water and pain meds ready, but Jim waved him off. "Don't need 'em tonight, Sparky."
His brother eyed him with open scepticism. "Are we going back into self-flagellation mode? Because wheelchair or not, I can hold you down and make you take these, you know." He grinned. "I'll call Sally down."
Jim stripped off a gauntlet, ruffled his brother's hair affectionately. "No, really, I'm fine tonight, Stevie. Maybe the last few months have just been a fluke, you know? Too much stress, mid-life crisis, some sort of subliminal shit." He smiled down at his brother. "Do me a favour, will you Stevie? Set in motion terminating our contract with Pierre Reynard, the engineer in charge of the Raven Point Mall project. He got picked up for assaulting the anthropology professor we hired to investigate the land claims issue. Terms like "Jew" and "faggot" were used in a decidedly unprofessional manner, and completely contrary to EllisonCorp's harassment-free work policy. And it's on tape, in case you were wondering about this biting us on the ass later." He finished stripping off his 'uniform', until he stood there in nothing but the silk unitard he wore under the armour to keep his skin from chafing. It gleamed wetly, sleekly, almost otherworldly in the floodlights of the cavern. "And call Sandburg in, as well. I think it's about time we got some preliminary reports on his findings, don't you?"
His brother's snort of laughter was loud in the large, quiet space, but he didn't turn around, just kept on towards the showers. "Is he cute?" floated after him.
"Very," he called back, and he was rewarded by another snort from his younger brother.
Blair Sandburg arrived at work with a bruise-tinted rainbow spreading across his face and a hell of a caffeine-hangover headache, but he was happier than hell all the same. If he was right, oh, God, if he was right, he was sitting on the discovery of a lifetime. Words like 'tribal guardians' and 'genetic advantage' merged with the memory of Night Watch's gaze, touch, the several accounts of his actions in the online newspaper morgues. Smelled out crime, heard things at impossible distances, spotting weapons and threats in almost impossible circumstances.
Cascade had its own Sentinel.
He'd almost given up on them, certainly hadn't been able to do his doctorate in them, as he'd planned. But all the same, the fascination had lingered, and perhaps, finally, was about to come to fruition.
The message to head up to the big offices on his voice mail dampened his enthusiasm a little, though. Probably not the best day to schlub in wearing his UofR sweatshirt, but hell, it'd hurt to brush his hair, never mind pull clothes over his Technicolor body. He sighed, pulled himself together as well as he could, grabbed his data and headed for the secure elevator that went straight to the private offices of the Brothers Ellison.
Stephen Ellison was the one behind the desk; the older brother was sprawled casually on a couch, flipping through Blair's careful documentation. "So, you're saying that the geographical details in three of their stories are directly traceable to geographical features on the proposed construction site? That the place has significant spiritual and cultural value to them, and that, in your opinion, building there would create a long-lasting cultural breach and ongoing legal hassle?" The man was only a couple of years older than Blair, but between the suit and the desk and the wheelchair, he appeared to have a decade of advantage. His tone was precise, neither accusing nor condemning, but it didn't put Blair at ease, either. He got the distinct feeling the younger Ellison was studying him in detail, and making some sort of judgement.
"Yeah, I guess that would about summarize it. Given time, I could find more physical evidence to support their oral tradition, but to my mind, this is enough to start with," Blair agreed, trying to get comfortable in the big chair, but unable to do so because of his bruises. A sudden, light hand on his shoulder startled him; he turned to see the older Ellison standing behind him, a cushion in one hand.
"I thought this might help. The police contacted us early this morning about the assault, since they felt it was work-related and wished to ask questions about Reynard's presence and performance at EllisonCorp." With firm, yet insistent hands, he nudged Blair forward and positioned the cushion in just such a way so that it took the pressure off of Blair's bruises. "I do apologize that your work for us led you to these injuries, Professor Sandburg."
Blair shrugged. "It's not your fault."
Stephen Ellison shook his head. "It's not our fault, no, but still ... we like to provide a safe work environment for our employees, full-time or contract. We've contacted your insurance carrier, and any medical claims from this assault are now being handled by our insurance. It's the least we can do," he held up his hand. "Consider it a selfish ploy on our part to ward off a potential lawsuit, if it makes you feel better."
The older Ellison passed one of the documents he'd been perusing to his younger brother. "Notice the area marked in red, Stevie? I'd say Professor Sandburg has been sounding out alternatives for us. Am I right, Professor?" He smiled down at Blair, and something about the look made Blair's insides go liquid.
"Uh, yeah," he agreed, tugging self-consciously at his ponytail. "The area I circled seems free of conflict. You have clear title to it, and after three months of going through their oral tradition and consulting others who've studied their stories, the Elders and I can find no historical claim to it. I think building there would leave you in the clear, but I'm not an engineer and I don't know how viable the location is."
Stephen Ellison grunted. "Hmmm. We have some surveys, I think, that said this was an acceptable secondary site, but we'd have to get them re-done." He rubbed his eyes. "More money, more delays. Still, better to stay on good terms with the neighbours in this day and age. Good work, Professor Sandburg. Which brings me to our next item. After some discussion, we'd like to keep you on retainer. We deal frequently with indigenous peoples world-wide, and as things get more politically heated, it requires greater cultural sensitivity. An on-call expert, paid to be available, would be to our benefit. When we aren't actively utilizing your skills, we'd be happy to help fund your studies, as a gesture of goodwill towards yourself and Rainier." He smiled. "It looks good to the press, is good business, and helps us with our taxes. A win-win for us. What do you say, Professor Sandburg?"
Blair blinked. Fund his studies. Sentinel studies, perhaps? A small part of him wondered what his mother would say about selling his soul to corporate America, but Blair had seen enough of University politics to know this might be his only shot. "I'd say I'm honoured," Blair accepted, barely even hesitating.
James Ellison was standing beside him, smiling down at him. "Wonderful. How about I take you to an early lunch to celebrate, Professor, while my brother and his crack team of lawyers get the paperwork ready?" He held out his hand, offering the younger man help up in view of his injuries, but Blair hesitated, struck by a sudden wave of dj vu. A moment later, almost too late, he took the proffered hand and levered himself slowly up. He found himself tilting his head up slightly, staring up into impossibly bright, blue eyes. Something trembled on the edge of recognition between them, something Blair knew he had to follow or be lost.
"I could eat," he said, and their eyes locked and the handclasp lingered until Stephen Ellison made a slightly strangled noise from behind his desk. James Ellison's smile broadened slightly even as he let Blair's hand go.
"I think, Professor, that this is the beginning of a beautiful ... partnership," he said smoothly, and Blair felt an answering smile on his own face.
"I'm thinking that, myself," he said, and they left the room, almost oblivious to the soft splutters coming from the direction of Stephen Ellison. It sounded suspiciously like laughter.
End the first installment of the Night Watch Saga. Next: Switchman vs. Night Watch