Richard woke us up with his screaming that blustery morning. We’d all retired to bed after breakfast as we were all exhausted. I'd been up half the night with an aching back due to the baby kicking me, in turn which the boys felt. Christoph was out like a light and so was Richard. I sat up, startled, Christoph snatching at Richard's flailing arms to keep him from smacking me in the nose and me ducking out of the way at the last second. We’d all been on edge lately thanks to the feelings of unease Paul had started to experience a few days ago. He'd told us he could sense there was trouble on the wind but beyond that, he had no idea what was causing the uneasy feelings. "Richard! Wake up, what's wrong?" Christoph yelled, trapping his hands in his own and forcing Richard to look at him. "Baby, tell me what's wrong."
"It's... Khira Li needs me, she’s in trouble!" Richard gasped, white-faced and scared out of his skin. "She's in trouble, I know she is! If they catch her, they'll take her away and experiment on her and it'll kill me, they can't have her!"
Struggling to get free of the grip Christoph had on him, Richard half pulled himself out of bed, obviously intent on bursting out of the apartment and off to rescue his daughter without having a clue as to where she was or if his nightmare had any basis in reality. I swore mightily and grabbed Richard's ankle, grip sliding around on his sweaty skin. "Richard! Reesh! Hang on there, are you sure it wasn't a nightmare? And who are ‘they’?" I yelled, trying to get through to him. He was wide eyed and obviously not thinking; he stared at me like I'd just suggested he jump off the roof to see if he could fly.
"It wasn't a fucking nightmare, Lilly!" Richard snapped, twisting around and trying to bite Christoph's hands to make him let go. "My little girl is in trouble, I have to go help her! Goddamn you Schneider, let go of me!"
Christoph shook his head, sending his curls flying and renewed his grip on Richard's hands. "Let me see! Who's following Khira Li? Damn it Richard, let me see what you saw or you aren't going anywhere!" I could see nothing was getting through Richard's rage and fright, so I closed my eyes and found Ollie. At the moment, he was our only chance of keeping Richard from going absolutely around the bend, what with Till far away on a vacation in the northern part of Montana for a couple of weeks, too far away for any of us to reach him through our bond.
::Ollie, I need your help!:: I shouted, startling him out of whatever he was doing. ::Reesh is having a major freak out and Chris and I can't get him under control. He's had a nightmare and swears Khira Li is in trouble!::
::Shit!:: Ollie replied, throwing all of his strength into the bond and clamping down on Richard's panicky mind. ::Richard! Stop it or you're going to make yourself sick! You can't help your daughter if you're having your final freak out!::
Richard's reply was a mental scream of blind rage and paternal grief. He railed against the three of us, managing to bite Christoph's right hand almost to the bone, making it immediately swell and bruise, and kicked me in the shoulder before Ollie slammed his will down and flattened Richard to the bed. Eyes wide, wet and terrified, he stared up at Christoph and me, gasping and trying to speak but not being able to do more than breathe. Ollie wasn't going to let up on him until one of us said the word, and I knew Ollie would be more than able to keep Richard out of commission for several minutes without straining himself too much. Christoph had let go of Richard by this point, cradling his injured hand to his chest, growling "You'd better hope nothing important in my hand is broken because if there is, something important in both of your hands is going to get broken."
"Let...let me up. Please," Richard begged in a broken, small voice. I could feel the old panic rising in his veins; I nodded to Christoph who told Ollie to let Richard go. I laid my hand on my beloved's forehead and murmured, "Please, sweetie, if you won't show Chris or me, let Ollie see what you saw. Okay?" He nodded, and a moment later Ollie said, ::That wasn't a nightmare, Khira Li is being followed by some folks that ping my bad-guy radar. Do you need back up? I stopped at Paul’s house earlier and we came into the city for that Jackson Pollack exhibition at the Aviary. He’s with me, we’re about five minutes away.::
::Yes, and hurry:: Christoph said, scrambling out of bed and running to the spare bedroom where he kept his clothes. I made a less graceful exit and was digging through my clothes when Richard stopped me. "You can't go, you're a couple of months away from having the baby. You’re in no condition to go running all over Berlin like a madwoman!"
"Like hell I can't," I growled, shoving Richard away and towards his closet. “Don’t piss a pregnant woman off, else you want to sleep out on the balcony.” I was pulling on my jeans when I heard the cats leaping out of their perches in the living room window.
::Mum, Da? Doomie?:: said Fiona as she rushed into the bedroom, Marley hot on her heels. ::What’s wrong?::
The girls were almost fully grown by now, both of them as big as a pureblood Bengal cat, and fluffy as clouds. They leaped onto the bed, eyes wide and upset, and were growing softly under their breath. ::Is it the baby?:: Marley asked, putting her paws on my stomach.
“No, Khira Li is in trouble and we have to go to her,” Richard said, stopping in pulling his clothes on long enough to give them both gentle pats on the head. “Can you ladies hold down the fort here? And be ready to run if we have to find somewhere else safe?”
Both of the cats nodded, solemnly. Marley folded herself into a sphinx position, slitting her brilliant eyes. ::Let someone try to get in here and they’ll get one hell of a shock:: she purred.
Fiona sneezed and said, ::Oh yeah. Ask the dog in 441 about sticking one’s nose where it’s not welcome::
I shook my head as I stuffed my feet into my sneakers and snorted, “Do I need to know why the dog in 441 learned that he doesn’t tangle with you two? You didn’t sneak out of the house, did you?”
::Nope:: Marley replied, mental voice as smug as it could be. ::And don’t ask. Better hurry, Ollie and Paul aren’t far way::
Richard was leaning on the doorframe, eyes shut as he tried to pinpoint where Khira Li was. Slipping under his arm, I let him lean on me and followed him along the link he had with his daughter. All we found was mental static for long, long moments, even with Christoph lending us all the strength he had. We were close to giving up when Khira Li screamed ::Daddy! Vati! Help!::
::Where are you, baby girl?:: Richard called, struggling to remain as calm as he could. A swift vision of trees swaying in the breeze, the scent of freshly-turned earth, flowers and coffee hit me like a hammer. Christoph caught it as well and said, “She’s a couple blocks over from here, I think she’s outside Bell’s Flowers.”
::Yes, I’m right outside Bell’s Flowers:: Khira Li confirmed, panic and anger making the bond taste like iron and wet salt. ::There’s these two assholes that’ve been dogging me for a couple of weeks looking for me. I’ve seen them outside my office, just watching me, and yesterday they followed me to my car but never got close. I can’t seem to shake them, and I can’t seem to get a bead on them psychically. Hurry, Daddy!::
::If you’re hiding, stay put:: Christoph said as we ran down the four flights of stairs to the ground floor rather than wait for the elevator. ::If you're out in the open, if you can lose them in a crowd, even better. We’re on our way, so’s Ollie and Paul.:: Khira Li’s relief was almost palpable; I felt her press her spine against the cool brick of a building as she said, ::There’s an alleyway between the flower shop and the shop next door. I’m there, I'm hiding behind the half-wall that comes out of the flower shop. I’m going to close myself away as much as I can just in case they can hear me::
Richard swore under his breath and took off running like a racehorse, leaving Christoph and I to tag along. We met Ollie and Paul at the corner; they looked winded and angrier than I’d ever seen them. Paul’s grey-blue eyes were shimmering slightly; he was looking as far into the future as he could and still maneuver. He said, “We’ve got only a minute to find Khira Li before whoever is chasing her does. Come on, there’s a short cut through this alleyway.” Without waiting for us, Paul took off, quick as a cat, Ollie hot on his heels. Christoph was right behind them, leaving me to trot along at the rear.
I didn't mind; all that blinding rage coming from the four men was starting to give me a headache and make Isabel move uneasily inside me. I laid my hand on my stomach as I ran and muttered, “Don't poke me so much, kid, I'd hate to pee my pants right in the middle of a good fight.” She settled at last, and I put on a burst of speed that brought me to the mouth of the alleyway and almost crashing into Richard, who was standing stock-still, hands clenched into fists. He looked at me over his shoulder and I stepped back a foot, seeing that his eyes were purely black from corner to corner. There was nothing human in those eyes any more, and I could feel his necromantic gift straining to be set free. There was a slight smile on his face, the pale flash of a fang bright in the shadows.
“Christoph, stay with Lilly, please,” he said softly, not waiting to see if Christoph had done as he'd asked before he moved out of the alleyway and stole up the street, ducking down the alleyway between the florist’s shop and the coffee shop. Ollie and Paul were nowhere to be seen and when I asked Christoph where they were, he shook his head. “I don't know. They pulled ahead of Reesh and I just as we came out of the alley. They could be anywhere.”
::Reesh, Chris, we've found Khira Li:: Paul said. ::There's two blokes at the mouth of the alley by the florist's, Ollie and I came up the back. Don't come any closer, we can get out of here without being seen::
::No:: Richard replied, mental voice as cold as ice and hard as steel. ::Nobody tries to hurt my baby girl and gets away with it. Alive::
::Richard, get a grip on yourself, now!:: Ollie snapped. ::I know what you're wanting to do but you'd better not. Walk away from this and we'll deal with those idiots later. If you don’t, there will be hell to pay::
::I DON'T CARE!:: Richard shrieked, almost deafening all of us. ::I'm fucking tired of hiding! I'm tired of everyone and his brother wanting a piece of our hides because we're not human! This is going to stop, and stop now!::
By now Christoph and I had found the back of the alley Khira Li was hiding in. I spotted Ollie and Paul hiding in the shadows behind a half wall, Khira Li tucked in between them. She was terrified but hiding it well; indignation and anger was coming off of her in waves. She looked in our direction and shook her head, trying to tell us to stay back. Christoph dragged me behind a dumpster, the stench coming from inside making us catch our breaths and gag. “You take me to the most interesting places,” I said snarkily. “For the love of small creatures, Christoph, you don't have to hover over me like a mother hen, I'm fine!”
“Hush, woman, it's not you I'm worried about, it's Richard. He's so blind-angry right now, he might end up taking us all out instead of those two guys up the alley!” Christoph hissed at me, peering around the side of the dumpster. I heard the sound of three pairs of feet running softly towards us; Khira Li ducked around Christoph, Paul and Ollie hot on her heels. “Vati isn't listening to anyone,” she growled, dashing tears out of her eyes. “He's talking to the guys who've been following me, but I can't hear him. He's blocking me out.”
“I can't either no matter how hard I try,” Paul said. Ollie nodded as well, whispering, “I can't do anything to stop Richard if he gets out of control again, I don't have anything left. Between his freak out earlier and running over here, I'm beat.” Paul, whose eyes were scrunched tight, murmured, “Reesh, don't do whatever you're wanting to do. Listen to me, you fucking knob-head, I've known you forever, you let that monster in your head loose and you'll kill us all.”
“What?” Khira Li said, twisting around to stare at me. “What's Onkle Paul talking about? What will kill us all?”
“Your father is a necromancer,” I said, seeing Khira Li flinch and feeling horrible that I'd been so blunt. “When we were in Japan a couple years ago, we ran into a kitsune and she woke up the gift. She gave him some of the training he needed, but your father hasn't exactly had the chance to practice. If he decides to kill the men who've been following you, he might accidentally kill everyone within a couple miles. He doesn’t have the control over his gift he should, and it feeds on his temper.”
“Lovely,” Khira Li growled, rolling her eyes heavenward. “It's a good thing I'm grown up and out of the house, I can only imagine what Vati would do to any of the boys I used to date. Is there anything we can do to keep him from doing...whatever?”
“I don't know,” I said, wiggling my way around Ollie and peeking up the alleyway. Richard had backed the men into the wall and was standing as close as he could, hands out to the side and fingers splayed. I could smell the blood dripping from his palms where his nails had cut into the skin, and even through the heavy shield he had around himself I felt the sick sensation of his necromancer's gift waking. It was as if there was something dark and inhuman living just under his skin, something that in my mind should have been left alone, brought to life by Richard’s sacrifice of his blood splashing on the cobblestones.
“You fuckers think that this is just a game, that you can simply walk up to my daughter and steal her?” Richard was growling, a slight echo in his voice that sounded like there was something inside him scratching and struggling to get loose. “Who sent you? Who do you work for?”
“Herr Kruspe, calm yourself,” said the taller of the two men. They were dressed almost identically, from heavy, black leather jackets, black pants and shoes, their hair cut in brush-cut styles and pale blonde. “We don't mean any trouble to you or yours. We're here just to keep an eye on your child, nothing more.”
“Riiiighht. And I'm the Pope,” Richard snapped. “You can't lie to me, I can see the lies in your minds like they're written on your foreheads. You were told to come to Germany and whichever one of us you could get your hands on you were to take them back...somewhere. Your bosses are no better than the crazy man who turned me and mine into what we are. Give me a good reason why I shouldn't kill you?”
“You can't kill us!” the shorter man gasped, staring at Richard with horror. “Right in the middle of the city, in broad daylight?”
“Nobody will know what happened; it'll look like you both dropped dead of a heart attack,” Richard purred, raising his bloody hands up in front of him. “Did you bosses tell you what I can do? I'm a necromancer. I can take your souls right out of you and not lay a hand on you. I can reach into your chests and rip your hearts out without a touch, without marking your flesh. Give me a reason not to kill you and dance on your corpses.”
The five of us in hiding gasped; it felt like the ground dropped out from under me. Khira Li didn't know about the price Richard would pay if he went through with his threats, that the Lady of Death would destroy him completely if She thought he'd used his gift wrongly. Or if She didn't, Richard might take us all down along with the two men he was glaring at. While I had no reason to feel sorry for the two men that had been harassing Khira Li, I didn't want them to die for being stupid. They hadn't done more than scare her, that wasn't a good reason to annihilate them. Ollie closed his eyes and moaned softly as he went to his knees on the damp moss that covered the cobblestones, Paul let out a soft sob and pressed his face into Christoph's shoulder, and Khira Li grabbed my hand, squeezing it hard. I couldn't move, shock and sorrow held me still. Richard laid his bleeding hands on the men's chests and chuckled softly, the noise echoing eerily down the alley. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
A soft breeze began blowing through the alley, picking up little bits of paper and oddments that were light enough to move. I felt Isabel move inside me, the movement making me queasy, then suddenly I felt her looking out of my eyes. My knees buckled and I was saved from a bad fall when Khira Li and Christoph caught me as I went down.
“Lilly, what's going on? Talk to me, love,” Christoph said, shaking my shoulder. I reached up and took his hand, his indrawn breath faint when he realized what was going on. ::Isabel? What are you doing? You're not going to hurt yourself or your mother, are you?:: he asked.
Isabel's answer was a rush of feelings (loveprotectionangerdetermination) and no more. I crawled up the alley, staining the knees of my jeans with moss and dirt. Once I was within a few feet of Richard, who was still paying no attention to anyone but his captives and his rage, I stood up, made sure I was steady on my feet, and murmured, “Whatever you're going to do, little one, do it fast or we're all going to die.”
Everything happened so fast I wasn't able to process any of it till later. Isabel took control of my gifts, combined them with hers, and took control of my body. Without my touching him, she “shoved” Richard away from the men he was seconds from killing and down to his knees; when he tried to get up she knocked him down again and completely unconcious. She forced the necromantic gift back into the depths of Richard's soul and locked it down, and with the last of the energy it had brought, blasted the men with a psychic blast much stronger than the ones I’d able to do. Their heads knocked back into the brick wall, blood began to leak from their ears and noses, and they slid down to the dirty alleyway, out cold. Not dead, but out of commission, hopefully long enough for us to collect Richard and get to safety. When Isabell let go of me and dropped into a deep, exhausted sleep, I had no warning and blacked out. The last thing I saw was the mossy ground flying up to meet me and Khira Li calling my name.
“I can't be dead, I hurt too damn much.”
Richard's hoarse, whispery complaint grated in my ears as I came around. I grunted and tried to roll over, only to find I was too damn tired to do so. I opened an eye and glared at the direction his voice had come from, and found myself staring at Christoph, who was lying next to me. From the pale, dirt-streaked arm wrapped around Christoph's waist, I figured Richard was curled up behind him, and I could see Fiona lying between Christoph and me, while Marley was stretched out on my pillow above my head, warm paws pressing gently on my forehead.
“That was one of the dumbest things you've ever thought of doing, Richard,” Christoph sighed, closing his eyes. There were dark rings around his eyes, almost like a raccoon's mask, and his skin was a very unhealthy shade of pale. “You'd better be goddamn thankful it didn't hurt Isabel or Lilly. I love you but you try my patience like whoa more than you should.”
“Richard didn't do anything,” I said softly, rubbing my sheet-covered stomach. “It was Isabel. She used me as a conduit. I didn't think she could do anything before she was born. She locked you down, Reesh, shoved your gift back into you and locked it down. And she knocked those two guys out, made their noses and ears bleed. I don't think they'll be bothering anyone any time soon. If they weren't on the first plane out of Germany, I'd be surprised.”
“Are you all right, though?” Christoph asked, laying his hand over mine and stroking my fingers. “I thought Isabel was doing something but I was more concerned about you. I didn't know if you were going to go after Reesh hammer and tongs once she was working through you.”
“I'm very tired,” I said, making a quick internal check of everything. I was right as rain, as was my wild child daughter, who was still sleeping. If this little incident was any clue as to how powerful she could be once she was born, we were going to have a handful with her. “I could do with an hour or two more of sleep, though. How's Khira Li?”
“She didn't want to but when Till found out what had happened today, he insisted Paul and Ollie bring her to his house. She's going to stay there for a few days and let things calm down here. I don't think anyone saw what happened, but we're not taking any chances. Nele and Fritz are out there as well. Arielle, Lily and Emil went to Ireland with one of Siobhan's relatives, Emma is with Amelia's shapeshifter friends in the Black Forest, and Flake's going to be taking his brood out there before the day's out,” Christoph explained, folding his fingers over mine. “I'd ask you to pick a refuge and go there but I know you won't leave us.”
“Damn straight,” I snorted. “So, what are we going to do?”
“Paul and Ollie are going to stay with Till, then move on to the Black Forest and join up with Amelia and Emma. Siobhan is staying in Ireland, and told us that if we want to take shelter there, we're more than welcome. We could also head out to the Black Forest if you want,” Richard slurred, that telling me more than our bond how tired he was. “I'd rather stay here. We know the city and...” His voice petered out into a soft snore, which made me giggle. Christoph sighed and shook his head. “We can make up our minds later. Everyone is safe, more or less, and you need your sleep and a decent lunch or dinner, whichever depends on when you wake up.”
“I’m too hungry to sleep,” I sighed, letting Christoph help me out of bed. We went into the kitchen, closing the bedroom door behind us, and dug through the cupboards and fridge, putting together odd bits and bobs of things, whatever looked good and didn’t take much effort to prepare. I was spooning cold macaroni and cheese into my mouth, not really tasting it, one hand propping my aching, tired head up, watching Christoph poke at the slice of lemon-poppyseed cake he had in front of him. Fiona wiggled up into his lap and rested her chin on the tabletop and said, ::Better eat that before Marley wakes up, Doomie. Is that all you’re going to eat? ‘Cause you’re not exactly fluffy like Reesh is::
Christoph giggled softly and took a bite out of the cake, chewing as if it took all of his energy to do so. ::You’d better hope he didn’t hear that or you’ll be living on dry cat kibble and water for a month::
::Just being truthful:: Fiona replied wryly. ::Papa needs to get out and run around the block more often rather than sit and brood over you, Mum. He's like a hen who's laid a huge egg after laying a dozen smaller ones::
:: Sore and cranky:: Marley laughed. Christoph and I choked back our own laughter as not to wake Richard up but we needn't have done it, for the object of our humor came staggering into the kitchen. He said nothing but slouched into a chair and leaned against my shoulder with a grunt. Christoph shoved his glass of wine over to Richard who shook his head with a grimace, saying, “Thanks but no thanks. As soon as I'm sure my brains aren't pouring out of my skull I'll get up and make a cup of tea. Are we out of your green tea, Chris?”
“You stay put, I'll put some on,” Christoph said, standing up and gently passing his hand over Richard's clumpy, dirty hair. “Lilly, you should probably drink some if only for the extra vitamins,” he continued, pouring out several large spoonfuls of powdered tea into the large, stoneware teapot we used only for the green tea. Within a few moments there were steaming mugfuls at our elbows with sprinklings of ginger and raw sugar dissovling in the golden-green liquid. Richard wrapped his hands around the mug, nodding a thank you to Christoph before shutting his eyes and leaning against me again. I patted his shoulder and blew over the hot tea, taking a cautious sip to judge its heat before a bigger sip. I'd learned quickly to be careful with anything too hot or too cold; Isabel would let me know within seconds by wrenching about or later on, kicking me. She stayed quiet, so I was good to go. Christoph and I had finished our dinner by the time Richard finally came around enough to drink his almost-cold tea; when I asked him if he was hungry, he said, “Oh God no. I'm still sick as a dog from Isabel knocking me out. I think I'll finish this and go back to bed.”
“You will not,” I snapped. “You're going to go take a shower. You stink, you're filthy and I'll be damned if I'm sleeping with you like that.” While my anger at my mate had cooled somewhat, I was still angry with Richard, enough to banish him to the couch or spare bedroom if he argued with me.
“Hush, princess,” Christoph said, stepping into the conversation before it became an argument. “I'll come keep an eye on you, if you can wait long enough for me to strip the bed and remake it first, and get Lilly settled.”
“Deal,” Richard replied. He finished his tea, dropped a kiss on my head and meandered back to the bedroom, muttering something to Marley who was following him. I sighed and stood up, pressing a hand to the small of my back as I did. Christoph was on his feet in an instant, worry turning our bond acidic. I smiled at him and sighed, “I'm tired, that's it. I'll clean up the dishes and go back to bed, I promise.”
“You will like hell,” Christoph replied, lifting me up and carrying me over to the couch. He tucked a blanket around me, saying, “I'll put the dishes in the sink for later, then go make up the bed. You, my lady, will stay here and rest.”
“Chris, you're as tired as we are!” I protested. I wanted to say more when he looked down his nose, putting on his “Frau” face. I snort-laughed and waved my hands in the air. “I give, I give!” I said, snuggling down into the warm blankets. “I know when I've been overruled!”
“You know it,” Christoph replied, handing me my iPad. “Read or go back to sleep, sweetheart. If you hear me yelling at Reesh, ignore it. I think I need to remind him how much of a pain in the ass he's been recently.”
“Give 'em hell, Doomie,” I yawned, abandoning the iPad for sleep.