The largest rehearsal hall at Black Box Music echoes with sawed-off, harsh chords, the occasional rattle of percussion and bass almost drowning out the gentle strains of Mozart floating from the PA system that are oddly appropriate for the venue. All of the lights are on, their brightness chasing shadows out of the farthest corners, while the faintest hints of propane gas, cordite and other harsh pyrotechnic scents tinge the air. The six men upon the stage are intent on their work, ignoring the noise and chaos around them. This is the last rehearsal before the band's three invitation-only rehearsal shows, and they're determined to make as much of the little time they have left to perfect the show.
Paul and Richard stand back to back, seamlessly working through a shared solo that is the highlight of the song they were hoping would be the first single from the new album. This album has been so much easier for the band to make, partially from maturity and partially from the spiritual/magical bond that weaves their lives together as one. It has come together in slightly more than year, which has delighted their fan base and puzzles most of the industry, as Rammstein has never been a band to put an album together this fast. Rumors have flown hot and fast via the Internet; the band's management has been hard pressed to keep leaks to a minimum.
They've been surprised that the band was quite agreeable to an invitation only concert, and more so when a second and third date had been proposed. Till had caught Richard's eye at one point during the meeting and said, :: Half of the people would have heart attacks or at least faint if I sneeze right now. They think we're out of our minds for agreeing to almost everything they're asking for. Can I sneeze and see who passes out first?:
::Behave yourself, Till:: Ollie remarked, for all appearances gazing at the table in front of him, idly twisting a pen through his long fingers even though he was laughing inside. ::Sit there and glare but don't scare the normals. Someone has to keep the account books::
::Ah, go ahead and let him scare a few people. I'm bored:: Paul chimed, hiding a smile behind a hand. ::I'll put a couple Euro on the bloke with the tie that looks like a box of crayons threw up all over it::
::Settle down all of you, please!:: Flake said, not bothering to hide his sigh. ::I've got an awful headache and none of you are helping with your yammering. And Till, if you sneeze and kill someone, I'll kill you!!::
::What, did Jenny ring a bell over your head the other night for coming in so late?:: Till asked, cocking an eyebrow at their keyboard player, who returned the raised eyebrow with a ::No, it's working till all hours of the morning on that damn database. I'm so glad Kieran's got a couple other people involved with it now; there's no way on this planet I can do programming work and do the shows at the same time::
::Yeah, but you love it:: Christoph teased. ::Ollie, you're a computer geek, why aren't you involved with this?::
::Because I'm Amelia's contact here in Germany for the shapeshifter community and I'm bloody busy with their databases:: Ollie replied, smothering a yawn. ::I've volunteered to help out when Flake needs help, though::
The meeting comes to an end without incident, the three concert dates are approved, and now the band are standing on the stage, pulling together the last bits and pieces of the show together. Save for a couple of sticky spots that has driven the production crew crazy for days, all is ready to go. The band files off the stage, handing instruments off to the roadies, accepting handshakes, compliments and smiles as they go along. Richard stops long enough to talk to his tech for a moment about the tuning on one of his guitars, when movement that shouldn't be where it is catches his eye.
Without stopping his conversation, he peers around the rehearsal room with every one of his senses wide open, and catches the faintest hint of ozone tinged with charred wood or paper coming from the corner. It's nothing he's ever scented; he notices that Till's nostrils are flaring, the bright overhead lights shining on his tiny gold septum ring. They nod at one another; Till taps Ollie on the shoulder and the two of them slowly make their way to the corner that the faint scent is coming from. No one notices them, for the two men have slightly 'blurred' their presence in the real world so they can investigate without bringing any notice on themselves. They search the area around the far corner for several frustrating minutes and come up empty, which frustrates them all.
::Not this shit again:: Paul hisses through the bond. ::I thought with Siobhan's family putting up all those wards and word getting out about us through the non-human community we'd not have to put up with being harassed the second we step outside the house!::
::Whoever or whatever it is didn't follow us to America for the three weeks we were in California to work on the album:: Christoph says, a frown crossing his handsome-pretty face. ::I expected to have the hounds set on us the second we landed in Los Angeles. Why now?::
::I don't know but the second I find out who it is, there's going to be war:: Till growls, tension singing in his nerves and mental voice. ::Especially now that there's a baby to think of.::
At that comment, both Christoph and Richard's tempers rise; for a moment the air is almost tangibly electric with their rage. While Richard isn't biologically the father of the child that his and Christoph's mate, Lilly, carries, the baby is as much his in his heart and soul. The idea that there might be a person, or persons who would harm mother, child, Christoph, or the rest of his family makes his blood boil. He's already wanting to annihilate the people who have been shadowing his daughter, Khira Li and it won't take much more to send him on a blind spree to hurt someone, anyone. Flake appears from literally nowhere and lays a hand on their shoulders, saying nothing, only reminding them through touch to settle down and save their anger for another time. When it comes to his family and close friends, Richard can be unreasonable, and Christoph's not much better.
::Fuck it, I need to eat and take a break before tonight:: Till sighs, joining the rest of the band as they head for the green room to eat a late lunch. ::I need a nap or I'm going to bite people's heads off more than I do normally::
::And we'd all better be on our toes, especially with the new pyro stuff:: Paul says, slouching down into the first chair he can find with a bottle of soda in one hand and an apple in the other. ::I don't want to back into a flame jet and toast my buns!::
::I'm sure the wardrobe people would thank you if you didn't!:: Ollie teases, a shy smile making the corners of his mouth twitch. ::And I'm sure Arielle wouldn't want to have to put burn gel on your ass three times a day::
::You never know:: Paul replies with a wink. ::You'd be surprised what...::
::Paul, we do NOT need to know much more, thank you very much!:: Richard says with a wince. ::I've been in the room next to you two one time too many. I'm scarred for life::
Paul says nothing in reply, simply grins and bites into his apple.
“How have you been feeling?” Siobhan asked Lilly as the two women strolled through the Tiergarten. Spring was in full flush, everything that could bloom, flower or grow displaying their loveliness. They'd met up for a quick lunch in the cafe that served the hospital Siobhan was working in; partially to catch up on what they'd been doing and for Siobhan to take a quick “peek” at the baby Lilly was carrying.
“I'm feeling pretty good. I've only had a couple bad mornings, and only then because my being sick made Chris sick, which made Reesh sick...” Lilly replied ruefully. “I'm not showing yet. Should I be worried?”
“My mother didn't with any of us, and neither did my sister in law Caitlyn, and she was pregnant with twins,” Siobhan replied, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jacket. “You might get lucky and never get very big, or you might go the other way. As far as I can tell, Isobel is growing nicely and is right on track, human or otherwise. We figured what, July, for your due date?”
“Yes,” Lilly replied, stopping underneath the spreading branches of a willow tree and gazing out over the pond that a group of black swans was paddling across. She laid a hand on her stomach and stood quietly for so long, Siobhan thought she'd forgotten about her. Walking up to her friend, she murmured, “What's the matter Lilly? Are you getting sick?”
“No, it's just...I'm scared, Siobhan. What if...what if I lose Isobel? What if there's something horribly wrong with her and...what if something happens to me?” Lilly whispered, choking back tears. “Am I being stupid and worrying about nothing?”
“It's not stupid to be scared or have those thoughts,” Siobhan replied, laying a hand on Lilly's shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. “Mothers to be have been feeling this way since...well, forever. You have all kinds of eyes watching over you; anything going amiss would trip those alarms quicker than you could imagine. But I promise you, anything goes out of whack and I'll be there before you can blink twice.”
Lilly sniffed her tears back, hard, and gave Siobhan a watery smile. “Thank you. We'd better start back for the hospital, your break is almost over.” Linking their arms, the two women made their way up the street, the solemn moment forgotten. As they went along, a pair of goshawks followed high above, keeping sharp eyes on their charges. Once Siobhan was back in the hospital and Lilly was on the U-Bahn, they flew as fast as they could to land on the edge of the pocket garden just outside the kitchen door that lead from the apartment Marley and Fiona shared with Lilly, Richard and Christoph. The larger of the two birds fluttered to the door and tapped politely, waiting for Marley to unlock the door and invite them in. The birds were long gone before Lilly arrived home, and none the wiser, for Marley and Fiona were fast asleep. As she walked past the door to the garden, she noticed the latch was almost undone. With a frown, Lilly locked it, peering over her shoulder to look at the cats.
“You two don’t have anything to do with this being unlocked, do you?” she asked. Neither cat answered, so Lilly continued on to the office, not seeing the two cats’ eyes pop open and follow her into the hallway.
::I told you to make sure the door was latched, idiot!:: Fiona said, cuffing her sister on the head. Marley hissed and returned the smack, saying, ::I thought you locked it! We’ve got to be more careful, all right? Nobody needs to know that we’re keeping our eyes out for trouble::
Fiona sighed and stood up in a graceful stretch, yawing widely to show her sharp teeth and deep pink tongue. ::I’m just saying. Everyone knows we can monkey with door locks, we just need to be more careful:: Marley didn’t reply as she stood up and made her way over to their food bowl. Although her sibling was right, she wasn’t about to admit she’d screwed up. They were both on edge after overhearing Christoph and Richard quietly discussing what had happened at the rehearsal hall and how they were going to break the news to Lilly. They still hadn’t told her, which added to the strain the two cats felt, knowing how their human mother would react. While her mood swings were more under control than the average pregnant woman’s, Lilly still suffered from them and having a mother to be whose psychic abilities could flatten an entire city and kill every living thing for miles around made for interesting times. She didn’t need to rely on Richard and Christoph’s help in keeping herself on an even keel as she once had; thankfully, she had them for the bad times.
Returning to her perch in the living room window, Marley groomed her front paws meditatively, hoping that out of all the possible futures she and her sister could see, the only one that came true was the happy one.
Sorry these first couple of chapters are so short, they were originally one huge chapter. Hopefully the ones that are in the que are a bit longer.
What happens when you ignore your sweetheart for too long?
Richard wanted to scream, but he was too out of breath to do more than make soft, broken gasps. Pinned beneath Christoph's sweaty, trembling body, he clutched the bedsheets beneath him, lost in the sensations of being fucked so hard he could barely see. They'd been at it for what seemed days to him, when in reality it had only been a couple of hours. He wasn't sure what had sparked the furious, animal need that had caused Christoph to drag him away from the pre-tour party that had been held for them and back to their hotel room, but whatever had brought it on was a total mystery. Once they reached the room, Christoph had shoved him through the door, kicked it shut behind them, and had slammed Richard against the door.
Christoph's strong hands cupped Richard’s face, dark green-blue eyes locked on his own indigo-grey ones and he growled, “I want you,” as he leaned in to nip at Richard's lower lip, following it with a rough kiss. “You look so fucking good, you smell so good, I can't stand it anymore.”
“Chris, what...what in the hell brought this on? Not that I mind,” Richard stammered as he clung to his lover's hips. “What's gotten into you?”
“You will, later on if you're lucky,” the drummer replied, laying hot, wet kisses on Richard's neck. “Right now I'm gonna strip you naked and fuck you so hard you won't be able to walk for a month. I'm gonna ride you, make you beg me to stop...I'm not asking for your permission, sweetheart, I'm telling you what's gonna happen. You're mine. My heart, my mate, my beloved...I might share you with Lilly but you belong to me.”
Too startled to do more than hastily narrow their bond down so they wouldn't disturb anyone else, Richard let his lover strip him of his clothes, drag him to the bed and throw him onto it. While he and Christoph had indulged themselves in wild, uninhibited lovemaking before, it hadn't been like this. A tiny touch against his private link with Christoph told Richard that this sudden animal behavior didn't come from any kind of chemical influence or psychic one; rather, it was caused by his casual flirting with a few female party-goers and ignoring him that had irritated his partner beyond rational thought. On top of that, they'd been too tired from all the weeks of pre-tour work they'd had to do, so the first thing to go was their sex life. Lilly had done what she could by cuddling them to her at night and soothing away their arousal and irritation. It had helped, but not much.
Richard watched Christoph tear his clothes off, trembling at the thought of the last time the two of them had fallen into this same kind of mindless coupling. It had happened not long after they’d slept together the first time; there had been no safe words, no checks and balances. It had been half-crazed, angry, primal sex that had left them bruised and bloody, with rope burns and in Christoph's case, a split lip. He'd tied down and blindfolded Richard, seemingly not caring that being unable to move or see could be triggering for him, and had his way with his helpless partner. If the two of them hadn't been connected at such a deep level, it would have turned out badly. It had been scarily close to rape and once Richard was free and had rested, he'd turned the tables on Christoph and done the same thing to him. He'd wanted to be ashamed for the violent sex and horrible things he'd said and hadn't been able to. When the storm had passed, they'd lain in each others arms, panting, exhausted and somewhat disturbed by the things they'd done to one another, and it had taken several hours before they could crawl out of bed and clean up. They hadn't spoken of it since.
And now they were again, in the same position, Richard staring helplessly up at Christoph, terrified and aroused, seeing that same irrational fire burning in his beloved's green-blue eyes. Wiggling a hand free of the grip Christoph had on it, Richard reached up and laid it against his face, whispering, “Safe word this time, all right? Please?”
“Of course sweetheart,” Christoph replied, turning his face so he could plant a kiss on the palm of Richard's hand. “How about 'cookies'? Will that do?” He waited until Richard nodded, kissed his palm again, and swept down to join their lips in a long, heart-melting kiss. When he drew back with a smile, Richard tipped his head to the side in a questioning gesture. “I love you so very much, Richard,” Christoph said, running a hand through Richard's dark spikes, moving several of them from his face. “Once...once Isabel is born, I want to marry you and Lilly. Yeah, it's not legal but so what? I've thought about this for a long time. So...what do you think, Reesh?”
He didn't need to be asked twice. “Yes, oh yes, Chris!” he laughed, throwing his arms around Christoph's neck and hugging him until he squeaked. “Good. Because if you'd said no, I was going to kidnap you,” Christoph snickered, rubbing his nose against Richard's in an Eskimo kiss. “Which is against the law, yeah, but I could talk my way out of getting thrown in jail.”
“You're so full of it, I'm surprised your eyes aren't brown,” Richard laughed, lying back on the pillows and waiting for what was to come.
He didn’t have to wait long; Christoph slapped him across the face and pinned Richard's arms down again. “Shut up, pretty boy. Don't say anything unless I tell you!” he snarled. The sweet, kind Christoph was gone, replaced by an angry, merciless male that would demand obedience and to hell with any excuses or pleas for mercy. There was a hint of “The Frau” there as well, especially in the set of his head and the way he glared down at his prey. Scared and turned on at the same time, Richard fell completely under Christoph's spell. Yanked to his feet, Richard struggled to stand up and not fall on his face. A heavy hand landed on his shoulders and pressed downward, forcing him to his knees, staring helplessly at Christoph.
“Do you want me to fuck you? Speak!”
“Ye-yes, I do, Christoph.”
“What did you call me, pretty boy?” Christoph snarled, towering over Richard, one hand clenching his hair and yanking his head back. “You know what to call me. Say it!”
“Master. Please, I would like you to fuck me, Master,” Richard stammered, wincing at the pain having his hair pulled so sharply was causing. Christoph gave his hair one last yank and let go, shoving Richard away from him with a kneecap to the shoulder. He managed to catch himself, swaying on his knees and snapping back upright before he could be reprimanded for moving without permission. Christoph grabbed his chin, nails digging into his skin, purring, “Get me ready, then. And if you touch yourself without permission, I’ll make you miserable. “
Richard shakily leaned in, and wrapping one hand around the base of Christoph's cock, slowly ran his tongue up and down his shaft. Pulling on every trick he knew, Richard did as he'd been told, watching Christoph's reactions through lowered eyes. He tried to obey every hissed command, every growled word, but he grew tired and sagged away, whispering “I'm sorry, Master.”
“Yeah. I'm...I'm sorry, sweetheart,” Richard sighed, flopping down onto the carpet. “The first time in how long that we have alone and...shit.”
“No, no, don't feel like that!” Christoph sighed, kneeling next to Richard and cradling him in his arms. “It's okay! I just...sometimes I can't believe you're mine. You were standing up there tonight and you looked like...” Richard could feel what his beloved wanted to say; he reached up and laid his fingers on the center of Christoph's chest and said, “I know. You don't have to say it.”
::Ich bin dein, und du bist mein, immer, für immer:: Christoph replied, curling around Richard, letting his long curls veil their faces. ::Und ich bin Lilly, und sie ist mein, immer, für immer.::
Richard craned his neck up to kiss Christoph; they smiled at one another and as one, said, :: Und sie ist bei uns, und wir sind ihr immer, für immer. ::
::Damn straight:: came Lilly's sleepy, acerbic comment, well-flavored with humor. ::Now go back to what you were doing, it was just beginning to get interesting. I might even take notes::
“You heard the lovely lady,” Christoph snorted, unwinding himself from around Richard and pulling him to his feet. “Let's give her more than enough stuff to take notes about.”
They collapsed to the soft bed, play-fighting, nipping at fingertips and shoulders, warm laughter turning to gasping, soft whimpers as Richard trapped Christoph underneath him. Clinging to one another, needing no words, only the touch of hands, lips and their mind/heart/soul bond, the fire that had been blooming out of control earlier re-awoke. Rolling them over, Christoph pushed Richard's legs up, patting his knees gently to remind him to keep them in place as he squirmed around to find his bag on the floor. Condoms and lube in hand, he popped back up, kissed Richard's belly button, and slicked his fingers with the sticky liquid.
“Gonna go easy on you, okay?” he said, waiting for his lover to let him know it was okay to continue. Richard nodded, eyes wide as saucers, pupils blown till they almost covered the blue, and relaxed into the bedclothes. Christoph took his time, going slowly, using one finger at a time to widen and open his lover; once he was panting and begging, Christoph rolled a condom on, and with a sigh, slowly and gently sheathed himself inside Richard. They both cried out at the twinned sensations pouring through their link; Richard freed a hand and pulled Christoph down to lock their lips together in a desperate kiss, muffling his screams when Christoph hit a sensitive spot inside him. Joined in heart and body, the two lovers found their peak together; unable to stop himself, Richard grabbed one of Christoph's arms and sank his teeth deep into the thick vein at the crook of his arm where he sucked deep bruises into his pale skin as he took a taste of his blood.
“Oh my God, oh shit, Reesh, please do that again,” Christoph begged, wrenching his arm free and baring his throat, bracing himself for the whiteout of pain/pleasure that short circuited his brain when sharp fangs slid into his willing flesh. Wherever the subconscious need to bite and be bitten during sex had come from, no one knew, and neither of the men cared. Luckily, Richard was able to keep his wits about him and only left a love bite that immediately bruised; he caught Christoph as his eyes rolled back in his head and fainted. He managed to clumsily uncouple them, dispose of the used condom in the trash can by the bed, and wrangle a now-very-embarrassed partner back in bed.
“Shit. I passed out, didn't I?” Christoph grumped, burying his face in the pillows. “I've never done that with anyone but you and Lilly, and one of these days I'm gonna do it, fall over and kill myself.”
“Naaah,” Richard said with an impish smile. “Don't worry about it. Kinda makes me feel like I should be standing at the window, screaming to the world that I made my boyfriend pass out and I was on the bottom.”
“You would, you idiot,” Christoph replied, a slow smile crossing his face. “Wanna do it again?”
“What, fuck or make you faint?” Richard murmured as he settled down with his head on Christoph's shoulder, fingers wound with his as sleep stole up on them. The moment before he dropped off to sleep, Christoph sighed, “Maybe later, eh?”
Till was sprawled out in his favorite chair in his living room, feet propped up on a footstool that had seen better days. He was chewing idly at the end of a pencil while staring down at the notebook in his lap, muttering softly to himself. While he did a lot of writing on his laptop, there were some lyrics and poetry he felt worked a lot better when he was putting the words down on a piece of paper rather than typing them out. He wasn't sure if what he was working on would end up as a song or a poem; rather than sit and fuss at it for hours as he once had, he quickly wrote down the words that came to him and put the notebook aside. His house was empty and the silence rang in his ears like a bell. He'd taken his dogs to his mother's house to stay for the few weeks he'd be gone, and he missed the jingle of their tags and the tap-tap-tap of their toenails on the wood floors. While he cherished his alone time quite a bit, he was suddenly feeling at loose ends and edgy being all alone.
Dropping the pencil and notebook on the suitcase, he swung his feet down and sat up straight in the chair, closing his eyes as he did so. He hadn't had a chance to take a good 'look' at the wards Siobhan's cousin, Kieren, and his wife, Danica, had set up on his property since they'd done so several weeks earlier and was curious as to what they looked like. He'd sat on his front porch as the couple did their work, fascinated by what he saw in his inner eye. On the outside, it looked as if Kieren and Danica were sitting in the grass in the middle of his yard, eyes closed and holding hands, when they were working quite hard at building the wards.
To his other sight, Till could see the gold and green patterns of Elven magic combined with the natural energy of the planet weaving a fence that if it had been physical, would have been a good nine feet tall. He'd gotten horribly dizzy at one point and had to pull back for a moment, losing the view he had of the work going on. When he felt he could look up again without losing his breakfast, Danica had opened one brilliantly green eye, smiled at him, and said, “It's all right, Till. I'm used to working with energies like this and I still get dizzy from time to time. Sit still and it'll pass.”
“So how do they work? Kind of like a magical alarm system?” he asked.
“Got it in one,” Kieren replied, voice slightly distant and eyes still closed. “If something or someone comes here that shouldn't be here, you'll know it. The wards reset themselves automatically once they've gotten your attention. We'll show you everything you need to know once we're finished.”
Once the couple had put the finishing touches on the wards, including sinking a piece of rock from the edge of his pond into the middle of the lawn as a touchstone for the energies that powered the wards, they'd shown Till how the wards outlined his property, how far down into the soil they went, how high up they went and how to work with them if they needed any maintenance. Exactly how the wards knew friend from foe he wasn't quite sure, but he had to admit he felt much safer since he'd been 'introduced' to the wards by a couple of drops of his blood on the touchstone before they'd buried it. So far, no uninvited guests had shown up, and from what the rest of the band told him, the wards around their homes were doing the same thing.
As he 'watched' the wards ebb and flow around the house, he found himself once again fascinated by how functional yet beautiful they were. While Siobhan had told him with time, he could learn to build wards as well as Kieran and Danica did, he'd told her he'd leave that to the experts. “I'd end up building a ward that would lock me in and no one could break it!” he'd said, shaking his head. “Nah, I'll keep them working and all, but I'm not building one.”
He had no idea how long he sat curled in his chair, observing the intertwining of the physical and magical world around him, but a cramp in his right foot brought him out of his reverie, swearing and shooting to his feet to try and walk the cramp off. Hissing, Till limped over to the staircase that led upstairs and stepped up onto a step, letting his heels drop over the edge to try and stretch the tendons and ligaments in his feet. The cramp eased, much too slowly for his liking, but it eventually gave in and he was able to stand on both feet again without feeling as if his toes were being yanked upwards by a block and tackle. When he was sure he could walk without too much pain, he made his way into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of magnesium tablets out of one of the cupboards and swallowed three with a mouthful of water he cupped from the faucet.
Lilly had gotten the entire band on a regimen of vitamins and minerals when she'd joined them on tour, telling them that they'd probably need more of the supplements than a normal human would, simply because their bodies would burn them up faster than they could possibly get them through what they ate. The fact that Till, who usually gained weight as fast as he could work it off, was able to eat like a lumberjack and not gain an ounce convinced him of how right she was, and he'd kept up taking the handful of pills and tablets, especially the magnesium as he found when he did have muscle cramps for one reason or another, having the extra mineral in his system made the cramps happen less often or hurt less. With a sigh, he made his way upstairs, leaving the tiny nightlight at the top of the hallway on, more from habit than needing it to see by. After he washed up, he found himself sitting in the middle of his huge bed, torn between sleep and feeling even more lonely. A thought came to him, bringing a smile to his usually melancholy face, and he reached out to one of the few people he knew he could talk to openly, one he was slowly becoming more and more attached to as the days passed.
::Hey sweetheart. You all right?:: came Siobhan's warm, welcome voice. ::What’s got you up so late?::
::Siobhan! I didn't wake you up, did I? Or are you working nights again?:: Till replied, feeling guilty that he might have woken his lover with his worrying and restlessness. That notion was quickly squashed by a wave of love and amusement as Siobhan replied, ::No, I'm working nights again. What’s got you so twitchy?.::
::I haven’t a clue:: Till replied, lying down and wrapping the blankets firmly around himself. ::The house is too damn quiet, for one. The dogs are at my mother's, it's quiet as the grave outside and it's driving me nuts. I know, it's a short drive, I could walk it.::
::You said it, not me:: Siobhan laughingly replied. ::So, how long are you going to be gone on this part of the tour?::
::We have a week in Canada, then we come back to do a run through Great Britain and a few other places around the continent. It's not a full-on tour just yet. Long enough for us to get back in the groove and enough to make Flake bitch about wanting to be home. Christoph and Reesh don't want to be away from Lilly too long, even though she's told them a hundred times she's fine and the baby isn't going to show up any time soon:: Till replied. ::She is all right, isn't she? I haven't talked to her for more than a few moments lately and she can keep secrets better than anyone I know::
::I saw her last week, and yes, she's as fine as far as I can tell. I tried to run an ultrasound on her but you know what's weird? The equipment wouldn't work. I could turn it on and it would boot up, but the second Lilly walked into the room, it shut off. As long as she wasn't in the room, the equipment worked as it always does. It doesn't act like that around me, or any of my full-blooded relatives, Elven or human.::
Till felt a cold shock go from his toes to his head like a lightning bolt and suppressed the urge to sit up and try to contact Lilly, ask her if what Siobhan said was true. It really wasn't his business and also, he knew Siobhan would never lie to him about something this serious. ::That's weird. I haven't had to go to the doctor for anything since...huh. I haven't since before we met Lilly. I think all my vaccinations run out this year, but other than that, I haven't even been near anything more complicated than an x-ray machine::
::I'll make sure that if I can't be the one who signs off on your vaccinations for the tour, that one of my colleagues who're trustworthy does, that way you won't have to deal with a normal doctor. Pass that along to everyone else when you get a moment, please?:: Siobhan replied. ::Now, back to the original subject. Are you okay? I can sense what you're feeling but not much as I can with gifted folk. You know how to block people, that's for sure::
Till sighed and dropped his barriers a little more to let their link deepen; Siobhan's reply was like another warm blanket, only this one was over his heart and soul. ::I'm fucking lonely. That's all::
::I've got some vacation time due me. Would you mind if I took some of that time and flew out to meet you when you're in Canada?:: Siobhan replied softly. ::I've never been there and it looks like a gorgeous country to see.::
Till made no attempt to squash his happy feelings; he let the link flood with them until he felt Siobhan's giggle and hear her ::Enough! I'll write my request for vacation up in a jiffy.::
::I miss you, my little Gaelic warrior queen:: Till sighed, once they'd both giggled themselves to a standstill. ::You're only under an hour away and you might as well be on the moon::
::Chin up, my love:: Siobhan murmured. ::You knew the job was dangerous when you took it. And I miss you too. I have to go, I've got a ton of paperwork to dig through before my shift is over. If you need me, though...::
Till sighed but said nothing. Instead, he rested for a moment in the quietness between them, then reluctantly let go. With a fading feeling of a gentle kiss on his forehead, Siobhan pulled away until there was only a minute thread of awareness between them. Comforted by that, Till yawned and burrowed into the blankets deeper, and fell asleep.
He hadn't been asleep for more than a half hour when the wards came alive, jerking him out of sleep with a white fire that blazed behind his eyelids and an earsplitting wail that was purely mental. Till shot up in bed, momentarily confused as to what had happened, then instinct kicked in as he realized the wards had been set off and there was something or someone out on the land that shouldn't be there. Swearing mightily to himself, Till pulled on jeans, a heavy shirt and socks while he slipped downstairs and unlocked the door to the room he kept his hunting and fishing gear in. A moment's inner debate to take a gun or knife was quickly decided and he sheathed a hunting knife at his hip that was only an inch or so shy of a short sword, and unracked his favorite hunting bow. A quiver of boar-killer arrows went over his back, and within moments he was tying his boots on and shoving his hands into the metal-knuckled gloves he'd worn when he and the rest of the band had gone to rescue Richard a couple years before. Not bothering with any kind of light source, for his enhanced vision made the night almost as bright as day to him only lit in shades of green and grey, he shoved his phone into his heavy jacket's pocket after making sure it was on silent, carefully opened the kitchen door and stole into the cold spring night.
It took Till's enhanced eyesight a couple seconds to become used to the star-strewn blackness; in those seconds he was across the lawn and behind an ancient oak tree whose spreading branches were more than sufficient for a hunter like him to hide in and easy to climb. The moon had gone over the horizon, which meant while he was well concealed in his dark blue and grey clothes, but so was whatever or whoever had set the wards off. Once he was secure in his hiding place halfway up the tree, he pulled a bow sling out of his pants pocket and tightened it on his wrist in case he needed it. He took a hold of a thick branch that stuck up straight from the tree, breathed in and 'asked' the wards, ::What/who?::
The wards didn't answer in words but in scents, sounds and limited flashes of sight. Three people were a few feet inside the wards on the south side of the house, dressed like him in shades of dark blue and grey with touches of black, night vision goggles strapped to their heads making them look like bug-eyed aliens. Biting a hysterical snort of laughter down, Till noted from the way one of them was shaking their hand that the wards had 'stung' them, but not enough to incapacitate them. The wards were buzzing in his head like a hive of angry bees; if they had been human, he'd have bet they were enraged that someone had managed to get through them. Sparing a second to 'soothe' them, Till moved around until he could sit snugly in the crotch of the tree, bow laid across his knees and secured with the bow sling. Peering through the still-bare branches, he saw the trespassers slinking across the lawn like water over ice, making no more noise than a mouse.
Till reached his right hand over his left shoulder to pull one of the boar-killer arrows from its quiver and nocked it, holding it lightly and ready to go. Once he was sure he was ready, he dropped a tiny bit of his shields to see what his uninvited guests had on their minds. The first touch told him they were male, young-ish and cocksure. The second....do not make contact, you are to only observe and map the land...no one said this boy had a fucking farm!...thank fuck no dogs, horses or other animals, would hate to put one down to keep him from knowing what's up...what, no alarm system?
Till hissed between his teeth as he flowed to his feet in a graceful move, arrow already leaving the string with no more than a whisper before he was fully on his feet. The arrow arced through the darkness and buried itself almost to the fletching in the ground right in front of one of the bigger trespassers. The man came to a staggering halt, a bitten off yelp echoing loudly. The other two men flung themselves backwards and onto the ground, not knowing that Till could see them as clearly as if it was the early part of morning and not the middle of the night. He nocked another arrow and sent it to bury itself between the legs of the smaller of the group, the one after that pinned the third man's sleeve to the ground. Till grudgingly thought to himself that had to give them credit, save for the first man's short yell of surprise, they'd made no noise and hadn't moved an inch. Blood singing in his veins and temper on a short leash, Till made his way out of the tree and made a wide circle around the three people, not seeing the shadowy figures that were stealing out of the woods behind him. He had almost completed his circle and was spiraling in on his prey when an unfamiliar voice said, ::Stop, Till::
Till kept himself from yelling but turned on one heel, quickly, to see starlight glinting in the eyes of three large, black wolves; they all looked as if they would be able to put their chins on the top of his head if they stood on their hind legs. Till’s eyebrows rose as the biggest of the pack came towards him, head held low in submission; once it was only a few inches away, it said, ::You're going to need back up. That's us. I'm Swiftkill, these are Many-Snows and Fire-Chaser. Or what passes for our wolf-names in human speech. We were asked by the Elves that put up your wards to keep an eye on you and if you needed help, for us to do what we could. We would have come and introduced ourselves earlier but we didn't want to startle your hounds::
::I'm...uh...thanks:: Till stammered, nodding to the big wolf and then to the two smaller ones that were holding their heads as low as possible without putting them on the ground. ::Why didn't the wards stop them? Are they broken?::
::No, and we're not sure how they got through either:: Many-Snows said, a definite feeling of “female” to her mental voice. ::As soon as this is over, for good or bad, you need to contact one of the Elves who built your wards and let them know. Now, what do you and our pack leader want to do?::
::I really don't want to kill them, but how the hell am I going to get rid of them?:: Till asked. ::That is, after I break a few bones and get them to tell me why they're here::
::You won't have to break any bones, Till. I think the three arrows you came close to putting in them might go a long way in convincing your trespassers that telling the truth is a good idea:: Fire-Chaser said, panting briefly in a lupine grin. ::Better go see what they want, they're starting to figure out you're not going to put an arrow through them, just yet and are trying to figure out how to leave::
Till nodded and turned to walk towards the trio who were still huddled on the lawn, communicating in hand signs that he figured out quickly. They had counted on a quick in and out, not having arrows come skating out of the darkness and no sign of where they'd come from. Now they were trying to narrow down their options, but with no place to hide, they were stuck. And with explicit orders not to do anything to Till, their options went from few to one. They needed to get off his land and now.
Till nocked another arrow as he stalked across the grass, holding it carefully in case he needed to get off a quick shot. The wolves followed on his heels, just as silent, their minds set on the hunt and chase, their dark coats blending into the night so well, they might as well have been shadows.
“It's a good thing I'm a damn fine shot, or all of you would be looking like hedgehogs right now,” Till said when he was about 10 feet away from the trio, voice low but more than loud enough to be heard. The three men jumped to their feet, goggle-eyed faces swiveling as they tried to figure out where he was. Thanking Flake's intense lessons in how to 'blur' his presence to others, Till bit back a bark of laughter when they staggered about in a tight circle, unable to pinpoint his location. The wolves circled them, growling softly, baring their silvery fangs as they did.
“Fucker has goddamn dogs!” the smallest of the trio hissed. “The briefing didn't say shit about fucking dogs!”
::I am not a dog!!:: Many-Snows growled, snapping at the man's hand, tearing the glove he wore but not the skin underneath. Till called her away with a soft word; she broke off and went back to sitting next to Swiftkill but a growl still simmered in her chest. Fire-Chaser and Swiftkill flanked Till, teeth bared and silent.
“Perhaps you'd like to tell me why you're trespassing on my farm in the middle of the night?” Till said, tightly controlled, almost at a whisper, voice the only sign that he was boiling mad. Bringing the arrow up to bear on the trio, he continued, “And why I should call the police and let them take care of you rather than bury what's left after the wolves are done with you?”
The tallest, biggest of the trio had finally figured out roughly where Till was; he turned to face him and said, “You have a damn fine security system. I didn't see anything in the trees or anything else to show you had an alarm system. And whoever taught you how to shoot a bow in almost pitch darkness was a master.”
“Thanks, I'll have to pass that along to the friend who taught me how,” Till replied, still keeping the arrow pointed at the man's chest even though he sounded as casual as the day was long. “So, here we are. You haven't answered my question, though. Why are you here, and why shouldn't I put an arrow through you and your little friend who's standing behind you with a throwing knife pointed over your shoulder at me?”
The big man didn't move, but hissed over his shoulder, “Samson, drop it!”
“Sir, he's got a boar-killer arrow pointed at you!” the man growled, the point of the knife not wavering an inch. Till found himself impressed that whoever had sent these three men here chose those who obviously had serious military training. Somewhat amused but still madder than a knocked over hive of bees, Till raised his voice a touch and said, “Samson, I'm very good with this bow and arrow, and I'm not half bad with a knife either. Please drop the knife, okay? I honestly don’t want to hurt you but I will if I have to.”
In the following moments, Till wasn't sure what happened first, Samson's throwing his knife or Fire-Chaser leaping from his side to knock the man to the ground where he pinned him, teeth closed over the man's neck in what would be a killing bite if he moved. Till ducked aside and the knife sailed over his shoulder to land in the bushes at the edge of the house, while the third man, who'd stood quietly through the whole exchange, turned and sprinted for the driveway. Many-Snows was hot on his heels, her joyful howl breaking the stillness. The leader hadn't moved an inch; instead, he held his hands up and said, “I don't know who hired us! We're ex-military and we work for whoever pays us. All I know is I got an e-mail a couple weeks ago from an e-mail I couldn't trace asking us to do a recon of your property, nothing more. You weren't even supposed to be here!”
“I hope you got paid quite well for this, because you're gonna need some time in the hospital after this is over,” Till replied. A pained yell startled them both, followed by more wolf-song; Till winced and said to Swiftkill, ::You'd better call her off before she kills him. Chew him up a bit, okay, but kill him, nope:: Flicking his attention back, he continued, “Since you didn't do more than wake me up and put me in a bad mood, I'll give you till the count of ten before I put an arrow in you. And I'm gonna pick a place that'll hurt.” The man said nothing, turned and began running across the lawn; once he'd set foot on the driveway, Till let the arrow loose, the sounds of harsh swearing telling him he'd hit his target. Many-Snows called that she had pinned this man down as well and while she wasn't happy that Till asked her not to kill him, she was pleased at how crafty he was. Returning the compliment with a mental pat, Till put his bow over his shoulder and cracked his knuckles.
“As for you,” Till purred, leaning over the last of the men who was lying paralyzed with fear under Fire -Chaser's fangs, “I'm going to kick your ass. Let him go, my dear.”
Once Till had sent the last of the trespassers limping away, battered from head to toe, broken bones and more than a few bites in their tender parts from Fire-Chaser's sharp fangs, he walked slowly back to the porch and slumped into the first chair he came to, adrenaline running out of him like water out of a broken glass. He couldn't unwrap his fingers from the bow sling he'd pulled from his wrist; they were locked tight as they shook and were slick with sweat. A sick taste rose in his mouth and he gagged, not wanting to throw up on his porch and he managed to bite it back. Staggering to his feet, Till dug the spare house key out of its hidden spot on the porch and stumbled into his house, making it to the kitchen in time to throw up in the sink.
Leaning heavily on the back of a chair, eyes closed and sweat pouring down after being sick, Till didn't hear the soft pad-pad of three pairs of wolf feet coming into the kitchen and almost gutted Swiftkill when he touched the back of his hand with a cold, wet nose. The wolf jumped away, apologizing a mile a minute; Till dropped the knife he hadn't realized he was gripping into a nearby basket, slid the now-empty quiver from his back onto the floor and followed it with the bow. He flopped down in the chair he'd been clinging to, laid his arms on the table and put his head on them.
::I wanted to kill those idiots:: he said at last. :: I could have killed them and not even cared. Hell, I would have enjoyed it!::
::They invaded your safe place, your den:: Swiftkill said, gently nudging Till's knee with his nose. He reached down and stroked the wolf's head, his other hand pinching the bridge of his nose. ::I'm a fucking musician, not some kind of...I don't know what I am, not any more::
Many-Snows laid her head on Till's other leg while Fire-Chaser stretched out at his feet. Neither wolf nor Changeling spoke; finally Till raised his head, wiping away the combined sweat and tears on the sleeve of his jacket. Ruffling Swiftkill and Many-Snows's thickly furred heads, he slowly got to his feet and went to replace the spare key in its hiding spot. The wolves followed him to the door, filing out into the night like shadows.
“Is there anything I can do for the three of you?” he asked, leaning on the door-frame as the last of his energy drained out. “You can stay in here for the night if you want.”
::No, that's all right:: Swiftkill said. ::We have families to get back to and reports of our own to make. If you could, before you leave, we could go for some of that elk we saw you bring home earlier in the year.::
Till laughed softly and said, “I'll put it at the edge of the woods in the morning. I don't know how I can thank you three for showing up in time, though.”
::Don't ever hunt a wolf:: Fire-Chaser said, eyes and mental voice steel-hard and cold. ::Or at least keep your hunting to rouges, all right?::
“Done, and done,” Till replied, reaching a hand out for Fire-Chaser to lick. “Be careful going home, all right?”
::We will!:: Swiftkill said, and in the wink of an eye they were gone, the dark woods swallowing them up as if they were never there. Till managed to finish locking the house up and half-crawl upstairs to bed before his last erg of energy was spent. He was asleep before he landed in bed, feet hanging over the side, still dressed. And thankfully, he did not dream of what he had wanted to do to the men who’d invaded his property.
“Anything as long as it's nowhere near those pyromanical crazies. It took me weeks to get the stench of propane gas out of my clothes and longer to get my hearing back.”
Siobhan and Lilly were strolling slowly across the lawn at Paul and Arielle's house, the songs of the first birds that had made it back from their winter retreats echoing across the hills. The short tour the band had been on had been a success, their fans always wanting more from their heroes, but they'd made a promise to keep the tour short so Christoph and Richard could be home with Lilly when the time came for Isabel to be born. They'd been able to come up with plausible explanations as to why they wanted to keep the tour short, and so far, there hadn't been a hint of Lilly's condition coming from the fan grapevine.
“How are you feeling? I know, it seems that’s the first thing I ask you these days,” Siobhan asked as they stopped near a huge, ancient oak tree that had an simple tree house in its branches. Paul had built it by hand for his daughter, Lily, when she was young, only getting professional help when he ran into something he wasn't sure how to do (and being right there in the middle, asking a million questions and squirreling away the knowledge), and had only fallen out of the tree once (thankfully, he hadn't been up in the tree more than a couple of feet). It was still in excellent condition despite the weather it had endured over the past few years, and it wasn't uncommon to still see father and daughter up in that safe haven, having long, heart to heart talks.
Lilly sighed, leaned against the tree and said, “The morning sickness is over and none too soon. My being sick every morning was bad enough; for Reesh and Christoph to have it too was a disaster. My feet aren't swelling and my hands are fine. I'm just kinda tired all the time and if I don't get enough sleep, I get shaky like my blood sugar’s too low.”
Siobhan nodded and replied, “I wish that the ultrasound would work on you. But it's not just you, I sneaked Till into the ultrasound room and it wouldn't work around him either. So I guess we're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way, observation and a little magic here and there. Have you gotten anything from her, like how she feels or if she's...well, saying she's going to be very talented is up there with saying water is wet.”
Lilly thought for a moment, sapphire eyes seeing nothing as she carefully 'looked' her daughter over. When she blinked, she said, “She's happy. Warm, safe, and she knows she's loved. Reesh wasn't able to sense her till now but Chris, the moment she came into being, he sensed her. We haven't said much because there's always the chance that someone will overhear and the shit will hit the fan. Outside of the band and our little circle, no one knows I'm pregnant.”
Siobhan felt sorry for her friend, hearing the strain in her voice. While Siobhan had a career to finish and concentrate on, Lilly had become something of a recluse, not out of either of her partners wanting her cocooned away for her and the baby's safety, but because she didn't feel right taking a job where she would only be working a few months before leaving to have her daughter.
Worrying her lower lip with her teeth, Siobhan said, “Look, I know you're getting stir crazy in that apartment, no matter how much you have to keep you busy. The walk-in clinic at the hospital always needs a hand or three, you said that your licenses came through to work here, so why don't you come work for me three days a week? I have to put in three days as part of my work-study and it'll be nice having someone around that can read my horrible handwriting. The last time I wrote anything down I think one of our clerical people thought it was for summoning demons; she refused to try and read it!”
Lilly snort-laughed at Siobhan's comment; her handwriting was legendary in its inability to be read, much more than either Till's or Richard's. “I think I'll take you up on that! Is there anything special I need to do?”
“Nope! One of my oldest friends is the head of hiring and I'll make sure she calls you next week. You've seen what I wear, scrubs and trainers, and don't worry about getting lost, I'll come pick you up,” Siobhan said, carefully hugging her friend. “Now, the problem is what are your boys going to do when you're not home?”
“Argue, probably. Then find some mischief to get into,” Lilly replied. “I don't know what's funnier, their fighting over stupid stuff or all the making up they do. If they don't end up in bed shortly afterwards it's only because they're arguing with Marley and Fiona who are threatening to move to Till's house if only to get some sleep!”
“Speaking of Till,” Siobhan said, as they walked back to the house, “I suppose you heard about the midnight invasion at his house a few weeks ago?”
“Every bit of it, and that he's got some woodland friends to protect him,” Lilly replied. “Does anyone have a clue as to who hired those three idiots or where they came from?”
“Not yet, and Danica has been all over his farm with a fine toothed, semi-magical comb. If any of the humans who she worked with knew why she closed her cases so fast they'd freak,” Siobhan replied. Her sister-in-law had been a detective in Belfast for several years and had left the force after six of her co-workers had been killed in front of her during a hostage negotiation gone horribly wrong. She’d been able to hold herself together until the day after the final funeral was held, when her iron control over her talents unraveled.
Siobhan’s brother Kieren had been working in the same precinct as Danica worked in, doing IT work, and had been there the day she'd fallen apart mentally and magically. Using the confusion of exploding electronic equipment, a minor tornado tearing through the halls and furniture flying about like model airplanes, Kieren whisked her out the back door of the building and had taken her back to his great-grandmother Dannahur’s home an hour outside of Belfast to see if his family could help her. Over the course of her convalescence, Danica had fallen in love with Kieren and he with her. Sensing that being close to the land would help heal her, Kieren’s grandmother had given them the apple orchard and herb farm as a wedding gift and the work they'd had to put in to bring the land back to fertility had healed Danica physically, psychically and mentally. She occasionally consulted on cases that she felt she could help out on, but no longer visited the city. In fact, she refused to visit any large city for more than a few hours. And now that she was pregnant, she'd have even less desire to leave the safe space of her land. That she had done so for Till, despite Siobhan's relationship with him, spoke volumes. She'd taken the breaking-in personally, and had sworn if she ever found out who the men were, who had hired them and why they had been looking for Till, their great, great grandchildren would be feeling the punishment she would be meting out. It had sounded funny but Siobhan knew her sister-in-law’s temper and tenacity.
“From what Till told me he and the wolves sent them running home with their hats in their hands, so to speak,” Lilly said, waving at Ollie who was crossing the lawn at a trot. He stopped, cheeks pink and glowing from the cool air and sunlight and said, “So there you are! We're pulling together a game of football and we're short. Lilly, Siobhan, either of you want to join?”
“I'll be scorekeeper and referee,” Lilly said, sliding her arm through the one Ollie held out. Siobhan wrapped an arm around the lanky bass player's waist from the other side and said, “I'm in. Do I get to run over Till a few hundred times or do I have to play nice?”
Ollie shuddered dramatically, remembering the last time she'd participated in a pick up game of football with the band. It had been during their Canadian leg of the tour, and stories of the melee were still going around the band's crew. Siobhan had run Till over multiple times in her quest to score a goal for her side, cross-checked Paul into their team's own net, wholly ignoring most of the rules of the game, and only Till's grabbing her around the waist and hauling her off to a conveniently empty equipment trailer for a quickie had ended her beating him up. “Please play nice this time, Siobhan. I still have a dent in my ribcage where you climbed right over me on your rampage. If the Mongol horde had met you back when, the gods only know what the world would be like now!”
“I did nothing of the sort!” she protested, a sly smile gracing her features. “You were just in the way and the quickest route was over you, so...”
Lilly giggled and shook her head. “I hope Ari has enough bandages and anti-bacterial gel for everyone....”
“And vodka!” Siobhan crowed. “Don't forget the vodka! For medicinal purposes, you see...”
The man that the band had known as Dmitri was sitting in front of a huge, oak-topped desk, his body language casual but all senses on high alert. He'd last reported to the man across the desk from him several months prior and had gone onto his next assignment when a juicy tidbit about his former employers/assignment had him calling the unlisted number he'd been given if he needed to contact someone high up in the organization with any information about his previous job. He'd been told that if he heard anything about them that his employer didn't know of, he was to call them and quickly...and that if he told anyone else, he'd be keeping the fish at the bottom of the river company quicker than he could blink. He had no reason to betray them; after all, who'd pulled him out of a jail cell, rehabbed him and gotten him back to doing what he'd done best before his addiction to cocaine and heroin had taken his life away?
Straightening his shirt cuffs, Dmitri said, “She's pregnant, and from what I hear it's the drummer's kid. You know what that means.”
The man sitting behind the desk was partially in shadow from the half-drawn curtains that shut out the spring sunlight, so Dmitri couldn't fully see his face, but he didn't need to. The man's throttled snarl told him volumes, and from the way his slender but strong fingers tightened on the edge of the desk blotter, he was furious. “We can't have this,” he muttered, letting go of the leather blotter and ignoring the deep ruts his clenching fingers had left in the leather and desk top. “We should have eliminated that whack-job doctor back in the States when he stole some of our research and drugs from us, but no, I listened to my so-called superiors and let him go. Now look what he's done! Bad enough my contact in the States fucked up and incinerated his corpse before we could get more out of it, but that there's going to be a baby out of two of those people!”
“From what I remember, no one in the band showed off any of their talents,” Dmitri said, trying to settle his employer down a little. “For all we know, their talents might have faded if they didn't use them or get any training. None of my equipment showed more than the occasional blip, and that's what you see on normal people. I had everything calibrated before I left on that job and kept it all up to spec.”
The man in the shadows stood up slowly from his chair and walked over to the window, pushing the curtains aside to stare out over the city. He was several inches taller than Ollie, with the pale skin of an office worker, grey hair and grey demeanor. He looked absolutely mundane, even down to the cut of his suit and voice. But when he turned to face Dmitri, the full force of his black eyes fell on him like a two ton boulder, and for a moment Dmitri thought he was doomed. However, the man shook his head and replied, “I don't blame you for anything, my friend, so stand down. They are talented, don't think for a second that they aren't, it's just they're somehow able to hide it from even the best equipment we have.”
Dmitri thought for a moment, then said, “Excuse me for seeming dim, but why is that woman being pregnant such a problem? If she is, and the baby is born alive, it won't be anything to slip into whatever hospital she delivers in and take it, put a stillborn in its place.”
The other man shook his head, a shudder making his tall frame quiver. “Oh no, I am not going to meddle with her that way. You don't remember the fallout from what happened in Moscow, do you? You didn't see what was left of the idiot who thought she'd pull that woman's tail and get off easily. I saw her brain scans; there wasn't enough grey matter left to make a blip on an EEG chart. It's a good thing I'd had her followed anyway, if she had died right in that hotel it would have ruined our plans. No, I'm not going to do anything just yet. And I will not hurt a child, non-human or no.”
Dmitri nodded, knowing that there were few things that his employers didn't do, and one was harming children. They left that up to their competitors, even if it did cost them money and jobs. He'd only suggested swapping a live child for a dead one to see if his boss still kept that rule, and in his heart he was glad he did. While Dmitri had few scruples of his own left, his rule to keep children out of any job he'd been assigned to was one of the few things that had kept him with his employers all this time. They respected his one demand and thankfully it was theirs as well.
He had no real wish to lock horns with a woman that supposedly turned another woman's brain to mush, or been reported to be able to dig into a human's very DNA and create another like herself. Not without all of his equipment up and running at top capacity, and not without a fast car to get away in. For once, he was thankful that the drugs he'd ingested for years had burned his own talents to ash.
“So tell me,” the tall man said after several quiet moments, leaving the window and sitting on the edge of his desk, “how did you manage to find out this bit of news?”
“I had a friend of a friend who was at their show in Ottawa,” Dmitri said. “A touch telepath. Just so happened he was wandering around backstage and bumped into the drummer. He's well barricaded, that's for damn sure, but not so much as my friend couldn't pick up what he was thinking. Of course my friend had a horrible headache afterwards, always did when he had to strain to use his talent, and thankfully he got word to me before he OD'd on heroin. I'm not sure why he did, he'd been clean for years, but at least he lived long enough to tell me.”
“Could contact have caused that?”
“I can't say for sure,” Dmitri mused. “It's something to keep in mind though. Personally I'd never send an operative out who had the least bit of talent in them to deal with that bunch. If the information we...ahem...acquired from the US is true, they'd sniff them out in a heartbeat.”
“I'll pass that along,” the tall man said. “It's a good thing I told the team that I sent to scope out their singer's house didn't touch him, who knows what he would have found out?”
“I was going to ask how that mission went,” Dmitri said, rising from his chair and straightening his suit jacket until it hung comfortably---or as comfortable as you could be with a pistol and silencer under one arm. “I thought that team was supposed to be in New Mexico?”
“They were. I had them pulled for this job and as you know it didn't go well. They got onto the property---mind you, the team second said he felt like he'd been zapped with an electric current when they crossed the lawn----and it went to hell from there. Our intel said he didn't have an alarm system of any kind but he knew they were there, somehow, and he had three dogs with him. That singer knows how to use a bow and arrow too, the team leader's report said he was shooting boar-killer arrows as accurate as anyone but in full darkness and no night scope. There's more to the report but long story short, they came back looking pretty ragged. The team second got badly mauled by one of the dogs, the team leader had an arrow wound through the shoulder and a broken leg, and the team third was lucky that between that singer and the dog, he'll be able to see out of his left eye in a month or so and the doctors managed to save six of his fingers. He’s finally able to eat semi-solid food too. I’ve never seen anyone with a jaw broken as badly as his.”
Dmitri's eyebrows raised; he'd heard the job had gone bad but no one was talking and the three hired mercs had been paid well to keep their mouths shut. He'd done the initial contact himself, using the skills he'd sharpened while in rehab, and had passed the rest of the job onto his highers-up. With a sigh, he said, “Do I need to go have a....talk...with them?”
“No,” the tall man replied, going back behind his desk and picking a folder out of one of the wire bins at the edge of the desk. “I had them hired in to work for us and they're going to have a little work done on their memories before we let them out on another job. As much as I'd like to let them get their pound of flesh back, so to speak, we can't afford to have revenge-seekers ruining our work.” He handed Dmitri the folder and said, “Your next assignment. I figured you wanted something a little less hectic; two years in our Caribbean office might suit?” Dmitri took the folder and opened it; scanning the papers inside he nodded and said, “Surveillance and research. I like it. Yes, I'm a bit tired of the world of rock and roll, and this is perfect. Thank you, sir.”
“My pleasure. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to prep for a conference call with our R&D staff in Alaska. If you need anything, you know how to get in touch.”
Dmitri nodded, touching the folder to his forehead in a salute. “Anything as long as it's nowhere near those pyromanical crazies. It took me weeks to get the stench of propane gas out of my clothes and longer to get my hearing back.”
[Several months earlier]
The morning sun was just beginning to warm the upper reaches of the tall buildings in Berlin as rush hour started. People were pouring into and out of the U-Bahn stops, stepping out of buses and cars on their way to work, school or other activities. Shops up and down the streets opened their doors for business, from small coffee shops to large commercial businesses.
Khira Li Lindemann trotted up the stairs of the U-Bahn station closest to the office building she worked in, bright blue eyes shaded behind black sunglasses, dark honey blonde hair tied back in a severe bun, and dressed in the uniform of every female office worker in her building---lightweight jacket, silk tee shirt, knee length skirt and shoes with a kitten heel, all in shades of dark sand and deep cream. She had a battered, black leather tote bag over one shoulder, her purse tucked underneath and against her side to prevent pickpockets and thieves. A tiny wire trailed up the front of her jacket to terminate in a set of earplugs that were now draped around her neck; her iPhone was tucked inside her jacket for safekeeping. She'd spent her commute from her apartment to work reading her e-mails from her family and friends, and wasn’t quite watching where she was going when she almost ran into a man standing in front of her. Stopping, startled, she said, “Oh, sorry, I didn't see you!”
“The fault is mine, miss,” the man said, stepping aside to let her pass. Just as Khira Li did, he said, “I'm sorry, I don't mean to bother you, but could you tell me where the nearest news agent is?”
Khira Li pointed down the street and said, “Go about two blocks and turn right at the McDonald's. There's a bookstore there, I believe.” She smiled at the man, who looked like the stereotypical tourist, laden down with a camera bag, day pack, and an air of confusion. He thanked her and turned to go, only to stop and lower his sunglasses. His odd, grey eyes met hers, and he slowly blinked at her, a puzzled look on his face. Khira Li felt a shiver of cold dance up her spine and pulled her shields in tightly, preparing to run if the stranger did more than stare at her. She stepped backwards, wanting to bare her teeth and hiss at the man like an angry cat. Instead, she glared at him and spun on her heel to lose herself in the crowd of people going into the building. Her heart was hammering on her ribs, sweat collecting on the small of her back as she rode the elevator up to her office. Ignoring her co-workers’ greetings and their concerned looks, she rushed into her office, closing, and locking the door behind her. She dug a shawl out of one of her desk drawers and wrapped it around her shoulders, dropping into her chair where she sat and shook. The man hadn't touched her, hadn't said a word but something had set her inner warning system off. She was terrified and angry; it took all her willpower not to call her father or one of her “uncles” and ask for help.
An hour passed before Khira Li felt settled and warm enough to get up and unlock her door. She plastered a sunny smile on her face as she made her way to the kitchen to pour out a cup of coffee and grab a lemon-blueberry muffin. She made small talk with the people she encountered, playing down her odd behavior of the morning. Once back in her office, she booted up her computer and lost herself in the pile of work that had come across her desk overnight so she wouldn’t have to think about what had happened.
Her stomach announced a few hours later that it was lunchtime; she declined her co-workers' offers to go out for lunch. She asked Cherie, one of her oldest friends at the company to pick her up a sandwich, salad, and a large iced coffee, telling her that she had too much work to do and a tight deadline. Cherie smiled at her and said, “Khira Li, you're going to work yourself to the bone. I know you worked over the weekend too.”
Khira Li smiled back and said, “It's the first weekend I've worked in months. I just want to get this project in early. There's a chance I'm going to finally go on vacation in a couple months, maybe earlier, and I don't want to have anything hanging out there.”
Cherie grinned at Khira Li, took the money she held out for her lunch and headed for the elevators. Khira Li sighed and rested her head in her hands, feeling bad for lying to Cherie but still too nervous to go outside and possibly run into the strange man from the morning. She took deep breaths, reaching for a calmness that remained out of her grasp. Growling to herself, she dug a tiny box that looked like a walnut out of the bottom of her purse; it had contained a pair of earrings an ex-boyfriend had given her. Inside the box were five, light pink pills, very mild sedatives that her doctor had given her a couple years previous when she had gone through some personal issues that kept her from sleeping and functioning. She'd kept the last five of the prescription in this hidden box for emergencies and as far as she was concerned, this was an emergency. Only momentarily worried about how they would react with her now being a Changeling, she counted to five and swallowed half of one with the last of her coffee, now cold and bitter, but it covered the sour taste of the medicine. Sitting back in her chair, she stared at a place outside her window and let her mind wander until the warm numbness of the sedative washed away her nervousness and loosened the knot in her stomach. By the time Cherie returned with lunch, Khira Li was her usual self and ate everything with a hunger that surprised her, especially after she had been so nervous and sick earlier.
The end of the workday sneaked up on Khria Li, she was so deep into her work. Sven, her supervisor, came to her door and knocked on the frame, saying, “I thought you were only working till three this week?” She looked up from her computer, puzzled, and replied, “It's what...oh crap, it's nearly five! Vati is going to wonder where I am! I was supposed to meet him for an early dinner...wonder why he hasn't called?”
“Maybe because he's waiting for you downstairs?” Sven said, a bright smile on his face. “He called your extension but it rolled to my desk when you didn't answer. I told him you were up to your eyeballs and that was why you didn't hear your phone ring. He said he'd wait for you and that you weren't to rush through what you were doing.”
“I'm so embarrassed. I give Vati grief all the time about forgetting things and that if his head wasn’t sewn on he’d forget it,” Khira Li grumbled as she shoved several file folders into her bag, following it with her laptop, a pile of papers and a handful of thumb drives. Making sure her computer was shut down properly, she took a second to look in a mirror she had in a drawer to make sure she looked somewhat presentable. Satisfied with what she saw, she pulled her jacket on, snatched up her things and ran for the elevator, calling a thank you to Sven over her shoulder as she went. Only a couple of her co-workers knew who her father was, which she appreciated. She was proud of herself that she had gotten the job she had on her own merit, not on her last name---even if it wasn't her father's last name she bore. She half danced in place as the elevator dropped twenty floors to the ground, excited to see Richard as she hadn't seen him in several weeks. When the doors opened, she saw her father and Christoph standing in front of a crystal and wooden statue; it took a lot of effort to not run over to them and pounce on them like she had as a little girl. Instead she hurried across the lobby, smiling so hard her cheeks hurt and letting Richard catch her up in a tight hug.
“Baby girl, it's so good to see you!” Richard laughed, planting a smacking kiss on her cheek. She kissed him back, saying, “I've missed you and I apologize for forgetting we were going to meet and have dinner.”
“Oh, I think we can forgive you this once,” Christoph teased, holding his arms out for a hug. Khira Li loved his hugs, just enthusiastic enough and not so much that you were squished. Her Uncle Till's hugs were like being hugged by a gigantic, friendly bear that didn't mean to squeeze the breath out of your lungs. She kissed Christoph's cheek, spotting the remnants of a love bite at the edge of his neck. Pulling back, she shot him a curious glance, complete with raised eyebrow the way her father did. Christoph blushed, looked at the floor and said, “Pretend you don't see that, okay?”
“Are you responsible for this, Vati?” Khira Li teased, watching a blush make its way across her father's face. She laughed, gently swatted his shoulder, and said, “I've got some concealer in my bag that will cover that bruise, Christoph.”
“Give it to me and I'll go see if I can do some damage control,” Christoph said ruefully. Khira Li dug the makeup out of her bag and handed it over along with a brush and sponge to blend the thick formula, and a compact of powder to set the concealer. Christoph vanished into a nearby bathroom, Richard and Khira Li found a pair of seats nearby and settled in to wait. They talked about the work Richard had been doing for his other band, Emigrate, Ollie's visit to see Amelia in the States, and Khira Li's job. Richard was relating a funny story about the kittens Marley and Fiona when Christoph returned, bruise concealed perfectly. He handed Khira Li's makeup back with a grin of thanks, saying, “I'm gonna have to start carrying that stuff if a certain someone insists on playing vampire.”
“Ewww!” Khira Li said, wrinkling her nose at Christoph and her father. “I'd rather not know. What I'd like to know is where we're going to eat!”
“There's a new vegetarian and non-vegetarian place in Alexanderplatz that opened last week. I haven't been there but word around Black Box is that it's not half bad,” Christoph said as he led Richard and Khira Li to the elevator that went up to the parking garage. While taking a cab, private car or even the U-Bahn was an option, Christoph had had a feeling that morning when he woke up that anything he, Richard or Lilly needed to do that day, would be done using his car, that it would be safer.
It took no time at all for them to get to Alexanderplatz and parked near the restaurant; as he was following Richard and Khira Li into the restaurant, Christoph felt as if someone was staring holes into his back. He stopped on the restaurant’s threshold and while pretending to pull his sunglasses off and tuck them into his shirt pocket, he peered over his shoulder at the same time extending a tendril of his talent to see if he was being paranoid or if he really was being stared at. His eyes met those of a man dressed like every other businessman in the area, tailored black suit, black tie and white shirt, grey hair cut close to his scalp and odd grey eyes to match. The man said nothing, just nodded, and turned away, losing himself in the crowd so fast that Christoph didn’t have the time to run after him. Biting back an irritated hiss, Christoph caught up with Khira Li and Richard as they followed a waitress into the restaurant.
They were working on dessert when Khira Li looked up at her father and said, “I don’t know if I should tell you this out in the open but…have you seen anyone…well, strange around your neighborhood lately? Christoph, have you?”
Richard felt as if the floor dropped out from under him; Christoph’s stricken gaze told him that he was feeling the same way. Richard swallowed down the rage-induced nausea that threatened to overwhelm him; only Christoph’s hand on his thigh kept him from bolting away from the table and running for the bathroom to be sick and then out onto the street to hunt down whoever had frightened his daughter. He coughed, took a deep drink of his wine, and said softly, “No. Has someone been bothering you, Khira Li?” He almost didn’t recognize his own voice, it was ragged, angry and raw.
::Steady on, beloved:: Christoph said in the depths of their bond. ::She’s scared out of her wits and she needs her father right now. Take a breath and watch your temper…and your mouth::
::Someone’s messing with my kid, Christoph!:: Richard snapped back. ::No one, and I mean no one, touches my kid the wrong way and gets away with it. I don’t care how old she is::
::And that’s why I’m telling you to get yourself under control, Richard!:: Christoph growled. ::I know how you are about Khira Li, and if she were my daughter I’d be as protective. But she needs you to be strong and calm for her. She’s still not used to being a Changeling, for all that she’s been pretty easy going about it. Plus you’ve never told her about there being people snooping after us::
“I wouldn’t say bothering me, per se,” Khira Li said, either ignoring the sudden, vibrating tension between her father and Christoph, or not seeing it at all. “There was this guy this morning who stopped me as I was going into work, he asked me where the closest bookstore---he called it a news agent---was. I gave him directions and as I was walking away, he stared at me like he’d seen me before. It kind of spooked me. I couldn’t get a good read on him, but then again I wasn’t really thinking of that, just getting to someplace safe and public.”
Richard sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to rein in his temper as Christoph had asked. He cracked his knuckles and said slowly, “We’ve had some problems with people following us around lately. No, not lately. For quite a while, in fact. Since the first tour that Lilly was on with us.”
Khira Li blinked, one eyebrow rising in a perfect imitation of her father when he was annoyed or puzzled. She blotted her lips on the heavy linen napkin in her lap, cleared her throat and said in a voice cold and hard, “And when were you planning to tell me about this? Was anyone, or were you going to leave me in the dark like you did before when you wouldn’t tell me about you, Christoph, and Lilly? And about…well, you know.”
Christoph could feel Khira Li’s anger beginning to sizzle in the air and said privately to her, ::Khira Li, please don’t be angry with your father. He’s been trying to figure out how to tell you about these people that have been dogging us for the past couple of years, but not scare you. Not one of you youngsters know about this, not till now. You’re the only one that knows out of all the kids. I feel stupid calling you a kid, but…please understand, Littleling:
::If anyone else asked me to forgive my father and understand where he’s coming from I’d tell them to fuck off right now:: Khira Li replied, digging in her tote bag to hide her angry tears and need to smack her father upside the head for his overprotective nature. ::This is the last time though. You’re not going to be like this with Isabell, I hope!::
::Jesus fuck, I hope not. Remind me if I do, though:: Christoph ruefully replied. He gently kicked Richard under the table and whispered, “You and your daughter need some time alone to hash this out. Why don’t I run you two back to the apartment? Lilly is out with Siobhan and some of their friends from work till late, and I’m thinking I should head out to my house for the night. I need to catch up on Game of Thrones so I can delete it off the system and free up some room. The portable drive is bursting at the seams.”
::She’ll pitch me off the edge of the kitchen garden!:: Richard said, suddenly afraid of his daughter and the rage he could feel pouring down their bond. She’d grown stronger in her talents since he’d awakened her talents over a year previous, and he hadn’t taken notice how strong she’d become, how disciplined she was in her talents, and that she was more than capable of taking care of herself than ever. While he was still stronger than she was, it was only a matter of time and training before she was as strong as he was, perhaps closer to how strong Lilly was.
::Don’t be a complete idiot, Vati:: Khira Li chided, poking her father in his knee with the toe of her shoe. ::I’m annoyed with you, maybe more than a little bit angry, but I’m not throwing you anywhere that might end up with you landing on some poor bystander and flattening them.::
::Hey! I’ve gained a little weight but not that much!:: Richard protested, blushing fiercely. Christoph had to hide his face in his hands and bite his lip to keep from howling with laughter. Richard had gained a little weight over the past couple of months, but that was due to himself, Lilly and Richard eating more take-out than they usually did, and that even with his virus-enhanced metabolism, Richard still gained a tiny bit of weight no matter what. Khira Li snorted and poked Christoph in the ribs until he started to laugh, softly. Richard sat, eyebrows meeting his fringe, a look of annoyance that was trying to become an amused one on his face. He finally gave in and snort-laughed, shaking his head at his daughter and partner. “The things I have to put up with from you two…” he sighed.
“You planned to tell me about being followed all over hill and dale eventually?”
Richard sighed and snuggled down a bit more deeply into the corner of the couch he was occupying. Khira Li was at the other side, both cats in her lap, legs tucked into each other tailor-fashion. She’d pulled one of the afghans that was on the back of the couch to cover her legs up and give the cats a comfortable place to nap while she and her father talked. Richard let his head drop back so he could stare at the ceiling and pull his thoughts together.
“Yeah, I did. Lilly got on my case several times about it but I just couldn’t find the right time, you know?” Richard murmured, still staring at the ceiling. “Lilly was the first of us to notice there were people showing up everywhere we went, and they weren’t fans. There were other little things we noticed, and it all came to a head the afternoon I got into an argument with Till. I’d been a bitch all that day and if Chris hadn’t stepped in, I really don’t want to think of the hurt we’d have put on each other.”
“I remember that,” Khira Li said, idly patting Marley on the head. “Uncle Christoph beat the shit out of you, didn’t he?”
“I still have the bruises from that broom handle he used on my behind!” Richard laughed. “But yeah, Chris’ taking that broom handle to my butt stopped the fight. Once we were all thinking clearly, we realized that the bad mood we’d all been in for a couple of months started when we brought some new crew members on board for the US dates. Then…nothing. We came back home, started the next leg, and hadn’t seen anyone until a few months ago. Right after the holidays, I think.”
Khira Li nibbled at the edge of one finger, sky-blue eyes hooded in thought. “No one outside the family and a few others know that Lilly’s pregnant, right?” Richard nodded; Khira Li continued, “And the only people who know we are what we are is…well, only us?”
“No, there’s people who know but they’re not people,” Richard replied uneasily. Marley opened one eye and said, ::I take it this is our cue?:: When Richard nodded, she stood up from her spot in Khira Li’s lap, pawing at her sister until she woke. Fiona yawned as she got up, following Marley as she clambered up to the back of the couch. Khira Li watched them, amused, her smile fading fast when Fiona said, ::We’re able to speak to people like you and your father. If they weren’t Changelings, we’d never let them know we could speak to them. We weren’t in their presence more than a few minutes after they rescued us when we were able to understand them and started to be able to speak back::
::There’s other creatures, other beings out there that know about our family:: Marley said, gently rubbing her cheek against Khira Li’s face, trying to soothe her. The scent of her fear was strong and powerful; the last thing they needed was a predator scenting her out, which some of the more powerful ones could do even through the strong shields around the building. Richard was half out of his seat, one hand outstretched to his daughter; she waved it away and reached a shaking hand up to pet Marley. Fiona crossed the back of the couch and hopped into Richard’s lap, purring loudly, and butting her head against his stomach, trying to comfort him as best she could.
“I know there’s others who know about us,” Khira Li murmured, coaxing Marley into her arms so she could snuggle the cat under her chin. “Uncle Ollie told me about them. Why doesn’t it surprise me that he’s got a shapeshifter for a girlfriend, that Jenny is kinda like one of the elves from Lord of the Rings, and that Arielle didn’t rip Uncle Paul’s appendix out through his nose when he changed her and didn’t ask? Oh, and that doctor that Uncle Till is dating is half-Elf. If I wasn’t a Changeling, I’d have you all carted off to the insane asylum.”
Richard let out the breath he’d been holding in a near-hysterical laugh, snuffling back tears he hadn’t known were threatening to fall. “So, you still mad at me?”
“No, Vati, but you will not hold anything back from now on. You promise me or else,” Khira Li said fiercely. Richard was startled by the ferocity in her voice and in the link they shared, the anger that if he went back on his promise that he would be shut out of her life forever. He blinked more tears from his eyes as he eased Fiona onto the floor and scooted slowly across the couch. Marley hopped out of Khira Li’s lap as father and daughter hugged, Richard promising his child with everything he had that he would never shut her out of anything ever again that concerned him or her. They both cried a little, and when their tears were dried, Khira Li curled under her father’s arm like she did when she was little and said, “I should be getting home, it’s getting really late.”
“Why don’t you spend the night? Lilly will be happy to see you and I’d be glad for you to stay,” Richard said, ruffling Khira Li’s hair. He could feel her slight hesitation; she was wanting to stay and be safe with her father and Lilly but her fierce independence wanted her to turn down his invitation and go home. In a small voice, she said, “I’m afraid, a little. I’ll…I’ll stay.”
Richard kissed her forehead and snuggled his child closer, letting his eyes drift shut as the pride he had for his daughter and her bravery made a warm spot flare in his heart. He’d missed being her knight in shining armor and was again, if only for a little while.
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.