Summary: Possible events between the episodes "Convergence" & "Transcendence"
Author's Note: If you came here from Wormie's Wicked Game with Gabriel you suspect that this story was inspired by this entry "Can't see Gabe...giving Ian advice on chicks: "No, man, trust me. Chicks aren't into the stalking thing. The Goth thing kinda works for you, though. Keep it up." This entry (and two others) illicited the following comment from DragonLady: "Wormie, you MUST expand these into a fic." So I did. Part 1 is purely a tongue-in-cheek answer to DragonLady's request (with a few board inside jokes). Beck, who graciously did the initial beta-read, politely requested more and, well, Part 2 was born...but with less of a tongue-in-cheek attitude.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Beck for the initial beta-reading and for tricking me into writing more and to Jessica for the final beta-reading, spit and polish. You both are fab, generous beta-readers. Thanks.
Part 1 (Sometime after Thanatopsis & before Convergence)
Gabriel Bowman entered his favorite bar, The EmBee, in good spirits. Business was good -he'd just gotten a sweet deal on a pre-Columbian funeral urn complete with the ashes of a 1000 year old Mayan princess- and he had just found out some more stuff about the Witchblade for Sara. Add to that the fact that he was starting to come to terms with his friend Sly's death and things were good - or, at least, not bad. He had discovered this place by accident; when looking for a place to hang after moving to his current apartment, The EmBee had been around the corner. He'd been a regular ever since.
From the outside, it was just a little door, easy to miss if you didn't know it was there. On the inside, it was neither a dive nor pretentious nor trendy...only comfortable. He liked every person he had shared a drink with here. He considered all the regulars to be friends. He didn't think it could be possible for a bar to be so consistently populated with such cool people. In fact, he had half-convinced himself that there was a spell on the place to keep the a-holes out. It was early and he didn't see any of the regulars except for the guy with the bug eyes and the stringy blonde hair. He was nice enough but a loner; everybody avoided him.
Gabriel stopped at the bar with a smile for the bartender/owner. She was older than Gabriel, around Sara's age, and more than once had given Gabriel good advice on life, girls, and running an e-business. She was definitely on Gabriel's friend list. She had introduced herself that first night and they had joked how both their names started with G and that's what Gabriel had called her ever since. He couldn't remember what her real name was now.
"Hey, G. What's up?"
"The Dow and the NASDAQ." She grinned. "Got a new drink for you. Wanna' try?"
"Sure." Gabriel watched as she put the various ingredients into a shaker. She hid the shaker from Gabriel's view under the bar.
She said, "Now I'm adding the first secret ingredient." After a moment, she covered it, shook it then hid it under the bar again. "Now for the second secret ingredient."
Gabriel tried to look over the bar, but before he could see what she was doing, she put a tumbler glass on the bar before him. She expertly poured the mixture into the glass. The liquid had a deep red color, like Carnelian, with some lighter shades seeming to swirl within. Gabriel smiled. That was cool.
"Magnificent, isn't it?"
Gabriel nodded. "That's cool. Should I even ask how you did that?"
"Magic. Alchemy. Science." She shrugged with a grin. "Go ahead. Try it."
Gabriel took the glass and sipped it. At first, it was both sweet and tart, but then he could taste the alcohol. It was more than a hint of alcohol but not a harsh aftertaste, just enough to make its presence known. He could tell it packed quite a punch but didn't look or taste like it did. It would be easy to drink several of these and not realize that the alcohol was kicking in.
"Hey, that's good. What's that called?"
"Well, let's just say I doctored a traditional recipe. Baptize it."
It was an honor to be asked by G to name one of her concoctions. He looked at the drink. Again, he was impressed by the richness of the color and intrigued by the swirls. He didn't understand it, but he wanted to know more about it. Magic, she had said. Magic. Magae. Finally he said, "How about 'Witchblade'?"
G smiled. "I like it. Witchblade it is." She turned her head briefly to the other end of the bar then said, "Excuse me, Gabriel. I'm needed over yonder."
Gabriel took the glass and headed over to his favorite table by the jukebox. He was looking at his "Witchblade" and thought of Sara. He needed to call her, both to tell her what he had learned and to see how she was doing. He sensed someone standing behind him.
A voice said, "I thought you were a reputable business man."
It was the unmistakable voice of Ian Nottingham.
Nottingham slowly walked around Gabriel to face him saying, "You have broken our agreement, Gabriel."
He stood before Gabriel, not meeting Gabriel's eyes, menacing despite his stillness. Gabriel was somewhat afraid of Nottingham but Gabriel didn't want to let him know it.
"What agreement was that?" Gabriel asked casually, knowing what the answer would be.
"Thirty thousand Swiss francs in exchange for no further conversation with Lady Sara about the Witchblade."
Gabriel's response was automatic. "Sara is my friend and I will tell her whatever I find out about the Witchblade." What Nottingham had said took another moment to process. Did he just call her 'Lady Sara'? "Look, I know you could snap my neck like a twig, right? But we both know you aren't going to do that. Sara would never forgive you, and I know you don't want that."
Nottingham nodded once then took the seat across from Gabriel. He placed his hands on the table and laced his fingers with an unnerving deliberateness. "I am pleased Sara has a friend she can trust." He glanced at Gabriel before fixing his gaze on Gabriel's drink.
Gabriel smiled. "What? You don't trust her partner?"
Nottingham eyes flashed up at Gabriel, the hatred obvious and intense, so much so that Gabriel drew back a little. Gabriel took a sip of his drink then chuckled. "I'm just teasing ya'. Sara told me you kicked McCartey's ass and you know what? I don't trust him, either." He shook his head, grinning. "I only wish I was there to watch it."
"I will be sure to invite you next time."
Was that a hint of a smile on Nottingham's lips? Gabriel smiled again.
After a moment, Nottingham asked in a soft, innocent, almost childlike tone, "Gabriel...does Sara speak of me often?"
"Why do you wanna' know?"
Nottingham looked at his hands, looking as sad and lost as a puppy. "Forget I asked."
"Oh, man, you got it bad for her, don't ya'?" Gabriel shook his head. Who would have thought it - Nottingham, bad-ass extraordinaire, had a schoolboy crush on Sara. Gabriel could almost be amused by it. Almost. Truth was, Gabriel was a sucker for unrequited love. He felt for the guy. "All right, all right. I'll tell you whatever you want to know."
Nottingham's eyes shot up at him, looking a little surprised.
"Yeah, she talks about you now and then. How you've saved her neck a few times." Gabriel winked. "She notices things like that. The stalking thing kinda' creeps her out, though."
Gabriel could never have expected the look on Nottingham's face. His brows furrowed, his eyes expressing confusion and deep pain. It was as if Nottingham had been unexpectedly hit across the head with a two-by-four.
"I am merely looking out for her," he explained.
Gabriel shook his head. "No, man, trust me. Chicks don't like the stalking thing. The Goth thing seems to work for you, though. Keep it up."
"You think so? I was thinking of going with a more upscale look." Nottingham raised his right index finger to his chin and tapped it twice. "A soul patch, Armani suit..."
Gabriel was shaking his head again. "Nah. That's too..." Gabriel searched for the right description. "Miami Vice. Sara's more into the nocturnal, self-destructive, bad boy thing."
Nottingham seemed to consider this for a moment. "What else has Sara said about me?"
Gabriel couldn't help it. Nottingham looked so lost. He had it baaad. He threw Nottingham a bone. "She does like it when you sneak up on her. She likes the surprise."
Nottingham's eyes searched Gabriel's. "Please don't tease me, Gabriel."
"No, really. She says it keeps her on her toes."
Apparently encouraged by this, Nottingham asked, "Has she mentioned any dreams?"
Gabriel smiled wickedly. He was the one?
"She said something once about a really erotic dream." He winked. "Must have been a helluva dream cuz she couldn't stop thinking about it. She said she had been distracted for a week afterward."
Nottingham grinned. "Now I know you are teasing me."
Gabriel lost his smile. "No, seriously. I think she was embarrassed that she told me and didn't mention it again. Don't tell her I told you. She'd kick my ass."
Gabriel was stunned by Nottingham's smile. The bastard had a killer smile. Gabriel shook his head. That was a powerful weapon in the battle for any woman's heart. "Geez, Nottingham, just smile like that at her and she'll be putty in your hands."
Nottingham grinned sheepishly and was about to reply when a cell phone rang. "Excuse me." He pulled the phone out of his coat pocket. He flipped it open and put it to his ear. He listened for a moment then closed it again. "I'm sorry. I have to go."
They stood at the same time, Gabriel grabbing his now empty glass. The bar and the exit were in the same general direction so they walked together for a bit in silence. Gabriel put his empty glass on the bar, taking a seat on a stool. Nottingham stopped before him.
"Thank you, Gabriel. Perhaps I'll have time to share a drink next time."
Gabriel grinned and shrugged. "Sure. See ya' around, Nottingham."
Nottingham smiled slightly. "Take care and good night."
Gabriel turned back to face the bar thinking that only at the The Embee could he have had such a pleasant conversation with someone like Nottingham. G walked up to him replacing his empty glass with a fresh Witchblade drink.
Pointing with her chin to Nottingham's departing frame, G said coyly, "who's your friend, Gabriel?"
"Not exactly a friend. A...friend of a friend." He knew G well enough to know what she was hinting at. "Sorry, G. He's taken."
"Too bad." Grinning, she joked, "Does he have a twin? A brother? Hell, I'd even settle for an evil clone."
Gabriel smiled, then a sobering thought occurred to him. "Actually, he might have one of those."
Part 2 (Sometime after Convergence & before Transcendence)
In most ways, the day had not gone well for Sara Pezzini. She was being hunted by the White Bulls, a group of crooked cops led by one who had a personal vendetta against her. Her friend Gabriel was almost killed because he had tried to help her. Her only living witness against the White Bulls, who had given Sara a place to lay low, had hightailed it out of Dodge leaving Sara without a witness or a place to stay. And, Nottingham, of course, she reminded herself.
He had decided to slice her hand open, his only explanation for such an attack being to 'save her life'. Sara looked at her wounded right hand, quickly and uselessly wrapped in a bandana. The cut across her palm re-opened constantly without proper bandaging, but she had been too busy avoiding the White Bulls to really think about it. She concentrated on what had gone well: Gabriel was still alive, her rookie partner turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, and she had helped arrest a sick, twisted SOB who got his kicks raping and killing college girls. If only for that, she didn't mind so much that she needed a shower and a change of clothes.
Jake had offered an FBI safe-house for her to retreat to. She had declined the offer, insisting that she needed to stay on the move. The truth was that she still didn't quite trust Jake. She preferred to think that she was being cautious and not paranoid. Jake had then offered her some cash and she had grudgingly accepted that. It would be enough for a cheap, anonymous motel room if only for a day or two.
Sara, sure that she wasn't being followed, checked in to such a motel. Her room was as she expected. Clean was a relative thing, but, compared to other places she had seen on the job, this place wasn't so bad. The bed would be terrible, but she was so exhausted that she knew it wouldn't matter. There was only one small window by the fire escape. Sara chuckled as she closed the flimsy curtain. Let's see you fit through there, Nottingham. Sara stripped off her clothes, tossing them onto the bed as she did so, and, taking her gun with her, went to take her much needed shower.
Ian Nottingham waited outside of Sara Pezzini's hotel room. For a moment, he considered knocking on the door, politely offering the supplies he had brought with him and leaving as quickly as possible. After assaulting Sara earlier in the day, he felt he didn't merit spending any time with her. He set down his parcels and the large duffel bag. He raised his gloved hand to the door, ready to knock, then didn't.
She does like it when you sneak up on her. She likes the surprise.
Nottingham wasn't sure what would happen tomorrow, but he knew he wanted to see that surprised look on her face one more time. In those brief unguarded moments, her eyes wide with surprise would shine as if full of wonder. He was amazed that someone so battle-weary - or was that cynical? - could have that look, a look like that of a child opening an unexpected gift. Yes, he had to see her like that again.
Knowing Sara would probably take a shower soon, he carefully pressed an ear against the door. He could hear her shuffling around the room and soon he heard the shower running. Nottingham reached into his coat and pulled out his lock-pick set. Quickly and quietly, he managed to unlock the door and placed all the packages neatly in a corner of the room. Looking around the room, he chose a relatively dark corner by the door to wait for Sara. He glanced at the small window across the room, a little smile playing on his lips.
A short while later, Sara stepped out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel and gun in hand. She noticed that the curtain by the window blew softly. Instinctively, she raised her gun, steadying it with her left hand.
"You really shouldn't do that...Sara."
Nottingham. Of course. He stood by the door, barely visible in the shadow, silhouetted by the faint light from the bathroom. Sara knew Nottingham could easily disarm her, but she didn't lower her gun. It was the principle of the thing. Then she realized her small cheap hotel towel was coming undone, opening high on her thigh and slipping off her breasts. She lowered her gun, using her left hand to catch the towel before she gave Nottingham a show he would never forget. "Dammit, Nottingham. Do you ever knock?" She switched the gun's safety and tossed the gun on the bed.
"Are you surprised I'm here?"
Despite herself, Sara chuckled. "Yeah, Nottingham. I'm surprised." As usual. She adjusted the towel, re-tightening it as best she could. Her right hand stung a little. Holding the gun had caused her wound to start bleeding again. She glanced at her right hand then briefly held the palm up for him to see. "You better not be here to give my left hand a matching cut, cuz I'm no mood."
Nottingham took two steps closer to her, then stood in what Sara called his G.I. Servant pose - parade rest with head bowed. "I am sorry for this afternoon, Sara. I wish I could have explained..."
"Save it, Nottingham," she interrupted sharply. "What do you want?"
He slowly raised his head, his eyes meeting hers. His expression was surprisingly gentle - or was that hurt? - but his eyes searched her face with a quiet intensity. It was the look she remembered from one of her first Witchblade-directed dreams. Sara was suddenly very aware that she was only wearing a towel. Nottingham lowered his head again, stepping aside. "I brought you supplies."
Sara could now see two small boxes, what looked like her own black duffel and a few bags neatly arranged in a corner of the room. Nottingham and his surprises. She pointed at the duffel with her chin. "My clothes?"
He nodded. He seemed about to say something then changed his mind.
Sara took the duffel and plopped it on the bed. Realizing Nottingham was in good guy mode, Sara relaxed just a bit. She grinned at him. "I'm surprised you found clean clothes."
"I didn't." He hesitated for a moment. "I had them laundered."
Sara laughed, harder than she had laughed in a long time. She picked through the bag for clothes to sleep in, still chuckling. "Sorry, Nottingham."
"You've been busy."
She glanced at him. Was that a joke? Sara pulled out a pair of black boxers she didn't recall owning. They looked new. Sara shrugged. Probably stuck in the back of the drawer. Her brows furrowed when she felt a delicate material at the bottom of the duffel. What the-? Sara pulled out a black lace bra, the makers' tag still on it. It was beautiful in its simplicity, expensive in its make and definitely not hers. She held it up with an index finger, an amused expression on her face.
"Aw, Nottingham, I thought I was the only girl you were stalking."
"It's a gift..." He lowered his eyes, not daring to meet her gaze. "A small token of apology for my behavior this afternoon."
Sara couldn't help grinning, as a questioning eyebrow shot up. A gift? Sara decided he was sincere about the apology. Hmm. It was almost too easy to tease him about it. Almost. She smiled a little.
"A 'small' token, huh? Are you implying my breasts are small?" Sara thought she could see a slight blush in his cheeks but it was hard to tell.
He said, "Are you mocking me, Sara," then raised his eyes to hers, "or flirting with me?"
Flirting? She opened her mouth ready with an indignant and snide remark, then closed it after seeing the look on his face. There was no hurt or mirth in his eyes, no smile or smirk playing on his lips, neither anger or amusement in his expression. What she saw was a strange innocence in his face. The question, Sara realized, was a serious one.
She shook her head. As she headed to the bathroom to dress, Sara lost her hold on the pair of socks in her hand and they tumbled to the floor. She immediately leaned over to pick them up and felt a brief, sudden chill.
"You really shouldn't do that...Sara."
Although Nottingham had apparently averted his eyes, Sara saw Nottingham blush a deeper shade of red this time. She realized she had unwittingly given him the show he would never forget. Sara was tempted - seriously tempted- to drop things on purpose, just to see how uncomfortable she could make him. She remembered that innocent look on his face when she had teased him before and decided that she couldn't do it. She smiled to herself. He wasn't ready for that.
Instead she said, "I do a lot things I'm not supposed to do, Nottingham. You should try it sometime." She glanced at her wrist, the Witchblade suddenly demanding her attention.
Sara stood before the large hearth at Irons' mansion. She watched as Irons finished climbing the stairs to the library. Nottingham stepped forward from the shadows to the railing above. Irons stopped next to him. Irons roughly grabbed Ian's jaw, turning Ian's head to get his full attention. "Don't come home without the Blade." Irons released his grip and left. Nottingham looked over the railing, straight at Sara. 'But he can't be,' she thought, 'because I'm not really here.' Still, though, she couldn't help the feeling that he was looking at her. Nottingham's serious gaze did not waver. She was about to say something when the room dissolved around her. The colors seemed to swirl into one another briefly then another place took shape around her. She was in the warehouse where Conchobar had been murdered. She saw herself, crying as Conchobar died then collapsing on his body. She watched as Ian took the Witchblade from that bitch Fiona. He looked at it and she saw the decision made in his eyes. Ian knelt beside her other self and placed the Witchblade on her wrist. With surprising tenderness, Ian took her hand and placed it on Conchobar's cheek.
The vision dissolved around her and she was back in the hotel room with Nottingham. Sara cocked her head to one side, looking at him. "Or maybe you already have."
I'm trying, Sara.
Sara's eyes narrowed. She had heard his voice, but she also most definitely had not seen his lips move. Sara shook her head and stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.
In the bathroom, Sara slipped into the black boxers then put on a t-shirt and a large flannel shirt over that. Sara gripped the doorknob then paused. She half-expected Nottingham to have gone. Part of her hoped he was. She was tired. She only wanted to see what else he had brought and then go right to sleep.
However, if she was honest with herself, she hoped -just a little- that he was still there. Yeah, it was Nottingham but it was human company. With Gabriel out of touch, Joe Siri dead, Jake not completely trustworthy, and Danny not making an appearance, Nottingham's presence was a small assurance that she wasn't alone. Sara shook her head as if that would dispel any insecurity she had.
Sara opened the door and, when she saw Nottingham sitting on the bed, she let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. He quickly stood as she entered the room. She didn't miss how his eyes had lingered on her and, again, that momentary intense expression.
He said, "We should really take care of that cut."
He moved a hand in the general direction of the bed. A first aid kit lay open on the bed. She raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, I think you already did your part."
He bowed his head again, but Sara didn't miss the hurt expression on his face.
"I'll go, then. Good night, Sara."
He tried to step around her but Sara blocked his path. She was grateful for the supplies he had brought. She knew it was something Nottingham had done by choice for her, not because Irons had told him to.
"Nottingham," she said gently, "it was a joke." Did he always take what I said so seriously? "Will you help me wrap it?"
When he looked at her again, his expression was hopeful. He nodded, seemingly eager to be useful. Sara sat on the bed noticing the Chinese food containers, plastic utensils and napkins on the night stand. He stood before her and held out his hand to her.
"Give me your hand, Sara."
Sara hesitated. The last time Nottingham had held her hand like that, the Witchblade had flooded her with visions. Too much had happened that day; she was too drained emotionally and physically to handle that..
Nottingham said, "Did you wish to eat first?"
Sara looked at him. His brows were furrowed together. "What? No. This will only take a minute." She braced herself for what might come and placed her hand in his.
At the instant Sara placed her hand in his, she looked up at Nottingham. She was not assaulted by visions, but she felt something, a familiarity she couldn't explain. It was more than déjà vu but not a vision. She watched as he carefully tended to her hand. When he was done, he asked, "How's that, Sara?"
She briefly clenched her fingers into a weak fist. "Feels good. Thanks."
He seemed to hesitate before speaking again. "You should really eat something."
She had snappy retort to that, but she was hungry. She scooted over to the food on the night stand. She didn't need to open it to know it was sesame chicken, her favorite. Somehow, Nottingham knew those things about her. She opened one of the containers and, seeing it was fried rice, stuck a fork in it and offered it to Nottingham.
He raised a hand, dismissing the offer. "Not hungry. Thank you."
Sara set that container down, exchanging it for the other. Sesame Chicken. Sara crossed her legs and took a fork-full of the chicken. "This is good, Nottingham. Thanks." She smiled a little at him, thinking about the black lace bra. "I'm almost afraid to ask about what's in the boxes."
"Some toys for you and Gabriel."
Nottingham's words triggered a mental image of a bare-chested Gabriel, a feather, handcuffs and Sara almost choked on her chicken.
He turned away, but not before she noticed the mirth in his eyes. She wasn't sure exactly how, but she knew Nottingham had put that image in her head. He grabbed the two boxes and set them on the bed. He didn't need to open them for her to see what they were. The packaging indicated one box contained a laptop and the other contained a digital camcorder.
He said, "To videotape you and put it on the web."
Sara knew she was missing something.
"To go public with your testimony, Sara. What did you think I meant?"
Sara chuckled, laughing at herself. She must be tired if she couldn't get her mind out of the gutter.
"Nothing." She indicated the laptop. "Can we do that? With that thing?"
Nottingham nodded. "It's got a firewire port so you can connect it directly to the camcorder. Plus..."
He quickly rambled off computer specs. Sara understood the general concepts, RAM, hard drive space, processor speed but had no interest in the details. She was more amused by the fact that Nottingham was a techno-junkie. She covered a smile at the idea of Nottingham with a pocket protector, a black one, of course.
Nottingham, apparently noticing her expression, stopped mid-sentence. "Well, Gabriel will know what to do."
Sara nodded, feeling guilty at her previous wicked thought. Nottingham had gone out of his way to help her, defying Irons as best he could.
"I'm sure he will. This all must have cost you a pretty penny."
"I have a company expense account." He shrugged. "Nobody ever questions it."
Sara suddenly had an image of Nottingham staring down a hapless Vorschlag accountant. She stifled a laugh.
"I bet they don't." She couldn't decide if he was being funny or just naively honest. "Let's see what else you brought."
She poked through the bags-it was mostly food -instant coffee, bagels, protein bars, and some non-perishable items; a spare clip for her own gun and a box of bullets- but he had the forethought to pick up a tooth brush, a hairbrush, deodorant and other sundries. She found an envelope, stuffed with cash. They were small bills that wouldn't arouse suspicion or notice, but there was easily several thousand dollars there. She turned to him again.
"Take it. You need it."
The last thing she saw was a small cooler. She opened it to find several bottles of water and a container of ice cream-Ben and Jerry's Monkey Wrench to be exact. She'd never had that flavor. Nottingham was always thorough in his research. She briefly, jokingly, wondered if he was slacking in his Galahad duties. She held it up to him, an amused smirk on her face.
"You tryin' to piss me off, Nottingham?"
He grabbed two spoons from the night stand and walked over to her.
"Although I am a bit self-destructive," he snatched the container from her in a flash, "that's for me." He gave her one of the spoons and indicated the cooler. "Yours should be in there."
Sara sighed. She moved some of the water bottles and found another container of Ben and Jerry's: New York Super Fudge Chunk - her favorite. She smiled at him.
"You're spoiling me now."
Nottingham gave her a little smile and Sara suddenly remembered he had shown her that same smile when they had met at the museum. In all the time she had known Nottingham, she hadn't noticed his lips until now. They were nicely shaped and left her wondering about his smile & whether she would ever see it. She watched as he leisurely put a spoonful of ice cream in his mouth then slowly pulled it out. He was teasing her now, she suspected, somehow knowing that she had been thinking about his lips. She grinned. She had underestimated Nottingham and his naiveté.
She sat at the bed to eat her ice cream. "Hey, Nottingham?"
"You can sit down, you know." He stopped before her, glanced at the bed then chose to sit on the floor next to her, his back against the side of the bed. Sara wasn't sure why that irked her. Testily, she said, "Nottingham." He looked up at her, confused at her sudden change in demeanor, but didn't say anything. Sara couldn't help thinking that he looked like he was waiting for orders. That irked her more. "You don't have to sit on the floor."
His eyebrows furrowed together for a moment. "I am fine here." She wasn't convinced. Nottingham tended to be on the servant side of chivalrous. Seeing the expression on her face, Nottingham added, "I've sat on that bed. Trust me, this is more comfortable."
Sara chuckled. Chivalrous, my ass. As he turned back to his ice cream, she popped him lightly on the shoulder.
They ate their ice cream in a comfortable silence. Only under the spell of chocolate would Sara Pezzini admit to herself that Nottingham wasn't so bad. She smiled at the absurd thought. She knew the Witchblade liked having him around, and, at first, that was one of the reasons she mistrusted him. She could grudgingly admit to herself that she liked the little adrenaline rush when Nottingham surprised her...an odd, yet familiar, subtle thrill. Sara thought the Witchblade constantly anticipated his presence, and that it enjoyed how his surprise visits could so subtly remind the Wielder to be careful.
She glanced at the Witchblade. Happy now? The Witchblade flashed briefly. With a grin, Sara scooped up another spoonful of ice cream and stopped to consider it a moment. This wasn't the first time Nottingham had brought her her favorite foods. It wasn't the first time he had watched out for her. As long as Nottingham was looking out for her, she would not be alone. This revelation did not bother her, and that surprised her. She was tempted to ask him about the Witchblade and about what he had said that day on the soccer field, but she decided against it. She was too tired to go through another round of twenty questions with little or no answers. Instead, she continued to eat her ice cream in silence.
After a while, she said, "Nottingham?"
He looked up at her. "Yes, Sara?"
Sara hesitated, not understanding why it felt so important to ask him this even knowing what he would say. "Can you stay...till I fall asleep?"
She wasn't afraid -she could take care of herself and they both knew that. Maybe she did understand. She started to convince herself that it was the Witchblade. It was calm in Nottingham's presence and perhaps she could get a good night's sleep for once. But Sara knew better than that. She knew she didn't want to go to sleep with that feeling of loneliness which she found so debilitating.
He nodded once, his eyes searching hers for an explanation - an explanation she knew he would never demand. "Of course, Sara."
Sara set her ice cream on the night stand and slipped under the covers. She watched as Nottingham set his ice cream aside, closed the window, turned off all the lights, then sat again on the floor at her bedside, this time facing her. Sara lay on her side, facing him.
Again he gave her that non-smile of his. "Pleasant dreams, Lady Sara."
Sara suddenly understood what she had felt before. It was the familiarity of this man taking care of her. Thinking about his visit, Sara thought about how he had reminded her to eat, took care of her wound -granted one he had inflicted- but he wasn't just trying to make amends. In his own inexperienced way, he was trying to take care of her - because she forgot to take care of herself. She wondered briefly if he had done the same for other Wielders, in other lives, and if that was why it seemed so familiar. He was still a freak, but she realized he was her freak...her own psycho, invincible, surprisingly gentle freak. Sara Pezzini, finding a strange comfort in that, closed her eyes.
Nottingham watched Sara sleep peacefully. Before this night, he would have guessed that all she wanted was her life back, peace of mind, perhaps a life without him, without Irons' machinations, and without the Witchblade. But now he felt differently.
His visit with Sara was like nothing in his experience. He had been unprepared for what the blessed hotel towel had revealed to him. He knew, of course, what a naked woman looked like, but those glimpses of Sara were visions he would never forget. When she had stepped out of the bathroom in his boxer shorts, he could barely control himself and was sure his desire for her was evident.
Despite his physical responses to her, he knew he cared for this woman. His passion for her had given way to something else, something he could not describe...something less primal and more eternal than anything in his experience. Whether it was love or compassion, he couldn't say, but he knew Sara had awakened it in him.
Ian had known for some time that he would have to choose between the two most important people and the two most important things in his life: his honor - inextricably intertwined with his loyalty to Kenneth Irons - and his soul - the soul that had been lost until Sara had found it. In his heart, his choice was Sara, but his mind demanded that his honor be satisfied...the question was how. He didn't want to dwell on that right now. That was a decision for tomorrow. For now, he wanted to live in this moment.
He watched Sara sleep, concentrating on one simple thought: he was glad he had decided to visit with her. Now, as she slept, he would pay her another type of visit. He smiled, mentally thanking Gabriel. Ian closed his eyes and joined her dreams.