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Part IV - Desire

Sara sits in the ambulance watching the police and fire crews work around what’s left of the Midtown Museum. Danny and Jake are taking her statement.

A smiling James Pezzini walks up to her. “Hey, there’s my girl.”

“Dad?” Sara hesitates. She has been deceived before. Her hand automatically goes to the Witchblade, but it is dormant. Maybe this time, it is just a dream.

She looks into his eyes and feels his love. She takes a deep breath, pushing back tears, and whispers, “Dad.”

They hug. A good dream, for a change.

He frowns, as his hand pushes some hair away from her face. “You, okay? Joe said the explosion-”

At first, Sara doesn’t know what to say. She has so much to say.

“I’m fine,” she manages to say. “It’s just a bump. Really.”

He doesn’t look convinced, but then smiles and winks at her. “OK. But you are staying with me tonight.”

“Okay.” Sara nods and grins. “But no lectures.”

“Tonight, we have risotto.” He glances at Danny before addressing Sara in a stern, official voice. “Tomorrow, detectives, we’ll talk about the importance of following procedure.”

Suddenly, he’s hugging her again. “You scared the shit out of me, kiddo.”

Sara smiles. That’s exactly what he said after she fell off her bike when she was eight years old. She clings to him, feeling like a kid again. She’s loved and happy. Dad is here and everything would be okay.

His hand brushes against the Witchblade as he takes her hand. He examines her wrist then grins. “Is that a new bracelet?”

Ian stands in Father’s office in his required place. Sara and Father are talking about the Witchblade and her visions. The conversation is strained, but Ian is more focused on his own feelings. From the gentle tingle running through his body, he knows Sara is having a vision. She shares it with father, and both of them are drawing their focus and control from Ian. At that moment, the connection between the three is indescribable. Ian revels in the sensation - he can feel the Witchblade touching all of them, its power coursing through them, their souls thrumming with its energy...

This is how it should be. This is all Ian ever wanted.

Sara stands on stage in the Rialto - her and Tommy Gallo and his goons. Danny is not here.

Out of the corner of her eye, a dark shape comes at her. Nottingham tackles her, taking her down behind the cover of some crates, as bullets fly around them. The gunfire is suddenly unrelenting and unbearably loud in the echoing theater. Nottingham shifts off of her, his eyes full of concern. She winks at him and he smiles at the silent thanks. The gunfire stops and Sara hears Gallo call to her, but she doesn’t really care what he has to say. She raises her right arm, activating the Witchblade. She is ready to kick a little ass. She is liking this dream.

Sara doesn’t have to say anything to Nottingham. She just knows he will back her up. In the next instant, she is deflecting bullets with the blade, he is leaping through the air, they punch and kick, and Sara is surprised by the familiarity of it all. Just as Sara is realizing what a rush it is to fight alongside Nottingham, it is over. Gallo is down for the count; his boys are either dead or incapacitated.

Nottingham is suddenly next to her, alert and ready for danger, and Sara is overwhelmed by the memory of fighting with Nottingham. It had been like dancing with a long time partner - each anticipating what the other needed. No, Sara decided, it was more primal than that. It was like really good sex. Like really good sex with someone you love. Sara grins, deciding not to share that with him and looks down so that he wouldn’t see her smile. That’s when she notices the blood. Nottingham is dripping blood from his left hand.

She reaches out to his left arm, careful not to startle or injure him. She turns his hand over. It is cut very badly - from what, Sara is not sure.

“It’s nothing, Sara.” He takes out a handkerchief, but she takes it from him, her mind briefly thinking how old-fashioned it was for a guy to have a handkerchief. She gently presses it against his palm. The theater seems to melt around them, turning and shifting, and then their surroundings regrow - now they are in her bathroom. Her first aid kit is on the sink next to them and she is just finishing wrapping up his hand in a bandage.

“How’s that?” she asks.

He flexes it into a fist. “Good. Thank you. For the bandage. And your concern.”

Neither moves. He is looking at her again, as if he is trying to memorize every detail of her face. That look of devotion is the one that unnerves her every time.

Suddenly, he hugs her fiercely. “I can’t lose you, Sara.”

She clings to him, not because she needed him, but because for the first time in a long time, she feels everything would be okay. Then she’s looking at Nottingham and seeing him, really seeing him for perhaps the first time. Vicki was right. He is kinda cute.

He kisses her. The thought that she should protest crosses her mind but that is momentarily vetoed by another part of her anatomy. She finally pushes him away. “What the hell, Nottingham?!”

He takes his usual apologetic stance, his brow furrowed in confusion. “I’m sorry. I thought this was...I thought you wanted me to.”

“In your dreams.”

Nottingham smiles a little sadly. “When it comes to you, Sara, all I have are my dreams.”

As Sara and Danny left the precinct house, she spotted Nottingham lurking in a doorway across the street. She needed to talk to him about those damn dreams, though she didn’t plan to mention that specific dream from last night. Sara hovered at her bike, taking her time to zip up her jacket, waiting until Danny had left. As soon as Danny’s car had turned a corner, she started to cross the street.

As she approached Nottingham, she could have sworn she saw -if only for a brief moment- a self-satisfied smile on his lips. He knew. He had been in the dream with her. That was all it took to set her off. How dare he?

Sara was furious. “Stay the hell out of my dreams!”

Nottingham’s eyes narrowed in on her. “You are the one with the mystical bracelet, Sara. Perhaps you should stay out of my dreams.”

Sara opened her mouth to say something rather unladylike when his words processed in her brain. “You didn’t...” She struggled to find a word to describe what she wanted to accuse him of... “...trespass into my dream?”

“No.”

“But you were there, and I sure as hell didn’t invite you.”

“My dream,” he said softly.

“What?”

“You were in my dream.”

A flash of white amidst his blackness caught her eye. Her hand reached out and took his left wrist. His left hand was bandaged.

“How did you get hurt?”

“You know, Sara. You were there.”

“But that was...a dream. It wasn’t real.”

He raised his left hand and waved his fingers at her.

Smart ass. She cursed under her breath, then leaned against the wall.

“Dream and reality," he started hesitantly, "seem to be intersecting.”

“And we’re stuck in the crosswalk.” She paused to glance at him. “What the hell is going on?”

Nottingham frowned. “I am not certain. I have not heard of this happening before.”

“We’ve had the same dreams before and the same visions.”

“Yes, but we have never been in dreams together.”

Sara thought about that and realized it was true. There was only one night recently that she thought they might not have shared. “Did you have a nightmare recently? A vivid one?”

“Yes.” The word was barely more than a whisper.

Sara didn’t want to think about what Nottingham considered to be a nightmare. She said, “We haven’t been in a nightmare together. That’s got to mean something.”

“Only that it hasn’t happened yet.”


Part V - Destiny

The dream is always the same.

A long tunnel sparsely lit by torches on the wall.

Sara is in Jeanne’s armor -and not much else.

She could see the hooded figures ahead and turns considering an alternate exit. A man in armor blocks that path. She knows now that the man is Nottingham. He nods once. She knows now that he is not blocking her retreat, only encouraging her to go forward. If she asked, he would let her pass. But she does not ask, she never asks, because she knows her destiny is to run the gauntlet. Sara turns around. Each time she has the dream, she is more confident about enduring the gauntlet. Each time she learns a little more about herself and about the Witchblade.

She is shoved, jostled and yelled at, but she has learned to ignore the voices. She pushes back. She recognizes the images of the past Wielders that flash in her mind. She is a part of that line. They have endured this test of Will and so will she. If there is one thing Sara knows about herself, it is that she is willful.

Then there are the other moments, the moments when she no longer struggles to push her way through this gauntlet. She is in a different place, naked but not alone...but she knows she is not Sara. This is another Wielder’s reality. Lying back with her eyes closed, she feels his hot breath on her lips. Her heart quickens at the thought that at any moment his lips will touch hers. The wait is excruciating and eternal. However, this time she hears him say, “I love you, Elizabeth.”

Then, again, fighting her way through the tunnel.

Another moment. Sara is naked with her lover...and this time, she is herself. Again she lies back, eyes closed, drugged by the gentle touch of his hands and lips over her body. Words are lightly whispered in her ear, but the only thing she ever recalls from this moment is the feeling of being wholly and truly loved.

Another shove. She trips, but forces herself back up. She will endure.

The hooded figures part at last. She looks up to see the man in the armor again. He raises his faceplate, but she already knows who it is. His hazel eyes scan her, lingering enough for her to understand his desire. Then he looks into her eyes, in a way he would never dare in real life. She is never sure of what she sees in those intelligent, beautiful eyes – love, desire, envy, compassion, pride, humility. Under his intense scrutiny, she always wants to ask the same question but isn’t always allowed.

“Are you the gauntlet’s ultimate challenge or ultimate prize?”

When she does get to ask, she always wakes before he is allowed to answer. For the first time, he answers and Sara understands that Nottingham is with her in this dream.

He grins, taking a step closer to her. “Perhaps...a bit of both.”

Despite herself, Sara returns the grin and looks around. They are no longer in the tunnel and no longer in armor. Nottingham is back in his usual Goth attire; Sara is in jeans and her favorite green top. They are in a sitting room, but not one she remembers from Irons’ mansion. There are two large armchairs set opposite a fireplace. Irons’ two wolfhounds flank Nottingham on either side and he absently pets one of them. She looks up at Nottingham -he’s frowning, but not concerned.

“Where are we?” she asks.

“This is Mr. Irons’ estate outside London.” Softly, he adds, “I spent much of my childhood here.”

“Why are we here?”

“I do not know.”

Sara sighs, trying to be patient. He really didn’t know. If he knew and didn’t want to tell her, he’d give her one of his famous non-answers.

She was a detective - she could figure this out. “Have you had this dream before?”

“Yes. It is one I have often.”

She hears something in his voice, but lets him continue.

“I am here with the hounds. Mr. Irons is away on business.” He grins. “I decide to break the rules.”

He turns abruptly, taking long confident strides. Both Sara and the hounds have to hustle to catch up. He barely pauses to open the large oak doors and leads her down the hall. He stops before a steel door, complete with keypad and retina scanner, all incongruous in the old castle.

Nottingham punches in a keycode, there is a soft click and the door opens inward. Sara is not surprised by what she sees: a room lined with portraits. She steps into the room to get a better look. Her mouth drops open at the first painting. It is not a Wielder. It is a man on horseback. His left arm holds a sword up high and ready to strike, blocking his face. His sword arm has a golden cuff with a large blue stone. Cullen, a voice whispers in her head. The sword arm comes down, revealing the face. It is Nottingham.

Sara looks around the room and it is the same for all the portraits - a male warrior through the ages bearing this golden weapon with the blue stone. And each one reveals himself to be Nottingham.

She glances at Nottingham who is still at the door but immobile. The paintings begin to change. A second image wipes across each painting, leaving behind the familiar images of the Witchblade Wielders. Nottingham is in the room now, seemingly unaware of what just happened.

Sara expects Nottingham to wax poetic on the Wielders or her destiny or some crap, but he doesn’t. He only wanders the room aimlessly, occasionally stopping before a portrait, apparently lost in his memories.

She sees another steel security door at the back of the room and heads towards it. “What’s in here?”

Nottingham turns to her, looking concerned. “There shouldn’t be a door there.”

Sara glances at the keypad then the scanner. Following her intuition, she raises the Witchblade to the scanner.

Nottingham screams behind her, “Sara, wait!”

Impossibly fast, he has crossed the room and is pulling her away as a soft click comes from the door. This door slides into a pocket in the wall revealing only darkness. Sharp, clawing tendrils come out of the darkness at them, quickly disappearing in the light of the room. Sara swears she hears voices from within. Nottingham turns on a flashlight and aims it into the darkness, revealing a small alcove.

“Where’d you get that?” Sara asks.

“Directed dreaming.”

Sara’s eyebrows go up, prompting an explanation.

Nottingham gives her a little knowing smile. “It’s a dream, Sara. I just...asked for one.”

Sara shakes her head as they step closer to get a better look.

A single portrait hangs within the alcove. At first, the image appears to be random brush strokes on a black background - red, silver, yellow-gold, and a deep, dark purple. Slowly, the image begins to contort - stretching and swirling- until pieces of the image start to form. Sara sees her face in the center first, then Nottingham’s on her left and then another man, almost identical to Nottingham, on her right. The image continues to rearrange and focus itself, giving shape to their bodies. Sara’s is covered by Witchblade armor, and Nottingham is in a similar armor but with a more golden hue. The other man is in a different sort of costume, completely covered in the dark purple-gray of a moonlit night.

Sara turns to Nottingham, ready with a half-dozen questions, but he’s not there.

They are back in the tunnel...except Sara, now in Jeanne’s full armor, is at the entrance while a bare-chested Nottingham is farther ahead with his back to her. Beyond him are the hooded figures. Nottingham turns to her. Only then does Sara understand. He is without his weapon. He is not ready to run his gauntlet. She shakes her head and offers a hand. He glances back at the hooded figures and Sara knows what he is thinking.

“Ian,” she calls. “No.”

His hands clench slightly. “Let me protect you, Sara.”

Sara forces the Witchblade to retract the armor. “Take my hand.”

After a moment, he jogs over to her and places his hand in hers without hesitation.

Show him. The Witchblade swirls as Sara wills it to show Ian the portraits of him bearing another Blade.

“You are not my ‘protector’, Ian. You do not serve me. We are equals.”

He frowns, a little sad and a little angry, like a little boy denied a second bowl of ice cream.

“Your destiny -and mine- are greater than that. But first-”

Ian finishes the sentence for her. “I need to find my Blade.”

Sara gives his hand a little squeeze before letting go. The instant she does, they wake.


Part VI- Death

This time, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Ian walks along a gravel path through a garden of tombstones -some of the names he recognizes and some he does not, but all the dead have one thing in common: they died at the hands of Ian Nottingham.

He has walked through this garden before.

He stops at an unknown name, and the gray marble swirls, flecks of color emerging from the center of the vortex. When the tombstone [reforms], it has a picture of the deceased. Ian does not know the name, but he cannot forget the face. He is not allowed to forget. This one, he remembers vaguely, as one remembers a dream - this one had tried to kill Sara as she grieved for her lost partner, back before she turned back time. Ian continues the walk.

He enjoys these walks. He will pick a tombstone, remember and reflect. Sometimes it gives him peace, sometimes satisfaction.

Ian wanders aimlessly along the path then sees a bench up ahead. He doesn’t remember seeing that before and heads towards it. He is surprised that directly across from the bench is the one tombstone Ian generally avoids. The name on the tombstone is Aras. The marble doesn’t swirl - it doesn’t have to.

But Ian sees Aras in his mind -Aras, in so many ways like Sara and in so many ways not like Sara. He remembers the kiss they shared, how she had mocked him about his inexperience, how eager she was to teach him...The memories come in a rush then: threatening Sara to spare Aras, tending to Aras’ injury at the mansion...holding her in his arms and in moment of exhaustion calling her ‘Sara.’

“What did you just call me?” Aras had asked. She had used the same words and the same inflection that Sara had used that day in the park.

Aras was furious, but harmless, incapacitated because of her injury. Ian could ignore her words but he could not ignore the fact that she was not Sara. The Witchblade had chosen Sara, not Aras. He had promised to protect Sara.

It is more than a memory now...he is living it again. His body pins her down, one hand keeping her arms immobile, the other caressing her chin one last time. Ian grabs Aras’ chin gently as someone examining her bone structure. He intends to do it quickly, painlessly, but it is too awkward to snap her neck in this position. Her eyes are a bright, defiant green, so much like Sara’s...

Nottingham?

She struggles, but he easily holds her in place. Frowning, his hand slides down to her throat in a final caress. His fingers tighten around her neck...her long, delicate neck...like Sara’s...

Ian!

She gasps for breath, and in a futile attempt to escape his grasp, her head moves desperately from side to side. Her hair...her hair does not have the streaks...He lets her go and jumps back, his reflexes reacting faster than his reason. Sara?!

Reality snaps back to the graveyard. Aras’ tombstone swirls; after it stops spinning, the name has changed to Sara.

Trembling and more frightened than he can ever remember, Ian turns away from the tombstone to find a young woman sitting on the bench. Her hair is dark and more or less out of control. Her skin is pale and she wears all black. She seems so familiar...

She smiles at him.

“Lady Death?” he asks hesitantly.

“Hi, big guy. Been a while.”

He assumes a respectful pose - at ease, with head bowed.

She pushes off the bench, and with a gentle hand, she raises his chin so that his eyes meet hers.

“Hey, why so formal? We know each other better than that.”

He is now confused. “You are not here for me?”

“Nuh-uh.” She tilts her head to the side. “It was...weird. I felt I should be here for your girl, but... it wasn’t her time.”

Death shrugs and starts walking down the path. Ian is quick to follow.

“It happens sometimes, here in the Dream,” she continues. “A little snafu. No biggie.”

“Then Sara is alright?”

She smiles fondly at him, both tolerant and amused. “Of course. This is just a dream.”

Ian shakes his head. “No, it is not ‘just a dream.’ Recently, our dreams have been different. It is not unusual for Sara and I to have the same dreams, but more and more we are sharing a dream. We are both in a dream together.”

Ian isn’t sure he is explaining it properly. “The dreams are also more intense...the line between reality and the dream seems to blur.”

They stop at the top of a small hill in the path. Death looks out towards his tombstone garden, her cheery face becoming troubled.

“Hm.”

Ian waits for her to say more, but she does not. Then he, too, looks out towards his garden. The tombstones are not laid out in any particular pattern, and the path follows a gentle curve through them. The cherry blossoms are sprinkled throughout the garden. The trees remind Ian of times past, when for a short time, his soul was at peace. For that reason, he always includes them here.

He finally says, “Lady Death, these dreams are getting worse.”

Ian waits until she looks at him before continuing earnestly, “This time I almost...sent Sara to you. You know...you know there is something wrong. Can you help us?”

“Sorry,” she replies sincerely. “Dreams aren’t my thing.”

Ian searches her eyes, only seeing the honesty he always sees there. Then he looks down, angry that she will not help and ashamed of his anger since Lady Death has always been kind to him.

Ian did not understand the Witchblade’s motivations for these dreams, and Sara was just as confused. He starts to put his thoughts in order to make a final plea to Lady Death. He glances at her and she sighs.

“Oh, all right. I’ll look into it. But no promises.”

“Thank you.”

“I gotta go. Work to do.”

Death adds, “I like your garden of remembrance. It’s very Zen. The cherry blossoms are a nice touch.”

With that, Lady Death disappears and Ian awakes.

Death took her brother’s mask off the gallery wall. “Dream? I’m in my gallery. I hold your sigil. Can we talk?”

Death’s brother, Dream, replied, “Sister, it is good to hear from you. I will come through.”

Dream entered Death’s realm. “What did you wish to speak about?”

“I was just in your realm.”

“I know.”

“There’s something...weird going on.”

Dream almost smiled. “Weird is not unusual in my realm.”

Death popped her brother in the arm. “I know, you idiot. I mean there’s something weird even by your definition.”

Dream frowned. “Tell me, sister.”

Dream listened quietly as Death told him of her visit with Ian in the Dream. When she was done, Dream still didn’t say anything.

“Well?” Death asked. “Isn’t that weird?”

“This Ian...you like him. He is special to you.”

Death nodded. “You know how they never remember the talk I have with them when they are born? Well, he does. Every time.”

Dream looked surprised and Death smiled. It wasn’t often that she surprised her brother.

“He’s special to my realm,” she continued, “the way poets and artists are to yours. He has a connection to it...an intuitive understanding of it.”

Dream seemed to think it over. “Very well. For you, sister, I shall look into it.”

“Thanks.”

“I should return. Be well, sister.”

“Dream? If there is something weird and you are not behind it....”

“Don’t worry,” Dream interrupted, “I will find out who is.” His usually passive face became menacing. “And I will deal with them.”

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