Rating: Most of this fic is relatively harmless;
however, Ch 4 is in the R/NC-17 ballpark for "adult situations";
Ch 9 is rated PG-13 for mild violence
Summary: Alternate Transcendence/Season 1, beginning after the episode "Convergence"
Author's Note: This story began as a short response (what is now roughly Chapter 1-3) to a fanfic challenge posted at the Llan Ann Cailleach fanfic board. The Future Wielder challenge asked authors to write a story showing how Sara Pezzini was related to the next Wielder of the Witchblade. (I'll tell you right now that it's not her kid.)
Acknowledgements: A big THANK YOU to my beta reader, Jessica, who fixes my grammar booboos & tricks me into writing much better than I actually do. Any mistakes you find are my own goofs.
At midnight, Gabriel returned to his apartment to grab some clothes and some money. He knew it was a stupid idea, but he hoped the White Bulls didn't think he would return there. More likely though, they would be too busy chasing Sara. With a final glance around his apartment, he threw his backpack over a shoulder. He had taken three steps away from his building when he got the strange feeling that he was being followed. Gabriel risked a glance over his shoulder. It was New York so there were people on the street, but he made eye contact with two guys about ten feet behind him. He noticed the recognition on their faces and broke into a run.
Gabriel ran for a block, turned a corner, trying to remember which alley wasn't a dead end. He climbed a fence, cutting through a playground, then over the fence on the other side. Another block, left, three blocks...he was almost at Eighth Avenue, a major road with lots of traffic...at this hour he might be able to grab a cab. He stopped when he reached Eighth. He looked behind him and didn't see his pursuers. He breathed heavily, looking up and down the street for a cab. In the corner of his eye, a man in black down the street drew his attention.
A car turned momentarily lighting the man's face. Gabriel quickly realized it was Nottingham.
"This way." Nottingham waved at Gabriel to join him.
Gabriel once again glanced back; he was still ahead of them, but...the White Bulls definitely wanted him dead. Nottingham, at least, was a question mark and there was the slim chance that maybe Sara had sent him. Gabriel ran to catch up to Nottingham. Gabriel knew it was crazy; he was running for his life with someone who he didn't trust. But what choice did he have?
He followed Nottingham around a corner to a parked car.
"Get in the car," Nottingham ordered.
"Where are we going?"
"Someplace safe." Nottingham looked pointedly back to where they had come. "But we have to go now."
"Did Sara send you?"
A slight hesitation. "Yes."
Gabriel didn't believe him.
Nottingham stepped closer to him. "I'm sorry."
Then everything went black.
The first thing Gabriel processed was the pounding in his head. He opened his eyes, blinked twice then realized he was (a) alive and (b) not in his own bed. The pain in his head would not let him focus. He tried to sit up, triggering a whole other kind of pain in his head and a new pain in his ribs. He slumped back but sat a little higher. He waited till that sharp pain faded back to a steady throbbing then carefully pushed himself up again.
He looked around the room with only his eyes, trying to move his head as little as possible. He was in a bedroom, contemporary yet elegant furniture. Modern art on the walls; a few sculptures. He didn't recognize the room or the art. Slowly, Gabriel got to his feet. Other than his head and a slight soreness across his middle, he felt fine. He was a little hungry in fact. But he had to know where he was. He had to get in touch with Sara.
He quietly opened the door which led to a short hall. The two doors on his left were open, a bathroom and an office. He didn't dare make noise by opening the other two. He heard voices at the other end of the hall -a man and a woman's- but he couldn't make out what they were saying.
As he got closer, he heard a frustrated Nottingham say, "Immo will be done preparing the serum soon. I have to go. Don't argue this-" He broke off mid-sentence.
Gabriel stopped as he reached the living room seeing the two black-clad figures. Nottingham was looking at him; his associate turned to face Gabriel. Gabriel looked back and forth between them. This was too weird.
At first glance, the woman could be Nottingham's twin, except of course, for the fact that she was a she. The same features, the same stance, the same easy confidence. Gabriel's trained eye immediately took in the subtle differences: she was shorter -around Sara's height, he guessed; her hair was longer and straighter than Nottingham's; she seemed fit, strong, but she curved nicely in all the right places; her eyes were darker than Nottingham's -a warm, dark brown color. She smiled at him. A gentle, kind smile.
"Good. You're awake. If you had slept any longer, I would have worried." Did he know her? Should he know her?
Nottingham added, " How is your head?"
Was that a joke? he wondered. Nottingham didn't joke, did he?
"What do you think?" There was a flash of something in Nottingham's eyes which Gabriel couldn't identify. With more conviction than he felt, Gabriel said, "Look, I need to get in touch with Sara."
Nottingham reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He pushed two buttons and offered it to Gabriel. Gabriel took the phone, checked that it was in fact calling the number of the cell phone Sara had with her and placed it on his ear. After two rings, he heard a recorded message. Sara's cell was unavailable. Damn. He handed it back to Nottingham.
Gabriel was about to ask the first of many questions when Nottingham said, "You will be safe here." He pointed a gloved finger at Gabriel. "Do as she says."
If he didn't know any better, Gabriel would have thought that look on his face was concern. Because of that, Gabriel resisted the urge to say 'What am I, twelve?' and instead nodded carefully.
Nottingham stopped before the woman and insisted, "I have to go."
The woman took his hands in hers and Nottingham seemed suddenly uncomfortable. She looked at him while he looked down at their hands. Slowly, Nottingham raised his gaze to hers. After a long moment, she let go and he left without another word.
The woman turned to Gabriel. "I'll be right back with something for your pain. Then I'll answer all your questions."
He wanted answers to his questions but he had to admit he really wanted something for the pounding in his head and the soreness in his body. Gabriel watched her go down the hall and considered following her. He had first thought that her familiarity was due to her resemblance to Nottingham, but there was something else. . . Hadn't he met her before?
He took his first good look around the living room. It was homier than the bedroom in which he had awakened. He spotted some pottery on a shelf and walked over to get a better look. He immediately identified it as pre-Columbian, Mayan, possibly from the Yucatan; next to it were several Native American carvings - fetishes- mostly bears and geckos; some Japanese jade sculptures sat on the shelf above, nicely framing a scabbarded katana.
Gabriel realized where he knew her from.
"None of that is for sale."
Gabriel turned to her. She had returned with a glass of water and a bottle of pills and held them out expectantly.
He asked, "Navarro, right? Um..." he snapped his fingers remembering her first name, "Ina. You sold me those ashes of the Mayan princess last year."
She walked over to him and offered the glass and the bottle. "Here."
He washed down two painkillers then smiled, "Thanks."
Navarro smiled and nodded. "Are you hungry? Of course you are. Come on. I'll answer your questions while we eat." She turned and headed to the dining room.
Gabriel smiled. Navarro gave off that "Mom" vibe that immediately put him at ease. He followed her through the dining room to the kitchen. Whatever she was cooking, it smelled wonderful.
She said, "It's lasagna with meat. But I can make you a sandwich or some soup or.."
She seemed too distressed, fussing over him, very Mom-like. Gabriel smiled. "Lasagna sounds and smells great."
She grinned. "Thanks." She peeked into the oven. "It'll be a few more minutes."
He shrugged. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Would you like something else to drink?"
"Nah, thanks. I'm fine." He took another drink of water then asked, "So, uh, how do you know Nottingham?"
Navarro leaned back against the counter. "It's...complicated."
When she didn't continue, he said, "Let me guess. Kenneth Irons? The Witchblade? You two shop at the same store?"
She smiled briefly, then her face became serious with a look that made her seem as menacing as Nottingham. Her jaw set, her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, losing the warmth he had found so reassuring before. She looked dangerous. Gabriel hadn't realized a woman could have that look.
"Kenneth Irons," she answered carefully, "created me to wear the Witchblade."
Gabriel didn't say anything for a long minute. Then all he said was, "What?"
Navarro let out a breath, forcing her anger to escape with it. Was that the first time she had said that aloud? Gabriel actually looked a little spooked. She smiled again.
"I told you. It's complicated." She grabbed the oven mitts from the counter. "Let's get ourselves food, okay? I'm starved."
Navarro was grateful that Gabriel didn't ask any more questions regarding Irons or the Witchblade. Truthfully, she wasn't sure how much she was going to tell him...how much she could tell him. He did offer to help set the table which she found sweet. He was smart and funny -sassy but funny; and tough -she knew how Gabriel had stood up to Ian when it came to the Wielder... he deserved to know everything, didn't he?
They had eaten in silence for a while when he said, "This is really good."
He's only being polite. There was the self-doubt again. She was confident in her warrior skills, but those skills she spent years honing were no longer important. These mundane activities were required of her now and not even Kenneth Irons could have foreseen that. I am capable of anything, she told herself arrogantly. She fell back on her training: observe and extrapolate scenarios. If he was only being polite, he wouldn't be wolfing it down the way he was. The doubting voice whispered, unless he was really hungry, of course.
"Thank you. Gabriel, I'm sorry for before. I just...You mentioned Irons and he really sets me off."
Gabriel smiled with a mouthful of bread and lasagna. He swallowed.
"Yeah, he has that effect on people."
Despite herself, Ina laughed. "So, your question was, how do I know Ian." She sat back. "My legal guardian was the brother of Mr. Irons' personal physician, but Mr. Irons paid for and outlined my upbringing and training. I only saw him a few times a year, but he was always charming to me...like an uncle. He told me I was very special. He told me that he guarded the Witchblade and about the warriors who had wielded it. I grew up suspecting -hoping- that he was keeping the Witchblade safe for me. And then I met Ian. We were eleven years old and I was taken to Mr. Irons' estate in England."
I awoke in the arms of my guardian. We were still in the car. I sat up and looked out the window. How much farther? I wondered. I hadn't seen Mr. Irons in almost a year. I wanted him to see how seriously I had taken all my studies. I wanted him to tell me the stories of the Wielders. I wanted him to tell me that I was worthy of the Blade.
"We'll be there soon, Ina. Mr. Irons will be very proud of all that you have done this past year."
I looked at my guardian, not sure how he knew what I was thinking, but happy that he did.
The drive seemed to last hours, but finally, the car turned off the main road onto the long driveway. I craned my neck to look over the front seat and out the glass.
My guardian pulled me back down to sit next to him. "Ina, we'll be there soon enough. Remember what Mr. Irons expects of you."
I nodded. I knew his rules and they were more strict than my guardian's. I would not break them and destroy any chance I had to wear the Blade.
Another eternity seemed to pass for us to drive up to the mansion. Once there, I didn't even have a chance to see it. One servant opened the car door, motioning us to go inside. Another servant held the door open for us. Mr. Irons was waiting for us just inside the door.
Mr. Irons and my guardian shook hands.
"It is good to see you again, Mr. Irons."
Mr. Irons was smiling, but looking at me. "Yes...I believe your brother is in the library. I am sure he would like to see you."
"Of course, Mr. Irons."
The servant who had held the door open led my guardian away.
Mr. Irons' head tilted slightly, a gentle smile softening his features. "Ina, my angel, I don't think I have ever seen you look so beautiful."
I smiled. He always told me that the Wielders were beautiful.
Mr. Irons offered his arm. "Come. We will be more comfortable in my study."
I slipped my arm in his, giddy that he treated me like a lady.
"I am told you are doing well in your studies. Tell me about what you have learned."
As he lead me through the house, I told him about the books I had read, the math and science which I loved, and the new training I had begun with the new sensei. I knew not to say too much - he did not approve of that - but I also had to be sure to answer his question to his satisfaction.
We stopped before a large wooden door. He uncoiled my hand from his arm and gave it a quick kiss. "I need to take care of some business. Wait for me in here."
He opened the door. "Ian will keep you company until I return."
I nodded, a little disappointed that he was leaving so soon, but excited because I would meet Ian. I had heard my guardian mention his name a few times, but all my guardian had ever told me was that Mr. Irons was Ian's guardian. Ian must truly be special if Mr. Irons was his guardian.
The room wasn't very large. There were two tall leather chairs in front a large fireplace. On the floor in the center of the room, a boy sat Indian-style flanked by two large dogs. The boy absently petted one of the of dogs. The other dog seemed to be napping. All three looked at me as soon as I stepped into the room.
The dogs wagged their tails but didn't move. They were Mr. Irons' dogs and, of course, would be well-trained. The boy watched me curiously.
I sat across from him and held out my hand. "Are you Ian?"
He shook my hand with a slight grin. "You must be Ina."
He asked, "How long will you be here?"
I shrugged. "I'm not sure. As long as Mr. Irons wants us to be here."
He seemed to think this over. "I hope you can stay for a few days...so we can play."
I knew what he meant. We weren't allowed to play with other children. We were special.
We sat quietly for a few minutes when we heard the door open. Mr. Irons had returned. He took a seat in one of the chairs, crossing his legs. He smiled at us.
"Children, what did you talk about when I was away?"
Ian and I looked at each other briefly. We both knew Ian should answer.
"We only introduced ourselves, sir."
That was true, but it was not a complete answer. I wanted to add more, but I knew that if I did we would not be able to play. Mr. Irons focused his attention on Ian.
"Ian, did you know that Ina has started her training with Sensei Yamamoto?"
Ian cocked his head at me, his lips pursing slightly. "You are learning to fight?"
I nodded. Unsure of what to say next, I looked at Mr. Irons. He was still smiling, but it was now a crooked smile. I didn't think he was pleased with us. I considered describing my training to Ian or offering to teach him what I had learned but decided that silence was best. When in doubt, stay silent. I had learned that was a good rule to follow when talking to Mr. Irons.
Mr. Irons rubbed his right hand with his left and stood abruptly. "Follow me, children."
Ian and I followed Mr. Irons through the house. I only had vague notions of seeing antiques, tapestries and suits of armor. Truthfully, my mind was on Mr. Irons and on Ian. I think Ian was mad at me but I didn't know why. Mr. Irons seemed irritated, but I couldn't think of what Ian or I could have done to upset him.
Mr. Irons finally stopped at a door. I heard a sharp intake of breath from Ian and looked at him curiously. He mouthed three words at me: The Witchblade Room. I watched as Mr. Irons punched a code into a number pad next to the door and led us inside.
The room was large, as large as the ballroom in Mr. Irons' other house. There were no windows and the room was significantly cooler than the rest of the house. Paintings and weapons hung along the walls. At the opposite end of the room, two suits of armor - one European and one Japanese - flanked a glass display case. The only light in the room came from the lamps highlighting the paintings and artifacts.
Ian and I walked slowly through the room, both of us absorbing everything we saw. The paintings were portraits of women warriors throughout the ages. They were the Wielders.
Ian whispered, "She's beautiful, isn't she?"
I was confused by his words. In all the paintings, the woman's face was covered by a hand or hair. What did he mean? Two curved swords caught my eye. I walked over to them. They were mounted on the wall, sharp edge up, and their scabbards similarly mounted below. I had just learned about these from Sensei. They were a Long Sword and its matching Companion Sword. The many shades of polished steel attested to their quality. They were old but had been lovingly cared for. They were beautiful. I felt Ian standing behind me.
I repeated my Sensei's words only now beginning to understand what he meant. "The sword is the soul of the samurai."
Ian looked at me then at the swords again, but soon the next portrait drew his attention.
"Children." Mr. Irons stood by the display case, waiting for us expectantly.
As we approached him, Mr. Irons stepped aside giving us our first look at the Witchblade. It was a gauntlet with sharp, claw-like fingers and a protuberance on the glove just below the knuckles. One small blue stone adorned one end. The gauntlet rested on a shiny piece of red silk which contrasted with its beautiful metal sheen. The protuberance opened like an eyelid revealing a large red stone. The stone seemed to glow from within briefly. Just as quickly, the red stone was hidden away once again. It was ancient, magical, beautiful.
I wished to be worthy of it someday. If not, I knew then I would be just as happy to fight alongside the Wielder.
Mr. Irons said to us, "Only one of you will wear this someday. Ian, if you do not obey me and if you do not excel in your training, it will be her."
Ian gave me this furious, jealous look. And Mr. Irons smiled, the same crooked smile he had before in the study. I understood now that smile meant he was pleased with himself. I understood now Ian was his favorite...his pet project. I was only the 'back-up' plan. I understood now that I had to train and study harder.
Mr Irons sent me back home the next morning.
Ina stopped. It was going to be harder than she thought. Gabriel looked as if he was itching to ask a question but he knew better. He wanted her to tell the story. Not quite ready to continue, she drank from her glass.
Finally, she said, "The next time I met Ian, we were seventeen. I was brought to Irons' mansion here in New York to train with Ian for several months. Our day was very structured and our contact with each other was to be limited to our training sessions. We were tutored separately in the morning but trained together in the afternoons."
Ina smiled recalling their first fight. "When you train, you...simulate fighting. You slow each motion down in order to acquire precise control. But the first day we were to train together, Mr. Irons said he wanted us to fight hand-to-hand...to really fight."
"What did you do?"
Ina shrugged. "We fought. That's what we were trained -raised- to do. I didn't know it at the time, but I had the advantage."
Ina smiled wickedly. "We were seventeen and I was a girl. I don't think Ian had ever even touched a girl much less fought one."
She laughed gently at the memory.
When Irons ended the fight, I was sure he was disappointed. There was an unspoken understanding between Ian and me. We would not fight dirty, though we were very capable of doing so, and we would not seriously injure each other. It would be pointless; it was not our Way.
Irons looked pensive, but we both knew he was angry. Ian would take the brunt of Irons' wrath; he always did. It was the price he paid for being Irons' favorite. Irons left us in the training room with a reminder not to be late for dinner.
Ian and I walked over to the bench where two folded clean towels and a cooler full of Gatorade waited for us. We were both covered in sweat, clothes and hair soaked. We both gently dabbed ourselves dry, and I had to smile. A moment ago our bodies were taking quite a punishment; now the light touch of the soft cloth was almost too painful to bear - it was an amazing thing. We would be bruised and sore, but we would both heal quickly. We always did.
I opened the cooler. "What flavor would you like?"
Ian seemed confused for a moment. "Does it matter?"
"No." I knew his confusion was an act. You didn't admit preferences; they could too easily be taken away as punishments. I grinned. "It's just us. I won't tell anyone."
I could have guessed that. It was my favorite too. I handed him a bottle and took another for myself.
Ian took a long gulp. "I must apologize for Mr. Irons' request. He...does not understand our way."
I smiled a little, wiping my mouth with the towel. "He understands it, Ian. He just doesn't live by it."
Ian drank again, finishing his bottle. He reached into the cooler and took out another one. He drank half of that one.
He looked at me very seriously and said, "Thank you, Ina, for showing me my weaknesses. I look forward to sparring with you again."
"You see," Ina explained, "we were both warriors and Ian understood that. Irons did not, nor did he understand what that implied: that we were thinkers as well...which made it easy for us to sneak out of the mansion after bed-check."
At Gabriel's smile, she added, "It's not as exciting as you might think. We didn't go far & we didn't do anything. We'd go to the edge of the estate and sit and talk. For us, for the way we were raised, it was an incredible act of rebellion. We had so many questions about who we were. We talked about our training, we compared notes on our upbringing and on what we had been told. From my guardian, I had learned that Ian and I shared a big chunk of DNA so I always thought of Ian as my family-somewhere between cousin and long lost brother."
Ina smiled sadly. "My guardian had a brother. I suppose I wanted one, too."
She stopped again, this time to take a bite of food. "Ian had been told I was -for lack of a better word- his clone...that we were engineered from the same genetic material. The next in line to replace him if he failed. The truth we felt was somewhere in the middle. Then one night, Irons was called away unexpectedly to London for a few days on business and we committed our ultimate act of rebellion. We snuck into his office to get the Witchblade. We hoped it would give us the answers we sought."
Ina considered what she could tell Gabriel. She thought about that moment when Ian had opened the door to Irons' safe. They both had stared at the Witchblade, neither wanting to touch it yet knowing it would not harm them. The Witchblade was in one of its gauntlet forms, its red stone protected by its metal eyelid. It was more magnificent than she remembered. Did Gabriel even know that it was more than a bracelet?
She remembered how Ian had reached out to it, but his hand only hovered over it. He had flexed his fingers lightly then pulled his hand back. Ina was sure Ian couldn't bring himself to disobey Irons. She, however, didn't have a problem with that; gingerly, she had taken the Witchblade, careful not to touch the exposed blue stone, and had placed it on Irons' desk. She couldn't bring herself to touch the stone. She was afraid the Witchblade would not respond to her or, worse, reject her as a pretender. Ian was the one who had touched the blue stone and awakened the Blade. The eyelid had snapped open and the red stone had swirled, seemingly content. Ian's eyes had closed. After a minute - or was it an hour? - with a faint smile on his lips, his eyes had opened again. Ian had then taken her hand and rested it on the red stone.