Author's Note: one small portion of this chapter is rated in the R/NC-17 ballpark for sexual situations. I usually don't write anything in the rated R or NC-17 categories, but Ina & Kenny had taken over the story at this point & there wasn't much I could do about it.
Navarro's eyes were looking at him, but Gabriel suspected they were focused on the past. "And? What happened?" Gabriel prompted.
She said simply, "We broke into Irons' safe and I took the Witchblade out and set it on a desk. We took turns touching the stone."
She sighed. "We had visions...of who we had been, of who we could be, of who we were."
"What? Like your Witchblade destiny? Past lives?"
Navarro nodded. "Something like that."
"So what's Nottingham's destiny?" Gabriel wanted to know whether he -and Sara- could trust Nottingham; he knew Sara needed the answer to that question.
"Ian's story is his to tell."
Her firm tone left no doubt that he should drop that topic. Instead he said, "Okay, then, tell me your story. What did the Witchblade 'tell' you?"
"My...duty to the Witchblade is to protect a Wielder's bloodline."
Gabriel perked up at this tidbit. 'A' Wielder's bloodline? "Meaning...there's more than one bloodline?"
"From our point of view, there are several Wielder bloodlines but there is only one Wielder at any time."
"From our point of view? What other view is there?"
Navarro smiled. "The bloodlines are actually one line but because of our perception of time -our perception of its apparent continuity- they seem different to us."
Gabriel frowned, mentally joking that he had to borrow Sara's Quantum Physics for Dummies . He opened his mouth to ask a question then changed his mind.
"No, wait. Never mind. I don't think I want to know."
He watched as she ate another bite of food, a slight smile still on her face. If she protected a Wielder's bloodline and she was helping him ... He asked carefully, "Is that, um, why you're helping me?"
She seemed to be considering her response.
"A Wielder doesn't live in a vacuum, Gabriel. She has family and some trusted friends who are like family. They need to be looked after as well, for the Wielder's sake...to center her, to help her, to remind her why she wields the Blade."
He considered again what she had said. He wondered briefly why no one had looked after Conchobar but decided not to ask about that.
Instead, he grinned then winked. "So, any interesting past lives?"
He knew he had said something wrong when she didn't return the smile. She replied, "I didn't see any. Truthfully, I suspect I don't have any."
"I thought you said you saw who you had been..."
Navarro shook her head interrupting him. "Ian and I shared visions. We both saw who he had been, who he was, who he would become, but neither of us saw my past incarnations. He did see who I would become -who I was- but he didn't tell me then."
She looked down at her plate and shrugged. "I don't know. I think he figured that if the Witchblade wanted me to know then, it would have shown it to me."
"But he did he tell you eventually?"
Navarro nodded. "Many years later. I overheard my guardian talking with his brother about how Ian was going away for some special training with the army."
"That Black Dragons thing? Psychotropic control drugs and all that?"
Navarro's eyes flashed up at him and narrowed.
Gabriel answered her question before she asked it. "Sara told me."
She shifted in her seat, nodding. "I asked to see Ian and Mr. Irons before Ian left for the army. I wanted to say goodbye to Ian, but, more than that, I wanted to confront Irons about why I wasn't going too."
When I arrived at Mr. Irons' New York home, I was told that he was occupied and was instructed to wait for him in the Witchblade Room. I still remembered my way around the house and was only a little surprised that the door to the room was open. If the door was open, Ian was there.
This room was smaller than the one he'd had at his England home. Not all of the Wielder portraits were here. I knew the rest were in his study as were the suits of armor and other artifacts. In an alcove at the opposite end of the room was the Witchblade, once again on red silk in a glass case, still in Gauntlet form.
Ian stood before one of the paintings, his stance relaxed and his expression soft. He knew I was there, but I wasn't a threat. He had a buzz cut now and that made me smile. His hair had not been that short since we were children.
I walked over to stand next to him and glanced up at him. "Nice hair."
He looked down at me, grinning. "Not my choice."
I smiled briefly.
He indicated the painting. "It's new."
We both turned to look at the painting. The Wielder was on horseback, her dark hair blowing forward and covering her face. That it was a painting belied the Hellenistic style of the art. It was probably a painting based on an ancient Greek vase. I had learned my lessons well. No doubt Mr. Irons had a team of archaeologists hunting for the original vase. I knew Ian was not considering it as a painting at all.
"Ian," I asked gently, "what do you see in the painting?"
"The Wielder," he replied simply.
"You really see her, don't you? Her face, I mean."
He turned to me, his brows furrowed. "Don't you?"
I shook my head. "Her face is always covered by a hand or her hair."
Ian seemed to accept this but did not explain.
"She doesn't look like me, does she?" I had to ask although I knew the answer.
Ian frowned a little. "No."
I wasn't the Wielder. I suppose I had known that for a long time but had not accepted it. I knew, though, that I was linked to the Witchblade, as Ian was. I was to serve the Witchblade, but I did not know how.
Ian placed a hand on my shoulder. "You will know when you need to. Trust the Witchblade."
Ian turned back to the painting, his hand dropping back to his side. "Mr. Irons is coming."
I wasn't sure how Ian knew that, but a minute later Mr. Irons strode into the Witchblade Room. I steeled myself. I wanted answers to my questions, but I knew my resolve abandoned me when it came to Mr. Irons. His approval, his acceptance of me to be worthy to serve the Blade, was all that mattered.
Mr. Irons was dressed in a dark suit, which complemented his silver hair, and the color of his tie made his normally green eyes seem as blue as the ocean. He approached me, smiling. "Ina, my angel, you are lovelier than ever."
He brushed the back of his left hand on my cheek.. "I hear you have a 'very serious' question for me."
I heard the amusement in his tone, but quickly forgot about it as I leaned into his touch. These intimate caresses from Mr. Irons were rare, and I had learned to cherish them. I closed my eyes briefly, constructing a memory of the moment, since the memory of this touch would have to sustain me.
Finally I was able to say, "I know Ian will be going away for special training. I would like to go as well."
His smiled deepened, making it look insincere. "Ian, please leave us."
Ian nodded once and left, closing the door behind him.
Mr. Irons took my left hand and placed it in the crook of his right elbow. "You cannot go with Ian, my dear." His tone was patient, paternal.
I looked up at him. "Ian and I both serve the Blade, do we not? Would it not want us to be equal in our skill?"
"Do not presume," he replied harshly, "to know what the Witchblade wants, Ina."
I had upset him and that had not been my intention. My question was one of curiosity not rebellion against his authority. I remained silent, hoping he would understand that.
With a gentle tug on my arm, he escorted me to the alcove at the end of the room. We stood before the Witchblade. He looked at it with an expression I could not describe. I waited.
Mr. Irons broke the long silence. "You and Ian serve the Blade by serving me. You have different responsibilities and, as such, have required slightly different training. You know this. Now is no different."
He paused and I considered his words. Before I could ask another question, he unhooked my arm from his and placed his arm around my shoulder, drawing me to him. I could not remember the last time he had held me like that. I closed my eyes, making another memory, remembering to include the soft masculine scent of his cologne.
"It's just as well," he said lightly. "You saved me the trouble of summoning you."
I looked up at him confused. His eyes reflected the amusement in his smile. "Isn't it obvious, Ina? If you go with Ian, who will stay here and protect me?"
He had worn the Blade. He wasn't a Wielder, but the Blade had not killed him. He was special to the Blade. I would now protect him and serve the Blade.
"Ian shipped out shortly after. I quickly fell into my routine of taking care of Mr. Irons' personal security. Months went by. Ian never came to visit. I was serving the Blade...or, at least, I thought I was."
She stopped speaking for a long time, apparently lost in a memory she was not willing to share.
I felt the warmth of the summer sun on my back as I swam the length of the pool. I sensed Mr. Irons' eyes on me and tried to focus on my kick and stroke. I stopped at the edge of the pool pretending to check the time on my watch. I glanced up briefly. I could see him watching me from behind a window. It was not the first time I had caught him watching me recently.
I continued my morning laps.
Mr. Irons did not go to his office that day. He went to the library for a few hours, then settled in the study in front of the large hearth. He only stared at the flames. I knew him well enough to know he was upset, but not with me. I considered suggesting a game of chess and decided against it. It was best to let him be.
He had dismissed me for dinner. When I returned, he was standing in front the fire holding a glass of wine. He had shed his suit jacket, the vest emphasizing his broad shoulders. I was quiet, but he knew I was there.
"Ina," he called softly, "come here."
I took my regular place, two steps behind him on the right.
He set his glass aside. I noted that the bottle of wine was empty.
"Ian will be coming home soon." He turned to me, studying my face.
I was unsure what to say. Ian's return meant that the Black Dragons Project had failed. Ian, however, had not failed. If he had, he would not be returning.
"Ian will take over your responsibilities here. Your primary responsibility will be to watch over another in the bloodline. Ian also has a very important job to do for me and may require your assistance on occasion."
I bowed my head, trying to understand how I had failed him.
He lifted my chin with a finger, his eyes soft. "Don't be upset, my lovely, faithful Ina. You have served me well."
He placed his hands on my shoulders and drew me close, wrapping his arms around me. I felt his chest heave as he took a long breath, smelling my hair. His hands, now on my hips, pressed me against him. I felt him through the layers of our clothes and my body responded with a sudden moisture. My throat went dry.
Not able to speak, I looked up at him for guidance. No training had prepared me for this. I saw something in his eyes - a spark that was not anger- but it faded quickly.
He grabbed my shoulders roughly and pushed me away. "Go."
As I left the room, I glanced back at him. He had picked up a phone and was dialing a number. I paused at the door long enough to hear him say, "Dante? I need you to find someone for me with certain...physical attributes..."
It was after midnight when the woman arrived at the mansion. She was roughly my age and height, with brown hair a shade lighter than mine and dark brown eyes. While my eyelashes were naturally long and thick, hers were all mascara. Ian and I had been trained to observe people and I could tell her clothes were expensive, as I am sure she was. Her resemblance to me was obvious, so I knew her presence here was more than for his physical pleasure. Mr. Irons had a lesson for me to learn, but I was not sure what it would be.
Mr. Irons had asked me to escort her to the Itagaki Room. The mansion had twelve bedrooms and he had decorated ten of them based on Wielders. The Itagaki Room, decorated in clean Japanese lines, was my favorite. The Itagaki portrait was painted in mural on one wall. Samurai armor, not Itagaki's but a similar one in red lacquer, stood guard by the door. There was only one piece of furniture in the room, a small antique Japanese cabinet. A katana stand in one corner held two scabbards with their swords, sharp edge up. They were my katanas. Mr. Irons had given me permission to keep them here.
In the other corner was a large bonsai. It was as tall as I was and in full bloom. A low bed in the Japanese style dominated the center of the room. Mr. Irons, naked, sat on the edge of the bed. On the floor next to the bed within his arm's reach were his now empty brandy decanter and a brandy snifter.
I turned to leave, but his voice stopped me.
"Ina," he warned, "you will stay."
I stopped for a moment and looked at him curiously. I had seen him naked before, since I had escorted his 'playthings' up to his room on many occasions, but he had never asked me to stay.
I decided to stand by the bonsai, my eyes focusing on the pebbles covering the soil. I had thought he only wanted me to know that he would have the whore pleasure him in my favorite room. She would please him in a way he would not allow me to. That was supposed to hurt me -and it did. He always told me I was beautiful... had he lied? He knew I would do anything he asked, but he would never ask this of me. It was a slap in the face, a reminder that I was never good enough. But that wasn't the lesson I was to learn this evening. Mr. Irons' lessons were rarely that...obvious. I risked a glance at him.
He motioned for the woman to approach him and she did. "Strip."
I looked away, again concentrating on the pebbles. I heard the rustle of her clothes as they fell away.
"Hmm...she is a poor facsimile, Ina, but she will have to do."
I couldn't help but look up at the sound of my name, but I quickly averted my eyes. The glance was enough for me to see that he'd had the woman kneel before him at the foot of the bed.
In the silence of the room, I could hear the woman moaning softly and Mr. Irons hissing in pleasure. Why did he do this to me?
Mr. Irons' voice, now strained, called for me again. "Ina, come closer."
I took a deep breath then walked to stand at the side of the bed. The woman, her head bobbing between his thighs, was oblivious to me. I watched her, subconsciously licking my lips.
Mr. Irons pulled on my arms so that I would bend closer. His hands grabbed my head on either side, his fingers gently clutching my hair. He brought my face close to his. I could smell the brandy on his breath and briefly wondered if I would taste it in his mouth.
He brushed his lips lightly against mine and his nose skittered along my cheek, both caresses so light I thought they must have been accidental. "My beautiful Ina," his whispered.
He pressed his lips roughly against mine. He forced his tongue into my mouth. I reeled at the taste of him, his tongue probing my mouth, his lips sucking the breath out of me. A hand on my right breast squeezed and I shuddered in pleasure.
Then his hands on my shoulders pushed gently. "Kneel."
I did as he asked, my eyes still closed. I heard the rustle of sheets. To the woman, "No, this way. I want her to see." Another rustle of the sheets.
"Ina." His voice was angry. "Open your eyes."
I complied. The woman was on her back, her head in front of me, her arms at her sides, bracing herself. He knelt between her legs, facing me, holding himself ready to enter her. My vision seemed to narrow to that one point of conjunction. He entered her roughly and the woman groaned in what sounded to me like pain not pleasure. He drew out of her slowly and repeated the action.
"Ina, look at me," he ordered. "Look at my eyes, my love."
It took all my strength to raise my eyes to his. His eyes, once again their unique green, held mine. "Don't look away from me."
I nodded, swallowing hard, hypnotized by the desire I saw in his eyes.
He raised the woman's hips slightly and began to slam into her. With each thrust, the woman let out a gasp. Soon, he quickened his strokes, and his pace became relentless. My breath had fallen into the same rhythm as the woman's gasps, accelerating with his strokes.
His face grew flush with the exertion, but his eyes remained fixed on mine. I found myself swaying, matching his movements, trying to imagine what it must be like to have him in me. I felt myself contracting, a spasm in a previously unknown muscle.
He must have seen the change on my face because he smiled.
After that night, I was desperate for Ian to return so that I could leave. I could not look Mr. Irons in the eye. When I did, I only saw his face as it was that night and relived those moments. I had always prided myself on being in control of my body as a warrior should - deliberateness of motion was the epitome of self-discipline. Whenever I looked into his eyes, however, my body would betray me, overcome with the desire to have him touch me.
In the study, he stood before the hearth as he so often did. I stood at my regular spot, behind him on the right, my hands clenched behind my back, only now my eyes were fixed on the floor.
"Ian returns tomorrow," he said suddenly, turning to me. He took a step closer to me.
I felt my body responding to his nearness, my chest thrusting up ever so slightly, the sudden involuntary wetness, the warm flush in my cheeks. I closed my eyes briefly, struggling to remain in control. After a moment, he used a thumb and forefinger to raise my chin. He didn't remove his hand.
"Ina," he admonished, "what is this new habit of yours to look away from me?"
His thumb brushed against my lips, a touch so light I thought I imagined it. My eyes could not decide whether to focus on his eyes or his lips.
The back of his right hand came up to my cheek. I felt the mark, the mark of the Wielder, and leaned into it, closing my eyes. I saw the Witchblade in my mind, the gauntlet as it was now, the red stone glowing brightly. In a moment of sudden lucidity, I understood. I saw how he relished seeing me struggle against myself. He purposely tortured me to see how I would respond, testing my limits, my loyalty. His only desire was to control me and my devotion to the Witchblade for his own purposes, not the Blade's. To me, he was only a man now, not worthy to have worn the Blade. For now, the Blade wanted me to remain in his service and I would. Now knowing of his attempted manipulations, I was free of them, free to truly serve the Witchblade.
Gabriel saw a terrible sadness in her eyes. When she finally spoke, her voice was level. "After Ian returned, I was assigned to watch over you...and others. I rarely saw Mr. Irons. Around fourteen months ago, I was summoned to the mansion for what I thought was my annual physical. I was there for two weeks for 'special tests.' Soon enough, Irons told me how the Black Dragons program had involved some drug testing and he couldn't allow me to undergo those procedures. He wanted me pure ."
Navarro closed her eyes briefly.
Mr. Irons placed a hand on my abdomen. He leaned close, brushing a kiss on my cheek. He whispered into my ear. "I do hope our son has your eyes."
I hadn't known that words could make a person physically sick. I swallowed hard, pushing him away from me.
"What have you done to me?!" I demanded angrily.
Irons' lips curled into that self-satisfied smirk. I resisted the urge to slap it off his face.
I looked at Ian. His eyes were dark and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He was angry, too, but he was duty-bound to defend Irons if I attacked. I didn't want to fight Ian. Had he known? How could he NOT have known?
When she continued, her tone was harsher, her voice gravelly. "Irons told me that he had named me Ina because it meant 'mother.' That he wanted me for breeding . He called me his 'brood mare'."
Navarro took a deep breath. "He never intended for me to
serve the Blade in any capacity. I was devastated. That night, Ian came
into my room and woke me. He insisted I had to leave the mansion."
We both knew how to circumvent the security cameras. He walked with me to the front gate. My katanas were waiting for me there. Ian handed me an envelope.
"Money for the next few days. ID, passport, credit cards. A slip of paper with a Swiss bank account. It should be more than enough for your new life. And the child's."
I looked at Ian for a long moment. He had planned for this. "You knew." Why didn't you stop him? Why didn't you tell me?
He nodded. "The Witchblade has provided this ford. Now you must cross it."
'Crossing at a ford' was Ian's favorite strategy. I was struck by both its appropriateness and its irony. Knowing the route and the soundness of your ship, blessed with the favor of the day, and perhaps a favorable wind, you set sail even though your friends remain in the harbor - the classic scenario for 'crossing at a ford.' However, the mansion was not a harbor, I did not know the route nor the soundness of my ship and at this time of night I didn't even have the favor of the day.
I smiled, holding up the envelope. "And this is my tailwind." If the wind changes, you must row across the remaining distance without sail. The spirit of 'crossing at a ford' was important to the samurai. I lost my smile. "So, I am to be a ronin now."
Ian's eyes softened. "You will be more, Ina, as you have always been."
"And Irons just let you go?"
Navarro smiled. "What could he do? Send Ian after me? Ian was the only one who would have had a chance of catching me not that he would want to, and Irons needed him to protect him from the Black Dragons. Maybe he suspected Ian helped me and didn't want to risk losing him as well."
Gabriel sat back, trying to absorb everything he had heard. He saw Ina tilt her head slightly as if she was trying to hear something very far away. Then he heard a baby begin to cry.