Summary: Ian and Moby share a holiday meal.
Author's Note: This story takes place shortly after the episode "Consectatio".
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my beta reader, Jessica, who is too keen for words. Any mistakes you see are mine.
Sitting on the floor of his loft, Hector Mobius tried to meditate. He failed to focus his thoughts as the primal need to complete his mission overrode his reason. Meditation had helped fight the programming for a while, but the compulsion was once again becoming hard to control. His one gift had been his intellect, his mind, but now even that was not his own. He looked at the VR gear on the floor next to him. Watching the programming disc meant completing his mission, and completing his mission was his only respite from the need - the only way to regain his sanity albeit temporarily.
But he did not want to complete his mission.
He felt for the play button. He blinked, surprised by the darkness. Unconsciously, he had slipped a disc into the player and placed the visor over his eyes. No! His breath quickened as he tried one last time to fight the impulse to feed the bloodlust at the core of his programming. Remember! He couldn't see in the darkness of the visor, but closed his eyes anyway, recalling that last confrontation with Ian.
"Hector, you are a myth. You have your own condition, your own rules. You can reconsider."
"If you want to save your beloved Sara, you will have to kill me...or die trying."
Ian had fought well, well enough to fool the bloodlust, but not well enough to fool Hector's reason. He knew Ian's capabilities. Ian, so naïve in many ways, had wanted to die – at once saving his Sara and Hector and redeeming his precious honor. Hector wanted to be that naïve – to believe that he didn't have to kill Sara, to believe that he could set his own rules, but he could not.
He pressed play. Nothing happened.
Hector removed the visor to see Ian Nottingham crouching before him. His eyes flicked to the player. Ian had disconnected the visor.
"What brings you here, my brother?"
Ian stood, taking a step back, and grinned briefly. "The spirit of Christmas."
Hector's eyes narrowed, studying Ian a moment. Ian could not really believe that appealing to holiday generosity would succeed in subverting Hector's mission, did he? Even Ian could not be so naïve .
"I told you before, Ian, I cannot stop this."
Hector rose from the floor slowly, trying to appear non-threatening.
"I want to help you," Ian said quietly. "With Fa– Mr. Irons gone, I have the means...to undo what was done to you. I now have access to everything that was done to us."
The determination on Ian's face and the earnestness in his voice made Hector want to believe. Hector shook his head, dismissing the idea.
"You can stay at my home, Hector. Till you are...yourself again."
Ian, always with his heart on his sleeve, was easy to read.
"If you are lonely, Ian, perhaps you should get a dog."
Hector saw Ian's determination waiver. Had his Sara rejected him even after saving his life? It would be so easy to taunt Ian with that...to suggest that she would always reject him...would that push him away or make him an ally? Hector clenched his jaw, his fists tightening. He did not want to do that to Ian; it was not his way.
"So, you would cage me in order to protect your Sara?"
Ian smiled briefly. "Or perhaps to protect you from Sara."
Hector did not return the smile. He still had a large, ugly bruise on his chest and sore ribs from his last encounter with Ian's savior.
Ian looked at Hector intently for a long moment. "Come. I will tell you about her weapon and we can share a meal. Then you can choose to stay. Or not."
Gathering intelligence on his subject was an acceptable delay, staving off the need to complete the mission. Hector nodded. "Very well. I accept."
Hector entered the mansion at 1111 Faust Street wondering if it had changed in the six years since he had last visited. He followed Ian through the foyer to a sitting room where Ian promptly dropped his coat on a chair. It was not like Ian to be so...slovenly.
Ian said, "Make yourself at home."
Hector removed his coat, folded it once and offered it to Ian, expectantly.
Ian took the coat, walked two steps towards the door then stopped. He turned, retrieved his own coat from the chair, and bowed his head to Hector. Ian left, only to return a few minutes later to the doorway, without the coats.
Ian said, "Our only company tonight will be Kikuchiyo and he is waiting for us in the study."
The name sounded vaguely familiar to Hector. Was that a former sensei of Ian's? Hector remained silent, following Ian to the study. What he saw of the mansion had not changed much–some suits of armor had been moved and some furniture had been rearranged. He was amused to see that the study doors with the Kama Sutra panels were still there. He found himself reaching for a panel, recalling how he had teased Ian about them all those years ago. He dropped his hand away from the door. That had been before the programming.
The study, however, had changed much. The room had been re-done in a color scheme of coppers and browns, its warmth counterbalanced by the Old World sophistication of several antique furnishings. The piano was gone and the paintings were different. A Christmas tree, adorned only with white lights, had been placed near the hearth.
"Kiku!" Ian called.
A canine head with a tennis ball in the mouth poked out from behind the leather couch. The dog trotted over to Ian, carefully placed the ball at his feet, and quickly took his position next to Ian. Hector was not sure what breed it was, but he could see how the black and tan coat and soulful eyes had caught Ian's attention.
Hector laughed. The sound was a deep, rich rumbling that surprised even Hector. He could not remember the last time he had laughed. Both Ian and his dog reacted with the same quizzical expression. Hector threw his head back, laughing even harder.
"It is true, then," he was finally able to say, "dogs do resemble their owners."
Ian smiled and looked at the dog. "I think he's making fun of us."
"Indeed, I am."
Hector held a hand out to the dog who sniffed then licked it. He scratched it behind the ears. Hector frowned. Kikuchiyo would be a terrible sentry dog. But that was not why Ian had the dog. Ian was making a life for himself, one beyond his programming. Hector drew his hand back, envying all this normalcy.
"You were going to tell me more about your Sara's weapon."
Ian looked down, placing a hand on Kikuchiyo's head, then nodded. "Come. Dinner has been laid out in the dining room. And I will tell you everything I know about the Witchblade."
The long dining table had two elegant yet simple place settings at one end. At the other end, a rather eclectic array of dishes was set for a buffet service: fruit and champagne sorbet to cleanse the palate, a simple salad of mixed greens, Cornish hens with limes, fried plantains, sage and cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes in syrup, vegetables in a light butter sauce, and some sort of elaborate chocolate-covered pastry that Hector couldn't recognize for dessert. Hector closed his eyes, taking in the smell of the sweet potatoes – cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices he could not identify. The smell of the plantains, a sweet aroma with a hint of the oil in which they were deep-fried, triggered the memory...
All the Black Dragons had gathered in Ramirez and McGill's tent. It was Christmas. They were in a desert thousands of miles from home, though that didn't really matter. Home, for these men, was only of geographical importance since no one cared enough to miss them. Ramirez had ‘procured' some plantains and prepared them the way he remembered from his childhood – the ripe ones, deep-fried, were sweet as bananas; the unripe ones, salted and then deep fried in a more complex two-step process, were not sweet but salty, greasy and meaty like French fries.
McGill described in great detail how one of his foster mothers had prepared sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. Hector could almost taste them. The others shared memories of holiday foods, but Hector remained silent. Hector did not talk about himself or his past, except with Ian whom he considered a friend and even then the details were carefully chosen. He noted that Ian had listened intently, but he, too, had contributed nothing to the conversation. The others, accustomed to Ian's reticence, did not press him for details about Christmas dinners at the Irons mansion. Shortly after getting their fill of plantains and holiday stories, Ian and Hector headed back to their own tent.
Ian asked, "When you were a boy, what were your holidays like?"
Personal questions from Ian were always childlike in their directness. Hector considered which memory to share with Ian. He chose a good one. "I remember watching my grandmother make sage and cornbread stuffing when I was very young. She would bake the bread early in the morning before anyone else awoke, since she would need the oven later for other dishes. While it baked, she would chop celery and onions and tell me stories...fantastic stories of myths and legends. The last thing she would add was the sage. She never measured it. She said she knew she had added the right amount when it had the right shade of green." Hector smiled faintly. "She told people she made the corn bread for the stuffing from scratch following an old family recipe. I was the only one who knew she used a corn muffin mix from the store. That was our secret. I remember feeling...privileged to have her trust me with her secret."
That, too, had been before the programming.
As Hector opened his eyes, he realized Ian waited for him at one end of the table. Ian had a strange look, a bit thoughtful and a bit scrutinizing. He seemed about to say something but grinned instead. Hector walked over to him and joined him for dinner.
The food, as can only be expected from a chef hired to work for Mr. Irons, was excellent. Hector had even helped himself to a second, large helping of the sage and cornbread stuffing, although, to Hector, it wasn't quite the right shade of green. Ian, too, ate heartily as he told Hector the story of the Witchblade and its Wielders, of how Kenneth Irons had acquired it and worn it so many years ago, and of how it had found Sara Pezzini. Hector noted the slightly different tone in Ian's voice when he talked about Sara. In another time, Hector would have joked about it, but now he could only concentrate on what Ian had not said. Ian had said nothing of his own experience with the Witchblade, except that it had been Irons who had taught him everything he knew about it. He had not said that it could transform into different weapons (even though Hector was now sure it could) nor how to defend against it.
Ian stared at his plate, frowning, perhaps considering his next words. "Father and I would often talk about the Witchblade the way you and I have tonight."
Ian stopped then, his expression somewhat melancholy, then he laughed bitterly, looking at Hector once again. "I thought he told me everything he knew about the Witchblade. It was our secret, our sacred trust. I thought that in this one thing there were no lies or secrets between us, but somehow I think there is much he didn't tell me about the Witchblade."
"Is there anything you aren't telling me about it? Or about Sara?"
"Sara has the will to control the Blade, but no discipline. She has the warrior spirit but no formal training. In that, she is like Kikuchiyo."
Hector now recalled Kikuchiyo as one of The Seven Samurai and wondered if Ian was comparing Sara to the character in the film or to the dog.
"And you, Ian? What is your role in all this?"
"Father always told me that I was to protect the Wielder and, because he had worn it, I felt my duty was to protect him as well." He paused as a little smile crossed his face. "One Christmas when I was a boy I received a sheriff's outfit – a holster with toy six-shooters, a black cowboy hat and a shiny silver badge. I wore it all the time, pretending to protect Father from ‘bad' things, yearning to learn to fight properly, to be a great warrior...so that one day I could protect both the Witchblade Wielder and Father."
So, Ian was a modern day Josey Wales – the servant, the perfect self-sacrificing knight.
"If you wish," Ian continued hesitantly, "you can be Sara's instructor, her mentor, as you were mine."
Hector as Mentor to Sara Pezzini? "You are confusing your myths, Ian. Sara Pezzini is no Telemachus."
Ian leaned forward, his words urgent. "She is also not Sehren. And you are not Enkidu."
"You assigned me that role, Ian. You know the myth cannot change!"
Hector took two deep breaths, trying to remain calm. Talking of the myth could only serve to feed his bloodlust. The evening so far had been too normal, too much like two old friends simply sharing a meal, the illusion easily shattered by the programming. Hector wanted to live in that fantasy for as long as possible, if only for this one evening.
When Hector finally spoke, his tone was gentle as if he spoke to a child. "Ian, we did not receive the same programming. You cannot help me."
"You're wrong," Ian replied sternly. "I know what they did to us. You and I had our psyches altered in the same manner. Our...perceptions of ourselves were enhanced –exaggerated– so that we interpret reality and respond to it based on those perceptions...so that we function instinctively based on how we see ourselves – you as the hero in the myth and me as..."
"The dutiful son and servant," Hector finished for him.
"Yes." A hint of a smile crossed Ian's face. "But now, I am master and servant."
Ian looked sideways, towards a corner of the room. Hector followed Ian's gaze to Kikuchiyo who lay nearby, gnawing at a bone and oblivious to the humans.
"It's...strange to be Kiku's master. It's not at all what I expected." Another ghost of smile. "He fancies himself my protector, I think."
Ian turned to Hector again. "Don't you see, Hector? You can fight your programming as I have fought mine."
Hector shook his head. He didn't want to believe that was possible, because it would be too painful if he failed once again to undo his programming.
And there was Ian with his sad eyes and his need to polish his tarnished honor. In those eyes was the hope Hector did not allow himself to have anymore.
"I evolved," Ian said. "So can you. But only if you wish it."
Hector opened his mouth to speak then closed it without saying anything. Had he grown to like the myth? Had he failed to undo the programming so many times before because he had not really wished to be free of the myth? And if he let it go, what did he have?
"Without the myth, what is there to believe in?" Hector could hear the uncertainty – or was that fear?– in his own voice.
Ian clasped Hector's shoulder. "Believe in our friendship, Hector."
Then, in a voice so soft that Hector had to strain to hear, Ian added, "Unless... our friendship is still only a favor for Mr. Irons."
Hector tried to hide his surprise that Ian knew about Hector's compact with Irons, but Ian must have noticed it because he explained, "I heard the two of you in the barracks that day."
Irons' cultured, paternal voice, "Moby, I have a favor to ask of you. Ian is a special young man and because of that he has lead a very...solitary life. I'm afraid he may not get along with the others. I would appreciate it if you were to...befriend him."
"No, Ian. Our friendship was forged on much more than obligation."
Ian smiled, giving Hector's shoulder another squeeze. "Then you will stay?"
Hector nodded, remembering Ian's humble request that day in the loft. "Let us make a new myth."