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Rating: PG-13 for Sara's unlady-like language.
Summary: Ian gets a Valentine's Gift. Sorta.
Author's Note: This is a little Valentine's fic that got out of control. I dedicate it to the Ian/Sara shippers.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my beta reader, Jessica, who is too keen for words. Any mistakes you see are mine.


The Week Before...

I had the office to myself. I was grumpy from dealing with lawyers all morning and a serious lack of food, so I was glad that the boys were out on a call. Now, happily munching away on a sandwich, I hoped the afternoon would be better - paperwork sucked, but it was a good way to blow away the afternoon.

Hearing a soft knock on my door, I looked up to see Vicki leaning on the doorframe.

"Hey, Sara," she said with a grin.

"Hi, Vic." I smiled. "What's up?"

She walked into the office, closing the door behind her and took a seat at Danny's desk.

"I need a favor." She ran a hand through her hair, letting out a sigh. "My parents are having this big wedding anniversary party next week and I'm required to take a date. I was wondering if you knew anyone..."

She shook her head and was trying real hard not to make eye contact with me. "I just...I want to take someone to this thing with no strings attached, you know? Just someone to hang out with. I know it's stupid, but you know how my mother is and if I don't show up-"

I tried not to smile. I knew what her mom was like. "Why don't you just hire an escort?"

She gave me the classic 'exasperated Po' look. "Pez."

I laughed. "I'm kidding. Okay, okay." I considered it a bit. "How about Andy?"

Vicki made a face. "Mr. Whitebread? I don't think so."

"He's a nice guy, Vic."

"That may be, but I don't need the backlash from my brothers."

That was true. Andy would provide plenty of material that the Po brothers could use to tease Vicki mercilessly for several weeks.

"What about Jimmy?" Jimmy was likable and fun, and being one of the forensics guys meant the Po brothers would let Vicki off the hook.

"Already asked. He's got plans."

This was going to be tougher than I thought.

"Anybody else?"

I really couldn't think of anyone, unless...Before I could voice my next suggestion, Vicki said suddenly, "What about your friend? The pirate."

"Nottingham? No. Not a good idea."

I think the shock was evident on my face because she said, "Oh?"

I shook my head. "Trust me, Vic. You don't want that man in your life. Even for one night."

Vicki smiled a very impish smile I knew all too well. She opened her mouth to say something (probably along the lines of 'the lady doth protest too much') but I cut her off. In a very serious tone, I added, "He's a dangerous man. Sometimes I'm not even sure he's sane."

She looked at me a long moment and I knew the question she was itching to ask. If he's such a threat, why is he in your life, Pez? I glanced at the Witchblade. I don't have a choice, do I? Instead, Vicki said, "Okay. Anyone else?"

"How about McCarty?"

"Jakie?" She sounded like she doubted me.

I nodded. "He's a guy's guy and will easily win over the Brothers Po."

I wasn't sure how much I believed that, but Jake was a nice enough guy. I winked. "Plus, he digs ya." That, at least, was true.

She nodded and smiled. "Thanks. I'll ask him later today."

We talked a little bit more about a case and then we both had to get back to work. After she left, I smiled. Jake going out with Vicki. Oh, yeah, the afternoon was looking up.


The Day Before...

The day had more or less sucked. Danny was much too happy about his weekend plans with Lee, making me promise to look in on Mija who had babysitting duties for the weekend. Jake had left early because he had to get a haircut for his date with Vicki. He had seemed so earnest the whole week in trying to do everything right for this "not-really-a-date" date that I even gave him a heads-up about Vicki's brothers. Well, that's what partners were for, right?

Before I left for home, I stopped in to see Vicki. I admit, I just wanted to tease her about this "not-really-a-date" date.

"Hey, Vic."

She looked up from her desk with a smile. "Hi. What brings you here?"

"Just thought I'd check-in with you."

"Uh-huh." She lost her smile. "You are not here to tell me that McCarty cancelled on me, are you?"

"Noooo. As a matter of fact, the rookie left early to get a haircut." I smiled. "For your big date."

"Pez, for the last time, it's not a date."

"Right. Sorry."

I was trying hard not to smile, but I had loved teasing both Vic and Jake all week. It was almost too easy. Almost.

"No. I'm sorry." She sighed. "My mom is driving me nuts with this party."

I had to laugh. Vicki's mom was...a character. Mrs. Po always went over the top with holidays. I wasn't really surprised that Vic's parents had gotten married on Valentine's Day- it was just the kind of sickly sweet thing her mom would do.

She added, "And my dad isn't much better."

"Your dad? I thought he was the paragon of romance? Mr. 'flowers-just-cuz-it's-Tuesday and come home to candles and an intimate dinner'?"

"He is. Which is why he hates Valentine's Day."

What? "I'm sorry, Vic. I don't follow."

"My dad has always thought that Valentine's Day was a crock. He always says he doesn't need one special day a year to remind him of how to treat the woman he loves. He does all these little things and big things all year around because he loves my mom. Before they got married, he hated celebrating it."

She shrugged. "But you know my mom. She has to celebrate all the holidays and all the pseudo-holidays. That's why they got married on Valentine's. She knew he didn't like Valentine's, but he would celebrate their anniversary."

I laughed. Yep, that's the kind of thing her mom would do. "Well," I finally said. "I better get going." I started to leave when Vic called to me.

"Hey, Sara? You can still come tomorrow, you know."

Turning back to her, I raised an eyebrow. I'd lost count of how many times she'd invited me over the last week. "The answer is still no."

Her family was nice enough, but I know I couldn't deal with her mom's version of Valentine's.

She grinned. "You could bring the pirate."

I wanted to be pissed but Vicki was too damn likeable. "No." I shook my head and grinned. "Besides, I wouldn't wanna cramp Jake's style."

An hour later, I was in my apartment eating leftover pizza and thinking about my conversation with Vicki. I had to agree with her dad. Valentine's Day wasn't for the real romantics.


The Day Of...

First thing in the morning, there was a small bag of candy hearts with a little heart-shaped tag waiting for me on my desk. They were from Gabriel. That was sweet of him. He didn't call, but I didn't expect him to; he had plans with a certain Bulgarian blond. Danny gave me a small box of chocolates - the most ridiculous looking, heart-shaped one he could find; he's given me one every year that we've known each other. His philosophy is that Valentine's Day is about acknowledging people you care about. I think he just wants me to get him some chocolate.

But it was Mr. Po's Valentine's Day philosophy that was saving my day. Whenever somebody mentioned their plans, I just thought 'hey, well, if you need to be reminded to do nice things for your significant other, that's really your problem.'

I had kept a pretty low profile all day, mostly filling out reports and teasing Jake about his date. Danny skipped out just after lunch so I had the office to myself.

Whenever the phone rang, I sorta kept hoping it was a homicide. Then I would have good answer when the guys around the station asked about my plans. How horrible is that? Was I really letting this silly day get to me?

Jake walked in to the office with a yellow rose in his hand. He offered it to me.

I raised an eyebrow, immediately suspicious.

He smiled his perfect smile and said, "Not a Valentine. Just a thank you for setting me up with Vicki. And warning me about the brothers."

I took the flower and smelled it. Nice. I grinned. "Thanks, Jake. The second date is all up to you now."

He nodded. "I'll catch you later, Pez."


The Evening Of...

I parked my bike by my apartment building. I unzipped my jacket, carefully pulling out Jake's rose. I smiled. It wasn't too crushed from the trip home. I thought about leaving it and my helmet in the apartment before picking up the Chinese food but the restaurant was just around the corner and it wouldn't take too long.

I was returning from the Chinese restaurant when my cell phone rang. I shifted the bag of food to my left hand, careful not to crush Jake's rose, and pulled the phone out of my jacket pocket. The caller ID said it was Vicki.

I pressed the send button and answered, "Hey, Vic. How was your day?"

I knew she'd spent the day helping her mom with party decorations which to Vicki was about as much fun as a root canal.

"Hi, Pez. I think I'm allergic to pink streamers."

I chuckled, continuing the walk home. "Sorry I'm missing it."

"No, you're not." She sighed. "Sure you don't want to come?"

"Vic," I warned.

"Okay. Okay. Get any Valentines?"

"None that count."

"None from the pirate?"

I could hear the smile in her voice.

"Not yet," I answered truthfully.

"Ah...you are hopeful."

Dammit, that's not what I meant and she knew it.

"He has that look, you know," she continued, "Intense...like he would do something incredibly romantic. Good kisser, too, I bet."

"Vic." I really wasn't liking where this conversation was going. Maybe I should have set her up with Nottingham.

She laughed. "You tease me about Jake. I get to tease you about the pirate. What's his name again?"

Before I could answer, she said, "Hold on."

I heard her say something but it was muffled. "Sorry, Sara. Jake's here. Gotta go."

"Bye, Vic. Have fun."

I hit the end button and shoved the phone back into my jacket pocket. I switched the food back to my right hand and went up the stairs to my apartment.

I unlocked my front door and grabbed the door handle. I hesitated. What if Nottingham was inside right now? What if he had set up something that Vicki would classify as 'incredibly romantic'? I sighed. Whatever.

When I walked into my apartment, I was greeted by...nothing. There were no candles, no flowers, no chocolate, no intimate dinner for two waiting for me...not even a bag of that really expensive coffee he sometimes leaves for me.

I set the food and helmet on the dining table and draped my jacket on the back of the chair. I found a little bud vase and filled it with water for Jake's rose which I then placed next to the food. Yeah, this was cozy. I opened the two larger take-out containers and reached in the bag for the chopsticks. Suddenly famished, I dug into the food.

Perhaps Nottingham's Valentine gift to me was that there was no gift, no token of his professed love for me, no professions of his love. He didn't want to annoy me. I could see his reasoning in that. Or maybe...maybe he didn't want to get hurt. I could understand that, too.

Freak or not, he's still a guy. Maybe he just didn't think to get anything.

In any case, I was grateful. If he had done something nice, I don't think I could have blown him off --even I'm not that...cruel. And I wouldn't want to encourage him either. That was a whole other kind of cruel.

Nottingham. I didn't need a Witchblade vision to know all the little things he had done for me. Sure, some of those things --like helping me understand those visions-- could be classified in the 'comes-with-being-my protector' category. He did them because he had faith in my abilities to be a Wielder and wanted me to succeed. But some things...some I know he did just because he liked me. I know he's the one who leaves the packages of really good, really expensive coffee -so good and so expensive, I wouldn't even know where to buy it. There were the big things too, like taking a crossbow bolt in the chest to save me. I grinned -even when he put a hit out on me, he went all out and got the best.

There I was, munching away on sesame chicken, and all I could think about was Nottingham. I couldn't even blame the Witchblade for that. I was thinking about him all on my own. Damn. I couldn't blame Valentine's Day either. I was alone, but I wasn't lonely. I wasn't so sure I could say that about Nottingham. But I've been lonely and it sucks.

Nottingham didn't need a special day to tell me how he felt about me. But maybe I did. I touched one of the rose's petals. Not a Valentine. But a thank you.

Damn. I'm going to do something nice and I know I'll regret it tomorrow.

I put the food away and slipped my jacket on. I headed out of my apartment sure that I could find something in one of the little shops in the neighborhood.

The thing was I didn't know what to get Nottingham. Well, I'm sure he could appreciate a nice weapon or a work of art or some obscure relic (preferably Witchblade-related), but none of those were in my price range. I did know that he would appreciate anything I got for him if only because I gave it to him, and that just made me feel guilty. I should put a little thought into it, shouldn't I?

I walked a couple of blocks, hoping inspiration would strike, and found myself in front of a florist shop. You couldn't get a guy flowers, could you? Maybe a plant? I shrugged. Well, why not?

Inside, there were a few customers in line with the usual Valentine's crap in hand. I looked around a bit. Red roses? They were beautiful and...classy but somehow they seemed to be more Irons' style than Nottingham's. Also too Valentine-esque. There were some bouquets with some nice, colorful flowers - orange and yellow and purple. They were elegant arrangements but the colors made them a bit whimsical. Nottingham might like one of those.

A man in a green apron (with the name Bob embroidered in cursive) came up to me and smiled politely. "Can I help you find something?"

I straightened up a little, standing a little taller, irrationally believing that would make my request seem quite normal. "I, uh, need a gift. For a guy."

Bob wasn't fazed nor did he look at me as if I was a freak. That was encouraging.

He said, "A Valentine's gift?"

I bit my lip. "Not exactly."

"Tell me about him."

What the hell? I took a deep breath. The man's tone had been professional not nosy. Relax, Pezzini. "He's...a very private person. Lives in a big house. Dry sense of humor."

All the other things I knew about Nottingham were not exactly things I should tell a stranger. But I thought of a few more and added hastily, "He likes swords. And dragons. And basketball. And martial arts."

Well, I wasn't sure about that last one, but I tossed it in anyway. I knew Nottingham was highly trained in several martial arts, but that didn't mean he was also a student of their philosophy.

Bob nodded as if I had just told him some great truth of the universe. "A man of classical tastes but a bit of a rebel. Follow me, please. I think you will find something for him back here."

I had to grin. Yeah, that was Nottingham --Rebel with a Cause. Bob led me to the back of the store which opened into a small greenhouse. He stopped half-way down the one aisle and indicated the table on the right. "I think he might like something from here. Take your time looking around."

I stepped a little closer to get a better view. The table was mostly covered with an assortment of bonsai and bamboo trees. Bob knew his stuff. I could picture Nottingham meticulously caring for a bonsai. At the same time, I knew he would like the simple lines and elegance of the bamboo arrangements. I took my time looking. I smirked at the "lucky" bamboo arrangement; Nottingham was not getting lucky tonight. I looked at one particular small bonsai tree. The way it was shaped, curving at the ends, vaguely reminded me of his dragon tattoo. Trying to decide if that would be my purchase, I caught a small bit of color in the corner of my eye. An orchid. I knew that was it.

Two of the petals were a reddish color while the white petal was spotted in a neat vertical pattern and the leaves were this perfect shade of green. At least, they seemed so to me. It was in a black pot - the only orchid pot not wrapped in a funky disco paper. I leaned closer to read the tag on it: Paphiopedilum (Dragon Spot 'Dragonstone' x Marg -- the rest of the tag was broken off. Dragonstone, huh? Yeah. That was perfect.

"This one," I told Bob with certainty.

"An excellent choice, Miss."

With a smile, he took the orchid and I followed him up front to the register.

"Would you like me to wrap it?"

"No," I barked. That came out faster and harsher than I intended. I smiled a little. "It's fine like that."

Bob just smiled at me, apparently not offended by the fact that I hated that disco paper stuff.

"Would you like it delivered?"

"No. Yes." Was that the proper thing to do?

He handed me a little card and a pen. I stared at it for a good long minute. Aw, crap. I pushed the card back towards Bob.

"You know what? I think I'll give it to him myself."

Bob, still smiling, only nodded.

He rang it up and I paid. I picked the orchid up, thanked him for his help and started the short walk back to my place. Pleased with my purchase, I amused myself by wondering if Nottingham would name it and if he did what name he would choose. Halfway there, I stopped, realizing I wouldn't be able to take it on the bike. Damn. I seriously considered just continuing home and keeping the orchid for myself. Then I felt the twinge of guilt. Is it so hard, Pezzini, to do this one nice thing? Damn. I hailed a cab, starting to regret my good deed.

I stood at the doorway to a sparsely furnished, relatively small room which my brain absently registered as a conservatory. There were two small sofas and the decoration was minimal - a couple of paintings and a few plants. A grand piano was the focal point of the room, and the only light came from the large fireplace at the far end.

Nottingham sat on the piano bench with a sketchbook in one hand. He had one (bare) foot up on the bench so he could rest the book against his knee. He wore loose cotton pants and a long sleeve v-neck t-shirt (both black), and his hair was loose. He was focused on the sketchbook, his right hand occasionally moving across it. The soft light from the fire gave his skin a natural glow - tanned, sexy. He looked quite...no, it wasn't just the firelight; he just seemed relaxed, at peace, and...vulnerable.

The staff must have let him know I was coming and I was sure Mr. Black Dragon knew I was standing there, but he hadn't acknowledged my presence. That irked me; it was the kind of thing Irons would do, not Nottingham. Maybe he hadn't noticed me? Maybe he was angry with me for interrupting his personal time?

I took a few steps into the room.

"Hey, Nottingham."

"Sara," he acknowledged, with the little sing-song he sometimes used when pronouncing my name. This time it sounded oddly wrong and cold.

I stepped closer to him. "Ian?"

Setting aside the sketchbook and a piece of charcoal, he slowly, finally, turned to look at me.

I saw the accusation in his eyes. I left you alone today. Isn't that what you wanted? Why are you here? To mock my feelings for you? Must you reject me today of all days just to be cruel? Or did I imagine that, only seeing what I expected to see?

His eyes went to the orchid in my hands then back to my eyes. His brow furrowed slightly.

I held the pot up towards him. "Uh, it's for you. From me."

The confusion in his eyes gave way to something else; he looked at me and at the orchid warily, as if it carried the plague and I was trying to trick him.

Maybe he didn't like orchids or maybe he was allergic...I knew being nice to him would turn around and bite me in the ass.

"Thank you." He stood, walked over to me and took the pot from my hands, his eyes searching mine one last time for the booby trap.

He said, "Paphiopedilum. A Dragonstone crossbreed."

My eyebrows went up in surprise. "You know orchids?"

A little smile tugged at the edge of his lips. "I read the tag."

I smiled. Smart-ass. "You like it?"

"Very much. It's lovely."

Then he smiled. And I had to remember to breathe.

Nottingham walked back to the piano and placed the pot on top of it. He touched one of the leaves before turning back to me. He seemed to be waiting for something...as if this was my game and it was my move. Crap. I got him something and gave it to him. I really hadn't thought any farther than that. Would it be rude of me to just leave now?

"Thank you, again." He hesitated. "You didn't have to...think of me."

I blurted out, "Not a Valentine. It's a ‘thank you'."

He gave me that little half-smile of his, the one that could be either playful or intimate depending on the glint in his eyes. This one was playful. "For a ‘thank you', it is very...suggestive."

"What? It's just ..." A flower...the deep blush of the petals...Then I realized what he meant. "Oh...uh..."

That's not what I meant at all. Shit, I think I'm blushing.

He laughed lightly. "I'm just teasing you."

His smile faded and he looked at me intently. Having his full attention on me was almost hypnotic and a little frightening. I couldn't look away from his eyes, his beautiful bright eyes that made it so easy to forget who he was and all the weird crap in my life he was responsible for.

"I like doing that." His comment was honest, simple, endearing.

I cocked my head to the side, grinning, despite myself. "What? Teasing me?"

He shook his head. "Making you blush."

I wanted to be annoyed. I should have been annoyed. I wasn't. I wanted him to laugh again. "You should be proud. It's not an easy thing to do."

He didn't laugh, but he smiled that half-smile again. The intimate one. Dammit, was I flirting with him? I had to stop this. Now. I glanced at the sketchbook, noticing the charcoal outline of the piano. I grabbed the book and held it up. "May I?"

Nottingham looked at me for a long moment, the smile gone from his handsome face and replaced with that hard look he'd had earlier when he first looked at me.

"They are mostly sketches for a painting I am working on." His tone was a little dismissive, a little apologetic. He didn't want me to take them too seriously.

"You paint?" I asked, as I flipped through the sketchbook.

One sketch, in pencil, was like a comic book version of me with the Witchblade in its gauntlet form and a gun in my left hand. I looked ready to kick ass. I was honestly flattered. There were a few charcoal sketches of the piano, another in pencil of a dog's confused face that made me smile, and several detailed sketches of Irons that surprised the hell out of me. Some were of his face and some were of Irons at the piano but, in each sketch, Irons' expression was soft, warm...paternal.

I was so distracted I barely heard Nottingham's reply.

"I haven't in a long time. I recently just started again. I used to sketch and paint when I was a boy."

"Irons let you do that?" The question was out before I could stop myself.

Nottingham didn't seem offended though. He nodded. "He encouraged it. When I was very little, I didn't have the words to explain my dreams and visions to him, but I could draw them."

"Why did you stop?"

"I suppose I just...out-grew it."

That was a load of crap, but I didn't press him on it. I opened the book to a sketch of Irons at the piano and showed it to him. "Is this what you are working on now?"

He nodded, walking over to stand next to me. "Mr. Irons' portrait was...damaged recently. It was also...unflattering. I felt it should be replaced."

I looked at the sketch again, seeing a new emotion on Irons' face - he seemed genuinely moved by the music he played. Somehow I didn't think that Irons would have commissioned such a painting; it made him look...fragile, fallible and all too human.

Nottingham added quietly, "That...that is how I want to remember him."

I looked up at his face. I saw melancholy? Guilt? Loneliness?

With a little smile I said, "I think it'll be great when you're done. And I think he would be proud you did that for him."

He barked out a laugh that startled me. "He would have hated it."

He took the book from my hand and closed it, his eyes never leaving mine. I got the message: let's change the topic.

Nottingham tossed the sketchbook onto the piano bench and said, "You never told me what exactly it was you were thanking me for."

"Stuff." I shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable in his gaze. I grinned, trying to cover up my unease. "It's not like there's a ‘Protector Appreciation Day'."

I thought the joke would lighten the mood but it backfired. The anger in his eyes was unmistakable – momentary but unmistakable. Dammit.

"What?" Shit. I said that out loud.

He shook his head, frowning.

I could tell he wanted to answer me but he was afraid to. I couldn't tell whether he thought I'd get angry or whether he felt he wasn't allowed to say it.

"What?" I asked again, but more gently.

"I did not think you ‘appreciated' my protection. Or even wanted it."

"Like I had a choice?"

"Like I did?"

I blinked in surprise, unsure what to say to that. I suppose I had assumed that he had been under orders to keep an eye on me –and the Witchblade– but now with Irons gone, he had a choice, didn't he? "You always have a choice."

"I thought..." He shook his head slowly, his lips pursing slightly. "...That day in the warehouse with Moby...I thought you understood."

His expression turned thoughtful and after a moment he said, "Let's pretend, Sara."

I raised an eyebrow wondering where he was going with that. Before I could ask, he continued, "Pretend that when you were a little girl, your father told you –every day– that someday you would be the next Witchblade Wielder. You train your body and mind to accept it and use it. You live to one day be the Wielder."

"Yeah, yeah. I get it. It's my ‘destiny.' So what's your point?"

"If it's your destiny, do you have a choice? Could you choose not to wield it?"

When I first got the damned thing, I was willing to give it up to save Danny. But now...as much as it had fucked with my life, it was starting to become a part of me. If I gave it up, it wouldn't be by choice.

Finally, I replied, "No. I am the Wielder." I grinned. "It's not mine to give away, remember?"

He looked a little surprised then a ghost of a smile brightened his face for a moment. Yeah, I actually listen to him sometimes.

"And it's the same with you." I glanced at the Witchblade. His destiny, is that it? Then I got that feeling – the Witchblade demanding my attention as it gave me a vision...

A handsome little boy with dark hair and brown eyes sitting on Kenneth Irons' lap. Irons speaking patiently, "Yes, the Witchblade is powerful, but until the Wielder can control it, until she is accepted by it, she is in great danger and will need your protection. Now, let us continue your training, shall we?"

I saw the vision in my head the way I might remember a scene from a movie but it was different in one important way. I could feel as well as see and hear.

I had felt Irons' pride as he spoke, and the kid's excitement about training which he thought of as play. I suddenly felt a terrible loss for the little boy Nottingham was never allowed to be. Because of the Witchblade. Because of me.

I blinked as the vision faded.

"What did the Witchblade show you, Sara?"

Was that concern in his eyes for me or for what the Witchblade had revealed about him? I was frozen like that, hands clenched at my sides, staring into his eyes, wishing the Witchblade would show me more, show me...

"Which part of my ‘wretched life' did the Witchblade show you?"

Don't thank me for saving your wretched life.

So, he remembered the other time, too.

He sounded angry at the Blade, though...angry that it showed me what he tried to hide from me. Ian Nottingham was his father's son. He had some pride and he sure as hell didn't want my pity. I understood then. He didn't appreciate the Witchblade exposing him like that to me. It was the same exposure I felt whenever we talked about the Witchblade, like he knew me better than I knew myself.

Once again, my conversation with Nottingham had become too intense and somehow intimate. And once again I tried to lighten the mood. I smiled. "You were a cute kid, Nottingham."

For what seemed like a long moment, he only stared at me. Finally, his chin dropped, his eyes breaking contact with mine, his shoulders shrugging. Slowly, shyly, he looked up at me through his lashes.

With a smile, I added, "I bet you got away with murder."

He smiled very slowly. A dangerous smile. "Literally."

His smile waned, his eyes focused on mine. I didn't think he was joking. I was sure he wasn't joking.

Suddenly, he chuckled. "So ready to believe that about me, aren't you, Sara?"

I shrugged and grinned, letting him pretend that he was joking. "Did you grow up here? In this house, I mean."

He nodded. "Mostly."

"Just you and Irons?"

"Mostly."

I felt a sudden impatience. I was making an effort to have a conversation with him –a conversation that wasn't about the Witchblade– and he was being cagey. Then it hit me. His answers weren't vague. They were precise. He said no more and no less than what was required to answer the question. Probably a skill developed when dealing with Irons...or taught to him by Irons.

"Care to elaborate?"

"Mr. Irons' businesses required him to travel extensively. I accompanied him as often as possible. Other than the staff, it was usually the two of us, except for the occasional house guest."

I thought I detected a hint of...something in that last word, but I didn't ask. I didn't want to know about Irons' exploits. Or Nottingham's, for that matter.

"Where'd you go to school?"

That hard look again. He answered, "I had tutors."

"Favorite subject?"

He took a step closer to me. I noticed the tight jaw muscles. What the hell was he so pissed off about?

I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets, answering his hostility with a little posturing of my own. I expected an angry comment from him but he said quietly, "No more questions, detective."

I hadn't meant to pry or interrogate...not really. I was trying to make conversation. I grinned, briefly raising my hands in surrender. "Sorry. Habit."

I hoped he would direct the conversation, but he didn't. I tried to think of something to say but only questions came to my detective mind. All I could do was look at him, at his eyes, at his mouth, briefly wondering if I'd ever see that smile again. His anger was gone but there was still this...predatory vibe coming from him...like he was waiting for the right moment to attack and that moment was now.

"You know," I continued, "you could ask me questions, too. You know...that whole conversation thing."

"Do you really want to talk?"

No. Maybe. All I knew at that moment was that I shouldn't stand so close to Ian Nottingham in firelight.

"You look hungry, Sara."

What?

"Have you eaten?" The question was an innocent one but I could have sworn I saw a flash of something not-so-innocent in his expression just before.

"Um, yeah. Thanks." I shrugged again, not wanting to meet his eyes. Which was bad because I focused on his throat, that hollow where his neck met his collarbone...

"Would you like dessert? Cook made ice cream today." His chin lowered slightly and he flashed this shy, boyish smile he's used on me before. "Chocolate."

I was starting to think that whole shyness thing was a scam. I should have said no. I should have made my excuses and gone home.

He must have sensed my hesitation because he took my hand very gently and said very softly, "Stay, Sara. For a little while. We'll...talk."

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This story ©2004 wormieness.com ~ Disclaimer: Witchblade, its logo, and all related characters are the property of Top Cow Productions Inc. & Warner Bros. This story is a work of fanfiction and as such I do not intend to infringe on any applicable copyrights. Please let me know if you think that I do, and I will remedy it.