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Re: Snippets


Yeah, I haven't had the time...I bought the 6th Ed. books, but never have run them, and still fuzzy on a lot of the intricate rule changes...but I can storytell with the best of them...


And my females aren't 'bimbofied' anymore either, lol...although it does take a lot of work to provide believable depth.

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Re: Snippets



Dani walked the hall from the kitchen back towards her room. Her bare feet hardly made a whisper on the floor when she stepped. She had a bowl balanced in one hand and a script in the other. A spoon was hanging from her mouth. She tossed her hair over her shoulder when she turned a corner and heard music coming from the open gym.

Different people worked out to different music. Or none at all. At the distance, the music was covering the quiet rhythm of someone working out. As she got closer the sounds of hands and feet slapping the heavy bag were more apparent. Dani often watched the others work out and could usually tell who it was by the music or the rhythm of the hits on the bag. She recognized the song as Street of Dreams by Blackmore's Night. She smiled to herself as she went in.

“Hey, Marlene. Up late or up real early?” she asked playfully, pulling the spoon free. Dani took simple pleasure in watching Marlene move against the bag. Marlene had wrapped her wrists, hands and ankles with tape. “Careful you don't break a nail.”

Marlene stopped and blocked the bag from its free swing. Turning to Dani, she wiped perspiration from her forehead with the back of one taped hand. “I couldn't get back to sleep. Jason had ideas, but as angry as I am I wasn't in the mood for romantic overtures or pacification.”

Dani snickered. “I think that's a guy thing. Sex defuses situations.”

Marlene started pulling the tape from her hand. “Why are you still up?”

Dani shrugged. “I needed some quiet time to read this script. See if it's a project that I want to get involved in. I took half of Trese's monitor duty. You okay?” Shifting her hips, Marlene spun and slammed her foot into the bag, setting it to swinging again.

“No.” She tossed the tape across a bench as she sat down, pulling more tape off. “I just don't get it. I mean it's bad enough to go out and have Thumper beat on him, or go off to a deserted island to throw down with Artie, but to go into that room like that and to do it to himself?”

“Did you ask him that?”

Marlene nodded her head. “Yes, I did. He said that by not doing that more often in the past is how he managed to get so torn up when he went hunting.”

Dani licked her spoon. “There's probably some truth there,” she said with a smile for Marlene. “Jason just stopped. He stopped fighting and he stopped training. I'm pretty sure that he was doing his katas but I think he stopped sparring, too. I think,” she gave Marlene a long look, “I think that Jason needs someone in his life, to be there for him, and that he wants you to see exactly what his life is as a Guardian. To see if you can handle it. The stress, the worry...”

Shaking her hair, curling with sweat from her workout, loose from a ponytail, Marlene said quietly, “I realize that. I really do. Part of me wants to run off and find a deserted island, and keep him to myself forever. Part of me realizes that this is a part of who he is. And I realize that without me having something to do that challenges me, I'd probably go insane inside of a month.” Marlene watched Dani take a spoonful from her bowl and eat. “What are you eating?”

“Banana split with marshmallow swirl, black cherry, and mint chocolate chip ice creams topped with pineapple, hardshell chocolate syrup and maraschino cherries. Want some?”

“You're going to get fat. No thanks. I'm a little more traditional where it comes to breakfast.”


With a laugh, Dani said, “I haven't been to bed yet. This is more a late-night snack for me. With my exercise regimen, I don't see me getting fat.”

“Dani,” Marlene said seriously, “why do you do this? You could be an actress.”

The blonde nodded her head. “I'm a good actress. I've gotten a lot of good reviews. In the short term. My problem has been that I have had to duck out of shows because Guardian business popped up. You know how abruptly that can pop up.” Marlene nodded in response. “I act when I can, when people will give me the chance, but if it's a choice of being on stage or being with my family when they need me, I'll choose my family. Every time.”

“And if it kills you?” Marlene asked quietly.

Dani slipped her hand into Marlene's and squeezed. “'I dislike death, however, there are some things I dislike more than death. Therefore, there are times when I will not avoid danger.' On that island, Moray almost killed me. Magnetron came really close to killing Trese. If Charley wasn't there, or if Kris hadn't been able to get there, she would have died. Brad almost died. Warren...”

“Jason did die,” almost a whisper.

“That, too. We chose this. We choose to continue. Nobody can tell us to quit except us. The best that we can hope for is that we have a reason somewhere to stay alive. A reason to come back to. And we realize that that's a burden we ask anyone we're involved with to carry. But on the other hand, we realize that we put ourselves in harm's way. To protect those that can't protect themselves from others like us.

“We're a lot like the police, Marlene. The hours suck, medical insurance is prohibitive, we're underpaid for the work we do, and we tend to be understaffed. But if you think the cops don't give a sigh of relief when they get a cape call and the Guardians respond, you'd be wrong.”

“What happens...” Marlene thought for a moment before continuing. “What happens if you go out and don't feel you have a reason to stay alive?”

Dani set the bowl aside and sat astride the bench facing Marlene. She stuck the tip of her tongue out in thought for a moment. “Then we fight reckless. We take unnecessary risks.” She shrugged. “And if we're lucky, we come home bloody.” Taking up the castoff tape, Marlene stood up. “What are you going to do?”

Marlene smiled at Dani. “I'm going to take a shower and then I'm going to lay down with Jason, and maybe see if I can wake him up.”

Marlene didn't miss the glint in Dani's eye. “Need help with that?”

“With what?”

“Either? Both?” Dani responded with a wink.

Marlene laughed. “You're terrible!”

Dani pouted. “But I'm really good at it.” She caught up her bowl and her script. “Love you, Marlene. Go shower and curl up with Jason.”

“Good night, Dani. Thanks.”

“We're a family, Marlene. Welcome to it.”

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Jenny sat on a bar stool where she could see the chess board set up between Lisa and Jason. Brad set a glass in front of her. “I don't know why she's having him teach her how to play. I could have taught her.”


She gave her brother an annoyed look. “He's not teaching her. She's learning how he plays. I hate to be the one to tell you, Brad, but Lisa is rated Candidate Master with the World Chess Federation. She started playing in tournaments in school.”


Brad wasn't consoled. “But still,” he growled, “I can play.”


Jenny shook her head. “Brad, if you want Lisa to look at you and start talking to you again, I'd suggest that you lay off Jason. She didn't like what she saw. And honestly I can't say that I blame her. You didn't used to be like this.” Jenny shuddered after taking a drink. “What is this?”


Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Single Malt Whisky. It's a guy thing. I don't expect you to understand,” he said.


Jenny watched Lisa remove one of Jason's rooks from the board. “Being an ass is a guy thing? What is it between you two anyways?”


Hands filled with bags from various stores, shops and boutiques, Marlene and Leah came in the room with spoken greetings. Jenny noticed how Brad's eyes locked on Leah. “You have got to be kidding!” she said to him in a whisper. Brad's face flushed red. “You've been a dick to him because you got the hots for his girlfriend?”


Jason stood up and embraced Marlene when she came up to him. “What did you get me?” he asked. Marlene gave him a mischievous smirk and handed him a stack of receipts. Leah and Marlene giggled together like schoolgirls as they strode from the room. Jason flipped through the receipts. He dashed to the door. “There had better be a fashion show later!”


You'll get to see it!” Marlene called back.


Most of it!” Leah added.


Jenny noticed Lisa had a stunned look on her face when Jason sat back down. “Did you just tell your girlfriend and your ex-girlfriend that they were going to model for you?” Lisa asked him.


Jason nodded his head. “Yeah.”




One does... did it for a living. The other one will do it because she likes the effect she has on me.”


Lisa shook her head. “That's not what I meant. What would possess you to do such a thing?”


Oh, that.” Jason handed her the stack of receipts. Lisa choked upon seeing the amounts spent.

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Re: Snippets



The Antares Gray Metallic Lamborghini Aventador pulled up to the valet stand. A dark haired girl in a red vested uniform dashed around to open the driver's door. Long legs in silver stiletto heels swung out and a liquid silver dress that matched the shoes flowed down over those long legs when the driver exited the car. “Be sure that you are the one that brings it back to me,” the driver said in an English accent. “Yes, ma'am,” the girl responded before slipping into the car.

When her car had been taken the woman stepped quickly, without appearing to hurry, to the curb. She caught her impeccable reflection in the door before another valet opened it for her. Her platinum blonde hair was full and bounced below her shoulders. Her dress showed a distracting amount of cleavage, furthering the distraction of her legs flashing when she walked. Her makeup was done in frosted shades to accent the silver look. Pink for her lips and a hint of dusty rose eyeshadow. She smiled at the valet who held the door open for her.

Inside the restaurant she quickly scanned the crowd, looking for the man who invited her here. She spotted him holding a martini glass, leaning over the railing to look down on the people below him. That's a bad habit you have there, Steven, she thought to herself. She took her time ascending the stairs.

When she approached him, Bauer deigned to notice her. “Lady Silver,” he said with a slight nod of his head. “I trust this is a public enough meeting place for you.”

“If it wasn't, Steven, I wouldn't be here. What is it you want?” Short, direct, and no opening for misinterpretation.

“Is it going to be like that, Rose?” Bauer made a put-upon sigh. “As you wish. I have a project in the works and since those other jobs you did for me worked out so well, I thought you might like to be involved.”

Rose Silver thought for a moment and nodded her head. “Standard fee. Per job.”

Bauer pursed his lips and then said, “Alright. Special conditions though. On each one.”

Rose's eyes narrowed. “'Special conditions'? Is this a game to you, Steven?”

Bauer laughed. In a Southern drawl he said, “Of course it is, darlin'. Would you like a drink?”

She gave him an annoyed look. “I don't drink when I'm working. What's the first job?”

Setting his glass down on a small cocktail table, Bauer reached down and lifted a small briefcase from the floor and sat it beside the glass. He thumbed the latches and opened it. From within he pulled out a netbook and what appeared to be a ring box. Closing the case he set those items on top of it.

“The information for the first target is already loaded on it. When you complete the job delete the file. I'll be notified and payment will be transferred to your account. When the next assignment is ready, the file will be sent to you. Acceptable to you?”

“It will do.” Rose opened the computer and turned it on. It booted quickly. On the desktop was a single file. She opened it and scanned the first page. “She looks like someone's office sex toy.”

“She may very well be. However, that isn't my concern,” Bauer stated.

She continued to scan through the available information. “And the 'special condition'?”

Bauer quirked up the corner of his mouth in a bit of a smile. He took a drink of his martini, making Rose wait for his answer. He set the glass down again and plucked out the olive. “This one you take one shot. Hit. Miss. Whatever, but you only take a single shot.”

Her eyes narrowed again. “I don't miss,” she said heatedly.

“Not my point, Rose. This target isn't a kill target. You're the opening move. You are the message to my opponent that the game is afoot, so to speak,” Bauer said with a grin.

Rose's eyes became harder. She didn't like being used and this smacked of it to her. Unfortunately, she had already given her word. Going back on it now would damage her reputation. That wouldn't do. “What's this?” she asked, indicating the ring box.

Bauer shrugged. “A token of your place on the board.” Rose picked up the box and flipped the lid over. Inside was an obsidian chess piece. A knight. She closed the lid.

“It appears everything is in order.” She turned to leave, box and computer in hand when Bauer caught her arm.

“There is one more thing, Rose. I'd like to consummate this agreement, if you don't mind.”

“You would do well to remember that this Rose has thorns, Steven. Remove your hand before I remove it from you.” Bauer slowly released her arm. He knew that she had not misspoke and that, if he were normal, she most likely would succeed. “As for consummating anything with you, I may be working for you for now, but I am better than any woman you will ever have again. From what I have heard, the only way you can get a decent woman to go to bed with you is to have her mind controlled.

“I have accepted your job. Leave it at that.” Rose Silver turned back to the stairs and descended at a comfortable pace.

At the curb, she was pleased to see the girl that had taken her car rush to retrieve it. When they traded places she handed the girl several folded hundred dollar bills.

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Kris watched Jason walk Leah out on the dance floor and smiled. She watched Jason take her in his arms as the two of them began to move to the music.



“They look good together. Don't you think?” Warren asked nobody in particular.



Marlene stared at Warren. “Those two always look good. Is there something you're not saying?”



Warren blushed a bit. “No.” He laid his hand atop hers. “I'm glad you're happy,” he told her with a smile.



“I'm just glad that he's talking with her again,” Kris told him while watching the dancers. The song changed to I Never Told You. It was slower in tempo and Leah moved closer to Jason, resting her cheek on his chest. She could tell that they were talking quietly.



Jason's phone must have alerted him. Kris saw him take it from his belt and look at the screen. She saw Jason give Leah a bittersweet smile and break away from her. She turned her attention to her plate and heard Dani give out a low “Oh, my God.” When she looked back, Leah had a firm grip on Jason's head, pulled down and giving him a very hot, very wet kiss. She also noted one hand of his around the small of Leah's back.



Leah broke away and ran towards the women's room. Kris spared a glance at Marlene. Marlene was stunned. Jason watched Leah run and turned to face Marlene, Leah's lipstick smeared across his mouth. Marlene's face grew dark.


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Marlene pulled the door to the sleeping cabin closed quietly. “Is he sleeping?” Trese asked from the couch, an over-sized bowl of popcorn in her lap.

Shaking her head, Marlene said, “No. He's just resting. What are we watching?”

There's blood on it.”

I didn't say it was easy.”

“Ah,” Marlene commented to the screen. She sat at the end of the couch. “I think you and I are going to have to make some changes to the in-flight movie options, Trese.”

Trese smiled. “You don't like?”

“It's fine, but maybe Gone With the Wind,” Trese made a face. “Or something like Somewhere in Time. What do you think?”

“We'll have to see,” she said with a grin. “Marlene, are you happy?”

Marlene looked at the redhead out of the corner of her eye. “Currently? Not really. I'm worried about what's going to happen in the near future. I'm worried about Jessica. But overall, yeah, I'd have to say I'm pretty happy.”

After a few moments of watching the movie together, Trese asked, “So when are you planning on telling everyone?”

Marlene gave Trese a look of false confusion. “Tell everyone what?”

“That you and Jason are getting married?”

Marlene's eyes narrowed. “Did Jason tell you? He was supposed to wait until we talked to my parents.” She smiled. “He wants to ask my dad for permission.”

“Jason didn't tell. I was just watching you,” Trese teased. “Don't worry,”she said putting the bowl of popcorn in Marlene's lap, “I won't tell anyone.” She leaned over until she was resting against Marlene. “I always wanted a big sister.”

Marlene smiled warmly and put her arm around the younger woman. “I always wanted a sister, too,” she said, putting some popcorn in her mouth.

A few quiet moments passed, and then, “Can I borrow your clothes?”

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A Proposal

When Jason opened the door to the loft, Marlene broke away from him and whirled across the floor, sending her skirt flaring higher than it ever had when she was dancing. Jason watched her with a mixture of feelings: amusement, happiness, lust, but mostly love for the woman and friend that lightened his life. Marlene laughed as she flopped on the couch.

“I'd been wondering if you were wearing pantyhose or stockings,” he teased. “Thanks for the confirmation.”

Marlene had a mischievous gleam in her eye. “You could have found out any time you wanted.” She pulled her skirt high enough to bare one thigh. “See?”

“Feeling a little tipsy?” he teased again.

“Only with happiness,” she said with a smile. “Come here.” Jason crossed the room and Marlene lifted one leg. “I thought you were going to help me with these?”

He caught her ankle and ran his finger along the zipper. When he reached the top of the boot he continued to caress her leg. “You're a tease,” she told him.

“Are you tired?”


“Do you want to go to bed?”

Marlene shook her head. “I'm tired. Not sleepy.” Jason's fingers continued to caress her leg. She closed her eyes and purred.

“Want to watch a movie?”

“No.” Marlene put her other foot against the coffee table and rolled it, and the remote laying on it, out of easy reach. “No movies. No TV. I would like some quiet intimate time with someone, though. With lots of cuddling.” Jason's fingers found the buttons holding her skirt closed and slipped them free. “What are you doing?”

“I just want you to be comfortable.” She raised herself enough that he could slip the skirt free. Then he took his time removing the boots.

Marlene stretched her legs and wiggled her toes. “'Free at last. Free at last.'”

“I don't think your feet is what he was talking about.” Jason lifted Marlene easily from the couch.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting me comfortable.” He kicked his own shoes off and sat with her nestled in his arms.

Marlene closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of aftershave and Jason. “This is nice,” she said. “At least there wasn't any emergencies to call you all away.”

“I don't think the bad guys would be pleased to find the full contingent of us annoyed tonight. Happy with what you learned today about us?” He lightly kissed the top of her head. He shifted until he was resting against the armrest and Marlene lay curled on top of him.

“I didn't realize that there was so much darkness behind everything,” Marlene said quietly.

“Darkness behind makes the light shine brighter.”

Marlene turned her face up to his. “You're sounding like Ash.”

“She's an optimist. It was nice that you danced with Brad."

The twinkle reappeared in her eye. "Did it bother you?”

Jason shook his head. “No.”

“He asked. It would have been rude to say no. I'm sure he got tired of dancing with his sister. I was surprised that Leah didn't."

"As long as Brad was a gentleman. He wants something that Leah isn't ready for."

"You looked like you were tempted to kiss her when you danced with her," she teased.

"I was tempted."

"Why didn't you?" she asked trying to keep concern out of her voice.

"Because I was tempted."

“It still hurts?”

Jason looked into her eyes and saw only love and concern. He answered honestly. “Yeah. Sometimes it still hurts”

“Do you wish...” Marlene turned her head away.

“What?” Jason waited a moment and when she didn't continue, he turned her face back to his with a finger on her chin. “What?”

“I was just going to ask if you wished that Leah was here with you instead of me.”

Jason smiled. “The past is the past. I'm with you. That's all that matters.”

Marlene moved closer and Jason met her lips with his. When she broke the kiss she rested her cheek on an upraised hand. “So, what got into you today?”

“I woke up beside a very beautiful woman.”

“Where?” she teased. “I didn't see her.”

“That's funny, considering when she woke up she accused me of keeping her up late and missing a meeting. Music,” he said. “Low.” A song played and Marlene lay her head on his chest. He held her close.

In time Where Are We Going From Here, one of Marlene's favorites played. “You know,” Jason said, “I've been thinking.”

Marlene looked up at him. “We're in trouble if you've been thinking.”

Jason grinned at her. “You know, I've been thinking that you've been spending entirely too much time with Ash.” Marlene laughed.

When she was done, she said, “What were you thinking about?”

He caressed the side of her face. “I was thinking that, maybe when we go back that we should have your parents over for dinner.”

She gave him a questioning look. “Why do you want to have dinner with my parents? Granted that you got along better with them than anyone else I ever dated, but still.”

“It's been a while since we did. In fact we haven't really seen them since we've found ourselves intimate.”

Marlene grinned. “Blame Kris. She's the one that insisted I get in your bed to sleep.”

“I am not blaming Her Winged-ness for that. You're the one that had wandering hands.”

“I was asleep. I wasn't responsible for where my hands went. You're the one that was naked.”

“I wasn't responsible for that. In fact I'll have you know that I went through several changes of clothes that day. I was fully dressed before I went to sleep.”

Marlene shuddered. “I saw your last outfit,” she said quietly.

“You're the one that was crying in your sleep.” Marlene flushed with embarrassment. “Do you remember why?”

She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. “I was dreaming about Sandy. Do you think she would be happy? Seeing us together?”

“She loved us both. She is happy for us.” He pulled her up and kissed her. When the kiss ended she lay her head on his shoulder. “What do you think of having dinner with your parents?”

“I guess we could. Any particular reason why?”

“Well, seeing as how you're their only daughter...”

Marlene laughed again. “I'm an only child.”

“And spoiled rotten, I might add,” he teased. She growled at him playfully. “Anyways, I was thinking that since you're their only...”

“Child,” she interjected.

“I thought your father might appreciate it if I asked him for you.”

“Asked him for me what?” Marlene shifted until she straddled him. “What are you saying?”

“I'm not saying anything, Beautiful. I realize that I'm not in the proper position for this,” he held his hand up with a small gap between index finger and thumb, “but I'm asking...” With a crimson flash of power an engagement ring appeared. “If you will consent be my wife.”

“Are you sure?” she asked with some trepidation.

“I wouldn't be asking if I wasn't, Beautiful. Will you marry me?”

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Marlene opened the door to the loft and kicked her high heels off before pulling the door closed. Her keys went back into the pocket of her coat before she hung that off a peg on the back of the door. “Any messages?” she called out.


No, Marlene. There have been no calls. There have been no emails or other electronic communications that need your attention.”

“Thank you,” she whispered.


You're welcome, Marlene.”


Marlene smiled. “And thank you, Mentor. Can you start a bath for me, please? Hot with lots of bubbles.”


Of course.”


She heard the water start in the bathtub. She ran her fingers over the tops of bottles in a small wine rack. One of her small contributions to the loft. Selfish really, since Jason didn't drink. Marlene grinned to herself at the thought. She pulled out a bottle of merlot and took a wine glass from the rack underneath the cupboard. “Any word on Jason, Mentor?” she asked pouring wine.


He is working, Marlene. Apparently there was cape call at one of the schools. Pulsar, Nightwing, Ash and Hellfire responded. There has been no word yet.”


Anything on the news about it?”


No. I will inform you as soon as anything is heard. There are only the reports from the police line. All conjecture with no real data.”


Marlene hung her head for a moment and then forced herself to brighten. “Nope. I'm not going to worry. He's taking me out to dinner. We're going to go dancing. And then I'm going to bring him back here and have my way with him until the sun comes up.” She took her glass and the bottle and headed up the stairs.


That sounds like an enjoyable evening, Marlene.”


Yes,” she smiled to herself again. “Yes it does. Let me know when the tub is ready, please.” She set the bottle on the dresser and set the glass with it after taking a drink. “Let's see... Start at the bottom and work outward. Lingerie first.” She swung open the doors of her armoire. “Hmm. What colors?” she asked herself quietly. “Red? No. I prefer green or blue. Silk stockings, though.” She tossed a new package on the bed. “Garter belt?” She grinned. “Definitely. Maybe go commando and tease him all night.” She pulled out a deep green belt and bra and tossed those on the bed. “Panties to match and then on to the dress,” she said to herself.


She was scrounging through a drawer when the lights went out. “Mentor?” she called out nervously. Without power the AI could not respond. The light coming in from the windows and skylight was dull and diffused by the overcast November skies. Marlene took a tentative step towards the nightstand when she heard the door below slide noisily open.




Angel?” she asked quietly. “Angel, I'm upstairs,” she called out.


She heard the other woman's feet pounding on the stairs in the near dark. “Come on!” she said when she came through the door. “You can't be here! We have to go! Now!” Angelique grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the door. Marlene went with no resistance.


What's going on?”


No time to explain.” At the bottom of the stairs Angelique began chanting and gesturing. Nothing happened. “Damn!” she cursed quietly. “Not enough!” She turned to Marlene. “Do you trust me?”


Marlene was confused by the question, but nodded. “Yes, I do.”


Angelique grabbed the star Marlene wore around her neck on the same chain as the stone Jason had given her. The star slipped the chain without any pressure Marlene felt. Angelique threw the star. It flew about a yard and stopped, hovering in the air. Angelique began chanting and gesturing again. The star spun, slowly at first, like a bath toy atop the whirlpool when the plug is pulled, and sped up as the chant continued.


The portal opened sluggishly and Marlene saw more power pour from Angelique's eyes and mouth, to join in the weave of the gate. Angelique grasped her arm and pulled her towards the opening when the first blast pushed them into it.

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Jason took her hand and pulled her away from the appliance. “Actually, I do. You sit and I'll get your salad for you, your winged-ness.” Kris acquiesced with a laugh. “Tea?”


Coffee, please. If you have it.”


Now what kind of worthless playboy billionaire would I be if I couldn't make a cup of coffee?”


You aren't worthless, Jason.” He turned, hands full from the refrigerator and about to say something when he caught sight of the black choker around Kris's neck. When she saw the look on his face, she asked, “What? Is there something wrong?”


What happened to the chain?”


Kris's hand went to her stone. “This? I told you I wanted to be able to put it on different things. The chain it was on is in the cleaner at home. Are you all right?”


Jason started slicing cold chicken for her. “Just a fuzzy remnant of a dream,” he said with a forced smile.


What kind of a dream?” Kris asked, getting a bit more serious. “Not like before, with the nightmares, was it?”


He grasped in his mind for the fading images. “No. Didn't get far enough to be a nightmare. Not really sure it would have been a nightmare.” Jason turned to the coffee machine to get that for Kris.


Want to talk about it?”


You didn't happen to bring a white body stocking with you, did you?”


Kris raised an eyebrow at that and said, “No. I don't own one.”


Jason handed her her coffee and said, “Then no, I don't want to talk about it.”

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Without taking her eyes off the third floor window, Hellfire asked, "Something wrong, Captain?"


"Nah. Just that my coffee has gone lukewarm," he said with a smile.


Hellfire turned her gaze to his coffee cup. Her eyes burned and he yelped in surprise, shifting the cup to his other hand and blowing on his fingers. "Sorry about the fingers, Captain. Your coffee should be hot enough now," she added to the apology with a grin.

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Leah opened the door to Jason's room quietly. She slipped through the room in silence. She came to the side of his bed only to find it empty; the covers were thrown back.

"Damn," she said quietly. "Mentor, where's Jason?"

"He is not in the building, Leah. He departed some time ago," the AI told her.

"Double damn. Kris," she called out loud. The AI automatically routing it through the PA system. "Jason's awake. He left," she said as she headed out the door. She opened the door to exit the room and drew up short when she saw Lisa, eyes white, standing in the hall.

"He needs you."

"Lisa? What's this about?" she asked.

"Go to him. He needs you. The darkness is closing."

"Where is he?"

Lisa said, "Home."

Leah caught her as she collapsed. She lifted the girl easily and carried her to Jason's bed. "Kris, Lisa is in Jason's room. She's had another episode."

"I'll be right there," Kris said through the public address.

"Mentor, open me a window. Now." A smaller window slid to the side, allowing egress. Leah took one look at her clothes; a cowl neck sweater against the autumn chill, a skirt that hung inches above her knees, and knee-high boots. Not what she'd prefer to wear while flying.

Lightning arced around her and carried her through the sky. The chill of the wind would have had tears streaming from her eyes if not for the lightning sheath. Still, flying in regular clothes was not something she made a regular habit of.

The journey seemed quick, so intent was she on her destination. She descended through the hole created by the explosion to find Pulsar standing still in what had once been his loft. Debris covered the floor. Nothing left remained intact. Leah knew that dumpsters lay below to cart away the things that once made Jason's loft his home.

He stood still, but she could see the muscles in his arms straining. His fists were clenched tight. "She's gone."

"We looked. We looked everywhere. There's nothing here. We were hoping once you woke up that you could tell us where she was."

"You don't understand. She's gone. I can't feel her anywhere. The link is simply gone."

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Jessica Randall slipped off her work shoes and slipped on more comfortable cross-trainers. She pulled her carry-all out of the small closet and set about collecting her things. Her lunch containers, tightly closed, fit easily in one over-sized pocket.

She was in the process of shutting down her computer when Beth Gilbert stepped up. "Jessica, are you going to be in tomorrow?"

Jessica smiled and shook her head. "No. With Mr. Sco... Jason and Marlene out of the office, Jason gave me tomorrow off. I was only in today to finish up a report for him. I took half of yesterday off, so I figured I'd come in today and get that out of the way. My brother and his family are due in around ten. Tonight, we're going to have a late Chinese dinner and let them decompress for a while and then tomorrow we're going to take my niece to meet the Mouse."

Beth slide Jessica's copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows within her reach. "Thanks," Jessica said. "Jake has an interview with HR Monday morning about the Security opening."

"Needs a job, does he?"

Jessica sighed. "Yeah. Honorable discharge from the Army. Maybe he can get a job here and finally settle with Sally and Samantha. He's been overseas a lot and they really haven't had time to be a family. When he was in Germany, Sally got to tag along, but when he came stateside and then got redeployed to a war zone, well, Sally wasn't allowed to go. I offered to let her and Sam stay with me, but her family is in South Carolina and that's where she was happy to be."

Beth nodded. "Hard that way sometimes. Is your boyfriend going along tomorrow?"

Jessica wrinkled her nose up. She pulled four passes out of a pocket on her carry-all. "Me, Jake, Sally and Sammie. Tony kept saying he was management. Turns out that he was managing me, Pam Clark over in accounting, Bridget Townley from the secretarial pool, and some stripper named 'Charity'. The idiot didn't think the three of us here would find out about each other. Me and Bridget used to do lunch together before she was transferred to the R&D building."

Beth laughed. "How did you girls find out anyways?"

"I was helping Trese run some errands to the North Building. I was down below the counter in the security kiosk over there and he came up and tried putting the moves on her."


"Yeah," Jessica smiled, "but one less thing to worry about." She slipped her carry-all over her shoulder. "I'm out of here, Beth. See you Monday." She started walking away.

"Book!" Beth said, picking it up. Jessica turned around, red with embarrassment. "Book," she agreed, laughing.

"Enjoy your weekend," Beth called out to the girl's retreating back.

"I plan to. Good night!" she called back.

In the elevator, Jessica opened the book up to read a few pages as she descended. When the car opened on the ground floor, she walked through the lobby, calling out "good night" to the security guard on duty. She stuffed the book into her bag and fished out her keys and her cell phone. Jessica scrolled through the numbers, selected one and put the phone to her ear.


* * * * *

The hooded figure watched the target walk across the parking area. The figure stood where there was a clear line of fire to the target's car door. The shot would be long, but it was safer than being on the premises when the call went out. The bow was brought up. The arrow was nocked and slowly drawn back. The target opened her car door. The arrow flew.


* * * * *

Jessica opened her car door. "That's great, Sally. I'll have dinner ready when you guys get here. I've got a surprise for Sammie for tomorrow, then you'll have the rest of the weekend to decompress and Jake can be ready for Monday. Okay, Sally. I'll see you all tonight. Bye-bye." She pulled her bag up to put her phone away. The door window shattered and Jessica couldn't catch her breath. She looked dumbfounded at the arrow sticking out of the side of her carry-all. Jessica's legs, no longer capable of holding her up, went out from under her and she fell across the seat.


* * * * *

Trese jumped over the side of Warren's pickup and opened the tailgate. Her eyes flashed purple and the bags of groceries floated out on a long purple tray.

"Are you okay with those, Trese?" Jason asked as he exited the cab.

"I might need help with the door when I get there, the redhead said.

Warren said, "I'll get the door," and moved. He was standing on the porch with the door open waiting for Trese. "On the table or the counter, Trese. Wherever they'll fit." Trese floated the paper bags through and in.

Inside the house, Leah, Ash, Kate and Dani started going through the bags, sorting things out and putting the groceries away, while Mary sat in Warren's recliner rocking Aaron. Marlene sat on a stool by the counter. Warren slipped his arms around Kate from behind, held her close and kissed the side of her neck.

"What do we have that gets left out?" she asked.

"Burgers on the grill." Leah pulled out a bottle of bourbon. "Hey," Warren said, "leave that out. Jason is making bourbon burgers. So what did we miss?"

"Not much. Ash won't hold Aaron," Kate said. That started off a round of teasing Ash from Dani and Leah. Jason came in and stood with his arm around Marlene.

"Ash?" Warren probed.

The blonde gave him a stern look. "Apple." Warren nodded in understanding.

"Oh, hey!" Dani squealed, "Somebody loves me! A quart of Chunky Monkey!" Jason reached over and plucked it out of her hands. Dani pouted, watching the carton leave her hands.

"You're right, Dani. You're loved, but I didn't buy it for you," he said. He handed the ice cream to Leah.

Leah blushed and dropped her head, her face, and a smile, hidden by the fall of her hair. "Jason, I don't know what to say. I'm surprised you remembered."

Kate, seeing Leah's discomfiture said, "Hey, Sparky, hold that pose and I'll grab the spoons. Just like in the apartment." Leah laughed and wiped at her eye.

"You were always good to share with, Katie," Leah said.

Jason turned his attention to Marlene. "Are you okay? You seem quiet."

Marlene gave him a wan smile. "I'm okay," she said after taking a sip of Merlot. Jason was about to ask her something further when a cell phone chirped. He sighed and hung his head for a moment.

"Yours or mine?" he asked Marlene. She quirked a smile at him and indicated her phone lying on the counter beside her. "Figures," Jason muttered. He gave a quick glance around and saw his phone laying on the mantel. He retrieved it and after looking at the screen brought it to his ear. "Yes, Beth?" He listened for a long moment before stepping out on the porch. Marlene watched him go.

Through the chatter and laughing of the people, the shuffling of bags, cans, and boxes of foodstuff, Marlene watched a storm brewing through the screen door. Leah held the opened carton of ice cream with a spoon sticking out of it in front of Marlene. "Want some?" Marlene shook her head once and nodded towards the door. Leah turned and saw Jason's back. She knew from the way he held himself that something was wrong.

Kate called to Leah, only to notice her best friend staring out the screen door. One by one the room grew to silence as the others noticed. When Jason lowered his phone, Marlene stood up and walked to the door. "Jason?" She opened the door and went out. "Honey, what's wrong?" The others gravitated towards the door as if pulled in Marlene's wake to hear what was said.

Marlene laid her hand on Jason's shoulder and felt the tension in his muscles. Finally he said, "There's been an incident at the office. I have to go back."

"What happened, Jason? Talk to me. Please."

Jason lifted his head and squared his shoulders before turning to face her. Just for a second she was able to see past the mask he had set in place over his face. For that moment, she saw power dancing in his eyes begging for release. She knew Jason wanted to lash out at something. No, she watched him tamp down his anger. He didn't want to last out at something. He wanted to lash out at someone.

Their friends joined them outside, leaving Mary and Aaron alone in the house.

"That was Beth. Jessica. Jessica had..." Marlene saw the power building back in his eyes. "Jessica has been shot."

"What? How?"

"An arrow. Someone shot her with an arrow."

Marlene slipped her arms around Jason and buried her face in his chest. His arms slowly came up to encircle her. She could feel him shaking. She could only assume it was impotent rage needing an outlet.

"Jason?" her voice was quiet. "What's going on?"

"I told you," he answered her her quietly.

Now Marlene was angry. Jessica was a friend from when Marlene had been Jason's father's secretary. She pulled away and crossed her arms. "Jason, you haven't told me anything! You've stepped up security. I can't go out to lunch with Leah without tripping over more bodyguards than the president has around him. I've put up with it this long, but if you're avoiding telling me because of some misguided macho bullshit of protecting me by not telling me anything, I will tell you that the only effect that it's having is that it's pissing me off. Now, either you trust me and it's 'partners' or you don't. In which case we're wasting our time."

Jason's mouth moved as if he were going to say something before he finally uttered, "You're right. I'm sorry." Jason stared into Marlene's eyes, seeing his own rage reflected back. "I need to make some calls and I'll tell you everything." Marlene nodded, turned and made her way back into the house.

Ash smirked and raised an eyebrow at Dani. Dani glared at Jason while she fished a few bills out of her pocket and slapped them into Ash's outstretched hand.

"You would bet on anything," Warren said quietly to Ash.

"It wasn't a bet. If Dani just wants to give me money, that's okay with me," she said with a grin.

Trese said quietly to Dani, "I told you it was a bad bet."

"It's not that it came out," Dani pouted. "He could have held out longer."

"Not if it will cost him Marlene."


* * * * *

Trese and Dani were sitting on the glider when Jennie came up on the porch. She eyed Dani's glass and asked, "What's that you're drinking?"


"Can I have some?"

Trese gave Jennie a "are you serious?" look, while Dani simply arched an eyebrow. "Your mom is in the house with your nephew. Why don't you ask her?"

Jennie gave her a perturbed pout. "I thought you were cool!"

Dani set her glass in a holder. 'Jennie, I am cool. I also have zero interest in pissing off your parents or your brother by overstepping my bounds by enabling you to overstep yours. When you are legal, I will be more than willing to take you out and buy you your first. Until then never ask me anything like that again." Jennie tossed herself into one of the waiting chairs and sulked.

"What's wrong with Jason?" she finally asked.

Trese looked down at her hands laying in her lap. "He got some bad news earlier. A woman that works for him was attacked."

"Oh," Jennie said. "What do you think they're talking about?" she asked with a nod towards Jason and Ash.

Dani gave a tight lipped smile. "Ash is probably telling Jason that..."


* * * * *

"...it's not your fault, Jason. You aren't the one that had her shot." Ash set her bottle beside herself on top of the picnic table.

Jason loaded more burgers on the grill. "Whether or not it's my fault has no bearing on whether or not I share responsibility for the fact that it happened. I screwed up."

"How did you screw up?" Ash was frustrated.

"Because if Artie is behind this, like I believe him to be, I screwed up by not making sure he was dead."

Ash snagged her bottle up, shattering it. "Dammit," she said under her breath. "Dammit, Jason. You weren't in any condition of making sure of anything. You made the best choice you could have and that was to try to save Leah. Saving someone is a hell of a lot better in the long run than destroying someone. You know that we can't save everyone." Ash set to collecting the shards of glass. "Why are you so insistent that killing him is for the best?"

"At least if he's dead he isn't arranging for someone else to be killed." He cast a glance by the barn where Leah and Marlene were sitting on hay bales and talking. "Or raped."

"Is that what this is about? Revenge for taking Leah away from you?" She dropped the bits into a nearby bin.

Jason sighed. For a moment his control broke and Ash saw power flare in his eyes. "It's more than that. It goes a lot further back. He hurt someone before. And because of that and what I did to him then, he hurt Leah."

"So the circle of vengeance continues to turn? You're sounding a lot like Charley and being on the south end of the gray when you should be at the north of it."

"Philosophy debate? Morality debate?"

"It shouldn't be a debate, Jason. Right and wrong. It's that simple." Ash crossed her arms.

"And sometimes, Ash," Jason said quietly, "sometimes it is choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes there is no right path. Just a less damning one."

Ash shook her head. "I can't believe that. There has to be a better way."

Jason gave her a bit of a smile and reached out and caressed the side of her face. "You are the better way, Ash. You. Kris. Dani. All of you are the better way."

She closed her eyes for a moment and leaned her face into his touch. Then her eyes popped open and she knocked his hand away from her face. "What's that make you, then?"

"A realist."

* * * * *

Jennie fished a soda bottle out of the cooler. "Why is he like that? He's not responsible for everything."

Dani laughed. "If we knew that, we might have a chance of actually breaking his habit. He is what he is, Jennie. There are times that it makes him difficult to deal with, but if you ever need him, he'll be there for you."

Jennie sat across the top of the stairs with her back to the railing support. "What do you think those two are talking about then?"

Trese and Dani looked over their shoulders at Leah and Marlene. "That's hard to say," Dani said.

"Marlene has been going out of her way to make sure Leah knows that their friendship isn't dependent on Jason." Trese took a drink and recapped her bottle. "There's probably things about Jason that Marlene doesn't know about."


* * * * *

Leah stretched her legs out in the sun, having once again opted for shorts. "You know he's probably not going to sleep very well tonight. Assuming he manages to sleep at all," she said.

"I know," Marlene replied sadly. "He just feels so..."

'Responsible?" Leah offered.

Marlene nodded. "Yes." She toyed with a amethyst star hanging from a thong about her neck.

Leah watched her out of the corner of her eye. Her temper spiked seeing the star and she forced her anger back under control. "I don't know why you're wearing that."

"She asked me to hold on to it for her," Marlene said. "Until I feel I can trust her."

Leah sniffed. "So she just gave it to you, since you'll never be able to trust her."

Marlene smiled. "I think you're wrong. I think that she's changed and she's trying to show everyone that might matter that she has."

"Like who?"

Marlene cocked her head to the side. "Like you, for one. You're the one that had the greatest animosity with her."

Leah flipped her sunglasses down into place and reclined. "Snakes like her can't change their spots. The Witch would have to do something really amazing to make me think she's serious about it."

Marlene laughed. "You're mixing your metaphors there, girl."

Leah waved it away. "Anyways," she said. "Jason told you everything?"

"He says he did. I will never understand how not telling someone that they're in danger is protecting them. I already know that Artie has me in his sights, but I refuse to give up on my life. Especially since so much is finally coming together." Leah turned her head away. "I'm sorry, Leah. I really wish you weren't hurting."

"I'll get over," she said. Leah added, "Eventually," so quietly that Marlene didn't hear it. She put a smile on her face and turned back to Marlene. "What did you think of those drawings?"

"Me laying in a ring of flames and falling into darkness? I like the painting he's working on better."

"What's that of?"

Marlene rested a foot on the bale she was sitting on and leaned back against another. Her arms went up to rest on it. "Me in a bay window."

"I'd have to see it, but it sounds like he's remembering the cabin. I don't recall any bay windows in the mansions. Has he ever said anything about rebuilding?"

"No," Marlene answered. Their conversation drifted into less emotional paths.


* * * * *

Jennie went in to fetch things for the picnic table, leaving Trese and Dani alone for a short time. Trese stared at the soda bottle nested between her thighs.

"When they go, Dani, I'm going with them."

Dani turned and smiled at Trese. "I know. I've known since you made up your mind. Do you think, maybe, that we'll have enough time?"

"For what?"

"I was thinking the hayloft," Dani said with a look she reserved for Trese.

Trese blushed and gave a small smile. "Maybe."

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