The Angel Gabriel

Part 5

By Gabby Kat

Gabbykat6@aol.com

Chapter 9



Katherine had insisted that Samantha go straight to bed when they returned to the A-frame. Unfortunately, the agent proved to be a most disagreeable patient and the battle of wills was finally reduced to a bribe of thick pancakes and chocolate milk.

"Pancakes? That’s kinda heavy right before bed, you’ll have night mares."

"But I really like your pancakes. And I’m hungry. And I can’t sleep if I’m hungry. And if you expect me to take those horse pills Ogre gave me, I’ll need something in my st—"

"Fine!" Katherine couldn’t resist the agent’s pout. "But you’re eating them in your bed." The detective’s head assumed its cocked position, accompanied by the placement of her hands on her hips. Both women had won their respective battles, but the agent seemed entirely too smug for the detective’s liking. Samantha relinquished just enough to let Katherine help her change into a loose fitting t-shirt and flannel boxer shorts before sitting on the edge of her bed.

"Happy? I’m in my bed." A saucy grin.

"You’re mocking me, Agent Christopher."

"I am not. I’m following your instructions, I’m in bed." Yep…there’s that nibble on the bottom lip. Oh yeah, I gotcha. Didn’t know eyes could roll that dramatically.

Katherine finally conceded and retreated from the agent’s bedroom. "Don’t go anywhere. I wouldn’t wanna have to pull out the restraints and strap you to your bed."

"Promises, promises."

Katherine shook her head and mumbled something under her breath drawing a grin from the agent. Samantha sat for a moment longer until she heard the familiar swish of the kitchen door slide open, followed by the faint clank of utensils and dishes as they were brought from their own slumber.

Samantha had someone in her home who was willing to take care of her, someone who actually cared for her. The agent had promised herself long ago to never truly depend on anything life had to offer especially the happiness that loving someone could bring. But as she sat on the edge of her bed and listened to the peaceful noises that were making their way to her ears, Samantha Christopher found herself being filled with contentment…and happiness…and love.

The ache in Samantha’s arm drew her from the surreal plane to which her mind had wandered. The events at Katherine’s house waltzed about the agent’s head and forced her to consider, yet again, the dangers that were plaguing her friend. Damon Mars would be dealt with, and frankly, Samantha believed she could protect Katherine from his threat. But what had happened tonight was something entirely different.

The IceMan was an animal…a monster that was preying on unsuspecting victims. They were women who’d done nothing in life to deserve the way they’d been forced to leave the living world. He chose them. He hunted them. But what was his motivation? What primal urge drove him to the edge of his morality and forced him to reveal the savage animal lurking beneath the surface of his humanity?

A shiver danced the length of the agent’s spine and lingered at the nape of her neck, causing the fine hairs covering her body to prickle. Pale blue eyes sharpened as a sickening feeling forced its way from the confines of her subconscious. Samantha brought herself to a standing position without allowing her mind to acknowledge the screaming throb in her arm. Before her body realized what she was doing, Samantha was standing in her study. All the casework was still scattered about the room and the wall of photographs continued to pay silent homage to the IceMan’s victims.

Sam stood in silence and absorbed the faces of the six victims and reconfirmed her earlier notion of the similarity they bore to Katherine; there was no doubt that she fit the victim profile. With the exception of where the detective lived, Katherine could easily have been any one of these six women.

Physical attributes weren’t the only similarities, though, and that was the link that concerned the agent the most. Each killing told a story of anger and contempt and jealousy. The shattered remains of Katherine’s ransacked house crept into the agent’s mind. She was struck by the anger she felt from the destruction. The destruction was a direct attack on the detective’s sanctity and seemed to be a means by which to take control of the person who lived in the home. More than that, there was hatred found in the viciousness by which Katherine’s sentimental items were destroyed, in particular, the detective’s photographs. Jealousy.

"Dear God." The words were a mere whisper as they escaped the agent’s lips. More whispers followed and darkened the air that was consuming Samantha’s presence in the study. "His motivation. Katherine is his motivation…"

*****

The serving tray Katherine was carrying was loaded down with two plates of fluffy pancakes, each stack sprinkled with powdered sugar. The blueberry syrup would add insult to injury and they would pay dearly for the sweetness later, but for the time being, this would prove to be a perfect midnight snack. The little detective smiled to herself as she climbed the stairs. The idea of taking care of someone warmed her heart and gave her a sense of being. No, a sense of belonging, that she desperately needed.

"All right, my little patient—" Katherine stepped into the agent’s bedroom to find herself speaking to…well, speaking to herself. A blond brow raised at the empty bed. "Even with a damned gunshot wound, she manages to disappear when the food’s ready. Samantha?!" The call went unanswered and forced a sigh from the blond woman as she began the search for her patient. Still armed with a trough of food, Katherine checked the agent’s bathroom then set out down the hallway toward the study.

The study was quiet as the detective approached, but the golden light from a desk lamp cut into the darkness of the hallway, inviting the detective into the fold of the room.

"Jesus Christ." Katherine was in the doorway when she heard the curse in Samantha’s voice. It was a familiar tone and erased any of the detective’s desires to fuss at Samantha for not following her instructions to stay put.

"Samantha? What is it?" Katherine had already put the tray on the desk and was standing near the agent. The smaller woman looked up at Samantha and saw a face deeply etched with anger and fear, and something new. The agent’s blue eyes bore the tiniest glint of shear panic. Katherine stepped in between Samantha and the photographs that had captured the agent’s attention with such intensity. "Sammy, what’s wrong?"

Samantha worked her jaw for a moment, before looking down to face the concern in Katherine’s eyes. There was a mixture of feelings swirling within the agent, the most prominent being the urge to hunt the animals that were preying on her friend. The IceMan was a far more dangerous predator than Mars, and Samantha was burning inside with the desire to quench her thirst with the taste of his blood. But in as much time as it takes for the sun to peek above the eastern horizon, Sam’s heart warmed at the gentle touch of Katherine’s palm on her cheek. The Huntress was stirring just beneath the surface of the agent’s shell, but she was being held at bay by the gentle caress.

Katherine spoke again, "Samantha? Sweetheart, talk to me. What’s got you so spooked?"

"The IceMan’s victims… his motivation. It’s you." The words were a mere whisper, but they thundered through the agent’s mind because she desperately wanted to take them back. To know the truth was one thing, but to speak it aloud made it forever real.

Katherine allowed her hand to drop away from the agent’s face, as the color drained from her own cheeks. The young detective backed away from Samantha and she felt her heart begin to pound in her chest and her breathing quicken. "A- are you saying, that I…that I’m the reason these women were murdered? They died because of me?" Katherine had continued to back away from the agent until the wall of pictures allowed her no further room for escape.

"Katherine no." In less than two strides, the agent was standing before the smaller woman. "You are his true intended victim, but he’s too much of a coward to come after you directly. His urge to kill has to be satisfied and he’s been seeking victims he feels resemble you."

"He’s killing because of me!"

"No. He’s killing in spite of you." Samantha had a firm grasp of the detective’s shoulders, trying to will her strength into the trembling body before her. "This monster has a perverse fascination with you. Angel, we can’t change what’s happened, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re a potential victim."

"I am not a victim!" Katherine’s voice shook with anger and her eyes fairly glowed with the emotion swelling within her. "I am the cause of the victims that plaster this wall!" The detective pulled away from Samantha and faced the wall to her back. "These are the victims Samantha…these women are dead, their lives savagely ripped from their bodies, and it’s my fault! Oh dear God, I can’t believe this is happening—"

"Katherine." Sam’s voice had dropped an octave as she attempted to reconnect with the smaller woman by placing her hand on Katherine’s shoulder. But she wouldn’t allow it. The detective withdrew from the touch and spun around to look at the taller woman. "Katherine, there is no blame to be had here. We need to focus on finding him before—"

"Before he kills again…" Katherine had half intended to yell those words, but they slipped from her lips on a whisper, as though they were afraid to darken the world with their presence.

Frankly there was nothing the agent could say to quell the turbulence that was brewing within the smaller woman. The IceMan would kill again and he would use his perverse fascination with Katherine to aid him in choosing his next victim. There was a hollowness in Katherine’s voice that startled the agent and the nondescript expression on her face was one that Samantha realized she never again wanted to see. "Katherine?"

The detective tightened her jaw and furrowed her brow just slightly and, instead of responding to the agent, she diverted her eyes to the floor and started to walk out of the study.

"Katherine!" Samantha called out to the smaller woman but there was no response. Katherine left the room without the slightest hesitation or inclination to look back. The agent was momentarily frozen because she sensed a coldness from her friend, but what bothered Sam the most was the self-hatred she saw in Katherine’s eyes before the detective looked away from her. Katherine was a shining light to the agent and the brightness was retreating without remorse.

Sam shook herself from her thoughts and was momentarily aware of the adrenaline that was beginning to course through her veins. She made it out the door of the study to the banister overlooking the living room. When she looked down she caught a glimpse of Katherine as the detective entered the kitchen.

"Katherine!?" Sam pushed off the banister and sprinted down the stairs, nearly losing her balance as she took 3 steps at a time. The adrenaline was keeping the pain in her arm at bay, but her senses were becoming clouded in the overwhelming urgency that was pushing her forward. By the time the agent hit the bottom landing she was light-headed and had to grab the handrail to keep from dropping to her knees. A violent shake of her head to clear the dizziness was barely enough to steady herself. Samantha ignored the throbbing in her arm that was no longer willing to be calmed by the adrenaline rush. She pushed through the kitchen door only to find herself standing alone. Katherine had already made it to the garage.

"No… Katherine!" Samantha was yelling into the stillness, somehow hoping that it would make a difference. When the agent finally opened the pantry door she saw the taillights of the Cherokee as it tore up the drive, toward the front of the property. She was gone.

Samantha stood in the garage, motionless. The warm trickle of blood that was seeping from the wound on her left shoulder went unregistered by the agent because she was numb with fear. Katherine was running from herself and Samantha was all too familiar with how that kind of emotion felt. The only times the agent ever ran from anything was when it was from her own existence. Unconsciously, Samantha turned her upper body to the back of the garage where she looked upon the tarp-covered motorcycle that had aided her in most of her self-defeatist escapes.

There she sat, quiet and still; yet willing to purr to life for her mistress. Sam approached the motorcycle, leaving a slight trail of blood spots on the concrete floor of the garage as the droplets cascaded from the tip of an elegant forefinger. Samantha pulled back the canvas tarp to reveal a machine that was nearly sentient when ridden. The deep blue color was as black as the midnight sky in the darkness of the garage. The only hint of the creature’s true color was found near a portion of the leather saddlebag, as a sliver of moonlight crept into the room and was reflected off a silver buckle. Sam instinctively reached out with her left hand to feel the supple seat but a wave of pain shot down her arm and landed in the pit of her stomach. It was then that the agent realized some stitches had freed themselves from the torn flesh.

"Sonofabitch!" Sapphire was nonplused by her mistress’s language as she’d heard far worse on a number of occasions. "Fuck! What the hell am I gonna do. My car’s at Ogre’s and, Sapphire… just how the fuck am I supposed to shift your gears when I can’t use my left damn arm!"

Sapphire didn’t respond, she continued her silent observation of her mistress’s behavior. "Well, Kintrell… you said if I needed you—" Samantha despised the notion of having to rely on anyone for help but she didn’t have a choice. She knew Ogre would be more that willing to drive her wherever she need to go but he didn’t know anything about the detective. Kintrell was a trusted friend and if anyone knew where Katherine might go it would be him.

*****

The passenger area of the Cherokee was quiet with the exception of the shaky breaths of the vehicle’s driver. The light rain that had begun to fall was obscuring Katherine’s view of the road but her mind was so far removed from the task of driving that she didn’t turn on the wipers. A set of headlights slowly came into view and as they became larger and larger an inexplicable warmth settled over the detective and she realized that they were in her lane of travel. Or to be more accurate, she was in their lane and moments before colliding with the other car, Katherine jerked the wheel of the Cherokee to the right sending her momentarily off the edge of the road. To her surprise she managed to maintain control of the SUV and got it back on the road without incident.

"Damn it, Katherine. Get a grip on yourself for God’s sake." The detective continued driving along the narrow city street and, as she reached to turn on the wipers, she hesitated. The gloomy night was illuminated with pulsating blue. "What? Son of a b—" Katherine checked her rearview mirror and realized the lights were meant for her, and the obnoxiously loud siren was commanding her to pull over.

The little detective reached in her back pocket for her driver’s license when she realized that she’d left it on the bedside table. "Unbelievable. I’m in a rental car and I don’t have my driver’s license. Please, dear God, please let this be someone I know." Katherine found the button for her window and lowered it as the officer approached; his hat brim was pulled down past his eyes because the rain was falling much harder now.

"Evenin’ ma’am. I need to see your license and registration please." The officer’s voice was deep and noxiously polite.

"Yes sir." Katherine always refused to identify herself as a police officer when approached by one unless she was carrying her pistol…which she wasn’t now, because that, too, was on the bedside table. Damn it! She leaned over toward the passenger side of the Cherokee as though she was still in her Wrangler. With a mental slap, Katherine sat back up and opened the center console hoping to find the paperwork from the rental company. There wasn’t any. I knew it. Ogre’s a criminal and this is a stolen car and I’m going to jail…right after the City of San Diego fires my ass. The thoughts were running rampant through the detective’s mind. It was almost comical…almost.

The only thing the detective found in the center console was an envelope. She pulled it out slowly, as she was aware the officer already had his hand on his right hip. A twitchy fingered rookie wasn’t someone to spook. Looking at the envelope in the beam of light offered by the officer’s long handled flashlight Katherine noticed that it was from the DMV. Katherine opened the envelope and was surprised at its contents.

"It’s the registration."

"Yes ma’am, it is. I believe that’s what I asked you for." The nice officer was becoming impatient and he reached in and snatched the envelope from Katherine’s hand. Luckily for him, she was still surprised to find a registration card instead of a bundle of rental agreement papers. "Kat?"

"Huh? How’d you kn—"

"Katherine, when’d you get a Cherokee?" The officer’s voice softened and became very familiar… ‘you’re gonna be taking the trolley because of that bastard’ Those words echoed in Katherine’s mind and she wondered why they were in Danny Purdy’s voice.

"Danny? Is that you?" Katherine tried to look out the window but the pelting rain was hitting her eyes. The officer lifted the brim of his hat and revealed a pair of unmistakable bedroom brown eyes. They still looked as warm and soft as they had when they were in the academy together. Katherine had always been touched by the crush he’d had on her, and wagered that he never knew she was aware of it.

"Yeah, Kat, it’s me. I didn’t see your face. I um—" He chuckled just a bit. "I uh, I thought you were a drunk driver." Danny handed the registration back to Katherine. "I didn’t think you’d go with another Jeep after what happened to your Wrangler. It was then that Katherine remembered the aftermath of the wreck. She’d been in and out of consciousness when Officer Danny Purdy stayed by her side and talked to her while they waited for the ambulance ‘you’re gonna be taking the trolley because of that bastard

Katherine couldn’t bring herself to look back up at Purdy; instead she focused on the registration card that bore her name as the registered owner of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. "What?"

"Yeah, I know. You don’t even drink, but when you swerved back there and left the road, I thought I had a good one."

Katherine looked back up at the officer and realized that they weren’t a part of the same conversation.

*****

Samantha had managed to put a makeshift bandage over the freshly opened wound on her left arm while she waited for Kintrell to show up at her house. There was little humor in her voice as she’d detailed the events of the evening to Kintrell over the phone, and despite the late hour of the call, Kintrell was remarkably alert.

Sam was surprised that he didn’t scream, or fill her ears with a variety of expletives at being left out of the earlier encounter with the IceMan. The seasoned sergeant was astute at picking up on the various nuances in people's voices and could ascertain their frames of mind during a simple conversation. Although Samantha Christopher was equally astute at hiding her emotions, she couldn’t belie her growing fear and concern for her friend’s well being and Kintrell heard it, sensed it. He knew that the situation was far worse than merely what Samantha was explaining over the telephone.

The agent was standing in front of the French doors peering out into the eerie darkness of the night. The Pacific Ocean was indistinguishable under the black sky as Artemis’ moon was trapped behind ominous storm clouds. The rain was heavy now and could be heard beating the roof of the A-frame and was painting the glass doors with watery streaks.

Samantha was trying to make out the crashing waves through her pained reflection in the glass. As her gaze became fixed, she was aware of her own image staring back at her, and was momentarily startled by the tears flowing from the image before her. She furrowed her brow and realized that the water dripping on the outside of the glass had become a part of her reflection. And then a single tear rolled off her cheek and fell into the quiet of the room.

The doorbell brought the agent from her wandering thoughts and pulled her away from the glass doors. "Al. Thank you for coming."

"Jesus woman…it’s raining like cats and dogs out there." The tone was pure Kintrell.

"Yeah Al, I know." Sam motioned Kintrell through the heavy mahogany doors and into the living room before offering to take his coat.

"Oh no! We ain’t gonna be here long enough to make like a dinner party." Al spun around toward the kitchen and sniffed the air. "Hey! Is that coffee I smell?"

Sam quirked a partial smile and led Kintrell into the kitchen and poured coffee into a medium sized thermos and pointed her chin toward the sugar decanter.

"What the hell do I look like? A woman? I take my coffee strong and black."

Sam leveled a glare in his direction but before she could speak he jumped in. "Ohhh, so you drink your coffee like a man too, huh?" Kintrell was trying to lighten the mood because he understood the repercussions of what they were facing and he didn’t want his own fears to come to the surface.

The agent fought the smile and offered the sergeant a raised eyebrow. "Actually, you could drink my coffee for desert." The ‘I told you so’ look she got from Kintrell didn’t sit very well with her and the urge to throw the sugar at him was barely contained.

"You ever see Squirt make a cup of coffee? Bet she’d put you to shame." For a brief moment the implications of those words went unchecked and Samantha smiled in pure reflex at the mention of her friend. The smile faded prompting Kintrell to continue. "We’ll find her Sam. I promise you, we’ll find her."

Samantha cast her pale eyes at the butcher-block between her and the sergeant. "I hope so Al. The look in her eyes before she left—" The agent lifted her own eyes to meet with Kintrell’s. "She seemed so far away…so cold and dark." Sam pinched the bridge of her nose before continuing. "Kintrell, if anything happens to her—"

"Whoa now. Don’t start goin there. Come on, if were gonna get up to the mountains before the sun rises, we best get goin." Kintrell eased himself around the butcher-block island and put his arm around the agent’s shoulder. He never thought he’d have to make an attempt at consoling this woman but his ability to read people was uncanny and his efforts didn’t go unwanted. Samantha allowed the gesture and inhaled a deep breath as she allowed herself to be ushered out of the kitchen. Once in the living room, though, the agent regained her sense of self and gently pulled away from Kintrell’s sheltering wing to retrieve her black leather jacket.

The faded leather was meticulously oiled and every inch of shiny zipper and buckle sparkled under the chandelier in the foyer. The obvious weight of the biker jacket was no burden to the agent as she hefted it off the wooden coat rack with precise ease until she tried to thread her left arm into its sleeve. The agent’s body seized up in pain causing Kintrell to come up from behind and relieve the woman of her struggle. Al held the jacket at the lapels, from the rear, and tried to help Samantha with her task.

"No Al, I got it."

"No Christopher, you don’t."

"Kintrell…"

"Samantha…let me help you."

"Kintrell. It’s bad enough that you have to chauffeur me up and down the West Coast of this damn state. I think I can manage to put my jacket on for God’s sake." The agent was working her jaw.

The sergeant kept custody of the jacket and walked around the agent to stand in front of her. This was an obvious attempt to get her attention but it failed because she refused to look up at him. "Jesus Christ, Christopher! For an FBI agent, you sure as hell know how to act like kid." That worked. She lifted her eyebrows to look into his eyes. "Samantha, I know you like taking care of your own business, but sometimes, yesssss sometimes in life even people like you have to ask for help."

"Hey! I know when I have to ask for help!" Sam was becoming inexplicably defensive.

"I’m not talking about calling in a favor. God knows that in your line of work, you’ve had to call in a few. I’m talking about asking for help when you feel helpless." Kintrell hesitated for a beat to gauge the agent’s reaction. He was right. "It killed you to call me tonight…didn’t it?"

"You said I could call—"

"I know what I said. And I meant it. I just never thought you’d actually do it. And when you did, frankly, it scared the shit outta me. If there was any way you coulda figured a way to get out there and drive yourself all over hell and halfa Texas yourself you wouldn’t have called me…until of course you couldn’t find her. Then you woulda had no choice. ‘Course, being the little FBI agent you are, you would have eventually figured that maybe she woulda run to where her daddy’s buried, and you woulda just called me to find out exactly where that was and gone up there yourself. It killed you to have to call me tonight, didn’t it?"

Samantha wouldn’t answer. She just stared at him, knowing how unbelievably right he was.

"Didn’t it?" He wouldn’t relent.

After another pause, "Yes." Came the quiet response. Samantha looked away for a brief moment before returning her eyes to his. By now the leather jacket was draped over Kintrell’s arm and held snug to his chest.

"Why? Why’d you call?" The sergeant’s tone had softened as though he was talking to the victim of a violent crime. "I have a feeling that you’re about the most resourceful person on the planet. Why did you ask for help?" Al saw the pain lingering in the strength of the agent’s face and realized how truly helpless she was feeling.

"Because I wasn’t about to let my pride keep me from finding her. She’s alone and she’s scared and it’s my fault—"

"Samantha—"

"No Al. I should never have told her my suspicions about the IceMan."

"Oh, so treating her like a child that couldn’t handle the truth about this monster would have been better for her?"

"Kintrell…" Sam was becoming uncomfortable and impatient because she knew he was right.

"Sam, if you’d have kept this from her she would have resented you for it. I know you want to protect her but, sink or swim, she’s a big girl. Yeah, she’s confused right now and she’s gonna get a huge lecture for running off like this, but it woulda been worse if you hadn’t told her." Al paused on those words for just a moment hoping Samantha wouldn’t argue. "C’mon, it’s gettin later and the weather ain’t gettin better." Kintrell held the jacket up by the lapels and Samantha turned back for a moment and allowed him to help her put it on.

*****

Katherine continued driving toward the San Gabriel Mountains, her mind swirling with the events that had driven her over the past week. The cab of the Cherokee was remarkably quiet considering the force with which the rain was pounding its exterior and the soft creek of the windshield wipers were as rhythmic as any song she’d ever heard.

Her thoughts were tumbling and turning, running together and becoming one. The night she met Samantha…waking up in the hospital to find the agent by her side. When she saw the damage to her Jeep for the first time and Sam had caught her before she collapsed to the ground. Finding herself on a couch in a strange house, yet feeling so incredibly at home that she never wanted to lose that feeling. The press conference and the gunshot intended for her. The IceMan’s invasion of her own home and the destruction of her sanctity. Now this. Finding out that she was the cause of these women being killed. So much pain had been inflicted upon her in such a short period of time and she’d hit her breaking point.

So much had happened and every bit of it was tempered and made easier by Samantha’s presence. As the detective drove she found herself thinking of that night on the couch and the reflection of green in Samantha’s eyes that she now, for the first time, realized were her own eyes. The depth of that look, before their lips touched, caressed Katherine’s heart and made her long to experience it again. The detective was suddenly struck with the desire to be wrapped up in the strength of her friend’s arms. A need to be held and comforted and to be told that everything was going to be all right.

"What the hell am I doing?" Katherine’s voice broke into the silence of the Cherokee and nearly startled the detective’s own ears. Her eyes were trying to focus on the road that was barely visible in the Cherokee’s headlights. The rain was coming down with such force it looked as though she were driving through a waterfall and the nighttime darkness made it impossible to see the jagged piece of metal debris in the roadway before she could swerve to avoid hitting it. The ensuing explosion and familiar bumpy ride were obvious indicators that the debris had managed to rip into the side-wall of the front left tire and forced the detective to pull off the side of the desolate road.

Katherine sat for a moment with her foot on the break before she shifted the Cherokee into park and set the emergency break. She draped her arms over the steering wheel and allowed her forehead to fall on the top of the wheel while she regained her composure. She finally sat back in the thick leather seat and contemplated her next course of action.

"My next course of action." She leaned her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes. "My next course of action right now should be finishing a glass of chocolate milk and falling asleep wrapped up in S—" KABOOOOOM!!!!

The resonating blast was followed by a flash of light and a second thundering crash that brought the hairs on the nape of the detective’s neck on end and forced her upright, fear coursing her veins.

"I hate thunderstorms. I hate’em, I hate’em, I hate’em!" Katherine’s breathing picked up again as she sunk deeper into the driver’s seat. Her innate fear of thunderstorms was one borne out of a child hood of living on the coast of North Carolina. She wanted to have Samantha close to her this very instant and that desire was becoming an intense necessity, and hiding in the SUV wasn’t bringing that reality any closer to happening. Katherine bit down on her jaw and reached for the door handle to open the quite stillness of the Cherokee to the violent force of nature overhead.

The driver’s door resisted opening under the pressure of El Nino’s turbulent gusts, but it finally gave at the detective’s determined urging. Katherine hadn’t considered the weather conditions when she left the A-frame and the instant she stepped into the torrential downpour her t-shirt and faded blue jeans were soaked through to her skin. Unfortunately the warmth of the earlier day had long faded and was welcoming in a more seasonable temperature. It didn’t take long for the chill to reach the detective’s insides and she was shivering uncontrollably before she could open the back hatch.

"Damn it. Oh, please God, let there be a jack in here." Katherine’s prayer was answered when she found every piece of emergency roadside equipment a stranded motorist could possibly need. "No umbrella. I got…what the hell are these? MRE’s. I got freeze dried military food…probably from World War I, but nothing to keep me dry. Ogre…I’ll bet the MRE’s were your doing. Jesus, I can’t believe she bought me a car." Katherine was babbling to herself. Then a soft laugh. "Well, Sammy, you were right. I do babble." A wry grin was followed by a muffled grunt as the detective hefted the pneumatic car jack out of the rear of the Cherokee. She didn’t bother with the road flares or the miniature orange plastic triangles; hell, it’s not like there were any other idiots out on Highway 2 in this kind of weather.

A muted rumble of thunder in the far off distance caused the detective’s stomach to lurch as she stooped over to place the jack behind the front left wheel well as rain water poured from her face. Katherine had to take several deep breaths to quell the growing anxiety within her. Fortunately the thunder seemed to be further in the distance than earlier, but the nagging paranoia was tickling her senses and it was becoming more and more difficult for her to fight the urge to cave in on herself.

"C’mon Gabriel, hold it together. You get this tire changed and you can be on your way back home. ‘Course…Samantha’s probably pissed right now. Probably won’t let your sorry ass back in the house. Damn it, how could I be so stupid. Unghh!!" The detective grunted as she tried to loosen the first lug nut but her hands were too wet from the rain and she lost her grip on the tire tool, sending her body forward and her knuckles into the loose gravel of the roadside. "FUCK!! Dammit to hell."

Katherine rolled over to sit on her rear end with her back against the tire. She propped her left arm on the black metal bar that was still sticking out of the tire, gripping mercilessly to the lug nut. "What is it with me and flat tires?" Katherine spoke to the storm as she tried to survey the damage to her right knuckles, but the country road was as dark as a cavern.

And then, as if a gift from the heavens, the sky brightened and displayed her gnarled hand as brightly as if she were sitting under a sunburst. The detective’s eye’s narrowed for a moment at the wound on her knuckles before she realized the source of the light. Before the brilliance even faded into the recesses of the night the ground began to vibrate under the pressure of the ensuing clap of thunder. The noise rolled and gained strength until it was bearing down of the little detective and surrounding her with its imposing might. Time ceased to exist. The pain in her hand was no longer present. The only thing Katherine Gabriel knew at that moment was shear panic and terror.

Not even Zeus himself could ever be so angry as to cause a thunderbolt such as that to be hefted toward the earth’s surface. But there it was and it was ripping every ounce of reasonable resolve from the detective’s mind. Every muscle tensed and she curled up into the tiniest ball she could form. Katherine’s arms were wrapped so tightly around her knees that she was nearly hugging her own shoulders, and her head was buried into her forearms in an attempt to block out the world. Her eyes were closed so tightly that she never registered the following bolts of electricity but her ears weren’t as blessed and were continually assaulted by the angry screams of Mother Nature. The fear and pain became too great and the detective pulled her arms up to he ears and clasped her hands behind her head keeping her face burrowed in her knees. "Samantha!!!" The yell was summoned from the clenches of her diaphragm but was lost in the furry of the next wave of thunder clashes.

*****

Kintrell’s windshield wipers were working as fast as they could to remove the sheets of water that were falling from the heavens above. His Ford Expedition was being pushed to every limit that the weather would allow for without being desperately reckless, and the further north and east they traveled the worse the storm was becoming. Samantha sat quietly in the passenger seat working her jaw muscles, which intensified the headache that was pounding behind her left eye. They were beyond the city lights now and the only illumination that was offered to brighten the stretch of Highway 2 they were traveling were the streaks of lightning that danced across the eastern skyline. Sam noticed that with every bolt Kintrell shifted uneasily in his seat.

"Al? You got a problem with thunderstorms?" The agent wasn’t being sarcastic…she was actually concerned that he was scared of them.

"Yeah, I do."

She wasn’t expecting him to answer her truthfully. Sam cocked an eyebrow and looked over at her driver. He looked at her for a moment and returned his eyes to the road.

"I got a problem with’em cause Squirt’s scared of’em." He was serious.

"You mean she doesn’t like them." Samantha had studied enough about phobias to hope that Katherine merely preferred sunny days to the rainy sort.

"No. I mean they scare the piss out of her. She’s never told me the whole thing. Something about a hurricane when she was a little girl. She’s got ways of dealing with them…techniques or some shit like that. But after everything that’s happened, and she’s alone, I don’t kn—"

"Shit!" Samantha’s curse silenced the sergeant and he knew she understood. "We’re heading right into the worst of the storm. If she’s already up in the Gabriel's…"

"Yeah I know."

"Kintrell! Slow down! What is th—" Samantha was pointing toward the shoulder of the road several hundred yards in front of them; at a vehicle barely visible through the downpour, it’s emergency flashers bouncing off Kintrell’s headlight beams. As they got closer, Samantha was able to make out the frame of a sport utility vehicle with its rear hatch open. "Al, pull over, that’s a Cherokee."

"A Cherokee?"

"Yeah, she’s in a Grand Cherokee." Sam’s demeanor had changed from distracted concern to determined protectiveness as the Expedition slowed to a stop several feet from the rear of the stranded Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Samantha barely waited for Kintrell to come to a complete stop before she through open the door, unfastening the safety belt as she bailed out of the oversized Ford. The agent ignored the cold rain as it pummeled her face and body. Her leather jacket was protecting her arms and back, but not much else. She instinctively came around the left side of the Cherokee to find the form of a body curled in on itself near the front left quarter panel. In three strides, Samantha was standing over Katherine and the compassion in her heart brought her to her knees.

"Katherine? Katherine look at me. It’s okay now." Sam tried to lull the detective from the frightening hole that had engulfed her mind. She lowered herself even more and sat in the drenched earth next to her friend and eased her arms around Katherine’s shoulders and legs trying to shield the smaller woman from the fury of the storm.

Thunder grumbled softly in the distance and with each roll of noise the detective’s body reacted with a heart-breaking tremble. Samantha tightened her embrace and put her face as close to Katherine's ears as the detective’s shielding arms would allow. "Angel, you’re safe now. I’m here with you now, I’ve got you. Angel, I’ve got you…please come back to me." Sam felt the rigid body in her arms begin to relax and melt into her chest. The agent started a slow rocking motion until Katherine released the back of her head and wrapped her own arms around Samantha’s waist. "That’s it…I’ve got you."

The agent eased her left arm under Katherine’s legs and threaded her right arm under the detective’s shoulder so she could pick the smaller woman up off the ground. Samantha lifted with her legs and steadied herself before turning to the rear of the Cherokee, trying to bite back a cry as she realized the slight strain freed another stitch. Kintrell watched quietly under the cover of an obnoxious purple and gold golfer’s umbrella. He stepped out of the way as Samantha walked back with her precious cargo and helped her settle the little detective on the rear of the Cherokee, under the cover of the hatch door.

Al reached over to some army looking blankets that he’d retrieved from the back of his Expedition and draped one over Katherine’s shoulders. Before he could offer one to Samantha she had already taken her seat along side her friend, draping her right arm over Katherine’s shoulders and pulling her close. The next blanket was settled over both women’s shoulders as they huddled together, blocking out the pain of the world and sheltering one another in the comforting embrace of their shared need and love. Kintrell watched for a moment longer before he readied himself to complete the task of changing the Cherokee’s tire.

Luckily the spare was fastened to the underside of the SUV so he wouldn’t have to interrupt the two women and their soulful reunion. He saw it in Sam’s face when he put the blanket over the two of them. The agent was holding the world in her arms and the thought of making her release that connection, even for just a moment, was something the sergeant wasn’t prepared to do.

Samantha had pressed her forehead into the detective’s rain soaked golden tresses so she could whisper words that wouldn’t come. Then, without warning came the softest of noises. Sam thought she was hearing things at first but she listened more intently and there they were again. The agent ducked her head closer to Katherine’s face.

"Angel? What is it?"

"I was so scared." The whisper was strained and still bore the hints of an irrational fear.

"Angel, it’s okay. I’ve got you."

A shaky breath. "I just… wanted to get—" The detective was having such a hard time getting out the words.

"I know sweetheart. Al told me where you were going."

"No, Sammy. I mean…I was, trying to come back. I just… wanted… to get back." A long pause followed. "Then the tire. I thought I could block it out. I just wanted to fix it and get back. The thunder…it was so loud—"

"Shhh…it’s okay."

Another shaky breath. "I was so scared. I just wanted to come back home." The smaller woman was trembling again, and Samantha replayed the vision of Katherine’s ransacked house, knowing she’d never be able to go back there.

"Angel, it’s okay."

"The thunder was so loud. It wouldn’t stop, Sammy." The agent tightened her grip around the detective’s shoulders. "I just wanted to get back home. I knew you could make it better. I…just needed you…to hold me. I love you…so much."

Samantha didn’t know it was possible to hear a heart breaking, but she was certain that hers could be heard through the loudest of thunderbolts. Every fear, every ounce of reservation, and every ill feeling the agent bore toward the world was being melted away at these softly ushered words. Katherine’s quiet declaration in this vulnerable state did more to ease the Huntress into the recesses of Samantha’s sub-conscious than any bottle of whiskey ever accomplished. Her words were pure and reached soul-deep. Samantha realized, in that moment, that she was holding the other half of her own soul, and that no matter what the future foretold, her destiny would be forever intertwined in the life of her soul-mate.
 
 

Chapter 10

The storm hand dwindled to a few sporadic showers by the time Samantha was crossing back over the Coronado Bridge and as she continued her drive out Orange Avenue, the throbbing pain in her arm was even more noticeable now. Katherine was idly watching out the window paying no particular attention to what her gaze was fixed upon, and Samantha couldn’t help but wonder where the smaller woman’s mind had wandered.

"Nickel for your thoughts."

Silence.

"Katherine? You okay?"

"Hm?"

"Angel, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I’m fine. I’m sorry, my mind must have wandered a bit."

"Don’t apologize, you’ve had a hell of a night." Samantha reached over and found Katherine’s hand with nimble ease. Which unfortunately left the steering to a very pained left arm. Katherine squeezed the agent’s hand in pure reflex as the touch brought a sense of comfort over her.

"A hell of a night that shouldn’t have happened. Samantha, I’m sorry I stormed out of the house like that."

"You didn’t storm out of the house."

"No, but I walked out on you when I should have turned to you." The detective’s voice trailed off, prompting Samantha to tighten her grip on the smaller woman’s hand; moments before the agent jerked her hand free and replaced it, almost violently, to the steering wheel.

"Sonofa—" Samantha was trying desperately to regain control of the Cherokee when a quiet thud was heard near the right rear of the vehicle followed by a barely perceptible yelp. The agent tightened up on the wheel with her right hand and pulled it back around to straighten out the front end of the Cherokee and keep it from plowing into the palm tree lined median. "What the fuck!" Once she regained full control of the oversized Jeep, Sam pulled over to make sure her passenger was all right.

"Sam…what happened?" There was a quiet knowing tone in Katherine’s voice. The little detective was sitting almost sideways in her seat, looking directly at her driver.

"Are you okay?"

"Sammy…what happened?"

Samantha’s bronzed color was somewhat flushed, visible even in the darkened passenger area of the Cherokee. "There was something in the road. I tried to miss—"

"Sammy, you didn’t miss it. What was it?"

There was almost a look of disbelief on the agent’s face. "Of course I missed it." Then something registered with both women, simultaneously and each poured out of the SUV in search of what most definitely did not miss being hit by the Cherokee.

"Sammy, what was it? A squirrel? A rabbit?"

"It was a dog."

"A what?!"

The agent didn’t bother repeating herself because she knew full well her companion had heard her. She merely walked in silence searching the street lit median for the poor creature that had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Katherine picked up her pace as she started to call out into the darkness for whatever was listening. Samantha fell in behind the detective, not really wanting to find what was out there.

Sam became aware of the oddity of what she was feeling. The number of people who’d suffered at her hands were too great to even count, although she could remember each blow, either from her own fists or the explosive blast of a spent round. But here she was, scared to see the damage she caused to an animal. There was something innately sensitive in Samantha Christopher that kept her from wanting to cause harm to innocents. This animal was no different. Sam was so lost in her own thoughts that she nearly ran into the back of the detective. "Oof. Oh, sorry."

"Shh…I think I hear something coming from over there." Katherine was hunched over just a bit, pointing toward a little grove of small palm trees, listening intently. Then Sam heard the faint whimper and her heart sank deeper in her chest. It was still alive. The agent watched as the detective approached the trees and was intrigued that the closer Katherine got to the pained cry, the closer she got to the ground. By the time the detective was at the trees, she was kneeling on her right knee with her left leg extended slightly toward the source of the cries.

Samantha was within feet of her companion when she caught sight of the injured animal and she came to a halt. The grove of trees was near a traffic signal that was blinking yellow lights in the aftermath of the storm that had come through earlier, and was illuminating the trembling form of a very frightened dog. Katherine was gingerly reaching out to the injured animal while cooing to it with soft words.

"Katherine, he’s gonna bite you."

"No he won’t. Will ya boy? It’s okay sweetpea, I’m not gonna hurt you." The detective ignored her friend’s concerns and persisted forward to reach out to the animal. By the time Katherine was within reach of the dog she was actually sitting on the grassy earth to bring herself as low to the ground as possible. "That’s it. It’s okay, baby, I just want to help you."

Samantha could do nothing but look on and hope the dog didn’t recognize her as the driver of the machine that had caused all the pain. The detective’s hand was now poised under the dog’s nose, allowing him to take in the scent of this person who wanted to help make him better. Then came the gentle patting of a tail in the dirt, followed by the dog’s neck craning forward just enough to nudge Katherine’s hand with his nose. The peace was made and the detective edged closer to try and survey the damage. She stroked the back of his head and neck as she continued to speak softly to him. Gently, she eased her hand down his back giving comforting squeezes as she went in order to detect any reactions to pain. There were none. She did the same to the legs that were facing her and as best she could determine, there were no broken bones or major lacerations.

"That’s a good boy." Her tone was almost alluring and prompted her patient to make an effort to come closer to her. When he tried to stand up he howled out in pain and nearly collapsed in the dirt, but not before Katherine grabbed him under the belly with her right arm and hooked his neck with her left arm. In one swift motion the detective stood and turned to face the agent who looked even more frightened than the dog. "Sam? Sam, honey, we need to find a vet. He’s got a broken leg. Sammy, you okay?"

"A vet. Yeah…" The agent broke her stare with the patient to search her friend’s eyes. It was as though she was searching the calming depths of green to help ease her back to the present. And she wasn’t disappointed, because in the glowing yellow light the agent found compassion and caring staring back at her. "Yeah, the Emergency Vet. C’mon, let’s go get’em looked at."

*****

The staff at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic seemed more than frazzled. Either because of the fact that it was the end of the weekend or because of the storm that had bolstered its way through town, the inn was full and it showed on the faces of the assistants and doctors. Oddly enough, it took no time for their newest patient to be put in an examination room. Of course, that may have had more to do with the nature by which Samantha had insisted on her dog being tended to. Evidently, intimidation and fear work wonders, even in the veterinary world.

The detective’s charge was placed on the exam table and waited patiently for the doctor to finish tending to a cat who’d decided to help a mouse in retrieving a piece of cheese from a trap. The dog cocked his head in confusion at the sound of the cat screeching in pain. Sam arched a brow; amused at the apparent interest the dog was taking in his new surroundings, while Katherine stroked the dog’s neck in a natural motion.

"What is he?" Sam was the first to add a calm human voice to the resonating chaos.

"Hm? Oh, I think it’s a cat. An unhappy cat at that."

Sam’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment. "No. Him…" The agent jerked her thumb in the direction of the fawn colored dog who was now watching her with explicit interest.

"Oh…I’m not sure. Definitely a mutt. I’d say a collie mix, probably has some husky in him, with those blue eyes." Katherine continued to pet the top of the dog’s head and neck. His light colored hair was long and matted under his belly. There were several pine needles knotted up in the mats, and it looked like he had patches of white on his face, chest and paws. It was hard to tell though, given how dirty he was. The collie mix was obviously enjoying the attention, but he seemed to be transfixed on the dark haired woman watching him.

"Why’s he staring at me?" Sam folded her arms across her chest.

A soft laugh. "He probably just thinks you’re pretty."

Sam cut a look at the detective that expressed more than a hint of concern.

"I’m kidding. He can tell you’re on edge. He’s probably concerned about you…it’s the collie in him."

"I am not on edge." The words were enunciated on a low tone.

"Mhmm."

"Besides, he’s not concerned about me. Jesus, I’m the one who hit’em."

"He doesn’t know that—"

A soft creek echoed in the room, as the door opened and a pale faced woman in her early thirties entered. She was wearing a pair of green hospital scrubs and New Balance running shoes. Her youthful face and small glasses gave her the look of a student, but as she spoke her tone and words expressed a different story. Intelligence and compassion rolled off her tongue as she introduced herself. "Hi there. I’m Dr. Fisher." The doctor spoke to the women on the other side of the table but she approached the collie mix and kept her eyes on him.

"Hey, Doc. We, uh, sorta bumped him with our car. I don’t think it’s too bad, but I think he may have a broken leg. Maybe the back right?"

"Hmm. Let me have a little looksee." The doctor started a brief overview of looking in the collie’s eyes and ears, and checking his throat. The natural progression of the exam seemed to mirror what Katherine had done earlier in the median. "Did you bump him coming out of the drive way or—"

Katherine continued talking as Samantha watched the doctor’s actions. "No, actually he’s a stray. He was in the middle of the road. We tried to swerve, but—"

"Mm. He looks like he’s been on his own for a while. But his eyes are bright." His clear blue eyes were still trained on the agent as he wondered why the tall human seemed so upset. He liked how she told the other humans what to do earlier, but now it was the little blond human who was doing all the talking. Very odd.

"Yeah, that’s what I thought. He seems like a really good dog, though. It’s a shame he was out there like that. Um…whatever you have to do to make him better, though, I’ll take responsibility for him. I’ll worry about finding him a home later." Katherine gave the collie a gentle tug on the ear, which earned her a wag of a very fluffy but matted tail.

"Yeah, buddy, I’d say if ya had to get hit by a car, at least you picked the right pair of suckers." The doctor smiled sincerely at Katherine before continuing. "Okay, let me take him back and see what kind of a break we got. I’ll let you know after I X-ray it…let you know where we stand. You’re welcome to stay in here, or out in the lobby, wherever you’re most comfortable." The petite doctor scooped the collie into her arms and lifted him off the table with ease. As the dog made his retreat he watched the dark haired woman, wishing her face wasn’t stricken with such a serious look.

Samantha was still gazing at the door when she spoke. "So you think he’ll be okay?"

"Yeah. He seems too alert to be too messed up. I bet Kintrell will let me keep him there till he gets better. Alice is a nurse, she’ll be able to help me look after him."

"Why can’t he stay with us?" Sam returned her pale eyes to the detective.

"Well…he can, but, you don’t have any pets…I didn’t want to make that kind of imposition."

"Imposition? I nearly killed him for God’s sake, the way I see it I owe it to him. No, he’ll come home with us till he’s better, then we’ll figure out what to do."

"Mhmm. I guess it’s settled, we get to play nurse maid to a pooch." Katherine regarded her friend for a moment, quietly amazed at the concern this self-proclaimed killer was showing for a stray animal. The detective’s quiet thoughts were interrupted by a loud frantic voice in the reception area.

Clear blue eyes lifted to meet green that mirrored the agent’s understanding of what was likely happening on the other side of the door that separated them from the receptionist’s desk.

"I’m not playing a game here God damn it! If you don’t get it, I’m gonna blow your fucking head off. You got me?!" The voice was young, male and very angry. The anger was tempered with the uncanny sound of fear as it shook on every cuss word.

The two women in the exam room didn’t speak as they moved toward the solid, wooden door. Katherine eased to one side as Samantha turned the brass colored knob, hoping that it wouldn’t make any noise. The agent opened the door gingerly and just enough to let her peer into the reception area. Her ice-blue eyes fell upon a young white male who looked to be seventeen or eighteen, if he was lucky. His bleached hair was unkempt and greasy and didn’t match the dark colored facial hair that was making an attempt at a scraggly beard. The beard was sparse enough to reveal a poor complexion and acne scars that accompanied blood shot brown eyes, making it clear that he was in search of his next fix and intended to receive it from the other end of his black and silver .25 caliber pistol.

"I’m not gonna tell you again, bitch! You get the shit right now or I’m gonna kill your ass!"

"But sir." The receptionist had backed away from the counter and instinctively put her hands up in defense of the gunman’s attack. "I can’t do that, it’s a controlled subst—"

"I know what the fuck it is God dammit! That’s why I got a gun pointed at your ass!" At that the robber propelled himself across the counter and landed just in front of the receptionist, causing her to squeal out in fear. "Shut the fuck up!" The robber was nose to temple with the receptionist as he spat out his words and pressed the barrel of his gun into her forehead. His breath smelled of stale cigarettes and sour hops, that, combined with pungent body odor nearly caused the receptionist to empty the contents of her stomach.

The robber was so engrossed in his onslaught of fear that he hadn’t noticed Samantha ease out of the exam room and circle the front desk. The agent was attempting to gain an effective position on the robber to enhance her chances of eliminating him. Although she had the advantage of surprise she couldn’t acquire a clear target. He was too close to the receptionist, and he kept moving his head violently as he yelled his demands at her.

Katherine was out of the exam room now, and also trying to gain some kind of position on the robber when she yelled out to him and lurched herself directly in front of him, placing the robber between herself and Samantha, while effectively placing herself directly in Samantha’s crossfire. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait a minute there." Katherine spoke loud enough to get the young man’s attention but not so loud as to scare him. Samantha clenched her jaw as she removed her finger from the trigger of her Sig and rested it on the slide and clear of the trigger guard.

"Katherine, get out of the way." Sam whispered the words and silently reprimanded the detective for placing herself in harm’s way. But the agent hadn’t seen the robber start to flex his finger on the trigger of his own pistol. Katherine had, and was now trying to talk the young man down.

"Who the fuck are you?!" The robber had eased off a bit on the trigger when Katherine had distracted him, but the barrel of his gun was still pressed into the frightened receptionist’s forehead.

Katherine’s hands were open as she displayed empty palms in the direction of the robber, indicating that she was unarmed. "Shh. My name is Katherine. I just wanna talk to you." The detective’s voice was calm and quiet, and almost soothing.

"Well, I don’t wanna talk. I want the shit so I can get the fuck outta here!" His eyes were filled with rage and angst and were drilling holes through Katherine’s flesh.

"What is it you want?" The little detective continued to speak softly.

"The K God damn it! I wanna fuckin’ bottle of K."

"Look, just let her go and we’ll talk about the Ketamine, okay?" Katherine was quite familiar with the recent surge of Ketamine use in the drug community. The feline tranquilizer was often used in the Rave scene to bring people down from an Ecstasy high. Often dubbed ‘Special K’ the drug was generally stolen in break-ins at veterinary clinics, or sold by disreputable doctors to teenagers who made use of it illegally.

"Yeah right! I let her go and you blow my fuckin ass away! I ain’t stupid bitch! Get me the K, or I’m gonna drop her, right here in front of you!"

"Wait a minute. I’m not here to hurt you. I’m not armed, see?" Katherine urged the young man to look at her empty hands. He was still unaware of the tall figure lurking in the background, desperate to obliterate his skull with a hollow-point. His saving grace this moment was a small blond detective whose existence on this earth would bring him redemption if he would allow it. "Look, I just want to help you. Please, let me help you."

"You don’t give a shit about me!"

"Yes I do. I could have stayed in that room and hidden from everything out here. I could have called the police and had the SWAT team swarm this building. You know how they take care of things. But I stepped out here, and I’m talking to you. I want to help you." Katherine’s words were soft and saturated with compassion.

"You don’t know anything about me!" The young man’s voice was quieter, but it was cracking more.

"I know you’re tired." Katherine paused for just a moment when she saw the gunman swallow. "You’re tired, but you can’t sleep." The detective’s voice was so soothing that it nearly sang to him. It was a lullaby that was calling him to the sleep he wanted so badly.

The young man had unconsciously loosened his grip on the receptionist and softened the anger in his eyes. "I just want the K. It’ll make it better. I just wanna sleep."

"How long have you been awake?"

"I don’t know. I remember leaving the club that morning. It was really cold. We went to a squat to crash, but I was wired. I think maybe I slept that night, but maybe…I can’t remember—"

"It’s okay, you’ve been up for a while. But if you let me, I can help you." Katherine knew that some ecstasy rolls could keep today’s youth up for several days, but even this seemed impossible, because the last time it had been notably cold was a week ago on the last IceMan scene. "Please, let her go and put the gun down…please let me help you."

The young robber’s resolve was fading in the soft tones of the detective’s voice and his intentions were retreating in the depths of green seas. As he looked deeper into Katherine’s eyes he released the receptionist without conscious thought and lowered the gun to his side. He was unaware of the dark haired jaguar that was moving with stealth and grace toward him. Samantha was on the receptionist’s counter waiting the moment of surprise that would allow her to strike her prey without the use of her firearm.

As the gunman’s weapon came to a rest at his side the Huntress dropped from her perch and landed with the silence of a feather falling from a circling hawk. The gunman was disarmed with his right arm wrapped firmly behind his back, his fingers seated between his shoulder blades. The earth ceased to move and his world swirled before his eyes as his balance was ripped from him and gravity forced him to spiral toward the floor. As the young man crashed into the floor, he felt the weight of the world lift from his shoulders and it was replaced by the weight of his newest captor.

Samantha grabbed the robber’s left hand in her own, as she kept a tight grip of his right wrist. With both hands bound behind his back the robber was unable move so he lay there motionless. Sam grasped both the robber’s hands in her left with the strength of a raptor’s claw as she retrieved a lonely nylon leash from a peg next to the receptionist’s phone. The agent’s first urge was to drive her knee into the robber’s skull, but her malicious thoughts halted when she felt Katherine standing next to her.

Katherine dropped down to one knee, across from Samantha and placed her palm on the agent’s trembling hands. Sam hadn’t even realized that her own hands were shaking until that moment, and it was a reaction to which she was unaccustomed. Clear blue eyes lifted to reveal fearful innocence.

The agent allowed herself to think about the instant that she nearly squeezed the trigger. There had been the slightest window of opportunity when she’d had a clear shot, that would not have endangered the receptionist, which would have removed the robber’s forehead. For reasons foreign to the agent, she’d hesitated, had taken an extra breath. During that extra breath Samantha heard Katherine call out to the deranged young man. During that extra breath Katherine stepped into Samantha’s crossfire. Samantha wanted to kill the man beneath her now, more than ever. More than she had ever wanted to kill anyone. But the angel’s presence, her touch was calming the raging seas from deep within Samantha’s soul.

"Sammy? You okay?" Katherine saw the myriad of emotions dancing in the agent’s eyes that were further expressed in the strong planes of her jaw line. "Samantha, it’s okay, it’s over. C’mon, let’s see if the police were called." The detective eased Samantha’s hands off the robber’s bindings and stood, beckoning the agent to follow. Sam stood, slowly, barely of her own accord, and followed the angel Gabriel.

*****

By the time Katherine and Samantha had finished giving their statements to the police officers that had arrived, it was nearly dawn. The sky was highlighting the eastern horizon with a salmon colored hue and was inviting the early morning birds to serenade the joggers bent on good health through excruciating pain.

The two women poured themselves into the Grand Cherokee after making arrangements to pick up the collie mix Monday morning. The dog’s broken leg would only require a hip length soft cast, but Dr. Fisher had offered to keep him through Sunday for observation. The detective and agent didn’t argue, as they both fully intended to sleep the rest of the weekend away.

Katherine drove the remainder of the trip back to the A-frame, barely cognizant of her surroundings. She was finding it difficult focusing on anything but the silence coming from the tall form in the passenger seat next to her.

The detective eased the Jeep into the garage and allowed the huge door to close behind her before she attempted to get out of the vehicle. As she removed the key from the ignition, Katherine looked briefly to her right where she found Samantha leaning back, her head against the head rest and her profile angled toward the window.

"Samantha, what’s wrong?" Silence followed. "Sam?" The detective put her hand on the agent’s forearm and waited for her to speak.

The agent’s jaw muscles were tightening and relaxing and she moistened her lips before turning to Katherine to speak. "I almost pulled the trigger." It was a hoarse whisper.

"Samantha, he was holding a woman at gun point. You would have been justified."

"I know that. I was squeezing, but I stopped. I don’t know why I stopped, but I did."

Katherine wasn’t quite sure where Samantha was going with this. "So you hesitated. There’s nothing wrong with that…it was a tight situation."

"If I hadn’t hesitated, I would have kill—"

"Sammy, you would have done what you had to do—"

"You would have been hit, Katherine. The only kill shot I had was his forehead. By the time I would have gotten off the round, you would have been standing there." Sam tightened her jaw once again and returned her gaze out the side window.

Katherine allowed her own eyes to fall to her lap. "I was in your cross fire. Sammy, I’m sorry. I saw him start to pull the trigger, I had no way of stopping him and you were too far away. I reacted with the only thing I had…my words."

"I just…" The agent’s words were shaky. "I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you." The words almost sounded ludicrous given the short time the agent had known this woman, but in the same breath they sounded…felt familiar. "When he finally went down, I was so angry, I could barely see straight." The agent stilled her words to steady her nerves. "I wanted him dead…"

"Samantha, it’s okay. Everyone’s safe and he’s off the streets."

"I know, but if anyone ever did anything to you…to hurt you, I don’t know what I would be capable—"

"Samantha. Samantha, look at me!" Katherine felt her heart start to pound and she waited to meet with the agent’s eyes before continuing. "You are not a monster, not now…not ever. You will not become a monster because of me."

The detective hesitated for a moment as she was overcome with a sense of déjà vu. It was like she’d had this conversation before, she swore she could recognize the tears that were threatening to fall upon her friend’s cheek, the tears that her friend was desperate to hide.

"Sammy, I want you to promise me that you won’t do that. Don’t become a monster because of me. Not because of me."

"Okay."

"Don’t ‘okay’ me. Promise me that if anything ever happens to me, you will not become the monster that you seem so convinced you are. I’ve seen you love and care. I know the goodness in your heart and I don’t want you to ever taint that because of me. Do you hear me?"

Silence. Blue and green were locked together.

"Samantha. Promise me that whenever you think of me, no matter what the circumstances, that you’ll feel the love I have for you in your heart, and never, ever let your soul be consumed with anger and rage. Promise me."

"I promise. I love you Angel." Barely a whisper.

"And I love you." Katherine had clasped Samantha’s left hand in both of hers without realizing it, and she gave one more squeeze before letting go. The two women looked at one another for just a moment more, a moment that could have filled the void of a millennium, before leaving the quiet of the Jeep.

Samantha waited for Katherine to finish locking the doors on the SUV before she unlocked the pantry door and disarmed the alarm system. The agent moved into the kitchen but stopped before sliding open the galley doors. She turned to face her friend and instinctively the two came together in an embrace that sealed their souls into one. Time escaped them for the next several moments as they felt their heartbeats merge together.

"I love you." The words were spoken at the same time.

*****

The late afternoon sun had dipped far into the western sky allowing a blue darkness to settle into the agent’s bedroom. Upon the king-sized bed were a wadded up bundle of soft linen sheets and two sleeping bodies. Samantha was flat on her back with most of the sheets tangled about her lower legs and Katherine lay on her right side curled around a feather pillow, her back pressed into Sam’s side.

The detective was the first to stir, and when she awoke she was unsettled by the initial desperate feeling of not knowing where she was. As her eyes started to focus on the darkened surroundings she caught the soft hint of spice and her face softened into a gentle smile. The detective stilled herself even more and listened to the shallow breaths behind her. Katherine furrowed her brow just a bit as she tried to remember how she got into bed.

It was more a blur than anything, but she remembered climbing the stairs with Samantha and when they got to the bedroom, Sam went straight to the bed and sprawled out on her back. Katherine had gone to her room to change into some comfortable sweats and a long sleeved shirt, but by the time she came into check on her friend, Samantha was sound a sleep. The detective had laid upon the bed next to her friend with every intention of getting up and insisting that Samantha at least change clothes. That never happened. Katherine passed out and Samantha was still fully dressed.

Katherine pressed a button on her watch to illuminate the time. 19:36 hours. "Good grief. We’ve been a sleep for 12 hours." Then a quick jolt of fear shot through the detective, causing her to check the watch again. "Oh thank God…it’s still Sunday."

The detective extricated herself from the bed, trying not to disturb her still soundly sleeping counterpart, and eased quietly into the master bath to splash some water on her face. As she allowed the refreshing coolness to draw her further from her sleepy state she was struck with an odd feeling. Shallow breathing. Shallow, almost ragged breathing. When she looked at her reflection in the mirror she saw the twinges of fear that she felt in her gut and stepped back into the bedroom.

The room was still dark and quiet, save the breathing coming from the bed. The shallow, ragged breathing. "Sammy?" Katherine walked to Samantha’s side of the bed and flicked on the bedside lamp. What she saw racked her body with fear. Samantha’s complexion was pale and pasty and her hair was damp, while her t-shirt was soaking wet. The cloth of the t-shirt that was covering her upper arm was a brilliant shade of red and called out to the detective like a beacon in the night.

"Oh my God." Katherine grabbed each side of Samantha’s face and was startled to feel how cool and clammy her skin felt. "Samantha? Samantha, wake up!" Without further thought, the detective reached for the telephone and dialed 911.

--911, Do you have an emergency?

The voice on the other end of the line sounded rehearsed at best, and frankly, the detective had expected to hear a recorded voice asking if she needed police, fire, or medic.

Despite the adrenaline that was surging through Katherine’s veins, she somehow reverted back to her training and stayed calm. "Yes ma’am, I need an ambulance at 66 Ocean Boulevard in Coronado. It’ll be in reference to a 31-year-old female, unconscious, breathing shallow and ragged. She’s showing signs of shock, possibly stemming from a day-old wound to her left shoulder."

Luckily the operator on the other end of the line was actually paying attention to the information that Katherine was providing and didn’t require her to repeat any of it.

--All right, ma’am, have you had a chance to check her pulse?

"No, ma’am, I haven’t—"

--That’s okay, I’m going to get the ambulance on the way. You stay on the line and check her pulse while I get them dispatched to you.

"Right." Katherine first gathered the sheets and two blankets that had made their way to the floor and covered Sam with them. Then she bunched several pillows under the agent’s feet in order to elevate them in an attempt to start treating her for shock. Placing two fingers on the side of Samantha’s throat, the detective counted the pulses of blood being pumped by the heart for 15 seconds. "Dear God, no."

--Ma’am?

"Her pulse rate." A pause. "It’s about 140 per minute."

--Okay. Ma’am, the ambulance is on the way to you. Keep a close watch on her breathing for me, okay? Let me know if anything changes with that, okay?

"Yes ma’am." Katherine couldn’t help but to be professional on the telephone. During her career as a police officer, she’d attained a reputation for always being calm and never losing control on the radio. This was her nature and she seemed to fall back on it. Thank God.

As the detective continued to monitor Samantha’s breathing she lifted the blanket and rolled up the agent’s left shirtsleeve. The bleeding had been profuse but appeared to have stopped, and there was definitely infection settling in around the stitched wound. Well, what remained of the stitches, that is. Katherine couldn’t make out how many had been pulled but it wasn’t pretty.

Katherine pulled the blankets back up to the agent’s neck and watched her friend for a few silent moments, her jaw tightly clamped, working the muscles back and forth. There was nothing further she could do for Samantha but watch and wait. The young detective was perched gingerly on the side of the bed and leaned in as close to the agent’s ear as she could and began to gently stroke Sam’s bangs off her forehead.

"Samantha, it’s me. Sammy, honey you need to wake up…"

Sonofabitch my arm hurts! Why am I so cold? Wait a minute, I’m asleep…no I’m not. What the fuck? Okay, this is ridiculous. Wait. I can’t open my eyes. Well, okay, I am asleep and I’m dreaming…but I feel awake. Samantha, you don’t talk to yourself. Why the hell do I feel so light-headed? Katherine? Angel is that you?

"Dammit." Katherine looked up from her friend. "Please hang on Sammy. The paramedics are here." The detective pressed her lips to the agent’s forehead before pulling herself away from the bed and sprinting down the stairs to the front door. The detective unlocked the heavy wooden door and jerked it open to find a group of firemen, the front two carrying heavy Cordura medkits. The first responder team with the fire department was always dispatched to medical emergencies and generally arrived ahead of the ambulance.

"Top of the stairs, door just to the right." Katherine stepped out of the way and extended her arm toward the staircase. The first two firemen entered and jogged up the stairs with their equipment in tow. The detective waited for the last of the first responder crew to pass through the front door before she closed it and ascended the stairs herself.

Katherine stepped into the master bedroom without a sound and eased into a corner, out of the way. She watched in silence as the crew did their initial evaluation and started an IV drip on the agent, who was still unconscious. The detective was focused on Samantha’s face, which was now covered by an oxygen mask, and barely noticed the paramedic team enter the room with a stretcher. As the young blond haired woman watched, her world seemed to become surreal. Noises and sights melded together, becoming one, then separating. Katherine’s mouth became very dry and her knees started to feel like rubber.

Katherine—

Green eyes, the color and consistency of a Caribbean bay looked up at the sound of her name. But she hadn’t introduced herself to anyone. The detective glanced back down at the agent to see that Samantha’s eyes were partially open and trying to look about the room.

"Katherine." The voice was muffled by the oxygen mask and strained in the agent’s weakened state. The detective rushed around the bed and conglomeration of emergency personnel to be by her friend’s side as she was lifted onto the stretcher.

"I’m here, Sammy. Everything’s gonna be okay." Katherine spoke the words with a confidence that she didn’t feel.

"Ma’am, we’ll be going to the University Medical Center, if you want to—"

"Ride with you. I’m riding with her to the hospital." It wasn’t a question. Katherine cut a look at the paramedic who’d spoken to her, before she grabbed a dark blue sweatshirt from Samantha's dresser top along with Samantha’s wallet. The young paramedic didn’t argue with the detective and continued to assist her partner in pushing her precious cargo out of the master bedroom.

Katherine managed to tug the oversized sweatshirt on before stepping through the bedroom door. Her Adidas running shoes were still at the bottom of the stairs, and were placed on her feet with the detective barely losing a stride. She waited for everyone to step through the front door before she set the alarm and locked up.

"Are you Katherine?" The same paramedic who’d spoken earlier was addressing the detective as she climbed into the back of the ambulance. The heavy doors slammed shut behind her as she tried to answer.

"Yes. Yes, I’m Katherine."

"She’s asking for you. Can you try and keep her calm and awake till we get to University?"

"Yeah. Sammy, honey, it’s okay." Katherine took up her position next to the young paramedic and eased in as close to Samantha as the stretcher and other equipment would allow. As the detective leaned in to speak to her friend she wrapped Samantha’s hand into her own.

The ambulance came to life and began to rumble up the driveway toward Ocean Boulevard, while Katherine continued speaking softly to the agent. Katherine blocked everything out of her mind except for the one-sided conversation she was having with Samantha. She spoke without fear and quiet confidence that Samantha would be too damn stubborn to stay in the ER any length of time.

The detective had no idea how much time had passed, but it felt like an eternity before they arrived at the hospital. Katherine was still talking to her friend when the back doors to the ambulance flung open, and frankly, she’d forgotten she was even in an emergency vehicle.

The paramedic mobilized herself to begin moving the stretcher out of the ambulance and was greeted by a group of ER staff and her partner at the rear of the ambulance. Katherine gave a gentle squeeze of the hand in her own, and released it. The sensation in the detective’s hand was replaced with a pang of regret. Pushing the loss out of her mind, Katherine jumped out of the ambulance and followed the stretcher into the hum of the emergency room.

Katherine stopped short of triage, as she knew she wouldn’t be allowed inside. She cast a glance about the brightly-lit hall and found who she believed to be the charge nurse.

"Excuse me, ma’am?" The detective met the nurse’s eyes and was somehow relieved by the compassion she saw reflected back at her.

"Yes, darlin what’s wrong?"

"The woman who was just put into triage…I’m with her. I have all her information here."

"Okay, let’s go ahead and get you over to the check-in desk. We’ll get the formalities out of the way and then get you settled into the waiting room, okay?"

"Thank you." Katherine followed the shorter, slender woman away from the triage area, unable to explain the anxious feeling that was stirring within her.

*****

It was about 11:30 by the time Katherine was settled into the waiting room which, thankfully, was empty. The detective, although generally calm, especially in intense situations was always predisposed to pacing. Her only outward signs of nervousness altered between walking the floors and bouncing her feet if she were sitting down. Right now she was up and mobile and waiting for some kind of word on the condition of her friend.

"Excuse me, miss?" A young man in green scrubs was standing in the doorway.

"Yes?" Katherine’s voice was hoarse.

"Are you here for Ms. Christopher?"

Katherine’s heart lurched. "Yes sir, I am."

The doctor, who was clearly not accustomed to being called sir, smiled gently and stepped into the waiting room. "I’m Dr. Hatten." He approached Katherine with his hand extended. The detective accepted the gesture and introduced herself.

"Dr. Hatten, I’m Katherine Gabriel. How is she?"

"Ms. Gabriel, I’m not one to sugar-coat things—"

"Thank you…"

"She’s in pretty bad shape. We managed to stabilize her fairly quickly, but I think that has more to do with her own conditioning. We won’t know the extent of the internal damage until after she wakes up. She was unconscious when you called for the ambulance, right?"

"Yes sir. Her pulse was about 140."

"Yeah, I know, it was close to that when she came in. She was in a pretty severe state of shock, either from loss of blood or infection. I’m thinking more because of the loss of blood."

"The wound to her arm is new. I think she ripped some of the stitches out—"

"I know, I saw that. How’d it happen?"

"Long story, but it was a pretty deep gash. Last night was a mess, which…is when I’m sure she ripped it back open, I just wish she’d have said something—" The detective’s voice trailed off.

"Well, like I said, we stabilized her fairly quickly, but she started to hemorrhage during the process, and we rushed her up to surgery—"

"What?!"

"It’s okay. She’s in OR now. Dr. Michaels is assisting with Dr. Wyn, our top vascular surgeon. Ms. Christopher was prepped and taken straight up."

Katherine knew that Samantha’s condition was serious, but she somehow assumed that a day or two in the hospital would be the extent of it. Surgery. Internal damage? The detective was at a loss, and was unable to hide the fear from her expression.

"Ms. Gabriel? Are you okay?"

A hard swallow. "Yes sir, I’m fine. Will someone notify me when she’s out of surgery?"

"Of course. Dr. Michaels said that he was familiar with her. I’ll get a message to him that you’ll be waiting in here. It’ll be a couple of hours, though, if you want to go to the cafeteria or take a break or something?"

"Thank you Dr. Hatten." Katherine stood and walked with Dr. Hatten to the door of the waiting room and smiled at him warmly while he left. As the door shut, the detective allowed her back to fall against the cool wooden surface. Her façade began to fade and an incredible sense of fear assaulted her senses. It was at that moment that Katherine realized that she’d been reunited with the other half of herself. It was also at that moment that she realized how close she was to losing it; of losing Samantha.

The agent’s life was in the hands of strangers. People who didn’t know her, didn’t understand her, didn’t need her…didn’t love her. The detective slid her back along the slick surface of the door until she was sitting on the floor, her knees against her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her legs.

First came the ragged breaths, then the quiet tears, and then the whispered prayer. It was something that she hadn’t done in years. Words spoken to something greater than herself… Katherine had given up on religion long ago, but somehow managed to keep true to her morals; morals that were dictated by a faith no longer practiced. Truth be known, it was when she’d walked out of the chapel, refusing to accept communion from her priest eleven years ago, that her own mother denied her as a daughter. She was sixteen, and with the exception of her own father, she was alone.

It was a lifetime later and Katherine was feeling that loneliness overpower her once again. The loss of her father had been torture, but he’d never denied her nor had he ever shut her out of his life. Katherine had also been afforded the time to prepare for that loss. The detective wasn’t being given that same blessing here. She was facing the loss of the other half of herself, and it was completely beyond her control and she wasn’t prepared for it.

Katherine felt as though she’d emptied her soul by the time she finished speaking. The words were audible only to her and the sterile air of the waiting room. The tears had subsided and the detective was exhausted and actually felt very small. Not a hard stretch considering the little ball into which she’d curled herself.

It was several minutes before Katherine was able to unwind herself and try to stand up. When she finally managed the upright position she was blasted with a momentary wave of dizziness. A few deeply inhaled breaths allowed her to control the violent spinning of the room just enough for her to take a seat on the cushion couch on the far wall of the waiting room. The detective propped her elbows on her knees and allowed her head to fall into the palms of her hand.

"Damn it. I don’t know how much more of this I can take." Katherine lifted her head and sat back into the couch. The little detective drifted off to a menagerie of frightful dreamscapes that seemed unrelated but mingled together in an incoherent state that made sense but could never be explained. All of a sudden she bolted upright, hands in tight fists, perspiration running down her back. Katherine felt a slight touch on her shoulder and it propelled her up and in the direction of her attacker.

"Detective Gabriel! Hey, hey, hey…calm down." The attacker was dressed in green scrubs and was still wearing a surgical cap and had a mask hanging from around his neck.

The little detective was poised for battle but the recognition of the voice stilled her instantly. "Dr. Michaels? I am so sorry—"

"Don’t worry about it. Are you okay?" Dr. Angelo Michaels placed a hand on each of Katherine’s shoulders to try and calm her.

"Yeah, I’m fine…guess you caught me in a bad dream." Katherine’s face relaxed momentarily, until she remembered where she was. Dr. Michaels, how is she?"

"Here, sit down with me." Dr. Michaels corralled the smaller woman back to the couch and perched himself on the edge of the cushion next to Katherine.

"How is she?"

"The surgery went extremely well. I’ve got her up in ICU, just to be on the safe side. She had lost quite a bit of blood, as it was, before the surgery…I didn’t want to take any chances."

"Can I see her?" Katherine’s voice was soft and quiet.

"Not quite yet. She’s still being settled in. Let’s make sure her vital signs stay good and strong before you go in, okay?

"All right. Dr. Michaels, is she gonna be okay?"

"She should be just fine. Next to you, I’ve never seen anyone in as good of shape as she’s in That’ll be a huge factor in her recovery, but I don’t expect any problems. We won’t know about the full extent of the damage to her arm until after she’s up and about."

"Damage?"

"Yeah, when she ripped those sutures out, she did a real number on herself. I’m a little concerned about some possible nerve damage. Like I said, though, we won’t know anything until later. We’ve got the best physical therapists in the region at this hospital. Whatever can be done will be done."

Katherine took a deep breath, not entirely convinced of the good news she was hearing. "When can I see her?"

The doctor’s face relaxed into a warm smile. "Soon…very soon. I’ll be here until I’m satisfied she’s stable. I’ll call you when she’s ready."

"I’m not going anywhere—"

"Yeah, I figured as much. I’ll come down and get you, okay?"

"Thank you."

"Listen, try and get some rest here…I’ll be back in a little while."

The little detective merely offered a smile that she didn’t feel and nodded at the doctor’s advice. Dr. Michaels got to his feet and left the waiting room without sound. It was odd, but Katherine regarded his movements as soft and without sound. Perhaps it was just his bedside manner or her pure exhaustion, but the man who’d helped save her friend’s life seemed to glide on a pocket of air.

As the door to the waiting room swished closed, Katherine glanced at her Seiko…05:04.

"Damn it’s been a long…" a gentle sigh. "Long week."

A few moments later the little detective forced herself off the couch and over to a telephone on the far wall. She pressed 9 for an outside line and dialed Kintrell’s number.

"Al? I’m sorry to wake you up…" Katherine leaned her back against the cool surface of the wall and told Al Kintrell where she was. He listened quietly and assured her that he would take care of things at the station and, as soon as possible, he’d be by her side. With a soft goodbye, Katherine closed her eyes and brought the receiver to her chest, and tried not to think.

Continued in part 6



Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse