Disclaimers and Notes: Not mine, though I wish they were sometimes. Top Cow, Panzer/Davis, and CBS respectively own Witchblade, Highlander the Raven, and Hawaii 5-0 (2010). This bunny bit me one sunny Sunday afternoon and wouldn't let go.
Set post-Witchblade first season, post-series HLTR, and assumes that it's sometime early season two H5-0; I started writing this in July 2011, so this is now an AU for H50.
Rated adult for graphic violence.
Thanks to adabsolutely and Sam Johnsson for the beta.
These Precious Things
By Raine Wynd
Standing in baggage claim, waiting for Grace's flight to arrive, Danny paced restlessly. He didn't like that Rachel had decided to take their daughter to New York to meet up with Rachel's parents rather than fly out of Newark, though he knew Rachel did it so her parents would pay for a first class ticket for Grace. He'd feel better if Rachel had been able to return as well, but she'd caught a vicious head cold, making flying impossible, especially since she was nervous about taking anything while pregnant. Sighing, he reminded himself that Rachel had promised to return as soon as she was well, and went to check the Arrivals reader board again.
Seeing that Grace's early evening flight was now reading "At Gate", Danny silently cheered. The first wave of passengers moved through the terminal, and Danny settled back to wait, aware from checking with the airline that Grace would be one of the last passengers to disembark. Impatience had him moving more towards the center of the flow of traffic.
The mess with Governor Jameson had Danny's paranoia on full alert, even though H5-0 had been reinstated and both Steve and Kono cleared. Still, the team had done more than enough to shake up the local crime scene that Danny scanned the crowd, cataloging details. The 6'2", burly Caucasian man with a mop of brown hair, an angular face, and the distinct stamp of "cop" caught Danny's attention. The stranger leaned towards his shorter companion, a striking woman with dark brown shoulder-length hair, an oval face with a straight nose, a square jaw, a backpack clearly stuffed to straining, and the same stamp of "cop". From the way she stood, Danny guessed she was probably two inches taller than him if she was barefoot; the motorcycle boots she wore added at least another inch of height. Both strangers were casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts, but something about them made Danny stare a little longer than necessary.
As if sensing his attention, the woman lifted her head and looked his way, then nodded once, sharply. Danny shivered, not liking the sudden sense he had that nothing was going to be the same.
Across the room, Nick noted his companion's actions and tensed. "Problem, Sara?" he asked.
Sara turned to him. "Just a local cop checking us out," she said easily. "Anyone tell you you're paranoid?"
Nick snorted as he reached the edge of the baggage carousel. "Pot, kettle," he teased her as the carousel began to sound a warning of arriving luggage. "Aren't you the one who said you needed someone to watch your back?"
Sara laughed softly. "So I did." Aware of people standing nearby, she changed the subject. "Room service sound okay to you? I just want to get horizontal."
Chuckling at her unintended double entendre, Nick leaned down to kiss her lightly. "Anything my lady wants my lady gets."
Sara shot him an exasperated, affectionate look. "How is it that you can fly in from Paris, sleep four hours, and I'm the one exhausted when our flight from New York was shorter?"
Nick shrugged. "I'm not the one feeding a beast with energy," he pointed out reasonably. Not waiting for her reply, he turned to watch the baggage carousel. Spying his duffel bag, Nick reached for it, then paused. Lowering his voice, he said, "Don't turn around, but the little girl who shared the row with us, Grace? Looks like she's the daughter of the cop who was checking us out. Being a cop in Hawaii must pay well if Grace flew first class."
"Says the 'poor' bartender," Sara shot back mildly. "Who upgraded my ticket from coach?"
Grinning, Nick wrapped his free arm around the woman he loved. "A gentleman never tells."
"You are incorrigible," she told Nick. A smile on her lips, Sara shook her head, then reached for her suitcase. "Race you to a taxi?"
Laughing, Nick shook his head. "Naw, I set up transportation to the hotel. There's supposed to be a limo driver with our name – ah, yes, there he is," he said, pointing.
They were almost at the terminal door when the sound of running feet caught their attention. "Sara, Nick, wait!" Grace called.
Stopping, they turned to see the little girl running to catch up with them. Instinctively, Sara knelt down to steady her as she came to a breathless stop. "I told my Danno about how nice you were, and he said he wanted to thank you. I almost missed you!"
"Well, you didn't," Sara pointed out. "Take a deep breath, sweetie."
Behind her, a stocky, muscular blond came up, looking annoyed. Despite the late hour, he still wore a tie, short-sleeve dress shirt, and khakis. "Grace Williams, you scared me, taking off like that."
Instantly contrite, Grace said, "But Daddy, these are the people who told me all those neat stories about wolves and knights and princesses and ravens on the plane!"
Danny sized Nick and Sara up a moment before extending his hand. "Detective Danny Williams," he introduced himself formally. "Thanks for looking after my daughter."
"Sara Pezzini," Sara introduced herself as she rose to her feet, "and this is Nick Wolfe. I used to be with Homicide in New York, and Nick was in Major Crimes in Torago. We've both seen too much happen with kids."
Danny assessed her a second time before relaxing. "My Grace lucked out, then. So what brings you to Hawaii?"
Nick grinned. "Vacation, what else? Any suggestions on where to start?"
"Stay away from the shark cages," Danny told them. "But as for the rest – if you don't have an itinerary, my teammates know the island better than me. Let me check with them and get back to you. How can I reach you?"
Sara smiled as she dug a silver business card case out of her backpack and extracted a card before handing it to Danny. "You can reach us on the cell phone number listed there."
As he took the card, Danny noticed the silver-and-carnelian bracelet on her wrist, and thought he saw a flash of light radiating from the stone. Figuring it was just a trick of the light, Danny dug his business card out of his wallet and handed it to Sara.
"H5-0 Special Investigations Task Force?" she asked, sounding intrigued.
Danny smiled tightly. "We go after the really bad guys."
"Sounds like some of the folks I used to chase back in Torago," Nick said.
"Where is that, exactly?" Danny wondered.
"North of Chicago," Nick told him. "Almost to the Wisconsin border."
"Ah. Big town?"
"About sixty thousand people. For some reason, criminals like to hide out there." Nick grinned sheepishly. "Never could figure that one out, but –" he shrugged "– I don't have to worry about that anymore."
"You don't live there now?"
Nick shook his head. "Moved to Paris ten years ago; haven't been back that often since. Pez has been trying to convince me to move to New York."
Sara shook her head. "I keep telling him it's the better city, but he's being stubborn."
Danny glanced at them. Suspecting this was a familiar argument between them, he decided not to pursue that line of conversation. "Where are you staying while you're here?"
"The Hyatt Regency," Nick said easily.
Danny nodded, recognizing the location. "I hear that's a nice place. You have transportation to the hotel?"
"Yeah, our driver's there." He gestured to the limo driver waiting patiently.
"I see. Well, thanks again for looking after my daughter; we should get going so she can get some sleep."
"She kept fighting sleep the last two hours," Sara offered.
With a yawn, Grace said, "I didn't want to miss the ending of your story. You tell the best stories, Nick. You should write them down."
"Someday," Nick promised her. "For now, I'll save them for telling them to pretty little princesses on planes."
"Thanks again for looking after my daughter," Danny said, shaking hands with Nick and Sara.
Sara stiffened slightly, and Nick said quickly, "Our pleasure. Bye, Grace. Nice to meet you." He didn't linger, but hustled Sara towards the patiently waiting limo driver.
When they were safely inside the limo, Nick turned to Sara. "Danny's the reason we're here."
She nodded wearily, and let Nick draw her into a wordless embrace.
Nick knew the weight Sara bore on her shoulders was in some ways worse than his immortality. At least with immortality, he thought, he knew he could be driven to insanity only if he took a bad Quickening. With the Witchblade, Sara struggled to keep herself from drowning in what the 'blade told her whenever the alien consciousness chose to speak, which was more often than she sometimes admitted.
She'd been driven to quit the police force because the Witchblade-fueled visions couldn't be counted as evidence in court, and the "hunches" she had made her behavior too erratic for public safety according to the NYPD's rules of conduct. Alone and desperate, needing a purpose in her life, she'd taken a blind leap to a place rumored to be safe ground: Sanctuary, a bar in Paris built on the ruins of a church and re-consecrated to honor the god of wine. The Witchblade had told her that she'd find exactly the person she needed to give her the answers she sought. Nick had been on duty that day, and every instinct he had for helping a strong woman in need had been roused. There were times when he still found it hard to believe that a semi-sentient mystical gauntlet had not only found a Wielder in Sara, but that it had told her he was the one she needed.
That had been five years before, and Nick didn't regret turning over the day-to-day operations of Sanctuary to his more-than-competent manager. He'd been looking to do something else with his life anyway; running the popular bar had its comforts, but he'd always been a man given to protect, to serve a greater good. Nick had found his calling in being Sara's backup as they searched the world for the answers to give Sara greater understanding of what being the Wielder was. In her, he'd found the kind of woman who needed him in a way Amanda, his partner in Sanctuary and the woman responsible for teaching him about immortality, never would.
In some of the ancient texts Nick had been able to acquire, he'd learned that a Wielder was never to be alone, for that was when a Wielder was most vulnerable to insanity. The Witchblade fed paranoia and darkness, for it was an agent of Chaos, forced to the side of Order only by the virtue of its Wielder. Having someone to love saved Sara; knowing that Nick wasn't easily killed made the 'blade's paranoia more tolerable to manage.
Now, he made Sara more comfortable in his arms as the town car sped towards their destination, and remembered the warning of the Witchblade. Not for the first time, Nick wished there was some way the 'blade could tell them a complete description of what was to come, but it didn't work that way. Until Grace had boarded the plane, they'd only known where to go, not who was involved.
Silently, Nick prayed that they were in time to make a difference.
"What are you doing here?" Steve demanded the next day as Danny walked into the team's office.
"What, I can't come here? Grace has a play date," Danny replied. "I pick her up in four hours. Besides, it was easier to come here than call each of you individually."
"Oh?" Kono asked with interest. "What's up, brah?"
"Grace made friends on the flight from New York – a couple of ex-cops – and I promised them I'd tell them some places to go, but I thought I'd ask you for your opinion."
Chin looked at him knowingly. "And make sure they were who they said they were?"
Jenna stared at her fellow teammates. "Paranoid much?"
"Hey, that's my daughter," Danny protested. At Chin's look of inquiry, Danny said, "Nick Wolfe and Sara Pezzini."
After a few moments, the screen was filled with the biographical information Danny requested. The screen was split between Nick and Sara, with Sara on the left. The team studied it, noting that the Nick and Sara both listed their current employer as Meyers International, a security firm. Both Nick and Sara had a complete history in the database.
Jenna was the first to speak. "That's an Interpol file. Why would they have a file on them? Interpol wouldn't put one together unless they were wanted for something."
"Actually," Danny corrected, "it's becoming standard practice to put active-duty cops in the national fingerprint and DNA database; there was talk of cross-populating those with Interpol. Helps with clearing crime scenes."
"Okay, so I can see that," Kono said, "but if they're not cops anymore, why would the files on them have that much detail? That's more than name, police affiliation, place of residence – that looks like some serious reading."
"Probably because of this," Chin said grimly, pulling up a newspaper article. "NYPD Homicide Detective Forced to Resign" said the five-year-old headline. The article said that Sara Pezzini, a sixteen-year veteran of the force, was forced to resign after an investigation found that she had failed to produce sufficient evidence in several investigations, and had demonstrated erratic behavior. On the other side of the screen, a slightly older article declared, "Former Torago Detective Wanted for Questioning in Paris Murder."
"None of that proves anything," Steve observed. "What does the record show?"
"Charges were dropped against Nick Wolfe, and he's listed as the managing partner and co-owner of a bar called Sanctuary," Chin read off the console table's screen. "Something must have raised Interpol's suspicions – Wolfe's tax returns for the last few years are in here. In addition to the bar, he's vice president at large in Meyers International and a technical consultant for Pacific Coast Security."
Jenna leaned over and studied the console. "They're trying to track the money," she summarized. She tapped a few keys on the table, and the display changed slightly. "Sanctuary's a bar in Paris. The other two are security firms – Meyers is a full service security and investigation company for a select client profile based out of New York, and Pacific Coast Security does alarm systems for commercial properties in the Pacific Northwest. The co-owner for both Pacific Coast Security and Sanctuary is Amanda Montrose, who has a record a mile long and nearly as many aliases. Lots of arrests for theft, lots of dropped charges. Makes you wonder how she managed to get the operating license for a security firm."
Danny spoke. "In other words, someone in Interpol has a lot of suspicion, and not a lot of proof." He paused. "Grace said Nick was telling her a story about a wolf who chased a raven, and met a warrior princess."
Steve crossed his arms. "So they were nice to her. You're running on a hunch; something has you wondering what else is there."
"According to the airline records, Wolfe flew from Paris to New York on Sunday and arrived just past midnight local time. He and Pezzini boarded the flight together from New York to here yesterday morning," Chin offered. "From the timing of the flights, I'd say he had maybe four hours of sleep, tops."
"He did look like a man who's been traveling for a while," Danny mused aloud. "Maybe I'm just paranoid."
"We'll save judgment on that later," Steve decided. "You're meeting them before you pick up Grace, right? So, take Kono with you, use her as your local guide."
The rookie detective grinned. "Love to, boss." Turning to Danny, she asked, "When and where are we meeting them?"
Sara studied her lover as she lounged on the king-size bed in the spacious hotel room. Dressed in a white T-shirt that advertised Sanctuary and faded blue jeans, Nick sat on the lone hotel room chair as he put a pair of daggers in their mini-sheaths into his custom-made leather boots. His 17th century Spanish broadsword, currently sheathed in a scabbard, lay in the bottom of a duffel bag on the desk beside him; Nick wouldn't put it on unless he planned on fighting someone.
"Still that interesting after all these years?" he teased her now, amused that a woman who had possession of a mystical bracelet with magical powers found the process of arming himself fascinating.
Absently, Sara rubbed her right wrist, where the bracelet had fused to the underside years previously. "Sometimes I forget what it's like having the option to take my weapon off," she confessed.
"You'd feel naked with it fused to you," Nick said knowingly. "And you'll feel even better when we get guns."
The ex-NYPD detective didn't disagree. Though she'd gotten better at sword fighting, she preferred not having to use the Witchblade. "So what's our plan? Beyond picking up guns from the pawn shop contact Bert gave us, that is."
Nick flashed a quick, mischievous grin. "Same plan as always, Pinky."
Sara rolled her eyes. "I don't want to take over the world, Brain, and unless I'm in love with some other immortal ex-cop, neither do you. I'm talking about how we want to talk to Danny Williams."
"We open our mouths, and speak?"
Sara glared at him. "Smart ass."
"You're no fun, Pez," he pretended to pout, "but I still love you." Satisfied with the way the daggers were seated, Nick stood. Then he became serious. "All we know right now is that something is going to happen that involves Williams. The last time the Witchblade was this vague, I took someone's head."
Sara started to nod just as the Witchblade flashed a Real 3D warning in her head. Seeing her body freeze, Nick asked urgently, "What's wrong?"
A thin smile crossed Sara's lips. "Did I ever mention the 'blade hates cops it doesn't know?"
Nick rolled his eyes. "That thing hates everyone who isn't strong enough to handle what it is, and even then it's pretty damn fickle. You know that better than anyone." He zipped the duffel bag shut as a knock sounded on the door.
Rising, Sara checked to make sure all weapons were not visible before checking the peephole. Finding Danny and an unfamiliar Asian woman in the hallway, Sara looked over her shoulder at Nick. "Guess we're not going shopping just yet. Danny Williams and a friend, looks like a young cop."
"Well, then, let's go meet them in the hallway, shall we?"
"You caught us just as we were headed out," Sara explained as Nick shut the door to their room behind them, duffel bag in hand. "Figured we'd start off with some shopping."
"She never packs the right clothes for where we're going," Nick claimed.
"Hey, jeans and t-shirts go just about anywhere, and the last time you took me to a fancy dance, some bitch decided she didn't like me. Spilled wine all over my dress."
Nick shook his head and lightly hugged her. "Guess that's what I get for dating a practical woman."
Danny smiled. "Nothing wrong with that," he countered lightly. "Sara, Nick, this is Kono Kalakaua. She and her cousin have been trying to make me less haole, like there's something wrong with real pizza and not wanting to swim with sharks. Kono, this is Sara Pezzini and Nick Wolfe, the people who helped Grace on her flight out here."
Handshakes were exchanged. "Why don't we head to the lounge? There's not much seating in our room," Nick suggested.
A short elevator trip later, they were seated in the members-only club with drinks of their choice on the table.
Noticing Nick's shirt, Kono asked, "Paris?"
Nick grinned easily. "Yeah. Sanctuary's half mine; the other half belongs to a friend of mine."
Danny's eyes narrowed. "You run a bar in Paris?" he asked, confused and suspicious. "Your business card said you're the vice president at large of Meyers International."
"I do both," Nick said. "Ten years ago, two of my friends decided between them that I was capable of working for both of them." Sounding amused, he went on, "Amanda hired me to manage Sanctuary, and Bert decided to promote me to be in charge of the European operations for Meyers International. I bought out Bert's interest in Sanctuary a while back and quit MI, but when Sara came to Paris, Bert insisted we both become consultants in MI so our talents wouldn't be wasted. He claimed he needed our expertise."
"Do you do a lot of consulting for him?" Kono asked.
"Some years more than others," Nick said with a rueful laugh. "I keep trying to tell Bert I quit, but the man won't take no for an answer."
"He can be insistent," Sara added dryly. "I work for him, too, but I managed to convince him to put me on as a consultant.
"So what does that mean?" Kono asked.
"Bert likes to send us on cases involving art and other priceless artifacts, where someone thinks the best way to protect whatever they have is to keep it on them, and they wind up being targeted for assassination," Sara explained. "More often, we're asked to go find stuff other people claim doesn't exist anymore, and we'll find it exists but it's hard to retrieve."
Danny's eyes narrowed. "What if it's in a museum somewhere?"
"Then that's what we tell Bert. We don't take stuff that isn't ours to take." Nick flashed Danny a smile. "I'm sure Interpol thinks we have, many times, but that's not us."
Realizing that the two former cops knew they'd been researched, Danny asked bluntly, "Any reason I should worry you're here and not in Paris?"
Nick glanced at Sara, who shook her head slightly. "As far as I know, no. Like I told you at the airport, we're just here on vacation. Two glorious weeks where Bert isn't allowed to call us, randomly show up, or otherwise interfere with our plans. The last time we were supposed to be in vacation, he managed to get us involved in a diplomatic incident in Greece."
Danny eyed them warily, not understanding why Nick felt the need to check with his girlfriend before answering, but Danny's gut instinct said to trust them. Going with it, he leaned back in his chair. "So why'd you choose Paris over Torago, or anywhere else in the States?"
Nick shrugged again. "Seemed a better place than where I was, and Bert's job offer meant leaving the States. Amanda, my partner, will tell you I followed her to Paris."
"Did you?" Danny asked.
Grinning, Nick said, "No. Not intentionally. But I can't say I wasn't hoping I'd find her there."
"I see," Danny noted. "How'd that work out?"
Nick chuckled roughly. "Do you believe in Fate?"
"What, like you meet someone and they're your soul mate?" Danny asked, skeptical.
"It happens," Kono countered.
"You're a woman; you believe in romance," Danny shot back.
"Says the guy who moved to Hawaii to be near his daughter," Kono countered evenly. "Your love for Rachel had nothing to do with that."
Danny had the grace to look sheepish. "Well, maybe." Turning to Nick, he said, "So, Amanda and you were destined to be together?"
"In that moment in time, sure, but not forever," Nick said honestly as he reached for Sara's right hand. "I loved her; still do, but –" he shot his lover a look that spoke of deep, abiding love "– I love Sara more."
"What happened, if you don't mind me asking?" Kono wondered.
"Amanda and I do better as friends and business partners," Nick replied. "I don't get nearly as angry at her that way, and she doesn't feel compelled to stay when she'd rather be elsewhere." Wryly, he added, "She feels she has to protect me."
"Protect you?" Danny stared at him, incredulous. Nick had both height and mass to his advantage. "What does she think she needs to protect you from?"
Nick shrugged. "Not as much as she once did, but she's a lot older than me; she has a history."
Beside him, Sara snorted. "That's putting it mildly."
Kono made a mental note to look up Nick's partner, suspecting a more complete explanation was buried there, but she decided not to pursue that line of questioning. This wasn't an interrogation, after all. "So how did you two meet?"
Looking amused, Sara replied, "My career with the NYPD was over, so a friend bought me a ticket to Paris, with instructions to find Sanctuary and talk to Nick. I figured I'd be there a week, tops. I figured I'd find some Frenchman with some wild new age notions – Connor wasn't all that forthcoming about who Nick was, damned closed-mouth bastard – and –"
Nick chuckled as he and Sara shared a look. "– your first words to me were 'I'm not here to be converted,'" Nick finished. "Then you stopped, took a look around, and realized you were in a bar."
"A little out of it due to the flight?" Danny guessed, fighting a grin.
"Disconcerted all around," Sara agreed. "Between what happened with my job, the flight, a long layover in Dublin, Customs, and being in a foreign country, I just wanted to find a bed and sleep."
Grinning, Nick picked up the story. "I thought you were going to deck me when I offered you a choice between a bed and a beer."
In reply, Sara punched him lightly. "You have the worst pickup lines."
"That was not a pickup line! That was an honest question!" Nick defended indignantly. To Danny and Kono, he said, "What would you say if someone stumbled into your bar, looking like ten miles of bad road? The kitchen was closed – we'd just opened and we don't serve lunch – so we were only serving drinks. I live upstairs; I figured whoever she was could stand some sleep somewhere she could feel safe. Paris hotels tend not to have locks on the room doors."
"No locks?" Kono asked, surprised.
Nick shook his head. "Not usually. It's becoming more common, but the ones near Sanctuary are old-fashioned. I thought something might have happened to Sara; I wasn't about to call the police until she felt well enough to talk." He looked at her affectionately.
"So why is your bar called Sanctuary?" Danny wondered.
"The building was consecrated," Nick explained with a smile. "It's been dedicated to the god of wine."
Danny raised an eyebrow. "Weird," he decided. "And you live above the bar?"
"Trust me, it's not as bad as it sounds," Sara said. "Not only is it fully soundproofed and insulated from any noise from downstairs, Nick has an entire floor to himself – 10,000 square feet."
Nick's smile widened at Danny's look of surprise. "The guy who owned the building before Amanda and Bert got it was rich. There's more space than I know to do with, actually. I still have two bedrooms out of the four that I've never furnished, and I've lived there a decade. Initially, the apartment was in exchange for running my boss's European operations for him, but Bert eventually decided he wanted to hire someone else to do that. Bert says he worries that if I don't work for him, I won't have the cash to manage the bar well." Nick shook his head, looking fondly exasperated. "In reality, it's just an excuse so he can have my expertise available to him and he doesn't have to go through paperwork to hire me on as a consultant."
Danny studied him a moment. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Bert's an old friend, and Sanctuary does well enough that I don't have to work for him if I don't want to," Nick replied coolly.
"He's a good guy," Sara added firmly, "with the annoying habit of telling you half of what you need to know, and then apologizing for forgetting to tell you when you figure out what the rest was supposed to be. Drives Nick crazy, because Bert knows Nick will forgive him. Me, he can't b.s."
"Why not?" Kono asked.
Sara smiled. "I have a better bullshit detector than Nick." Absently, she rubbed her right wrist. Changing the subject, she turned to Kono. "What do you do?"
"I'm an officer in the Honolulu Police Department, assigned to the H50 Special Investigative Unit," Kono said. "My cousin is officially my training officer, but I'm learning from everyone."
Danny made a scoffing sound. "Some days, I wonder who's training who. She knows more about computers than I do; I'm still figuring out my phone."
Sara chuckled. "Oh, me too. Nick's always explaining computer stuff to me. So did you grow up here? Danny mentioned yesterday his teammates knew Hawaii better than he did."
Kono nodded and smiled. "Born and raised here. Is there something in particular you wanted to explore while you're in Hawaii? There are a number of tourist activities just in Honolulu."
Nick glanced at Sara. "Well, we figured we'd wait for later in the week to play tourist. We were mainly hoping for someone to tell us a good place to eat tonight. Sara will eat anything, and well, I've become a bit of a food snob." He shrugged easily. "Side effect of living in Paris."
"No, that's the side effect of having a five-star chef on staff at the pub you run,'" Sara corrected, affection lacing her sarcasm. To Danny and Kono, she explained, "Don't let Nick fool you into thinking Sanctuary's a 'simple' bar. It's a pub, with dancing, live music, and really good food – one of the best in Paris, actually."
"Well, there's a couple of places not far away," Kono began, and they soon were deep into a discussion about restaurants, food, and some of the more exotic things they'd ever eaten.
After getting into his Camaro an hour later, Danny looked expectantly at Kono. "What do you think of Williams and Pezzini?"
She shrugged. "Seeing two people so deeply in love with each other was sweet." She paused, then added more slowly, "I think you're being paranoid, Danny. They're not the bad guys."
Danny blew out a breath. "Yeah. I got that." He started the car and soon eased them into the afternoon traffic. "I just wish I knew for sure they were the good guys."
Two days later, Danny and Kono agreed to meet with Nick and Sara again, this time for dinner at a beach restaurant not far from H50's offices. To Danny's surprise, he found himself liking the couple more. They shared a love of history and sports, and Danny was relieved to find someone who understood his passion for basketball. Talk drifted from Sara and Nick's visit to the Contemporary Museum to sports and then to shop talk, as it invariably did when a group of cops got together.
Nick had a gift for storytelling, and Danny understood why his daughter had been so entertained. Nick was relating the story of how a client of theirs kept insisting that her house staff stole from her, when it turned out that her dog was the thief.
Danny laughed at Nick's story, and was about to say more when Nick winced, as if he'd gotten a sudden headache, and Sara started looking around as if she'd sensed danger. "Something wrong?"
At that moment, a distinguished-looking, older man of Chinese ancestry approached their table. "Sorry to interrupt, but I would be remiss if I didn't introduce myself. My name is Henry Fong, and I am the manager of the lounge. I hope you are enjoying your stay here."
"We were enjoying it better without your company," Nick stated adamantly. His sudden vehemence took Danny and Kono by surprise. "Besides, weren't you just 'the wine guy' in Sydney?"
Henry smiled tightly. "We are who we want to be when we live long enough." Turning to Sara, he said, "I don't believe we've met yet."
"Oh, we've met, Henry," Sara countered with a sneer. "Or should I say Cameron? It's a pity the hangman was so easily bribed and the words of a mere girl discounted."
The man's eyes narrowed, then focused on the bracelet on Sara's wrist. "Such a pretty bracelet," he remarked with sudden avarice. "I'd heard it was locked up in the catacombs." He drew closer, as if to touch it, but the look Sara gave him made him pause before he got too close.
Sara smiled coldly. "Justice can never be locked up."
"And you think you can keep that on your wrist?" Cameron asked her mockingly.
"Better men than you have tried, and I don't think you're half the man you think you are." Sara paused. "You'd better leave before my curious detective friends wonder if they should arrest you."
As if abruptly realizing there were two other people seated at the table, both of whom had pulled their badges out and placed them on the table, Cameron reined himself in with visible effort. "Perhaps we can discuss this at another date." He gave Danny and Kono a measured look. "Without an audience."
"Try never," Sara suggested.
Cameron laughed, amused. "I have time on my side; you won't be the last to wear it. I'm sure I can find someone more...willing to cooperate."
"I hope that wasn't a threat," Danny said. "Because if it was, I might have to do something about it, seeing as I'm Detective Williams of H50."
Cameron turned to him, clearly annoyed. "Nothing of the sort, Detective," he nearly sneered at the title. "Just…observing." He inclined his head towards Nick. "Another day, another time, Wolfe." He paused, looked at Sara. "You can't hide forever, Wielder. Even he –" Cameron gestured to Nick "– can lose his head."
Turning his back, he walked away.
Once he was out of earshot, Danny turned to Nick and Sara. "Care to enlighten me as to what that was about?"
"What's so special about your bracelet?" Kono added.
Nick glanced at Sara, who sighed. Sounding resigned and slightly bitter, she said flatly, "It's a family heirloom of sorts. It gives the wearer the ability to see the past and the future." Almost instinctively, Sara sought comfort from Nick, leaning into him.
For a moment, no one said anything. Danny broke the silence. "You're telling me you're psychic because of a bracelet?" Disbelief coated his voice.
Sara looked at him coldly. "Believe what you want," she said, shrugging. "All I know is that I solved over a hundred homicides, including forty cold cases, because of what I've seen thanks to this bracelet. You sound like my old lieutenant, who hated me so much for being more successful than he ever was, he forced me to resign, citing a lack of evidence." Fury dripped from every word she spoke.
"Pez," Nick rebuked gently."He doesn't know about the Witchblade. No one knows it like you do."
Sara turned to him, and for a moment, Kono thought for sure Sara would attack Nick. He reached out as if to stroke Sara's hair, and she reached up, palm flat as if to slap his hand away. On a shuddering breath, Sara dropped her hand and closed her eyes, clearly fighting for control. Nick pulled her closer, nearly putting her in his lap as he stroked her long brownish-black hair.
"I didn't believe her at first, either," Nick said without looking at either Danny or Kono as he soothed Sara, who curled in closer as if to shield herself from them. "But if there's one thing I've come to know, it's that sometimes the myths are true." He paused, then met Danny's disbelieving stare. "Thanks for dinner, but I think we'll take it from here."
Danny glanced at Kono, reluctant to leave. Kono looked worriedly at Danny for her cue.
"Look, whether I believe or not doesn't matter," Danny spoke quickly. "That guy – Henry or Cameron or whatever his name – seems like a threat to both of you. If you're in a trouble, Kono and I can help. How do you know him?"
Nick stared at the two H50 officers a moment before replying. "Let's just say for a moment a few years ago, we had mutual enemies," the ex-cop said grudgingly. "His name was Cameron Fong then."
"And now?" Kono pressed.
Nick smiled mirthlessly. "If I still had a badge, I'd arrest him for murder, but I'm not a cop anymore. Even if I was, I'd be so out of my jurisdiction, you'd probably arrest me. Last I checked, Detective, wanting someone dead isn't a crime. I'm sure there are a lot of criminals you wish you could kill."
Danny waved off Nick's words, undeterred. "If you think I'm going to let some idiot threaten people I just met –"
"Cameron isn't an idiot," Sara snapped, unfolding herself with an abrupt jerk as she stared at the two officers. "Neither are you. Cameron wants my bracelet because someone once told him he couldn't have it."
"If it's that precious, shouldn't you have it locked up?" Kono asked.
"I can't," Sara said.
At Danny's disbelieving stare, Nick picked up Sara's wrist, revealing the bracelet was fused to the underside.
"You chose to do that?" Kono asked incredulously.
"Better that than wonder who was breaking into my apartment every day, stalking my every move, or making plans to rule the world if only they had my bracelet. Least this way I know where it is, and it knows where I am," Sara said flatly. She sounded exhausted, as if wearing the bracelet took something out of her in exchange.
"We could put you in protective custody –" Kono suggested.
"And live my life as imprisoned as any criminal I once put away?" Sara retorted. "No thanks." She tucked herself back into Nick's embrace, effectively dismissing Kono and Danny.
Still, Danny tried. "If this guy is after you, we can help."
Nick's voice didn't hold out hope as he answered, "I've said that line before, Detective Williams, and you know damn well just how hollow it can be. Thanks for the offer anyway." Carefully, he urged Sara to her feet. He sounded worried as he told Sara, "I hate it when that thing feeds off your anger; you wind up having no energy for anything else."
"How many times do I have to tell you it likes it that way?" Sara shot back, sounding irritated. Nonetheless, she leaned heavily on Nick as they made their way out of the restaurant.
"Damn it," Danny swore. "I knew they were trouble."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that," Kono said. "Remember when you were new to the islands, you didn't trust the local cops, either. Steve said something about how you thought us locals were unprofessional, based on how the cops you knew back home looked and worked."
Danny blew out a breath and looked at her. "Damn it, Kono, you're supposed to be on my side."
Kono smiled. "I am. Come on, we can research better at the office."
Halfway there, they were called out to deal with a case, and their research was pushed to the back burner for the moment. When they were finally able to, however, they found nothing to back up their suspicions about Fong or even the true nature of Nick and Sara's business, nothing to justify the use of H50's resources to help Nick and Sara. Nick didn't seem all that surprised when Danny apologetically called to let them know the results, and seemed amused by Danny's admonition to stay out of trouble for the remainder of Nick and Sara's two-week vacation.
Three days later
As they'd wrapped up the arrest of yet another big drug dealer the night before, Steve didn't expect any of his team to be in the office until late afternoon, if at all. Protocol stated they had time to stand down and recuperate, but Steve had long ago figured out that he couldn't sleep longer than six hours. Aside from that, he had paperwork to do, the kind demanded by the governor and the HPD to justify the amount of force and personnel used in the bust.
The morning quiet wouldn't last long, Steve knew. Chin would wander in about nine; Kono a half hour later, likely with Jenna in tow. Danny had to appear in court for a case he'd solved prior to joining H50. For the moment, though, Steve enjoyed the silence, pleased that this time, the usual documentation didn't take nearly as long to complete.
By 3 p.m., he was deep in discussion with his team about the various criminal activity patterns in the state. Among other issues, they'd been tracking a rise in unusual antiquities appearing in pawn shops across the island, after a private collection had been stolen. While most of the items had been recovered, there were still a few pieces missing, including a gauntlet rumored to have been Joan of Arc's, a Caribbean-hilt rapier and a 17th century waffle maker.
Chasing after stolen goods wasn't one of Steve's favorite tasks; he much preferred to find the people responsible, but while the evidence pointed to a skilled, knowledgeable thief, possibly male, they knew little else. The whole thing didn't really seem like something his task force should be doing; undoubtedly there was someone much better for his team's time than some antiquities thief, but Steve understood there were politics involved. It was much easier for the governor to say that H50 was leading the investigation than give it to the Major Crimes division, which often supported the task force's efforts.
The only possible suspect for the crime who fit the profile was Nick Wolfe – and Danny was insistent that Wolfe and his girlfriend weren't involved. It helped that their story about being on vacation from Meyers International checked out, but it worried Steve that Danny and Kono had mentioned there was someone who had threatened the vacationing couple. People under threat sometimes did things that were out of the ordinary.
When Steve's cell phone rang, he broke off his discussion with Chin about a possible lead to answer it. "McGarrett," he answered.
"Steve, I got a tip. I think you'd better come to the Hyatt," Danny said urgently, naming the room. "Housekeeping found a few of our missing antiques."
"Be right there, Danny," Steve promised, and started issuing orders as he moved to join his partner at the scene.
Though he didn't want to believe his new friends were thieves, the evidence in their hotel room seemed damning. Danny waited just outside the room when abruptly, Sara appeared in the hallway. She took in the way Danny stood, badge displayed prominently, and her eyes narrowed. For a moment, Danny thought he saw a flash of armor covering her body, then it was gone.
"Now, come on, Danny, would a pair of ex-cops be that stupid?" she asked, crossing her arms. Light glinted off her bracelet, and Danny remembered abruptly that short of surgery, that piece of jewelry wasn't coming off her arm. One of the items on the "missing antiques" list was supposedly that particular piece, and abruptly, Danny remembered Nick had called Sara's bracelet by name. "It's a frame; the pieces are fakes."
He stared at her, wondering how she knew what was in her room. "Don't give me that crap," he began, but she shook her head impatiently.
"We don't have that kind of time," she argued, closing the distance between them. "Fong took Grace."
Alarmed, Danny reached for Sara's arm. He felt a jolt when his hand met metal, not skin, and abruptly saw Sara as she truly was in that moment: dressed as a medieval knight, complete with a sword. Shocked, Danny met her eyes.
Sara acknowledged what his eyes were telling him with a grim nod. "You can quiz me about it later," she promised. "Your daughter is going to need to know she's not crazy."
"What?" Danny found his voice, even as he began to run with Sara through the hallway and down the stairs. "Wait. I want to know what's going on. Who is Fong and what the hell does he want with Grace?"
"You met him," Sara said briefly. "Now shut the fuck up and I'll tell you when we're not running towards the ballroom complex."
Danny eyed her warily, and decided having enough breath to deal with the situation – whatever the crazy-ass reason was that he was choosing to follow his gut and go with the flow – was a better move than demanding answers. Sara seemed even less willing than Steve was to give him the answers he needed.
Halfway to their destination, Sara paused, then did something with the stairwell door so it unlocked without a keycard. Exiting the lobby, she headed for the elevator. Danny followed, not sure where they were headed. To his surprise, an elevator appeared as soon as they showed up; they were the only passengers to the second floor ballrooms.
Once the doors were shut, Sara turned to Danny. If he hadn't already been out of breath, her next words would have made sure of it. "Fong saw me with Grace the other day when we met at Kamekona's shave ice stand. He thinks that because I spent time with her, that I've picked her to be the next Wielder." She scoffed at the notion. "She's too young; the youngest Wielder in history was fourteen, and I'm sorry, but I'm not letting go, damn it."
"What? When was my daughter at Kamekona's? And what the hell do you mean, picked her to be the next Wielder?"
"Two days ago. She called, we answered." Impatiently, Sara added, "She has her own cell phone, you know, and is perfectly capable of calling other people."
"Damn phone is not supposed to be able to call more than family," Danny muttered. Realizing he was wasting valuable time, he waved a dismissive hand at his own words. "Never mind; I'll speak to her mother for that little detail later. So this guy, Fong, he's --?"
"Immortal, like Nick," Sara said bluntly. "And a smuggler of antiques since the mid-1800's. He's only been trying to get his hands on the Witchblade since, oh, about 1925 or so. He thinks he can control it by controlling the Wielder; he thinks if he gets the next one young enough, he can control her."
Danny stared at her, incredulous and reeling from the matter-of-fact way she said everything as if it were fact. He wasn't sure what the hell "immortal" and "controlling the Wielder" meant, but neither sounded pleasant. Still, he was a cop, and the past year of working for H50 had sharpened his ability to focus on what was immediately important. "You mean your bracelet?"
Sara nodded grimly. "It's the Witchblade; Joan of Arc wielded it, so did Cleopatra and a lot of other powerful women," she clarified, and Danny's stomach dropped. "Like I told you the other day, it gives the Wielder information about what happened and what's to come. People have died wanting to know what the Wielder knows." She laughed a brief, bitter laugh. "People have killed the Wielder, not knowing the Witchblade chooses who will wear it. It has a mind and an agenda of its own."
Without waiting for Danny to process that information, Sara went on, "Don't worry, I'm not about to let that idiot have it, and I have no plans on letting it go to anyone for quite a while, especially not your daughter, even if the 'blade thinks she'd made a great Wielder. I'm rather fond of where it is. Now, do you have a spare magazine for that pistol?"
Danny stared at her a moment longer, the instinct to protect his daughter taking an abrupt backseat to the implication he was less than prepared. "I survive being around a SEAL who breaks the law without thinking in pursuit of justice," he told her, insulted. "I just don't carry grenades in my back pocket like he does."
Sara grinned, and for a moment, she wasn't a knight in armor; she was just a woman in a souvenir t-shirt, jeans, and boots who just happened to be carrying a police-issue handgun. "That's okay, then. And Danny? Whatever happens, don't freak out. The Witchblade makes weird stuff happen."
The elevator doors opened before Danny could respond. Sara stepped out, leaving Danny no choice but to follow as she called out, "Fong! You wanted me, I'm here. Give up the girl and I won't take your head."
His reply was delivered by a 9mm. Incredibly, Sara deflected the bullet using the Witchblade, but Fong was determined, and continued firing. One shot went wild, and hit Danny.
Grimacing at the impact to his shoulder, hoping his bulletproof vest took the brunt of it, Danny muscled past the pain and headed towards cover, firing back as he did so. Though he saw his bullets impact, Fong remained standing, until Sara was nearly in his face. Abruptly, Danny saw Nick enter from a side door and lay an unconscious Grace down on the floor, then draw his sword.
"This is between you and me, Fong," Nick called. "Play the Game as it's meant, immortal to immortal. Leave the mortals out of it. Winner controls the Wielder, isn't that what you've wanted?"
Fong growled at the new challenge, then shot and kicked Sara, hard, so that she flew to one side. Danny had managed to work his way towards Grace; he was nearly out of ammunition, and Fong still had yet to fall.
Fong stared at Nick as the other man stepped forward. "And the young one is mine as well?" he demanded.
Nick grinned. "Danny might have a thing or two to say about that," he replied. "But he's Grace's father. Can't groom a Wielder if her father objects."
"Hell yeah I object," Danny interjected. Whatever being a Wielder entailed, Danny was certain that he didn't want it to happen to Grace.
Fong shot him again, and Danny passed out at the new pain. He woke up again just in time to see Nick take a particularly deep slice across an arm, then strike at Fong. The other man countered the attack, and the deadly dance continued. Danny debated the wisdom of firing his pistol again; but that effort seemed futile and useless. With a grimace, Danny decided to move closer to his daughter. A glance at Sara told Danny she had yet to stir, and the Witchblade had reverted to being a bracelet. Instinctively, the H50 detective knew his best chance at getting out of this alive lay in the swordfight just feet away.
The sound of gunfire drew Steve and Chin at a run towards the ballroom, and Steve burst through the doors first. His first glance of the situation found Danny in one corner of the room, gripping a bleeding shoulder and shielding Grace as he stared at the deadly ballet in progress in the center of the room. Not far from him, a woman lay – unconscious or dead, Steve couldn't tell, but the blood staining the back of her shirt didn't look good.
"H50, put the swords down," Steve snapped at the two combatants. One was a casually dressed, burly Caucasian man who held a sword that looked suspiciously like the one Steve had seen among the list of stolen items. The other was a shorter man of Asian heritage who held a Chinese broadsword. Blood stained the Asian man's shirt, indicating he'd been shot multiple times but somehow was still alive. Automatically, the Asian turned to face the new challenge.
In reply to Steve's words, the burly man said, "How about now?" With a move that spoke of skill and timing, he sliced off his opponent's head. "There can only be one, asshole, and you're…not…it," he decried the corpse as lightning shot through the room, frying the lighting until the only illuminated spot seemed concentrated on his sword as he held it over his head and rode out the windstorm that appeared out of nowhere and vibrated his body as he fought for control.
Unable to stand, Steve and Chin dropped to the floor, trying to protect themselves from any flying debris. The storm lasted for five minutes, maybe more, and when it was over, the lightning flickered once, then kicked in raggedly. The dead man was headless, the wound neatly cauterized. Over him, the victor rose and sheathed his sword in the scabbard that hung from his back.
He met Steve and Chin's incredulous gazes, nodded once, then moved to tend to Danny and Grace as the woman nearby them groaned and sat up.
"How is she?" Nick asked worriedly as he crouched near Danny and Grace.
"Still out cold," Danny said. "Whatever Fong drugged her with, she's not waking up." Danny shuddered. "Thank God. I hope she doesn't remember this. I mean, not good that she got drugged in the first place, good that she probably won't remember seeing you and him –" Danny cut himself off before he could accidentally say something she might remember subconsciously. "You, uh, okay?"
"I should be asking you that," Nick chided, and with a jolt, Danny saw that the cut Fong had given Nick had already healed. "You're the one who got shot. Can you move Grace so I can check you out?"
"My partners are going to arrest you," Danny warned, "and if I move my daughter, it's really going to register just how much getting shot hurts. I'll wait 'til the EMTs show up. You'd better get going if you want to be gone."
Nick shook his head. "I'd rather be able to come back to Hawaii in your lifetime, if it's all the same to you. You won't need those EMTs; your shoulder's not the only place you got shot, my friend, and you're going to need training."
Stunned, Danny gaped at him, and Nick laughed humorlessly as he patted Danny's vest, right over his heart. "Call me; we'll talk," Nick promised, then moved to check on Sara.
"What the hell?" Danny started to say, then glanced down at his tactical vest. Blanching, he realized it sported a hole right above his heart. Rapidly, he rewound the firefight in his mind, and remembered abruptly that Fong had aimed for him directly the second time. Suddenly, he had a lot of questions – and the answers were with the man Steve and Chin were now trying to arrest.
Danny had a lap full of his daughter, and he struggled to his feet as he heard Nick negotiating with Steve and Chin, trying to convince them that he'd acted in self-defense. It didn't sound like Nick needed help, so Danny snagged the nearest officer to get an EMT to take a look at Grace.
Nearly an hour later, Steve stared at Nick and Sara as they sat in his office in lieu of being arrested. "So tell me why the hell you couldn't just talk to us and let us know that a crazy madman was loose?"
Sara fielded the question with a shrug. She looked pale and tired. "He was the kind of crazy madman Nick and I know how to deal with?"
Steve studied the pair a moment longer. If he hadn't witnessed the carnage in that ballroom, he'd almost believe they had nothing to do with it; neither showed any injury. The blood spattered on Nick's shirt, however, declared something happened. Steve had seen, too, where both Sara and Danny had been shot; he couldn't believe they weren't both in ICU or worse, the morgue. He also knew that if Sara and Nick were undercover special operatives of the kind he was, they would never tell him the truth. Still, he wanted answers.
"You expect me to just believe that you alone knew how to deal with this guy? Neither of you are cops, so how'd you know that a sword would kill Fong? How the hell did you both manage to walk away without a scratch, without wearing any sort of armor?"
"The Witchblade protects its Wielder," Sara countered, "until it chooses to do otherwise. For a moment, it thought I was weak, that it would be better off with someone else. That moment allowed Fong to wound me." She met Steve's incredulous gaze with a defiant lift of her chin. "Don't try to put logic around magic; you'll only get frustrated. That's the kind of truth I live with every day."
"And you?" Steve turned to Nick. "What's your excuse?"
Nick met his frustrated gaze with a trace of private amusement. "If you're going to date someone with a mystical object of power on her arm, wouldn't you figure out how to protect them? There will always be people after what Sara wears, what she is while she wears that cursed thing, and I happen to be uniquely qualified to protect her. Some people play by a different set of rules, Commander, rules where magic is real and the old myths are closer to truth than fantasy. Holding me and Sara isn't going to give you the key to that playbook, no matter what you charge us with. Nor is it going to give you the locations where Fong stored his stolen merchandise."
"Let them go," Danny suggested, stepping into the office. "They saved Grace and me, and did us a favor by getting rid of Cameron Fong."
Steve sighed. He wasn't going to get very far interrogating a pair of ex-cops, and some instinct told him that Sara wasn't lying about the power contained in her bracelet. It wasn't out of the realm of possibility that the protection it gave her had extended to Nick as well. That still left Steve with the fact that Nick was a stone-cold killer, but he'd acted in the defense of a child and a police officer. Putting him and his girlfriend in jail served the letter of the law, but not the spirit. "All right," he agreed finally. "But if this is how you spend your vacations, I recommend you take them elsewhere. Before you go, though, those locations you mentioned? I want them."
The following day
The picnic area in the zoo where Nick had agreed to meet him was otherwise deserted in the early morning hour.
Feeling deeply disconcerted by the calm look on the other man's face and by the events of the last twenty-four hours, Danny took a seat on the other side of the picnic table, wincing as the sudden headache he'd been having abruptly ceased.
Seeing his expression, Nick smiled. "It gets easier with time," he offered. "That headache's your warning that another immortal's around."
"So what the hell does that mean, exactly? I mean, I know I got shot twice yesterday, and the only thing I have to show for it is a ruined shirt." Danny bit back the rant he almost started on the number of dress shirts he was down to; he didn't want Nick to think he was ungrateful to be alive.
"Means you have a shot at living forever if you're careful," Nick said bluntly. "I'm not going to sugarcoat this; you're a cop, and in a high-profile team. Right now, the only people alive who know you died yesterday are me and Sara."
Danny studied the other man, sensing a weight of knowledge he hadn't yet disclosed. "What else aren't you telling me?" he demanded, instantly wary. "From what I saw yesterday, immortal doesn't mean 'can't be killed.' You sounded worried when I called you last night – did you think I'd do something stupid, like try to cut myself to see what would happen?"
"Did you?" Nick shot back.
Sheepishly, Danny admitted, "Just a little one, just to see what would happen. Man, that felt weird, and the lightning –" Danny broke off as he realized he was talking to someone who'd probably healed from far worse; had he been in Nick's shoes yesterday, the fight with Fong would have left Danny bruised and sore. "Look, I wasn't going anywhere near what you did to Fong – I like being alive and uninjured. What did you do, when you found out?"
"Got drunk and tried to forget the entire week," Nick returned. "Hell, the entire year."
"But – I don't get it," Danny began. "I almost died yesterday. Today I'm still around because I'm – I'm like you. Immortal, as you said. Why wouldn't you want to be alive?"
Now Nick chuckled ruefully, looking as though he was remembering a particularly spectacular incident that hadn't gone as he'd wanted it to go. "It ruined my grand plan of being the white knight who dies to save his love." At Danny's curious look, Nick waved him off. "I'll tell you the story someday."
Danny eyed him. "Was she worth it? No, don't answer that. She must've been if you were willing to go that far for her. You were telling me about how we can die?"
Looking relieved at the refocusing of the topic, Nick nodded. "The only way to kill us is to cut off our heads with a sharp blade. Every other way, you'll recover from and live to see another day. Now, if it's particularly public, you'll have to reinvent yourself and start over somewhere else." Nick paused. "Preferably somewhere where no one has ever heard of you, though that part is getting harder with every minute thanks to the Internet. Immortality is a secret; you don't want to be burned as a witch or worse, experimented on in some laboratory. Holy Ground is sacred to most immortals; it's tradition not to fight there. It's also tradition to fight one on one, and not use modern weapons, but some people don't fight fair, and you have to expect that. In the end, when the Gathering comes, there can only be one immortal left."
"One? What the hell? Who came up with that crazy idea? If you lived forever, you could – I don't know, cure cancer, save the planet, do great things –"
"No one knows why the Gathering exists. There's speculation that it's to keep the immortal population low, that maybe someone way back might have cursed a god or two, maybe aligned themselves with one of the powers of darkness, but until that impetus comes to fight in that last set of battles, I plan on doing exactly what I'm doing now: staying alive, making sure the evil ones don't win, make some money doing something I love, and love a good woman while I'm at it. My other immortal friends share a similar philosophy."
Danny absorbed the information for a moment. "So I don’t have to give up everything."
Nick shook his head. "No. No one's reported you dead, so you don't have to give up anything."
Danny sighed in relief. "I thought you were going to tell me that I was going to have to disappear or something. At the very least, I thought you were going to tell me I'd have to leave here."
"Not unless you want to, but I can't see you leaving your daughter behind any time soon."
"No. I moved here to be with her." Danny paused as he sorted through what to ask Nick next. Unable to keep sitting, he rose and paced a few feet away before returning to his seat. "So what else is holy ground? Churches, cemeteries, any religious place of worship, right?"
Nick nodded. "Dojos often are; some Asian restaurants and some public parks are blessed as well. I'd recommend taking some time to figure out where the nearest places are, just in case. Most immortals won't attack you on Holy Ground – the ones that will, usually don't know or don't care they might destroy everything around them, including themselves, if they do."
"Your bar – does that count as Holy Ground?"
Nick chuckled softly. "Yes. Sanctuary is one of the few public meeting grounds in the world where immortals can meet safely." He looked intense as he continued, "It's the only way I can protect the world I've come to know; the one where you can't trust that someone you called friend once upon a time won't come hunting for you, simply for your Quickening. If nothing else, I can offer a place where you can negotiate the place of your challenge, maybe offer you a chance to slip away and fight another day."
"Quickening – is that what the freaky light show is called?"
Nodding, Nick elaborated, "It's the transfer of the other immortal's knowledge and memories after a challenge is won. If you're centered in who you are, you shouldn't have any problem absorbing it."
"I knew there had to be a catch somewhere. So what does that gain you?"
"Well, for one thing, I know where Fong kept his stolen goods." Nick shrugged. "Sometimes it's not nearly as pleasant as that; sometimes you gain memories you wish you could forget. You can be overwhelmed by an evil personality, if that immortal was strong enough. The Quickening is also what heals your wounds."
"Does that mean I'm permanently electrified?" Alarmed, Danny tensed.
Nick laughed. "I suppose you could look it that way, but not really. A Quickening can feel pretty intense in the moment; the first one you ever take is the worst, because you're never as prepared as you think you are."
"So I won't have any problems going through a security checkpoint?"
"No more than you did yesterday, before all this happened," Nick said. "Which means you can't wear a sword through security."
"Wait – how the hell did you get yours on a plane, then?"
Wryly, Nick pulled out his wallet and extracted a certificate that declared him a courier of antiques for Meyers International.
Danny's eyes narrowed. "That's awfully handy," he noted. "TSA give you any grief for it?"
"Not usually, no. You have to check it into luggage, but the certificate means they don't hold it up during baggage screening." Nick gave him a rueful smile and tucked the certificate back into his wallet. "It's generally accepted that fighting on commercial airplanes is a bad idea."
"Holy Ground, then?"
Nick shook his head. "No, more like 'generally accepted that it's way too public.' You could bring down an airliner that way, and then you'd have a hard time finding a place in the world to hide. Not only would you have every police force tracking you down, but you'd have some immortal cops in those forces helping, too – and they have long memories."
Taken aback, Danny started to speak, then stopped as he realized what being able to heal from almost everything could mean to a police investigation. "You could go after someone long after the statute of limitations is up, long after anyone remembered it happened."
Nick nodded. "Precisely." He shrugged. "Now, if you go that route, you have to weigh whether or not it's worth keeping that grudge for that long." He looked at Danny intently. "Sometimes it's not. A friend of mine was a soldier in a war, but he was so disgusted by what he'd done there he became a priest. But because he'd killed someone in that war, someone came hunting for him fifty years later."
"And the guy wouldn't accept that he'd changed?"
"Damn, that sucks. This Gathering you mentioned – what does the winner get?"
"Enough knowledge and power to rule the world if he wanted to," Nick said flatly. "We've had a few small ones over the years; a good man won the last mini-Gathering twenty-five years ago. Rumor has it he briefly gained the power to sire children, and knew how to manipulate the stock market."
Danny looked at Nick, confused. "Wait, you're telling me that immortals can't have –" He had to pause as the ramifications tumbled through his head. "Grace is my daughter."
Nick looked at him sadly. "We can't get sick, can't carry disease, and can't have our own children by blood."
The evidence had been staring him for years, but Danny hadn't wanted to accept it. "I don't care what you say; Grace is still my daughter. I pick her up from the hospital later this afternoon – they wanted to be sure she metabolized that sleeping drug out of her system completely. She's mine, understand?"
Spreading his palms out in a surrendering gesture, Nick said, "I'm not implying that you're any less of a father because she's not related to you by blood; hell, you're better than some men ever hope to be. I'm just telling you what I know. Most immortals are foundlings."
Abruptly, Nick's cell phone rang. Excusing himself, he answered it. "Yes, my lady?" He listened for a minute, shook his head ruefully, then switched it to speakerphone. To Danny, he said, "It's Sara."
"Danny, forget what Nick said about Grace not being your daughter. She is."
"I told you!" Danny began. "I—"
"Listen to me," Sara said sternly. "Grace is your daughter. The night she was conceived, there was a lightning storm, a pretty wild one. You and your partner were out in it, and one bolt struck your squad car right as you went to go pick up some coffee from a convenience store. You laughed it off afterwards, but you were so charged from the residual energy, and you never liked being out in storms after that night. Rachel and your partner always thought you were being paranoid and foolish, but you hated big lightning after that." She paused. "You probably don't remember the woman on the Buell at pump six."
Danny narrowed his eyes as he tried to remember that night. "I don't," he said finally. "What the hell are you getting at?" His mind raced as he tried to put the pieces together. Stalling, he demanded, "I thought you were NYPD. What were you doing in Newark?"
"Going where the Witchblade wanted me to go," she said softly, almost sounding apologetic. "Apparently, it wanted to be near you, so it could change things."
Nick sighed and looked annoyed. "Well, that's one explanation for how immortals are born," he mused sourly. "No one's ever really explained that one to me."
"You expect me to just believe you two?" Danny asked incredulously. "You sound like you're out of some weird sci-fi show."
Sara laughed bitterly. "And how weird is it, Danny, that out of all the people in Hawaii you're sent to investigate, it just so happens to be a murder victim the governor herself ordered killed? Detectives like us don't believe in random things; we tend to believe that everything is connected. Your mom always said you were short like her great-grandmother, but you never quite believed her, did you? Especially after the rest of your siblings turned out to be taller and more Italian than you."
"Let me get this straight. That damned thing on your wrist is the reason Grace was born?"
"As Nick said, most immortals can't have children. Those that do usually never remember having them. You're an exception because the Witchblade wanted one."
"You are not, over my dead body, giving that damned whatever the hell it is to my daughter. I will smash that thing to pieces first," Danny growled.
"As long as I have control over it," Sara assured him, "it won't go to Grace. I have no desire to hand it over to anyone."
"I won't let it happen, either," Nick said. "Sara, does the 'blade still want Grace?"
There was a pause, and Danny imagined Sara was consulting with – that thing she wore. He couldn't quite wrap his brain around it, but as she'd pointed out, the coincidences in his life were too numerous to be completely random, yet he'd accepted that was the way his life worked. Accepting that he was unhurt by the shots Fong had fired and that Sara's bracelet had given her magical powers didn't seem that far out of line in comparison to what he'd previously accepted as part of his life – and he'd claimed loudly and repeatedly that there was no way some other force was causing things to happen in his life. That meant, however, that he had to accept the next step in the seemingly preposterous tale Sara and Nick spun.
"Let me get this straight," Danny said. "The Witchblade chooses who wears it? It wants my daughter to wear it?"
"It did," Sara confirmed. "Grace is the perfect candidate; she's from one of the two bloodlines that can wear the Witchblade successfully." Sara's voice hardened. "That doesn't mean she will. I am not willing to give this up."
"What do you get from it?" Danny demanded. "Obviously, you can get hurt, but –"
"It slows the aging process," Sara interrupted. "As long as I wear it, wield it successfully, I can live a very, very long time, and I intend to keep on doing so. I will keep on doing so."
"Sara –" Nick began worriedly. "You didn't answer our question. Does the Witchblade still want Grace?"
After a moment, Sara said, sounding frustrated, "It won't say." She sighed. "All I can do, Danny, is promise to try to keep it away from Grace as long as possible. If I give it up, or it's taken from me, I will go insane."
"Because the 'blade never leaves a Wielder. Not entirely." Sara added fiercely, "I am not cursing myself or your daughter with that Fate. She's going to have enough on her hands as it is." Abruptly, Sara disconnected the call.
Nick shook his head as he tucked his phone onto its belt holster. "She never says goodbye."
"What did she mean by Grace will have enough to handle?"
Shrugging, the older man said, "She's an intelligent girl, mature for her age, and she notices things. You taught her to observe very well, Danny. You're going to have to be careful around her, especially if you get hurt."
"I hadn't thought about that," Danny said. "How the hell am I supposed to handle that?"
"It's your call," Nick said. He studied Danny a moment. "I know it's a hell of a lot to take in. The first immortal I ever met tried to convince me she'd worn a bulletproof vest. Except I'd seen the tiny scrap of dress she'd worn, and there was no way she'd worn a vest that night."
Danny goggled. "Did she not know you were a cop?"
Amused, Nick said, "Oh, Amanda knew I was a cop. She just preferred to keep me in the dark about immortality, which –" Nick smiled ruefully" – you'll realize, as I eventually did, is a pretty good idea. The rest of the world doesn't quite understand us, and if they did, they'd fear us."
"Why wouldn't she tell you? I mean, you're telling me because I obviously need to know if I’m going to survive, but why?"
Gently, Nick pointed out, "I wasn't immortal yet when Amanda and I first met. She was afraid that if she told me what I'd become, I'd be reckless with my life or with hers. As it was, I had to pull teeth to get the basic information out of Amanda and a priest friend of hers, and I still wish I could have known more before she shot me."
Horrified, Danny stared at the other man, who shrugged helplessly. "I was dying of a poison with no cure; Amanda decided she didn't want to wait any more to find out if I would recover from that. My fault for getting poisoned in the first place; I never wanted to listen to her when she said it was immortal business and I should stay away."
"This Amanda – that's your business partner, right?"
"How the hell are you still friends with her?" Danny demanded. "If she knew you'd recover, why didn't she shoot you sooner, give you the choice?"
Nick sighed tiredly and rubbed the back of his neck. "She was sure I wouldn't want it; I'd made it pretty damn clear in the year we were together that I didn't envy her long life, or the numerous times some old friend or enemy came back into her life, stirring it up in ways she hadn't expected. She took twenty heads that year, more than she'd taken in a single year for at least two decades. When I woke up, all I could think about was how the hell I was going to reconcile loving someone whose head I might have to take one day."
Danny was quiet for several minutes as he considered what he'd been told. "Have you?"
"Yeah," Nick said. "I decided it was safer not to keep on loving a trouble-magnet." He laughed ruefully. "Of course, the next woman I fall for is one in her own right."
Danny chuckled. "You two seem happy together," he commented.
"I love her," Nick said simply. "When you have someone you trust that implicitly, it makes a lot of doubt about what you're doing in the world go away."
"Where is she this morning, by the way?"
"Kono is taking her shopping for a wedding dress." Nick looked rather pleased with himself.
"Congratulations," Danny said sincerely. "Wait a minute. When did you propose?"
"Yesterday morning before things went to hell," Nick replied. "This trip was centered on getting Sara to marry me."
Danny stared at him, then shook himself as he realized he'd been doing that a lot since he'd sat down. "So when is the wedding?"
"Two days from now," Nick told him. "You're invited, of course." Nick paused, then added more slowly, "You're going to need sword training, and how to deal with being an immortal. We're willing to stay here for the next few months to help you get situated."
"What else is there to learn?" Danny asked. "I don't want to put you out or –"
"I would be remiss if I didn't make sure you didn't take your own head off the first time you swung a sword, or didn't know how to pay attention when you get that warning headache, or what to do if you don't want to fight a challenge right that instant," Nick interrupted. "I don’t need Sara's visions to know what will happen if I just told you about immortality and walked away. You'd be like me, bringing a gun to a swordfight and so sure that your marksmanship was better than your opponent's. I forgot the possibility that the immortal I was fighting was old enough to not only remember when guns were made, but had all that time to practice with them. Amanda, the woman who triggered my immortality, is over at thousand years older than you and I, and she's not the only long-lived immortal out there."
Danny narrowed his eyes at that. "So how old are you?"
"Forty-five; I've been immortal for twelve years." Nick shrugged easily. "The nice thing about being stuck in my mid-thirties is that I don’t stick out as being too young or too old. Amanda used to know a guy who was triggered when he was not much older than Grace. Flip side of that is that if you never age, people will eventually notice."
It was a lot to digest, Danny realized, and the ramifications were far-reaching. "What happens when you decide I'm good enough to be myself? Are you just going to take off, wish me good luck, and hope that we never cross swords?"
"What happens after we finish training is up to you," Nick said. "I'd rather we stayed friends for a long as possible, but I understand if you wanted me to just butt out. Amanda gave me money to start off with when I started training with a friend of hers; I'm not broke by any means. At the very least, I'd give you a stake so you didn't have to work for a while if you didn't want to; I remember what living on a cop's salary is like. If you wanted me to leave you completely alone, I'd do it, but among the immortal friends I have, it's tradition to keep in touch, to stay friends for as long as you can." Nick grinned briefly before becoming serious again. "I'm not a headhunter, Danny, in the Game just to see how many people I can kill. I've been told that if I hadn't been so grounded in the notion of good should triumph over evil, I may have gone that route. I'm not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you that being immortal is the best thing since sliced bread, but it's who you were born to be."
"And Grace? If the Witchblade made it possible for me to have her, when ordinarily I wouldn't be able to have kids –" Danny didn’t want to think too deeply about what that meant for Rachel's current pregnancy, but he knew he'd have to face that soon. "What is she born to be, then?"
Nick shrugged. "No one knows for sure. You heard Sara; she's determined to be the Wielder for as long as she can."
Danny let out a sigh of relief. "What does it mean to be the Wielder, though? I get that she sees the past and the future, and can live a long time, but what's the bottom line?" he wondered.
Nick sighed tiredly. "A Wielder can change history. Think about that a moment: if you knew what is to come, you could make it happen or stop it from happening."
"So that's how you knew where Grace was, then."
Nick nodded. "Sara got a flash of where she was being held, and then she got hit with the images of the frame-up. I volunteered to go after Grace while Sara dealt with you."
Danny knew he'd be processing the information Nick had given him for a while yet. "One last thing for now: do you think I should tell my teammates?"
Nick considered it. "Again, your call," he said at last. "Who's your primary partner?"
"McGarrett; you met him yesterday." Danny paused. "He knows I got shot, but he's been wondering why I refused to go see an EMT and it's been bugging him. He gave me this morning off to go get checked out; didn't believe me when I said I was fine, that I'd finish doing our paperwork and then go home."
"He's military, isn't he?"
"Navy SEAL officer," Danny confirmed. "There's a lot he can't ever tell me."
"How's his shock tolerance? He didn't seem like he liked what we had to say to him yesterday."
"You annoyed him – for a guy who has a lot of secrets, he really, really hates it when other people keep them," Danny shook his head "as if he's the only one who's allowed to have any. As for his ability to handle shock – well, it depends on what it is, but he cares for his people," Danny said. "He's a good guy, when he isn't trying to come up with three million ways to cut my life short. You know what? On second thought, I may let him stew for a while; maybe that'll make him less reckless."
Amused, Nick pointed out, "He strikes me as the kind of guy who'd figure it out eventually, and get upset you didn't tell him sooner. Might want to avoid that."
Danny grinned for the first time that morning. "Nah, he's good at making up," he said. "Please tell me you have a plan for training me, because I do not do well at winging it. Okay, correction, I do well at winging it, because that's what I do all the time with Steve and the team, but I really would like some order somewhere in my life. And if you tell Steve that I said I'm good at winging it, I will never hear the end of it, because he will believe you and then I will pay for it."
Nick laughed and rose. "I can put together one if you email me your schedule. Right now, all I have planned is breakfast, then we need to get you a sword."
Danny stood and met Nick at the foot of the picnic table. "Please tell me not all swords are the same thing as your beast – that thing looks huge and heavy."
Nick laughed again. "No, they're not, and you'll stop thinking my sword is a beast in time," the older immortal assured him. "As for breakfast, Kono suggested LuLu's – that okay with you?"
"As long as you actually have cash to pay, we're good." Danny led the way to his car. "Did you drive?"
"No, Sara and Kono dropped me off here; I figured I could ride with you if things went well."
Danny paused at the edge of the park. "And if they didn’t?"
Nick shrugged and lifted his duffel bag. "I have my sword, my wallet, and a cell phone. Not the first time I've walked or caught a cab."
Danny studied the older man. "You're awfully calm for a guy who basically just got himself a student and is getting married in two days."
"I could dump you off and let you lose your head in less than a month," Nick said in the same even tone. "Would you rather I do that? I'm sure Grace would survive okay without you to balance out her mother, who I hear warranted the theme from Psycho as her ring tone at one point."
"She was crazy, insisting that I change everything we'd agreed to in the custody agreement; there's no way I would leave Grace —" Danny broke off as a self-satisfied smile spread across Nick's face. Incredulous, the new immortal stared at him, then swore. "Torago PD must've missed you when you quit. You're a hell of a detective. You're right; there's no way I'd let you go without learning at least some of the basics."
Nick grinned, pleased with the compliment. "Getting mad at Amanda all the time taught me a lot about when being upset was truly warranted, and trust me, she pissed me off plenty. You're new to being immortal, same as I was twelve years ago, and this is really the beginning of the rest of your life. Right now, I've no reason to be mad. You're just trying to figure out why the hell I care." He turned to face Danny, clearly intent on making him understand. "I'm not the kind of guy who walks away when lives are at stake; that's not my style. I took an oath to serve and protect, and while I'm not a cop anymore, I still find validation in that. If I can teach someone else what I know, and that someone else is a good, honorable man who believes in some of the same principles as I do, then that's one less evil I might face someday. Aside from that, I like you; I like Grace. If you need a better reason than that, we'll say that I'm paying forward the lessons my teacher gave me."
Danny looked at him a long moment. "I'm going to need your help to tell Steve," he decided abruptly. "Rachel – I'm not going to tell her; she'll freak. I love her, but – much as I want otherwise – I think she's going to go back to Stan. She's always chosen security and safety over me."
"We can do that," Nick agreed. If he was surprised by Danny's decision, he didn't show it. "Listen, Danny – you don't have to do anything today or even tomorrow you don't want to do just because I suggest it. There are things I'm not going to compromise on, but we're adults, and I hope we'll communicate reasonably well."
"I know," Danny hastened to reassure him as they started down the path back to the parking lot. "I just think it's the right thing to do. Trust me, if I don't want to do something, I'll let you know."
Nick grinned. "I heard you arguing with McGarrett yesterday as Sara and I left your office. You were pretty loud about not needing first aid."
Danny held up a hand. "Do not get me started. Sometimes I swear I do not understand what goes on in that man's head. He acts like he doesn’t care and puts grenades in the glove box of my car, without telling me, then gets upset with me for acknowledging the times he shows he does care."
"He loves you," Nick said.
"For the eleventh hundredth time, he and I are not married," Danny began. "I like women, understand?"
Nick just smiled. "Doesn’t change what I see," he returned.
"Now you've gone and done it," Danny said shortly. "You've guaranteed I will obsess about this for the next twenty-four hours or until I can discuss it with Steve." He let out a breath, then shot his new teacher a wry grin. "If your intent is to make me not think about being immortal for a while, congratulations, you've succeeded."
Nick shrugged, unrepentant. "Love is one of those precious things; you never get enough, and you'd die to keep it. From what Kono told me on the way over here, you're the kind of guy who holds tight when he finds love worth keeping; it's what brought you to Hawaii in the first place." He paused as they reached the Camaro. "Love of a good partner, someone who'll back you up 100%, is just as worth fighting to keep."
Danny unlocked the car and slid into the driver's seat as Nick did the same on the passenger side. "You're not implying anything, then?" he asked Nick suspiciously.
Nick grinned. "No."
Danny groaned. "Yes, you are. Damn it, Nick, I'm going to hate you if you keep this up."
Nick just grinned wider and strapped on his seatbelt. "You'll hate me anyway by the time we get through your first day of sword training," he said calmly. "In the meantime, how about we talk about something else? Is McGarrett teaching you any kind of combat training?"
"He made me pick up running. I hate running, but seems like every week I'm running after a bunch of criminals and/or him, and I hate being out of breath." Danny started up the car, knowing as he did that he was moving himself into a new future. What happened next was anyone's guess, though he suspected he could ask Sara if she knew, but he was certain of one thing: he was never going to rue Fate again. He had a sneaking suspicion It had heard him, loud and clear, and delivered a response he was never going to forget.