Bear groaned as he started to roll over and stopped. His whole body ached to the point that even trying to move caused his muscles to lock up. He could feel someone gently place a hand on his chest and ease him back down, but the pain continued.
“Easy,” he heard a familiar voice urge. “You’ve been through a lot. Just take it easy and lets see what we can do about making you more comfortable.”
“Duck?” he asked groggily as he tried to focus on the source of the voice.
“No, its Rae,” the woman answered gently as she positioned a pillow under his head.
He looked at her and smiled, “that would explain why I’m seeing two of you,” he countered, but his smile was only a shadow of its usual self.
She rewarded him with a gentle smile. “Just take it easy, you’ve been through a lot.”
Bear sat there for a minute, trying to piece together what had happened. He remembered the pain as he tried to protect Joey and the others, then the blackness that consumed him. Then he remembered Eclipse helping him, Eclipse and Kai.
“E?” Bear asked groaned as he ignored Rae’s advice and regretted it immediately. He hand gently rested on his shoulder until the spasms faded.
“He’s in a lot better shape then you are,” Rae told him.
“Just as stubborn mind you, but better,” Becke added as she knelt down next to him. “Now, are you going to listen to us?”
Bear tried to object, but found himself gasping for breath as his diaphragm started convulsing. He was helpless as a coughing fit wracked his body, the exertion making him see sparks. He tried to force his body into compliance, but it only seemed to rebel more.
“Don’t fight it,” he heard one of them urge. “Let your body take control. It knows what it needs.”
‘That would be Becke,’ he told himself as he tried to listen to her. There was a time where he wouldn’t have fought his body; a time when he knew its needs and tended to them without thinking. Bear’s warning came back to him. ‘Your mind, your body, your spirit... they must learn to live together in the same house.’
“Damn,” he finally managed to gasp as the spasms finally stopped.
He felt something cool and wet brush his forehead, but as he moved to brush it away, he felt another hand hold his down. “I said, take it easy,” Rae told him. “And I meant it.”
He relaxed his arm and forced himself to stop fighting them. “Tell me how the others are,” he asked softly. “Did Joey make it out?”“
“Joey’s fine,” Rae assured him. “And your patients.”
“Both?” he asked worriedly. “Thomas, Martin Thomas?”
“He’s fine,” Rae assured him again. “Now will you relax before you undo everything we’ve managed to do for you?”
“He tried to kill me, drained me before the bombs went off. Said... said I would die and Duck would be his. Don’t know if he was controlled or attacked me willingly...”
He gasped as pain radiated from his chest. He felt as if his arms were being pulled out of their sockets. An inarticulate sound escaped his mouth as he rode the accompanying wave of nausea.
“Bear so help me, I’m going to sit on you if you keep this up,” Becke countered. “You will rest! We’ll worry about Thomas, you hear.”
“Duck?” he asked as he once again ignored the warnings. “Have they found Duck?”
Becke and Rae exchanged glances as they tried to keep Bear still and calm. “What?” Becke asked in disbelief.
“How did you know?” Rae echoed in the same tone.
“Thomas, he said... then Bear told me... Have to find her.” The pain was starting to get the better of him as he struggled to sit and failed. “Please...”
“Ease up,” Rae countered, but her voice was more breathy then before. “They kidnaped her, but somebody pulled her out of it.”
“Somebody,” he repeated softly. “Then you don’t know who?”
“No,” Becke told him gently.
“Aw Duck,” he groaned as he fell back, exhausted from the effort to sit.
“We’ll find her,” Rae told him as she exchanged glances with her sister. “I’ll stay with him,” she told Becke. “You go and tell Minh about Herr Thomas.”
Becke nodded, then turned back to Bear. “You concentrate on getting well.”
Bear nodded weakly. “Tracker?”
“He’s running some messages, then he’s going out looking again,” Rae told him. “He’ll find her.”
“Hope so,” Bear answered as exhaustion overtook him. “Hope so.”
Rabbit paused as he exited the Chessman’s club. There were now at least a dozen or so deckers looking for Duck. He didn’t think they’d have any better luck than Tracker, but even Tracker couldn’t check every detail. Still, somebody could get lucky. ‘Every little bit helps,’ he hoped.
He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye as a man slipped out of the alleyway behind him. ‘Kemuri,’ he thought with a nod. As he headed down the street, he started looking for a quiet place to meet.
As he continued he could feel more eyes on him then just Kemuri’s. As he tried to find cover images came through to him. He saw himself through the eyes of a sniper scope. He stiffened as the man’s thoughts became his own.
‘Steady, steady...Wait for the signal. Wait for it. Come on, I may not get a shot like this again.’ He could feel the man’s tension as he watched and waited for the go ahead.
Judging by the view the sniper was on a building on the left side of the street. He wasn’t too high either fourth maybe fifth floor. As he found the cover he needed he saw another view. This one was also a sniper scope, but it was centered on Kemuri.
‘Damn,’ he swore to himself. This was not good. There was no way he’d be able to warn Kemuri and keep himself safe as well. Then he heard the call on his radio.
“Rabbit,” Mercury’s voice called over the comm-link. “You’ve got a tail. I’ve got a line on him. Call it.”
“Merc?” Rabbit called back slightly startled. “You on the left, four floors up?”
“Right, Seven,” Merc countered.
“Well find left and four, that’s the real problem,” Rabbit groused. “Tail’s a friend.”
“Clear,” Merc answered as he turned his scope to the other side of the street. He could feel his heartbeat as he scanned the windows and rooftops until he finally found the barrel that was pointing at Rabbit.
“Found it,” Merc stated as he jockeyed for the best position he could get. He felt the breeze stir around him as he reflexively added that to his mental calculation. It wasn’t a clean shot, but he would at least be able to throw him off. He radioed Rabbit as much.
“That’ll have to do,” Rabbit answered. “He’s waiting for some kind of signal.”
Mercury took a quick look around and verified that there were no other threats in the area. That was when he noticed that Rabbit’s tail was pulling out some sort of weapon.
“Rabbit, your tail’s pulling something,” he growled as he split his concentration between the sniper and the tail.
Rabbit felt a cold chill was through him as he realized he had only assumed that his tail was Kemuri. “What’s he look like?”
“Asian, medium build,” Merc stated as he concentrated on the sniper. “Can’t tell you much else, looks like the sniper ‘s only tracking you. Your tail’s doing a good job of staying out of his sights. Think that’s the only reason I can see him.”
Rabbit let out a quick breath. “I’m guessing that the tail is my friend. I know the sniper’s looking for the signal to take me out. You get a shot, take it, otherwise wait and distract them when I tell you.”
“You just be careful,” Mercury countered. Part of him felt good that Rabbit trusted him so implicitly, but another part of him hated the idea. When people trusted you, you were bound to protect them. He trusted Wulf and through him the rest of the Pak, but that kind of mutual trust was rare. Still, Rabbits brother’s had saved him from something he couldn’t even begin to repay them for. His concentration on the sniper was so complete, he almost missed the second assassin.
The man was creeping forward through the darkness, paralleling Rabbit’s progress on another street. If Rabbit went for the alleyway for cover, the second assassin would be able to slip in behind him.
“Rabbit,” he called quickly. “More company, tailing you on the side street. You go for the alleyway, he’s got you.”
“Can you get him?” Rabbit asked.
“Probably, but that leaves nobody on the sniper.” Mercury made another sweeping check, keeping his rifle trained on the sniper’s location. As his gaze hit the man Rabbit had identified as his friend he caught a signal from the man.
Mercury focused on the signal, it was a military hand signal. ‘One man side street, sniper left side 4th floor. Cover him.’ He shook his head as he translated then relayed the message to Rabbit.
“Sounds like a plan,” was Rabbit’s reply as he waited for sniper to get his signal. As he reached the alleyway he felt the signal as if it was a ‘click’ in his head.
“NOW!” Mercury fought the urge to flinch at the volume of Rabbit’s call. He knew he only had scant seconds to line up the shot before it was too late, yet he was oddly relaxed. This is what he knew. The first shot was clean, striking the barrel of the rifle, throwing off the other sniper’s fire. The second shot broke the glass in the upper portion of the window. The third cut down the man behind the gun. Even as the third shot had cleared, Mercury was scanning the area looking for the second assassin and any other threats they may have missed. He saw no sign of Rabbit or his friend, but he could make out the figure as it embraced the shadows of the alleyway.
“Coming towards you,” he sub vocalized as he continued to scan the area. “No other movement,” he added as he checked on the sniper’s location. He knew he’d taken out his target, there was no doubt in his mind, but there was still the question of who else might be out there waiting to gun them down.
“Got it,” Rabbit answered tersely. “Watch your back.”
“I’m trying,” Mercury answered. “But who’d be watching yours?”
There was a long silence as Mercury waited for Rabbit to report back in. He had started to feel the tension in his shoulders as he continually scanned the area when Rabbit finally reported in. “We got him,” Rabbit stated quietly. “Used Tranqs. Ready to move out?”
“Got it,” Mercury answered. “Pick me up in 5.”
“Copy,” came Rabbit’s answer. “And thanks.”
*** *** ***
Rabbit watched as Kemuri bound and rechecked their captive’s bindings. It was the first attacker they’d managed to capture and he wasn’t taking any chances.
“Hopefully we can glean some information from this one,” Kemuri stated softly, his voice barely loud enough to reach Rabbit.
Rabbit smiled and nodded.
“What of the assassin?” he added.
“Merc got him,” Rabbit reassured him.
“You do not wish to confirm?”
“I felt it,” Rabbit answered as he looked back at the window. “I felt the whole thing.”
Kemuri turned as he studied Rabbit closely. “You felt it?” he asked warily.
Rabbit merely nodded. “Happens from time to time,” he answered softly. “I could hear his thoughts, that’s how I knew when he was going to shoot.”
“And you did not let go after you gave your friend the signal?”
“Had to make sure he got him,” Rabbit countered. “Couldn’t afford to have the man waiting for us.”
Kemuri nodded. “But you Rabbit-San, what does that do to you?”
Rabbit merely shook his head, then grinned. “Drives me insane I guess,” he countered with a wide-eyed grin.
Kemuri shook his head and gently placed a hand on Rabbit’s arm. “You do not need to hide from me, my friend.”
Rabbit nodded and looked at him. His eyes held an almost haunted look to them. “It hurts,” he finally admitted. “But it beats how I’d feel if I didn’t and something happened to you or Merc.”
Kemuri nodded. “We have a similar technique that only the masters dare use,” he stated softly, then bowed towards Rabbit. “Only a master would use it, for only a master would fully understand the price of such a gift, and still accept it.”
Rabbit merely shrugged. “I just haven’t found a better alternative.”
Kemuri nodded and looked at their captive. “I will take him,” he stated. “The elders will know what to do with him.”
Rabbit nodded. “Why were you following me anyway?”
“The master has asked us to watch over you. He had a feeling that they would try to kill you and your friends. You are the biggest threat to them now.”
“They’re the ones that started this,” Rabbit growled.
“Yes,” Kemuri answered. “And they seriously underestimated you when they did.”
“That was their first mistake,” Rabbit agreed. “The biggest was when they bombed the clinic.”
“You’re family is alright?” Kemuri asked softly.
Rabbit shrugged. “We’ve survived.”
“And the woman you were looking for?”
“She’s still missing,” Rabbit stated. “We just don’t know.”
Kemuri nodded. “We will contact you if we learn anything from this one.”
Rabbit nodded as he watched Kemuri disappear into the night with their captive in tow. Then he he headed towards the truck, and once again wondered about Duck.
Wulf watched their guest, Shateiel, cautiously as Jade tried talking with her. He could feel Jade getting frustrated with the one sidedness of the conversation, but he had tried to warn her. To her annoyance, and his amusement, Meri decided to get in on the action.
As she neared she smiled and flashed Shateiel her deck. The woman’s reaction surprised both of them. She actually recoiled from it as if she’d been stung. Meri immediately put the deck away and sat down next to the woman, trying to assure her that everything was fine.
Again, he noticed the defensive posture she had taken, legs clenched to her chest. He began to wonder if they’d really be able to help her. She seemed to need more than they could give her, but something told him that they needed each other. The team needed somebody who could fight with them, she needed somebody she could care about. All he knew was they had to try.
She sat there for a long time before allowing herself to relax. He realized she wasn’t allowing herself to relax, but rather willing herself to relax. It was a struggle, but she finally managed to let go of whatever it was that terrified her.
They sat in silence for a while as Jade and Meri exchanged worried looks. They weren’t sure how to handle what had happened. While they concentrated on their guest, Wulf turned his attention towards the stove. He needed something to break the ice.
“What did he do to you?” he heard Meri ask. The anger in her voice was not lost on the woman. She reacted to it, reached out towards the person that was angry over what had been done to her. Something drew his attention back to the conversation in the other room.
He could see her trying to speak. He could feel the madness that threatened to consume her, and then he felt nothing. It was as if a plate of armor had dropped between that which was inside and what she showed to the others.
He could hear the tremor in her breathing and saw the slight tremble as she shook her head and looked away. It was time for him to try something new.
Since, trying to get her to look back wasn’t helping, perhaps helping her take control of her current situation would help. He walked into the room with a heaping skillet of scrambled eggs.
“Ladies,” he stated with a bow to the three women on the couch. “I present, for your dining pleasure, the egg in its most glorious form.”
“Poached?” Jade asked teasingly as she noticed their guest tense and then force herself to relax. Wulf could almost hear Jade’s thoughts as she noted that was her standard reaction to Wulf.
“Lady, you want ‘em poached, the kitchen’s that way,” Wulf teased back. “But if you would like nice fluffy scrambled eggs cooked to perfection, you need look no further than the plate before you.”
As Jade held a plate, Wulf began scooping the eggs onto the plate. He repeated the process with Merri then looked at their guest. “Shateiel?”
He waited as she turned towards him questioningly. “Well, we had to call you something and we usually reserve “Hey you” for Gris. You have something you like better?”
She looked at him for a minuted, and again he could feel the turmoil inside as she fought the jumbled emotions and memories that filled her mind. Again, it was sheer willpower that silenced the voices. She gave a half smile and shrugged.
“You want some?” he asked offering her a plate. She took it and he began piling eggs on top of it. And piling them, and piling them, until she looked him in the eyes as if to say ‘What the hell are you doing?’
He merely met her gaze and winked. “You need some meat on your bones,” he stated as he headed back towards the kitchen with the skillet.
Jade watched the exchange and then looked at Shateiel for a minute. As she slowly began eating, Jade looked around and announced “I’ll go get the catsup.”
When Jade entered the kitchen, she realized Wulf was waiting for her. She watched him for a minute, and then shook her head. “Okay, I’ll bite,” she finally stated shaking her head.
Wulf shook his head as he tried to explain what he’d seen. “There’s more there than just what MindBender did to her,” he stated. “More than loss. You see how she tries to speak?”
He waited for Jade’s nod before continuing. “When she does, there’s a whole mess of stuff that goes through her mind. Its worse than Gris, but only because Gris recognizes what is and isn’t real, he sorts it out and only deals with what’s real. With her, it’s threatening to overwhelm her and she merely silences it. She mentally forces the images and voices to stop. That indicates a very high level of self control and willpower.”
“Meaning she’s probably been through as much if not worse before,” Wulf stated with a perplexed look on his face. “She’s fought through this sort of thing before, and survived. And that means she probably missed her true calling. Girl should have been a mage.”
“So what do we do?”
“We stop asking about her past. We let her move forward,” he paused as he studied Jade’s expression. “I can only give you my impressions,” he explained. “And from the look of things, she’s a warrior. We can’t afford to coddle her, and the last thing she needs is coddling. We get back to business and we let her fill in where she can.”
“How can we fit her into the team when we don’t know what she’s capable of?”
“Use her like a wild card,” Wulf stated with a shrug. “We don’t know what she can do now, the enemy probably doesn’t even know anymore. My guess is she was a hot decker, that’s why they tried to break her rather then just use her. Don’t know how she is about the tech now. Not after what they did to her.”
“You saw the way she reacted when she saw Meri’s deck?” Jade asked shaking her head. “How could they do that to her?”
“It was probably being forced to be hooked in,” Wulf stated. “Only time will tell, but like you said, we’re in the middle of a battle zone.”
“What about her reaction every time she sees you,” Jade asked.
Wulf shook his head. “Should have seen it when I carried her to the bathroom.” He paused as he gathered his thoughts and looked towards the room. He closed his eyes for a minute then looked Jade in the eyes. “My guess is I remind her of someone. General build’s probably like somebody she cared for...” he added slowly.
Jade nodded. She reminded him of Nadia, and he reminded her of someone she’d lost, making them drawn to each other in some self-torturing masochistic way.
“Its not that bad,” Wulf stated as he read her expressions.
Jade studied him for a minute and nodded. Wulf had been through a lot, but he was right, they were in the middle of a battle zone and nobody could afford to be coddled, not their guest, and especially not their leader. The battle was what drew them together, and it was the war that would keep them going.
Almost as if on cue, Daff barged into the kitchen from his study. “We got em!’ he stated. “Drone just came back with full footage of the folks that came looking for Shateiel!”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Wulf growled. “What have you got.”
“They’ve got a truck, really nice one too. Hanging out in the club district. Couldn’t get a good picture of them, but I’ve got the van, and its stationary.”
“Watch them, let me know what happens,” Wulf told Jade. “Take Ni with you for protection. Daff, your running the van and the remotes. Surveillance only!”
“What about you?” Daff asked.
“I’m going to have Gris go through some exercises with Shateiel, then I want Meri to see if she can cope with somebody decking next to her.”
Jade nodded then gave Wulf a quick hug. “I’ll tell the others,” she stated as she grabbed the catsup and headed back to the living room.
Wulf stopped her at the door. “You be careful Jade. They’ve got some serious fire power.”
Jade winked at him, then left the room shaking her head. “Be careful he tells me,” she muttered jokingly. “The death defying Mr. Mysterio, wants me to be careful.”