Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
Jen and I sat in the Bethesda waiting room while Harm and Diane talked over the proposition Jennifer had dumped on them twenty some minutes ago. I'd given up on CNN and the old magazines and was now just leaning back on the couch and relaxing.
My eyes snapped open at the approach of a Buzz. Since I was expecting it, it took only seconds for me to identify Diane. Stealing a quick glance at the clock on the wall, I realized that there were still five minutes left of their initial half an hour.
Diane entered the lounge and took a seat on the wall facing us. Leaning her head forward, she scrubbed her face with her hands for a moment before the arms dropped to rest across her knees. She looked up at us with an expression that I couldn't begin to decipher and said, "He's made his decision."
I studied her completely blank expression for a few more seconds, waiting for her to finish. When the silence continued to stretch, I prompted, "And the answer is . . ."
"He accepts," she stated quietly, staring at a spot on the wall near Jen's head.
I shared a concerned look with Jen. Diane wasn't giving us any of the reactions we'd expected under the circumstances. Reaching into my coat, I pulled my cell phone out and handed it to Jennifer. Standing, I held my hand out to Diane and quietly said, "Let's go talk to him."
She looked up at me and then frowned at my hand.
Recognizing that she was exhausted almost beyond the edge of rational thought, I slowly reached forward and took her left hand, pulling her to her feet. She didn't resist, numbly following my lead when I led her back out into the hall.
As we walked past the nurse's station, I asked them, "Could someone bring a cot into Commander Rabb's room? Colonel MacKenzie needs some sleep."
One of the nurses nodded and moved off down the hallway as Diane started to protest. "I do NOT need sleep, Ryan. I need to -"
"You DO need sleep," I interrupted. We stepped into Harm's room and I firmly steered her to one of the chairs. "You sit there until the cot gets here, then you'll lie down on that and SLEEP."
Folding her arms across her chest, she glared up at me, but gave a grudging nod.
Harm chuckled slightly from where he was reclining on the bed.
She turned her glare upon him. "Don't you start, Harm," she warned, though her glassy-eyed stare took the sting from the comment.
"Yes, ma'am," he shot back with a smile that quickly changed to a grimace of pain.
Diane was up in a second and by his bedside. She gently pushed a lock of his hair from his face and frowned in worry until he relaxed and opened his eyes again. "Can I help?" she asked quietly.
He just shook his head, breathing shallowly.
Jen walked into the room quietly and took the seat that Diane had so recently vacated.
"Now what?" Harm asked.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Jen asked.
Harm looked up into Diane's eyes. Staring at her, he quietly answered, "Yes."
The door opened again and an orderly pushed a cot into the room. He looked surprised to see Jen and myself in the room this late at night but said nothing about it. "Someone wanted a cot in here?" he asked.
I nodded and pointed to the empty corner. Diane and Harm never looked up from their intense gaze.
He wheeled the cot over and unfolded it, locking the legs in place. Thanking him, I followed him to the door and closed it behind him. Coming back over to Diane, I gently touched her shoulder. That apparently broke the trance that both she and Harm had seemingly fallen into. They both blinked and turned their attention to me. I gently steered Diane over to the cot. She balked at it again, but I pushed her down. "At least lie down, Diane. The next twelve hours are going to be hectic enough. We have a few hours of calm. We'd better make the most of it."
Harm frowned at me slightly as Diane laid down grudgingly.
Jen answered his unspoken question. "I called a friend of mine in Toronto. He'll be here in four hours."
Diane propped herself up on one elbow. "Humor me. Why are we waiting on him?"
Jen looked over at her consideringly for a moment before asking, "Do you really want to know?"
Diane's eyes narrowed slightly, and she nodded.
Jen shrugged and said, "I'll probably bring him over myself, but Uncle Nick needs to train him."
They both blinked at her. "Uncle Nick?" they chorused.
"Long story," I said, trying to head off the conversation.
It didn't work. "Your uncle is a vampire?" asked Diane.
I sighed, resigning myself to their curiosity. "Not even that simple. He's Jen's sire's sire's husband's student's husband."
They both cocked their heads at me and tried to sort that one through. "What?" asked Harm.
Hell, might as well step them through it. Harm's likely to meet them all anyway, and we have the time at the moment, I thought to myself. "When a vampire brings someone across, they're called the sire of that new vampire. Jen's sire is Michelle. Michelle's sire is Theresa. Theresa's husband is the Immortal Aaron. Aaron's student is Natalie. Natalie's husband is the vampire Nick, who is coming in four hours."
"With Natalie," added Jen, nodding at my recital.
Diane was frowning. "Aaron and Natalie are Immortal teacher and student?" At my nod, she continued, "Matt never told me that student, teacher relationships were that close."
I shook my head. "Mostly they aren't, but everyone likes Terry and Aaron so much that we've all kinda built up this 'family', for lack of a better term. Terry's occasionally told me to call her 'Grandma Terry' like almost everyone else in the family does."
Harm was puzzling through that for a few seconds before he smiled charmingly at Jen. "Does that mean I get to call you 'Mom'?"
Diane slapped a hand over her mouth to contain the laughter. I wasn't quite so quick, and it came out as an undignified snort before I stifled it. Jen turned an acid glare onto me before looking at Harm. "Go to sleep," she commanded.
He passed out immediately.
Diane gasped and bolted upright. "What'd you do!?"
"Put him to sleep," replied Jen with a slight shrug.
"But . . ."
Jen shook her head. "He needs it. Once Nick gets here, I'll wake him up and talk to him again, but until then he needs to conserve his energy." She gave Diane a level stare and continued, "And so do you."
Diane set her mouth stubbornly.
Trying to head off the storm I could see gathering on her face, I said, "Diane, while Jen and Nick are talking to Harm, you, Nat, and I need to talk as well. You need to decide what you're going to do."
After she finished checking that her partner was indeed sleeping peacefully, Diane slowly got back onto the cot. "What do you mean?" she asked me distractedly.
I pointed to Harm. "He has to leave his life," I explained to her. "You need to decide what you're going to do about it."
She frowned at me, finally giving me her full attention. "What? Why?"
I rolled my eyes. It was probably the lack of sleep, but she was being incredibly dense. "No sunlight, liquid diet. How long do you think that'll take before it becomes a serious problem for him in the Navy?"
Her lip twisted in annoyance, but she nodded in recognition.
Getting her acceptance, no matter how grudging, I continued, "Since he's dying of this weird disease anyway, that'll close out the Harmon Rabb identity quite nicely. We'll just have to figure out how to get him out of the hospital."
"Leave that to Nick and me," Jen said with a thoughtful look.
I glanced at her briefly. "I don't want to know. Anyway, that leaves you, Diane."
The woman in question blinked. "Me?"
I nodded. "You. Question one: You going to stay here or go with him?"
"He can't stay here?" she asked, sitting up on the cot.
Hadn't we already gone over this? I sighed. "If he were to 'miraculously' survive, all his friends would wonder why he had quit JAG. They'd all try to see him. No, it's much safer if he were to die now."
She frowned but slowly settled back down. "I guess I can see that. I'm going with him, to answer your question."
I nodded. That was exactly the answer I was expecting. Now for the tricky part. "Were you planning on leaving this identity behind?"
She cocked her head slightly. "Yes."
"Do you believe in fading into obscurity, or killing your identity?"
She shook her head immediately. "Killing her. Matt had too many stories of being tracked down by friends if they thought he was still alive but had just moved."
I nodded, agreeing with that philosophy. Come to think of it, it was getting time for me to move on myself. 'Ryan Chessman' had almost outlived his usefulness. I gave myself a mental shake. That was a problem for another day. "Okay, how should we kill off Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie in a way that doesn't generate questions or problems?" I smiled at Diane shortly. "Or involve too much pain," I added.
"I have an idea on that," Jen interjected. When Diane and I turned our attention to her, she continued, "You and Harm are obviously close. Do all of your friends know that?" At Diane's slight smile and nod, Jennifer nodded back. "Good. My plan will work, then."
"Should I ask?" I wondered out loud.
"Don't worry about it," Jennifer soothed me. "I'll tell you what you need to know when you need to know it."
"What about me?" Diane asked.
"I'll explain it later."
Diane started frowning again.
I said, "I trust Jennifer. If I don't need to know, then there's a reason. She won't do anything without your full knowledge and approval, Diane."
At Jen's confirming nod, Diane settled back down. "What are you going to do about Harm?"
Jen said, "Once I bring him across, he won't be a problem. We can just find someone who's about to be cremated, replace that body, and put him into Harm's morgue tray. They'll have cremated SOMEONE, and since it wasn't who they thought, they'll assume it's Harm."
"Where're you going to get a body for them to cremate?" Diane asked warily.
Jen stared at her levelly. "You don't want to know."
Diane shivered but plunged ahead. "Just promise me it won't be an innocent person who doesn't have to die."
Jen relaxed. "No problem there."
I stared at Jen, wondering if I wanted to know. Probably not, I finally decided. Jen had cleaned up after several of my fights over the years, so I really didn't want to question too closely where those bodies went, or where this one would be coming from.
Diane nodded, apparently taking Jen at her word. Leaning back into the cot again, she rubbed one tired hand over her eyes and asked, "Okay, now what?"
"Now you go to sleep," I said.
Diane frowned at me. "But -" she started to object.
I interrupted, "No buts. You're going to need the sleep. Besides, we're waiting on Nick now, and I have a few things I need to do."
She grudgingly nodded laid down on her cot. Jen and I watched her fall asleep in seconds.
Jen turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "That's trusting of her, falling asleep with another Immortal in the room."
I shrugged slightly, standing up. "She's exhausted. Before you got here, she said she'd been going non-stop for going on thirty-seven hours now. It was bound to catch up with her eventually." Switching tracks, I asked, "You okay in here with them for a while?"
She nodded and pulled a paperback novel out of the small backpack that she'd discreetly brought with her.
"Okay, then," I said, knowing that with a Danielle Steele book in her hands, she could be oblivious to the world for hours. "If I could have my phone back, I need to make a few calls. Do you have everything set up that you need?"
She nodded again, digging the phone out of the bag before curling her legs up under her as she settled into the chair she was sitting in. "I arranged what Nick and I needed before I came back in here."
"I'm going to arrange hotel rooms and pick up Nat and Nick at the airport. Direct flight into National?"
At her nod, I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and headed out of the room.
I was quietly sipping my soft drink in the main seating area of the airport food court when Clayton Webb collapsed into the chair across the table from me. "Do you have any idea what time it is?" he demanded of me.
I raised an eyebrow at him. "Good evening, Webb. How're you doing?"
He glared balefully at me, clearly exhausted but still looking as impeccable as ever.
I sighed. "Sorry, but this can't wait. You told me to warn you if Jen was going to do anything to Rabb, didn't you?"
Webb groaned and leaned forward so his face rested in his hands.
"Can I get you anything?" I offered, knowing I had just ruined his entire evening.
"Scotch, neat," he answered distractedly, pulling out a cell phone.
I chuckled. "I can do that, but I think coffee is more in line right now, don't you?"
He grunted and started punching buttons on the phone. "Double espresso with a pinch of nutmeg."
I rolled my eyes at him. "We aren't in a posh restaurant here, Webb. Bar coffee, McDonald's, or Starbuck's?"
He shuddered slightly. "Anything at Starbuck's." Someone apparently answered on the other end of the phone, because he suddenly started barking orders into it.
I quietly stood and made my way over to the Starbuck's counter. One nice thing about major airports was that everything was open twenty-four hours. After getting him a large cup of a randomly chosen flavor, I walked back over to our table to find him still on the phone. Depositing his coffee in front of him, I went over to the hot pretzel place and bought a cinnamon and a glazed pretzel. Coming back to the table, I caught Webb just hanging up his phone. I placed both pretzels down and reclaimed my seat.
He looked from the pretzels back up to me. "Is this supposed to be some sort of peace offering?"
"No, it's a bribe," I fired back immediately.
He smiled slightly and pulled the glazed pretzel toward himself. Tearing off a small piece, he popped it into his mouth and asked, "What're you bribing me for?"
"Dragging you out of bed in the middle of the night," I answered, taking a bite of the cinnamon treat.
"I told you to," he pointed out.
I nodded and continued, "I also wondered if you knew somewhere we could use just for a couple days. We could stay in a hotel, but I've been told that the first couple hours after Harm's been brought across could be . . . messy," I finished delicately.
He blanched slightly but didn't look away. "I'll see if there's a Council or Agency home nearby that you can use." After swallowing the next piece, he asked, "You have new identities made up for them?"
I shrugged. "Neither Jen nor I know of anyone. I was going to ask Nick Knight who he uses or maybe call Aaron and Terry."
"Good choices, but I can take care of that."
I looked up from my rapidly disappearing pretzel. "Okay, but why? Isn't that breaking your oath?"
He smiled slightly. "I owe Harm and Mac. If this is to help repay some of that debt, I may as well do it right."
"Nice to have friends in high places," I commented. "Let me know about that house real soon. We're going to have to do this tonight. Harm doesn't have any more time than that."
His eyes widened slightly and he pulled his phone out immediately. "I didn't realize you were going to do this tonight," he muttered, rapidly punching numbers.
I finished off my pretzel and checked on Nick and Nat's flight while Webb was still on the phone. He finally folded the instrument shut and tucked it away again. He pushed the pretzel wrapper he had been using as a notepad toward me. "There's the address of a place near Bethesda. It'll need to be used in three days, but you can have it for the next two. Identities will be done in four. Are all of you going to be okay with hotel rooms for a few days?"
I nodded, examining the address. I recognized the street name, so I figured I could find it easily enough. Folding the page carefully, I placed it into my pocket. "You realize we're going to have to explain the Watchers to them."
Webb winced. "Harm at least, yeah. Vampires can spot us too easily. Just don't mention me or who her Watcher is unless you absolutely have to do so."
I nodded agreement and stood up. Offering him my hand, I said, "Thanks for seeing me, Webb. And on Harm and Diane's behalf, thank you."
He stood and solemnly shook my hand. "They're the closest things to friends that I have. I owe them this much and more."
I smiled slightly. "Go visit them sometime once they settle someplace."
He gave me a partial grin. "Perhaps I'll do that."
An hour later found me watching people exit the Canada Air flight direct from Toronto. Natalie's Buzz hit me a few seconds before I spotted her and Nick. He spotted me first and quietly pointed me out to his wife. She visibly relaxed once she spotted me. I stepped toward them and smiled. "Welcome to Washington, DC."
"Hi, Ryan. How're you doing?" Nat asked me as we started to slowly follow the crowd to the luggage carousels.
"Jen and I are doing good. I wish I could say the same for Harm and Diane, though." Shaking off the depressing thought, I said, "I'm sorry to ruin your vacation like this, but both Jen and I thought that you could do a lot better with Harm than she could, Nick."
Nat nearly bristled. "Why, is he sexist?"
I shook my head immediately. "No, it's just that he's over six feet tall. Being so much taller and heavier than Jen, and with her decided lack of fighting skills . . ." I trailed off, hoping Nick would pick up the thread.
He did. "I would be a much better teacher than Jennifer. That makes sense. And don't worry about the vacation. We didn't have anything planned anyway."
"Speak for yourself," Nat muttered.
I shot her a sideways glance and let the ghost of a grin appear. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you two have a private room."
She blushed scarlet, and Nick smiled a tiny smile. "So what's the plan?" Nat asked, trying to change the subject.
I let it slide. "I have a place lined up where the six of us can stay for a few days. Nat, you and I will probably need to be able to get Diane after her current persona is killed sometime later this morning, probably after sunrise. I don't know exactly how that'll work, but Jen says she has a plan. Nick, Jen said she'll need your help at the hospital." I glanced at him for a moment as we waited for the luggage conveyor to start up. "Jen seems reluctant to ask you this question, but I'm not. Don't you want to bring Harm across yourself?"
He shook his head sadly. "I haven't had much luck in producing a childe."
I frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"
Nat answered, studying Nick's melancholy face, "He brings them across easily enough, but bad luck seems to keep hounding him. None of his children seem to last very long." She sighed and dropped her eyes to the ground. "Like Richard."
"I tried," Nick whispered, still with his faraway stare.
Nat wrapped her arms around him and rested her head against his chest. His arms came up around her automatically while she whispered in reply, "I know you did. I don't blame you, and you shouldn't blame yourself for what happened, Nick."
I was clearly missing some important information here, but it was just as clearly personal. Sidestepping the entire conversation, I asked, "So you'd prefer that Jen bring him across, then?"
I was saved from aggravating the mood further by the carousel starting up. Nick deftly inserted himself into the crowd and plucked their suitcases out of the stream flowing past. While he was doing that, Nat had slipped over to the security counter and retrieved her sword case. By the time Nick reappeared with a couple handfuls of luggage, Nat was done with her chore, and I led them out to my rental car.
Time to get this show on the road.
Nat, Nick, and I stepped off of the elevator at Bethesda's fourth floor. I turned toward the ICU and Harm's room.
"I'm sorry, folks, but visiting hours are over," stated one of the nurses at the station as we trooped past.
I sighed in aggravation. It looked like it was a whole different shift, so none of them would recognize that I'd been there earlier. Deciding to try on the sympathetic approach, I approached and dropped my voice. "Nurse, I was here earlier with Commander Rabb. I left to pick these two friends of his up from the airport."
She shook her head stubbornly. "I'm sorry, sir, but nobody except Colonel MacKenzie is allowed to be in with him."
I lowered my voice a little more. "You know and I know that he is dying. Are you really going to prevent his friends from seeing him?"
I saw her look over my shoulder at Nat and Nick. I hoped Nick heard what I was saying and was acting appropriately. His expression must have helped, because I could see the nurse's resolve wavering.
"Tell you what," I offered, pressing her a little more, "if he asks any of us to leave, then we will, no questions asked. Good enough?"
She finally caved in and nodded. Getting her permission, I led Nat and Nick to the correct door and softly knocked. Jennifer opened it up immediately and smiled at all of us. "Come on in," she offered.
I entered and immediately approached Diane, who was stumbling off the cot, clearly just waking up after the approach of two Immortals. "It's okay, Diane," I assured her. "Natalie's a friend." I turned around just in time to see Jen release Nick from a hug. Nat hesitantly stepped forward at my urging. "Natalie Lambert, meet Diane Schonke." The two women seemed a little wary of each other, but obligingly shook hands. "And this is Nick Knight," I continued when he stepped forward. He also shook her hand with a charming smile.
Nat had started looking over Harm once she released Diane's hand. "Is he naturally asleep?" she asked quietly.
Jen answered in a normal tone, "No, I put him to sleep."
Nat looked over at her with a tilted head. "Why?"
"He asked if he should refer to her as 'mom'," I answered with a grin.
Nick's mouth twitched, and Nat smiled. Jen just rolled her eyes.
Nick leaned against the wall away from Harm's bed and said, "You'd better wake him up. We need to talk with him."
Diane immediately moved to Harm's bedside again. Jen smiled at her approvingly before walking to Harm's other side. She leaned over him and kissed him lightly. "Wake up, my handsome prince," she said softly.
Harm began to stir as Diane glared at Jen and I looked to her with a frown. "Hey," she said with a shrug, "I always wanted to play a part in a fairy tale." Nat giggled, and Nick suppressed a grin.
I shook my head and chuckled lightly. "You're impossible," I told Jen affectionately.
She smiled brightly and shrugged in response.
Diane looked like she was going to say something but Harm's groan and raspy, "Mac," redirected her attention to him.
"I'm here, Harm," she said, holding his hand and stroking a lock of hair out of his face.
"You won't believe the crazy dream I had," he said, looking only at her. "Someone offered me immortality, but I had to die first. Sounds crazy, huh?" His voice was soft but scratchy.
Diane shook her head and looked up at everyone. Harm followed her gaze and gave a small start of surprise when he saw four more people in the room. When his eyes stopped at Jen, she shrugged slightly and said, "It wasn't a dream."
Jen waved at Nat and Nick and said, "Harm, meet my uncle Nick Knight and his wife Natalie Lambert."
"The vampire and Immortal you told us about?" he asked hoarsely.
"That would be us," Nick confirmed, offering Harm his hand.
Harm shook it and then let his arm collapse to his chest. Even after his little nap, he was still clearly exhausted. "Could someone explain to me again why we need so many people here?"
Jen answered, "Nick will be training you. I'll bring you across."
"Why couldn't he bring Harm across or you train him?" Diane asked, pointing first at Nick then Jen.
"Because I have a moral aversion to drinking human blood," Nick answered part of the question.
"And I can't train him very well," Jen answered the rest.
Diane stared at Nick. "A vampire who doesn't drink human blood?"
Four pair of eyes narrowed at the implications.
Natalie took up the tale. "Not all vampires are the blood- sucking monsters that Hollywood has made them out to be. If you had that attitude, why did you agree to this?"
"Desperation?" Diane asked after a few moments of thought.
"I can't stand to see Mac cry," Harm stated.
Diane coughed out a moment of laughter. "Dream on, stick- boy."
He smiled at her sadly. "Seriously, I can't give her up."
"And I can't live without him," Diane added softly.
They continued to stare at each other for a few more moments before Nick discreetly cleared his throat to remind them that there were others in the room.
Both of them jerked their attention back to us. Diane was slightly flushed.
"Before I allow this to happen, I have to know that you've thought this through."
"Before you ALLOW?" bristled Diane.
Jen said calmly, "Yes, allow. He's senior in the room. One thing Harm will have to learn is that it's unwise to cross a vampire older than you are."
Diane didn't seem to calm down, so Nick said, "What Jennifer said is technically correct, but rest assured that I won't force anything. I phrased it badly. All I was asking was if you've both thought this through."
Diane slowly calmed down. Harm was looking at Nick appraisingly. "How old are you?" he asked.
I looked around the room momentarily when Nick refused to answer. Five of us on both sides of forty, five times forty is two hundred . . . "If you take all the rest of our ages together and multiply THAT by four, then you're in the right area."
Harm blinked. "Wow," he said, looking at Nick.
Natalie shrugged. "My teacher is a great deal older than Nick is. Immortals and vampires can age indefinitely. There's a rumor of an Immortal that's five thousand."
Harm and Diane began staring at her. "Wow," Diane said.
I held my peace. It wouldn't help matters if I told anyone that I knew Methos.
"Back to you two," Nick said with a menacing glance at me for my revelation of his age before he returned his attention to Harm and Diane. "You understand he will forever need to drink blood to survive and avoid sunlight, right?"
They nodded, but Diane was frowning. "You don't drink human blood?"
It must be the lawyer in her. She wouldn't let an idea go until it was answered, I mused.
Nick rolled his eyes and sighed. "No, I don't. I've done enough harm to humans over the years. I won't do more if I don't have to."
"What DO you drink then?" asked Harm.
Diane suddenly giggled.
Everyone looked at her. She was looking at Harm with a grin. "All those times you teased me for eating dead animal . . ."
Harm's frown slowly cleared, and he chuckled slightly. "I guess I'll have to give up my vegetarianism."
I groaned. "God, how can you eat that rabbit food? You're as bad as Dana."
Natalie frowned. "Dana?"
I waved her off. "Dana Scully. Another friend here in Washington."
Natalie nodded and smiled slightly.
Nick rolled his eyes at all of us. "Back to the topic," he nearly growled.
I held my hands up. "Okay, okay."
Jen smiled a little at my gesture and said, "Ryan, Natalie, I need to talk to you anyway."
Shrugging my acceptance, I held the door for the two ladies and we all trooped back to the waiting room.
"What's up?" Natalie asked once we made it.
Jen closed the door and took a seat next to me on the couch. "I've got a plan to help Diane close out her current identity. If the timing works out right, it'll be after dawn, though. So I'm going to need you two to help."
"Sure," I answered. "What do you need us to do?"
"Find a way to get ON the Potomac, downstream from the Memorial Bridge, but out of sight of it. I'll call you when I have some idea of when you need to be there."
Nat and I stared at her. "Should I ask?" Natalie finally queried.
"Diane's body will float past you at some point. Grab it and get to the hotel as quickly as you can. No telling when Harm will wake up."
"House," I corrected, pulling a handy notepad over and copying down the address. "I arranged a house for all three of us to stay in for two days." I tore off the top sheet and handed it to Jen. She glanced at it and pocketed the sheet.
Natalie rose her eyebrows at me. "House?"
"Hotel walls are thin. I was afraid of Harm making too much noise once he woke up. So I had an acquaintance arrange a house for us to use for a few days. He's a Watcher who knows about vampires, so he knows why we needed it."
Natalie nodded. "We'll have to tell Harm and Diane about Watchers."
"Harm at least," I agreed.
"Once you retrieve Diane, you need to explain First Hunger to her and get her to the house," Jen went on.
"If she doesn't volunteer, we'll need to make other arrangements," Natalie mused.
I shrugged. "You and I can donate as much blood as needed," I pointed out.
"Agreed, but Diane needs to learn a few things about Harm sooner or later."
Diane walked into our Buzz range, and Natalie and I stiffened in our seats for a moment. I relaxed immediately, and Nat did the same when Diane cautiously stuck her head in the door.
"Can I come in?" she cautiously asked.
"Sure," I invited. "Nick kick you out?"
Diane collapsed into one of the chairs. She nodded and said, "He made it clear that he needed to talk to Harm alone for a while and suggested that I come out here."
"Teaching Harm the secret vampire handshake, probably," said Natalie casually.
"How do you know about that?" Jen asked sharply.
Diane frowned in confusion before I took pity on her. "They're kidding." I paused at the steady looks Nat and Jen were giving me and asked, "Right?"
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," Jen deadpanned.
"Anytime, babe," I fired back.
Diane stared back and forth with wide eyes, and Natalie giggled.
"You're incorrigible," Jen accused me with a small smile.
"Yup," I agreed, smiling back.
"Uh . . ." Diane didn't seem to know what to make of the conversation.
Nat took pity on her this time. "Blood drain won't kill an Immortal permanently. We just wake up thirsty."
Diane shook her head and dropped her head into her hands. "This is just too weird."
We all chuckled. "It gets weirder," Jen promised, "but that's a story for another time. For the moment, I need to talk to you about how to kill off this identity." She studied Diane for a moment before asking, "What are you willing to do for Harm?"
"Anything," Diane answered promptly.
Jen nodded and turned to me. "I won't need you here, then. You and Nat understand what you're doing?"
Natalie took that cue and stood as I did. "I know our orders, but I don't understand them."
Jennifer smiled. "All will be made clear to you in the fullness of time, young Grasshopper," she said mysteriously.
I rolled my eyes at the line.
Jen's smile faded. "Seriously, we don't have a lot of time. I will explain later if you want, but I really don't have the time right now."
Natalie and I nodded. Jennifer clearly had a plan, and neither of us was going to question it. We had our orders, and they were simple enough.
"Diane," Jen continued, "you might want to give Nat your sword."
"Why?" she asked hesitantly.
"It'll weigh you down. Don't worry, you'll get it back later this morning."
Diane shrugged and stood, smoothly drawing her short sword from under her uniform jacket. She laid it down on the table and took her seat again.
Natalie collected it and slid it away somewhere in her trench coat. "Anything else?" she asked Jen.
Jen shook her head. "Nope. See you two later. I'll call you when I know more, Ryan."
I nodded and leaned down to give Jen a peck on the cheek. I nodded to Diane and said, "Good luck. See you later."
Natalie waved at both women as I held the door for her.
As Nat and I walked slowly down the hall side by side, she commented, "She's either brave or foolhardy."
"How so?" I asked, punching the button to summon an elevator.
"Handing her sword over like that?"
I shrugged. "She's desperate. Jen's giving her a way out of this whole situation. She'll do anything asked of her, I think."
She looked at me for a moment before saying, "She must really be in love with Mister Rabb to do that."
I smiled slightly. "What would you do for Nick?"
She nodded as the elevator binged and the doors opened. "Good point."
Instead of leaving the hospital immediately, we stopped in the cafeteria. We both grabbed a meal (it WAS late in our usual "day"), and I got another soft drink. I was still running short of sleep, and it looked like I was going to be busy for a while more.
Nat and I chatted for a little while. It was an hour yet before dawn, and Jen knew it would be well after that point before we were needed. We had a little time.
We were just dumping our trash when the intercom in the cafeteria area came on. "Doctor Fitzsimmons, code blue in room four twenty-one. Code blue in room four twenty-one, Doctor Fitzsimmons." The words were calm enough, but you could hear the underlying urgency in the summons.
Neither of us mentioned that Harmon Rabb was in room four twenty-one as we quietly left the hospital.
"Explain to me again the plan your crazy wife came up with," requested Natalie two hours later.
I shrugged as I kept one hand on the pilings of the bridge we were under. "I dunno. She just told us to be here and waiting for Diane's body to float by."
"Charming visual. Thank you so much."
"You're the pathologist. You should be used to it."
"Just because I'm used to it doesn't mean I like it," she returned.
I grunted in agreement as my eyes continued scanning the river and my free hand kept hold of the bridge. After Jen's phone call an hour ago, we had ended up stealing a small fishing boat from someone's boat dock and motoring partway up the Potomac River until we stopped here, waiting under another bridge for Diane to come by. I just hoped we could catch her, return the boat, and make it to the safe house without anyone spotting us. This whole thing would be VERY tough to explain to the DC police if we were stopped.
Our patience paid off minutes later. We both felt an on- again, off-again Immortal Buzz. Both of us looked frantically for Diane, knowing that if she floated by, it would be all but impossible to find her in the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, Natalie's arm shot out and she exclaimed, "There!"
I followed her arm and saw the back and shoulders of someone floating toward us in the standard "dead man's float" position. I pushed us away from the bridge pilings shortly before the body came even with us, and we drifted toward it. Once we weren't anchored to the bridge, the current caught us and we floated along beside what I assumed was Diane's body. Bracing myself in as wide a stance as I could, I nodded to Natalie. She carefully leaned over and grabbed the floating body by the armpits. Working cautiously and giving me time to adjust to the shifting balance, Natalie slowly dragged what was indeed Diane's corpse into the boat. Once she was lying on the floor of the boat, I tossed a tarp over her and started the motor again.
We had made it less than a mile back towards where we had "borrowed" the boat when Diane's Buzz grew to full strength, and she abruptly sucked in a full breath. She immediately started coughing and retching. That was hardly surprising, really. There was no telling how much water and assorted other junk was in her stomach and lungs. When the coughing jag slowed down, she suddenly started thrashing around under the tarp.
"Easy, Diane," soothed Natalie, recognizing the panic attack for what it was. "It's Natalie and Ryan. You're safe. We're taking you to Harm." Diane immediately calmed down. Natalie clearly knew exactly what Diane had needed to hear. I could hear labored deep breathing punctuated by short coughing fits for a few more minutes before Diane slowly dug her way out from under the tarp.
When Diane's head appeared, Natalie immediately handed her a large towel. "Here. I'm sure you want to dry off some. I have some clothes for you to change into as well. Let me know when you want them."
I resisted the urge to chuckle. Whoever had coined the phrase "drowned cat" could well have had a dripping wet Diane Schonke in mind.
Diane grabbed the towel and buried her face into it for a moment before starting to scrub at her hair. "Thank you," she said to Natalie, holding the towel up slightly.
Natalie smiled. "You're welcome. It didn't take much imagination to guess what your first wishes would be once you woke up."
Diane smiled slightly. "You answered one, and this towel is two. You said something about dry clothes?"
I chuckled. "We'd better wait until we're back at the boat house before you change. I can turn my back, but we ARE on a public waterway."
Diane blushed slightly. "I'll wait, thanks." She stripped off her uniform jacket and dropped the sodden mess onto the floor of the boat. Leaning forward, she dried her legs and then her arms as well as she could.
Natalie grabbed the jacket and unceremoniously dropped it into the water.
Diane looked at her in puzzlement as she dried her hair again.
"Something for searchers to find," Natalie explained. "Hopefully between it and the cap that you've lost somewhere along the line, they'll stop looking for your body sooner than later."
Diane nodded and then wrapped the towel around her shoulders and hunched forward.
When I saw her shiver, I said, "Nearly there, and then you can change into dry clothes."
She nodded but didn't look up from her little ball of shivering misery.
It took only another ten minutes to ease back into the boathouse that we had originally stolen the craft from in the first place. When I shut off the outboard motor, Natalie helped Diane stand and climb out of the boat. While I rinsed off the tarps and replaced everything as closely to where we found it as possible, Diane changed into the sweats that Natalie had brought for her.
Once everything was replaced as well as we could manage, the three of us headed back toward the road to where I had parked the car.
When she saw that we weren't heading to the house, Diane asked, "Where are we going?"
"The car," Natalie answered smoothly.
"Whose house is this?"
I shrugged. Nat answered, "We don't know. Looks like whoever it is, is on vacation, though."
"You stole the boat," Diane stated.
"We borrowed it, yes," I answered.
She made a noise that I chose to interpret as amused tolerance, but she didn't pursue the conversation further.
As we approached the car, I asked Natalie, "You want to drive?"
She shook her head. "You know where we're going. Besides, I can talk to Diane about Harm's First Hunger this way."
Nodding agreement, I unlocked the car and let the two women into the back seat. Dumping the backpack that now contained Diane's soaked uniform into the front seat, I pulled out into the nice neighborhood and turned toward the safe house that Webb had set up for us.
"First Hunger?" Diane asked warily.
Natalie launched into lecture mode. "When a vampire wakes up for the first time, he is ravenously hungry. Quite literally, he will attack and kill the first warm blooded creature to wander in front of him. Ryan and I can donate enough blood to satisfy him, but we need to get back to the house in time for me to set everything up."
"I can donate too," Diane offered.
In the rear-view mirror, I saw Natalie level a stare at Diane. "Or you can let him feed from you directly."
I heard Diane gasp as I returned my attention to the road.
"Isn't that dangerous?" asked Diane.
"Not really," I said. "I've fed Jen any number of times. I'm sure Natalie's done the same for Nick. Dying of blood loss won't keep us down, as Natalie mentioned to you in he hospital."
"What does . . . uh . . ." Diane didn't seem to know how to ask the next question.
Natalie saved her. "Initially it DOES hurt, but only for a moment. Then a sense of peace washes over you. If I do die, it's more like I fall asleep than anything else."
"There's a sensual component to it, as well," I added. "I also wake up very thirsty."
"Okay . . ." Diane eventually said before trailing off.
"But since this is Harm's first feeding, it probably won't be nearly so . . . pleasant," Natalie finally finished.
I could hear Diane's gulp from where she was sitting behind me.
"Unless he tears across the throat horizontally, or gets near the spinal cord, everything will heal. I expect Nick and Jen will want to be in the room when Harm first wakes up, and they both know what to watch out for. They can prevent Harm from doing any permanent damage to you or himself."
Diane was silent for a long moment before asking, "Himself?"
"Once the bloodlust clears, he'll see what he's done to you and he might very well try to kill himself. They can prevent him from doing that."
When Diane stayed silent for a minute, Nat said, "Like I said, Ryan and I can donate the blood to -"
"No," Diane interrupted. "I'll do this for him. I WANT to do this for him."
I nodded, and I expect Nat did too. She said, "One thing you need to be aware of is that when a vampire drinks someone's blood, they get some of that person's memories and sometimes feelings. If there's something in your history that he doesn't know . . ." Nat trailed off, not bothering to spell it out.
"No, there's nothing in my history that he doesn't know. And he already knows how I feel about him," Diane added.
Comparing the house numbers to the note that I pulled from my pocket, I pulled into the driveway of a modest two story home. There were neighboring houses, but the yards were rather wide, so I wasn't too worried about anyone hearing anything. "Here's home for the next two days," I announced.
"What are we going to do here for two days?" asked Diane.
"We will teach you how to live with a vampire, and Nick and Jen will teach Harm how to BE a vampire," Natalie answered.
"Then we move to a hotel for a few more days until your new identities are finished," I added.
"New identities? But how did -"
"You really don't need to know," I interrupted gently.
Diane frowned at me. "How much -"
She stopped when I shook my head. "Don't worry about it." I smiled at her as a thought came to me. "Just you and Harm promise Jen and myself legal advice when we need it, and we'll call it even."
Diane gradually relaxed. She even managed a small smile and said, "Okay, then. I'll stop asking."
I smiled back at her. "That's the spirit."
Both women chuckled as we all got out of the car. I hesitantly approached the house and pushed open the door. "Anybody home?" I called. I assumed all three vampires were in the building, but it wouldn't do to walk in if something had gone wrong.
I was reassured immediately when I heard Nick's voice float out to us. "Come on in."
I held the door for the two women and then followed them in, firmly shutting and dead bolting the door behind us.
"Nobody's here to greet us?" Diane asked.
"Daylight," Natalie explained as she hung up her trench coat.
"Oh, right," Diane said, shaking her head slightly.
"Don't worry about it," I soothed. "I've been with Jen for years, and I still forget some things."
Jen poked her head upstairs from the basement and smiled at the three of us. When her gaze fell to Diane, she asked, "Did Nat and Ryan explain what's about to happen?"
"First Hunger, I think they called it?" Diane asked. At Jen's nod, she continued, "Yes, and I'd like to help him however I can."
Jen smiled. "Good. Come on down." When Nat and I started to follow, Jen held up a hand. "Not you two. Nick and I can handle it. No offense, but you'd only be in the way. Nat, you and Nick are in the first bedroom upstairs. Ryan, we're in the second."
"And me?" Diane asked.
Jen looked at her with a slightly raised eyebrow. "You and Harm can stay together downstairs, or you can take the third bedroom upstairs."
Diane blushed but didn't say anything.
"My, that's a lovely shade of scarlet you're wearing, Diane," Nat teased.
Diane blushed even brighter.
"The women are teasing each other up here, Nick," I called downstairs. "Help me out, would ya?"
Jen smacked my arm as Nick shouted back, "No way! You're on your own, kid."
"Hey!" Nat shouted back down at him with a grin.
We all grinned, and Diane giggled, breaking the tension that the whole situation was slowly building.
Turning serious again, Jen said, "Diane, you'd better come down. There's no telling how much longer until Harm wakes up."
As those two women went back downstairs, I said to Natalie, "I'm going to check the kitchen. We might need to do a stock-up trip."
She nodded agreement, and we scoured through the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator, making a list as we went.
Later with a list firmly in hand, I opened the basement door and called down, "Diane, what's your favorite flavor of those sport's drinks?"
"Orange or lemon-lime, why?"
"Trust me, you're going to need it in the next two days. Nat and I are going to the grocery store. Be back soon."
"We'll be here," Jen answered with a touch of irony in her voice.
Burdened with groceries, Nat and I pushed open the door to the house and entered again. I was surprised to find Nick and Jen sprawled out on the couch, eyeing the shaft of sunlight from the open door warily.
"Hi, honey, I'm home," I quipped, closing and locking the door behind me.
"Hello, dear. Have a nice day at the office?" Nick asked me with a slight smile.
Everyone grinned or chuckled.
"How'd everything go?" I asked tiredly as I started unloading a bag into the fridge.
"As well as could be expected," Jen said with a shrug.
"That's one brave lady," added Nick.
"Everything okay downstairs?" Nat asked around a yawn.
"They're fine. Harm went nuts once he realized he'd killed her. He calmed down when she revived, though. They've been downstairs talking since."
I nodded. "Good." A yawn escaped before I went on. "Second bedroom's ours?"
Nat nodded and waved me on my way. Jen fell into step right behind me as I slowly made my way upstairs.
I stepped out of almost all my clothes and collapsed into bed immediately. As much as I typically enjoyed watching Jennifer undress, I was still asleep before she got to bed.
A scream woke me up.
I was still trying to get my bearings in an unfamiliar room when Jennifer shouted, "Diane!" and flew out of the room.
I stumbled to my feet and bolted for the door. Natalie and I nearly fell over each other on the way down the stairs to the main floor and again on the stairs to the basement. When we finally made it to where everyone else was, it took a few seconds sort out what we were seeing.
Nick and Jen had flown into the room ahead of us and were both collapsed at the base of the stairs, laughing. Diane was sitting on the bed, nearly as pale as the sheets she was sitting on, and staring at the ceiling. I had to tear my eyes away from the sight of Diane clad only in a tight t- shirt and shorts, the sheets and bedspread bunched at the foot of the bed. Chastising myself silently, my eyes followed hers, and I found the source of Jen's amusement.
Harm was plastered to the ceiling. His back was pressed to the smooth surface, and he was spread-eagled and staring downward in shock and fear. His eyes flicked from Diane's panicked face to Nick and Jen to me and Nat in a continuous cycle.
Taking a couple deep breaths to calm my racing heart (ah, adrenaline is a wonderful thing), I fought down my own smile and said, "Hi, Harm. How're you doing?"
He whimpered slightly and carefully inched his way over to the light fixture hanging in the middle of the room. Once there, he screwed his eyes shut, wrapped his arms around the light, and clung to it as if for dear life.
Without anything else to contribute to the odd scene, I sat down on the stairs behind Jen. Nat had sat down next to Nick on the floor and wasn't even trying to fight her tears anymore. She was leaning against her husband and wiping her eyes. Jen and Nick were finally calming down, though. Diane still hadn't moved her eyes away from Harm.
Nick had finally composed himself, and he put an arm around his wife, who was still hiccupping slightly. "Harm, what are you doing up there?"
Harm's only response was a small, frightened sound.
Nick turned his attention to Diane. "What happened?" he asked her.
She slowly shook her head before finally tearing her wide- eyed gaze off of the naval officer currently hunched around the light above her head. "I don't know. I felt him bump me, and it woke me up. I looked for him, but he was gone. I finally spotted him on the ceiling. I screamed, and you all came downstairs."
Nick nodded and looked up at his student.
Diane continued, "Uh, is this," she waved her hand vaguely upward, "normal?"
"Sure is," Jen answered in a steady voice. "He's young and doesn't know how to control himself." She looked up. "Harm."
Harm repeated his small sound. At least he was listening.
"Let me guess," Jen said. "You were dreaming about flying, right?"
Diane gasped, and Harm's eyes flew open to latch onto Jen. "H - How did y - you know?" he asked, stuttering slightly.
She smiled. "Because I did the same thing my first night."
I smiled and leaned back on the steps behind me. "Oh," I said brightly, "I get to hear a story about Jen's formative years."
She glanced at me and said, "Bite me."
"I thought that was my line," I fired back with a wide grin.
Natalie broke out into a fresh round of giggles.
Completely ignoring Natalie and me, Jen turned back to Harm. "So you were dreaming of flying, woke up, and found yourself on the ceiling, right?"
His responding nod was so short that it almost looked like a spasmodic twitch.
Jen's voice took on a slightly different pitch and cadence. From past experience, I knew she was trying to employ a Whammy. How effective it would be against another vampire, I didn't know. This WAS her childe, I reminded myself. Either way, it couldn't hurt. She said, "How were you flying, Harm? Were you a bird, or were you just floating under your own power?"
"F-14," Diane said quietly, eyes back on Harm.
"What was that?" Jen looked over at Diane.
"F-14," Diane repeated, turning her eyes to Jen. "He was a Tomcat pilot before joining JAG."
Jen looked back up at her childe. With that same voice, she continued to him, "Is that right, Harm? Were you flying a Tomcat?"
He nodded again. If nothing else, her tone looked like it was calming him down.
Deepening the power of her voice, Jen started talking slowly. "Harmon Rabb, my childe, listen to my words. Imagine yourself in the cockpit of your Tomcat. It is a pretty day, not a cloud in sight. The deep blue water beneath you and the azure of the sky above you are old friends. You have nothing to fear from them. You're on your way back from a patrol. Nothing important has happened, but because it is such a pretty day, you're in a good mood. You've been bantering idly with your back-seater, just passing the time until you get back to your carrier, but you're now approaching the carrier. It is time to land your aircraft, Harm. Speak aloud all of your actions as you perform them."
Harm's face had taken on a dreamy smile during Jen's verbal painting. Probably without realizing it, he had released the light but was still pressed against the ceiling.
Harm started muttering to himself, apparently talking through the steps that a Tomcat pilot went through during landing at sea. His hands twitched in time with some of his statements, and other times moved almost as if he were swimming through the air.
Knowing that Jen was "talking him down" (literally), I was not surprised when he started floating down toward the bed in slow motion. As quietly as I could, I walked over and tapped Diane on the shoulder, motioning her off the bed once I had her attention.
As he fell within a foot of the bed, I could see him frowning in concentration. I was concerned about this for a moment before I realized that landing was probably one of the most stressful parts of flying. He was simply feeling the imagined tension of trying to land his airplane.
He continued to drop smoothly until the last inch, which he abruptly dropped with a squeak of the springs on the bed. That jolt startled him out of his trance. He froze in position for a few moments before slowly putting his arms under himself and levering himself into a sitting position.
Diane's chuckle broke the silence.
Everyone looked over at her, a question spread over every face.
"Carrier landing," she said, as if that explained everything.
Harm laughed. "Carrier landing," he agreed, smiling and nodding at Diane.
"Care to let the rest of us in on the joke?" I asked, cradling Jen in my arms from behind.
"Carrier landings are best described as an abrupt jolt," Diane answered with a smile.
Nodding at the information, I smiled at Diane and Harm and said, "Good evening. Sleep well?"
They both laughed, the tension fading. "Yes, actually I did," Harm said.
"Since I doubt any of us are getting back to sleep, who's hungry?" Nat asked.
Everyone raised their hands or nodded.
Nat pointed at Jen and said, "You need to talk to your husband about that." She turned to Harm and said, "Now, Harm, on the other hand -"
"I'll do it," Diane said quietly but firmly. She looked a little pale, whether from what she was agreeing to or from what Nat's words were implying about Jen and me, I couldn't tell.
Harm paled as well. Turning to Diane, he said, "Mac, I won't let you do this."
"Why not?" Jen asked.
"I'll hurt her," Harm replied.
Nat suddenly broke into the conversation, "Diane, come on upstairs with me. We'll get breakfast started." Diane frowned but obediently stood and approached the stairs. Nat quickly whispered into Nick's ear, and he nodded. Nat looked at me and said, "Come on up, Ryan, and -"
"No," Nick interrupted, looking at me and frowning in thought. "He could be useful here for a few minutes." He turned to Jen and smiled slightly. "Could you go with them? We'll all be up in a minute." When Jen didn't answer with any more than a tilted head, he shook his head slightly and said, "It's a guy thing."
Nat cocked her head at her husband for a moment but didn't argue. Instead, she started chatting about something or other as the three women headed upstairs.
"A guy thing?" I asked Nick, trying to fight a smile.
With a sigh, Nick folded his arms and turned to Harm. "A guy thing," he reiterated to me.
"So what is this 'guy thing' among long-lived guys?" Harm asked flippantly, but his eyes betrayed apprehension.
"Among Immortal - vampire couples," Nick corrected.
Harm balked. "Who says Mac and I are a couple?"
Temporarily diverted, Nick cocked his head and asks, "Mac?"
I answered the question. "Diane's previous alias was Sarah MacKenzie. Harm called her Mac for short."
Minor mystery solved, Nick nodded and looked at Harm with a smile trying to tug one corner of his mouth upward. "As to you two being a couple: the evidence is compelling."
"Oh?" Harm asked, with a slight challenge in his voice.
Grinning, I jumped in. "I'll start at the obvious. She said you bumped her and she woke up, so you were both in the bed. You two shared a bed all night, despite the fact that you both knew that there was another bedroom available upstairs." I indicated the bed with a wave of my hand. "Based on the single large indentation in the middle of that bed, you two had to be curled up pretty tight." I turned to Nick, ignoring the panic-stricken look that Harm was developing. "Did I miss anything?"
Nick nodded. "Harm, I'm sure you're aware that vampires have increased senses. Sight, taste," he paused slightly, "smell." He paused longer, and his stare bored into Harm. "Hearing."
I stifled the serious case of the snickers that was threatening me.
"Okay, okay," Harm muttered, waving one hand and then bringing it to his forehead in an obviously embarrassed manner. "You two have made your point. Yes, Mac and I ARE a couple. Happy?"
"Actually, yes," Nick said, relaxing his penetrating glare. "It makes the rest of this easier. You're hesitant to drink from Diane, and she's scared of the same. You'll be happy to know that under the right circumstances, drinking from her isn't so . . . traumatic as it was the first time."
Harm cocked his head in silent query.
"Three ways that I know," I said. "You can try to relax her with your voice first. Since she already trusts you, that'll be easier than it sounds. The other two methods are something that Nick may have to teach you; I don't know. Anyway, from the Immortal's point of view, the initial moments are painful, but then it becomes calm and peaceful, or almost . . . erotic," I finished delicately.
Nick nodded and picked up the thread. "That's what Nat says, too. She'll still be weakened or 'die', so to speak, but don't think that it's unpleasant."
"I'll say," I second with a wide grin and wagging eyebrows.
Nick rolled his eyes at my over-acting before continuing. "Ryan was right about one point, though. If you don't control yourself, it WILL be unpleasant for her. It all has to do with speed and mental attitude. Take it slow, and think about not trying to cause pain, and it's easier on her. I'm sure you can figure out how to make it downright pleasant from there. Though it may take some practice."
I was impressed at how Nick managed to keep a straight face with that last line.
Harm looked at Nick apprehensively for a few seconds before slowly nodding.
"Just have water, juice, or preferably one of those sport's drinks handy. We wake up thirsty."
Harm nodded again and asked, "Now what?"
I stood and headed upstairs. "Now the Immortals have breakfast while the vampires take their showers. You three can eat after we do."
"That sounds somewhat unfair," objected Harm. "How come you get to eat first?"
Nick raised a hand in a placating gesture. "It's easier on their bodies. Besides, if you were THAT hungry, your eyes would be glowing."
Harm blinked at that line and shook his head slightly. "Whatever. Nick, you can go ahead and shower first, but save some hot water for me."
I opened the basement door that the girls had closed behind themselves and shook my head. "Um, Harm, one thing you haven't apparently noticed yet. Your body really doesn't care much about hot or cold anymore. As long as the water's at least lukewarm, you'll do fine." I tossed a grin at him over my shoulder. "Now you leave ME some hot water."
My grin and Harm's glare at me were the first things that Diane saw when we entered the kitchen. We could hear the shower upstairs running, and I assumed that was where Jennifer was. "What's wrong, Harm?" Diane asked in concern, eyes going from Harm to me.
Harm walked over to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. I saw Nat open her mouth to say something, but Nick shook his head at her. Harm was answering Diane's question, "My stepfather was just teasing me."
"Hey," I objected, trying (unsuccessfully) to stifle a grin.
Harm smiled at me before taking a sip of his coffee. His face immediately lost what little color it had. He bolted over to the sink, coughing and looking like he was going to throw up. He never quite did, but it looked possible for a moment. I calmly fixed a bowl of cereal and orange juice for myself and took a seat at the table with Nat and Nick.
Diane had jumped to his side when he got to the sink. "What's wrong with him?" Diane asked in panic.
Nick answered calmly, "He's a vampire."
Diane glared at him. Harm did too, for a moment, between coughs.
Nick looked mildly back at them and repeated himself. "He's a vampire, and he just drank coffee."
"You could have warned me," Harm muttered, finally getting himself back under control.
Nick shrugged negligently. "You had to learn. Besides, it won't kill you."
Nat smacked his shoulder. "You're awful," she accused with a smile. Turning back to Harm, she said, "Seriously, the only things you can drink are blood and maybe water."
Since Harm was apparently recovered by this point, Diane slowly retook her seat and resumed her meal.
Harm looked sadly at his coffee cup for a moment before dumping the contents down the drain.
The next day passed calmly for all concerned (though Diane had a slightly dazed smile on her face on and off). On the evening that we moved to a nearby motel, there was a note waiting at the lobby for me, by name.
Ryan Chessman, Please meet me tonight. 20:00 @ the microbrew on Sample Street. Bring friends if you wish, but NOT D. Robert Visage
I smiled as I read the note. The signature followed the Watcher's pattern of using "seeing" or some derivative as a indicator. The first name made me think it was Mister Roberts, Diane's former Watcher. If that were the case, it would explain why he didn't want Diane to attend. Checking my watch, I discovered I would have to leave soon to make it in time.
"Everything okay?" Jen asked, coming through the lobby carrying her two bags.
"Yeah," I answered, conscious of the fact that Harm could no doubt hear us across the lobby. "Listen, I need to go out for a few hours this evening. You can come if you want, but you'll probably end up spending most of your time just 'watching'," I emphasized slightly.
She nodded, apparently catching my meaning. She led me over to the other four as they stood waiting on an elevator. "Go ahead. Nick and I need to work with Harm on his flying control."
Either catching on to the ploy or having been prompted subtly by Nick, Natalie smiled at Diane as we all boarded the elevator. "How about we just have a girl's night in? Rocky Road ice cream and romance movies. How about it?"
Diane agreed, and after I dropped my suitcase off in one of the three rooms that Nick had rented, I headed back down to my rental car.
I pushed open the glass door and walked into the brewpub. Knowing I was a few minutes late (DC traffic should never be underestimated), I looked around for Mister Roberts.
A waitress came up to me with a professional smile in place. "Hi. Dinner for one?"
I shook my head, still scanning. "Actually, I'm looking for a friend." I saw Mister Roberts at that moment, sitting at the bar. "And there he is," I finished, smiling at the waitress.
Nodding her head slightly and waving me on past, she turned to greet the next couple coming into the restaurant.
Walking past the waitress, I stopped beside the barstool next to Mister Roberts. He looked up at me for a moment before returning his attention to the tall glass in front of him. "Mister Visage," I greeted him.
He smiled slightly. "You WERE a Watcher," he retorted. "Nice to know you remember some things."
"Your confidence is noted," I said dryly as the bartender paused in front of me with a raised eyebrow. "Do you have an ale or lager?" I asked her, knowing they did their own brewing here. I didn't particularly like American pilsners, and a stout was almost like drinking used motor oil.
She nodded. "Pale ale, medium Irish ale, a kolsch which is close to a lager, or an unfiltered wheat beer."
"The wheat's pretty good," commented Roberts. "That's what I'm having."
I nodded. "I'll try that, then."
She moved off to fill my order as I settled in next to Roberts. "What's up?"
He shook his head. "I'm waiting for the rest of the party."
"Who?" I asked guardedly as the bartender placed a tall glass in front of me. I took a cautious sip and found it to be surprisingly sweet.
"Mister Webb," Roberts said. "Told you it was good," he added to my pleased reaction to the drink.
"Sorry I'm late," Webb said, slipping into the stool on the other side of Roberts. When the bartender stopped in front of us again, he tried to order, "Scotch, neat."
She shook her head, absently wiping her hands on a towel. "We don't have liquors. Beer or wine."
Webb visibly winced. "Water, then."
Roberts's mouth worked as if he were fighting a smile. I knew I was.
When Webb's drink was deposited in front of him, he said, "Gentlemen, let's find a table. This discussion needs to be more private." Though he never looked over at her, it was clear he meant the bartender.
"Not everybody is spying on you, Webb," Roberts said in slight exasperation. Nevertheless, he stood with his drink and followed Webb to a corner booth that provided a measure of privacy.
Webb completely ignored Roberts's comment, instead looking over the menu in obvious distaste.
Seeing the expression on his face, Roberts said, "It IS a bar, Webb. This isn't exactly a four star restaurant, but it isn't bad, either."
"That tells me who picked this meeting place," I said, smiling at Webb's obvious discomfort.
"Ha, ha," Webb retorted, finally giving up on the menu.
"What'll it be, gents?" asked the youngish woman smiling at us.
I waved her off, but Roberts said, "An order of onion rings, please." She wrote it down and then looked to Webb, quickly scurrying away at his glare.
"Easy, Webb," I said. "You're scaring the waitress."
He mumbled something, glaring at the tabletop.
Shaking my head at the angry Watcher, I looked over at Roberts and said, "You have the floor, Mister Roberts."
"First," he said, taking a sip of his drink, "it's Bud. Secondly, I wanted to make sure Diane is okay. With what happened to Harm, and all."
Startled, I glanced over at Webb for direction. He was subtly shaking his head. Fortunately, Bud hadn't seen that, otherwise I fully expected the Watcher to know that something was up. "She's doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances," I hedged, answering Bud's question.
He nodded and stared at his beer. "I was Watching her when she received the news from the admiral about Harm," he said quietly.
"I wasn't there, and she hasn't talked about it," I said. "What happened?"
"She was out in front of the hospital, probably getting a breath of fresh air. Commander Rabb had already died, and she was barely holding it together. The admiral told her that they'd lost Commander Rabb's body."
"They lost his body?" I asked, trying to express disbelief and shock.
Webb waved it off. "They sorted it out later. His body got mis-tagged in the morgue. When they pulled out a John Doe to cremate, they got Harm. When they pulled out Harm for the autopsy, they got a John Doe who'd already been autopsied. Based on physical description, the figured out who they DID have, but it was too late for Harm." For a man who knew that Harm was still alive (more or less), Webb was certainly playing the part of a shocked and outraged friend.
Bud nodded, still not having looked up from his drink. The waitress arrived and quietly placed the onion rings down in front of Bud. He didn't appear to have noticed. "Once the admiral told the Colonel that they'd lost his body, she started pacing around, shaking her head and denying it. When the admiral tried to grab her arm, she shouted something and then bolted. We both tried to chase her, but since I couldn't go out into the open, I fell behind immediately. Once I finally caught up to the admiral, he was standing on the Memorial Bridge, looking into the Potomac River. He called in the police, but they never found her body. Her jacket was found a few miles downstream yesterday." Bud looked up at me. "I nearly went crazy worrying about her. I was about to rent a boat and start looking for her in the bay when Mister Webb told me that you had picked her up from the river."
That answered several questions about the events of that morning: how she had gotten away and why nobody was still looking. I nodded to Roberts, picking the easiest lie under the circumstances. "Yeah. Before Harm died, she told me where to go to pick her up. She wanted to close out the 'Sarah MacKenzie' identity before moving on and a public suicide seemed the easiest thing to do." I sighed and went on, spinning a tale that would be believable, "She seems pretty guilt-ridden. She explained it last night. She apparently loved Harm but never told him. She wants to get away from all the memories in DC. She said she'd probably be leaving in the next couple of days. I've no idea where she's going."
Bud sighed and nodded. He reached into a pocket and brought out a small urn-like container. When he placed it in front of me, I noticed that the JAG symbol engraved on it. I lifted the lid and saw a pair of gold wings sitting on a pile of what looked almost like gravel. I didn't have to ask. "For Diane?" I asked quietly.
Bud nodded. "The wings were from his uniform. I didn't know what else to give her." He half-heartedly began eating one of the onion rings. "I'm just glad she's okay," he mumbled.
"You've done your duty, Watcher. She's okay," I told him quietly.
He nodded, still picking at his onion ring and taking an occasional sip of beer. He gave up within a few minutes and stood up, fishing five dollars out of his pocket and dropping it onto the table.
"Take care of yourself, Roberts," Webb said, showing some compassion.
Roberts looked at me sadly. "You take care of her, okay?"
"I will," I promised.
Bud stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and slowly walked away.
"You could tell him," I told Webb, still tracking Bud with my eyes.
"Need to know," Webb said quietly.
"Stuff your rules," I snarled at him.
"They're for his protection as much as anything," Webb pointed out, completely unruffled by my anger.
Once that finished slowly sinking in, I nodded heavily. I reached over to the onion rings and took one. It was still too early for my "lunch", but I was getting hungry. "How's everyone else at JAG dealing with this whole mess?" I asked. Diane and Harm had both wondered aloud about it, and I wanted some good news to take back to them.
Webb shook his head. "AJ is nearly beside himself with grief. Those two are the closest things he has to friends right now. Roberts you saw. Most of the rest of them are in a state of shock. Tiner and Galindez are keeping the place ticking over for the moment." He snorted in sarcastic humor and said, "The only person there who's even close to cheerful is Singer."
"Should I ask?" I asked.
"Don't bother," he said, shaking his head. "Austin is being recalled to active duty temporarily, and Pike is going to be transferred in. You can tell Harm and Mac that JAG is being taken care of."
I had no idea who these people were, but I dutifully memorized the names, knowing that it would mean something to the two uprooted lawyers.
He sighed. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that the ID's will be done tomorrow night. They'll be delivered to your hotel."
I quirked an eyebrow at him. "Should I be concerned that you know what hotel we moved into not two hours ago?"
He smirked at me. "Two Watchers following the six of you? I'll know by tomorrow morning."
I snorted lightly in amusement. Then my gaze fell to the urn on the table in front of where Roberts had been sitting. "What do I do about this?" I asked quietly.
"Does he know about Watchers?"
"Not yet, but he will. He'll have to."
Webb shrugged. "Give it to him then. What you all tell Mac is up to you. Like I said a couple days ago, I just ask that Roberts's and my names don't come up."
"They won't," I assured him.
He nodded and then raised his glass, as if in a toast. "To Harmon Rabb and Diane Schonke."
I smiled and raised my own glass.
As it turned out, I had the chance to give the urn to Harm later that night.
Harm and Diane had gone out for a walk around two after promising to stay away from their usual haunts. The remaining four of us were sprawled around Nick and Nat's hotel room, discussing Harm's training, how to get all of us back to Toronto, and when we wanted to introduce him to Terry.
When Diane's Buzz came back into range, the talk turned rapidly back to inconsequentialities. We weren't quite ready for Harm when he came barreling into the room. He roughly shoved a slight, unassuming man ahead of him into the room. "Sit," Harm snarled at him, pointing to a chair.
Brushing himself off, the man took a seat and gazed around the room calmly.
His gaze flicked past the simmering Harm, concerned Diane, confused Nick and Nat, and finally stopped at me. He smiled. "Hi, Ryan. Jen." He smiled and nodded to her as well.
I raised an eyebrow back. "Charlie. How're you doing?"
He sighed. "Fine until Harm here spotted me."
"You know this guy!?" Harm demanded from me. Diane looked more concerned by the moment.
"Yeah. When I was a Service Agent, he was one of the uniformed Agents on the grounds."
"And that give him the right to spy on us?" Harm asked. "When I caught him, he just asked me to bring him back here and you'd tell us what we wanted to know."
I turned back to Charlie Williams. He silently pulled the cuff of his sleeve down slightly to show me his blue tattoo. I sighed and rubbed my temples in a vain effort to head off the headache I just KNEW was in my immediate future. "Mine?" I asked him.
He nodded silently. So did Jen. Figures. She WOULD know who my Watcher was, after all.
"Okay," I sighed. "Get outta here unless you want to stay for this discussion."
He stood and calmly went toward the door.
"Wait a minute!" Harm interjected.
"It's okay, Harm," Jen said soothingly. "Charlie isn't a threat to Immortals or vampires."
Nat and Nick relaxed, apparently having pieced together what was going on. Diane's and Harm's jaws dropped. "WHAT?" they chorused as Charlie made it out the door.
"Charlie is a Watcher. He's a member of a group of mortals who know about Immortals and the Game. They record our history but have sworn to never interfere. With the increasing number of Immortal / vampire couples, they learned about vampires as well. Those Watchers assigned to an Immortal that spends time with a vampire is told about vampires since a vampire can spot them easily. For the same reason, the vampire is told as well. We just hadn't gotten around to telling you yet."
Both Harm and Diane stared at me in shock for a few moments before Diane figured it out. "You mean I've had a mortal following me around for years, and I never knew it?"
"Probably," I said, ignoring the fact that I knew a great deal more than I was telling. "Watchers aren't omniscient, so sometimes a new Immortal who isn't active in the Game can escape notice for quite a while, but you probably got one assigned to you just after you left your teacher."
"Don't worry about it," added Natalie. "I know I have one, but I'm never bothered. They don't bother you unless you bother them."
I nodded and continued, "Most Immortals don't know about Watchers. Very few vampires ever have reason to notice -- only those vampires who are with Immortals for a reasonable length of time. At any rate, please don't tell anyone about Watchers. Immortals and Watchers have already had covert wars. It doesn't help anyone."
Harm and Diane slowly sank onto one of the beds as they thought about the news I had just given them. "How do you know about them?" Harm slowly asked me. All things considered, they were both taking this amazingly well.
I grinned. "I was a Watcher at my First Death, actually."
Diane snorted. "You'd think their screening would have been better than that."
My reflexive smile froze in place. Yes, that DID make sense, didn't it? How could something so glaring make it through the Watcher's screening process?
Harm turned to Natalie and asked her how she knew about Watchers.
"My teacher told me," she answered.
I shook off the mystery of the Watcher's screening process. "That reminds me," I said, getting up and moving to my coat. I got out the urn and handed it to Harm. "I met your Watcher last night, Diane. He gave me that."
Harm and Diane looked at it for a moment before Harm looked back up at me. "What is it?"
"You," I answered with a grin. "Seems someone that the hospital THOUGHT was Harmon Rabb was cremated. That's your ashes, plus another little something that I expect you will appreciate."
Curious, he lifted the lid and looked inside. His face immediately broke into a wide smile which was reflected by Diane when she peeked into the urn. He gingerly reached in and extracted his wings, rubbing them lightly with a small smile on his face.
"What is it?" Nat asked, probably not having seen what he had removed from the urn.
"His wings," Diane said, still staring at them in Harm's hand. She looked at me narrowly. "Where'd you get them?"
"Your Watcher," I repeated.
She frowned at me. "The admiral would have gotten them from the hospital," she muttered, almost to herself. It sounded like she was trying to figure out who her Watcher was.
Trying to distract her, I said, "Oh, I have more news." I frowned slightly, trying to remember what Webb said about who. "I hope I get this right. AJ is really depressed, and almost everyone else is shocked. Austin is being recalled, Pike is transferring in, and Piner and Galindez are running the office."
Harm looked up at me. "Tiner," he corrected. "Nice to hear about Meg and Kate," he added with a smile. He abruptly frowned and asked, "You said that ALMOST everyone else is shocked. Who wasn't, I wonder."
"Something about the only nearly cheerful one was . . . Clinger?"
Diane and Harm both burst into laughter. "Singer," Diane finally forced out around her laughter.
I shrugged and smiled amiably. "Whoever. I don't know any of 'em."
Harm grunted in what I took to be agreement. "Some of them aren't worth knowing."
Diane was staring thoughtfully at me for a few moments before she broke into a gorgeous smile. She turned to Harm. "Who calls everyone by their last name EXCEPT the admiral?"
Harm cocked his head in thought. "SecNav and Webb."
I fought the urge to sweat.
Diane grinned wolfishly and turned to me. I had new sympathy for what a cornered rat must feel like. "I can't see SecNav being a Watcher, Harm, can you?" she asked almost casually, still staring at me and smiling.
"Nope," he answered.
"So Webb must be my Watcher," Diane concluded, still looking at me.
"Must be," Harm agreed when I didn't say anything for a few seconds. They were both incorrect, but it sure wouldn't help to deny it.
When I still maintained my silence, Diane asked me, "Is he?"
"Webb, you said?" I asked, forcing a slight frown of concentration onto my face. "Where have I heard that name before?" I asked in a reflective tone. I snapped my fingers and said to Diane, "A few days ago, in the cafeteria?"
She frowned and nodded to me. She continued to stare at me, apparently looking for something.
Harm grinned. "Do you know how lie detectors work, Ryan?"
I glared at him sourly. "Increased heart rate, which you heard." It wasn't a question.
He grinned wider and nodded.
"Why does it matter?" I asked them, sighing in resignation.
They both shrugged. "It doesn't," Diane said. "I was just curious."
"He would know about me?" Harm asked.
Nick shook his head, entering the conversation. "No. Watchers are told about vampires only after their Immortal spends time with one. No reason for this 'Webb' person to know about vampires."
"Your Watcher gave it to me to give to YOU, Diane," I added, still trying for a little misdirection.
She smiled and looked down at the wings again. "That was sweet of Clayton."
Good, she thought Webb was her Watcher. Not as good as her having no idea who the Watchers were, but it was better than nothing.
Early the next evening, Webb wasn't happy to hear from me that Diane knew he was a Watcher.
"I thought I told you that I didn't want her to know!"
"She figured it out on her own," I defended myself.
"How?" he demanded over the phone.
I thought back to the conversation and pinpointed what had tipped them off. "I repeated what you had told me about AJ, Tiner, Galindez, and Singer. They concluded that the only two people who would call the admiral by his first name but everyone else by their last was you or someone named SecNav. You look more like a Watcher, apparently," I concluded.
Webb laughed. "I suppose I do at that. Okay, they got me on that. Anything else?"
"They both think you're her Watcher, but you don't necessarily know about vampires."
"Good. Oh, Constantine and Ryan should be there soon with the new ID's."
"Aaron and Terry?" I asked in surprise.
"I couldn't imagine you'd object," Webb said dryly. "Besides, Mizz Ryan expressed interest in the newest additions to her family."
I nodded. Of course she would. "Okay. Do you know their timetable, and do they know where we are?"
"No and yes. In that order."
I chuckled at him. "If she asks, did you want to meet Diane?"
"No," he answered immediately. "Too much contact between Immortals and Watchers doesn't do anybody any good."
I bit my tongue over THAT philosophy. "And me?" I asked instead.
"You're a special case, and you know it."
"Fine, I'll drop it. Just wanted you to know about Diane."
"Thanks for the warning. No offense, but I hope I never hear from you again."
I chuckled, knowing it wasn't personal. "So nice meeting you too, Mister Webb."
After I hung up, I reflected that perhaps he WOULD meet Diane again eventually if my long range plans worked out.
"Peace on earth. What would YOU wish for, Harm?" asked Nick.
"My own Tomcat."
We all chuckled. That one was predictable.
"That reminds me," Jen said from the other chair at the table she and I were sharing, "I heard a crash in your room today. You all right?"
"Yes," Harm answered, a little too quickly. He must have seen our looks, because he relented, "Okay, I was sleep- flying again. When I woke up, I fell."
"On me," Diane added, with a mock grimace at Harm.
"Sleep-flying?" I asked around my snickers.
"Sleep-walking, vampire style," Nick said with a small grin.
Harm grimaced at everyone's expressions of amusement. "How about you, Mac?" he asked, continuing our game of 'What would you wish for?'
"I got what I wanted four days ago," she said, smiling at Harm. He smiled back, and the two of them continued to gaze at each other.
Nick subtly cleared his throat and asked, "Nat, what about you?"
"Somewhere safe to live," she said quietly, staring off into the distance.
"Hear, hear," I seconded. Then something about how she said it registered. "Having problems? I haven't noticed anybody unexpected in Toronto."
She sighed and nodded. Nick, looking at her in concern, answered my comment, "Two Challenges in the past year."
I grimaced in sympathy.
"Challenges?" Harm asked.
"Immortal duels," Jen answered, studying Nat.
"I hate to sound callous, but that IS how we live," Diane said.
"The last one," Nat started, "I . . . I thought she was a friend," she quietly finished.
"If I could have ANYTHING I wanted?" I asked, trying to lighten the mood. "Hmm, what would I want?" I mused aloud, tapping my fingers on my chin. I brightened and exclaimed, "A lightsaber!"
Harm and the three women broke into laughter. Nick just looked confused. "A what?" he asked.
I stared at him. "Don't tell me you haven't watched 'Star Wars'."
"Okay," he agreed, "I won't tell you that I never watched 'Star Wars'."
Nat poked him in the ribs. "Lightsaber. You know, that glowing sword thing from all the 'Star Wars' movies that the Jedi use?" At his blank look, she sighed. "Honestly, you could go to a movie that came out within the past five decades!"
He shrugged. "Nothing worth watching."
"Jeez, Nick. Just 'cause you're ancient doesn't mean that you -" I broke off in the middle of my sentence at the approach of a Buzz. All three Immortals in the room tensed and reached toward our respective swords.
"What's that?" asked Harm, frowning at the door.
Meanwhile, I'd been paying attention to the aura. Three thousand, plus all the vampires were looking at the door. Must mean Aaron and Terry. Hopefully.
Someone knocked on the door. Since we were all in Jen's and my room, I called, "Who's there?"
"Aaron and Terry," Terry's voice answered.
Nat and I relaxed. "Come on in and join the party," I offered, opening the door. Jen swatted my arm from where she was standing directly behind me, having followed me silently from our table. "What?" I asked, rubbing my sore arm as Aaron and Terry came in.
"You could've told me," Jen scolded me before she hugged her grandmother. Nat came over and hugged Aaron quickly. Once all the various 'hello's had been completed, Jen did the introductions. "Grandma, Aaron, I would like to introduce you to my childe, Harmon Rabb, and his friend, Diane Schonke. Harm, Diane, this is my grandmother, Theresa Ryan, and her husband, Antonius Constantine."
"Aaron Grey," Aaron corrected, throwing Jen a tolerantly amused look before shaking Diane's hesitant hand. Harm finally tore his attention from Terry to shake his hand.
Terry watched Harm in amusement. "What's wrong, child?"
He shook his head and visibly gathered his composure. "Nothing." He stepped forward and offered his hand to her. "Pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
She smiled. "Grandma Terry," she corrected. "You're family, are you not?" she asked, gracefully settling into one of the chairs that Aaron held for her.
Harm glanced over at Jen before nodding. "I guess I am."
Diane had watched Harm greet Terry in amusement. "Not often that the great Harmon Rabb is at such a loss for words."
He shook his head, slowly sitting back down again. "It's hard to explain. I can almost FEEL the power coming off of her."
"Vampiric strength is a function of age," pointed out Nick.
It took a moment for Harm to understand what that meant. Then his jaw nearly dropped open. "How old -" He cut himself off before finishing the sentence. "Never mind."
"Those two make Nick look young," I answered tactfully.
Aaron sighed and pinned me with a stare. "Have you no respect for your elders?"
"If I did, then I would have to REALLY respect you," I returned with a mostly straight face.
Aaron and Terry both stared at me. Terry finally shook her head and sighed, a tiny grin trying to appear. "Why do we put up with you?"
I appeared to give it some thought. "My good looks and sharp wit?" I ventured.
Natalie lost the fight against her laughter at that point. She collapsed against Nick, giggling madly. Nick and Jen let their grins appear.
Apparently realizing that there really were no hard feelings, Harm and Diane gave nervous little smiles.
Nat picked up our previous conversation. "I bet Terry and Aaron know what a lightsaber is."
The both nodded. Aaron answered, "Sure, the Jedi swords. Personally, I liked Darth Maul's two bladed version."
I nodded. "I liked Luke's green one, myself." I turned to Nick. "See?"
He grudgingly nodded.
"Huh?" asked Aaron.
"Nick didn't know what lightsabers were," Natalie supplied.
Terry almost smiled. "Where have you been living for the past forty years?"
Nick gave her a sour look. Trying to change the subject, he asked, "What are you two doing in DC?"
Aaron nodded and stood back up. Popping the latches on the briefcase he had brought, he came out with a bulging manila envelope. He handed it to me, along with a loose sheet of paper. "I was told to give these to you," he explained calmly.
He sat back down on the floor near Terry as I dropped the envelope onto the table. Aaron and Terry started chatting with everyone, slowly coaxing Harm and Diane into the conversation. I tuned out the discussion as I read the brief, unsigned note.
Hope this meets with everyone's approval. Tell them they will be missed at JAG.
Putting the sheet onto the table, I opened the metal clasp on the envelope and dumped the contents onto the table and began sorting them.
Two each of: Virginia driver's license, Social Security card, high school diploma, law school degree, and various credit cards. There was another, thinner 8 X 10 envelope as well. I peeked into it and grinned at the contents. Checking a few of the signatures on the pages it contained, I put that envelope back down. Glancing through the two piles, I slowly nodded as I pieced together what their probable history was.
During the next lull in the conversation going on around me, I said, "Okay, I have your new identities here." THAT got Harm and Diane's complete attention. I looked over at Diane and said, "Diane, you were born Diane Rose of Flagstaff, Arizona. Graduated Flagstaff High, U of Arizona, and Duke Law five years ago. Your parents died halfway through your law school education." I turned to Harm and continued, "David Bell of San Diego, California. San Christophe High, Berkeley, and Duke at the same time as Diane. You're an orphan and got through school on grants." I grinned and opened up the envelope with the pictures in it. Taking out the large one and looking it over, I smiled and said, "The week after graduation," I turned the picture around to let them see it, "you two got married."
Harm's and Diane's jaws dropped. Nat grinned, and everyone else's eyebrows rose.
I passed the picture to Jen who admired it for a moment before passing it on to Harm and Diane who stared at it as I continued, looking through the rest of the envelope's contents. "It was a civil ceremony, witnessed by Clayton Webb and Laura Delaney." I looked over at them with a frown. "I assume that name means something to you."
They both nodded, still staring at the picture. It was a nice picture, really. Somebody had spent some time in front of a photo editing computer and produced a picture that looked like a slightly younger Harm and Diane, wearing white and standing in an outdoor gazebo somewhere. Next to Harm stood a smiling Clayton Webb, and next to Diane was a woman that I didn't recognize, presumably Laura Delaney. "Here's the marriage certificate, just awaiting your signatures. Joint checking and savings accounts at Roanoke Savings and Loan." Leaving the papers on the table, I stood and smiled down at the shocked couple. "Congratulations, Mister and Missus Bell." I held out my hand to them, presenting them with the rings that had been tucked in with everything else. There was a tasteful diamond solitaire engagement ring and two paired plain gold wedding bands. I absently wondered how Webb had managed to get their ring sizes, or if he had just guessed.
Harm and Diane both stared at me. He shot a glance at her before focusing on the three rings lying unobtrusively in my hand. Diane's gaze shifted from my face, to the rings, to the picture still in her hands, to the wall, and back again. Harm abruptly reached forward and scooped the rings up. He stood from the bed they'd both been reclining in and held his hand out to her. "Let's go for a walk," he offered.
Seemingly in a daze, Diane allowed him to pull her up and gently guide her to the door.
"They know Webb?" Aaron asked less than an hour later. The remaining six of us had chatted amiably, waiting for the newest members of the family to return.
I nodded. "We had to explain Watchers to them when Harm caught her Watcher. After that and based on messages I'd relayed to them, they've come to the conclusion that he's her Watcher."
Terry frowned. "He's a District Director, isn't he?"
"Yep," I agreed. "They don't need to know who her Watcher really is, and they don't know that he knows Harm's part of the family now."
Aaron chuckled. "Sounds like some line from a cheesy Mafia flick."
We were all smiling at that when a Buzz walked into range. Aaron, Nat, and I reached for swords reflexively before I identified it as Diane. I raised my hand and said, "It's okay; it's them." I walked to the door and opened it.
Harm had his hand up, ready to knock. He looked at me, startled. "How'd you know we were here?"
I raised an amused eyebrow at him. "You might want to ask your -" I paused and checked their hands, pleased to find rings in all the appropriate places, "wife that question," I concluded with a smile.
Diane blushed and dropped her head, fiddling with her paired engagement and wedding rings. Not surprisingly, they fit perfectly.
I sighed dramatically. "I'm just sorry I missed the bachelor party," I added.
Scattered chuckles around the room met that comment as Harm and Diane entered. I closed the door behind them and then waved them toward the table with all the papers I'd left.
Harm raised an eyebrow at finding two pens lying on top and everything neatly arranged, waiting for them. He turned to me with a silent question in his eyes.
I shrugged. "I would say it was hoping for the best, but I've watched you two long enough to know the answer you'd eventually come to."
"Presumptuous, wasn't it?" asked Diane, though the small smile told me she wasn't the least bit upset.
"Ryan's that way," agreed Nick gravely.
"Hey," I objected. The fact that I couldn't defend myself any further than that just provided more amusement all around.
"Remember your new names," offered Aaron as Harm and Diane bent over the table and started signing everything needed. As they were busy doing that, he turned to the rest of us and said, "Once we're back in Toronto, how about Terry and I treat all of you to a dinner for the newlywed couple?"
Harm looked up. "Restaurant for me?" he asked pointedly.
Nick nodded. "There are a few that cater to vampire and mortal appetites."
Diane shook her head without looking up from the pile of things she was signing. "This'll take awhile for me to get used to." She finished the last one with a minor flourish and turned to Aaron. "Toronto?" she asked.
He nodded. "Nick needs to finish your husband's training." He smiled at her slight blush at Harm's new label and continued, "We need to teach you a few things about how to deal with vampire society as well. Call it a month, then you'll be as ready to face the world as we can make you. I would recommend you figure out where to move to before that point, but that's a discussion for another day. Meanwhile," he produced a handful of plane tickets from his coat pocket, "we all have a flight to catch."