Hunt, Home, and Harm
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
"Welcome to O'Hare Airport. Land of windy cities and some of the worst professional sports teams in their respective leagues. To be fair, it also has some of the BEST professional sports teams as well, but who's counting?"
"Be nice, Ryan. I grew up here."
I nodded and continued in my announcer voice. "Among the famous former inhabitants are Michael Jordan, Walter Peyton, Richard Daly, Mike Ditka, and Jennifer Frost-Chessman."
She just rolled her eyes and kept walking.
"What?" I asked, keeping up with her on our way to the baggage claim.
"What is it with you?" she asked.
I blew out an annoyed breath. "I'm frustrated with what we're doing. I have to blow off steam somehow."
She found the correct carousel and waited patiently for our luggage to arrive. Looking at me sideways with a small smile, she said, "I know a few ways to relieve tension if that's what you're saying."
I chuckled and wrapped my arms around her from behind. "I know you do. Tension isn't the problem. I'm just frustrated at this hunt and retrieval mission that Aaron has us on."
She leaned back into the embrace, laying her own arms over mine. "You heard him. This guy needs to be found since he's been hunting Watchers."
I sighed into her hair. "So we're the bird dogs?"
She shrugged. "As good a description as any, I suppose."
I dropped a kiss onto her neck just above the collarbone which drew a low hum from her. Gently pulling my arms away, I said, "You get our stuff, and I'll start on getting my weapons back, okay?"
She sighed in disappointment when my warmth moved away but nodded.
I turned and threaded my way through the crowd toward the security desk, pulling out my courier documentation.
I called in the next evening as soon as I got out of the shower.
"Last spotted heading south on Highway 31, near the town of Pilmouth, Indiana. A credit card hit puts him in an EconoRoom in Cromoko as of three hours ago."
I nodded, even though Joe Dawson was in Seacouver. "Okay, we can be there in three hours or so. Once we have him, what do you want us to do?"
"Find another hotel and get in touch with Aaron. This is his show. I'm just providing logistical support."
"Okay. Who do I submit my expense report to again?" I asked with a grin.
He chuckled. "Aaron. He's got the finances to deal with it. I'm just a poor, lowly bartender."
I grunted in amusement. "Don't give me that. You're not JUST anything, Joe. Anyway, take care of yourself. I've got my cell, so if you need to get in touch with me, I can be reached through that."
"Will do, Ryan. Watch your head."
I hung up as Jennifer came out of the bathroom, drying her hair. "So what's the plan?"
I looked up and down her still wet body and grinned. "First I thought I'd take that towel away from you and throw you down on the bed. Then I thought that I would -"
"I meant about Schuller," she interrupted me with a mock glare.
"Oh," I replied with a small pout. "He's heading south through Indiana. Joe told me where he's stopped for the night. If we rent a car, we can get to him well before dawn."
She nodded and pulled open her suitcase. "Let's go then. The sooner we finish this, the sooner we can go home."
We pulled into Cromoko hours later and I directed her to an all-night superstore that was near the EconoRoom where our target was apparently staying.
"How do know your way around town?" Jen asked as she pulled into a parking space and stopped.
"I grew up about an hour that-a-way," I replied, pointing north.
She nodded. "So how are we going to do this?"
I'd been thinking about that. "The EconoRoom is across the highway. If you go to the front desk and ask in that persuasive tone of yours which room Mister Schuller is in, I'll be in here buying a few items we'll need. Once we know which room he's in, you and I can just walk up to his door. My Buzz will wake him. He comes to the door, we stick a knife in him, tie him up, stuff him into the trunk, and drive away."
"I'll erase the desk worker's memory of him, then. I'd better check for video cameras, too."
I thought for a moment. "No, don't erase the guy's memory. Just say that Schuller came up and checked out, claiming insomnia. Maybe wanted to get to Indianapolis early. We don't want the trail to end abruptly here in case someone ELSE tries to track him. Better erase the memory of YOU, though."
She nodded and got out of the car, heading across the road to the hotel. I stepped into the supermarket and quickly picked up a small package of garbage bags, a couple cheap towels, and a roll of duct tape. Climbing back into the car, I drove across the street and parked, trying to stay away from the front desk and as far from any of the rooms as possible.
Jen approached the car as I got out. "Night clerk is taken care of. She thinks Schuller left just a few minutes ago, talking about making it to Cincinnati before breakfast. He's in room 147. I already did a walk through, and there aren't any cameras in the building. One sleeping individual in room 147, and only one other occupied room nearby."
I nodded and picked up the plastic bag containing my supplies for the night. With the bag swinging idly from one of my hands, Jennifer and I walked into the hotel.
Entering the hallway, she turned left and led me down past room 161, 159, 157 . . . His Buzz hit me at that point. I peripherally rated him at fifty to sixty years old, with one or two heads to his credit. Continuing down the hallway, Jennifer held up two fingers and pointed to room 154, indicating that this was the only nearby room with anybody in it. Hopefully it wouldn't matter, but just in case, it was nice to know. Without waiting for my reaction, she continued on and stopped beside the door to room 147. Taking a position out of sight of the peephole, she took the bag from me as I leaned on the wall opposite the doorway.
The only problem now was the possibility of him just shooting me through the door. I was hoping that first, he wasn't stupid enough to fire a gun in a hotel, and secondly that Jennifer could hear enough to warn me in time if he WAS that stupid.
Leaning down, Jen gingerly placed the bag on the carpeted hallway and looked like she was prepared to spring.
I heard someone approach the door on the other side. After perhaps a thirty second pause, the door slowly opened.
Jennifer sprang forward, shoving her way through the door but holding it with her left hand so it wouldn't slam into the wall and create noise. Her right hand landed a crushing, open fisted blow to the sternum of the man standing in front of her. The force of the blow threw him backwards onto the bed. I stepped forward quickly and picked up the bag of goodies as Jen entered the room in pursuit. I stepped into the room and was closing the door behind me when I heard a series of splintering snaps. Shuddering at the sound, I turned to see Jennifer release Joe Schuller's jaw with one hand and the back of his head with the other. She'd broken his neck with brute force.
The whole thing had taken four seconds and probably wasn't heard outside of five feet from the door. Shaking my head at the efficiency of a vampire on the prowl, I got to work. Jen had left him lying on his back across the bed and was now standing calmly, waiting for my instructions. Shoving the long sword out of my way, I requested, "Hold him up, please,"
Jen grabbed him under the armpits and held him upright, her vampire strength easily keeping him up. Holding one of the towels in place across his chest with one hand, I secured it in place with a loop of duct tape around his back. Repeating the duct tape loop lower on the towel, I pulled out my switchblade and flicked the blade open. Feeling along his chest, I positioned the blade and rammed it home through the towel and between ribs to lodge it in his heart. There. He won't be waking up until that's removed. Taping the blade in place, I saw that without the heart pumping the blood, the wound wasn't bleeding all that much. With the towel in place, I hoped to prevent any blood from spilling.
Taping the other towel to the back of Schuller's head, I jammed the other switchblade into the hollow at the base of the skull, angled to avoid the spinal cord. I also taped that one in place. Hopefully, even if one knife works free, he still won't wake up until we want him too.
I taped Schuller's arms to his sides and then his legs together and bent at the knee. I pulled out the garbage bags and taped one over each of the knife wounds and then double bagged the rest of Schuller's body. Stepping back and surveying my handiwork, I nodded in satisfaction. Now he's ready for indefinite transport.
Jen laid him down on the bed and went into the bathroom to start packing him up. I put his long sword into the coat that was hanging on the coat rack and then tossed all his clothing from the low dresser into his suitcase.
By the time I finished my packing, Jen emerged from the bathroom with his smaller bag containing all the rest of his stuff. I fished the car keys from the trench coat pocket and then tossed the coat itself on over my other coat. Each of us taking one of the bags in hand, Jen and I calmly left the room, making sure the door remained cracked open behind us. Exiting the building, Jen casually asked, "Which car?"
I pointed to the silver Mustang that Joe Dawson had described as belonging to Schuller.
"Hmm," she said. "Hope he'll fit. Open the trunk and put these bags into the back seat, please."
Unlocking the trunk, I let it swing open as I opened the driver's side door and tossed the suitcases into the microscopic back seat. While my back had been turned, Jennifer had gone back into the hotel. As I turned around, she emerged bluringly fast with an armload of Schuller. She slowed down to mortal speeds once she'd dumped him into the trunk and shut it.
"Okay, now what?" she asked calmly.
I removed the trench coat and tossed it into the back seat on top of the suitcases. Pulling my cell phone out of a pocket, I said, "Let's find out." I dialed and waited.
"Hi, Aaron. It's Ryan. I have a present for you. Where do you want it delivered?"
"Hi, Ryan. You have it already? That was fast. Where are you?"
"Cromoko, north central Indiana."
He paused and said, "Indianapolis. There's a Vacation Inn on the east side at exit 136. I'll meet you in the lobby there at eight tomorrow night. Well, tonight, I guess."
I nodded. "Vacation Inn in," I checked my watch, "eighteen hours. See you then." I folded the phone and put it away. "You hear all that?"
She nodded and held out her hand. "Can I drive the Mustang?" she asked with a smile.
Laughing, I tossed her the keys as I headed over toward our rental.
Jen and I were sitting in the lobby eighteen hours later, watching television and waiting on Aaron to show up. The remaining two hour drive the previous night had passed uneventfully, and we'd checked in. Jen had assured me that the car and all its contents were fine. Nothing was noticeable outside the trunk, including any odors.
Aaron's Buzz entered my range at the same time that Jennifer looked up at the front door suddenly. Her face broke into a smile almost immediately. She stood and walked over as Aaron and his wife Terry entered. Aaron and I shook hands as the girls hugged.
"So how's it going?" Aaron asked as I gestured everyone down the hallway toward our room.
"Fine," Jen answered. "Everything went smoothly, and I even got to drive a really NICE Mustang!"
Everyone chuckled as I carded the door open. Once the door was safely closed behind us, I asked, "Okay, now what do we do with him?"
"Where is he?" asked Aaron.
"In the trunk of the Mustang," Jen said, producing his keys.
"Secure?" asked Terry with a raised eyebrow.
"Indefinitely," I answered with a nod.
"Pack up," Aaron said, taking the keys from Jennifer. "You can follow me in your car."
Jen pouted. "Can't I drive the Mustang, Dad?"
He sighed and handed the keys back. "Just this once, young lady."
I pulled into the driveway behind Jen. Aaron had led us to a house just outside a small town about two hours outside Indianapolis. Piling out of the cars, we approached the front door only to have it open before he reached it. A five and a half foot or so man was standing there, clearly having expected us. "Mister Constantine and Miss Ryan," he greeted Aaron by his real name. "If one of the ladies would bring Mister Schuller in, I'll show them where he can be revived safely."
Terry nodded and turned back toward the car.
Aaron turned to where Jen and I were frowning in confusion. "Ryan, Jen, I would like to introduce you to Clayton Webb. Clay, these two are the Immortal Ryan Chessman and his vampire wife Jennifer."
Webb smiled at us pleasantly. Jen and I were looking at Aaron in shock. He smiled at us and said, "He's a Council member. He already knew who you are."
Whatever. I offered Webb my hand hesitantly. "Mister Webb."
He shook my hand firmly and kissed the back of Jennifer's hand. That action seemed natural for him instead of the slightly uncomfortable feeling I got whenever I did it.
Terry was patiently waiting with Schuller slung over her shoulder by this time. Webb waved everyone in and shut the door behind us. He then lead us into the basement of this basically but not Spartanly furnished house. There were only two rooms down here, a bedroom at the foot of the stairs and a small bathroom off to the side. Terry dumped him unceremoniously onto the bed and started stripping off the garbage bags.
"Good idea with the garbage bags," Webb said, watching Terry work.
"Thank you," Jen and I said, almost in chorus.
He looked up and smiled slightly at the both of us.
"Should I go ahead and remove the blades?" asked Terry.
"His bags are in the car," I said. "Should I bring them in for him before we let him wake up?"
Webb nodded. "Sure. No sense making him uncomfortable. We aren't uncivilized after all, though I'd like to check them before letting him have anything."
Shrugging my acceptance, I turned to the stairs. Lugging the suitcases back inside, I found Webb in the front room, indicating that I should put the bags on the couch. Totally ignoring the bag of toiletries, he searched through the bag of clothing quickly. Not finding anything there, he carefully checked each of the seams of the bag. Pausing as his hands ran along the long side, he pulled a small knife out of one of his pockets and ripped the side of the suitcase open and pulled a thin dagger out of the concealed pocket. Dropping the dagger onto the other bag, he resumed his inspection. Not finding anything else of note, he folded his knife away. Rising, he tapped on the trim beside the hall closet door to reveal a numeric keypad. Quickly tapping in a code, he pulled the door open. He placed the smaller suitcase with the dagger into the closet.
When he reached for the trench coat that I was still holding, I asked in curiosity, "What IS this place?"
"It's a safe house," he answered evenly as he hung the coat in the closet. Closing the door, he continued, "It's used by the Company to house dangerous or suicidal . . . guests. It's quite secure and more than adequate."
"Adequate for what?" I asked in confusion as he picked up the bag of clothing.
"Whatever tomorrow may bring," he said cryptically, leading me back downstairs.
We found that Terry had been busy. She had removed the blade from the back of his skull, laid him on the bed, and removed all the tape. One of the plastic garbage bags was still under him to protect the bedspread. Jennifer was just finishing cleaning the switchblade as we entered, and she handed it to me.
Nodding at all the preparations, Webb dropped the suitcase at the foot of the bed. He then grabbed the remaining blade and smoothly pulled it out of Schuller's chest. Aaron took the bloody towel and dropped it into the trash bag he was holding.
Webb pulled a handkerchief out of his suit pocket and absently cleaned the blade as he led us all back up the stairs. The door closed with a solid sounding "thunk".
"Okay, what's going on?" asked Jen.
"This is a Company safe house used to hold dangerous individuals," repeated Webb as he seated himself in a chair. "I'll be holding Schuller until tomorrow when another Council member arrives. Then we'll hold a trial. As a Watcher, I won't have a vote at the trial, but I'll be acting as arbiter. What happens after that depends on the outcome of the trial."
"He can't escape?" I asked, waving at the door to the basement.
Webb shook his head. "No. Nor is there anything down there that could vaguely be used as a weapon. He's secure as long as we want him." He stood and flicked the blade closed casually. Handing it to me, he asked, "Anyone want anything to drink?"
"Um," mumbled Terry with a frown.
Webb held up a hand. "Not to worry. There are two bottles of refreshments for our vampire guests."
Terry blinked and then nodded. "Please." Jen nodded as well with a raised eyebrow.
"Just a water for me, thanks," I said.
"Me, too," seconded Aaron.
Webb nodded and entered the kitchen. Raising his voice, he continued, "Gentlemen, I know it's early in your day, but it's beyond dinner time for me. I'm not up to fixing a full meal for myself, so I'm going to order a pizza. You want some?"
I seated myself on the couch. "Sure," I called. "Sausage, pepperoni, or both would be my first choice." Jen curled up in my lap.
"Mister Constantine?" queried Webb.
"Pepperoni is fine," he said as he took a seat in a chair. Terry sat beside me and Jen.
Webb came out of the kitchen carrying two glasses filled with a thick red liquid. While he handed one to each of the women, Aaron and I stiffened as a Buzz grew.
"Our guest is waking up," said Aaron.
Webb nodded calmly and headed back to the kitchen. He returned moments later with two glasses of water which he gave to Aaron and myself. One more trip to the kitchen and he retrieved himself what looked like a scotch and a portable phone.
As he was settling himself into a chair, we all heard a dull thud followed by other muted sounds.
"Good sound insulation," commented Terry.
Webb just smiled and dialed the phone.
Aaron and I were sharing a breakfast the next evening when another Buzz walked into range. I dropped my fork and moved toward my coat immediately. This guy was nearly four thousand years old and had a respectable number of heads. Probably not a hunter, but certainly was dangerous.
Webb saw my actions and raised a hand. "Calm down, Mister Chessman. I was expecting him."
"Him who?" I asked in concern.
Aaron had moved to the window and was peeking out past the blinds. He smiled suddenly and moved to the door, throwing it open. "Father!"
Father? I could feel Jennifer come up behind me and rest one hand on my shoulder.
Terry came into the room at the same time and smiled as a formidable, distinguished looking man walked in the open door. "Antonius!" he greeted, clasping Aaron's arm in a formal looking manner. "Theresa!" he said, smiling broadly before folding her into a hug that nearly smothered the diminutive vampire.
"Marcus," she responded when he stepped back. "How have you been?"
"Good, good. You been keeping my son out of trouble?"
She laughed and shook her head. "If you couldn't manage it, how do you expect me to?"
"Hey," objected Aaron, standing beside his father.
Terry and Marcus laughed. Terry turned to Jennifer and I and said, "Ryan, Jen, I would like to introduce you to Marcus Constantine, Aaron's father. Marcus, this is Ryan Chessman, student of Duncan MacLeod, and this is his wife, Jennifer Frost, who is also my grand-childe."
Jennifer smiled timidly as he took her hand in a gentle grip and bowed over it but didn't kiss it. "Lady," he greeted with a smile. He turned to me and stuck out a hand in a traditional handshake. "Student of Duncan's?"
I nodded. "Once upon a time, sir." I cocked my head and asked, "Should I call you general or emperor?"
He smiled sadly and shook his head. "Neither. It's been literally thousands of years since either mattered."
Webb stepped forward from where he had been trying to blend into the woodwork. "Mister Constantine," Webb greeted.
"Mister Webb," nodded Constantine.
"We met a few years ago when I was in Rome," Webb explained to Aaron's raised eyebrow.
We all looked over at the basement door as it gave another muted thud. "Shall we dispense with the unpleasantness?" Constantine asked with a soft sigh.
Webb nodded and turned to Aaron. "If you would set it up, Mister Constantine?" He flicked a glance to Marcus Constantine and amended, "Mister Constantine the younger."
Aaron and Constantine laughed. Aaron said, "Call me Aaron or Grey. I'm used to them."
Constantine sighed. "Giving up the family name, Antonius?"
"Never, Father," he responded, "but you must admit that Antonius Aurelious Constantine is rather unusual outside Italy."
Constantine frowned but didn't argue the point.
Webb caught Terry's eye and tilted his head over to the door. "Would you do the honors?" he asked.
She nodded and turned to Jennifer. "Jennifer, could I have your help, please?"
Confusion written all over her face, Jen joined her grandmother.
I nearly followed, but Webb caught me by the arm. "No, let those two ladies deal with him. Since you aren't a Council member, could you play guard at the front door?"
I nodded and headed toward the stairs and our room. I'd been expecting to be guard and / or lie detector. Since Webb hadn't said anything about it, I guessed that he didn't know anything about my extra little skill.
Once I had retrieved my gun and its holster from beside the bed Jen and I had shared, I returned to the front room to see that Aaron had been busy. The dining room table had been moved to an open space in the front room with three chairs along its sides. Marcus Constantine was at one end, with Aaron beside him, and Webb seated beside him. A few feet away, off the open end of the table, a straight-backed chair was set up, apparently for the accused.
I walked over to the wide-armed overstuffed chair beside the front door. Placing my gun down on the chair's arm just below my right hand, I seated myself comfortably. I didn't have my swords on me, but with the gun I figured I could stop Schuller cold if it came to that.
Jennifer came back upstairs through the partially open door and held it wide. Joe Schuller came up next with Terry immediately behind, and I got my first decent look at the target of our hunt. Perhaps five and a half feet tall and a hundred ten pounds when soaking wet, he didn't look all that intimidating. He had a slightly hunched over stance and was constantly twitching and looking around. The girls had apparently decided to forgo any restraints.
Jennifer and Terry each grabbed one arm and firmly led him over to the chair. Sitting him down in it, each of the two women took a step back and stood in a ready stance with their hands folded in front of them.
He looked around the room quickly, studying everything. When he turned to look at me, his gaze locked on my gun for a few seconds before looking up at me. I kept my expression neutral. His attention eventually shifted off and finished the sweep of the room. Once finished, he turned to the three people at the table and asked, "What's going on?"
Webb flicked a glance at him but immediately returned his attention to his discussion with Constantine.
This apparently annoyed Schuller. He started to stand. "I SAID -"
One of Terry's hands was immediately clamped down on his shoulder, forcing him back to his seat.
He stared at her hand before looking up at her in blank amazement.
She graced him with a feral grin, released his shoulder, and stepped back.
"Okay, we're ready to begin," said Webb. He, Constantine, and Aaron turned to Schuller. Webb removed a small tape recorder, pressed a button, and then continued, "This is a recording of the trial of Immortal Joseph Schuller by the Council. This Tribunal includes Immortal Antonius Constantine, Immortal Marcus Constantine, and Watcher Regional Director Clayton Webb. Also present are Theresa Ryan, Jennifer Frost, and Immortal Ryan Chessman. The accused is Immortal Joseph Schuller. He is charged with hunting and killing Watchers. Do you have any questions or comments at this time, Mister Schuller?"
"What in the world is going on?" Schuller asked in confusion.
"You are being charged with killing Watchers," was Aaron's calm reply.
Webb pulled down the cuff of his sleeve to reveal his tattoo.
Schuller glared at Webb. "You mean the voyeurs," he spat out.
Everyone sighed. Webb kept going, "Do you admit to killing Penny Abraham, Jonathan Corvis, Franklin Dempsey, Henry Forrester, and Marcia Norris? All five of these individuals had this tattoo."
He shrugged. "Were those their names?" he asked in a bored tone.
Constantine's jaw clenched, but Webb continued calmly, "I'll take that as a 'yes'. Were they harassing you, communicating with you, or otherwise interfering with your life?"
Schuller spat at Webb.
Aaron's and Constantine's eyes narrowed. Webb glanced at the glob of saliva on the table next to his hand. "I'll accept that as a 'no'," he said dryly. "Have you told anyone else about the Watchers?"
He didn't answer, but his gaze flickered around the room again.
"I would advise against trying to escape or attack anyone, Mister Schuller," Constantine said. "Those two ladies are more than capable of keeping you from accomplishing much."
Schuller sneered at the Roman. In a lightning move, his left arm struck at Jennifer. She parried it cleanly, and we all heard a sharp SNAP. He pulled his broken forearm back to cradle it against his chest, staring at Jennifer in shock. She grinned back. Nobody else had moved.
Aaron broke the tense silence. "I can't see any point in continuing. Schuller has admitted to killing the Watchers. He has not provided any reasoning behind his actions. I would suggest that we sentence him and be done with it. I apologize for taking up everyone's time."
"What sentence?" asked Schuller in the beginnings of fear.
"Execution," Aaron answered.
"Hey, don't I get a chance to defend myself here?"
"You had a chance. You didn't give any reason for your actions."
"They were following me!" he objected.
"But were they INTERFERRING with you?" repeated Webb.
"They were following me," he repeated, "so I killed them. What's the problem?"
"You caught and tortured the first one into revealing the locations of several more Watchers. You systematically hunted and tortured five good people to death, Mister Schuller," Webb ground out through clenched teeth.
"I must agree with Antonius's comment about this trial being pointless," commented Marcus Constantine.
Webb nodded. "The two voting members of this Tribunal have come to an agreement. The mandatory punishment is execution. Suggestions?"
"Wait a minute!" Schuller was closing in on hysterical. "You're just going to kill me?"
"Yes," responded Webb flatly.
"I don't get a chance to defend myself?" he asked again.
"Did you give the Watchers a chance to defend THEMSELVES before you shot them, Schuller?" Aaron asked.
"But . . . But . . ."
"If it's all the same to you, I could use him," Terry spoke up.
"How so?" asked Webb.
"Drain him first, then one of you Immortals can take his Quickenings."
"Drain me?!?" Schuller squeaked.
"Of blood," Terry confirmed with glowing eyes and a pointed smile.
His face went stark white. Webb and Constantine looked uncomfortable, but Aaron and I didn't even blink.
"There's no need to be cruel here, Miss Ryan," said Webb in a mostly steady voice.
Terry shook her head. "If I wanted to be cruel, I could take him and drain him over and over, keeping him alive only to provide blood. By letting him get killed after the first time, I'm actually being quite generous without being wasteful."
"V . . . Vam . . . Vampire?" stuttered Schuller. Everyone ignored him.
"I have no problem with that plan," offered Aaron.
"Nor I," said Constantine. Webb just shook his head.
Seeing everyone else's agreement, Aaron turned to me. "You want him, Ryan?"
I shook my head. "I don't want his Quickening, if that's what you're asking."
Aaron nodded, but Constantine raised an eyebrow. "You don't WANT a free Quickening?"
I shook my head again. "If nobody else will do it, then I will, but I'd rather not if it's all the same to everyone." I grinned slightly. "My head's crowded enough the way it is, and I don't know that my conscience can deal with executing someone."
Aaron appeared to agree with my statement, but Constantine just shrugged. "Very well, then. I will take him unless Antonius wants him." At Aaron's head shake, Constantine turned to Terry and said, "He is all yours, Nosferatu. Tell me when and where you'll finish with him, and I'll take care of him there."
She shook her head. "I need an hour with him to do a proper job of it. Of more concern is the effects of the Quickening if you tried to behead him in a building."
"Hey! You . . . But . . . I . . ." Schuller couldn't seem to form a sentence.
I got up from my chair, knowing everything was over but the shouting. Holstering my gun in the middle of my lower back, I picked up the duct tape roll from where it was lying on an end table. When I approached Schuller, Jen and Terry secured one of his arms each. Tearing off a six inch piece, I put it over Schuller's mouth.
Aaron chuckled. "Give me the tape, Ryan. You and Jen have done everything I've asked, and for that I'm thankful. Go home. I'll give you a call."
He got up from the table as Webb reached out and flicked off the recorder. I handed Aaron the duct tape which he started to use to secure Schuller to the chair with Terry standing guard nearby. Webb was collecting his papers off the table as Jennifer and I headed upstairs.
By the time we'd packed and were on our way out the door, Schuller was secured to the chair and being roundly ignored by everyone. Terry and Constantine were discussing times and places. Aaron looked up from his discussion with Webb. "Ryan, you want his sword?"
I shook my head. "Long sword's too big for me. I use a wakizashi, remember?"
"But he'll take the Mustang instead," interjected Jen with a hopeful smile.
Everyone smiled. Aaron shook his head and said, "Just offering the sword. Thanks for the help, you two. Watch your head."
"You take care of yourself, childe," called Terry.
Jen smiled back. "You too, Grandma."
We were heading into Indianapolis again a couple hours later. I had been staring out the window for most of the trip as Jennifer drove.
"What are you thinking?" she finally asked.
"I'm only two and a half hours drive away from where I grew up," I answered absently.
"You want to stop and visit?" she asked.
I frowned. "I don't know."
"Why wouldn't you?" she asked calmly.
"Well, I haven't aged in nearly ten years," I answered in amusement.
She shrugged. "Mid-twenties to mid-thirties hardly produce any apparent physical changes."
Well, that's true. It was more a matter of emotional maturity than physical. "You up to meeting the in-laws?" I asked with a small grin.
She laughed. "Where is this place?"
We'd made it to Lanchester well before dawn and checked into one of the new motels in town. When I'd moved out over ten years ago, there hadn't been any hotels in the place, but I'd heard about these places going up. Lanchester was apparently growing.
After a day's sleep, I got up and hesitantly got ready to visit my parents.
Jen caught me fidgeting with the collar of my shirt. "Are you okay with this?" she asked quietly.
I sighed. "I don't know," I answered honestly. "These are the people who raised me, but so much has happened since I left . . . I don't know what to think."
"If you don't want to do this -" she offered after a moment.
I shook my head. "No, I SHOULD do this, regardless of whether I want to."
"Well then," she paused as she put her watch on, "I would like to go meet these people who raised my husband."
I laughed and offered her my arm, snagging my coat off the rack on my way out of the hotel room.
Turning down the long driveway outside of town, I passed between the tall rocks that had stood there since well before I was born.
Jennifer flinched and then turned to the rocks in amazement. "This is Holy Ground?" she asked.
My eyebrows shot up. "Is it? Rumor has it that those rocks have been here since this area was a popular Indian campsite."
"Well, something on those rocks is a holy symbol."
"Yeah, there are ideographs all over it. Nobody knows exactly what it says, though."
Puzzling over that tidbit of information, I absently pulled the car into the driveway. The instant I got out of the car I froze in position. I'd just been hit with multiple Buzzes and more pre-Immortal signatures. Shocked beyond words, I spent a few seconds sorting them all out and came to the conclusion that there were two two hundred-twenty to two hundred-fifty year olds, one fifty year Immortal, one forty year, and two pre-Immortal signatures. None of the Immortals had more than one head each to their credit.
The front door opened and a teenaged head poked through cautiously. I immediately recognized my brother Rob. His face brightened when he saw me. "Ryan!" he called, coming out the door and holding a hand out to me. I automatically shook it, trying desperately to keep up with the situation. He leaned toward me slightly and whispered, "We'll explain everything to you later, once the kids are asleep." He pulled back and looked over at Jennifer with a smile. Holding his hand to her, he said, "Since my brother here isn't going to do it, I'll just introduce myself. I'm Robert."
Smiling at my stunned expression, she shook his hand. "Jennifer."
Several more heads had poked through the open front door by this time. Rob waved them over. "Gang," he called, "this is another of the kids that Mom and Dad raised." He indicated me and then continued, "Ryan left here about ten years ago, so most of you don't know him, but he was a brother of mine for a long time. This is his friend Jennifer." He addressed us, indicated the kids, and named them starting at the oldest at thirteen and ending at the youngest at about five. "Ken, Marcia, Richard, Elisabeth, Laura, and this little one is Katie." My sister Christi, Mom, and Dad exited the house and stopped in shock at seeing me. Rob continued without missing a beat, indicating Christi and then the adults, "Christi and our parents Doug and Lois Morgan." He addressed them and said, "Ryan's friend is Jennifer."
Mom came over and hugged me. Dad shook my hand. They each repeated the actions with Jennifer, in addition to Christi hugging her.
My mind was just coming out of its "gibbering uncontrollably" stage when Dad clapped his hands and said, "Okay, everyone in the house. No point in everyone standing outside."
As we filed indoors, all the younger kids didn't seem to know how to react to me. Figuring I'd better do something before it became too tense, I asked "Hey, does Dad still eat macaroni and cheese with ketchup?"
"Hey!" he objected with a grin.
"Eww!" almost everyone chorused with smiles.
"Yeah, he does," volunteered little Katie.
I smiled down at her and asked, "Does Mom still try to get everyone to eat that chipped beef on toast stuff?"
"Eww!" everyone chorused louder. Jen giggled.
"Hey, I like that," Katie objected.
Mom laughed and rested a hand on Katie's shoulder.
"Don't talk," Christi shot back at me. "I seem to remember you eating tater tots with MUSTARD of all things."
"So?" I asked.
Another chorus of, "Eww!"
Jennifer was laughing by this time, hanging onto my shoulder to keep from falling over.
We all finally managed to get seated around the big front room, though it was a tight fit. Katie remained standing and looked at me curiously. "You're my brother?"
I smiled at her. "Yes, I suppose I am."
She looked at Jennifer. "Are you his girlfriend?"
She smiled and nodded.
"Do you two have any kids?"
Mom's, Dad's, Christi's, and Rob's faces froze in position. Well, that explained who the Immortals were.
Jennifer shook her head calmly. "No, we don't."
Katie nodded, still looking at Jennifer closely. "How come you have red hair?"
"Katie," Mom said warningly.
Jen looked at Mom and smiled. "It's okay." Turning back to Katie, she said, "My real Dad had red hair, so I do too."
She nodded again. "Do you like ponies?" she then asked in a lightning fast change of subject.
Jen smiled. "Do you have some ponies in your room?"
Katie's eyes lit up. Nodding vigorously, she grabbed Jen's hand and pulled her from the couch and went tearing down the hall.
"Katie's made a new friend," commented Christi.
"So you're another brother," asked the oldest kid after Rob.
"What do you do?"
"I'm a computer programmer in Toronto," I answered smoothly. Well, that was true if not quite complete.
"I wanna be a programmer when I grow up," chimed in one of the younger girls.
"I'm going to be a doctor," claimed the slightly older boy.
"Jennifer is a nurse," I told him, "So I've heard about how much school it takes to be a doctor. You must be pretty smart."
He smiled. The four other kids rolled their eyes. Rob and Christi muffled their snickers.
"Okay, time for you lot to go to bed," announced Mom.
Five groans met her announcement. "But we just met our brother," objected the oldest boy.
"I'll be back tomorrow evening," I said, shooting a glance at Dad and Mom.
At their nods, the kids calmed down. There was a half-hour flurry of kids brushing teeth and getting into pajamas before things started to calm down. Dad waved all the Immortals plus Jen to his study. Closing the door behind us and sitting at the desk, he said, "This is soundproof. It'll allow us to talk without young ears. How have you been doing, Ryan?"
Remaining standing, I looked from him to Mom who was perched on the table, and then to Rob and Christi who were sharing a loveseat. I ignored his question for the moment. "Why didn't you tell me?" I asked instead.
Dad shot a glance at Jen.
I sighed. "She knows," I told them. To her, I said, "All four of them are Immortal. Which I DIDN'T know before we got here." I turned a stern glance onto each of my family in turn before continuing to Jennifer, "Two of the other kids are pre-Immortal, though I don't know which."
Christi asked, "You can sense pre-Immortals? You can't be more than ten years Immortal yourself."
"Don't ask," I waved it off. Sighing tiredly, I collapsed into one of the chairs, Jen taking the one next to me and holding my hand.
"If you've dealt with pre-Immortals before, you know WHY we didn't tell you, Ryan," Rob said calmly.
"Do you realize the panic I went through when I found out about my Immortality?" I asked.
"Yes," Mom answered dryly. "We've all gone through it. We've learned that the best thing is to just raise you right and then let you go."
I stared at her. "How long have you been doing this?"
"Raising pre-Immortals?" she asked. At my nod, she answered, "A hundred fifty years or so."
"And nobody's ever noticed?"
"Did you?" Jen asked. I snapped my attention over to her while everyone else chuckled. She continued, "Your brother and sister here appear to be seventeen and eighteen. You didn't notice that they never aged?"
My gaze shifted over to the two of them, calmly looking back at me. They did indeed look seventeen and eighteen. It'd been ten years since I had seen them last, but they still looked like my mental image of them.
I sighed and leaned forward, rubbing my face in my hands. "Okay, start at the beginning."
"As Lois said, we've been raising pre-Immortal kids for a hundred and fifty years," started Dad. "We had to move every twenty years or so unless we could keep a low profile in the community. Neither of us believe in the Game, so we've lived on Holy Ground whenever possible. Rob and Christi found us. We didn't raise them. The four of us have stayed together for quite a while, now. Once Katie grows up, it'll probably be time for us to move again."
While I digested that, Rob stood up. "I'm going to grab a beer. Anybody else want anything to drink?" At my small start of surprise, he grinned at me. "You know I'm older than you, despite looking seventeen, LITTLE BROTHER."
I chuckled in embarrassment. "Okay, you've made your point. Yeah, a beer would be nice."
He nodded and took everyone else's orders before fetching the three beers and two glasses of wine. Once he distributed the drinks, he took his seat next to Christi again, laying his hand on her leg.
Dad caught me staring at it. He chuckled and said, "They were married when they found us."
I closed my eyes and leaned back in my chair. "My brother is married to my sister, and they're both Immortal. Mom and Dad are also Immortal have been raising mortal and pre- Immortal children for a hundred and fifty years. This is going to take some getting used to."
Everyone chuckled. "So tell me what happened to you after you left, Ryan," requested Dad.
I nodded, time to tell them a story that won't get me into much trouble. "After college graduation, I got a job in Seacouver doing database work for VisionQuest. I died the first time in a freak accident and didn't even know I'd died until a few days later. I eventually stumbled upon Duncan MacLeod, and he explained everything to me and began my training. A girlfriend from college moved in with me the next year and we stayed together a few years until she was killed by an Immortal. I wandered the country for a couple months after that and ended up in Toronto where I met Jennifer. We've been together since and we've been married a year now." I was horribly mangling the story, but unless I wanted to explain Watchers and vampires, that would have to do.
"Congratulations," Rob saluted me with his bottle.
Mom, Dad, and Christi also raised their drinks in toast. Jen and I blushed.
"Duncan MacLeod, huh?" asked Dad after he took a sip.
I nodded. "Know him?"
He shook his head. "Not personally, but I've only heard good things about him."
"He's a good man and a great friend," I assured everyone.
"I have a question," Jennifer said.
"Yes?" Mom asked.
"Robert here said that your last name is Morgan?" she asked.
Rob shook his head. "I said THEIR last name is Morgan," he corrected, pointing to Mom and Dad.
Mom nodded. "Doug and I are Morgan. Rob and Christi are Barr, actually."
"And Ryan is a Chessman," Jen frowned. "Why the different last names?"
"What would happen if we gave our name to every pre-Immortal we have raised?" Dad asked. "Sooner or later someone would notice that many Morgans and try to figure out why," he answered his own question.
"So you give us all different names for your protection?" I asked.
"Ours and yours, yes. If someone tracked us down, they could find your address since we have it in our address book. Then ALL of our children would be hunted. By protecting ourselves, we're also protecting you."
I shook my head. "That won't wash. My address book at home has almost a dozen Immortals in it as well. Most Immortals probably have several Immortal friends and acquaintances."
Mom sighed. "Well, we DO try to protect our kids."
I frowned. "How many pre-Immortal children have you raised?"
"Including Katie and Laura? Um, twenty something now."
I blinked in astonishment. "Where do you find them all?"
"Networking," Dad answered with a grin. "Now that you know about us, if you find a pre-Immortal that you don't want to raise yourself, you know someone who IS willing to do so. Several of our kids have been found by our earlier kids."
One of my eyebrows came up. "I'll have to remember that."
Christi yawned. "It's getting late. I'm going to bed."
Jen and I stood. "We'd better get going. If it's okay, I'll come by tomorrow evening."
"WE will come back tomorrow," corrected Jen with a glare.
Rob grinned. "Welcome to married life, little brother." Christi dug an elbow into his side.
Mom and Dad chuckled.
A whole group of us were in the midst of a vicious game of Monopoly early the next evening when my cell phone chirped from where my coat was hanging.
"You have a cell phone?" asked the fifteen year old boy. I vaguely though his name was Ken, but I couldn't keep them all straight.
I nodded in answer as Jen dug the phone out of my coat and answered it. After a few seconds of conversation, she walked over to me and handed over the phone. "It's Dana."
I stood and waved Jen down into my chair. "Careful," I told all five of my opponents. "She's bloodthirsty." I smiled at Jen's glare and brought the phone up. "Dana, what's up?"
"Ryan, I'm glad I caught you. Would it be possible for you to come to Washington?"
My smile fell instantly, and I casually walked into the kitchen for a degree of privacy. For her to call for help couldn't be good. "Yes," I answered slowly. "I can, but why? What's wrong? You and Mulder okay? Colton hasn't gotten out of hand, has he?"
"We're fine," she assured me, "and Tom hasn't bothered us since you left town." She neatly sidestepped the humiliation that I'd dished out to the arrogant agent. "No, the problem is Diane. Or more precisely her partner."
"Harm?" I asked. "What's wrong?"
"How good is your medical knowledge?" she asked in response.
"Not very. I passed biology, but that's it. Give it to me in words of one syllable or less."
My attempt at levity fell flat. "He's dying," she stated bluntly. "He's managed to catch a very unusual disease. The filtration properties of his liver and kidneys are irrevocably shutting themselves down. Dialysis is a stopgap measure, but a side effect of this disease is for the liver to start producing and releasing various poisons. His body will quickly poison itself to death and there isn't a thing medical science can do about it. He wouldn't survive kidney and liver replacement surgeries, even if we had the time."
"Okay," I said slowly. It wasn't, but what else was I supposed to say? "Why are you telling me, and what can I do to help?"
"Come to Washington and bring your wife."
"She can cure him," Dana answered delicately.
Aw, hell. Dana and Mulder knew about Jen's vampirism. She must mean that Jen can bring Harm across and therefore cure this disease.
"This is her decision, not mine. How long do we have?"
"Two days, maybe. Better hurry, Ryan. Harm will be going downhill soon and rapidly. Emotionally, Diane will be in worse shape."
That was true enough. When I'd left them a few months ago, they were just realizing that a relationship was something that both of them wanted. Harmon Rabb dying now would decimate his Immortal partner.
"Bethesda Medical Center?" I asked, mind whirling.
"Yes. Mulder and I are leaving for a case tomorrow, so we won't be in town."
"I can't promise anything," I said slowly. "It's Jen's choice and Harm's." Dana remained mute, and I took a breath. "We'll get there soon. If nothing else, Diane will need some moral support."
"Yes, she does," Dana said quietly.
"Thanks for the info, Dana. We'll head that way immediately."
"Good luck," was her only response before she disconnected.
"We'll all need it," I commented to the air as I folded the phone. Shaking my head, I stepped back out into the front room. Jennifer was staring at me intently. To Mom and Dad, I said, "Jennifer and I have to go. A friend of ours is dying, and we need to get there."
"Go," Mom answered immediately, standing up. "We'll be here. This friend won't."
Everyone else stood and Jen and I hugged our way to the door. Among promises of keeping in touch, we finally got outside and to our car.
"You heard?" I asked, turning the car back toward our hotel.
"Yes," she answered tensely.
"Any problem with at least going to Washington?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No harm in checking it out. I'll decide more once I meet this Harm and Diane you've told me about. Besides, if Dana's told them more than she should, at least I'll have a chance at damage control."
It sounded cold, but I understood what she was saying. "Dana wouldn't say anything without your permission." I hoped.
We barely beat the dawn into the hotel near Washington National Airport. It'd been a long, quiet drive into Chicago, a mad dash to the plane, and a boring flight. Now we were ready to crash. I would have preferred to go to Bethesda Naval Medical Center immediately, but I knew that if I didn't get at least some sleep, I couldn't function for more than a couple more hours.
So I forced myself to get six hours sleep and then dragged myself out of bed in the early afternoon. Rapidly getting presentable, I left Jennifer in bed and headed out. Going through a drive-thru in an attempt to get something resembling nutrition, I quickly made it to Bethesda and was directed to Commander Rabb's room.
I was still twenty feet down the hall when I ran into Diane's Buzz. Seven more steps and I gingerly opened the correct door and looked in. Harm was in a semi-reclined bed with a multitude of wires and tubes sticking out at all angles. Machines beeped and whirled all around the room. He looked alert, but the bags under his eyes and his chalky skin coloration told me something was definitely wrong. Diane was sitting at his bedside, both of her hands holding one of his.
Both of them looked up at me. Harm smiled, but it looked forced. Diane's own watery smile wasn't much better.
I stepped fully into the room and let the door hiss shut behind me. "Singing telegram," I said with a bright smile that I forced onto my face for their benefit. I stepped to a chair at the foot of the bed and seated myself.
Harm laughed but then winced in pain. When his face cleared, he said, "Now who would send me a singing telegram?"
I smiled at him. "I can think of several people who are reasonably fond of you, Commander. I'll bet a few of your co-workers can stand you as well."
"As long as he isn't blowing holes in courtroom ceilings, there are more than a few of us," commented a stern voice from the door.
Everyone's attention shifted that way. "Admiral," greeted Harm and Diane in unison. Diane continued, "Ryan, this is Admiral AJ Chegwidden, our boss at JAG. Admiral, this is Ryan Chessman."
I stood and shook the distinguished man's hand. "Sir," I greeted politely.
"Mister Chessman," he responded. He laid his overcoat and hat on the chair I'd just gotten up from and then crossed to behind Diane. "Colonel, I'm here to spell you. You are to leave for at least an hour to get something to eat. I'd prefer that you get some sleep as well, but I suspect that THAT is asking for the impossible."
"Sir, my place is here," she said stubbornly.
"Mac," Harm said softly. "You need to get out of here at least for a little while. Your constitution is legendary, but even you have limits. Get out of here and eat. If you don't, I think that between the Admiral and Ryan, they could physically carry you from the room. If they don't, then I'd get up from this bed and kick your six out myself." Everyone smiled, and he continued, "Now get out of here, Mac. You being here twenty-four hours a day won't help anything. You know that."
"But, Harm -" she objected.
"Mac," I gently interrupted. When she looked over at me, I continued, "You really do need to get out of here. That uniform looks like you've been here a day and a half."
"Thirty-four hours and sixteen minutes," she answered distractedly, turning back to Harm.
I rolled my eyes and continued, "You need to eat and get cleaned up."
She sighed and nodded her head in resignation. Standing, she mumbled, "I'll be right back out."
Everyone's eyes tracked her as she made her way into the bathroom.
"That was too easy," said the admiral.
"She's exhausted," said Harm. "Ryan, thank you for taking care of her."
I nodded. "That's what friends are for, Harm. Anything else I can do for you?"
He grinned, but it lacked the force I'd seen in the past. "You have an immortality serum on you?"
I forced a casual grin. "Fresh out, sorry." I didn't dare look to Chegwidden to see his reaction.
"Then taking care of Sarah will be good enough for now," Harm said.
Chegwidden had been watching all of this quietly. "You seem to know the Commander and Colonel, son," he observed to me.
I nodded. "I used to live here in DC. I met them several months ago." Both statements were true, but the story was much more complicated than that. Besides, Chegwidden didn't need to know the whole truth.
Diane came back into the room and saved me from further conversation. She'd cleaned her face and was looking better, but she was still clearly running on empty.
"Come on, Colonel. First food, then some sleep."
"But -" she objected, coming to a complete halt.
"Go, Colonel, that's an order," said Chegwidden, but the compassionate look took the sting out of the command.
"Go," Harm said more quietly. "I'll still be here when you come back."
"Seems I'm outranked," she said to the ceiling.
"Yes you are, Colonel," agreed the admiral. "Now quit procrastinating. Go."
"Aye, sir," she muttered with a rebellious frown. She turned and slowly headed toward the door.
I started to follow, but she was moving so slowly that it was pointless. "Colonel, either you speed up or I'm going to pick you up and carry you."
She stopped and turned a deadly look to me. Her exhaustion robbed the look of some of its effect, but the intent still came through loud and clear. "You wouldn't," she stated.
"Care to test that hypothesis?" I asked calmly without batting an eyelash.
"Colonel, go," repeated Chegwidden, losing patience.
She frowned, but then turned and strode from the room without further protest. Throwing a quick wave back to the two men, I followed and caught her before she made it to the elevator. We silently waited for an elevator car to arrive and then entered when it did so. "Our physiology makes us tougher to knock down, but we're not invincible, Diane. You HAVE to eat and sleep. You'll fall over if you don't."
"Harm needs me," she said wearily.
"Harm needs you in one piece. In this shape you're no good to him. If you're still this tired after some food, you're going to get some sleep somewhere. If you refuse, I'm going to kill you and let your body do the work."
She stared at me. "You wouldn't."
"Try me," I fired back. "I will NOT let you fall apart here. Whether you work with me voluntarily or not is irrelevant."
She sighed as the elevator doors opened on the ground level. "Let me get some food and then we'll discuss it."
"Fine," I agreed, "but I hesitate to call hospital cafeteria offerings 'food'."
That finally got a small smile out of her.
We both went through the cafeteria line and seated ourselves in the dining area. I got through my salad and fruit juice quickly enough, but Diane just picked at her spaghetti. "Colonel, either you eat that or I'm going to pin you down and force feed it to you."
"I'd pay good money to see that," put in a voice behind me.
Diane looked up and half smiled at the newcomer. I turned in my seat and was shocked to find myself looking at Clayton Webb.
He smiled at me and stuck out a hand. "Hello. Clayton Webb, State Department."
Diane snorted in amusement. "Like any of us still believe that, Clay."
Frowning in confusion over the whole situation, I stood and shook Webb's hand. "Ryan Chessman," I said.
"Pleased to meet you," he said smoothly, seating himself at our table and stealing the packaged saltines from my tray.
"Are you a friend of Harm and Mac's?" I asked, sitting again and trying to get a hold of the situation.
Diane grunted again, but she smiled at Webb. "Source of most of our headaches, actually. Still, I'm glad you came, Clay."
Webb smiled momentarily before his face fell. "How is he?"
She shook her head with a worried frown. "Not good. The doctors give him less than thirty-six hours until he slips into a coma and then another twelve before he slips away completely." She said it steadily enough, but the hitch in her voice told us everything we needed to know.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asked.
"Do you have a magic cure?" she asked.
Webb flicked a glance at me but shook his head.
She stood and looked down at the two of us. "Then there isn't anything else we can do. If you gentlemen would excuse me, I want to get back to my partner." She turned and strode from the cafeteria with measured steps, head held high. The tense set of her shoulders told us how fragile her control was, though.
We both tracked her with our eyes until she turned the corner toward the elevators. Webb sighed and dropped the cracker package onto Diane's tray. "How is she?" he asked directly.
"Holding herself together through sheer willpower," I answered, shaking my head.
He smiled slightly. "That's our favorite Marine." He cleared his throat slightly and looked at me directly. "Is your wife going to offer him a cure?"
I sighed. "That's up to her. She still hasn't met these two."
He nodded. "If that happens, give me warning," he ordered, slipping me a card. "Out of curiosity, how did you know about this?"
"Dana Scully called me," I answered, slipping the card into my coat pocket.
He nodded. "I should have seen that. Mac no doubt wondered if her Immortality could somehow help cure Rabb. She'd need to talk to an Immortal doctor about that."
I shrugged. "How much do Diane and Harm know?"
He shook his head. "Nothing about Watchers or vampires that we know of."
I sighed and ran a hand over my face. "I'm going back up there. Diane needs moral support at least as much as Harm needs it."
Webb nodded and stood up, picking up Diane's tray as he did so. "I just wish there was something I could do," he said to himself.
We carried our trays to the trash receptacle and cleared off the garbage. "Maybe there is," I mused.
He looked at me. "What might that be?"
"Diane mentioned her teacher, Matt O'Hara?"
Webb shook his head immediately. "Wish I could help there, but he's serving time in Leavenworth penitentiary for stealing the Declaration of Independence. While I probably COULD get him here, I would have to pull more strings than would be healthy for my cover. Besides, it would take too long to do any good."
I'd wondered where I'd heard the name before. Now I remembered that whole mess from a few years ago. "Does Harm have any family?"
Webb grimaced. "His mother and step-father are out of touch while on vacation in Europe. Harm forbade anyone from contacting his grandmother, saying it would probably kill her."
"Stubborn jackass. NOT knowing until it's too late will probably kill her," I grumbled in resignation.
Webb shrugged. "He has Mac. She means more to him than all the rest of us combined."
"Ain't that the truth," I agreed. "Thanks anyway, Webb. I'm going back up. You joining me?"
He shook his head. "I'll be back tomorrow. My being there now would smother him. He'll need the company tomorrow more than right now."
With one final handshake, we parted company. I made it up to Harm's room just in time for Admiral Chegwidden to come out, shaking his head. He spotted me and said, "I thought you promised to keep her out for at least an hour."
I shrugged. "If you and Harm couldn't keep her out, what hope do I have?"
He just shook his head sadly and walked away with a distracted goodbye to me.
I entered the hospital room to find the scene almost identical to when I'd first entered it nearly an hour previously. I wordlessly took the seat at the foot of the bed again.
"What, no singing telegram?" asked Harm with a ghost of a grin.
I smiled back. "Naw, I have a lousy singing voice. I might scare away all the pretty nurses, and then they wouldn't give you any more sponge baths."
Harm's smile grew a fraction and even Diane gave a hiccupping little cough.
A timid tap on the door preceded a kind-faced blonde poking her head around the doorjamb. Immediately behind her was the man I vaguely recalled as being Diane's Watcher.
"Bud, Harriet," greeted Harm with a raised hand.
"Sir," he was greeted, but they were both looking at me in curiosity.
I stood and held out my hand to them. "I'm Ryan Chessman, a friend to Harm and Mac's."
The blonde smiled wide enough to brighten the room. She took my hand and said, "Harriet Roberts and this is my husband Bud."
After shaking hands, I quietly slipped out, knowing that the friends wanted some privacy. As I headed toward the visitor's lounge, my cell phone chirped, earning me a nasty glare from the nurse's station.
I hurriedly pulled the phone out and answered it, "Chessman."
"Hi, it's me," Jen responded. "Where are you?"
I checked my watch and realized it was dusk. She could join me soon and potentially start the discussion with Harm and Diane. "Bethesda, fourth floor visitor's lounge at the moment," I answered, entering the lounge and seating myself in the empty room. "Harm has a couple visitors from work, so I'll be in the lounge for a few. If not, it's room four twenty-one."
"Okay, I'll be there soon."
That was simple enough. Searching through the magazines, the best reading material I could come up with was a fifteen month old "Life".
I was saved from terminal boredom ten minutes later when Jennifer casually walked in. "Hi," she said, taking a seat and propping her feet up in my lap.
I laid a hand across her ankles. "Hey. Something occurred to me a minute ago."
"Congratulations," she said with an impish smile.
I smacked the ankle lightly before continuing, "With all the running around we've done in the past couple days, I never thought to ask you about food."
"I'm fine," she waved it off. "I had something just after I called you."
I nodded. "Okay, then. Unless you have some other suggestion, why don't we go see Harm?"
She nodded and stood before turning to help me up. We walked down the hall hand in hand until we were right on top of Harm's room. His door opened and the Roberts stepped out.
"Oh," Harriet started, colliding with me.
I caught her before she fell against the wall. "Sorry about that. You okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine, Mister Chessman. Just didn't see you there. Hello," she said, smiling at Jennifer.
"First, it's Ryan," I corrected. "Secondly, this is my wife Jennifer."
Harriet smiled charmingly and introduced herself and her husband to Jennifer. Bud glanced at me but turned away immediately.
I tilted my head toward the door and asked quietly, "How's she doing?"
Bud shook his head slowly, and Harriet's eyes misted over. "Not good," Harriet answered.
"I'm afraid she wouldn't survive if the Commander died," Bud said.
Jen and I nodded before the silence was broken by Harriet. "We'd better be going before AJ scares our babysitter too bad. Nice meeting you, Ryan, Missus Chessman."
"Sir, ma'am," Bud nodded to each of us before walking down the hall with his arm around his wife.
"Cute couple," Jennifer commented.
Nodding distractedly, I opened the door to Harm's room and allowed Jennifer to precede me. Once inside, Harm and Diane looked up at us and I started the introductions. "Harm, Diane, this is my wife Jennifer. Jen, this is Diane Schonke, though her current identity is Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie, and the tall guy in the bed with the Tom Cruise smile is Commander Harmon Rabb."
Jennifer smiled politely at Diane but focused her attention on Harm, taking in all the various machines. When she wordlessly picked up his chart and started to study it, Harm and Diane turned puzzled frowns on me.
I grinned back. "She's a nurse. I DID tell you about the cute nurses, Harm. I just decided to bring one with me this time."
Jen smiled slightly, but she didn't look up. Diane rolled her eyes. Harm's face had a ghost of a smile on it.
"Besides," I continued to Diane, "getting more opinions IS why you called Dana in the first place, wasn't it?"
She sighed and nodded tiredly, but Harm frowned angrily. "I wondered how you'd heard, Ryan." He turned to Diane and continued, "Why didn't you tell me, Sarah? What were you thinking you could accomplish?"
"She's Immortal and a doctor," Diane defended herself. "I wondered if she knew something that the doctors here didn't. I also was wondering if something about my Immortal physiology could be adapted to save you."
Harm stopped short. "I never thought of that," he admitted. "What did she say?"
Diane shook her head. "She's tried on and off to do something along these lines. Injecting Immortal blood into an mortal doesn't do any good at all. A complete organ transplant could theoretically work, but it has at least as much chance of killing both the donor and recipient immediately as it does of either surviving."
"There's no way to MAKE me Immortal?" Harm asked with a tired sigh.
I shook my head. "Immortals are born with the potential. Nothing can alter that."
He cocked an eyebrow at me and asked, "So am I a potential Immortal?"
Diane's head jerked up and stared at me.
I smiled sadly at her. "Can't detect pre-Immortals?"
She shook her head, hope flaring wildly in her eyes.
I sighed and said to Rabb, "Typically, Immortals don't tell pre-Immortals what they are. However, there is an easy way to know if you aren't. Do you know with absolute certainty who your biological parents are?"
Diane sighed and her head flopped back down into her hands.
Harm looked at her and me in confusion. "Yes. I'm almost identical to my father, so there isn't any possible question."
I nodded. "That proves you AREN'T pre-Immortal. None of us know where pre-Immortals come from. We're all foundlings."
Jennifer had finished going over the medical chart and was now studying Harm and Diane from one of the guest chairs. Harm glanced at her and asked, "Are you Immortal?"
She shook her head. "Nope. I inherited my eyes, hair, and freckles from my Irish father. No chance that I'm Immortal."
"But you married an Immortal," continued Harm. He appeared to be about to continue, but a spasm of pain flashed across his face. His jaw clenched and he pressed himself back into the bed, one hand gripping the bed rail hard enough to squeeze all the blood out of it.
Diane frowned in worry, rubbing one hand along the arm she could reach. "It's okay, Harm. It'll be okay," she whispered.
After fifteen seconds, he started breathing again in shallow pants, perspiration beaded on his forehead. Finally calming down, he smiled sadly at Diane. "No it won't, Mac. You know that."
One tear escaped from her eye to blaze a trail down her cheek.
"Here," he whispered, reaching up with one hand to thumb away the tear.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You must think I'm a big baby for crying like this."
He shook his head, cupping her face in one large hand. "No, Sarah, you are anything BUT a big baby. You're a beautiful, charming woman who I happen to love and I hate to leave."
Jennifer's hand found mine. We were being completely ignored by the two others in the room. Heck, they might not notice a band marching through the room.
Taking a steadying breath, Jen said quietly, "You don't necessarily have to leave her."
They both jerked their attentions away from each other and focused on Jennifer. Diane sniffled back another tear, though there were now multiple tracks down her cheeks. Harm's eyes were glistening as well.
I glanced down at Jennifer. "You sure?" I asked her quietly.
"What?" Diane had finally found her voice.
Jennifer nodded up at me. "Yes, I'm sure. I've seen enough to at least offer."
I nodded and took a seat. This was going to take a while.
"Offer what?" asked Diane with a little more force.
Jen leaned back comfortably in her chair. "Immortality."
They both glanced from her to me. "I thought you said there was no way to make me Immortal," Harm said to me.
Jen answered, "There isn't a way to make a mortal into an Immortal like Diane or Ryan. There is, however, another kind of immortality."
"Before this goes further," I interrupted, "you both have to swear to secrecy. What we're about to discuss is at least as important as Immortality. If a nurse, doctor, or visitor comes into the room, we have to stop the discussion."
They both barely nodded to me before turning back to Jennifer. "What are you talking about?" asked Diane with a touch of hope.
Jen took a breath and said clearly, "Vampirism."
Dead silence. After a moment of calm, Diane's aura started flaring wildly, though nothing at all showed on her face.
"You can cure this disease by making me into a vampire?" asked Harm in an amazingly steady voice after almost a minute of silence.
"How?" asked Diane in a small voice as her Buzz finally settled back down.
I looked at her mildly. "Surely you've heard enough of the vampire lore that you know how a vampire is created."
She stared at me for a moment before turning back to Jen. "You're a vampire?"
Jen nodded again.
More silence punctuated by another spike in Diane's aura.
"This would let me live for more than the next thirty-six hours?" asked Harm eventually.
Jen frowned slightly, and I answered, "'Live' isn't quite the right word. By most medical definitions, Jennifer is dead. She has no heartbeat nor respiration unless she's talking. So she's technically dead but not really. As crude as the term is, 'undead' is as accurate as anything."
They both continued to stare at Jennifer. Jen sighed and stood. Nearing them, she presented her wrist.
After a few seconds of hesitation, Harm leaned forward and pressed a finger to check for a pulse. After a few shifts to try to find one, he finally leaned back and stared at her in shock, mouth slightly agape.
When Diane first touched Jen's wrist, she said, "You're cold."
I nodded. "Without a heartbeat pumping blood, her body's always nearly at room temperature."
Also failing to find a pulse, Diane leaned back in her chair, folding her arms in front of her in a subtly defensive posture. "The stories about vampires make them out to be monsters."
"The Inquisition cured a lot of that," said Jen. "We've learned to blend in much more with society. If we don't give mortals a reason to learn of us or fear us, then we aren't hunted." Instead of taking her own seat, Jen curled up on my lap.
"How many of you are there?" Diane asked.
Jen shrugged. "Thousands worldwide. Every decently sized city in the world has a Community. Some of them have hundreds of individuals."
We all stared at each other for a few moments before a nurse opened the door and stepped in. "Hello, Commander. Time for me to check your vitals." While she fussed around, he continued to stare at Jennifer, completely ignoring the activity. Once done, the nurse turned to Jen and me. "I'm sorry, but the visiting hours are over except for family. I'm going to have to ask you two to leave."
Looking directly into the nurse's eyes, Jen slowly and distinctly said, "It's okay, Nurse. We won't bother anything. It is okay for us to remain as long as we want."
"It's okay for you to remain as long as you want," the poor nurse repeated dully. Shaking her head slightly, she smiled at us and said, "Well, since you're going to be staying, is there anything I can get for you?"
"No, thank you," I answered politely.
"I'll be at the nurse's station if you need anything, then. Good night," she said on her way out the door.
Once the door closed behind her, Diane asked, "What the hell was THAT?"
"The Force can have a strong effect on the weak-minded," I intoned.
Jen grinned slightly and poked me in the shoulder. "Some of us call it a 'Whammy'," she answered the question. "It's basically instant hypnosis."
"Can you imagine how useful that would be during an investigation?" asked Harm with a grin.
Diane rolled her eyes.
I chuckled. "Trust me, that thought has occurred to me more than once. Vampires can be top notch investigators when they put their minds to it."
"Why are you telling us all this?" asked Diane.
"I'm offering Commander Rabb a cure," answered Jen steadily.
"Harm," he corrected. Jen nodded at him in acceptance.
"At what price?" asked Diane. "Call it the lawyer coming out in me, but I need to see all sides of this."
Jen nodded to her. "I wouldn't let him accept it until he's heard all the pros and cons anyway. A truly informed decision is the only way to go." Collecting her thoughts, she said, "Some of the stories about vampires are true, some are false. We DO need to drink blood to survive. We have heightened eyesight and hearing, strength, healing, reflexes, and we can fly. The stories of no reflections, bats, mist, or wolf form are all incorrect. Frankly, I wonder what the person who started those rumors was smoking when they made them up. Anyway, on the down side: religious icons repel us or burn if actually touching us. Sunlight will destroy us quickly. Wooden stakes in the heart will paralyze us, but not destroy us. Garlic is nauseating, but not truly repelling. Beheading will get us, too. On a personal level, I don't feel almost any form of pain, but doing this alters your life on a fundamental level. You would have to completely give up your current life if you did this."
They quietly digested that for a few moments. Jen was dumping this all on them rapidly, but we didn't have all that long. Harm's coloration was shading toward light yellow, proving that his liver was shutting down.
"And then there's that Jedi mind control trick," Harm added. "Do you age? How old are you?"
"We don't appreciably age, no. Personally, I'm in my early thirties. Vampires CAN age indefinitely, though most don't. Eventually, most get too bored to continue and suicide. That, or are destroyed by a younger vampire moving up in our social ladder. As for that 'mind control' as you put it, I have to be careful using it. All Immortals and some mortals are immune to its effects."
Diane seemed slightly relieved to hear she was immune to it. "Why would all Immortals be immune, do you think?" she wondered.
"My own pet theory revolves around force of will," I joined the conversation again. "Call it ego if you want, but for one of us to survive all that we do, we have to have a strong sense of self. That kind of mental armor is protection from the Whammy, though a vampire can still use it to influence a WILLING Immortal."
"Should I ask how you would know that?" Harm asked.
I blushed. The story had to do with the first time Jen got me into bed, but I wasn't about to tell him that.
"Never mind," he grinned slightly. "Based on your expression, I can guess."
I blushed deeper. Diane chuckled.
"Okay, now what?" asked Harm, getting back to the focus of the discussion.
"Now you decide if you want this," Jen answered. "I wish you had more time, but the fact is that you really don't. You have less than twenty-four hours in which you can still make decisions. Make no mistake, this is a one way deal. You CAN'T be cured of this disease without turning you into a vampire, and that is a permanent condition. Vampirism has no 'cure'."
Harm sunk into thought, staring out the small window and into the darkness beyond.
Diane asked, "How did you become a vampire?"
Jen shook her head. "I was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I got in the way of a vampire who was being chased by our police force equivalent for breaking our laws. He thought that taking a mortal hostage would slow them down. When it didn't, he broke my neck. This was the only way to save me. That was nearly ten years ago, now."
"Do you regret it?" Diane asked curiously.
Jen's eyes took on a vacant stare. "Yes and no," she finally answered. "There are a lot of bonuses to this life, not the least of which is marrying the man I love, who won't age." I laid a hand on her arm which she covered with one of her own hands before going on, "Parts of it are an ugly life. I had to dramatically change the direction my life was going. I have to drink BLOOD to survive." She sighed and added, "And I know that some of that blood was not taken from willing volunteers." She stared down at her now clenched hands and quietly continued, "I will never watch a sunset, nor go swimming on a lazy summer afternoon. I'm in constant danger of discovery and violent persecution. Whenever someone learns of my nature, there is the chance that they will go running off, screaming in terror, only to return later to destroy me." She looked up and smiled sadly at Diane. "Does that answer your question?"
Diane smiled compassionately back.
Harm looked up and studied the two women. Taking a breath, he said, "Ryan, Jennifer, could I talk with Mac for a few minutes?"
We nodded and stood up. "I need to find some caffeine, anyway," I said. Checking my watch, I asked, "Half an hour?"
At Harm's nod, Jen and I quietly left. I led her back toward the lounge, stopping at the vending machines long enough to buy a Pepsi. Once we were seated in the waiting area, I asked, "What do you think?" I twisted the cap off the small plastic bottle and took a drink of the sugar and caffeine. I was running on too little sleep, and I still needed to function for at least a while.
Jen shook her head at my question. "We just don't have the time for them to delay deciding this," she mumbled, mostly to herself. She shook her head again and continued in a normal tone, "I hesitate to bring him across myself. Being so much smaller and female, he probably wouldn't respect me, and that will cause problems."
I shook my head. "The female part probably won't matter. He respects the hell out of his partner, but you're probably right that he may not pay enough attention to you based on the fact that he's nearly a foot taller."
She nodded. "So I was planning on asking Uncle Nick to come. However, even if I got in touch with him immediately, there's no guarantee that he could get here before dawn. Unfortunately, tomorrow night after a flight may be too late for Harmon Rabb."
I frowned. "Does he have to be conscious?"
She shook her head. "No, but I don't know what the process will do to him if he's on death's doorstep, so to speak. Trying to bring him across my kill him outright if he's close enough to death. I just don't know."
I pulled out my cell phone and handed it to her. "Call Nick and find out if he can come tonight or tomorrow night. Better first ask if he's willing to do this, though. I recall that he has moral objections drinking human blood anyway."
She nodded and dialed the phone.
Apparently, she caught him still at home. After quickly explaining the situation, she listened for a few seconds before saying goodbye and hanging up. She laid the phone on the table beside herself. "He's going to check flights and call us back."
I nodded and stood to turn on CNN. Sitting here brooding over everything won't do anybody any good. I might as well catch up with world events.
After ten minutes of useless information, the phone rang, prompting Jen to snatch it up. After a quick conversation, she thanked her pseudo uncle and hung up. "His flight leaves Toronto in two hours. If we don't need him, he can cancel up until he boards."
I nodded. "Well, that's the best we can hope for. Nat coming with him?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Turns out that they're on a week's vacation."
I winced. "They didn't have to take time out of their vacation to do this, did they?"
She shrugged. "That's what family's for, Ryan. If the situation was reversed, would you go?"
I grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I would."
"There you go, then." She checked the clock on the wall and said, "Fifteen minutes still." Folding the phone, she tucked it back into my coat before curling her feet under herself and leaning into me as much as the cramped couch would allow.
The clock still had five minutes to go when Diane's Buzz walked into range. She 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."