Disclaimers for Conspiracy of Swords: Please see Chapter One.
Teren awoke with the sun in her eyes. She tried to put a hand up to block out the ray of light, and realized she couldn't. When she looked down, she found one arm trapped under Alex, and the other hand clenched against Alex's chest.
Sometime during the night, they had rolled onto their sides, with Teren spooned behind the blond. Alex was still asleep, and Teren didn't really want to wake her. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully, and that was good. Teren had worried that the younger woman would have nightmares.
The light that had awakened Teren was coming from a small crack between the drapes. It was just enough to tell her she needed to get moving. Today they would have to think about what they were going to do. They had hard decisions to make, and would need to form their plans of both attack and defense. Teren smiled. Once again, it would be a chess match.
But the first thing she needed was a shower. After that she'd see about a rental car. Getting around the city in taxis would be too much of a hassle.
Even as she recognized all this, she still lay in the bed, gazing at the woman who had so recently become her lover. She wondered how Alex would react when she woke up.
Teren wondered how she, herself, should react. She wasn't really sure. The events of the very early morning had not been planned or even looked for. But they had happened, and they would have to be dealt with. But she hadn't the foggiest notion how to do that.
With a soft sigh, Teren began the process of extricating herself from Alex. When she was finally free, she went back to her own room and retrieved the soft blanket from her bed. She spread that over Alex, making sure to cover the woman's shoulders. She stood and watched Alex sleep, wanting to climb back into the bed.
But there were things she had to do. With a shake of her head she walked toward the bathroom in her own room to take a long shower.
Teren took a taxi to the car rental place, and rented a two door sedan under the name Chris Fleming. It was the same name she'd used at the hotel the night before. From there she stopped into a salon for a haircut. She had been trying to let it grow, but she decided the easiest way to avoid the police would be to not look like herself. If she had to, she could use a blond wig, but she didn't see the necessity at the moment.
After the haircut, she stopped into the hospital, using the back entrance. Instead of going to the emergency room, or even to the information desk, she got on the elevator and went to the third floor. She pretended to look in several rooms, and when a nurse asked if she could help her, Teren put a relieved look on her face.
"I hope so. I asked about a friend of mine down at the desk, and they said he was in 314, but there are only two ladies in there."
"Well, they might have made a mistake. It's a huge hospital, and sometimes we have to change a person's room, and the note never gets down to the information desk." The nurse gestured that Teren should follow her. "What's your friend's name, hon?"
"Thomas. Ken Thomas. I really wanted to see him."
"Well, there's good news, and bad."
Teren's heart dropped. "What's the bad news?"
"He's been released. The good news is, it was just a few minutes ago, so if you hurry, you might be able to catch him. It's the sixth floor, room 617."
"Thank you so much. I'll go right up. I can take the same elevator, right?"
"Yes, and turn left when you get off."
She took the elevator up, but was very cautious about getting off. If Ken was leaving, that probably meant someone was here to pick him up. Teren wasn't sure she wanted to run into anyone else from the FBI squad.
She stopped outside 617, pausing to listen. There were two voices, one low and rumbling, and one a litte higher pitch. Teren thought the first might be Ken, but didn't have a clue who the other one was. She hoped it was his wife, and she wouldn't mind giving Teren a moment with her husband.
Glancing around, Teren slipped into the room, closing the door behind her. The first bed was occupied by an old man, who was asleep. The voices were coming from the other side of the curtain. Teren took a few furtive steps further in, and then froze in recognition.
The other voice belonged to Miri, David's wife.
For a moment, she thought about bolting. She wasn't sure she would know what to say to the woman. But she needed to talk to Ken. Plus, she really wanted to know how David was.
Steeling herself, she cleared her throat, and stepped past the curtain.
Ken was sitting on the bed, in a pair of sweats from Georgetown University. His arm was around the small woman that had her head on Ken's shoulder. At the sound of someone clearing their throat, Ken looked up, and stared at Teren.
"Where in the hell did you come from?"
"Chicago, originally. How are you feeling?"
"Better. They kept me overnight because of some bleeding, but I'm getting out of here in a few."
Miri pulled her head away from Ken, and turned to look at the woman. She recognized Teren, and wondered why she was there.
"Miri, I want you to know how sorry I am. David's a good man, and I hope he pulls through."
The small woman nodded. "The doctor's think he has a good chance. The bullet damaged his lung, and broke one of his ribs. A piece of bone lodged near his heart, but they were able to remove it without trouble. Now the only thing they're worried about is how much blood he lost. His blood pressure is still really low."
Teren grimaced. "I know what kind of problems that can cause." She looked at the floor, then back up at Ken. "Um, I really don't want to intrude here, and I know I am, but Ken, I need to talk to you."
Ken looked at Miri who nodded, and gave him a hug.
"I'll come down and see you and the big guy as soon as they spring me."
"I'll be waiting for you." Miri smiled at Ken, and stepped towards Teren, who moved aside to let the smaller woman by.
Instead of leaving, Miri stopped. "Teren, is Alex okay?"
Teren nodded. "She's hurting. Both inside and out. Blaming herself."
"Damnit, it wasn't her fault, Teren," Ken growled, "and you can tell her I said so."
"Ken," Miri held up a hand to her friend, then looked Teren in the eye. "I think I'm partly to blame for the way she feels. When she called to tell me David had been hurt, I said some things I didn't mean. I told her she was to blame, and said she should have protected him." She dropped her head. "I think I might have even asked why it was David and not her, but I'm not sure. I said a lot of things that weren't true." Miri raised her head, fresh tears on her cheeks. "Tell her I'm sorry, Teren. I didn't mean those things, and I'm so sorry."
Teren nodded, and gave Miri an awkward hug. "She knows, Miri, she knows."
"No. I don't think she does. And she needs to. Will you tell her, Teren?"
Miri sighed, and shook her head. "That woman is such a perfectionist, and she just demands that everyone around her be the same way." She gave a half-shrug. "When something goes wrong, she's the first one to blame herself, so everybody else does, too."
"I'll let her know you don't blame her. And I'll tell her David's going to make it."
"Good. Tell her he'll be depressed that he can't be with her when she cracks this thing."
That lightened the mood a touch, and even brought a chuckle from Ken. Miri smiled up at Teren, and left.
Teren watched her go, and then looked at the agent seated on the bed.
"When are you leaving?"
"Soon as Cliff gets here. You better talk fast if you don't want him to catch you."
"Is he looking for me too? I thought it was just the PD."
"I don't think he's looking for you, exactly, but I'm not sure what he'd feel it was necessary to do. So, talk. What do you need from me?"
Teren took a deep breath. "First, I need to know how involved you're going to stay with this case."
"Very. It may not be from here in Philly, but I'll be in it. Any information you need, you let me know."
Teren nodded. "Good. Second, if Alex and I leave the city, can we count on you being our unofficial conduit to the Bureau?"
"You got it. Think you're going to leave?"
"Not sure. I have a feeling though, that the answers we're both looking for aren't in Philly."
"Where are they, do you think?"
"Not saying. Don't want to give you too much to lie about."
"Now, the question becomes, how are we going to get information back and forth."
Ken scratched his jaw. "Well, one time when a friend of mine went undercover, we set it up that anything we needed to get back and forth we'd put in a locker in the bus station. We'd leave the key in an envelope at the desk. It was a different box each time."
Teren tilted her head. "That would be good for hard copies of anything while we're still in town. But what about once we leave?"
"Nope. Look, I know you've probably got several aliases you go by, and you probably have identification for all of them, right?"
She said nothing.
"Take one of those aliases and go to hotmail. Sign up for e-mail under the alias. It won't be secure as the CIA stuff, or even what the Bureau uses, but everybody will be looking for you to try to use those. If you go with something as everyday as hotmail, they'll never suspect it."
Teren's eyebrows lifted. "You're right. It's not something they'll look for. Good thinking, Ken."
He grinned. "Hey, I'm no dummy. I graduated from college. " He poked a thumb at his sweats. "Got me the shirt to prove it."
Teren chuckled at him. "Okay. What address will you be using?"
"Simple to remember. Kendall-hyphen-T at hotmail. Unless it's something really sensitive, don't encrypt -- that's the easiest way to make someone suspicious."
"So what kind of information do you need from me?"
"Who the men that attacked you were, and can they be tied to John Treville or Derek White. Things like that."
"Got it. I'll get on it as soon as I can, but you might be disappointed. Bishop, who's Cliff's boss, turned the scene back over to the Philly cops. From what Jeff Harnisch told me, they've botched it already."
"Shit. Why am I not surprised?" She shook her head. "By the way, one other thing. Would you keep an eye on this Captain Davies for me? I haven't even met the guy and I don't like him."
Ken nodded, then he gazed at the floor. "Hey, Teren." He didn't look up at her, and Teren's eyes narrowed. "I don't want to insult you, or anything, but I wanted to ask, just to be sure." He looked at her then. "Did you shoot those cops?"
Teren shook her head. "No, Ken. I found them dead. And I'll tell you what I told Alex and Agent Harnisch. Whoever killed them, they knew the person."
"Why do you say that?"
"How many cops do you know that invite total strangers to sit in the back of their car while they're on a stakeout? Especially if that person has a fully loaded weapon."
That made Ken's eyebrows go up. "None. You think they were shot from inside the car?"
"No doubt in my mind. The back door was open, by the way. I glanced through it, and saw the wounds. The passenger was probably first, since the shots were to the exact back of his head. The driver was slightly turned as if he was looking at his passenger. Looked like a .22. Probably had a suppresser on the gun."
"You got all that from just a glance?"
She sighed. "It's part of my job, Ken, just like yours. I've used enough firearms to know what kind of wounds they can cause."
Ken didn't say anything to that. Instead he just nodded. "I didn't think you killed them, Teren, but I thought I'd better ask."
"Pretty brave of you. David would have hemmed and hawed, and then made sure Alex was between him and me when he asked."
Ken laughed. "Yeah. That's him exactly."
"I'm damn glad he's gonna make it."
They were each quiet for a moment, then Teren reached out to him.
"I better get moving. Want to get back and make sure Alex hasn't left without me."
Ken shook her hand. "You take care. And tell Alex to stop blaming herself. Shit, if anyone's to blame it's me and Rick. We knew Brogan was a pressure cooker, and we waited to bring him in."
"It was nobody's fault, Ken. Just the guys who ordered the hit." She lowered her voice. "And Alex and I are going to get them. I promise you that."
Ken could feel a shiver go up his spine at the ice in Teren's voice, and he watched as she disappeared from his room. Then he said in a quiet voice, "I believe you will, Teren. I believe you will."
Alex was back in the park. The lights were dim, and she could barely see the outline of the buildings. At first she could hear gunfire, and screams. Then it was silent and she turned around to stare into the bloody face of her partner. David questioned her, blood dripping from his lips. Rick appeared behind him,the holes in his head leaking both blood and gray matter. The two bleeding agents circled her, lashing out. They yelled at her, telling her it was her fault they were dead, and it should have been her instead of them. They began steadily pushing her backwards toward an open hole. Her heels had finally caught on the edge and she was falling backwards into a grave --
to find herself sitting straight up on the bed in her hotel room, a scream on her lips.
Everything hurt. Her arm throbbed, and her head was pounding. She was sweating from the intensity of the dream, and yet she felt cold. Alex put her hands over her face for a moment, and tried to get her breathing under control.
Alex realized she didn't even know if David was alive or dead, and she had the urge to call the hospital. She knew they wouldn't tell her over the phone, though, and she could hardly go there without clothes on.
It was at that point she remembered that something, or more precisely someone, was missing.
Seeing the door to the adjoining room was still open, she pulled the blanket up around her and called out.
There was no answer. Alex took the blanket, wrapping it carefully around her, and wandered into the other room. Her nose told her there was food on the table, and she was surprised to find that she was indeed hungry. Last night her stomach had felt like it was filled with lead -- this morning it felt as empty as a flat balloon.
On the table in Teren's room was a covered platter, with a note on top.
I've gone to get a few things together. Don't know what time I'll be back, but it shouldn't be past eleven or noon.
I'll check in with the hospital to find our how David is, so please don't call. And please don't leave. When I get back we may have to leave town quickly.
I guess we have a lot to talk about.
Eat some breakfast, and get dressed. I'll be back as soon as I can.
Alex glanced at the bedside clock. It was just past ten. She wondered how long Teren had been gone.
Alex lifted the lid off the plate on the table, and sniffed appreciatively. The waffles there had cooled, but not as much as she had feared. They still smelled wonderful, and she sat down for breakfast, her stomach demanding to be fed.
The monster, David had called it. Alex sighed. She missed her partner's cheerful presence. His light banter had always kept her mood from getting too serious. Besides, he had always remembered caffeine for her in the mornings, which, it appeared, Teren had forgotten. She glanced around the room, and spotted something in the ice bucket. Upon further investigation she found a can of coke sitting on a bed of ice.
Okay, so Teren hadn't forgotten, though hot chocolate was even better in the morning.
She was halfway dressed when she heard Teren come in. She pulled her shirt over head quickly while walking towards the adjoining door. Her injured arm slapped against it, and she cursed as she grabbed the wounded limb.
"Son-of-a-bitch that hurt!"
Teren came to the doorway to find Alex leaning against the wall with her teeth clenched.
"What did you do?"
"I hit my arm. Nothing major, just painful."
"Oh. I brought back a bottle of ibuprofen. The good ones, 800 milligrams."
"Ken been dipping into the hospital supplies again?"
"No. I visited some underground friends of mine. I've got ibuprofen, antibiotics, and plenty of bandages. How's it feeling? Before you smacked it, I mean."
"Not bad. Stiff, and sore to the touch, but I guess that's normal the next day, right?"
"Yeah, that's what I was told."
Alex finally felt the pain ease back to the dull throb she'd had all morning. "Thanks for breakfast by the way."
"No problem. I tried to find something that wouldn't get cold too fast, and that wouldn't be terrible if it did get cold." She grinned. "Did I succeed?"
"Pretty much. And you remembered strawberry jelly."
"But you forgot the hot chocolate."
Teren actually looked crestfallen. "Oh. Sorry."
"S'okay. I found the Coke, so I had my caffeine."
They stood there awkwardly for a moment.
"So, what have you been up to this morning? Other than the butch cut."
Teren put a hand to her head self-consciously. "Pretty short, huh?"
Alex nodded. "It looks good on you. Makes you look even taller, though."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Just don't stand right next to me. You'll make me look short."
Teren chuckled. "Right. I'll remember that."
The two of them moved into Teren's room.
"So, what else were you doing out and about?"
"I stopped by the hospital." Teren sat down on the bed, and pointed Alex to the chair at the table.
"David?" Alex asked as she took the seat.
"Is going to be fine. The bullet missed the arteries around his heart. What they were so worried about yesterday was that a piece of bone was stuck very close to the heart wall. But they got it out without a problem."
"And his lung?"
"There's damage. But what they're most concerned about right now is the blood loss. His blood pressure is still really low."
"Why? Is it just from the bleeding?"
"Yeah, mostly. It took almost a full week after my last operation for my pressure to return to normal. With injuries this severe it can take a while."
"So he'll be okay?"
"They're giving him an excellent chance for a full recovery."
Alex took in a deep breath, and then let it out. Her head dropped back, and she closed her eyes.
"Thank you. I was worried."
"I figured." Teren waited a moment, then rested her hand on Alex's knee. She waited until the blond woman looked at her. "I spoke to Miri, Alex."
Alex winced. "I'm sorry. She probably yelled at you."
"No. As a matter of fact, she hugged me."
The green eyes in front of Teren went wide. "She actually hugged you?"
"Yeah. And she said to tell you that she didn't mean the things she said last night. She knows it wasn't your fault. She doesn't blame you, and she's sorry she said those things."
Alex's eyes filled with tears, and she looked away. She said in a whisper, "It was my fault."
Teren sighed. She had known it wouldn't be that easy. Guilt was a hard thing to let go of. "No, it wasn't. And if you're really looking to blame yourself, then you're going to have to battle Ken for that right."
"Ken's blaming himself, too."
"What for? He didn't do anything wrong."
"Didn't he? The way he tells it, he and his partner, Rick was it? They knew they had Brogan scared, and they should have picked him up. If they had, none of this would have happened."
"But that's ridiculous. First off, they didn't have an arrest warrant. Second, they didn't know there would be a bombing, or that Brogan would take off."
"That's what I thought. But he said he should have at least guessed that there would be an ambush."
"How could he know that? That's something none of us knew, not Harnisch, not Rick, not Ken, not even --" Alex saw the trap Teren had set.
"Not even who, Alex?"
"Me." She slumped back in the chair. "Not even me."
Teren nodded. "That's right. Not even you. So, if you didn't know, how could you have stopped it?"
The two of them sat still for a few more minutes as Alex took in the logic that her friend had laid out for her. She could finally see, in her mind, that there was no one to blame but the attackers. But inside, she was still fighting the guilt.
She spoke to Teren in a very soft voice. "I might need you to remind me of that a few more times."
"Is Ken really blaming himself?"
"Well, I don't think he's as bad as you, but yeah, he's feeling guilty as well."
Alex shook her head. She covered her eyes with her hands for a moment, then dropped them.
"Okay. So, it wasn't his fault, it wasn't my fault, the only people to blame are the guys who attacked us, and you and I are going to get them, right?"
Teren grinned at her. "Absolutely."
"Where do we start?"
The grin got a touch wider. "Not a clue."
They stared at each other and started laughing. For Alex, it was a way to put another small piece of her psyche back together.
After several minutes, they calmed down, and Teren told Alex the deal she'd made with Ken.
"Your laptop can connect to the net through a cellular, correct?"
"Good. We'll use my phone, though."
"Because if they're trying to trace us, they might use the GPS on your cellular. Mine, they can't trace."
"CIA secret. Even though I'm not officially an operative at the moment, I have a few friends there. They've made sure I have some protection." She sighed. "Of course that doesn't help with idiot police captains."
"I can't believe he's trying to blame you."
"Why not? He's got to blame someone, and I'm as good a scapegoat as any. Besides, if he can make someone believe I'm the killer, then he's discredited the Bureau and the CIA with one swing, as well as being a hero in the public's eye for finding a cop killer. Plus, he saves himself the work of finding out who did kill the cops."
"But you'd think he wanted the guys as bad as we do."
"You would think that, wouldn't you?" Teren tilted her head. "Did Davies know about the meeting? Did he know Wister was going to be there?"
"Yeah, Wister had to clear it with Davies, why?"
"Just a thought. Maybe we should ask Ken to check into where Davies was last night."
"Why? You can't be thinking he might be somehow involved."
Teren shrugged. "All I know is I didn't do it, and I don't appreciate the railroading any more than you do."
Alex nodded, and leaned forward. "So, what are we going to do about it."
Teren grinned and dropped her eyes to her hands. "I've been thinking about that. I think I know where we need to go."
Teren reached inside her jacket and pulled out a couple of plane tickets. She nonchalantly handed them to Alex, then started whistling while looking at the ceiling.
Alex took the tickets in her hand, glancing at the destination. Her jaw dropped.
"And who are these tickets for?"
"You and me."
Alex sighed. "I had a bad feeling you were going to say that." She tossed the tickets on the bed beside the CIA agent. "Want to share your reasoning with me?"
"Sure. Tell you what. Let's clear this table, and bring in the one from your room. We can put them together and compare notes. Alright?"
"Okay. And you're going to be honest with me, right, Teren?" Alex was standing up to move her tray of breakfast dishes when Teren reached out and touched her arm. She looked down at the woman still seated on the bed.
Teren's blue eyes gazed intently at Alex. "I've never lied to you, Alex," she said quietly. "I may have kept a few secrets, but I never lied. And if we're going to do this, then there won't be any more secrets either. If we go, we're going undercover, and the only backup we'll have is each other." She hesitated a moment. "We've only known each other for eight days, and half of that we were only acquaintances. That's a short amount of time to develop trust in a person, but we're going to have to if we do this."
Alex waited a moment before answering. She kept her gaze steady. "I trust you, Teren. I'd let you guard my back any day." Then she winced, and looked down. "Though after last night, I guess I would understand if you weren't sure about me guarding yours."
Teren squeezed Alex's arm gently, willing Alex to look at her again. When the blond woman did, Teren raised an eyebrow and asked, "Why wouldn't I want someone at my back who could stay in control of a situation, and hold off three -- no, four men, by herself."
"What are you talking about?"
"Ken said he never had a chance to reload his weapon, and he didn't even think he fired all his bullets. When I was checking the scene, I looked at the weapons the others, Rick and David, had. Neither got off more than four rounds. One of the two other agents was the first to die, and the other never reloaded his weapon. So, the only one that was really keeping those guys from killing everyone there, was you. And you did a great job."
"Great job. I was the only one to walk out of there without a gunshot wound."
Teren purposely thumped a finger off Alex's bandaged arm, and the smaller woman grimaced in pain.
"No, you didn't walk out unscathed. That wound is on your shooting arm, Alex. Yes, two of your men died, and a few were injured, one seriously. But you had three men in front of you, and one coming in from the rear. You took out one guy, and put a bullet in another. You kept your attackers at bay until help could get there." Teren shrugged. "Sometimes, that's all you can do."
Alex didn't say anything. She gazed at Teren for several long moments.
"So, you'd trust me to protect your back?"
The blond woman nodded. "Then let's get to work. We've got a lot to do before we leave."
The two of them shared a smile.
Teren moved the table in from the other room while Alex got her briefcase and her laptop. The blond agent stopped for a moment, and watched the darker woman maneuver the awkward burden through the doorway.
"At some point we're going to have to talk about what happened last night."
Teren stopped in her tracks, then started forward again, setting the table down gently.
"Yeah, I suppose we will." She stood up and turned around. "But I gotta tell you, I don't think I'm ready for it, Alex."
Alex watched Teren's blue eyes as they danced around the room, settling on anything but Alex. "Are you sorry it happened?"
The question finally brought Teren's gaze to hers. "Are you?"
"Me neither." Teren sat on the bed once again. "But I don't think I'm ready to think about why it happened or what it means. There's too much going on right now."
"True." Alex took a seat next to her. "But I guess I kind of needed to know that -- well, that for one thing, it wasn't a dream."
"And that -- that -- it wasn't just --"
"Me taking advantage of you?"
"No. Me taking advantage of you." Alex turned to her. "Teren, I needed so much to be held, to know that I wasn't alone. And you were there for me. I'm grateful." She dropped her eyes. "But I'd hate to think that -- it was-- " she stopped, her hands covering her eyes. "Maybe I'm not ready for this talk either."
Teren chuckled, and gently reached up and ruffled Alex's short hair. Then she got serious.
"Alex, I can admit that I find you attractive. That was the other reason I accepted the invitation from Sarah and Maggie."
"Really. But we're in the middle of this -- this investigation. And who the hell knows what's going to happen? As much as I'm going to try not to let it happen, we could both end up dead." She saw Alex's eyes widen. "You did know that, right?"
Alex swallowed and grimaced. "Well, yeah, I did. I just never said it out loud, or heard it put quite that way."
"Sorry, but tact has never been my strong point." They smiled at each other. "I just think that any attraction should maybe wait until we're out of this mess."
"I agree." Alex nodded. "Besides, we've known each other less than two weeks."
"That's right. And I don't think either of us is ready to think about the future right now."
Alex grinned. "Speak for yourself."
"Tell you what. When this is all over with, I'll take you to my favorite Italian restaurant, and we can have the conversation neither of us is ready for."
Teren smiled and nodded. "I think I can handle that."
"Good." Alex stood up. "Now, before we get into any hard-core discussion, can I have an Ibuprofen? My arm's killing me."
Teren laughed, and reached for the bags she'd brought back.
To Be Continued
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