Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
There was little conversation in the car on the way back to the hotel. Teren seemed very tense, and Alex debated with herself whether or not to confront the older agent.
She had known that Teren could be intimidating. David had been downright scared of the assassin at first. But after spending such a large amount of time with the woman over the last few days, Alex had forgotten just how dark and deadly her friend could be.
The darkness, however, had reared its head in the restaurant. Alex wasn't sure what had been said after Meinhard and Teren slipped into German, but from the looks Teren had given the man, she had a feeling Herr Meinhard hadn't enjoyed the talk at all.
Finally, she cleared her throat and jumped in.
"So. What did you and Mr. Meinhard talk about?"
Teren continued to stare through the windshield. "Nothing. I simply convinced him to help us."
"That's what I gathered. He didn't look happy about it."
There was silence from her companion.
"Do you think this account is part of the Odessa network?"
"Yes." It was a one word answer.
"And I take it Meinhard was a little unwilling to help?"
Teren nodded. She still hadn't looked at Alex.
"You convinced him?"
Another nod. Teren didn't want Alex to ask the question, but had a bad feeling. Alex always asked the question.
"How'd you talk him into it?"
"I told him I'd tell his boss that he was involved in undercover activities for the CIA."
Alex frowned. "Wouldn't that be dangerous for him?"
"He could get fired if you blew his cover."
He could get killed if I blew his cover. "Yes."
Teren counted. She got to seven before Alex spoke again.
"If the wrong people got wind of his help to the CIA he could be killed, couldn't he." It wasn't a question.
"Yes, he would be killed."
Alex watched the dark woman from across the car, noting the tight features. Teren's brows were low over her eyes, separated only by a few worry lines. There was a hollowness to her cheeks, and Alex could see, for the first time, the circles under her eyes.
"It's difficult, isn't it?"
Teren gave her a quick glance. "What is?"
"Being so very cold."
Teren didn't reply.
When they got to their hotel room, Alex sat down to check their email. There was none. Frustrated, she shut the computer down, and moved over to the couch to relax.
"Nothing from Ken?" Teren's voice came from behind her.
"No. I sent him a message letting him know we're still okay."
Alex turned her head, trying to find her friend in her peripheral vision. "We are still okay, aren't we?"
"Well, we're not dead yet. This is a good thing."
"You're not being very optimistic, Teren," Alex sighed.
Teren, with a robe wrapped around her, dropped into the easy chair next to the couch.
"Sorry. I'll try to be a little more upbeat."
Alex let her eyes drift down the length of the body in the terrycloth robe. For a moment she indulged in a fantasy about what lay hidden underneath.
Teren shattered it by pulling out her weapon and beginning to clean it.
Groaning, Alex put a hand over her eyes.
"Don't you ever rest for even twenty minutes?"
Teren shrugged. "No."
Alex just stared at her. After a moment she got up and pulled out her own firearm. "Can't beat 'em, join 'em," she muttered.
"What was that?"
They worked quietly for a several minutes. The only noise came from the click of metallic pieces as they were taken apart and put back together. Alex finished cleaning her sidearm, and carefully reloaded it. She checked the extra clips to make sure they were full. Then the weapon was replaced in her holster.
Teren wasn't quite finished.
"So, why did you find it necessary to threaten Mr. Meinhard with exposure?" Alex asked.
Teren's fingers stumbled for a second. She recovered quickly.
"We need the information. He can get it for us. It's as simple as that."
"He seemed scared, Teren."
Alex leaned back to watch Teren's hands as they moved. "Does he have a reason to be afraid?"
Shrugging, Teren reloaded the clip for her .45. "I suppose. If he's caught with the file, he could be in trouble."
"Like, fired trouble, or dead trouble."
"Like, tortured and killed trouble." Teren slid the clip into the weapon with a snap. "Why?"
"If he could be in so much danger, why did you insist that he had to do it? Couldn't we have just found it another way?"
Teren shrugged again. "Maybe. But this way is quicker."
Alex watched quietly as her friend polished the handgun she held. "And what if he gets caught?" She lowered her voice to ask the question. "What then?"
"Then we find another way."
The smaller agent sat up. "And if he's killed?"
Teren paused in her work. Alex could see a haunted look in her eyes. "Then we find another way."
"Just like that?"
The dark head nodded. "Yes. Just like that."
For a moment, Alex couldn't speak. She couldn't believe that Teren could play with someone's life so callously. This was the woman who had held her so gently just two nights before?
Alex stood, frustrated. She picked up her weapon and supplies, and headed for her room. At the door, she turned back.
"You know, Teren, sometimes I wonder about you." Teren went still, but didn't answer. "I mean, after all, part of why I hate these guys we're after is because they have no regard for human life." She waited, but her friend remained silent. "Sometimes I wonder if you do, either."
Teren heard the door close behind her. She found herself clutching the handle of her weapon, squeezing it so hard her knuckles were cold and white. It took a great deal of effort to release the gun.
"Sometimes, Alex," she whispered, "I wonder the same thing."
She sat still for a moment longer. Then with a sigh, she picked up her second gun and began to break it down.
The muffled scream brought Teren bolt upright, a hand curled around the grip of her .45. She waited a second, not sure if the sound had been real, or if it had been a part of her own nightmares. She was about to dismiss it, when it came again.
Alex. Before she realized what she was doing, Teren was on her feet and moving. She stopped for a moment at the door to Alex's room. For a moment she held back, then a half-sob reached her ears, and she turned the handle and went in.
The blonde woman was tangled in the covers on the bed. Alex had rolled so much that her arms were caught under the bedsheets, which wrapped around her like a straight jacket. Her eyes were closed, and her head moved back and forth, the golden hair stuck to her sweaty face. As Teren stood in the doorway, unsure of what to do, Alex moaned and called out David's name.
Teren's vision blurred slightly, and she blinked to clear them.
Alex screamed Teren's name and sat up, her eyes wide and staring. She struggled to pull her arms free, and started to panic when she couldn't. Teren lunged for the bed, tugged the sheets away quickly, and gathered the frightened woman into her arms. Alex began sobbing on Teren's shoulder.
They stayed like that for several minutes. Alex clung to her dark companion, trying not to see the visions from her dreams. Instead she concentrated on the feeling of Teren's hands, the scent of her body, and the rapid heartbeat that pounded under her ear.
Teren stroked Alex's sweat soaked back, whispering nonsense words to her. She rocked the smaller body back and forth, trying to surround Alex with her arms and her voice. Finally the words disappeared, and she simply hummed a soft melody in Alex's ear as the panicked grasp began to loosen.
Even after Alex had stopped crying, and Teren's humming ended, they stayed in each other's arms, rocking. Alex felt as though she had crawled into a tiny space of warmth and comfort, and she was loathe to leave it. Teren had momentarily convinced herself that if she could just keep Alex in her arms, the whole world could know peace.
The soft silence continued until Alex began shivering. The fear induced sweat had dried, cooling her as it did. Reluctantly, she pulled away, reaching for the blanket. Teren helped her straighten it out, and slide beneath it. She gave Alex a tiny smile, and stroked her cheek, then tensed her legs to stand up.
A hand on her knee stopped her. She looked down to find Alex's green eyes locked on her, a plea shining from them.
Nothing more was said. Teren slipped beneath the covers, and Alex curled up at her side, sinking back into that place of warmth.
Teren had one arm curled around the blonde, and was stroking the fair hair with the other hand. It wasn't long before she felt Alex slip back into slumber, and Teren moved her head to kiss her friend's forehead. Then she closed her eyes and let sleep come.
There was a scent in the air that Alex couldn't place. With her eyes still closed, she slowly woke, wanting to stay comfortable for just a few more minutes. She was curled on her side, her head on a pillow that was firmer than she remembered. Her arms were wrapped around an even larger pillow with satiny skin that smelled of --
She opened her eyes to find herself wrapped around Teren, who was wearing a tank top and a pair of bikini briefs. Alex could feel her face turn red as she loosened the hold she had on the long body.
"No problem. Feeling better?" Teren asked quietly.
Teren nodded. Alex, feeling embarrassed, started to move away. She was stopped by a hand on her back.
"Stay still for a few more minutes, okay?"
Alex looked up curiously at the blue eyes so close to hers. She nodded. "Okay."
The hand on Alex's back was moving in a circular motion. Through the long t-shirt Alex wore, Teren could feel the heat from her body. She waited patiently for the muscles beneath her hand and arm to release their tension. It took several moments, but Alex finally relaxed back into Teren's embrace.
"Wanna tell me what brought me in here last night?"
The muscles tensed again, and Teren kept up her gentle rubbing.
"Um. Not sure. You were just suddenly here."
Teren nodded. "I came in because you screamed." She turned her head so she could see Alex's face. "Tell me about the nightmare?"
Alex couldn't lie still anymore, and she sat up, surprising her friend. "Not really." She moved to get out from under the covers, but Teren sat up and wrapped both arms around her.
"Alex, you can't keep doing this. If you don't talk about it, these dreams are going to drive you crazy."
"They don't happen all the time."
"No, just often enough to rob you of half the sleep you need. Neither of us can afford for the other to be exhausted, and you soon will be if it doesn't stop."
"So, I'll just sleep with you. I don't have them when we're together."
Teren didn't know what to say to that, and she opened and closed her mouth several times. Finally, she took a deep breath, and spoke into Alex's ear.
"If I thought that's all it took, I'd say yes in a heartbeat. But it's only a short term cure, and we both know that." She moved around so that she was facing Alex. "Last night, you screamed in your sleep. When I got here, you were calling David's name, then mine." Teren swept a lock of blond hair away from Alex's eyes. "Tell me?"
Alex couldn't look at her friend's face.
"It was the ambush. It always is."
Teren nodded, stroking the soft cheek beneath her hand. "Go on."
The blonde swallowed. "It started out the same as always, just like it did that night. They're shooting at us, and we're behind the cars." She took a deep breath. "Then the guy comes up from behind, and I turn to shoot him. As I do, he becomes David."
There were tears on Alex's cheeks, and Teren gently brushed them away with her thumb. Alex, intent on the images in her mind, didn't notice.
"He stands there clutching his chest, and asks me why. Then he falls. I hear someone coming, and I turn around. I order them to stop, and they don't. They raise their gun, and I shoot them." She finally looked at Teren. "And it's you." Her face twisted in a grimace. "I shot you. And you died." The tears were too heavy to be wiped away. Teren slipped an arm around Alex's shoulders.
"It's okay, Alex. I'm here. I'm right here."
"I shot you. You died, and David died, and Rick died. I was the only one there -- and there was so much blood -- my hands were covered in it, and it wouldn't come off . . ." Her voice faded away as the sobs came full force. Teren pulled her close, and once again just rocked her.
They stayed that way for a few minutes, just holding onto one another. Finally, Alex's breathing began to slow. When she could take a full breath without gasping, Teren pushed her shoulders gently away.
"Alright. You need to listen. I know it's going to take time for these wounds to heal, and I know the guilt is going to be there for an awful long time. But you need to really listen, Alex."
The blonde nodded.
"You did nothing wrong. You could not have prevented the ambush. You could not have saved Rick, or Brogan, or anybody. You did damn good to get out of there with as few casualties as you did." Teren brushed the hair out of Alex's eyes again, and, placing her hands on either side of Alex's head, forced the green eyes to meet her blue ones. "As far as David's injury, you did not cause it. You probably saved his life by shooting that guy when you did. If you hadn't, he would have had time to finish David, and probably everyone else. You did what you had to do, and you didn't do anything wrong."
Alex looked away, and Teren let her head drop. She leaned forward and kissed the blonde head.
"You never had to shoot anyone before, did you, Alex?"
A shake of the golden head. Teren kissed her again. "That's one of the reasons you're having so much trouble." A nod.
"You had no choice. None. You can feel bad for the way it turned out, but you have to remember that you had no choice. He was going to kill you, your partner, and Ken. The only thing you could do is shoot first." She paused.
"And I'm damn glad you did." Teren's voice had dropped to a whisper.
Alex finally looked up again. She met Teren's gaze and held it, watching the mix of emotions in the blue eyes. There was concern, and comfort, and a touch of pain. The electric blue was intensified by the tears that threatened to spill over. They didn't however, and as Alex watched, Teren blinked her eyes rapidly. Each blink seemed to chase another tear away, until the eyes were as clear as ever.
She couldn't stand it any more. Alex leaned forward and brought her lips to Teren's. Quickly, the kiss lost it's aspect of compassion, and became one of desire. Mouths opened, hands reached, skin grew heated.
And the alarm rang.
Teren pulled back, and Alex let her go. Neither of them could look away from the other, though.
"I suppose that means we have to get up, right?"
Teren nodded. "I set it a little later so we could talk."
Alex grinned. "Want to set it a little later again, so we can do more than talk?"
Her face quickly reddening, Teren shook her head. "We can't. Things to do, people to see."
Alex felt the urge to pout, thinking that if she did, she could probably convince Teren to put off the inevitable. But she clamped down on those thoughts, and stood up from the bed.
"Right. Well, are we finished talking?"
Teren nodded again. "For now."
Their eyes met once more. Alex nodded.
"I think I'll grab the shower first, if you don't mind."
Teren stood. "Not at all. Just don't use all the hot water."
Alex grinned. "Nope. This shower will be rather cold, I think." She raised an eyebrow at Teren, then left the room.
Teren called her name, and Alex stuck her head back in.
"You're always welcome to sleep with me, Alex."
They stared at each other for a moment, then Alex nodded.
Alex disappeared out the bedroom door.
Teren ordered breakfast while waiting for Alex to finish in the shower. She ordered coffee for herself, and remembered the hot chocolate for Alex.
"Teren? Shower's free."
"Thanks." Grabbing her kit, the dark haired woman headed for the bathroom. She ran a hand through her hair. "Damn, I wish I hadn't had to cut this."
Alex put her hands on her hips and cocked her head, eying Teren's head.
"I don't know, I think the short hair is kind of growing on me."
Teren grinned. "Great. Now if I could just get it to grow on me."
Alex blushed, but shook her head. "That wasn't what I meant."
"I know. But don't get too fond of it, Alex. It ain't staying short." Teren winked at her blonde friend and closed the door.
Alex stood staring for a moment, imagining what the difference would be if she ran her hands through Teren's hair now. She could remember what it had felt like, just a couple of nights ago, to sink her hands into the mane of obsidian, feel it glide over her in a caress as Teren's hands slid --
"Okay, that's enough, Alex." She looked around the room. "Now, where did we leave that ice bucket?"
When breakfast arrived, it came with a complimentary newspaper. Although Alex couldn't read it, she enjoyed looking through it as she ate. An item on the third page caught her eye. She folded the page back, setting it aside until Teren could read it to her.
Teren had to admit that it was easier to deal with short hair. A quick toweling, and a combing through, and she was ready. By the time she joined Alex at the table, she was fully dressed, and her hair was almost dry.
She slid into the chair. "Breakfast okay?"
"Yeah, thanks. You even remembered cocoa."
"Of course. I've always been a quick learner." She grinned at her blonde friend.
Alex pointed at the article in the paper. "Unfortunately I'm not quite as fast. What does this say?"
The smile left Teren's face. "Umm, it's an article on something that happened last night."
"No kidding. I got that much. But it mentions the Altbusser Galerie. Why?"
"Uh, well, because there was an incident outside of the gallery." Teren really didn't want Alex to ask the question.
"Would you read it to me, please?"
Teren cleared her throat. "'The body of Otto Keppelmann was found outside the Altbusser Galerie late yesterday evening. He had been shot twice in the head. The police suspect that he was killed in a robbery attempt.'"
She glanced at Alex, whose face had gone white. "Do you want me to go on?" Alex nodded.
"'An employee, and co-owner of Altbusser's, Mr. Keppelman was found in the alley behind the Galerie, approximately ten feet from the rear exit. Police surmise that he was heading to his car in the back parking lot when he was attacked. His briefcase, which he was seen leaving with, was missing, as was his wallet, and his watch. A police spokesman said there were few leads in the case.'"
Teren put down the paper, and looked up at her friend. Alex was staring down at her plate, her hand wrapped around her glass of juice. Teren could see the whiteness of her knuckles and hoped she didn't squeeze any harder, or she'd break the glass.
"That's the guy you met with yesterday, isn't it." It wasn't really a question.
Alex took a deep breath. "Do you think it was a robbery?"
Teren bit her lip and shook her head. "No."
Alex sat quietly for several minutes. Teren stared at her plate. The only sound in the room was the ticking of a clock.
"Do you think it was because he talked to us?"
"Talked to me. I wouldn't be surprised."
Alex finally looked up at Teren, but the dark woman avoided her gaze. "Does the article mention Rolf?"
Teren picked up the paper, and scanned the article again. "No. He's not mentioned."
Alex let out a breath she haddn't know she was holding. She stood, carrying her juice as she paced across the living room floor.
"Are you sure we have to involve Meinhard in this?"
"Yes." Teren didn't hesitate. She knew if she did, Alex would try to talk her out of it, and she really didn't think they had a choice.
"There's no other way."
Alex was quiet. Teren hoped that she'd accept it, but had a bad feeling she wouldn't.
"Alright. Will we be coming back here after we meet with him?"
"No. I'd like to go directly to the train station."
A nod from the blonde head. "Then I'd better go finish packing." She left the room without looking back at Teren.
Teren sighed, and rested her head on her hands. After a moment she sat up and grabbed the paper, crumbling it into a ball and throwing it towards the wastebasket. It bounced off the side and landed on the floor under the coffee table.
"Fuck." She pushed her plate away, covering it with her napkin. She'd lost her appetite.
Teren reached for her shoulder holster and slid it on.
Continues in Chapter Twenty-six
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