Auset had sensed that someone had been following her ever since leaving Sera's building, but she was on a mission and if anyone was really dumb enough to try and get in her way...
...well, they wouldn't be in her way for very long.
Her searching had brought her all the information she needed. Cally was staying in room number 1208 at the Palmer House, which was a few short blocks away. The hacker's sharp intuition told her that if the girl was staying at so obvious a location, she probably did want to be found and that this was probably some sort of a set-up. However, Auset was prepaired. Cally would get hers, no matter what the cost to the hacker herself might be.
Betraying her was bad enough. That Cally had run off to Seattle, only to be employed by Sera (which had apparently given her the means to come back to Chicago and exact some sort of twisted, obsessed revenge on Auset) was even worse. The real kicker, the dark-haired woman thought, was that the bitch had involved Reese and killed Dade. She had to die.
Auset strode into the Palmer House, fists clenched and eyes looking only forward. She boarded an elevator and pressed the button for the twelfth floor. The lift came to a stop after a short while and she stepped out into the hallway and turned left to follow the room numbers up to 1208. As she turned a corner, the sound of another elevator opening its doors on this floor came to her. Whoever had been following her before was still at it. But she had reached her destination and so grasped the doorknob to check if it was locked or not. It was.
The woman stepped back a pace and then let fly a powerful kick that busted open the door. There was no one immediately visable, only a perfectly made bed and a TV that was on with the volume turned down low. Auset cautiously moved inside, her muscles tensed and ready and senses pricked. The sound of running water came briefly from the bathroom and then stopped. She turned to face the closed bathroom door and watched as it swung open to reveal the wet and naked-save-a-towel form of Cally. The platinum blonde stepped forward as she ran a hand through her soaked locks of hair and grinned devilishly, brown eyes sparkling.
"I'd wondered how long it would take you. I must say you've exceeded my expectations, dear. But come in, come in! Make yourself at home!" she chirped. Auset didn't flinch. "Oh, you must excuse my rather informal apperance, I just got out of the shower. If I had known company was coming--" she left the sentence unfinished.
Auset pursed her lips and leveled a steely gaze at the woman in front of her. Her jaw muscles clenched, but she allowed the rest of her body to appear relaxed. She walked into the main room and stood, letting a look of disinterest spread over her features as Cally strutted around the room and picked out clothes.
"Excuse me one moment while I make myself presentable for my distinguished guest," she murmured and then disapeared back into the bathroom. A few minutes later, she reemerged wearing a figure-hugging black Armani business skirt and suit jacket. Again, Auset did not flinch. This pyschopath's physical good looks had long ago lost their affect on the hacker.
"You really are so talkative! I'd almost forgotten what a great conversationalist you can be," Cally proclaimed sarcastically.
"You know me, I'm a woman of action, not words," Auset rumbled. Cally looked up from searching for a hair brush and grinned fully, her white teeth flashing and eyes taking on a mischeviously seductive glint.
"Mmm, you are indeed," she purred. Auset was not amused, but she continued to stand in place, unmoving and fixing her icy blue gaze on the woman before her. Cally reached out a slender finger to trace the lines of Auset's strong cheekbones but had the action cut short by a strong grip on her wrist.
"Don't touch me," the taller woman growled, her voice lowering to a menacing octave. Cally stood and stared at Auset, her wrist still being grasped by the other woman's hand and her once upbeat expression gone from her face. After a brief moment of the silent exchange, the smugly pleased look returned as quickly to Cally's features as it had gone.
"Well then," she began and started to remove her hand from the hacker's grasp. "What the hell are you here for?"
Auset tightened her hold on the woman's arm and brought it around in one quick movement, effectively breaking the wrist with a sickening pop. Cally screeched in discomfort and drew her broken limb back in to cradle it against her chest.
"I am here to make sure you get exactly what you deserve."
At that, Auset landed a lightening fast punch to the blonde's stomach that knocked all the wind out of her. The hacker allowed the tiger to come bounding out of its cage, her darker side rearing up and ready to lash out. Her blue eyes went totally icy as her body happily clicked into fight mode and she easily deflected a hastily thrown punch.
Both Reese and Ash heard the gut-wrenching scream that came from down the hallway. They broke into a run and as Reese rounded the corner to where the room was that the scream had come from, she was confronted with a brutal scene.
Auset and Cally were tearing viciously at each other, Auset holding the upper hand in the situation, and crashing around the hotel room. The lamp was shattered as was a large mirror that had once hung behind a dresser and the bed sheets were in complete dissaray. Ash came bounding up behind Reese and took in the sight as well before he noticed how rigid the little blonde had gone.
It was...terrifying. Reese could not tear her eyes away from the vision of Auset laying into the wispy blonde she now had pinned beneath her. The hacker's eyes were full of rage as she proceeded to strangle the breath right out of Cally's body. This was not the woman with whom Reese had spent the previous evening with, was it?
Ash stood unmoving, entranced by the scene unfolding before him. Reese finally managed to unglue her feet from the ground and she lunged into the melé in an attempt to pry Auset off of the now blue-faced Cally.
"Auset, stop it!" she grumbled out as she tried desperately to dettach the dark-haired woman's hands from around Cally's neck. Auset didn't seem to hear her at first, but as she finally allowed herself to really see Reese, eyes pleading, she let up. As her hands dropped to her sides, she felt a dull and throbbing pain blossoming in her side. She let Cally fall to the floor and glanced down to where the pain was emenating from. A red stain was soaking through the gray material of the tanktop she was wearing, forming a circle around a small bloody hole.
The shot had caused both Reese and Ash to turn their attention towards the door, where the sound had come from. Standing in the entranceway was a young policeman holding a smoking gun in shaking hands, his feet planted on the ground in a defensive but purely rookie stance. His dull gray eyes looked scared and unsure, the cap he wore slightly askew on his head and allowing dirty blonde hair to poke out.
"Freeze!" he screamed desperately. Reese looked back to her friend and noticed the blood that was covering her hand. She moved closer to Auset and lightly pressed her own palm up against the wound in the dark-haired woman's side.
"My God, Auset, are you...is that...what the hell?!?" the smaller woman gasped. Auset merely sat back against the wall and stared at the blonde woman who was crouched next to her. She had to smile at the look of pure concern on Reese's face, especially at the little worry lines that formed between her eyes. Really, the pain was nothing, she didn't know why everyone looked so concearned. She reached out a crimson soaked hand to touch Reese's cheek and then blacked out.
Reese stared, stunned, into the eyes in front of her that had suddenly gone a deep azure as she felt a hand lightly touch her cheek and then fall away as Auset fell limp into her lap.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ash demanded of the police officer who was still standing in the doorway. The young man looked completely bewildered.
"I was...orders...said to shoot if any aggression? I...uh, they said she'd be armed!" he managed to stutter. Ash was about to scream at him some more when two other officers, these men much older and slightly more competant looking, came rushing up behind the first.
"Back off! We have orders to take her in, so I suggest you get out of our way!" the taller of the three barked out at Ash. Reese made a quick decision and scooped Auset up into her arms. Ash, though stunned that the small blonde could carry a woman who was obviously much heavier and taller than herself, leapt at the officers and took all three to the ground just outside the door. Reese saw her opportunity and grabbed it, scrambling out of the room and down the hall to the elevator that was still waiting.
As the doors slid closed and the car began its descent, Reese carefully lowered Auset to the floor and took mental stock of the situation.
How in the world she had managed to carry this woman all the way from the room to the lift was a mystery to Reese. It was like she had just stepped outside of her own body and let things go as they pleased. Her heart was racing from the adrenaline and she was shaking all over. What now?
The elevator came to a halt as it reached the ground floor and the doors reopened. The lobby had cleared out a bit, but there were still people there who might find it odd to see an unconcious woman, covered in blood and being practically dragged out of the hotel. Reese opted to take her wounded friend through a side exit where there would most-likely be no one around.
Reese found herself in an empty alleyway, slumped against a cool brick wall with Auset's head pillowed in her lap.
Something really major had just transpired. But she couldn't think on that now, she had to get help for Auset. Reese tore the bottom of her shirt off and used it to apply a crude bandage to the wound in Auset's side. As she did this, a tall man wearing a suit came around the corner and approched her.
"Hello Reese, seems like you've got you're hands full!" he said cheerfully. Reese stared at him, unable to place him but positive she'd seen him before.
"Do I know you?"
"That's a long and complicated story of which we don't have the time to go into at the moment. But allow me to introduce myself now," he said and stuck out his hand. "I'm Sera, a friend of Auset's, and I want to help."
Unsure of what else to do, Reese took his hand and shook it as she eyed him warily. Something about the way he stroked his goatee...or perhaps it was the cocky look of his deep brown eyes that reminded her of...someone or something. Whatever.
"How do I know I can trust you?" she asked.
"You don't, but I can get her the help she needs right now...so you haven't got the luxury of thinking about this too much if you'd really like to help her," at this he paused and took in the small blonde woman in front of him, her eyes sharp and alert and her hair mussed. Sera grinned appreciately at the finely toned abdominal muscles that were made visable by Reese having torn away the lower half of her shirt. "Found a way to show off those amazing abs already, I see," he continued happily. Reese eyed him suspiciously. "Come with me."
What other option did she have, really? Reese stood up and hefted Auset back into her arms and made to follow Sera towards a limo that was parked at the entrance to the alley.
Reese alternated between staring worriedly at Auset, who was laying in the limo's back seat next to her and unconcsious, and gazing out the tinted window at the buildings and people whizzing by. It only took about five minutes to navigate the busy streets and then pull into the underground parking facilities of the Detrimus Enterprises building. The driver helped Reese to carefully lift Auset out of the car and then carry her over to where Sera stood next to a ready elevator.
"Is she going to be all right?" Reese asked the man who had been leaning over her friend's body. They had made it up to Sera's office, where an operating table had been set up and a man in scrubs was waiting. Sera had introduced him as "a doctor friend".
"She'll be fine. Probably be out for another half hour, and then a little sore, but she'll eventually be left with nothing but a pretty little scar," the doctor replied in a low monotone. He snapped the rubber gloves off his hands and tossed them in the trash and then walked over to where Sera had been sitting at his desk during the operation. The dark man reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a small envelope of which he handed to the doctor. "Always a pleasure," the doctor said and then placed a sheet of paper on the desk before ambling out of the room.
Sera glanced down at the paper and then up at Reese.
"Instructions for her continuing care," he said and offered the paper to the blonde woman. Reese took the sheet and stuffed it into her pants pocket.
"Thank you," she mumbled and glanced down at Auset's slumbering form. The taller woman was out cold, her chest rising and falling in deep breath. There was still a blood stain on the white sheets where the wound had seeped through during the operation. Reese shuttered slightly and carefully removed a wisp of black hair that had fallen over Auset's now-pale face.
"So," Sera began as he leaned back in his chair. "Reese. The faithful companion."
The shorter woman looked up and narrowed her eyes.
"How do you know who I am?" she asked and approched the desk slowly and deliberately.
"I know what I know," Sera drawled. "But Auset told me a little about you."
"And that...you obviously have something to do with all this. Who are you?"
He steepled his fingers and sighed out a contemplative breath before replying.
"Who I am is not important. Auset is the important one here. I've technically known her for years though only recently had the pleasure of meeting her in person. She and I have worked together, though I taught her much of what she knows."
"Worked together how?"
"Computer whatnot. Don't worry your pretty little head over those inconsequencal details, Reese."
"I worry," she added and took another step towards him.
"Mmm, yes I should have known as much. But really, at this point the best thing for you to do would be to walk away."
Reese just blinked at him for a minute before furrowing her brow and shaking her head in disbelief.
"I should walk away? What do you take me for? I'm not going anywhere."
"You'll leave, or I'll have you removed. Auset's my business now and your role is over," he finished in a low rumble and leveled an unwavering gaze at the smaller blonde woman.
"You'll have me removed. I see," here she paused and looked over at Auset again and sighed. Then, in a sudden burst of action, Reese brought her left leg around in a swift kick that knocked the large computer monitor off of Sera's desk. It clattered to the floor and smashed just as Reese closed the distance between the two and glared directly into his deep brown eyes.
"What the hell...what do you think you're doing?" Sera blurted out, stunned, as he jumped up out of his seat to avoid the falling hardware. He then found himself facing off with a somewhat formidible and fuming little blonde woman.
"First, don't ever tell me what to do," Reese growled out and jabbed an accusing finger into his chest. "And second, I'm getting her out of here."
Reese went over to where Auset was still lying and began to heft her into her arms. Sera came up behind her and grabbed a shoulder to whirl Reese around so that they faced each other again.
"You are an irritating little woman," he growled and then brought his fist up to knock Reese across the face. The blow knocked her to the floor and caused a stream of blood to flow from her nose. Reese tried to lift herself up on both hands but Sera kicked her in the gut and she collapsed onto the floor again. "Sweet dreams," he drawled and then kicked her in the face and watched contentedly as she went limp and unconscious.
Smells like medicine. I hate that smell. Auset was slowly coming too, but had yet to open her eyes. Smells were the first things that came to her through the cloud of drugged sleep. Sounds began to break through as well, and she heard someone pacing closeby, back and forth back and forth. Then the someone stopped and it sounded as though they were shifting broken pieces of something around on the floor.
Slowly, Auset opened her eyes, blinking several times to allow her pupils time to properly adjust to the light. Everything was foggy and it felt like her brain was covered in a thick haze. She remembered being shot, vaugely recalled reaching out to Reese and then nothing but black. Thinking about her wound made her suddenly aware of the dull, painful throb that was coming from her side. Putting the pain away, she concentrated on figuring out where she was.
Directly above her there was a lamp, turned off, and it appeared that she was on some sort of elevated cot. Auset turned her head to the side and saw a stainless steel tray with various surgical implements resting in it. Some of them were bloody. Very slowly she lifted up her right arm and spotted the IV that was inserted there, itself being attached to a drip bag to the right of her bed.
Who had operated on her? Apparently, she thought, I lived. But I am not in a hospital.
Then it dawned on her muddled senses. She knew this place. It was Sera's office, where she had been just earlier that day. Why on Earth was she here?
"Good morning," a male voice said from just behind her. The feeling of a warm palm on the top of her head did not make Auset jump; she knew he was there. "How are you feeling?"
"Never been better," she quipped. "What happened?"
Sera came around and stood to her side, continuing to gently caress the hair on her head.
"Some wet-behind-the-ears cop shot you and then we got you out and brought you here. I had my doctor come in and work on you. Said you're in wonderful shape," he said brightly and stared hungrily at her prone body. "but I already knew that. He also said that you'd live, probably be a bit sore for a few--nothing new."
"Mm," she grunted. "Now I have two marks of that man's handywork." Auset was reffering to the scar that had been on her thigh for a few years now where the same doctor had removed a bullet after the Cirran incedent. One more scar to add to the list.
Sera chuckled quietly and began pacing again. Auset closed her eyes briefly and allowed her thoughts to drift.
"Where's Reese?" she asked, suddenly remembering her friend. Reese was the last sight she remembered seeing before blacking out.
He seemed to ignore the question, opting instead to continue poking at the shattered bits of computer that still lay on the floor.
"Cally's still out there."
"Of course she is," Auset grumbled. Sera was avoiding the subject of Reese on purpose. Best to make him think that she was not overly concerned. "I've got to get to her soon," she finished and made an attempt to sit up. The pain in her side shot up through her body and nearly caused her to pass out, but she swallowed hard and concentrated on becoming mobile again. Feet on the cool floor, she hefted herself out of the bed and stood still as her equilibrium righted itself.
"Careful there, Auset, I know what a hard-ass you are and all, but that wound is very fresh and still needs a little time to heal before you can move around safely," he cautioned her.
"Not important. I have to get to Cally first off," the hacker groaned out as she removed the IV and then made slow progress walking across the room towards where her boots were waiting.
"Anything I can do that would disuade you from such a hasty exit?" Sera asked as he took a seat again in his leather chair.
"No," she replied simply and bent down to pull her boots on.
"Always so stubborn!" he laughed, eyes sparkling. "Well then, do what you must. You know how to reach me if you need anything."
Auset limped slowly down the long hallway outside of Sera's office, but instead of boarding an elevator she turned and went through a door to her right. It lead her down another, more narrow hallway and eventually to another door. This one was locked, but she knew where it opened to and knew that she needed to get in there. Now that the haze of medicine had somewhat lifted from her mind, she could think a little bit more rationally. Sera did not want Reese involved in any of this. However, now that she clearly was involved, it appeared that he would simply get her out of the picture in the best way he knew how. That would be to hold her captive until Auset had left to go after Cally and then have one of his goons deal with her.
That wasn't going to happen.
Auset paused outside of the locked door and just breathed for a moment, trying to push the nausea down that had been affecting her due to the intense pain of the wound. Slowly, she raised her hand up and gently rapped her knuckles on the door.
Reese awoke to the sound of someone tapping lightly at one of the doors to the room she was in. Regaining consciousness, however, came with the price of having to be aware of the excrutiating headache she had. Not only that, but her ribs felt completely bruised. She found that she could walk though, and so got up and went to find out who was knocking. There were three doors in the room, and one certainly went back in Sera's office, so it would be a very bad thing to open that one. The only thing was that she wasn't sure which was which.
"Door number one, two, or three?" she said to the air. The knocking came again and she was able to narrow it down to the two doors on the far end of the room. Pressing one ear up to the first door, she waited for the knocking to sound again.
Auset was getting tired of knocking, and frankly wasn't sure if Reese was even conscious, let alone actually in that room. She leaned back against the door and let out a deep breath. The bandage on her side had almost completely soaked though, she noticed, and would need to be changed very soon.
Damnit, Reese cursed, they stopped knocking. What if it's Auset? Sera would not knock, so it can't be him. Then the sound came again, and she knew for sure which door it was. When she slowly opened it, Auset was there, leaning slumped against the wall.
"'Bout time," the dark-haired woman drawled and cocked a lop-sided grin. Reese just chuckled and shook her head.
"Let's get out of here," said Reese.
"Best offer I've had all day."
The two made their way back down the little hallway, Auset draping an arm around Reese's shoulders as they supported one another's injured bodies. They reentered the main hallway and boarded a waiting elevator.
Sera had watched Auset walk out of the office and then pressed a button on his desk. A brief moment of static sounded from the little speaker, and then a voice came.
"Have two men waiting at the door to make sure Auset gets out all right," he replied, contemplatively stroking his goatee. "Also, send someone up to clean my office and bring me a new computer monitor."
After the voice on the other end had given him an affirmative, Sera leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, grinning mischeviously.
The doors of the lift opened into the parking garage. As the duo made their way for the exit, ignoring the looks they were getting from people who had noticed their somewhat run-down state, Reese noticed two large, suited men heading their way. She turned and whispered into Auset's ear.
"We've got company."
The two men walked up to them and the one on the left, the shorter of the two though he was a good six foot or so, spoke up.
"What have we here?" he asked, grinning cockily at them.
"Two women leaving the building," Reese replied tersely and made an attempt to move past them. They both sidestepped, though, and cut off their route of escape.
"I don't think so," the man said and made to grab Reese by the arm. She jerked away from him and stepped back a pace.
"Get out of my way," she growled, now totally supporting Auset's weight as the woman was very near passing out, her face white as a sheet.
"Lil' girl, don't mess with me, aight?" he said, mocking her. The other man cracked his knuckles and went for Reese, reaching out his right arm to grab her. Again she dodged the move, but this time she used her leg to knee the man in the groin. His face went red and he crumpled over onto the floor, wheezing in pain. The shorter man watched amazed as all of this happened and then lunged for Reese again himself. He caught her around the neck with his large hands and caused her to lose her grip on Auset. The taller woman slumped onto the ground and tried to catch her breath.
I've got to get up and help, she thought, desperately trying to regain the strength to stand. Her body was not having it.
As the man tried to strangle Reese, she headbutted him and he lost the grip on her neck. Seizing the opportunity, Reese went down for a low kick that knocked the man's legs out from underneath him. As he crashed to the floor, she lifted Auset up and hurried towards the exit.
An early evening sky greeted them as they hobbled down the sidewalk towards an El station. Neither one had realized that they'd been in Sera's building for so long.
Reese didn't know whether to go back to her own loft, or to Auset's apartment. All she knew was that they had to get as far away from Sera as possible and as quickly as possible. Before they could make it to the station though, a small blue car pulled up next to them and honked. A tinted window rolled down to reveal Ash as the driver.
"Get in!" he shouted. Reese loaded herself and Auset into the car without hesitation and as soon as the door was closed, Ash slammed the gas peddle down and they were roaring off down the street.
"How did you know where to find us?" Reese asked finally, as they resumed normal speed and headed towards Ash's place.
"After you got away with Auset and I had jumped on those cops, they pinned me down and cuffed me. Cally must have run out while I was being detained," he snickered. "...because she was gone by the time I convinced them that I wasn't the bad guy. I explained to them what had really gone down and, simple souls that they were, they apologized for shooting Auset. Said that the orders had been to arrest her, not to shoot her. At this point, one of 'em slapped the rookie guy who had done the shooting upside the head, much to my personal amusement. I couldn't get out of 'em why she was to be arrested, so I left without any further adieu."
"Odd," Reese said quietly as she held the very pale Auset in her lap.
"That's for sure. So anyway, after I checked both of your places, I came back to this area and found you two where I did."
After the longest ten minute ride of Reese's young life, Ash pulled his car up into a private parking space behind the club. They both helped Auset out and then walked her inside.
Back to Part 6
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