Part 16

Ash slowly lowered the phone and flipped it closed. She let it fall to her lap with a sigh as she rested her head against the steering wheel, her heart fighting a furious but futile battle with her head. I should drive over there and see her. Her heart was in firm agreement but her rage was keeping the plea at bay not wanting to give up its stranglehold on her conviction. She banged her fist on the dashboard in frustration. She knew she should keep away from Rachel's. They were probably safe there since the cops had whisked them away from the scene. She was hoping that since it had frustrated her ability to find them; that it also frustrated the hell out of whoever was trying to hurt Lauren. The hospital was a madhouse and so was the campus. I doubt the idiots that tried this would be able to find out anything if I couldn't, she reassured herself. Plus I can always call and check in. Make sure everything is all right and let Lauren know that I'm thinking of her. She ground her teeth at the compromise but couldn't think of anything better.

She stared out into the drizzle trying to decide what to do next. I need to figure out if it's Judith behind this and the best place to do that is on the street. Someone out there knows something. I just need to convince them to tell me, she surmised her eyes narrowing dangerously. Her mind started cataloguing all the sleazy spots she used to stalk for information as she started the truck. Won't they just be so surprised to see me? An evil grin graced her lips as she put the truck in gear and headed towards one of her favorite old haunts.


Detective Frank Morrison rocked back in his chair and let out a disgusted snort as Miss Judith Sinclair disappeared behind the closing door of the conference room. His partner, Detective Joel Dodd, turned from closing the door and gave him a questioning look.

"That woman is not right in the head and if she's telling the truth then I'm the King of England," Morrison stated as he let his chair thump back upright and folded his arms on the table in front of him.

"What? Why do you think that?" Dodd asked as he walked back over to the table and took a seat. He began gathering the loose papers from the interview and stacking them neatly in front of him.

Morrison snorted. "Her eyes."

"What about them?" Dodd asked raising his eyes from the now neat file.

"Do you pay attention at all?" Morrison asked glaring at his rookie partner.

Dodd fought the urge to roll his eyes. He knew Morrison didn't mean anything by his gruff tone. That's just the way he was. He'd only been partnered with the 20 year veteran for a couple of months now, but he had heard all there was to know about Frank 'the nose' Morrison from anyone who could corner him in the precinct. Most were friendly warnings but a few thought that Morrison was off his rocker and told Dodd to watch his ass. He sat back in his chair and smoothed out his face to one of polite interest as he met the cobalt blue eyes of his partner. "Yeah, I pay attention. She seemed like the typical stressed out partner of a victim of a violent crime. I didn't see anything to make me think she's crazy. A bit cold maybe, but not crazy."

Morrison rocked back in his chair, deep in thought. "No, she's hiding something. I could see it in her eyes."

"What could she be hiding?" Dodd asked patiently eyeing the older detective.

Morrison shrugged. "That's what we're going to find out, my boy. Did you see the way she stiffened when I mentioned the other two women present when Reid got shot?"

"Yeah." Dodd nodded. "That was a bit odd. What do you think that's about? Think Reid was maybe cheating on her or something?"

"Don't know," Morrison replied his brows furrowed in thought as he rubbed his mustache. "Miss Sinclair seemed surprised to find out that Reid was shot here in town. As far as she knew, Reid was supposedly out of town on location for her new video. We need to contact Reid's assistant and find out what that's all about."

Dodd pulled out a notebook and dutifully began jotting notes. "Wonder what she was doing on the campus? Seems weird for her to be out and about without some kind of security."

"Hmmm, true. But then I don't think Reid's face is well enough known yet to need too much security. Now after the Grammies that's probably going to change." Morrison closed his eyes and began sorting the data they had so far collected.

Dodd sat back and waited. He knew better than to interrupt Morrison when he went into his "thinking" pose, which consisted of closing his eyes, rocking back in his chair, and rubbing his mustache like it was going to come off. Dodd admired the older detective and he personally thought he could learn a lot from him. Even his worse skeptics had to admit that Morrison got results. Whether that was through his "hunches" or just good police work was yet to be seen.

"I think we need to interview the other two… what were there names, Dodd?" Morrison asked, snapping his fingers.

Dodd flipped through his notes and replied, "Lauren O'Shea and Rachel Barrett."

"Right. Maybe they'll have more information for us."

"It's possible, but the officers' reports from the hospital look pretty complete," Dodd said doubtfully. He really didn't want to go back over ground that was already covered. He'd rather focus on new data. Morrison's eyes cracked open and leveled a glare at him. Dodd squirmed, but his jaw clenched stubbornly.

"Do you really think it's not necessary to question the only other potential witnesses of the crime? You willing to just take the reports at face value? Nothing more you can think of to ask?" Morrison asked in a deceptively mild voice.

"I just think our time could be better spent focusing on new ground. Not what has already been covered," Dodd argued.

Morrison let his chair thump upright and he folded his hands before him on the table. "I see. Well, Joel, that's why I'm the senior detective and you're the rookie." Morrison held up his hand to keep Dodd from interrupting. "I think there's more to learn from those two and therefore we're going to question them again, right?"

Dodd glared at his partner, but finally gave a minute nod in agreement.

"Good. Do we know where they're at?" Morrison asked sitting back in his chair.

Dodd sifted through the notes in front of him and finally found the information Morrison wanted. "Says here that O'Shea rents a loft above the Richards' Gallery on the hill and Barrett has an apartment about 6 blocks from campus. Where do you want to start?" Dodd asked, glancing up at his partner.

"Hmm." Morrison stroked his mustache as he contemplated the options. "I think we'll start with the O'Shea girl. From the reports it seemed she was a bit more shaken up than the other. Maybe she has something more to tell us. We'll head over there first thing in the morning. Tonight I'm going to run a background check on Judith Sinclair and see what pops up."

"You really think that's necessary?" Dodd asked as he collected the papers once more placing them in the file and stood.

Morrison climbed to his feet and stretched. "Yeah, I do. I want you to go over the police reports from the campus. See if anyone else saw anything. I hate to depend on eye witnesses but that seems to be all we really have." Dodd nodded as he followed Morrison towards the door. "We also need to call Reid's people and find out what we can about why she may have been here in Seattle instead of where she was supposed to be according to Sinclair."

Morrison paused and Dodd turned to him questioningly. "What?"

"See how Reid's people feel about Sinclair," Morrison replied as he pulled open the conference room door and waved Dodd through. "I have a feeling they're not overly impressed by her."

"Think so, huh?" Dodd asked with a smile. He didn't think the woman could be as devious as his partner seemed to think. She was attractive, intelligent, and well put together. She had seemed genuinely upset about her lover having been shot, but if Morrison had some idea in his head, there was no way to talk him out of it until he'd followed it to its end.

"Be subtle, Joel. I don't want anything to get back to Sinclair," Morrison warned as he led the way down the hallway.

Joel rolled his eyes but nodded. "You got it."

"Good. Let's get out of here and get some sleep," Morrison suggested.

"Sounds like a plan to me. I'm beat," Dodd agreed.

The two detectives stepped into the elevator each lost in their own thoughts about the case.


Judith was in a white-hot fury, but the only outward sign was the staccato sound of her heels as she made her way back to Alexi's room. She nodded politely to the policeman on guard and quickly made her way into the room, closing the door behind her. She leaned against the closed door, closed her eyes, and fought for some semblance of calm. The last thing she needed was for some busybody to go telling the detectives she was upset after their little interrogation.

She opened her eyes letting them fall on her somnolent lover. What were you doing, Alexi dear? Why did you meet that scrawny bitch, Lauren? Hmmm? She made her way to the side of Alexi's bed and sat down, taking Alexi's cool hand in hers. Why didn't you come home? Her eyes narrowed as she studied the slack face of her lover. Or did you?

Judith leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Alexi's hand. You never know who might be watching, she thought absently as her mind whirled with the possible implications of Alexi meeting with Lauren. She hadn't heard from Roy in awhile and she wondered if this disaster was his or his idiot brother's fault. And were you seen, you fools? She ground her teeth in frustration.

They could implicate you, Judith, a soft voice reminded her.

I know that! The fools! But was it them? Judith asked the inner voice in anger.

Who else? Do you really think it was just some crazy on the campus who just happened to be there and just happened to shoot at them? I'm sure hitting Alexi was an accident, but… the voice calmly explained.

True. Judith couldn't argue with the logic. The possibility of it being random was thin to nonexistent when you knew all the facts. Her eyes narrowed and went cold as an image of the men responsible for this fiasco came to the forefront. I better get to them before the cops do.

That's the least of your worries.

Judith stiffened. What do you mean?

What did Alexi tell Lauren, hmmm? And why did she go looking for her? the voice asked calmly.

Lauren! That bitch! This is all her fault! Judith screamed at the voice. She's ruining everything! Why couldn't she just die? Her grip on Alexi's hand tightened as her mouth twisted into a snarl. She glared down at Alexi. And you… you betrayed me.

Judith was pulled out of her thoughts as the door opened. She whirled, angry at the interference to glare at the unsuspecting nurse.

The nurse stopped short and smiled weakly. "I'm sorry, Miss Sinclair. I… I need to take some blood and check her vitals," the nurse explained nervously.

Judith fought back her anger and smoothed out her features. "No, no, I'm sorry," Judith apologized, lowering her head and wiping at her eyes. "It's the strain. I guess it's starting to get to me."

The nurse walked towards the bed and set her tray down opposite of Judith. "I understand. It's a hard thing to see a loved one like this," she said compassionately as she went through the motions of drawing blood. "But she really is doing well even if she doesn't look it."

"Yes, that's what the doctors keep telling me, but it's still so hard to see her like this," Judith replied letting a touch of strain color her words.

"I know, but don't worry. She'll be fine," the nurse reassured her as she packed up her equipment. "The doctors probably won't be in again until morning. I'm sure they'll be happy to answer any questions you might have. Why don't you go home and get some sleep?"

Judith fought down the urge to yell at the annoying woman. "No, I don't want to leave her. I'll just sleep in the chair if I get too tired."

"Okay, dear," the nurse replied as she quietly left the room.

Judith smirked at the ease in which she fooled the nurse. Idiot, she thought with contempt.

There is one potential benefit of all this, the voice suggested.

Judith perked up. Oh? What would that be?

It will bring Ash from wherever she took off to, the voice stated.

Judith felt a surge of heat course through her at the mention of her beloved's name. Yes, Ash. Where are you, my darling?

Beware, Judith! the voice scolded making Judith start in surprise.

What? Judith growled, angered by the interruption of her fantasy of being in Ash's arms once more.

Ash is a dangerous woman and she cares for this Lauren. You better hope she doesn't figure out the connection between them and you, the voice stated matter of factly.

Cares for her? Cares for her? Judith screamed mentally. She loves me! She does! And as soon as the stupid scrawny bitch is out of the way, she'll come crawling back to me! You'll see! I'll take care of the boys and no one will ever be able to connect them to me! No one! And then I'll take care of dear Lauren! Ash will be oh so sad and I'll be there to pick up the pieces. To comfort her in her time of need. She'll be so thankful and realize she truly loves me! Not that stupid little chit.

Judith cocked her head waiting for a reply, but the voice prudently did not argue with her. She smiled as she leaned back in her chair. She gently stroked Alexi's hand as she began planning the demise of her hired help and Lauren. Then she'd just have to bring Ash back to where she belonged-- in her arms.


Rico stumbled out of the back door of the bar. He turned and glared at the closed door and gave it the finger. "Bastards! I'll show you!" he shouted in a slurred voice as he staggered back into the dank alleyway. "I'll show you," he muttered as he glared up at the drizzling sky and pulled up his collar.

He brought up his beer and took another long swig as he staggered down the alley. He stumbled to a stop, shaking the now empty bottle. "Damn," he swore as he turned and threw the bottle against the brick wall of the alley. He cocked his head in appreciation to the sound of breaking glass. He paused undecided. Should he go back into the bar and the possible ribbing of his so-called friends to get another beer or go on home? His brow furrowed as he thought about it. "Naaah, I got me a bottle of Wild Turkey back home," he grunted as he staggered down the alley.

"Hello, Rico."

Rico froze at the sound of the velvet voice issuing from the darkness. He swayed drunkenly as he leaned forward and peered through the gloom. "Who the fuck's there?" he demanded, letting his hand slide to his coat pocket. He grinned as the comforting feel of his switchblade slid into his hand.

"Now, now, Rico. Is that any way to greet an old friend?"

Rico squinted into the darkness trying to pinpoint the source of the voice. His alcohol fogged mind attempted to puzzle out what the hell was going on. Friend? What the hell? But that voice… he knew that voice, didn't he? A gap toothed grin spread across his features as he pieced it together. "Wolf? Is that you?" He chuckled as he relaxed knowing he had figured it out. "I'm not afraid of you! You've gone soft. Heard you couldn't take it no more and went running with your tail tucked between those lovely thighs."

"Is that so?"

Rico whirled as the voice emanated from behind him. He gripped his knife and tried to reassure himself that this wolf had no teeth. The last time he had heard that same velvet wrapped steel voice was 5 years ago in this same alley, but that was then and this is now! Bolstered by alcohol and his certainty that she couldn't hack it anymore he yelled, "Come on! Show yourself! I ain't got time for this shit."

"Rico, Rico, Rico. Tsk tsk. Believing in rumors," the voice scolded from the darkness.

Rico swallowed nervously and pulled out his knife flipping the blade open. He staggered back and held his knife out. "What do you want?"

"Information," the voiced purred.

Rico spun once more, trying to pinpoint her. "What kind of information?" he asked his voice breaking.

"Why don't you put down the knife and we'll discuss it?"

Rico gripped the knife tighter and shook his head. "No. You come out here where I can see you and we'll see what I can tell you."

A bone-chilling laugh, a sharp agonizing pain in his wrist, and Rico found himself flat on his back in the garbage strewn alley staring up into the rain. He grabbed his wrist and cradled it to his chest as he swept his eyes back and forth trying to figure out where the hell she had come from.

"Still think I've lost my edge, Rico?"

Rico gulped as a dark lithe figure garbed in a duster stepped out of the shadows and stood over him. The rain ran off her black Stetson to drip on his face. He quickly shook his head. "No, no, Wolf. You still got it." His eyes rolled wildly trying to locate his knife. He spotted it to his left and lay back waiting for the opportunity to grab it.

"Good. I have a couple of questions for you."

Rico nodded as he eyed the knife. "Sure, sure, whatever you want to know. Just ask."

"There was a shooting on campus today. You know anything about that?"

"Shooting?" Rico asked surprised. "Why would I know anything about that?" Rico let his hand slide slowly out towards the knife.

"Because it wasn't an accident," she replied as her booted foot came down on his outstretched hand causing Rico to yelp. "Now is that anyway to act? I'm just asking a few simple questions here."

Rico bit back the pain and fought to lie still. He knew better than to struggle. He prayed he could get out of this with nothing more than a couple of broken fingers. "What? What do you want to know?" he whined thumping his head against the cold concrete.

"Do you know anything about the shooting at the university?"

Rico shook his head. "No! I don't know nothing about that! All I heard was some dyke singer got herself plugged."

"Is that all?" Ash asked in a low deadly voice.

Rico nodded. "Yeah! I swear."

"What's the news on the street? Anyone taking responsibility?"

Rico swallowed the panic as he struggled to think of something, anything to tell this she demon so she'd leave him alone. "N-no… no one's saying they did it," he cried and felt relief as the boot lessened the pressure on his hand. "All I know is that someone fucked up bad and the Garbacik family is looking for information too. That's all I know! I swear it!"

Ash stepped back releasing Rico's hand in the process. "Garbacik? What's their interest in this?" she asked more to herself than Rico.

"I don't know, Wolf. Truly I don't. But they've been asking around," Rico said as he rolled to a sitting position, clutching his injured hand to his chest.

Ash rocked back on her heels as she thought about it. "Who's on the street for them?"

"I… I…" he stammered. Ash turned and pierced him with a cold stare and he shrank from the controlled rage roiling in their depths. "I think it's Remi and Johnny T. I heard they hang out over by the wharf these days. I'm sure they could tell you more."

Ash nodded. She spun on her heel and disappeared once more into the gloom like a phantom.

Rico stared at the place she disappeared for a long time as he clutched his broken hand to his chest, praying she wouldn't come back. "I'd hate to be you guys when she catches up with you," he muttered as he pulled himself to his feet. He leaned over and picking up his blade shoved it back into his pocket. "I better let Jake know that the Wolf is on the prowl," he said with a decisive nod, he turned and headed back towards the bar from whence he came.


Sheila sat quietly and watched her lover with amusement. Lu had a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel and had refused to say more than two words to her for the entire drive. Her lover was not happy that she had invited herself along, but there was no way she was going to stay back in Portland and worry.

"Lu, I think you need to take a right up here," Sheila commented.

Lu grunted but dutifully turned on her blinker.

Sheila leaned forward and peered out the windshield into the dismal overcast morning. The rain was coming down in sheets and she was half afraid that Lu couldn't see a blessed thing because she sure couldn't. She had only been to Louis and Benson's twice before and she was hoping Lu remembered the way, since they had to take a couple of detours due to construction.


"What?" Lu grunted as she squinted out the windshield.

"Did you call them to let them know we were coming?" Sheila asked turning to face her lover more directly.

"Yeah, but no one was home. I-"

"What?" Sheila interrupted in astonishment. Lu glared at her before quickly turning her attention back to the rain swept street. Sheila blushed. "Sorry. Go on."

"Like I was saying, I tried to reach them, but got the damn machine," Lu said as she changed lanes with a muffled curse for stupid drivers. "So, I left a message telling them we would be arriving this morning. Hopefully, they'll have more information for us."

"Oh." Sheila sighed as she sat back in her seat thoughtfully.


She shrugged. "Did you bring your cell phone?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"I thought I'd give the boys a call and let them know when to expect us," Sheila explained.

"It's in the glove box."

"Why's it in there?" Sheila asked as she leaned forward and popped upon the compartment. "Why don't you have it plugged in? What if someone was trying to reach us?"

Lu rolled her eyes, but kept quiet; knowing that saying anything wouldn't do any good.

Sheila pulled out the phone and turned it on. She glanced at the display and grimaced when she saw the telltale flash of messages waiting. "See?" She held the phone out towards Lu. Lu glanced at it and shrugged noncommittally. "Told you. I hope it wasn't anything important." Sheila dialed the number to receive the messages and sat back to listen.

Lu shook her head. She frowned thoughtfully as she tried to remember where the turn was that would take them to the gallery. Damn road construction! Why are they always tearing shit up? she groused as she read the street signs as she drove past them.

"There's one here from Benson," Sheila informed her pulling her out of her thoughts.

Lu sighed, knowing Sheila was going to harp on this until the cows came home.

"Benson says they're home. He called around 9." Sheila glanced at her watch. "Its almost 10, so we should be all right. Want me to give them a call and get directions?"

Lu gave her an evil look that Sheila blithely ignored. She finally acquiesced with a wave of her hand. "Fine."

Sheila grinned at her victory and quickly dialed the number Benson had left on the message. The phone was picked up on the third ring with a baritone voice answering.


Lu swore under her breath as she changed lanes once again and tried to listen to what Sheila was saying to Benson as she steered the car through the quagmire of traffic.

"Yes, we're here. I think we're lost," Sheila said into the phone.

Lu gritted her teeth, but said nothing.

"Hmmm? No, it's the construction. I think we got turned around somewhere," Sheila explained.

Lu turned a corner and decided it would just be easier to find a place to park and wait for Benson to give them directions from where they were. She was loath to admit to Sheila that they were lost, but she was too damn frustrated to deal with it anymore. She quickly pulled into a bank parking lot, and finding a convenient spot, parked the car.

She leaned back and listened to Sheila explain to Benson where they were and jot down notes in her neat hand on a notebook she had pulled out of her bag. She wasn't happy when Sheila had invited herself along on this little trip, but now she was thankful she was here. Not that she would tell Sheila that. She'd never hear the end of it. But with her here in town, at least she knew where she was and that she was safe. Hopefully I can talk her into going over to Rachel's and watching over Lauren. Maybe she can keep Lauren from running off and doing something stupid, she thought. I need to go find Ash and I doubt she's somewhere that I'd feel comfortable bringing Sheila to. She felt her anger resurface at the stupidity of her wayward friend. What the hell are you thinking, Ash? Why can't you just let the cops handle it? Her mind happily answered that question, because the cops don't know the whole story. Damn.


Lu started and turned to Sheila. "Huh?"

Sheila eyed her for a moment before replying, "I got the directions. Head out of here and take a left. We're only about 2 miles away. You were on the right track."

"Thought so," Lu grumbled under her breath as she backed up the car.

"What was that, dear?"

"Nothing," Lu said gruffly. She pulled out of the parking lot and tried not to grind her teeth as Sheila gave her directions.


"Benson? Was that the door?" Louis asked as he rounded the corner into the living room.

Benson folded his paper and stood. "Yes. It must be Lu and Sheila."

"I'll go into the kitchen and get something for us all to drink," Louis announced, turning towards the kitchen. "It's miserable out there and I'm sure they could both use some refreshment."

Benson smiled fondly as he watched his lover scurry to the kitchen. "Always the hostess," he said with a chuckle. He strode across the living room and pulled open the front door to come face to face with two women he hadn't seen in almost a year. Sheila looked up from shaking off her umbrella with a smile as Lu stood with her arms crossed over her chest looking grumpy. "Hey! Come on in." He waved them forward. "How was the drive?"

"Hi, Benson," Sheila greeted with a warm smile as she stepped across the threshold and gave the large man a hug.

"Hi. Drive was fine except for the damn construction," Lu said as she entered the apartment and offered her hand to Benson.

Benson tucked Sheila up beside him and clasped Lu's hand for a firm handshake. "Yeah, it's a real pain in the ass. Go ahead and hang up your stuff here." He pointed to a brass coat stand. "Louis just got it and is mighty proud of it."

"Where's Louis?" Sheila asked glancing around the apartment as she slid out of her coat that Benson gallantly took and hung up for her. Sheila smiled in thanks.

"In the kitchen playing host," Benson answered with a wink.

Sheila grinned and extricating herself from Benson's gentle hold said, "I think I'll go join him."

"Okay," Benson replied.

Benson and Lu watched silently as Sheila walked across the living room and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Was that wise?" Lu asked raising an eyebrow in question.

Benson turned to her and shrugged. "Probably not, but Louis will get over it."

Lu grinned and Benson laughed.

"Why don't we sit down?" Benson suggested waving towards the couch.

"Sure," Lu agreed and followed him.

Benson settled on one end of the couch as Lu took the chair. Benson studied her discretely as they got comfortable. She looks tired. I think too much has happened in the last week for anyone's comfort. "So… why you all here exactly?" Benson opened as he leaned back into the couch.

"Well to put it frankly, because your cousin is being a dumbass," Lu said with a shake of her head.

Benson's eyebrows shot up at that. "Oh? What do you mean?"

"You talk to her?"

"No. Not recently. Why?"

"Because she's decided to go out and try and track down the bastard who shot at Lauren." Lu held up a hand to forestall Benson from interrupting. "I talked to her briefly last night. I barely got a word in edgewise before she hung up! She didn't even give me the chance to tell her where Lauren was staying or why."

"Rachel said that Lauren talked to her last night," Benson informed her.

"She did?" Benson nodded. "When did you find this out?"

"When I took Rachel to get her car this morning," Benson explained. "They were whisked away by the cops yesterday and I told her I'd take her over there to get it this morning."

"And Lauren?"

"She stayed at Rachel's. She was still asleep when I picked Rachel up and Rachel said that she doubted she'd be up before noon." Benson shook his head sorrowfully. "Guess she had a pretty rough night."

"I can imagine." Lu sighed and rubbed her temples fighting back the headache that was determined to split her head in two. "Did you find out what Ash had to say?"

Benson shrugged. "Not really, but Rachel was madder than hell." Lu's eyebrows rose in question. "Lauren was pretty upset when Ash told her she wouldn't come over and see her."

Lu snorted. "See? What'd I tell you? Dumbass."

Benson chuckled. "Well, I guess she has her reasons. Rachel said that Ash told Lauren she didn't want to lead anyone to her."

Lu shook her head hating to admit that she couldn't find anything wrong with Ash's motives. "Well, I'm going to go out and find her. The two of us are going to have a long talk about her behavior."

"I think I'll join you," Benson said thoughtfully.

"What?" Lu asked sitting up straight in astonishment.

"I think I'll go along with you. There are a few things I'd like to say to my cousin," Benson replied his blue eyes hooded.

"I don't think-"

Lu was interrupted by Louis and Sheila's return.

"Here we go," Louis said as he set down a laden tray. "Some hot coffee for us and a nice herbal tea for our little expectant mother." He winked at Sheila as he helped her get settled on the couch and handed her the tea. "I threw together some sandwiches too."

Benson and Lu glanced at one another and then they both shrugged as they reached out and took the offered refreshments.

"What have you two been talking about?" Sheila asked as she blew on her tea to cool it.

"Yes. Do tell," Louis said as he took his cup and sat down next to Benson. Benson unconsciously draped his arm across his lover's shoulder and kissed his temple making Louis smile.

"Just trying to figure out what the hell Ash is up to," Lu said around a mouthful of sandwich. "These are great, Louis. Thanks."

Louis beamed. "More than welcome."

"Has anyone talked to her?" Sheila asked glancing between the two men.

"Lauren talked to her briefly last night. I think that's about it," Benson said.

Lu frowned as she tried to think of some way to talk Sheila into going over to Rachel's. She had to get out on the street and start hunting for Ash and she couldn't do that effectively with Sheila with her. She'd be too busy worrying about her and not be able to concentrate on the job at hand. She glanced at Benson and had to concede that having the large man as backup wasn't such a bad idea. She wasn't sure what he was capable of, but his size alone would probably intimidate the hell out of most of the scumbags she'd have to talk to.

"Well, I think I need to go over to Rachel's and see how she's doing," Sheila said startling the hell out of Lu.

"You do?" Lu asked in surprise.

Sheila nodded. "Yes, I do. She's probably feeling pretty out of sorts right about now; and God only knows what she must be thinking about Ash!"

"That's true," Louis agreed with a sniff. "Personally I think it reprehensible that Ash hasn't gone to see her. I thought she cared about her."

"Louis," Benson admonished.

"What?" Louis asked unrepentant. "I don't care if she is your cousin, Benson. The way she's acting is stupid and cruel."

"She's afraid she'll lead them to Lauren," Lu explained.

Louis waved off the explanation. "Lauren needs her to be there and she's not. That's the bottom line. I don't care what excuse you give it."

Lu glanced at Benson for help, but he just shrugged. She sighed. "Well, Benson and I were just saying how we think it would be a good idea if the two of us go out and track her down. I have some information for her and I want to get to her before she goes off half cocked and does something really stupid."

Benson nodded. "I think Lu's got the right idea." He turned to Sheila. "Why don't we drop you off over at Rachel's and you can take care of Lauren while we go out and try and find our wayward Ash?"

Sheila looked to her lover and Lu nodded her agreement. "Okay." She sighed. "I think that may be the best plan."

"And what am I supposed to do?" Louis asked in irritation.

"You, my love, need to stay here and hold down the fort," Benson replied with a grin. "In case Ash calls or shows up here." He shook his head at his cousin's stubborn refusal to let anyone help. "I wonder where the hell she's staying?"

"Probably in her truck," Lu supplied with a disgusted grunt.

"Her truck?" Louis asked wide-eyed.

"Yep," Lu confirmed.

"That's just crazy," Louis said.

"Have-" Benson was cut off by someone knocking at the door. They all turned to look at it and then at one another.

"You expecting anyone?" Lu asked softly.

Benson shook his head. "No."

"Well, let's see who it is," Louis said as he stood and headed for the door.

The three turned to watch as Louis opened the door.

"Mr. Richards?"

"Yes?" Louis said.

Lu craned her neck trying to see around the door but couldn't see who was there. "Damn," she muttered. "Can you see who it is from where you're at Ben?"

Benson leaned over the couch and looked. "Looks like cops," he said quietly.

"Think they're looking for Lauren?" Sheila asked.

"Probably," Benson replied.

Their hushed conversation was cut short as Louis closed the door and returned.

"What was that all about?" Benson asked.

"Detective Morrison was looking for Lauren and came here when no one answered Lauren's door," Louis supplied as he regained his seat.

"What did you tell him?" Lu asked.

"That she was staying with Rachel."

"And?" Benson prompted.

"Did you see his badge?" Lu added suspiciously.

Louis sighed in irritation. "Yes and I gave him the address. What's wrong with you people?"

Sheila laughed. "They're just being paranoid, Louis."

"Can't be too careful," Lu said defensively. "It wouldn't be the first time someone has pretended to be a cop to find out where their target was."

Louis paled. "You don't think--?"

"No," Benson quickly reassured. "No. I think they were on the level. I've seen Morrison before and that was him at the door."

Louis patted his chest in relief. "Thank God."

"Well, let's get this show on the road," Lu said standing and offering her hand to Sheila which she happily accepted.

"Sounds like a plan," Benson agreed and after giving Louis a kiss, stood.

"Will I be able to reach you?" Louis asked as he followed them to the door.

"I got my cell," Lu said as she grabbed her and Sheila's coats. She held Sheila's out for her to allow her to slip into it.

"Yeah, if you'd keep the damn thing on," Sheila scolded look over her shoulder at her lover.

"I will," Lu grumbled looking down to button her own jacket trying in vain to hide the blush she felt creeping up her neck.

Benson and Louis laughed. Lu shrugged sheepishly.

"Okay then. I'll expect regular updates," Louis said as he released Benson and gave him a gentle shove towards the door.

"Me too," Sheila agreed.

Lu rolled her eyes and Benson said, "I'll make sure of it."

"You do that, Benson," Sheila said with a laugh as she followed them out the door. "Which car are we taking?"

Lu looked over to Benson and he shrugged his indifference. "Might as well just take ours," Lu said.

"Good. Then I don't have to try and drag my bags out and into Benson's," Sheila said happily.

Lu rolled her eyes and Benson bit back a laugh at his friend's behavior. "Well with the rain, I think that's for the best."

"True," Sheila agreed. She stopped suddenly and Benson just about ran her over. He quickly sidestepped and gave her a questioning look. "Sorry."

"No problem. Why'd you stop?" Benson asked regaining his balance.

"Are you going to fit?" Sheila asked looking Benson up and down doubtfully.

Benson roared with laughter. Sheila stepped back wide-eyed and looked to Lu for an explanation.

Lu grinned. "If Benson can fold himself into a Honda hatchback I don't think he'll have any problem getting into our car, dear."

"Honda hatchback?" Sheila asked puzzled.

"That's what Louis drove when we first got together," Benson explained wiping the tears from his eyes. "I thought Lu's eyes were going to pop out of her head the first time we drove up in it and I climbed out."

"Climbed out? More like fell out!" Lu retorted as she opened the door to the parking lot.

Benson laughed. "True. It was a tight fit."

"When was this?" Sheila asked glancing outside and grimacing at the sight of the downpour.

"Oh just before you two hooked up I think," Benson replied.

"Let me go get the car. No reason for all of us to get drenched," Lu offered pulling up her collar.

"You want the umbrella?" Sheila asked.

"Nah. I'll just make a run for it."

"Okay," Sheila replied.

Lu dashed out into the rain and ran towards their car.

"That was nice of her," Benson commented.

"She does tend to surprise me on more than one occasion," Sheila replied. "So tell me about this Honda?"

Benson laughed and leaned back against the door jam prepared to regale Sheila about the similarities between sardine cans and small Japanese imports as they waited for Lu to return.


Rachel flopped down on the couch with a sigh and clicked on the television. She groaned as yet another rerun blared out and she quickly switched it back off. Lauren had gone to lie down after the police had left and she was left to her own devices to entertain herself.

"Guess I could study," she said aloud. She giggled. "Yeah right. Like that's going to happen."

The intercom buzzed and she turned to stare at it with consternation.

"Never fails," she said as she pulled herself out of the comfortable confines of the couch. "As soon as I get comfortable that damn thing buzzes. Wonder who the hell is here now? Probably just Dan buzzing me to let him in because he forgot his damn keys again," she grumbled as she stomped over to the intercom and depressed the talk button. "Yeah?"


Rachel blinked in surprise at the sound of Benson's voice emanating from the box. "Benson? What are you doing here?"

"Buzz us in and I'll let you know. We're getting soaked out here."

"Oh, sorry," Rachel apologized as she hit the entrance button and heard the entry buzz through the speaker.

"We'll be right up."

"Okay. See you then," Rachel replied. She turned and started back across the apartment then stopped dead. "Wait a minute! Did he say 'we'? Who the hell is we?" She shook her head puzzled as she leaned against the couch back and waited for Benson to arrive.

She began to fidget as she listened for the elevator to stop on her floor. She wanted to answer the door before they rang the bell so that they wouldn't wake up Lauren. "Yeah, if she managed to finally get to sleep that is," she said cocking her head as she thought she heard the sound of the elevator. She walked over to the front door, opened it, and peered down the hallway.

The elevator door opened and Benson strode out with Lu and Sheila in his wake. Rachel gaped in surprise. "What the heck are they doing here?"

Benson spotted her and waved. She automatically raised her hand and waved back.

"Hey, Rachel. It's raining cats and dogs out there," Benson said as he came abreast of her.

"You look like a drowned rat," Rachel managed to say her eyes not leaving the sight of the two women behind him.

Benson glanced over his shoulder and blushed. "Oh, sorry. Lu and Sheila came over from Spokane this morning."

"I can see that," Rachel said.

"Hi, Rachel. Hope we're not intruding," the small oriental woman said with a smile.

Rachel smiled in return recognizing the petite woman's voice as belonging to Sheila, which meant that the tall menacing one must be her partner Lu. "No, not really. It's been grand central station around here today. Come on in, but keep your voices down. Lauren is lying down and hopefully sleeping."

They nodded in agreement and quietly followed Rachel into the apartment.

"So… why are you guys here?" Rachel asked.

Sheila jabbed her elbow into Lu's stomach before she could spout off some sarcastic remark. Lu glared at her, but snapped her mouth shut. "We wanted to see how Lauren and you are doing. Being shot at isn't an every day occurrence and we thought you could use the support."

Rachel looked between Rachel and Lu suspiciously. "Okay," she said drawing the word out. She turned to Benson. "Want to tell me why they're really here instead of the kindergarten version?"

Benson chuckled. "Well she told you half of it."

"And the other half?" Rachel asked as she sank down on the couch with a sigh.

"The other half is me finding Ash before she does something really stupid," Lu growled. Sheila glared at her, but she was beyond the point of caring.

"What?" Rachel asked sitting up in surprise.

"Lu!" Sheila admonished. "You're going to scare the poor girl to death."

"By telling her Ash is going to be a dumbass? How is that going to scare her?" Lu retorted throwing her hands up in exasperation.

"Everybody just calm down," Benson ordered in a hushed voice. "Lu, Sheila, take a seat."

Sheila obeyed without comment and took a seat on the loveseat. She patted the cushion next to her and met Lu's stormy gray eyes with a gentle plea. Lu grumbled but dutifully took the seat next to her. Sheila patted her thigh comfortingly and Lu managed to pull a smile out of somewhere. She wrapped her arm around her wife's shoulder in a silent apology. Sheila sighed and leaned against the warm body of her lover.

"Okay. First things first," Benson said leaning forward and clasping his hands between his knees. "Have the cops been here yet, Rachel?"

"Yeah. They left about ten minutes before you all got here," Rachel answered.

"What did they want?" Lu asked intrigued.

Rachel shrugged. "They just wanted to know if Lauren or I knew Alexi. If either of us had" --she brought her fingers up in the sign for quotation marks-"relations with her."

Benson's eyebrows shot up in surprise. He looked to Lu and Sheila and saw the same shocked expressions on their faces. "Why would he want to know that?"

"Don't know. Guess they're trying to figure out why Alexi was on campus. And meeting a lover seemed a good bet," Rachel explained.

"Shit," Lu groaned.

"What, honey?" Sheila asked seeing the thoughtful look on Lu's face.

"They're looking for a motive. I think they might be trying to make this shooting into a crime of passion. Wonder what led them down that trail?" Lu replied.

"Well that's just stupid!" Rachel blurted out in disgust. "Neither of us is sleeping with Alexi! Neither of us had even met her until last Saturday!"

"We know that, but the cops don't," Lu reminded her. "Did Lauren tell them about Spokane?"

Rachel snorted. "Of course not! I told her she should, but she wouldn't listen to me." Rachel scratched her chin thoughtfully. "But I think the older cop knows something's up. He said he was going to have a regular patrol swing by to check on us. I don't think he'd do that if he didn't think there was a chance we were still in danger."

"Well it makes me feel better to know they're out there," Sheila said with evident relief. "I just wish Lauren would've told them."

"Well Pete talked to his girlfriend about this Morrison since she used to work here," Lu began as she leaned back and pulled Sheila a bit closer.

"What did he say?" Benson asked.

Lu shrugged. "That he was a good cop. Old school." Lu chuckled. "From what Pete said, I'd say he was a lot like him. Don't know anything about his partner-he's a rookie-but Pete said that if we needed backup that Morrison was -and I quote-a good egg."

"That's pretty high praise from Pete," Rachel commented.

Lu nodded in agreement.

"Any word from Ash?" Benson asked Rachel hopefully.

"Nope. Not a peep," Rachel said with a touch of anger. "I think it's really ripping Lauren up, but she won't talk about it. She just says she's fine and sits in the bedroom staring at Ash's guitar."

Sheila sighed. "I was afraid of that. I'll talk to her when she wakes up. I know what its like to be partnered to an overly focused meathead," she replied gently patting Lu's leg for emphasis.

"Hey! I resemble that remark!" Lu protested good-naturedly.

"Yes, dear. You do," Sheila said with a giggle.

"Well I hope you can say something to get her out of this funk," Rachel said hopefully. "Because I'm at my wit's end trying to."

"We'll manage, hon," Sheila assured her.

"I guess all that's left is for Benson and I to go out and track down Ash," Lu said.

"Any idea where to start looking?" Rachel asked.

"Some," Lu said with a nod.

"Well why don't we get started?" Benson said decisively and stood.

"Yeah. I want to go over the information Pete left me about these cops and see what you think, Ben," Lu said as she too stood.


"I guess we'll stay here and try and cheer up Lauren," Sheila remarked.

"Just don't leave the apartment," Lu warned.

"Like duh!" Rachel replied sarcastically.

Sheila quickly stood and pulled Lu's head down for a kiss to keep her from blowing a gasket at Rachel. Their lips parted and Lu smiled at her slightly dazed.

"What was that for?" Lu asked softly.

"Because I love you and I want you to remember that when you're out there getting yourself into trouble," Sheila replied.

Benson cleared his throat. "Umm, I think we better go."

Lu chuckled and quickly kissed her wife once more before turning on her heel and heading for the door. "Come on, Benson. Let's get to it," she called over her shoulder.

Benson shook his head and held his hands out to Sheila and Rachel in a sign of helplessness before hurrying to catch up with Lu.

Sheila shook her head and laughed softly. "Well now that they're out of the way, why don't we see about some lunch?"

"Sounds good to me. But I have to warn you my cupboards are pretty bare," Rachel said as she led the way to the kitchen.

"Well we can always order in," Sheila replied following her.

"Now that's my kind of cooking!" Rachel laughed.


Roy sat back in his chair and sipped his third whiskey of the day. Tommie was sitting on the floor to his right playing some loud game that involved a lot of shooting and yelling on the Playstation. Roy fought down the urge to unplug the damn thing, since it at least kept Tommie occupied and out of his hair.

The door to the room opened and Roy struggled to sit up straight as his cousin Gary strolled into the room. He glanced around and smiled indulgently at Tommie before walking over and taking the chair next to Roy.

"Afternoon, Roy," he said as he crossed his legs brushing imaginary lint from his gray suit pant leg. "Little early to be drinking don't you think?"

Roy snorted. "What the hell else do I have to do?" Roy asked in a churlish tone.

Gary eyed him with disapproval. "Well you could be running for your worthless hide for one."

Roy felt the sweat break out on his brow. He gulped down the last swallow of his whiskey and thumped the glass down on the end table. "You come here for a reason, Gary? Or just to bust my chops?"

"Yeah, I'm here for a reason," Gary replied. "The family saw the news last night." Gary watched as Roy visibly paled. "They weren't too happy to find out that your dear brother not only fucked up, but he shot someone famous to boot!"

"I wasn't too happy about it either," Roy grumbled dejectedly. "Is the family going to help or what?"

Gary leaned back with a small grin. He wanted to see Roy sweat. He had taken a lot of grief from the Uncles for standing up for him and he figured he deserved to get some back. Roy began to fidget under his regard and he fought down the evil chuckle he felt bubbling up.

"You going to tell me or make me stew in my own juices?" Roy finally asked not being able to stand the silence any longer.

"They decided to help," Gary said quietly. When he saw Roy begin to relax he maliciously added, "For now."

Roy gulped but nodded in understanding. "So what's the plan?"

"To get you and Tommie out of town for one," Gary said glancing over to the oblivious Tommie. "He doesn't have a clue does he?"

Roy followed Gary's look and shook his head. "No. He's sick, Gary. Something's gone wrong in his head." Roy rubbed his face in frustration at the sight of his baby brother. "I don't know if it was the drugs or that he's just always been a little off kilter."

"Well the drugs sure as shit didn't help," Gary interjected.

"True," Roy agreed returning his attention to his cousin. "So where are they sending us?"

"To a place they have outside the city," Gary replied as he stood. "You better get packed. You have a couple of hours before they come to get you."

Roy groaned but nodded in acquiescence. "Okay. I'll get Tommie moving."

"You do that." Gary turned and headed for the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned to eye the disheveled figure of his cousin. "And Roy, take a damn shower. You stink."

He opened the door and left without waiting for a reply.

Roy sank back in his chair as dark thoughts flitted through his mind. He knew Gary was right, but did he have to point it out? He grunted and then pulled himself out of the chair swaying slightly as he reached his feet.

"Tommie, turn that damn thing off and get packed," Roy ordered as he staggered towards the bathroom. "I'm going to go take a shower."

"But, Roy, I'm almost finished with this level!" Tommie whined his eyes never leaving the flickering screen of the television.

Roy's frustration and anger overflowed. He stomped over to the television and slammed his fist against it knocking it off its stand. "Fuck your game! We have to get ready to move out!" he roared.

"Jesus, Roy! What is your damage?" Tommie shouted back as he scrambled to get out of his brother's way.

"You are my damage, you stupid fuck! Now get your ass up and get packed!" Roy yelled his face red and his eyes bulging.

"Okay, Roy, okay. Chill," Tommie whined as he righted the television and began gathering up his game.

Roy gulped in a few breaths trying to calm down. He closed his eyes and scrubbed his face trying to banish the frustration and irritation. "Sorry, Tommie. Just get it done, okay?" Roy asked in a defeated tone. His shoulders slumped as he turned and walked into the bathroom closing the door.

Tommie stared after him for a moment totally lost as to why his brother was so angry. He didn't do anything. He pouted as he straightened his game and set the television back on its stand. He glanced at the bathroom door as he heard the shower turn on. He'll be in there for a good hour I bet, Tommie thought licking his lips nervously. His eyes strayed to the bedside table where he had hidden his stash. I got time to do a hit or two I bet. I still got that rock, he thought as his legs took him unerringly to the table. He reached underneath and pulled out the neatly rolled bag. His hands shook as he carefully unrolled it; then decided opening it here, right in front of the bathroom door, was a pretty stupid idea. He gave the closed bathroom door a wary look before clutching his prize to his chest and hurrying through the connecting door to the other room.


Benson coughed and brought up a hand to wave away the acrid smell of cigar smoke and stale beer that had assaulted his senses the moment they walked into the bar. This was the last in a long line of disgusting hole in the walls that Lu had dragged him to in this night that felt like it would never end.

They had gone over all the information Lu had brought with her and Benson had told her all that he had heard here in Seattle from the news and the papers; Lauren and Rachel; and the police. After a hasty dinner, Lu had eyed Benson and informed him that he needed a wardrobe change unless he felt the need to get beaten to a bloody pulp the moment they walked into any one of these dives. So after hastily running back to the apartment for Benson to throw on a pair of ragged jeans and a ratty sweater that he usually only wore when he was sculpting-since Louis would have a fit if he showed his face in public wearing it-they headed back out into the stormy night.

Lu grabbed his arm and Benson glanced at her in question. It still amazed him to see Lu with her "working face" on. It was hard to reconcile the cold hard face with dangerous eyes as the same woman he had seen fussing over her pregnant wife just that morning.

"Let's head towards the back. There's probably a pool table or two back there and I bet that's where we'll find her," Lu said to him in a low voice.

Benson nodded and fell into step behind her as they headed across the crowded smoke-filled bar. A few ribald comments followed them, but Benson had learned to ignore them-if you didn't it meant a fight and he was too damn tired to go through that again. Benson just kept his head down and followed in Lu's wake. He was way out of his element and thanked God that Lu seemed to know what she was doing in places like this. He had already discovered that making eye contact was also a bad idea. For some reason his size alone seemed to be like waving a red flag in front of a bull for some of these assholes. They felt the need to prove their manhood by trying to pick a fight with him; combine that with drunken bravado and stupidity made Benson happy he had taken martial arts in his teens. He usually only had to knock out one or two of the sots before the rest got the idea and left him alone.

Lu stopped abruptly causing Benson to bump into her. "What?" Benson asked as Lu reached out and steadied him.

Lu just pointed in answer. Benson followed her finger and his eyes went wide with shock. Ash was here all right. She had some poor bastard pinned to the wall by a cue stick across his throat.

"Close your mouth, Ben, and follow my lead," Lu instructed out of the corner of her mouth.

Benson snapped his mouth shut and before he could really regain his composure, Lu sauntered into the billiard room. Benson growled in irritation as he took long strides to catch up to her and watch her back like he had in a myriad of other such situations. Though the last thing he expected was for his cousin to be the situation.

"I've been looking for you all night, Remi," Ash purred leaning lazily on the pool cue she had across his scrawny neck.

Remi swallowed as beads of sweat ran down his face. His eyes darted around the room wildly looking for someone--anyone to help him. He couldn't meet those steel eyes that were piercing him. He saw two people walk into the back room and started to relax until he saw that it was none other than Darkcloud and a giant of a man with the same hard eyes and raven hair as the woman who held him captive.

"What do you want, Wolf?" he cried, struggling weakly.

"I want information," Ash growled as she reached up and ran a delicate finger down the side of his neck making him flinch. Her mouth curved into a wicked half smile. "And you are going to give it to me."

Remi's eyes flicked back to Darkcloud and the giant and he saw that they had stopped about ten feet behind and to the left of Ash. Darkcloud was leaning with an air of nonchalance against the nearest pool table with her ankles crossed. The man stood next to her with a shocked look on his face. His eyes met the blue eyes of the giant and he felt hope rise. This man would help him!

"Help me!" Remi suddenly screamed as he vainly attempted to push Ash away from him, his eyes pleading to the stranger to help him.

The man took a step forward but Darkcloud reached out and put a restraining hand on his arm. He stopped and turned to say something that Remi couldn't hear as the Wolf suddenly slammed him back against the wall causing stars to dance before his eyes.

"Shut up!" Ash ordered slamming his head against the wall once more for emphasis. Remi whimpered and nodded his head enthusiastically. Ash released his hair and decreased the pressure of the cue against his throat, not wanting him to pass out on her. She cocked her head and listened with half an ear to the argument behind her as she toyed with Remi. Recognition of the voices finally penetrated and she stiffened in surprise. She glanced over her shoulder and her eyes narrowed dangerously.

Lu caught the look from Ash and lifted a hand in greeting. Benson saw and snapped his head around to meet eyes that he thought he had known all his life. But this woman standing before him-other than looking like her-bore no earthly resemblance to his cousin. He took a step back in pure reaction and felt his blood run cold at the veiled threat in those cobalt blue eyes.

"What are you doing here?" Ash growled the accusation at Lu totally ignoring her cousin's presence. She couldn't acknowledge him. He was from her other world. The Wolf didn't know him and she was in control now.

"Looking for you," Lu replied leaning against the pool table once more and folding her hands under her breasts. "I have some information for you." She glanced at the sweating terrified man Ash had pinned and nodded towards him. "Why don't you let the rat go and we'll talk."

Ash felt her rage seethe at the interruption. "No," Ash growled pushing against the cue stick, ignoring the strangled coughs of her victim. "I have things to do right now. Maybe later." She dismissed them and turned back to her prey.

Lu closed her eyes and sent up a silent prayer. She was afraid of this. She opened her eyes and glanced at Benson to see him pale faced with his fists clutched at his sides. No help there damn it, Lu thought. He's on the verge of exploding in indignation. Guess he's never seen this side of her. Surprise. Lu smiled grimly as she stood and strolled over to the rack of cues and pulled one free. She balanced it in her hands and decided it would have to do.

Benson was pulled out of his fog of disbelief when Lu moved. His eyes tracked her and his brow creased in puzzlement as he watched Lu take up a cue stick and twirl it through her hands. This is no time to be shooting pool! What the hell are you doing, Lu? My cousin is on the verge of killing some guy and you're trying to find the perfect cue? Benson stared at her in amazement before shaking his head and turning back to his cousin. He stepped forward.

"Don't Benson," Ash warned without turning. Benson's step faltered at the words. "I don't want to hurt you."

Lu swung her cue lazily as she returned to Benson's side. "I'd listen to her if I were you, Ben."

Benson swallowed and glanced down at Lu's serious face. What was she up to? He didn't have a clue, but he did know there was no way he could stop his cousin from doing whatever it was she planned on doing--at least not physically. His resolve hardening he crossed his arms over his chest and said, "Ashlin, what the hell do you think you're doing? Have you completely lost your mind?"

Ash's back stiffened but she showed no other sign of hearing him as she continued to prod the man she had pinned. Benson gritted his teeth and stepped forward reaching out a cautious hand to lie on her shoulder.

"Ashlin, this isn't you. Come on, let's get out of here," Benson pleaded softly.

Ash violently shrugged off the comforting hand and whirled to face her cousin. "Get the hell out of here, Benson!" she demanded her eyes blazing. Benson rocked back in surprise. Ash saw the fear flicker across his features and exulted in it. "This is exactly who I am! Or didn't you know what a real bitch I am? Where did you think my money came from, Benson? Charity work and good deeds?"

Benson took another step back under the venomous assault. He shook his head in denial. "No," he argued.

"Oh yes, Benson," Ash spat as she let Remi loose and he slid bonelessly to the floor. She turned, her full attention now on her dear cousin. Her rage howled at Lu for bringing him here and letting him witness what a bitch she really was. "Ask Lu. She'll tell you. I'm not a nice person, Benson. It's time you fucking grew up and realized that." Ash took a menacing step forward and twirled the cue in her hands deftly.

Lu quickly stepped in front of Benson and brought up her cue in a defensive posture. Ash smirked and then laughed. Lu felt her hair stand out at the sound of the cold hard sound of that laugh. "That's enough," Lu barked watching the deadly woman before her and silently praying that she'd be able to walk out of here tonight. Sheila is going to kick my ass, she thought absently.

Ash's eyes hardened as she twirled the cue with deadly intent. "You're not up for this, Darkcloud," she said with a smirk, as she looked her one time mentor up and down. "I could kick your ass without even breaking a sweat." Her eyes narrowed as she studied her. "You know that so why the hell don't you take Benson and get the hell out of here?"

Lu gritted her teeth but held her ground. "I can't do that."

Benson's eyes were wide as he watched the two women face off. Shit, this is getting way out of hand. I have to do something, Benson thought desperately. His eyes darted around the dingy room, but nothing here seemed to offer up any real possibilities. I have to make Ash snap out of it and give us a chance to talk to her, but how? He searched the room frantically when an idea popped into his head. Not the best plan but it will have to do. He sized up the situation between Lu and Ash, and deciding they were still in the posturing stage, since they were still talking; he whirled and headed into the main section of the bar.

This is crazy, this is crazy, his mind chanted as he came up to a table of scruffy looking men. He grabbed the back of an occupied chair and pulled with all his might, sending the chair and the guy sitting in it sailing across the room. Before the other two at the table could react, he balled up his fist and punched the nearest one in the side of the head. Not waiting to see what his actions wrought, he spun on his heel and high tailed it back to the billiard room.

His heart was beating so hard he was afraid it would leap out of his chest as he leaned against the nearest wall and sucked his scuffed knuckles. He cocked his head to listen and was rewarded by the sound of swearing and drunken bravado as his mayhem was finally digested. It sounded as if a group were heading for the back room out for his blood. Now I just have to hope that Ash and Lu will come to my rescue, Benson prayed as he hurried across the room to where the two women were still facing one another.

Ash's head shot up at the sound of the dull roar coming from the bar proper and her eyes narrowed suspiciously as Benson scurried across the room towards them. Lu turned her head to see what Ash was looking at and groaned.

"Oh shit," Lu swore as a half dozen drunk and angry men stormed into the room hollering for Benson to get his ass back there.

Ash closed her eyes and swore inwardly. She didn't have time for this. Her anger coiled and her body erupted into motion as her eyes opened and she flew across the nearest pool table her cue already in motion, aimed for the solar plexus of the nearest man.

Benson gaped in surprise and his progress halted as he watched his cousin blur into motion. His eyes met Lu's and she shrugged as she stepped forward and swung her cue towards another of the drunks that had made his way around to her side.

Benson shook his head trying to clear it as a greasy miscreant stinking of stale beer lunged for him. Benson easily sidestepped the awkward move and his fist crashed down on the side of the man's head sending him reeling.

The room erupted into total chaos with Ash in its vortex. Benson didn't have much time to watch but what he did see scared the hell out of him. He never knew anybody could be that fast. Each one of her moves was economic and flowed one into another without pause. It was a deadly dance, and one Benson was just realizing Ash was very very good at.

He ducked a thrown bottle and leapt across another fallen body to come to rest against the far wall where the crumpled form of the man Ash had been talking to lay. Benson glanced down at him and saw that the man's eyes were as big as saucers and pinned on Ash as he clutched a half empty beer bottle to his chest. Benson knelt down and nudged the guy. "If I were you, I'd take this opportunity to get the hell out of here," Benson suggested. The man's eyes tracked to Benson's face and he visibly swallowed. "Get out of here!" Benson ordered, pushing the frightened man.

The man blinked and then nodded. "Thanks man. I don't want to face that ever again!" He said in a quivering voice pointing towards Ash's whirlwind of destruction.

Benson nodded and sat back on his heels as the man scurried across the room on his knees and ducked out the door. Benson sighed. God I hope I know what the hell I'm doing. His thoughts were interrupted when a drunk fell on him. He angrily shoved the man off and when he tried to get up, conveniently planted his boot on his chest. "Stay there," he growled into the bleeding face of the guy beneath him.

The man held up his hands in surrender and relaxed. Benson nodded and stood, his foot still firmly planted on the guy's chest as he surveyed the wreckage before him. Lu was holding her own across the room cracking heads with her pool cue, and when they got too close planting a foot in whatever body part was convenient. Benson winced as her booted foot connected with a man's groin and he howled in agony before crumpling to the floor holding his crotch.

His eyes were drawn to the center of the room where his cousin was holding deadly court. There were bodies lying around her in a ring and they were either too stupid or too drunk not to stay down. She spun and her foot came up to connect with an unshaven jaw and the man's eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped like a sack of potatoes. She spun without pause to spin her pool cue into another's stomach before pushing off and taking out the man coming up behind her. It was an impressive display of martial arts, but that's not what made Benson's blood run cold-it was that she was laughing the entire time--a wild feral laugh that went right through you slick as a razor. Her eyes were alight with a deadly fire as she reigned down destruction all around her and seemed to be enjoying every minute of it.

Lu cracked her cue over the head of yet another drunken idiot and watch with little emotion as he fell. She leaned back and fought to catch her breath. She hadn't been in a brawl like this in a long time and was irritated at how winded she was. Guess I am getting too old for this shit, she grumbled. She looked up and spotted Ash finishing off the last of the half dozen men that had descended on them. She couldn't help but be impressed by her protégé and the pride at seeing her in action was still there. Too bad it's for the wrong damn reasons. She pushed herself off the wall she had been leaning against and limped towards Ash, wiping the blood from her chin.

Ash stood with her head bowed and her breath was coming in pants as her fists clenched and unclenched at her sides. Lu approached warily not wanting her to turn on her. "Ash?" she asked in a calm voice as she stopped a few feet away.

Ash's head snapped up and blazing blue eyes pinned her. "What?" she growled.

"Nice work," Lu replied nonchalantly as she toed a groaning man at her feet.

Ash blinked and then threw back her head and laughed. Lu grinned and chuckled in relief. She spotted Benson leaning against the wall across the room. He looked like hell but in one piece. She dismissed him and returned her attention to her friend. "Can we get the hell out of here before the cops show up?" she asked Ash pointedly.

"Probably a good idea," Ash replied with a shrug. She stretched and absently tossed the pool cue she had used onto one of the tables. "Let's go."

Lu waved Benson over and he nodded and limped over to them. "We're leaving," Lu said as he came up to her. "There a back way out of here?" she asked Ash starting to feel all the bumps and scrapes now that the adrenaline was wearing off. Sheila is not going to be pleased, she groaned inwardly as she rubbed her aching jaw.

"Isn't there always?" Ash replied cocking an eyebrow before turning on her heel and leading the way.

"You okay, Ben?" Lu asked as she moved to follow Ash.

"Yeah. I think so," Benson replied still a bit dazed.

Lu studied the big man and inwardly cursed herself for bringing him along. He didn't need to see Ash this way, but it was too late now. He'd just have to deal with the reality of his musician cousin being a deadly force of nature. She shook her head with wry amusement.

"I didn't know," Benson murmured.

"What?" Lu asked as they paused, waiting for Ash to give them the all-clear sign.

"I said, I didn't know that Ash could be like that," Benson said shaking his head as if to dislodge the images.

Lu snorted. "Did you really think shit like this didn't happen, Ben? You're not that stupid or naïve. You knew she was a bounty hunter. What the hell did you think she did? Just walked up and politely asked them to come with her?"

Benson shook his head. "I guess I never really thought about it. She never let any of the family see this part of her." Benson stared down the narrow corridor where his cousin had disappeared a troubled look on his face. "Now I think I know why she was so afraid."

"Afraid of what?" Lu asked puzzled.

"Afraid to let anyone close," Benson explained absently rubbing his aching hand. "Why she stayed away for all those years and never once allowed the family to find her. She was afraid they'd see this." He waved his hand for emphasis. "And would stop loving her."

Lu nodded in agreement. "You know her better than you think, my friend. That"-she pointed her thumb down the corridor-"is one woman who is hurting a lot and very unsure of her place with the people she loves."

"But doesn't she understand that we'll love her no matter what?" Benson asked confused by his cousin's attitude. "That our love is unconditional? Why can't she see that?"

"I don't know, Ben." Lu sighed as she peered down the hallway keeping an eye out for Ash's return. "I just know that she's trying to reconcile who she was and who she wants to be." She frowned as she struggled to find the words to explain what she meant. "Sheila is better at this shit," she grumbled under her breath. "I think she's more afraid of who she was taking over who she is. I don't think she realizes that she's the same person inside no matter what."

Benson waved for her to continue when she paused.

"She never took out anyone who didn't deserve it," Lu attempted to explain. "The gentle fun-loving Ash we know and love is still in there even when she's kicking the shit out of some asshole. She just needs to realize that."

"Follow me," Ash said appearing out of nowhere and startling them both.

"You trying to give me a heart attack?" Lu groused glaring at Ash.

Ash shrugged unrepentant and turned to walk back down the hallway. The two friends watched her go for a second before following. Lu glanced at Benson and saw that he was deep in thought. Good, think about what I said, my friend. She's a good person. We just have to make her realize it. Ash waved them through a back door and Lu sighed in relief as the cold rain slapped across her overheated face. That is if we can stop her from doing something really stupid and getting her ass locked up!

Ash led the way across the parking lot, weaving her way through the beat up pickups and cars never looking back to see if they were following. She was completely off balance now that the fight was over and the rage had receded allowing her to think clearly again. My cousin just watched me beat the ever-loving shit out of a roomful of drunks! What the hell is he thinking? She was afraid to turn and meet those blue eyes so like her own. She needed to know, but was terrified of the answer. Well, at least now he'll know why I've been staying away from Lauren. He'll see me for the monster I really am. Her mood spiraled into darkness as she led the way back to where her truck was parked.


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