Sex Disclaimer: It is a f/f however, as usual, the focus is on the relationship and story development, if you’re looking for hot and heavy sex scenes, you won’t find ‘em here. Sorry. :P
Violence Disclaimer: Um… yeah. It’s in there, it’s not too crazy (promise, Scout’s Honor… really).
Language Disclaimer: Yes there are some adult words used and despite my best efforts I doubt any of them are ones you haven’t heard before. I’ll try harder next time. :) I suppose language could also include the whole ‘grammar/spelling’ thing as well. As I didn’t have a beta all mistakes on that front are my own.
Legal Disclaimer: Don’t particularly think I need one here. This is much more an original than an uber fic but,- just in case-, I’ll do the whole ‘please don’t sue me, I’m broke and taking me for all I’m worth would only get you a 6 year old computer, a 4 year old Yorkshire Terrier and 2 roommates who don’t take out the bin.’ Oh, there should be one disclaimer, I use the term ‘batarang’. Mostly, it’s because it’s an easy way for everyone to identify the weapon, ‘cause really, everyone knows what a batarang is. Right? *cough*
Feedback: Is always wanted and appreciated and can be sent on its merry little way to Terias_McKlay@hotmail.com
On with the Show…
"Any ideas as to what exactly I'm supposed to do here?" Mariska asked adjusting the large sunglasses perched atop her nose. She touched her forefinger to the auto adjust on the camera mounted on the glasses hoping to clear up the view for her partner on the other end of the transmission signal.
" I suppose eenie meenine minie mo, isn't what you're looking for?" Her partner asked his hurried typing audible over the radio. Looking at the timer that was far too close to zero for her liking Mariska shook her head.
"Not really, no."
"I'm searching for similar bomb schematics but I can't seem to locate any." Mariska looked around the crowded subway car the other riders' faces masks of fear. Justifiably so, if they didn't find a way to disarm the bomb they were all about to become a tragic headline.
"Try harder," Mariska advised standing and searching for any way to get the bomb off the train without making a kaboom. "One minute." She reminded before approaching one of the train doors. She pulled her knife from her boot sliding it between the doors to wedge them open enough to get her hands in. She pulled the doors apart, willing herself not to look down or consider how very fast they were going or how quickly her life would end if she miscalculated her balance and fell.
Satisfied the doors would remain open she returned to the ticking weapon trying to pick it up. It had taken the two men who were now unconscious on the ground to lift it into the subway car so Mariska was unsurprised when every muscle in her body screamed in protest as she tried to move device.
"You," she said pointing at the biggest man she could see, "come here." He hesitated only for a moment before standing from his seat and coming to her side. "Help me." Mariska looked down at the timer.
They each grabbed a side picking it up by the handles along the top and muscling it over to the door.
She could make out the light at the end of the tunnel now. They weren't far from the bridge that would take them over the nature reserve. The first car of the train cleared the tunnel and Mariska picked up her end of the bomb holding it high off the ground. Her helper did the same waiting for Mariska's cue as to what was next.
Their car cleared the tunnel and Mariska poked her head out the door trying to judge the timing so as not to launch the bomb into one of the bridge's railings instead of out into the sky. She didn't have time to really judge it, it was going to be more an educated guess than anything else.
"On three," she swung the bomb back. "One." It came forward. "Two." It swung back. "Three!" They let go, the bomb sailing through a set of posts and clearing the main girder only to clip on one edge of the support beams and begin to spin wildly as gravity carried it downward.
"Get down!" She yelled tugging the man back and to the floor as a thunderous boom echoed through the car. Mariska winced, even at this distance she could feel the scorching heat through the protection of her leather vest. Satisfied that nothing, save for the bomb, had caught fire or blown up Mariska got to her feet looking around for the culprits of the little debacle. One man was still out cold and tightly hand cuffed to one of the seats. The other had managed to get himself off the ground and was currently barrel assing to the back of the train car.
"He's getting away," Oracle supplied helpfully as the video registered on his end.
"Thanks, your powers of observation are overwhelming," Manska said as she patted her helper on the back before taking off after the would be bomber. She followed after him her long legs quickly eating up the distance between them. She nearly had a gloved hand on the back of his collar when he swung a woman around and into Mariska knocking them both to the ground. Mariska twisted to land on the bottom cushioning the woman's fall with her body.
Satisfied the bystander was uninjured she moved out from beneath her and continued on. There was now a full car between them and Mariska could feel the train begin to slow as they pulled into a station. She would lose him in the rush hour crowd if he made it out of the doors. Determined not to let him get the opportunity she ducked to the side and pulled hard on the emergency stop. The train wheels screamed against the track as they came to an abrupt halt, half the train in the tunnel the other in the station.
The sudden stop had thrown the man to the side and he was slowly picking himself up as Mariska approached. He seemed disoriented and she smirked as she caught sight of the large gash across his forehead. By the time he had his wits about him she already had one cuff around his wrist and the other secured around one of the cars poles.
"You know it's unlawful for anyone but transport personnel to move between cars when the train is in motion, I'm afraid you'll have to be taken into custody." He looked at her in confusion and she gave him a small salute before making her way to the back of the train and sliding out of the car and into the tunnel.
"Exit Oracle," she said eyes scanning the darkness for an easy way to get topside.
"G....S....indi...tunn.." Mariska frowned at the broke response, the heavy stone of the tunnel seemed to be blocking the signal from her partner. She pulled the flashlight from her belt clicking it on and searching for a man door to get out of the tunnel before the TTC or worse, the TPS, figured out she had been on the train.
Local law enforcement had a tendency to get a little testy when she got involved in things. She continued on light sweeping across the dark tunnel and letting out a sigh in relief as she located a maintenance ladder that would take her to the surface. She tucked her flashlight into her vest and began the ascent hearing the voices of the security force as they pushed their way to the back of the train. She took a moment to turn off her flashlight before moving upwards to reach the manhole. As she reached it she hunched over using her shoulder to push the cover up and off. Mariska did a quick check around the dark alley for witnesses before pulling her body out and dusting off her pants.
"Oracle?" She asked over the radio as she tugged the manhole cover back into place.
"I read you Guardian," he said, his voice loud and clear.
"Time check please." Mariska requested as she pulled her backpack from her shoulders and tugged the hood back from her face to shake out long dark hair. The bomb had been an impromptu tip and she'd barely had time to get her soft leather vest on let alone tie her hair back properly. It had been dicey there for a few minutes when the first perp had pulled a pistol on her. She usually patrolled with a Kevlar vest beneath her costume but there simply hadn't been time to gear up properly. Quick reflexes and bad aim on the perps' part had saved her from anything beyond a small nick on her arm.
"Time is 1530," the man said.
"Shit! Midterm in half an hour!" Mariska screamed as she hurriedly pulled her large overshirt from her bag tugging it on over her vest. She had no need to worry about changing her pants, she hadn't even had time to switch from jeans to her leathers. Her favourite pair of jeans had paid the price though, between scorch marks and grease from the ladder they'd had it. Oh well, couldn't win them all.
She tugged sharply on her backpack straps to tighten them and ducked out of the alley heading towards the bus stop. She had a feeling the subway service would be a little slower than usual.
Mariska slid to a stop in front of her classroom quickly tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear before trying to quietly make her way into the room. The door refused to co-operate squeaking as she moved it and announcing her presence to anyone who was at a desk.
"Miss Cooper, how nice of you to join us." Mariska felt a blush creep up her neck as her professor pinned her with icy eyes. He hadn't liked her since she had come late to the first class. It hadn't been her fault, there had been a hold-up at her bank and damned if she was going to let some gun-toting amateur get his paws on her hard earned cash.
"Sorry Professor Marsden," she said.
"Sit," he said coolly tossing a test booklet onto the desk nearest his own. She sighed and obeyed despite her instinctive desire to lash out at being ordered around. She bet no one ever ordered The Claw around . Served her right for having scruples. The bad guys got to have all the fun.
"What've you got for tonight?" Mariska asked in greeting as her partner picked up the phone. She tucked her books under her arm and started the hike to her small apartment from the campus.
"Hello to you too," Oracle said. "Looks as though our friend the police officer will be making a pick up tonight."
"Great, I'll head over shortly." It had taken them nearly four months to track a series of fight clubs to a single person. During that time nearly 20 young men and women had disappeared from the streets. Mariska knew the numbers were likely higher, it was easy for street kids to slip through the cracks.
By the time she reached the warehouse that housed the equipment the sun had already begun to set. She tugged her sunglasses from her face and approached the scanner using her palm print to gain access to the entry way.
"Lucas?" She called out her voice echoing across the large warehouse.
"In here." Mariska headed downstairs for the computer room tempted to put her hand up to her eyes to shield them. Lucas generally had so many screens going it was like looking at a solar flare.
"Where's the pick-up?" She asked sidling up next to her partner in crime fighting.
"West end, near Queen and Landsdowne," he answered highlighting the area with his cursor.
"Guess the phone tap finally got us somewhere," she said as she headed over to her gear to get ready. There were various modifications of her costume, some meant to be hidden under her street clothes, other, more durable ones, to be worn when she went out looking for trouble. She wore no mask, only a pair of wrap around sunglasses that were equipped with sound and video to keep Lucas in the loop.
He had been out of the field for almost a year now, and she knew he was still trying to come to terms with the fact that, while he was still in the war, he couldn't be on the front lines. They were both still trying to adjust to being a two person team.
Mariska pulled on her Kevlar vest the protective armour fitting snugly around a trim midsection. Next was her pistol, rarely used but always present and tightly slung at her shoulder. Her utility belt sat low on her hips straps clipped around her legs to prevent too much motion. Within the belt was a built in flashlight for a belt buckle, first aid material, a few smoke bombs and her batarangs along with a small police scanner that transmitted through her earpiece.
"You'll need to move quickly, the drop off isn't too long from now," Lucas advised walking over to her and handing her the newly modified grappling gun. He had increased the tensile hold of the wire and upped the carrying capacity of the gears after a close call involving her, a damsel in distress and a very high rise.
"Be careful with this, the new trigger is pretty touchy, make sure the safety is on." Mariska nodded tucking the gun in the holster on her leg and strapping it in. She tried not to use it too much, putting the grapple into anything from a weak brick or slightly rusted piece of metal could have her plunging to her death before the retractor would pull in the cable and let her fire again. Lucas had broken his ankle a couple of years back using their first modification when he'd pulled the grapple out and the retractor had jammed.
They'd had a couple of those types of incidents in the beginning, though they were getting better about it. Their current equipment had been put through the rigors of patrol and all of it seemed to be holding up, more or less.
They were another matter.
She had all but lost feeling in her right calf where an errant knife had slit her open. Her left ear drum had been blown out twice, once with a concussion grenade that had gone off prematurely and again when she had been struggling for a gun that had gone off next to her head.
Lucas, well Lucas hadn't done so hot either. One night of mayhem had ended his field career when he'd taken a shotgun to his knees. He was walking with a cane now, after nearly eight months in a wheelchair, but that had officially been the end of his old crime-fighting persona.
And Lisa. They didn't talk about Lisa. Ever.
Mariska shrugged off the memory getting her head back in the game. They had a job to do. She tucked her snap out baton into its place on her leg and pulled her hood up to hide her face.
"Here," Lucas reached around her neck putting a throat mic into place and attaching it to her sunglasses. "I've upped the signal strength, there's going to be a lot of interference if you're in the bottom set of tunnels," She gave him a thumbs up and headed for the door that would lead into the sewers. It wasn't her preferred method of travel, she had gotten a taste for the skies with their new paragliding gear. But sometimes the old ways were the best ways.
"Alright, let's get this show on the road," Mariska said as she walked into the sewer access and threw her leg over the four by four. The trade site wasn't far from their Lakeshore warehouse and with the quad she made it to the alley with time to spare.
"I'm onsite Oracle," she said as she settled herself on a rooftop and waited for the arrival of the cop.
"Copy that Guardian, he's just confirmed the meet, should be there in five or so." Mariska nodded and settled in glad summer was still keeping its grip on the city. Stake outs in winter sucked beyond all recognition.
"Looks like the party's starting," Mariska said as she turned her head and focused the mini-cam on an approaching van.
"No sign of the good detective?" He asked.
"Negative," Mariska shifted in place as she watched two teenagers pulled from the van. They were scruffy looking boys blind folded and bound. The men in charge were well built stocky thugs and Mariska could see the distinct bulge of a pistol at the hip of each one. She could take them down. A couple of well paced batarangs and a dropkick from three stories up would sort the immediate problem out.
Unfortunately, they needed the trade to go through so she could track the cop to the underground arena. No matter really, chances were the guys would pop up on her radar again soon enough.
"Got anything yet?" Mariska asked.
"Not yet, facial recognition bots are still working. No sign of our friend?" Mariska was going to reply in the negative but stopped short as a second car pulled into the alley.
"Looks like he just showed up, going stealth," She unholstered her grappling gun securing the line around the step of the fire escape on the opposite side of the building and lowering herself down before heading around the building for the trade site. Mariska pulled a tracer from her belt and moved quietly to the back of the cop's car securing the device in place and pressing the button to activate it.
"Can you get into his car?" Lucas asked. Mariska ducked low sliding along the driver's side ever mindful of the position of the others. She gently pulled on the door handle cursing quietly under her breath when she found it locked.
"Negative, it's locked and I don't have time to get in."
"So much for downloading his GPS history." Lucas said. Mariska nodded. "Alright, can you get a tracker on the other vehicle?"
"Yeah, I think so," Mariska said making her way to a dumpster where she tucked herself behind a set of garbage cans. She watched as the head thug shook hands with the cop and motioned for the other two to guide the hostages to the back of the car. While they kept themselves occupied exchanging money she moved along the wall in the shadows heading for the back of the van. She tucked a tracer into the undercarriage and pulled out her grappling gun waiting until she was around the corner before pulling the trigger and allowing it to pull her to the roof.
She watched as the cop car turned the corner and headed into the city streets.
"He's going South."
"Roger that." She took off along the edge of the building following behind the car. Frequent stops at the traffic lights allowed her to keep the vehicle within sight and she jumped from her building as the police car turned a corner.
She grasped the lamp pole as she fell wrapping her arms around it and sliding quickly to the ground. She was unable to keep pace as the lights turned green and forewent the road opting instead to duck into Highpark.
"You don't even know if he's going to go West," Oracle argued over the comms.
"Traffic on the Gardiner at this time is insane. He has to go West if he doesn't want to sit in downtown for 45 minutes with two hostages in his back seat." Mariska said grunting as her boot slid in the soft dirt as she cut across the center of the large park.
One of the maintenance trucks passed her at a crossway and she reached out grabbing onto his bumper and tucking herself behind the tailgate.
"He's going to beat you to Lakeshore."
"No he's not," she let herself off near the Zen ponds her feet hitting the pavement at stride and carrying her towards Lakeshore Boulevard. She pumped her arms breath coming in a deep steady cadence as she put on what was left of her speed running up the concrete slope that separated the park from the busy traffic.
"His speed is constant, he's not stopping anywhere near St. Joe's."
"Shit," she waited for the car to pass before sprinting across the highway and unhooking her grappling gun using it to pull herself up to the street car platform. The train sped past her and she jumped for the back step digging her hands between the cracks of the door to hold on to the train as it moved.
"Oracle I'm going to lose visual."
"You've got about two clicks before you lose audio as well, you're moving beyond our short range capability."
"Damn it," she reached up climbing to the top of the train and running low on the roof towards the front of the train. She pulled her binos out searching for the unmarked police car.
There, making a left turn into an apartment complex. She tucked the binos into her vest and took aim at an approaching street lamp with her grappling gun. She fired letting out a small grunt as it caught and she jumped from the train swinging herself toward the building.
She hit the ground at a run dodging a passing car and slipping into the underground parking lot.
"Guardian, anything?" Mariska sighed as she caught sight of the police car. The empty police car.
"Um, Oracle, you're not going to like this."
Mariska threw herself onto her bed reaching over to grab her pillow and holding it against her face before letting out a deep yell. It wasn't bad enough she had lost the cop and the kids. She'd spent another hour backtracking and chasing down the van involved only to find out those fuckers had switched cars as well. She hadn't seen the swap and despite two tracking devices and hours of work they were still empty handed.
Lucas hadn't been impressed.
Neither had she. At least they had visuals of the thugs who were nabbing the kids. They could hopefully get an ID from the police files and trace them back to a particular organization. To make matters worse she had to work the evening shift tomorrow. There coming in a deep steady cadence as she put on what was left of her speed running up the concrete slope that separated the park from the busy traffic.
"His speed is constant, he's not stopping anywhere near St. Joe's."
"Shit," she waited for the car to pass before sprinting across the highway and unhooking her grappling gun using it to pull herself up to the street car platform. The train sped past her and she jumped for the back step digging her hands between the cracks of the door to hold on to the train as it moved.
"Oracle I'm going to lose visual."
"You've got about two clicks before you lose audio as well, you're moving beyond our short range capability."
"Damn it," she reached up climbing to the top of the train and running low on the roof towards the front of the train. She pulled her binos out searching for the unmarked police car.
There, making a left turn into an apartment complex. She tucked the binos into her vest and took aim at an approaching street lamp with her grappling gun. She fired letting out a small grunt as it caught and she jumped from the train swinging herself toward the building.
She hit the ground at a run dodging a passing car and slipping into the underground parking lot.
"Guardian, anything?" Mariska sighed as she caught sight of the police car. The empty police car.
"Urn, Oracle, you're not going to like this."
Mariska threw herself onto her bed reaching over to grab her pillow and holding it against her face before letting out a deep yell. It wasn't bad enough she had lost the cop and the kids. She'd spent another hour backtracking and chasing down the van involved only to find out those fuckers had switched cars as well. She hadn't seen the swap and despite two tracking devices and hours of work they were still empty handed.
Lucas hadn't been impressed.
Neither had she. At least they had visuals of the thugs who were nabbing the kids. They could hopefully get an ID from the police files and trace them back to a particular organization. To make matters worse she had to work the evening shift tomorrow. There would be no chance to patrol or try to pick up the trail of the missing street kids. She was beginning to get frustrated.
"Stop getting so frustrated, they're just kids," Alisha said rubbing Mariska's arm soothingly.
"They're not just kids," Mariska argued. "They're demonic hell spawn," she concluded eyes falling on the large birthday party that had her swimming in teenagers.
The popular waterfront area was a hot spot for the older teenage set. The ones who were all attitude. Mariska hadn't felt such a strong need to hit something since the time she'd been run down by some henchmen on a moped. Talk about the epitome of embarrassing. And now the goddamn brats were making all kinds of noise disturbing the other customers and aggravating a headache that was threatening to turn into a full blown migraine. It was about time to start laying some smack down.
"I'm going to try one more time to get their order and then I'm gonna start bouncing people," she said tucking her notepad into the waistband of her jeans and walking towards the rowdy group.
She stood at the table waiting for one of them to shut the hell up finally crossing her arms and staring at the boardwalk as she waited. She could see a young couple walking hand in hand and felt a dull ache in her chest. She missed that, missed the holding hands, the doe-eyed looks. All of it.
After Lisa things had never been the same. She had tried to date again, mostly at Lucas' insistence. It hadn't ever worked. Her mind had inevitably compared the women to what she had once had and everyone had come up lacking in her eyes. Pulling herself out of her morose thoughts Mariska tried to put her mind back in the present. What was done was done. They had all known the risks when they had taken on the job. Knew the possible consequences.
"Hey!" Mariska's hand instinctively went down grabbing onto the questing fingers tightly before they could reach their target. "Your hands touch my ass you better make it good 'cause it's the last thing they'll ever have the privilege to feel," she warned tossing the hand to the side.
The teen looked at her wide eyed before sitting back in his chair and placing his hands in his lap.
"Are you ordering or am I tossing you all out of here?" She asked pinning the teens with her coldest stare. She had almost made a Mafioso cry with that stare. These kids didn't stand a chance. They all quieted down demurely picking up their previously ignored menus. "You have 60 seconds." She couldn't believe she wasn't much older than these kids. Four years made a difference sure, but the gap between her and them seemed almost like a canyon. It was beginning to seem that way with people in her own age group as well. Sighing Mariska turned to the table. The boy who had made a grab for her seemed to have taken her sigh as further impatience and was quick to nod at her to tell her he was ready.
Mariska tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear, the hot afternoon sun making her wish she had gone though with her attempt to cut it.
"What do you want?" She wrote down his order and moved onto his friend only half listening as her ears perked up at the sound of police sirens. There was no sound of fire trucks though if she concentrated she could hear the helicopters. The sound of sirens came closer and her concentration was totally taken at the sound of glass and metal meeting concrete. Someone had hit the murals in the parking lot.
Two men with guns shot past the patio heading for the boardwalk. She had no idea where they thought they were going, it dead ended 300 feet into the water, they were about to trap themselves. And her without her costume. Four uniforms were on their heels and looked to be keeping up well enough.
"Shut up," she ordered watching as the thug shouldered past a couple. The man pitched forward and attempted to find his balance time seeming to slow as the toddler on his shoulders went forward and over the edge of the railing.
"Shit," she dropped her pad hopping onto the long table and running the length of it. She jumped onto the boardwalk and began to sprint. The couple were frantically trying to figure a way into the water where the boy had gone in, it was a good fifty feet down. The man was climbing onto the railing when Mariska shot past him using a bench as a start point to get up and over the barrier.
She put her body into a dive hands slicing through the water as she hit clearing the path for the rest of her body. She opened her eyes in the murky water catching sight of a frantically moving boy who couldn't seem to fight his way up. Baggy jeans now soaked with water were too heavy to let him get any kind of lift and Mariska kicked down to him reaching out to him and taking a small hand in her larger one.
She pulled him to her chest and began to kick upwards the lack of oxygen already making her lungs burn. Her own clothing wasn't swimming friendly either. The sheer top and the slip underneath weren't a problem but the heavy leather boots and jeans made every kick a trial as she swam towards daylight.
Mariska surfaced with a sputter treading water as she brushed off the boy's face clearing the wet hair out of his eyes."It's okay buddy, I've got you," she promised. She paddled to the nearest ladder holding tight to the back of his coveralls as she pulled them to safety. He wrapped his arms around her neck and his legs around her waist as she began to climb the ladder, a small head tucked into her shoulder.
"You're alright, your mom's coming," Mariska said quietly repeating the words of assurance as she ascended the ladder. As she neared the top she could see the standoff between the police and the criminals through the slats of the boardwalk. The men were backed against the edge of the railing guns pointed at the four officers as police helicopters passed over head.
No way she could just throw the kid onto walkway, stray bullets would be flying everywhere shortly. It seemed most everyone else had cleared the pier, that made things a little easier. She rested the boy against her chest reaching for one of the support beams under the pier itself throwing her legs up to wrap around for extra support before pulling her body towards the edge of the pier. She spared a quick look down noting there were a number of pier supports to hit before she would reach the water a good fifty feet beneath them.
Falling was out then.
Holding tighter to the support beams she continued her spider walk to the edge. She could see the bottom of the feet of the police now. Almost there. The boy let out a sniffle and she quietly shushed him as they reached the edge. Maneuvering carefully Mariska tucked him in between two support beams instructing him to hold tight.
Wrapping her legs tightly around the beam she let go to free her hands and unbuckled her belt. She tugged the leather from her waist and put it in her mouth before reaching up for the bottom edge of the pier. Her abs protested as she pulled herself up and took hold of the edge with her hands. She could see the backs of the criminals calves now and 20 feet from that the knees of the officers.
She had only one chance, she hoped to hell it worked out. She let go with one hand and threw her belt forward buckle first. She angled the toss and the buckle came back towards her as the belt wrapped around one man's ankle. Letting go with her other hand she grabbed the buckle end allowing her body to drop and pulling the criminal off his feet as she went. She heard the dull thud as he landed almost simultaneous with the sounds of two gunshots. She dropped her belt reaching for the support beams and keeping herself from going into the water. The second criminal had been hit by an officer, Mariska could see his downed body through the spaces on the walkway and blood was trickling through the slats of the boards.
Satisfied no further help was needed she reached out for the boy and swung them back to the ladder. She climbed quickly hoping to avoid being seen as she hurriedly walked the boy to his frantic parents and disappeared into the crowd.
"That was stupid."
"Anyone could've seen you."
"You put everything at risk if our identities are discovered..."
"I know goddamn it!" Mariska screamed. "What was I supposed to do, let the kid drown? Let some cops get shot up in the middle of the street? There were bystanders everywhere, people would've gotten killed."
"You don't think someone you worked with noticed you? Saw what you did?"
"What does it matter? Everything they have on me is fake anyway, my name, my address..."
"They know your face, that's more than enough to start with."
"Assuming anyone even links me to the pier."
"Someone will Mariska, that's the point. There is always someone out there trying to take us down."
"I don't need your goddamn lectures Lucas, I've been in this game just as long as you have."
"Then start acting like it." She narrowed her eyes at the man before finally throwing up her hands and walking out of the den of his small apartment.
"I'm going home," she declared pulling her purse from the counter.
"There are sacrifices that have to be made to protect who we are Mariska. We can't help anyone if we're dead or in jail."
"And when that sacrifice is something like losing a shoplifter or waiting a day to grab some piss ant drug dealer you can come and talk to me. When it's the life of a child and four men who put themselves on the line to protect this city you don't get to make that call," she retorted pulling the door open. "I think you need to revisit why it was we do what we do Lucas. It's not about catching the criminals, it's about the people we help, if you've lost that, you shouldn't be in this game anymore." She closed the door leaving a silent Lucas in her wake.
"Can I get another?" Mariska asked holding up her bottle for the bartender to see. He nodded and turned to get her drink while Mariska looked over the bar. Calling it seedy would have been a compliment. The felt of the pool table was burned with cigarettes and the stools surrounding it looked barely stable enough to support a child let alone the weight of a grown man.
"Here ya go," she handed him money in return for the beer waving off the change as she sat deeper on her stool leaning against the bar surveying the patrons.
Her attention was mostly focused on a lone redhead across the bar whom seemed to have no interest in the patrons as she kept her head down in a book. The others had certainly noticed her, one group of young men seemed to be particularly interested and were cajoling one of their group to go to her table.
"I've got a feeling that's a bad idea," Mariska said quietly before taking another pull from her beer. One of the men finally stood up and walked over thumbs hitched in the pockets of his jeans. Mariska watched as he invited himself to sit down leaning forward into the woman's space. The redhead immediately sat back leveling a cool glare at him that very nearly made Mariska wince in sympathy. She had seen some nasty looks in her day, that woman definitely had the 'don't fuck with me' one down pat.
The boy seemed to be feeling no pain though and sat further forward to minimize the space between him and the woman. The redhead said something to him that finally made him rethink his idea and he stood from the table looking ego bruised and a little angry. Couple that with booze and Mariska bet something stupid was bound to happen.
The redhead stood closing her book and finishing the last of her drink with a zealous gulp. She left her table collecting her light coat from the chair as she went. The woman, maybe in her early thirties, gave a slight nod to the bartender as she left. Her eyes met Mariska's briefly and the brunette was startled by the near current that seemed to pass through her from the redhead's gaze.
She shrugged off the odd feeling getting her head back in the game as she saw two of the men leave after the woman each holding cigarettes in their hands. Mariska eyed them suspiciously, they hadn't gone out to smoke all night and she didn't see a lighter between the two of them. She put her beer bottle on the counter and followed after them her hand instinctively going to her shirt. She had her spandex costume underneath and as she left the bar she scanned the area for the redhead and the two young men. She could see them all, not far off, the woman was headed for the subway the men close enough on her heels to be threatening but not outright assaultive yet.
Mariska gave a glance around before quickly ducking into an alley and pulling her street clothes off. She tucked them behind a dumpster and reached for her neck releasing the snaps that held her hood in folded position. She tugged the hood up to cover her face and tied the built in mask around her eyes as she ran to close the distance between herself and the trio.
By the time she had arrived the men had cornered their quarry pushing the woman against a glass store front.
"Excuse me gentlemen, I don't believe the lady is interested," Mariska said her hand reaching back for a batarang. Before the first could move she let the weapon fly easily knocking the knife from the firsts' hand. On its return trip the weapon neatly clipped him in the back of the head knocking him to the ground. Mariska calmly stepped over his unconscious form eyes focused on his partner.
"Who are you?" He asked hands shaking as he began to back away from her.
"Oh c'mon now," Mariska said treating him to a feral smile. "I think you already know the answer to that," she flashed her batarang at him the dark symbol flashing against the white metal identifying her. It wasn't as though there were any other costumed crime fighters running around the city. Her reputation really did precede her.
"We didn't mean nothin' just trying to scare her a bit is all. She shouldna been so rude." Mariska rolled her eyes taking another step forward and putting the bulk of her body between the man and the redhead.
"Bad manners or no, you don't get the right to scare anyone, least of all with knives," she said flicking her wrist and releasing the batarang. The small projectile knocking the weapon from his hand and tt landed on the cement with a soft clang. He looked at her in shock evidently unaware she had seen him reach for it. Idiots. It was hard to actually teach them a lesson when they were thick as fucking bricks. Thus disarmed he did all he could think to do.
Mariska reached into her pocket pulling out her weights on a rope. She swung it twice over her head before letting it fly aiming it at his knees. The weapon connected with his ankles the momentum of the weights swinging them around and wrapping the rope around his legs. He fell hard against the cement and didn't get up.
Satisfied he wouldn't be going anywhere for the moment Mariska turned to the would be victim. She still wore the same self assured look as though she hadn't just been threatened by two over zealous punks. If only they could all be so centered.
"Are you alright Miss?" Mariska asked bending down to retrieve the woman's bok that had fallen to the ground in the fray. "Nietzche? Interesting choice for a Friday night."
"We all have our quirks," the woman said. "Some of us read in seedy bars, others dress up like trick or treaters and indulge in their hero complex." Mariska's eyes widened and she turned to watch as the woman brushed past her and walked off into the night.
"Huh, how do you like that?"
Mariska yawned as she waited for the Starbuck's line to move forward. The one downside, -okay not the only one but currently the most notable-, to being a masked vigilante was the double duty work day. She had waitressed until nearly midnight and then patrolled until four am. All before an eight thirty class of course. She was going to need a caffeine IV if she pulled many more of these kinds of days.
"Hey lady, let's go, you mind?" Mariska raised an eyebrow turning back to glare at the man before taking a deliberately slow step forward. It wasn't smart to start shit with her before she was properly caffeinated. People would get hurt.
"What can I get for you?" Mariska gave her order, far more caffeine than was likely healthy, and began to search her purse for her wallet. Pen, cover-up, loose change, batarang... She heard a deep sigh behind her and turned to face the man full on a hand on the batarang in her bag.
"I've got it." Mariska looked up in surprise. "Put a latte on there as well."
"I, uh, thank you," Mariska said looking at the woman.
"No need," she said waving it off. "I was shamelessly using you to jump line, it's worth a couple extra bucks." Mariska smiled even while her mind was working overdrive to identify how she knew the woman. She was certain she had seen her before.
"I think our order's ready."
"Huh, oh right," Mariska turned away to grab her drinks quickly throwing back the Espresso before taking her cappuccino and handing the woman's latte to her.
"I'm Mariska by the way."
"Alana," the woman said over her shoulder as she weaved through the crowded tables to the sole unoccupied one. Mariska spotted a yuppie looking couple eyeing it before suddenly veering off. Mariska looked over at Alana curiously when she caught the redhead's stare. She knew that stare. The woman from the bar.
"Son of a..." She stopped herself before she could complete the curse. Alana looked at her curiously. "Spilled some." Mariska said in way of explanation sitting at the table as Alana motioned her down. The redhead certainly looked different in the business suit with her hair down. The curly locks made her jaw look less severe though the crisp line of the suit didn't leave her without any sharp edges.
"Thanks again," Mariska said raising her coffee in thanks and trying to remember this woman had been rude to the Guardian, not to her. Not everyone appreciated the job she did and she accepted that the line she straddled between justice and her own criminality was a fine one. If she didn't know how to classify herself how could anyone else?
"No problem, always willing to help out a woman in need." Mariska had to consciously fight not to suck in a mouthful of hot cappuccino. The irony of that statement could have killed her. Surely this woman had no idea who she was actually talking to.
"I'm a divorce lawyer," Alana stated. "I usually find myself under a woman's employ. Men seem to get nervous when telling a woman about how many affairs they've had outside their marriage."
"If you stare them down the way you did them," Mariska motioned to the now milling couple, "I think I can understand why." The redhead merely shrugged sitting back in her seat.
"I get what I want, it's why I'm a good lawyer." Mariska raised an eyebrow but didn't refute the statement. She had a feeling the woman did usually manage to get what she wanted. And if not, that hell really had no fury quite like the woman in front of her. It was slightly unsettling and a little intriguing at the same time. Were personalities like that natural or fostered by circumstances?
"Like today I suppose," Mariska said taking a sip from her coffee. "You wanted your caffeine earlier so you swooped in to save me from my lack of change?" She asked quirking her lips slightly. Alana returned the smile with one of her own and Mariska was surprised by the transformation. The stern face went from slightly intimidating to undeniably attractive in a split second.
"Hardly, I wanted your phone number, the coffee was my convenient segue. My next tactic was bumping into you on the way out the door." Mariska smiled at the woman's bluntness, where it had irked her last Friday it was rather appealing in the light of day. Women with confidence tended to be a turn on.
"Oh really?" The brunette asked gray eyes taking in the lightly freckled face. "And you're a woman who always gets what she wants?"
"That's correct," Alana said taking another sip from her coffee looking over the rim at Mariska as she drank.
"Hmm," Mariska found herself intrigued by the woman despite herself. "Well in the interest of keeping your track record intact I guess I'll have to give it you."
"Good choice," Alana said with a satisfied smirk reaching into her purse for a pen and paper.
"I've got one," Mariska said reaching into her bag hands coming across the soft leather of her wallet. "Huh, weird," she said pulling it from her bag. "I could've sworn..." she shook her head, she really was useless before coffee it seemed. She put the wallet back in pulling a pen and piece of note paper out. "Since you bought coffee how about I buy next time?" Mariska asked handing the paper to the woman across from her.
"It's a date," Alana said with a smile as she stood. "I'm sorry, I've got to run," Mariska looked at her own watch wincing at the time.
"Yeah me too," Mariska said throwing her purse over her shoulder.
"I'll talk to you soon." Mariska waved taking off to the opposite side of the coffee house and heading off to class.
"Look, I don't care if you have to hire a hooker to take him to bed, I need proof of infidelity to nullify the pre-nup, get it. That's what I pay you for." Alana hung up the phone running a hand through red hair.
What a shitty day.
Things had started out well enough, she'd met the girl from the bar in the coffee shop. She'd seen the athletic brunette eye her all night on Friday and had decided it was time to approach when those idiots had sent one of their friends over to harass her. After that Alana had been in no mood to play the game even with someone as attractive as Mariska happened to be.
She sighed and rolled her eyes looking out over the Toronto skyline and towards the lake. The morons had followed her out of the bar with ill deeds on their minds. By that time she had been itching for a fight and had baited them in close enough to start doing damage when that damned woman had shown up.
Alana snorted aloud at the memory. The little hero had dispatched the delinquents easily enough. Not that they had been much more than annoying children but she was willing to give credit were credit was due. The Guardian had been around for some time and one didn't survive long in that line of work without being either extremely good or extremely lucky. Perhaps both.
At any rate, the woman had looked at her like a dog begging for a treat. A thank-you. An acknowledgement of a job well done. Alana hated beggars. Couple that with her irritation at being denied a good round of fisticuffs and her demeanor with the Guardian had be been less than friendly.
When she had seen Mariska this morning her mood had been much improved though now she didn't have the luxury of a bar line as a cover. Unwilling to let the opportunity to talk to the young woman slip by again she resorted to something she had given up years ago. Pick pocketing. She had slipped Mariska's wallet from her purse while the woman had been in her early morning haze. It had been easy, as though she had never left off it as a teen. After paying for the coffee she had quickly dropped it into the open bag and led the woman to an empty table. She'd had to use the glare she usually reserved for legal opponents and underlings but had gotten them a table. And a phone number.
That had been the highlight of her day.
Two cases she had expected to settle were going to the court. It meant more hours to bill but she hadn't counted on the extra load and she had spent half the day trying to renegotiate so she didn't spend the next six months arguing custody of a crab apple tree to a judge. Honestly, why she chose law, and divorce court no less, over any other day job she could have had she really didn't know.
She was smart enough to have done anything really. Medical school, research, business, it wasn't really about the money, more about the air of respectability, the appearance of it. She supposed she could never truly be respectable. She didn't have the breeding or background for that type of thing. But appearances meant a lot and so, when she had needed a front to hide her more dubious business practices, she had chosen law. She would have tried criminal law except she hadn't wanted to end up defending anyone she knew. Too much potential for things to backfire.
Divorce court was better. Except today. Sighing she stood from the dark cherry desk ignoring the suit jacket on her chair as she headed out of her 16lh floor corner office to grab a cup of coffee. She had sent her assistant home hours ago. Unlike most of her colleagues she actually treated her staff as humans. It kept them happy and productive or at least more or less doing their jobs. Her peers couldn't say the same.
Her cell beeped as she was pouring and she reached for it flipping open the small mobile.
"Yes?" she asked returning the coffee pot and reaching for the sugar. It wasn't Starbucks but she drank worse. Regularly.
"The shipment has arrived."
"Good, start unloading, I'll be there shortly." She said snapping the phone closed and taking a deep sip of her coffee.
Alana tugged her red leather coat tighter around her as she surveyed the docks. Even in the summer it tended to get chilly by the lake. The men were moving quickly to the unload the drug shipment, they had only a few hours before sunrise.
Alana wasn't a dealer, point of fact, she hated drugs. They were just an excuse for fuck-ups. A reason and a way to run from the 'not so' niceties of life. They were a weakness. If they weren't worth so much money she would have nothing to do with them.
But, she was nothing if not a realistic capitalist. The drugs would find their way into the country one way or another, better the money was in her pocket than someone else's. Her company transported the goods from point A to point B, eliminating some of the risk on the supplier's end. The risk paid well.
Her money man had just informed her that the payment had been transferred to her account. Now she could concentrate on her own end of things. The money would be moved shortly to an offshore account in payment for a shipment of guns. The Columbian government had massacred a few rebel settlements and now had to get the guns out of the country. She was getting the weapons at rock bottom price.
Alana shook her head, the Columbian rebels paid her to transport the cocaine which they sold to buy weaponry to fight the government. The Columbian government in conjunction with their American comrades fought the rebels to get hold of the drugs and sell them to their own distributors covering up their actions by farming out the evidence to gun runners to get it out of the country. Alana sold the guns back to the rebels at just under market value with the contingent that they use her as their mode of transporting the drugs across international waters. The place was a goddamn gold mine. The 'War on Drugs' was the best thing to happen Alana and her company.
On a less global scale, the shipment in front of her meant being able to pay her people, nothing extravagant, for most of them this was secondary income. A way to buy the extra toy at Christmas or be just a little ahead on rent next month. She was sometime curious how they justified their actions to themselves. Presumably some of them felt some sort of guilt for their illegal actions.
She had long ago accepted who and what she was. Society's ideas of justice and law had never been her own. She had never attached herself to the plebian moralistic code. Her concern was ultimately herself and, as she had told Mariska, getting what she wanted. Whatever the means.
Alana pulled out her phone dialing the young woman's number. It was picked up on the second ring by a surprisingly alert Mariska, it was nearly two am.
"Don't you sleep?" Alana asked in greeting.
"University students never sleep or do you not remember those days counselor?" Alana let out a quiet laugh.
"I was calling to book supper."
"At two in the morning? Don't you sleep?"
"A lawyer never sleeps, or haven't you watched Law and Order?" Alana bantered back wincing as a crate came loose of a crane and began to tip. Men began to shout and she covered the mouthpiece with a red gloved hand to prevent Mariska from hearing.
"That's right, you must be busy saving more damsels in distress." Alana smirked, at least this one had a sense of humour.
"Something like that," Alana replied motioning sharply with her hand to an approaching dock worker. He stopped in his tracks mouth shutting as he waited for her. "Listen I've got to go, I'm waist deep in work," she said looking at the crates surrounding her. "When would you like to go to supper?"
"I'm free on Thursday, say around sevenish."
"Seven on Thursday it is, I'll make some reservations and give you a call on Wednesday."
"Okay, goodnight Alana."
"G'night Mariska," Alana closed the phone adjusting her mask before signaling the dockworker forward.
"Stella," he held out the manifest. "We're missing two crates." She sighed taking the clipboard from him and scanning the document. The cargo had been accounted for at the initial pick-up. Somewhere between Columbia and Toronto it had gone missing. Likely at one of the transfers. Cuba probably.
"Get the men working in Cargo B."
"Yes Stella." She rolled her eyes as he turned on his heel and headed toward the ship. Her name wasn't actually Stella, it was the name of the organization she headed. Special Tactics Extraction and Location of Lost Artefacts. STELLA. Somehow she had become the embodiment of the name. If she had known that was going to happen she would have come up with a better name. Honestly. Stella. It was horrible.
"Oh vice thy name is vanity." She muttered as she watched her men approach. Her hand rested comfortably on the silver plated Glock strapped to her leg as the men came within shouting range. Her costume was nearly a red parody of the Guardian's. She hadn't planned it that way, she had been using this incarnation of her costume for nearly three years before she had come to Toronto just over a year ago. It was her way of ensuring her anonymity, a front company, a mask, her shields between herself and a world, specifically a woman, that wanted to bring her down.
She doubted word of her arrival had actually spread through the city. She was always careful about how hands on she was with the day to day operations. It was much easier to maneuver around people who didn't know you were there. By the time the police forces knew STELLA was in the city their operations had vanished.
"Gentlemen, it's come to my attention that we're missing some cargo. Explain." One man shrugged at her. Actually shrugged.As though he had misplaced a crayon and not three million dollars worth of cocaine. Evidently they had forgotten who they worked for. She had been too hands off.
"This," she mimicked his shrug. "Is not an appropriate answer." She pulled her pistol from her holster putting a round into his knee. "You." She turned to the next man.
"It wasn't us boss, damn Cubans, pulled two crates for 'taxes'," he answered looking down shakily at his moaning partner. She cursed under her breath.
"Get him and go," she ordered pointing with her pistol to the bleeding man. The manifest guy gave her a curious look.
"I thought the Cubans had been paid," he said. Alana growled low in her throat putting on the safety and holstering her pistol before she gave into her urge to go postal on her dockworker. They Cubans had been paid. Either they had raised prices without warning or some meathead had decided to get stupid and take off the top. She pulled out her untraceable phone punching in numbers.
"Get me Ferrero," she ordered the young woman who had picked up the phone. She heard soft words and a disgruntled groan before the phone exchanged hands.
"What?" The man asked in heavily accented English.
"If you don't get me those crates and I mean now I'm going to fly down there and personally put a shotgun against your nuts. No ai'guments, no excuses, I don't see them north of the 49l by sundown tomorrow I will end your piss ant operation." She snapped the phone closed and tucked it into her vest.
"Is Ferrero the one who took them?" The man asked looking at Alana's masked visage.
"I have no idea but my guess is he's not he'll find out who is. It's all about motivation."
"I have no motivation for grad school at this point," Mariska said as she speared a piece of steak with her fork. "My undergrad was more than enough for now."
"And what do you plan to do with your degree?" Alana asked raising her eyebrow.
"I'm not certain yet, with a business degree I can do any number of things, work in an office or start up a store or a bar, I can do most of the accounting myself and I have a friend who's a whiz with computers."
"A bar?" Mariska nodded.
"I like the atmosphere of bars, there's something alluring about dark rooms and heavy beats," Alana looked intrigued at the answer but asked no further questions.
"So how about yourself, how did you get into law?" Alana waved her fork dismissively.
"Oh you know, too many criminal dramas, not enough ER." She said. "Can't forget my ego, it was law or surgery and I don't have the taste for digging around in someone's chest cavity." Mariska smirked wryly before taking a sip of her wine.
"You certain you're old enough to drink that?" Alana teased drawing a slight blush from Mariska.
"Yes, thank you, are you certain you can handle being up this late?" The grin that met her bordered on predatory.
"Believe me, I can handle being up a lot later than this," Alana promised taking a sip from her own wine.
"I think at some point we should test that theory."
"So theoretically, given his GPS records from our tracker you can isolate the areas that he might be using as fight clubs?" Mariska asked, butt parked on the edge of the desk as she faced Lucas. He massaged ointment into his knee as he nodded.
"Yes, I've narrowed it to three possibilities. And there was another abduction reported this morning."
"Fight night?" Mariska asked her partner who nodded.. No wonder Lucas had 911ed her away from her date. Alana hadn't seemed to mind stating she had mountains of work to do at any rate. They had set another date and Mariska smiled at the memory of the nearly shy kiss Alana had given her. If the redhead projected anything it had certainly never been bashfulness. It had been quite endearing.
"Hello?" Mariska started from her daydream and looked down at Lucas.
"Sorry, you were saying?"
"How much wine did you have?" I'm not sending you in the field if..."
"I'm fine," she said holding up a hand to stop his lecture. "And for the record you're not the one who gets to make that call." She said pushing off the desk to gear up. Once she was suited up, foregoing the long leather jacket for her usual blue leather vest, she headed over to her 4x4. The vehicle was just the right size for maneuvering in the sewer tunnels. The small amplifier on the back would further bolster her radio signal and enable Lucas to piggyback on any computer system within range and siphon the contents into a private server.
"Ready?" Lucas asked his voice coming loud and clear over the radio.
"Five by five Oracle. On the move." She gunned the engine the small all terrain vehicle jumping forward and tearing into the tunnels.
"This site's a dud," Mariska said as she walked around the pit. There were rows of seats above her and chain link fence separating the fighters from where the observers would be. The ring itself had been taken down. Not long ago though. Probably after the last set of fights.
"Looks like they were here recently," she bent down crumbling a piece of brick in her gloved hands. "They just pulled all the poles for the ring." She could see the rough outline of an octagon built by the poles, the cement had rubbed down where the bottom of the fence had scratched along the ground.
"Alright, the next location is two miles northeast.
"Roger that," she hopped on the 4x4 and turned toward the appropriate tunnel opening up the throttle.
"There's an increase in electrical output, I think you've got a live site," Lucas said over the comms. Mariska put on the brakes, killed the engine and stepped off the four wheeler.
"Any ideas which tunnel?" She asked quietly as she looked at the three tunnels before her.
"Go left," he advised. She did as told readying a batarang just in case someone got smart with her. She slipped past the first set of guards with ease a single batarang ping ponging between the two and knocking them out. She quickly found herself in the holding pen a large group of costumed fighters milling about as a smaller group of street kids tugged on the bars that held them prisoner.
"You!" Mariska turned at the sound of someone yelling in her direction. "You're new." She looked around taking a step closer to the costumed fighters before shrugging.
"Yeah, just in," she said.
"First round," the little man declared pushing her to the front of the line.
"Shit," she muttered as the group of four men muscled past her on the way out to the ring.
"Are you getting all of this?" She asked turning her head to capture the images of the fight club and of the watchers. They were almost exclusively well dressed types with the exception of the occasional man in a suit instead of a tux and sporting nasty pieces of hardware.
"The newest mod of the AK? Yes. Whoever is running these has connections," Lucas said. She could hear him typing furiously in the background.
"Great, that makes me feel infinitely better," Mariska grunted as one of the costumed beefcakes shouldered her from behind. "Am I supposed to fight these guys? 'Cause it could get all kinds of messy up in here." Mariska asked as she looked around the sand covered ring. This one was considerably larger than the last site. Lucky her.
She took an instinctive step back as a spear pierced the ground at her feet and looked to see that her peers had been similarly armed.
"Hold them off, I'm going to route police to your location." Mariska's eyes widened as the beefier of the men stalked towards her.
"Oh that can't be good." He began to charge her spear upraised and waving forward and back. He was taking aim.
"Fuck me," she watched his hands waiting for the last possible moment before throwing herself to the side and out of the path of the spear. She roiled and as she did swept her own spear in a wide arc at ground level connecting solidly with the man's ankles and sending him tumbling to the ground.
The crowd around her cheered as the man landed face first in the sand. She brought her spear high overhead twisting it in her hands to bring the blunt end down across the back of his shoulders disabling him but not killing him. The crowd knew this and the thunderous 'boo' that met her actions nearly caused Mariska to jump.
Her attention turned to the other three combatants who seemed content to slug it out with one another for the moment. Mariska took her chance to scan the area eyes falling on a discrete logo painted on what seemed to be a VIP box. She pressed the auto zoom and clicked the shutter on her camera.
"Affirmative, police are ten minutes away."
"From the surface or the sewer?" The lack of answer let her know. "Damn it."
"Just hold them off, you're doing fine."
"Yeah until the beefcakes remember they've got a chick half their size in the ring with them." She reasoned jamming her spear into the ground and reaching for a batarang. She could disarm at least one of them, the other two would pounce and that would buy her a couple of minutes. Her arm was upraised and ready to toss when a screech echoed through the arena.
She fought the instinctive urge to cover her ears instead turning to the source of the sound. A rusted metal door was being opened and the freshly scrubbed but poorly costumed street kids were being manhandled into the ring.
One woman clung to the side of a fierce looking brunette whose keen eyes were scanning the arena. There were six of them in all, two women and four men most of whom couldn't have been out of their teens.
It was as though a dinner bell had been rung, the remaining warriors turned on the kids feral smiles in place.
"You've got to be kidding me."
She raised her batarang letting it fly at the nearest warrior knocking his weapon from his grasp as she sprinted to front line the kids.
"What're you doing?" She heard one of the men shout. "We're supposed to fight them you idiot."
"Change of plans boys," Mariska turned to the others. "Fan out, keep moving, stay in pairs." She instructed as she settled herself to meet the next man head on. "C'mon beefy, looks like it's our turn to dance." He shrugged at her cracking the knuckles of large hands.
"Your funeral," he said stalking towards her. He swung for her head and she threw up both hands to deflect catching the brunt of it on her forearms. She dropped to one knee and drove her fist upwards connecting solidly with his groin. He dropped like a stone, tucking himself into a well muscled ball.
"I don't care how big you are, that always hurts," she said with a smirk. She thought she could hear Lucas moan in sympathy. Picking her foot up Mariska drove her boot heel into his face putting him down for the count.
She sensed the spear swinging towards the back of her shoulders and began to drop to avoid the blow. With startling speed the wielder switched directions swinging over her head and bringing the weapon under her guard and up into her gut. The force of the blow actually lifted her off her feet and Mariska grunted as she landed hard on her back.
Manska coughed trying to suck breath back into her lungs as she used her legs to push herself backwards and out of range. She rolled to the side as he swung downwards the metal tip of the blade coming dangerously close to her hooded head. She kicked upwards landing her boot on his hand hoping to get him to drop the weapon. To no avail.
He merely adjusted his grip and stabbed downwards. Manska opened her legs letting out a yelp as the spear tip landed mere centimeters from her pelvis. She kicked up wrapping her legs around the spear and reaching forward to take hold with her hands. To his credit he was a strong fucker and she didn't expect it when he picked the spear up, Manska still attached, and swung them both like a baseball bat. At the highpoint of the arc he released them sending her into the brick wall of the arena with a dull thud.
She dropped to all fours spitting out a mouthful of blood as a hand came up to feel her ribs. Definitely broken. Thinking she was finished the man turned his attention to the kids who had been dashing around the ring trying to avoid the other warrior.
They were doing a good job of it until the man, looking tired of the hunt and getting jeered by the onlookers, raised his spear and heaved it at a young man. Mariska turned her head as the teen dropped to the ground the weapon protruding from his chest. The cheer that greeted the move was disgusting in its intensity.
She reached for a batarang to take the man out and tried to raise her hand for the throw. Her ribs screamed at her in protest and when she let fly the weapon skipped across his bicep leaving a thin streak of blood along his arm but nothing else.
"Police are making their way into the sewer. Five minutes." The men had turned on the young women now and Mariska marveled at the bravery of the brunette. She stood her ground, tall body blocking the men from the woman behind her.
"Not this time asshole," Mariska moved as fast as she was able taking a spear from the ground as she went. She lobbed it at the last man just as he reached a meaty hand toward a Bowie knife of his belt. His eyes widened in surprise as he looked to his side seeing the spear that now rested comfortably in his kidney. He fell without a sound sending up a small puff of sand as his large body connected with the ground. Mariska hated to kill but she wasn't above doing what was necessary to keep innocents safe.
"I don't believe..." she coughed painfully spitting out blood. "... 1 said I was finished with you yet," she admonished taking a step towards the man who had thrown her into the wall. His eyes narrowed and he stepped towards her only to stop as an alarm blared through the arena.
"Breach!" She heard one of the guards yell, then warning was followed by the sound of cocking weapons. Mariska looked up to see them taking aim at everyone in the ring, warriors and kids alike.
"Shit, get down!" She yelled diving for the two girls and tackling them to the side. The first spray of bullets missed them and her last opponent. He looked at her for a moment eyes blazing hatred before he ran for the exit.
"Guardian?" Lucas called out his voice nearly drowned out by the sound of automatic gunfire. The gunmen were on the move now too, ushering the patrons out the exits. Only one man remained, he stood directly above them scanning the arena for survivors. It seemed she and the women were the last.
"Go for the walls, run," she ordered pushing the girls forward as she followed. She needed to be out in the open to get a good angle to knock the weapon from his hands. The man was quick on his feet, the moment she had turned to toss a batarang his finger was already on the trigger with Mariska dead in his sights. She let the weapon fly determined to save the girls if nothing else.
The bullets connected with her vest just as her batarang knocked the weapon from his grip sending it tumbling to the sandy floor. Mariska dropped to the sand groaning in pain, it had felt like three solid hits to her sternum. He really hadn't been fucking around.
"Guardian? Guardian do you read?" Mariska closed her eyes trying to focus the chaos around her. There was so much noise. "Guardian?! Mariska answer me!" She had enough consciousness left to register Lucas had broken code. He was worried. That couldn't be good.
She felt bony hands wrap around each of her arms and her body began to move across the sand. She opened her eyes staring at the parallel trails that her boots left as she was dragged across the arena. Her head lolled back and she could see the brunette with a determined set of her jaw tugging her backwards her companion wrapped around Mariska's other arm.
She groaned as the women jostled her not expecting the quiet 'sorry' from the more demure of the two.
"S'okay," she managed to say. They were at the edge of the arena now the sand turning to stone beneath them. "Police, coming," she sputtered. "You're safe."
"What about you?" The brunette asked as they stopped and sat her up against the wall. What about her indeed. If the TPS caught her that would be the end of things. "You have to get out of here."
"Just gotta get t'my quad," she had enough in her to drive for bit. Far enough to be out of the search area anyway, Lucas could come get her.
"Where is it?"
"Not far, corner," Mariska said trying to push herself to her feet. She could barely get her butt off the ground and began to sink back down before hands wrapped around her biceps. She could hear the police now, screaming orders at the top of their lungs.
"Come on, there isn't much time," the brunette said. Mariska leaned heavily on the woman as they made their way to the quad. Mariska slumped herself in the seat leaning forward on the handlebars. "You sure you'll be alright?" She nodded weakly putting her hands on the grips.
"Thank you," she said as she turned the engine over.
"Call us even." Mariska nodded and pulled away leaving the two women standing together watching her depart.
"Ow," Mariska said as Lucas unzipped her vest and tried to wrest it from her body. Two slugs fell from the Kevlar landing with twin clinks on the floor. "Fucker had good aim." She said wincing as she wrangled herself out of her leather and Kevlar vests, the final bullet was imbedded tightly in the armour. Close one.
Lucas took the suture scissors from the tray cutting open her undershirt and sucking in a breath.
"You're going to be in rough shape," he said as he gently ran his hands along her side to check for broken ribs. Mariska could tell just by sight that she had broken two floaters, and the bullets had left fist sized bruises along her sternum. "Lie down, I'll dope you up while I take care of this."
Mariska nodded allowing Lucas to lift her legs onto the exam table for her and leaning back.
"I could only save two," she said regretfully as she felt the quick pinch of the needle piercing her skin.
"I know," he said quietly as he took her hand. "Better two then none," he said trying to comfort her. Mariska closed her eyes willing the tears not to come. Despite herself she felt a wet trail make its way down her cheeks from the corners of her eyes. They had been barely more than children. This was the worst part of the job. It was a simple truth, she couldn't save everyone. It didn't seem simple now.
"Get some sleep Mariska, things will look better in the morning," Lucas promised. Mariska nodded slightly allowing the sedative to work its magic.
"We have to find them," she murmured sleepily, not certain who she meant by 'them'. Things were getting murky. Thorazine was kicking in.
"We will, sleep now." Reassured by the voice of a man she had known and trusted for years Mariska slipped into unconsciousness.
Mariska awoke the next morning, -at least she thought it was morning, it was hard to tell underground,- feeling groggy and achy. Trying to swing her legs off the table nearly sent her into apoplexy and she decided to remain as is until she could move without killing herself. She turned her head to the side noticing Lucas was slumped in his chair head resting against his fist as he slept. She blinked owlishly as she tried to speak to wake her partner up. Sleeping sitting up wasn't a luxury he could afford anymore, his knees would make him suffer for it and he was going to be cramped as hell.
"Lu..." She coughed groaning as her ribs made themselves known. The sound was enough to wake Lucas and he stood quickly and moved towards her. He wasn't as fluid as usual, limping heavily as he favoured his left knee. It was by far the more damaged of the two. Poor guy.
"How you holding up?" He asked reaching over to check the bandages he had somehow managed to wrap around her midsection.
"Hurts," she said honestly. She remembered broken ribs. Last summer she'd had to deal with four of them. They were notoriously bad to heal, any jarring or strikes to her midsection during the bone knitting process usually meant starting at square one. It taken nearly three months to recover from the last time and even now, over a year later, they obviously weren't back up to standard.
"You're off patrol for the next couple of weeks at least," he said firmly leaving no room for Mariska to argue. Not that she had good reason too, he was right, that didn't stop her from giving in to her need to counter him just for appearance sake.
"I'll be fine in a week," she said. The indignant snort from her partner let her know he believed her about as much as she believed herself.
"Not a chance, you're grounded until these finish knitting, your ribs are your Achilles Heel and you know it." She nodded grudgingly accepting the truth of the statement. They had never been the same since last year. She could take a shot to the jaw that was unheard of for most women but a well placed strike to her lower ribs would have her nursing her midsection for days on end.
"Let's get you moved upstairs," he put one arm under Mariska's helping to slide her off the table. For her part Mariska just did her best not to pass out knowing Lucas' knees couldn't take both of their weight.
"Any idea who's setting up these fight clubs yet?" Mariska asked as the walked slowly to the freight elevator that would take them to the upper level.
"Nothing so far. I'm still running the symbol through the FBI and CSIS database."
"I've seen it before," Mariska said. "I thought it was just a graffiti tag. It's all over the city."
"Hmm, whoever is running the clubs may have more interests in the city than just kidnappings."
"Marvelous." Lucas closed the gate pushing the button to move them up.
"I don't suppose you remember when you first started seeing them?" Mariska narrowed her eyes searching her memory for the first time the symbol had registered.
"Last January is the first time I consciously remember it. I saw it at one of those skate parks," Mariska said grunting as Lucas walked them out of the elevator to the small living area they kept in the warehouse. "But I'm sure I saw it before then, I just can't put my finger one it."
"Don't stress about it," he advised. "We'll know soon enough," he sat her on the couch and walked over the blinds pulling them open and letting in the early morning sun. "Hungry?"
Mariska shook her head, the very idea of food at the moment made her nauseated.
"No thanks, can I have some water though?" Lucas nodded reaching for the crutches leaning against the table and using them to swing his way into the kitchen. Mariska sighed sadly. He never resorted to using his crutches unless the pain was starting to get intense. They were both in rough shape it seemed.
"Here you go," he said handing her a large water bottle.
"Thanks, come sit down, get the pressure off your knees," Mariska suggested shifting over slightly to give him room to sit.
"Thanks." He said with a groan reaching for the remote. "Can you believe we're only 22?" He as asked quietly as he rubbed his knees.
"Certainly hasn't felt that way for awhile," Mariska said leaning over and putting her head on his shoulder. He turned the channel finally landing on something they would both enjoy though she figured it would only be minutes before she drifted back to sleep.
This had used to be their early morning ritual when they had been a trio. They made breakfast and watched a movie to decompress. Lisa would invariably end up in the middle used as a pillow for both her best friend and her brother. They had both been so insanely protective of the younger woman, it was a cruel irony that Lisa had been the first to go down. One night, one mistake had changed everything.
Mariska sighed trying to shake off the melancholic thoughts. She knew it had been brought to the fore of her mind by the women the night before. The brunette had been damn determined to keep her companion out of harm's way. She and Lisa had been similar though the youngest of the group had never had trouble holding her own. She missed Lisa.
"I miss her too," Lucas said as if reading her thoughts.
"I know Luke, I know." Continuing in silence they watched the TV.
Mariska yawned widely as she clicked on the next image throwing it out and clicking on the one after it. The computer had identified nearly 300 near hits from her photo at the fight club and she had been wading through them one by one trying to find the tag that would identify their new friends.
"Huh," she said as the next image popped up. "Gotcha." She fidgeted in her chair trying to adjust her position to lessen the aggravation on her ribs.
"What do you have?" Lucas asked looking up from where he was repacking her parachute, the reserve had been due for its six month check. He moved over to the computer clicking on the appropriate spots to enhance the image. He motioned for Mariska to move away from the computer and let him in. He could be so territorial.
Mariska stood, hip leaning against the desk, arms crossed, as Lucas searched through the database to identify where the picture had come from.
"Damn it," he said as the appropriate file came up on screen.
"What?" Mariska asked leaning down to see. "Stella?" She asked looking at her partner with a raised eyebrow.
"STELLA," he corrected.
"What the hell kind of a name is Stella for a criminal?" She asked curiously as she bent down to scan the file.
"I don't know," Lucas said with a shrug.
"Honestly, it's horrible, doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of innocent Torontonians everywhere," Mariska argued. The organization obviously meant business, but Stella? Really? They weren't even trying.
"I'm aware of that," Lucas said before his eyes took on a mischievous gleam. "Didn't we know a Stella? She was married to a detective or something?" Mariska narrowed her eyes, leave it to him to bring that up.
"His name was Kowalski, it was a TV show, can we move on?" She couldn't believe he was going to harp on her now, of all times, about her childhood crush. Ass.
"Uh huh, TV," Lucas said nodding his head sagely.
"Yes TV, let's stay focused in reality, big bad super criminal invading the city," she said trying to divert Lucas' attention away from embarrassing childhood memories. Though, to be honest, it was nice to see him in a playful mood again. He had been dark and withdrawn for so long now.
"What show was that exactly?"
"Due South," she growled trying to push his hand out of the way so she could use the mouse to scroll down. "Big bad," she reminded.
Weren't you convinced the crazy little Polack and the Mountie were shacking up?"
"They were!" She said firmly her attention momentarily diverted from the screen. "They kissed!" Her authoritative cry was further bolstered by her fist hitting the desk.
"I think he termed it 'buddy breathing'," Lucas argued looking up at Mariska.
"It was a front!" She retorted then paused. "I don't know what's sadder, the fact that I'm arguing over a ten year old show or the fact that of all those episodes we watched as kids that your memory somehow locked onto the buddy breathing moment. Are you trying to tell me something?" She asked with a raised eyebrow. He realized her implication and turned back to the computer screen with a cough.
"Big bad," he said pointing at the computer screen.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," she said with a smirk as they began to peruse the file.
Mariska rubbed her eyes trying to get the grit from them as she read over the dossier Lucas had given her. It seemed Stella was actually STELLA. Special Tactics Extraction and Location of Lost Artifacts. Lost artifacts her ass. The only lost thing they ever seemed to find were federal witnesses who, having been found, were promptly lost again.
Gun running, drug smuggling, money laundering, the occasional hit. Seemed they had a finger in every pie. Of course, to give the company some degree of credibility they seemed to actually employ a couple of explorer teams. Probably just some well dressed meatheads with undergrads in archaeology who ran around robbing graves.
The moved from city to city, a small core group of underlings who employed locals once they set up shop. The group was supposedly headed by a woman named Anna Smith. That was a fake. The woman only existed on paper and it seemed the FBI and others had taken to just calling her 'Stella'. There were no visuals, not even vague descriptions. Seemed she kept herself pretty low profile. Smart. Unfortunately.
Made sense though, all things considered. You didn't build an international crime organization from the ground up without having something of substance between your ears. Mariska flipped the file closed nudging it off to the side and pulling her economics textbook to her.
With all the hubbub trying to track down the fight clubs she had been falling behind. With only two weeks until the final she couldn't afford to let things slide much longer if she had any desire to pass the course. Mariska rolled her eyes as her phone rang and reached over clicking the device on. She had told Luke she needed to study, if this was him calling about some over the top all encompassing criminal conspiracy thing she was going to brain him. And make him take her test.
"Mariska?" The crime fighter smiled at the voice on the other end. Not Luke.
"Alana, hey." Perhaps Economics could wait a little longer. "I was beginning to think you had blown me off."
"Hardly," Alana answered. "Just had a bit of a crisis at work."
"Oh, that's too bad. Get it all sorted out?" Mariska asked leaning back in her recliner. She winced at the twinge in her ribs. A week later and she still wasn't up for anything more zealous than a rousing game of checkers.
"Not yet but I will," Alana answered. "I was hoping I could interest you in a quick supper, I have to come back to the office tonight so I can't spare much more than a couple of hours but I thought maybe we could hit a take out." Mariska checked her watch. Couldn't study on an empty stomach right? Right.
"Sure where did you want to meet?"
"I hope I didn't pull you away from anything too important," Alana said maneuvering a stick full of chow mein into her mouth.
"Nah," Mariska said with a wave of her own chopsticks. "Just an economics chapter 1 wasn't too keen on reading."
"So tell me some more about yourself. We really only had time for pleasantries last time."
"What would you like to know?" Mariska asked. It was easier to remember any lies she had to tell if specific questions were asked. 'Where did the bruises come from', 'how many concussions have you had', 'where were you a two thirty this morning' etc.
"What do you do for fun?" Mariska had to think on that one. Between school, work and her night job she wasn't exactly awash in free time.
"I uh, dabble in the martial arts, hit the gym a couple of times a week. Read non-textbooks when I can find a minute." Alana canted her head and smiled at her.
"Martial arts huh? You don't look like the fighting type," Mariska returned the smile.
"In this city everyone's the fighting type," she retorted pushing the spent box of egg rolls to the side. "How about you?"
"Oh nothing quite so exciting as martial arts. In my line of work I can't really afford to show up with a black eye. I run most mornings. My job doesn't leave me with much free time."
"And what you do have you spend eating mediocre Chinese food with a college student," Mariska supplied.
"I think I like it that way," Alana said reaching into Mariska's take out box and pulling out a chicken ball. Mariska smiled at the older woman.
"I don't like it," Lucas said as he watched Mariska tug on her freshly repaired costume. She had become fairly adept at sewing up bullet holes in over the years. Three fresh sets of stitches marked where the slugs had hit her chest. They weren't the only sets of stitches.
"Would you relax? It's been a month. I'm fine," she assured buckling up the straps over her vest and tugging her shoulder holster into place. "Look, I need to do something. I've gained five pounds from sitting on my ass for the past four weeks."
"Mariska..." She held up a hand as her phone rang smiling at the number on the caller ID.
"Hey you," she said in greeting tucking the phone into the crook of her shoulder as she pulled her gloves from her pocket and tugged them on to her hands.
"Hey, got a second?" Alana asked.
"For you, I've got two." Mariska answered double checking she had a full load of batarangs in her belt.
"Do you own a dress?"
"Uhm, sure, I haven't worn it since I was ten but I'm sure it's in my closet somewhere," Mariska answered. Alana laughed quietly.
"I was going for something a little more mature."
"In that case, no. Why? What's up?"
"I have to go to the gala next Friday and my escort backed out on me this afternoon."
"Oh, well I'd be happy to go with you but I'm not sure how well I clean up. I haven't done anything classy since prom," Mariska warned, she had a lot of scars to cover up.
"Nonsense, everyone there will be jealous that I've got you on my arm," Alana said. Her tone was so matter-of-fact that Mariska couldn't help but believe her. The woman had that affect a lot. Alana didn't offer compliments as freely as other women Mariska had dated but when she did she was so direct about it that you couldn't help but be flattered.
"Okay, well, did you want to go shopping sometime this week? I'm not really sure what I should be looking for." This thing was supposed to be filled with the who's who of Alana's firm and some high class officials. Mariska read about those types of people in the papers, she didn't socialize with them.
"Of course, how's Wednesday for you?" Alana asked.
"Sounds great." Now that the damnable Economics class had finished Mariska had found herself with more free time. It was a nice break.
"Fantastic, I've got to finish up some stuff here at the office, are you at work now?" Mariska looked around the basement her equipment spread out at her feet as she waited to finish gearing up,
"Um, more or less, just getting changed."
"Long shift, short shift?"
"Not sure yet, depends on how busy we get," Mariska said rolling her eyes at herself. It never failed that she ended up having to lie about her whereabouts.
"Well if you get finished at a decent time give me a call, I have the day off tomorrow. Perhaps we could open a bottle of wine, watch a movie?" Mariska smiled into the receiver.
"You mean actually spend some time together like regular couples do?" Mariska teased.
"Yes, I thought it might be nice to try it on for size," Alana replied, Mariska could almost see the smirk on the attractive redhead's face.
"You're on. I'll call you when I'm done.
"Bring a toothbrush and a change of clothes."
Alana closed the phone tucking it into her vest before walking back to where the men had hung one of their peers from a meat hook. Not actually on the meat hook. Not yet anyway. She shook her head at him, he seemed so out of place, well dressed, short neat hair, trimmed fingernails, all blindfolded and bound by rough rope hanging in a meat locker. His wrists had begun to chafe and bleed from the pressure of his weight, some of the droplets had actually frozen as they trailed down his arm. He really should have known better than to cross her path.
It had taken her over a month to ferret out the little traitor. He had been quietly siphoning off product for nearly a year, usually covering his tracks. Well enough that she hadn't noticed at any rate. But Ferrero's search for the missing coke had led him to her backyard where Alana had taken over. The last thing she needed was for some half rate, wanna be guerilla knowing she had leaks in her operation.
"Who've you been selling to?" She asked. He didn't answer. She wasn't certain if that was from spite or unconsciousness. She nodded at the man next him who delivered a swift punch to his kidney. The man groaned muscles twitching as he swung on the hook.
"Come on Lance, you already know how this is going to end, make it easy on yourself," she advised. Her mind was only half on the task at hand, she already knew who he had been dealing the coke to, she just wanted to hear him say it. Alana was actually more concerned about the state of her apartment. She had been in a rush this morning, she was fairly certain she had at least made her bed. Her coffee cup was definitely still in the sink.
Mariska had been over to her apartment once before, only for a few minutes, when Alana had to run up to grab her forgotten purse. More extended stays hadn't been possible because of their constantly conflicting schedules. It had been frustrating, in more ways then one, but had kept her interest in the young woman peeked. She had a habit of tiring quickly of her partners, but Mariska had proved to be somewhat of an enigma.
She seemed driven and intelligent yet hadn't developed any plans beyond graduation. She could easily work within her field while going to school but had chosen instead to wait tables and other menial jobs. She spoke often about her family and friends but never about past lovers. There was a haunted look to her eyes sometimes that Alana could never seem to place. It was sad to see a look like that in someone so young.
"Stella?" Alana looked tiredly over at Lucky, her number one muscle man.
"Kill him," she said with an absent wave. "Use the incinerator this time, I don't want him washing up on shore like the last one." That had been an expensive little cover up. It really was a shame to have to kill him. He knew his end of the business inside and out, had been with her as her contact in Toronto for a number of years. He also made good arm candy for the events she had to attend. No matter, Mariska would be a far more entertaining date.
"Hey, c'mon up," Alana said into the speaker pressing the button to unlock the door downstairs. She finished wiping her hands on the dishtowel placing it back on the oven door 'just so'. The wine was open and breathing on the counter, the lights of the large two bedroom apartment dimmed, the candles providing any extra illumination that was needed. She wasn't sure what had possessed her to go through such a grand gesture. It had been a need to see if she could remove that haunted look from Mariska's eyes. A challenge of sorts. Yes, a challenge. And she hated to lose. The young woman would enjoy herself if it killed them both.
Not literally of course. There had been quite enough of that for one night. Lance had only been the beginning, Alana had needed to rip through three more underlings who had been working with him, either by doctoring the manifests or the hiding cargo. She had taken a more hands on approach with the others. The first rule of leadership, never order your people to do what you weren't willing to do yourself. She might be a criminal but Alana did take a certain bit of pride at being good at what she did.
The sound of a soft tap on the door let her know her guest had arrived and Alana headed for the front door. She opened it to find a disheveled university student dressed in a U of T hooded sweatshirt sporting a worn looking backpack.
"You look exhausted," Alana said in greeting pulling the backpack from Mariska's shoulders and waving the young woman inside. The brunette began to yawn before stifling it behind her hand and smiling apologetically.
"Sorry, long day." Alana smiled back at her putting the bag on the ground before approaching Mariska and burying her hands in the pocket of the woman's shirt. She leaned forward dropping a kiss hello on soft lips.
"Don't worry about it, go have a seat I'll grab us some glasses." Mariska nodded stealing another quick kiss before heading over to the leather couches that were in front of a large screen TV. Alana walked into the kitchen opening the fridge to find the fruit she had bought at the market. One thing she had managed to learn was that Mariska tended to be a bit of a health nut and went for fresh berries before junk food any day of the week.
It was one of the many quirks that made the woman all the more appealing. It was odd really that Alana had found any interest in Mariska at all. Her usual types were the sleeker businesswomen or lawyers who drank expensive wines and bought three hundred dollar hand bags. People who walked in her world. Not students who took her out for bad Chinese and showed up on her doorstep in faded jeans and a loose ponytail. But she couldn't have talked for hours on end with any of those women and certainly never would have thought to cater any portion of her life to them, not even as small an allowance as going to the market to buy fruit. It was disconcerting but not altogether unpleasant.
"Do you need a hand in there?" Mariska asked her voice floating in from her position on the couch.
"No I'm good, I'll be right out," Alana said balancing the bowl full of fruit and the glasses easily in her hands. "Here you are," she handed one glass to Mariska putting the bowl on the coffee table and sitting down. The brunette's eyes immediately went to the fruit her stomach rumbling in appreciation. "I thought you worked at a restaurant, don't they feed you there?" Alana teased tucking her feet under her and looking over at Mariska.
"They would but my choices are deep fried, broiled to a crisp or going hungry," Mariska said with a smile taking a sip of her wine. "That's delicious." Alana smiled, she certainly hoped so, she had broken into the best of poor Lance's supply.
Alana was surprised when Mariska twisted in place and laid down her head resting comfortably in Alana's lap. Her wine glass rested against her stomach as she looked up at Alana. "How was your day?"
"Shit. But my night is looking up," Alana said reaching down to remove wavy brown hair from its elastic confines.
"Glad to be of service."
"Well, I was actually talking about the wine," Alana said dramatically unable to keep a straight face at the fake pout Mariska put on.
"That's not nice," Mariska declared sitting up slightly so she could take another sip of wine.
"I'm not nice," Alana stated her voice coming out more serious than she had intended. She had meant it to be a joke no matter how true the statement was. Mariska raised an eyebrow at the statement sitting up completely but not without moving tightly into Alana's personal space.
"You invited me over, opened a bottle of wine that probably costs more than my paycheck, set up all these candles and bought me fruit which, I know you hate, since you practically threw the cherry from the sundae at me the last time we went to the ice cream parlour." Mariska leaned forward her lips close enough to Alana's that she could feel the heat from the woman's mouth. "That seems pretty nice to me."
Alana closed the distance between them all thought of fruit and niceties forgotten.
"When you said 'do the CN tower', I thought you meant take the elevator up and go 'ooh ahh' at the pretty view. Not haul myself up a million stairs," Alana said the next morning as she followed Mariska up the steps. She had to admit it was a good view from her angle but still, the whole way up? Who the hell did that?
"Hey, you said whatever I wanted to do," Mariska countered turning back to smirk at Alana. "You can't live in Toronto for a year and a half and not have done at least some of the tourist crap there is to do around here," the younger woman argued as she continued upward.
"You're lucky you're pretty woman," Alana said reaching up to grab onto Mariska's belt and give a slight tug to get the brunette's attention. Mariska turned to look down her lips meeting Alana's. She could feel the younger woman smile into the kiss and returned it before pulling back.
"We could always go back down," Mariska suggested with a wiggling of her eyebrows.
"Ha! I did not get this far to leave without getting to be a tourist and going 'ooh ahh' at the pretty view." She walked past Mariska and headed up the stairs. "You coming?"
"Yeah, just going 'ooh ahh' at my own pretty view," Mariska answered. Alana looked down in confusion before registering the smirk on the brunette's face. She didn't usually get compliments, particularly overt ones like that. She never allowed anyone close enough to give them the liberty of making them. Given the pleasant rush the words had caused maybe she had been remiss. She reached her hand back to take Mariska's admiring the contrast between her own pale skin and the brunette's tan. Tugging the brunette even with her she began to walk again.
"C'mon, the sooner we hit the top of this the sooner we can go back to my place." Mariska grinned.
"Race you to the top?"
They hadn't raced, had actually taken the rest of the way up at a leisurely pace chatting about whatever topic happened to come across their minds. Nothing much of substance, random facts they'd heard in their travels, or stories from school or work. It had been nice and relaxed as had the lunch they had shared at the revolving restaurant. The food had been mediocre but the company had more than made up for it and Alana had found herself smiling on a near constant basis. It had been years since she had been in such a pleasant state of mind.
She and Mariska had shopped for most of that afternoon trying to locate a dress for the gala. They hadn't found anything and she and the brunette had parted company in the late afternoon so Mariska could get ready for work.
That had been three days ago. Their schedules, particularly Alana's hadn't allowed for more than a few brief conversations. There was a new shipment of weapons arriving and someone had tipped the coast guard so she had been busy trying to pay off the proper people and, failing that, finding alternate routes to transport the weapons along.
Worse came to worse she would stop the crates in New York and farm them out to a middle man she knew in Alphabet City, It would mean taking a hit in profit but better that than losing the entire shipment. Sighing, Alana looked out her window and over the lake, her work forgotten on her desk. She and Mariska were set to meet up this afternoon but she had no desire to waste an entire afternoon with the woman shopping for a dress. As pleasant as it was to watch the brunette fit her athletic form into various dresses Alana could think of other things she would rather be doing.
Reaching over to her phone she dialed her assistant.
"Cindy I need a fitting appointment with Stephen today, around two if possible." She hung up the phone knowing it was good as done. The girl could sell a steak to a vegan, if Stephen had a previously booked two o'clock it would no doubt be rescheduled shortly.
"I don't know, this seems a little... much," Mariska argued later that afternoon as Stephen pinned the dress to be taken in. Alana looked curiously over at her girlfriend.
'T can't afford this, you know that, so I'm assuming you intend to buy it for me," Mariska reasoned looking over at Alana.
'That would be a correct assumption yes," Alana answered standing from her chair and walking over to where Mariska was being fitted.
"That's where it seems a little much, it's only one night, wouldn't it just be better for me to look for something a little more, off the rack?" Alana ignored the insulted snort from the man kneeling next to Mariska.
"Stephen could you give us a moment?" The man nodded evidently needing a moment anyway to re-inflate his bruised ego. "Okay, what's up? You don't like the dress?" Alana asked with a raise of her eyebrow.
"No, I mean yes," Mariska rolled her eyes. "I love the dress but it's expensive."
"I fail to see your point," Alana said honestly confused. She was paying for it, why was Mariska worried about it?
"You really do," Mariska said sounding slightly surprised. "Is it really nothing to spend this kind of money for you?" Alana smiled putting a hand on the vast expanse of skin that the dress left exposed along Mariska's back and looking at the woman in the mirror.
"It's not nothing, in terms of dollars and cents it is ultimately a drop in the bucket." Alana admitted. "I'm not concerned about the money. What's important is that you're coming to this event for me. You need this dress specifically because of me, it only makes sense to buy the dress for you."
"Okay.. .But it really doesn't need to be this expensive of a dress."
"You don't even know what the price is," Alana said smiling at Mariska in the mirror.
"If it doesn't have a price tag it's way out of my tax bracket," Mariska said with a smirk. Alana smirked back, the brunette certainly did have a good sense of humour.
"Look, you've already told me you feel a little intimidated about hanging around with the people who are going to be there. I think you'll feel even more so if you show up dressed for your 'tax bracket' instead of theirs. I want you to have a good time and feel comfortable," Alana said slightly surprised to find she actually meant it. She was concerned for how the younger woman would feel being amongst the higher-ups of the political strata. And God help anyone who made the younger woman feel like she was less.
"So this is all about making me feel good?" Mariska asked as though the idea was somewhat foreign to her.
"Yes," Alana said simply, earning herself a quick kiss. Mariska had her chin in a light hold and was looking down at her with a smile. "Well that and I can't have my arm candy looking 'off the rack'," Alana said with a smirk getting a quiet laugh from her girlfriend. Mariska touched her forehead to Alalia's their noses meeting for an Eskimo kiss.
"So does your arm candy at least get to buy you supper?"
"I was thinking more of ordering in."
Mariska took in the rich decorations around her, gray eyes falling on her girlfriend about ten metres away speaking with one of the partners of her firm. The redhead was a vision in the forest green sheath that hugged her slim form. Curly hair was let to roam free falling seductively over bare shoulders. It had taken some considerable will power to actually get themselves out the door to come to the party.
Alana shook the hand of the man and turned to walk towards her deftly sweeping two fresh glasses of champagne from the waiter's tray as she passed.
"Sorry about that," she said handing one glass to Mariska and taking the empty from her hand and putting it on the table.
"No worries, I'm just admiring this place, I've never been anywhere so opulent," Mariska said her eyes going up to the crystal chandeliers overhead. "It's gorgeous."
"How about we go check out the exhibits?" Mariska nodded smiling as Alana linked their arms and led her towards the art displays. They spent the better part of an hour milling around the displays Mariska's attention focused on the artifacts that had been shipped from the amphitheatre in Rome.
"You like the gladiators?" Alana asked with a raised eyebrow. Mariska's attention had zoned in on a short blade, more a dagger than a sword, the ivory handle surprisingly well kept for being over two thousand years old. The metal, while dull, seemed to be in good condition as well.
"It's amazing," she breathed barely restraining herself from touching the glass case that surrounded the weapon. Something about it seemed to call to her.
"Alana," Mariska turned coming up from her slight crouch to stand next to her girlfriend as another tuxedoed man approached. "You haven't introduced me to your plus one." Mariska canted her head slightly to look at Alana curious at the flash of irritation that had crossed the redhead's face.
"Alexander, this is Mariska, Mariska, Alexander a. ..Colleague of mine." Mariska didn't miss the way Alana stumbled over the word colleague and immediately felt herself prep for defense.
"Pleased to meet you Mariska, it's so... rare to see 'Lana here in good company," he said smiling toothily at her as he took her hand in a limp grip. She did her best to smile back and reclaimed her hand as quickly as she thought was polite.
"I happen to think the company she keeps is just fine," Mariska defended taking a side step to bring herself nearer and slightly ahead of Alana. His smile dimmed a little and he turned his attention back to Alana.
"I hear you lost the Milton case, looks like your slipping a little 'Lana." Mariska spared a glance at her girlfriend who had adopted the steely glare that had been Mariska's first impression. She hadn't seen that look since the coffee shop nearly two months ago. "Hope that promotion isn't going to your head." Whatever retort Alana had in store for him died on her lips as the MC for the night took the stage. Hoping to defuse the situation, Mariska took Alana's hand pulling the lawyer away from her rival and toward the crowd that had begun to gather around the speaker.
"I'm sorry about that," the redhead apologized looking over at Mariska. The brunette squeezed her girlfriend's hand lightly.
"Don't worry about it, I'm a big girl, 'sides why else did you bring me here except to run defense?"
"Because when I'm with you everything is more fun," Alana said absently as she looked over the crowd. Mariska smiled and turned her attention to the speaker.
Alana sipped slowly at her champagne watching as Mariska wove her way through the crowd toward the restroom. The speaker had finally finished up and the crowd had dispersed once more to go back to their drinking and gossip.
The night had gone relatively well so far, there hadn't been any major run-ins with any of her peers from work. Even the little scuffle with Alexander had barely registered. What did stand out in her mind was Mariska's immediate defense of her. It had seemed almost automatic the way she had stepped slightly in front of Alana as if to shield her from the verbal barbs being tossed her way. She had been scowling on the outside but inwardly... inwardly Alana had felt a part of her touched that hadn't been in years.
And her own comment afterward, she hadn't meant for that to be said out loud. Her surprise at herself had almost made her miss the pleased smile Mariska had thrown her way. Seemed they both had surprises tonight.
Sighing and wishing she could just enjoy the night for what it was, but knowing that she couldn't, Alana wandered over to the displays. In two weeks time the current exhibition would be moved out and another, involving some priceless pieces of Egyptian history would be moved in. STELLA didn't usually make a habit of heisting museums but on occasion, when the price was right and she was feeling the need to get back to her roots, she would take on a job.
It was unlikely the security setup would be altered between now and then and Alana had been using the gala as a cover to explore the museum and its security measures. She could see the discrete flashes of the security cameras, some well hidden among the shimmering chandelier others, others not so covertly placed on the marble pillars.
She made a mental note of each one planning her angle of attack. Taking out the cameras would be first priority before an entrance could even be attempted. There were a number of ground crews patrolling the area, it seemed entry and exit from above was her best bet at the moment.
She took calculated steps between each podium taking a few moments to converse with her peers along the way all the while keeping careful count of how far it was between pillars. Once she was beneath one of the decorative skylights she began to survey the various angles to the displays. She wasn't certain which area the actual artifact would be in so would have to plan for all possibilities. She didn't want to carry more rope than would be necessary, the extra weight would be a hindrance, but she also wanted to limit her time actually on the ground. There tended to be nasty surprises once you actually set foot on the floor, laser grids, pressure plates, motion sensors.
Alana could see the motion sensors themselves set at just above camera level. So long as she could remain above that height, maybe use a thin line to reel in the artifact, she would have a chance. Assuming of course, she could get into the glass with her laser pendulum. It had a tendency of going on the fritz at the most inopportune moments. Fifty feet of rope for the downward angle would likely be enough from any point in the room.
"Perfecto," she said quietly as her gaze swept across the room.
"What's perfect?" Mariska asked as she placed a light hand on Alana's back. The redhead turned her attention shifting quickly from one thought track to the next.
"You, in that dress," she answered easily as she took the tanned hand that had come to rest on her hip and dropped a kiss onto the palm. "How are you enjoying yourself?"
"It's great, I've never seen art like this, it's a little rich for my blood," Mariska said with a self deprecating shrug.
"Hey," Alana tugged on the hand she still held. "You know enough to know that money doesn't make the man, I'd choose your company over any other in this room." She didn't like that the young woman felt inferior to these people. She had been told the same all through her childhood, that she would never be worthy of sitting in company like theirs. She had proved everyone wrong, sat in their company, and found it lacking. While the people she had grown up with had been passionate, about life, about their jobs, about their loves, these people seemed apathetic to nearly everything. Fake smiles and shallow friendships. Their golden world shimmered brightly but in the end it was all pyrite, fool's gold.
"Really?" Mariska asked still looking uncertain. Alana shook her head, the young woman was generally so confident. It seemed odd that she would let a situation like this trouble her.
"Really," Alana assured. She took one last look around satisfied that over the course of the night she had gleaned all she would need to make a respectable plan of attack. "Come on," she said tugging Mariska towards the coat check. "I believe there's some wine and blueberries calling our name."
Mariska shrugged out of the dress laying it carefully over the bed in Alana's spare room. It had been an... interesting night. Going to a high class gala dressed in a gown that would have cost her at least a month's pay. She had felt like a princess, particularly when Alana had turned forest green eyes on her. But as she had spoken to more people, heard how they spoke, she couldn't help but feel somewhat out of place. Sure she had a degree, or nearly so, from a reputable university, but these people had informal education that would never allow her to walk in their world. Mannerisms, subtleties that left her feeling as though she were some sort of country bumpkin trying to address the Queen.
She had never felt particularly rough, she had grown up lower middle class, went to a decent high school, taken out loans for college like all of her friends and her siblings had done. The people at the party were those who had driven past her soccer fields in the Lexus' and slept their way through college because they hadn't paid for class and could look forward to a job in the family business regardless of their performance.
Next to them she had felt like the blue collar raised woman that she was. Superhero or no, when she was out of costume she was a twenty two year old college kid. One who happened to be dating a rather prominent, well off divorce lawyer. What did Alana even see in her? It wasn't as though she knew about her night job. The dozens or hundreds of people that she had helped over the years. All Alana saw was the kid in jeans and a sweatshirt.
"I just don't know," she muttered to herself running a hand along the satiny fabric of the dress.
"Don't know what?" Alana asked. Mariska turned surprised that the woman had managed to sneak up on her. Her senses were usually better attuned than that.
"Why I'm here, why you're with me," Mariska said honestly. "It's not like I have a lot of offer you. I mean in the beginning I figured it was I don't know, something fun, but now I'm... and you're..." Mariska gestured helplessly as she tried to articulate what she wanted to say. University graduate indeed, she was certain most of the people at that party could string together a sentence. Even in emotionally charged terrain. Hell those people probably didn't even wander into emotionally charged terrain. Maybe they had something.
"Hey," Alana pulled her forward resting warm hands on bare biceps. The pads of her thumbs rubbed gentle patterns across Mariska's skin and she shivered as goosebumps lined her arms. She leaned forward tucking her head into the crook of Alana's neck as the redhead wrapped lean arms around her. "I'm with you because you're not like them, because you mean it when you smile. Because no one else has brought me soup when I was sick."
Mariska laughed a little bringing her arms up to rest on Alana's hips.
"Honestly, I don't know what it is," Alana said her lips close to Mariska's ear. "I just know that whatever this is, whatever we are, I want it. I want you." Alana rubbed her hands up and down Mariska's back and she sighed into the light touch. "I don't care what they think Mariska, never have." Alana reached down tilting Mariska's chin up with her forefinger. "Your opinion of me matters, not theirs."
Mariska smiled turning to kiss the palm of the hand that was now gently cupping her face.
"I happen to have a pretty good opinion of you," Mariska said returning to her resting spot at Alana's shoulder. "Sorry about the bout of super insecurity, I'm not usually like this," Mariska said her mind trying to recall when she had last felt quite this unsure of herself. It had been on the first time after Lisa's death that she had put on the costume and taken on her Guardian persona. She had looked down on the city she had chosen to protect and wondered if she had any right to make such a decision.
The wind had been strong, threatening to take her off the roof if she made a misstep, part of her had hoped it would. Her depression had nearly drowned her in those first few weeks after Lisa's death, Lucas had been too injured to even act as radio back-up. She had been, for the first time, well and truly on her own. She would live or die by her own abilities and she had worried that she would come up lacking. It had been a few moments of utter terror as an unexpected gust caught her off guard and carried her off the rooftop to the ground below.
She hadn't even thought, reacting on pure gut instinct, calmly pulling her grappling gun from its holster, sighting a holding point, taking aim and firing. She knew the shot was good the moment it left the gun and merely waited for the line to catch her and swing her forward parallel to the flow of traffic below. If one had looked from the streets it would have seemed she had planned the entire motion. As she swung herself to the next ledge, hundreds of feet above the unknowing populace her fears, her doubts had disappeared. No matter what her emotions, her instincts, her body knew the routine, knew the job too well to let her fail.
She wished she could find that ledge now, find that gust of wind that would send her over the edge and prove that she could catch herself on the way down.
"I'm ready for bed, how about you?" Alana asked. Mariska nodded allowing the redhead to pull her from the room and the dark thoughts that seemed at constant threat to consume her.
Mariska surveyed the rooftops debating which would be the easiest to jump to from her current position. She was high atop one of the downtown office towers her bino's in place searching for any signs of trouble. The city had been quiet tonight, too quiet for her liking given the day she'd had. Crime had seemed to slow to barely a trickle these last couple of weeks. She hadn't minded most of the time, it meant being able to devote more time to Alana. Tonight however, she had been hoping for the opportunity to kick some ass.
Mariska had been on edge all day, nearly snapping poor Luke's head off when she had entered the basement to gear up for patrol. Things had started out well enough, she had spent the night over at Alana's, -only the second time this week, she hadn't wanted to start stepping too rapidly into the older woman's space,- which meant she woke up to the redhead. Always a bonus.
The woman had actually already gotten out of bed and showered and was occupied drying her hair when Mariska finally managed to kick off the covers and resolve herself to getting up. She absolutely detested mornings.
"Morning," she had said dropping a quick kiss at the base of Alana's neck. "Want me to get coffee started?"
"No, I've actually got to rush, I've got an early meeting that slipped my mind," Alana said turning slightly to give Mariska a proper kiss. "Are you working tonight?"
"When am I not?" Mariska had said with a roll of gray eyes.
"You know, if you found something in your field, I'm certain you could make more money with quite a few less hours." Mariska had shrugged knowing it was true, but that wouldn't allow her the freedom to move shifts, call in sick or quit on command so she could go do her other job. The one that mattered. A straight 9-5 would mean giving up parts of her life that she just wasn't ready to part with.
"I like what I'm doing."
"I know, I'm just saying, the longer you sit without using your degree the harder it is to get a job," Alana had said turning back to the mirror to finish her hair. "I'm certain you don't want to be a waitress forever." Mariska dropped her hands from Alana's hips taking a small step back.
"What if I did?" Alana had turned with a small smirk and raised eyebrow.
"Come on Mariska, you're too smart to just let yourself sit and wait tables all day, think of what else you could be doing, owning a business like you said. No bank will give a loan out to a college graduate swimming in debt who's working minimum wage at a pub or chip house."
Mariska knew Alana was right, she did have goals beyond the Guardian. She wouldn't be able to be on the streets forever, and she didn't want to wait until her body started to fail her before starting up on her life. But, for now, she was happy with where she was.
"I like doing what I'm doing, when I stop liking it I'll change," Mariska had defended.
Alana had shrugged.
"That's fine for now Mariska, but how long do you think it's going to be fun for? You need to start thinking about the future and not be so caught up in the now." Mariska hadn't had an answer for that. She couldn't give one without revealing her other self and then had felt put out because she didn't feel she had to justify the way she lived. Nothing overtly offensive had been said, the conversation had just rubbed her the wrong way. Maybe she had been PMSing.
At any rate, to avoid snapping at her girlfriend and potentially blowing things out of proportion, she had dropped a kiss on Alana's cheek and told her she would get going.
Her day had gone downhill from there.
Her car had been stolen, her own goddamn car. Well, Lucas' car that she had borrowed to go grocery shopping. Same difference.
She had gotten it back of course, Lucas had easily located the GPS and she had gone in to the chop shop thinking bloody murder. It had been quick work to get the car back, minus a hubcap and she had neatly tied up one of the smaller rings of car thieves. She hadn't been surprised when she had seen STELLA'S logo emblazoned in a graffiti tag along the shop's wall. Figured. Goddamn STELLA was going to try and ruin her day.
After returning the car, -promising a replacement hubcap to her disgruntled partner,- she had gone to get some lunch and check her marks at the university. After nearly being run down by a careening Mustang and then three black and whites Mariska had growled realizing her protesting stomach would have to wait. She had followed the cars keeping up easily enough on foot when traffic started to thicken forcing everyone to slow down. The chased car decided it was prudent to pull onto the sidewalk and she managed to catch the ass end of the bumper with her grappling gun.
She wasn't sure why, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time.
The man driving had accelerated once he got into the pedestrian filled walkway and Mariska had nearly been pulled off her feet as the car moved. Switching her balance to her heels she had been tugged along for nearly fifty feet before the man had pulled sharply back onto the road leaving her only the choices of letting go or being swung into coming traffic. As it was she had nearly had her head taken off by one of those damn bike messengers. She was going to write Jam Pony a very stern letter. It had all been for naught at any rate.
The police had run down the chasees and Mariska had ruined a perfectly good pair of boots and her spandex costume for nothing. She switched back into civvies and ran down to watch the arrest snapping quick photos of the men to identify later. It was as the cop had muscled one of them into the car that the criminals' collar had pulled down and she saw STELLA's emblem tattooed on the side of his neck.
Letting out a doep sigh Mariska stepped down from her perch on the building and walked over to the opposite ledge.
"You can't tell me after a day like that you have no one for me to take it out on," Mariska said.
"Sorry Guardian, all's quiet on the Western front, and the East, South and North." Shaking her head at her partner she put her bino's up sweeping her gaze across the lakefront.
"Hey now, what have we here?" She focused her view on the form of a red leather clad... someone coming into crisper view. Aside from the outfit, which was odd enough in itself, -although she supposed she wasn't one to talk,- whoever it was was standing on top of a building in the distance looking down through a skylight. "Huh, that can't be right, Oracle can you identify that building?"
"Trajectory from your position indicates it's the museum." Mariska's eyebrow went up.
"Looks like we've got ourselves a bona fide cat burglar."
"That's new." She hadn't actually had one of those. Oh sure, there had been tons of the ham handed smash and grab jobs. All boom and no finesse. But a real professional? Not in the two and a half years she had been patrolling. Mariska had actually come to think of them as a myth, her own personal white whale. Not anymore.
"You getting this Oracle?"
"Roger that. Nice suit." Mariska nodded, leather vest, pants and knee high leather boots. It was like looking at the mirror except in red. And except for the black mask veiling the face of the criminal. Mariska hadn't been able to deal with it when she had worn the full masks, it had obstructed her view too much and she couldn't breath.
And it had chafed like hell.
Mariska turned from the rooftop and headed for the opposing side before turning to face the museum once more.
"Am I good to go?" She asked tugging her hood into place.
"Wind currents are strong and in your favour, you're clear."
"Rock, rock on," Mariska took a strong step forward picking up speed as she headed for the edge of the building. She was at full sprint when her foot met the ledge and she launched herself forward body slicing through the air as she move away from the building. She arched her back maintaining position as she quickly pulled the ripchord to release her parachute.
Mariska's canopy filled with air and she tugged on her toggles double checking for control as she steered her body towards the museum expertly navigating the buildings as her canopy cut through the air. She landed short of the roof top, nearly a block from her intended target, but considering the distance she hadn't expected to do much better. Mariska shucked her rig for later pickup and unholstered her grappling gun diving off the roof ledge and aiming for the fire escape of the appropriate building.
The grapple clamped easily onto the metal railing and she swung a wide arc kicking her feet up to land over the rail and skidding to a stop on the fourth level down. She undamped the grapple and headed for the roof at a sprint determined to work off her bad mood.
Alana swung her legs over the edge of the fire escape and on to the roof walking over to one of the skylights she had sighted at the gala two weeks ago. It was the easiest point of entry based on the position of the urn. She caught a flash of it out the corner of her and dropped to one knee to judge the distance from her position to the glass casing. The urn didn't look like much, shiny and pretty sure, but not worth the hundred grand she was getting to nick it. Ah well, one man's junk.
Alana nodded to herself pulling her laser cutter from her pocket using it to pop a pane of glass from its place. She tossed it off to the side unconcerned with who knew how she had gotten in. Once the job was done it wouldn't matter one way or another, the drop off was tomorrow morning and from there it would be untraceable to her. She hooked a line around the vent and lowered herself down being careful to remain well above the line of detection for the motion sensors.
She pulled her double hook from her pocket and pulled the trigger thin grappling spikes shot from each end of the small tube connecting with the pillars to form a horizontal line. The tool was only good for one use, it was activated with small explosives and the entire trigger mechanism became unusable after the first fire. Damn things were expensive too. But, they packed a surprising amount of the thin high tensile wire and made things much more convenient.
The grapples found solid purchase on the pillars on either side of the room and she gave a hard tug to ensure they were secure before she put her hand clamps on the line. She kept her initial line clipped to her waist, just in case. It wouldn't prevent her from falling below the sensors if the grapples failed, but it would ensure she had a way out once the alarm was triggered.
Alana let her body drop and held on tightly to the clamp pulling herself along the line with long purposeful arm lengths. The guards worked on a ten minute rotation and she still had to get into the case, get the urn up and get herself out of the large display hall. She was going to have to be damn careful to get the urn of without tripping the motion sensor. It was going to be a photo finish. Of course she could have done it the easy way, killed a couple of guards, deactivated the system, waltzed through without worry for the alarms.
But that wouldn't have been half as fun.
Alana stopped over the top of the urn and lowered a small automatic suction cup to the glass. Using her pocket laser she cut a hole large enough to fit the urn and pulled the glass piece out of place with the suction cup gently laying it on the top of the case. She quickly retracted the line tucking the suction cup into her vest.
Next came the magnet on a string, lowered quickly, the small but powerful magnet unable to set off the motion sensor. It was the urn itself that would be the problem, it was just on the cusp of being large enough to activate the sensor if there was too much motion. If she swung it right and didn't make any sudden movements Alana could get away without having to fight her way through a half dozen guards and the TPS.
With the magnet lowered she began to swing her arm back and forth letting out a quiet grunt as her arm protested having to hold her full weight. She had thought she was still in prime condition but evidently those dinners with Mariska had her packing on a couple of extra pounds. Damn it. She knew she should have begged off the cheesecake at supper yesterday.
"Come on you son of a bitch." She heard a quiet 'tink' as the magnet took hold and she let out a small sigh of relief. Easy part was over. She gave a slight tug inching the urn towards the hole she had cut. It slid easily enough and she mentally thanked her tech guy for delivering on what he had promised with the tiny magnet.
She would have hated to kill him.
The urn was just off the surface of the case now and she slowly started to retract the line bringing the urn up with it. It was twenty feet away from her when she heard the tell tale sign of the guards coming for their sweep. They would spend two minutes in the room next to hers and then proceed to where she was.
She continued, slow and steady. If it came down to it, her pistol was tucked snugly against her leg and she was a far faster and better shot than anyone the museum could have hired for their pay. Assuming they even gave the poor bastards guns. Alana managed to make it without setting off the alarm and quickly tucked the urn into the tube she had brought for transport before maneuvering her way back to the skylight. From there she pulled herself upward hearing the bootsteps of the guards behind her just as she reached the ceiling.
Alana pulled herself out of the skylight boots landing quietly in the shale that covered the rooftop. The rain slid down the back of her leather vest soaking the red spandex top that covered her arms. She slung the hardshell tube over her shoulder adjusting the strap length and tugging her gloves more tightly onto her hands. That had been easy enough.
In her first days as a thief things had gone wrong on a regular basis. It had been her ability to improvise and her lack of remorse regarding killing that had kept her out of a jail cell. Many of her thieving peers had morals, codes of operation that prevented them from acting lethally when going after the goods.
Alana had never had those qualms.
Her spandex mask was chafing against her neck and she used a gloved hand to scratch at the base of it to try and relieve the itch. Wet spandex was nobody's friend. She checked the watch built into the bottom of her vest.
If she hurried, she could catch Mariska on the phone before her girlfriend fell asleep. Their non-fight from earlier was bothering her, it wasn't so much that Alana had said anything bad, just that what she had said hadn't come out in quite the way it was supposed to. The feeling of unsettlement in her gut was something she was unfamiliar with. It was distinctly unpleasant and she wanted it to go away. She tended to be emotionally dense but Alana was fairly certain that resolving whatever issues were under the surface of Mariska's vexation was the only way to relieve the jittery feeling in her stomach.
Her attention on the issue not at hand was such that Alana didn't hear the person behind her until the woman had actually spoken.
"I don't think that belongs to you." Alana turned eyebrow upraised in curiosity to find the Guardian, decked out in full leathers with fists on her hips. "Didn't your mother ever teach you about taking other people's toys?"
"Didn't you ever hear of finders keepers?" Alana asked her voice lowering automatically as she moved her hand quickly to her belt to toss out two smoke bombs. The smoke screens went up quickly and Alana headed for the edge of the roof, she was in no mood to duke it out with the do-gooder tonight. She had an important phone call to make.
She had made it to the fire escape when a surprising kick came from the side landing on her shoulder and knocking her off her feet and to the shale ground with a crunch. Alana growled low in her throat tucking her legs under her butt and using her hands to push herself into a standing position. She put her guard up eyes scanning the rooftop for her opponent.
"If you wanted to play hide and seek you should have reminded me to count." Alana turned to see the Guardian resting easily on the roofs edge head canted slightly to the side. The deep hood of her vest hid her identity and as did whatever she was using on her throat to alter her voice to something bordering on masculine. Clever girl.
"I've never played well with others," Alana said. The Guardian nodded as though she saw Alana's point.
"You can make this really easy," the Guardian offered. Alana wasn't certain but she could swear that something in the woman's tone made her sound as though she hoped that wouldn't be the case.
"Sorry, not today." Alana charged the blue suited woman her shoulder dropped low. The Guardian ducked down as well taking the tackle full on. Alana grunted as she felt strong arms encircle her waist and use her momentum to throw her over the Guardian's hip on to the ground. She cursed under her breath kicking upwards as the woman approached, she was spending far too much time on her back. Her kick landed solidly in the woman's sternum, drawing a grunt from the crime fighter. To her credit, the Guardian recovered quickly and grabbed Alana's ankle using it to flip her onto her stomach.
Alana quickly unsheathed a throwing dagger from her belt sending it back towards the Guardian's face. The hood hid whether she had managed to hit her mark but the woman turned harshly to the side regardless and abandoned her grip on Alana's ankle to roll to the side. Alana stood, smirking as she watched the woman's hand go to her face before she inspected her gloved fingers.
"Not nice enough," Alana admitted her hand reaching for a second dagger. Guardian shook a finger at her her own hand coming to the batarangs resting on her belt.
"Bad idea," the blue clad woman warned fingers tightening no the small weapon.
"Look, it's raining, I'm soaked you're soaked, why don't we call this a night and go home huh?" Alana asked eyes searching for an exit, any exit. She had a feeling the woman wasn't about to let it go and that she was in for a good fight. She had seen the tape from the fight club, the Guardian had skill. If they went head to head it was likely going to be one hell of a knock down drag out kind of ordeal. Alana simply wasn't in the headspace for that. Offing a couple of guards was one thing, putting the little hero in her place would actually take concentration.
"Sounds like you're in a rush, got someone waiting on that?" The Guardian asked pointing her hand toward the container on Alana's back.
"Maybe, or maybe I just have better things to do than hang around in the rain with someone who uses Xena episodes as a fashion consultation," Alana answered.
"I have no words to describe the irony of that statement," Guardian said with a shake of her head. "One last chance, come in quietly and I won't have to hurt you." Her hand was resting firmly on a batarang now the white metal flashing against the navy blue of her costume.
"Just not going to let this go are you?" Alana asked resigning herself to a full out fight. And to not talking to Mariska. That thought irritated her and she focused that irritation on the 5 foot 9 annoyance in front of her as she mentally calculated the distance between them. They seemed to act as one each letting loose a barrage of projectiles at the other while simultaneously trying to dodge the oncoming weapons.
Alana ducked the first batarang but the second caught her high against her shoulder just beneath the protection of her leather vest. Unlike the arena, where she had seen the batarang skip harmlessly off one of the competitors, this one imbedded itself in her shoulder. Grunting in pain she threw herself in the opposite direction firing off a second and third dagger towards Guardian's position.
She heard at least one connect and saw her opponent go down on one knee as Alana landed and rolled back onto her feet. She tore the batarang from her shoulder tossing it to the side as she watched the Guardian pull her blade from her thigh and do the same.
The throaty 'kyai' that Guardian let out was unexpected and Alana dropped her hands on instinct to form an 'X' with her arms to block the jump kick that threatened to take her head off. She countered by shooting her right hand up landing a solid blow to her opponent's solar plexus as she dropped. Guardian barely flinched immediately bringing a long leg up to put a round house into Alana's kidney.
She stumbled back her guard dropping slightly, a right hook to the temple was her penance for the slip. Tired of being outdistanced by the little upstart Alana shot forward negating the long reach of the Guardians' limbs and wrapped strong arms around a lean torso and threw the woman over her hip. She pushed down hard as the hero fell making sure it was a solid hit on the ground. Guardian recovered quickly throwing her legs around and taking Alana out at the knees. She rolled as she fell coining back into a standing position but she had lost the advantage, Guardian had recovered and was ready to rock.
"You just don't give up do you?" Alana asked in exasperation.
"It's usually one of my more charming traits." The woman countered as she began to circle Alana. The redhead rolled her eyes and waited for the next move. The Guardian telegraphed her intent early on and Alana stepped back to force the woman to overextend with her front kick. She was surprised when the hero easily compensated landing hard on her kicking leg before bleeding off the excess momentum by pushing up and launching a hook kick at her head. Alana ducked, avoiding the blow, only to catch a sidekick in her gut. She doubled over in pain head rocking back as an uppercut connected with her jaw.
The girl was good. She was also starting to get on Alana's nerves.
"Alright, that's enough of that," she blocked the oncoming punch hand wrapping around the Guardian's fist. She twisted the woman's wrist using her forearm to block the next punch before shooting forward and landing the top of her head square in the center of the hero's face. Alana heard the rather distinctive pop of cartilage breaking and smiled beneath her mask as Guardian stumbled back hands coming to her nose.
"Fuck me," she heard the woman mutter over the din of the falling rain.
"You want to play with the big girls you better learn to take a punch," Alana taunted. The animalistic growl that met her words was startling, and later, when she rethought the whole altercation, Alana would blame it as the reason she wasn't expecting the tackle that arguably ended the fight.
Neither of them had properly gauged how close to the skylight they were and as the glass gave way beneath them Alana could have shook her head at herself.
So much for a nice clean get away.
Her hands immediately went to find purchase on the rappel line she knew was there and she let out a yell as the thin line cut easily through her gloves and into her hands. She clamped the heels of her boots tightly together around the wire to slow herself down. She maintained it for a split second before the weight of the falling woman on top of her pushed Alana off the line and down to the marble ground below.
The motion detectors fired the alarm as they fell past the sensor both landing hard on the cold tile floor. Alana groaned rolling onto her side to ease the way to get to her feet. She looked down at the ground noticing the Guardian seemed to be moving a lot slower as she struggled to stand.
Served the little do-gooder right for trifling in her affairs.
The heavy bootsteps of numerous running guards echoed underneath the wail of the alarm. Alana reached for her pistol with one hand while she fired a second double grapple with the other. One end connected with the ceiling, the other imbedding solidly in the marble floor. She used her clamps to pull herself up towards the roof trying to ignore the searing pain that was shooting through her shoulder and hands.
She spared a quick look down to see the Guardian on her feet cradling her ribs as she reached for some sort of weapon on her leg. Alana ducked to the side as a grapple and rope shot past landing neatly next to hers. Huh. So she wasn't the only one with nice toys.
Continuing upwards Alana could hear the mechanical whir as the retractor worked to pull the Guardian off the floor and toward the ceiling. She hit the rooftop while the hero was still midway and debated kicking the grapple free and letting the pain in the ass drop to her death. Alana had in fact moved towards the grapple when she shifted her shoulder and nearly sent herself into a fit of hysterics from the pain.
The Guardian would have to wait.
Tucking her left arm into her vest and securing her package on her back Alana headed for the fire escape. She was down and in the alley by the time the Guardian had hit the top and let out a satisfied laugh at the frustrated yell that echoed through the night.
"I want to know who the fuck that was!" Mariska screamed as she kicked open the door to the basement. She carelessly tossed her parachute to the side stalking up to Lucas' computer. "That bitch nearly killed me!"
"So I saw," Lucas reached up waiting for Mariska to drop her lightly tinted sunglasses into his hands. "Are you alright?"
"Broke my fucking nose, nearly cracked my goddamn ribs," Mariska tugged her gloves from her hands before roughly pulling her hood back.
"Uh huh," Lucas said his concentration on the data downloading from her glasses.
"Are you listening to me?" Mariska asked looking down at her partner. "We. Went. Through. A. Skylight!"
"I believe that was your doing," Lucas reminded. Mariska's hands seemed to have a mind of their own as they reached towards her partner's neck of their own volition. The only saving grace was the buzz of her cell phone as it skipped along the desk.
"Find her," she ordered pulling her phone off the desk and stalking over to the far corner of the room. She clicked the button on. "Hey," she greeted trying to keep her tone even.
Hey babe, are you alright? You sound... angry," Alana said.
"I'm fine, what's up?"
"I just wanted to call and make sure you were okay, you rushed out this morning," Alana said. Mariska sighed torn between reassuring her girlfriend and her temptation to take her frustration out on one of the sources of her ire.
"I'm really okay, you just hit a couple of hot buttons with our conversation this morning and I didn't want to snap at you." Mariska admitted. She rubbed under her nose grimacing as she dislodged dried blood from her upper lip.
"I'm sorry if I offended you, it wasn't my intention."
"I know, really, it's okay. I've just had a rough day."
"Okay, I hate to do this now but I have to fly back home for a couple of weeks and deal with some business." Mariska didn't know whether to be happy about that or not. On the one hand it meant not seeing her girlfriend. On the other it meant not having to lie about looking like a raccoon.
"That sucks, when do you leave?"
"In about two hours, I'm catching the red-eye."
"Did you need a ride or anything?"
"No, I've got a driver coming, I think he might actually be at the door." Alana's voice moved away from the mouthpiece and Mariska could make out the muffled conversation with the driver. Alana returned to the phone after instructing the man to come up and collect her things. "Sorry about that."
"No need." Mariska leaned her back against the wall wincing as her side twinged. Nothing broken thank fucking Christ. Lucas was right, her ribs were her weak spot, she needed to find a better way to protect them. Kevlar was great for stopping bullets but she seemed to be getting tossed into walls and down from heights a lot recently.
"I need to get going, he'll be up shortly. You're certain we're okay?" Mariska nodded before rolling her eyes at herself.
"We're okay, I'm sure. Call me when you get in?"
"It'll only be six o'clock," Alana warned. She knew Mariska was a late riser.
"It's okay, wake me anyway."
"Alright, get some sleep, you sound like you're starting to get sick." Mariska's hand went to her nose, she did sound pretty stuffed up, mostly because dried blood was clogging her nostrils.
"I'll be hitting the sack pretty quick. Have a safe flight."
"Thanks babe, I'll talk to you later."
"Bye." Mariska clicked off the phone tossing it onto the table before she began to strip out of her battlegear. No point in getting it any bloodier than it was already. Kicking off her boots she walked over to the medical table and sat down sullenly before picking up the mirror to look at her face.
"Fuck me. I look like I ran into a parked car," she said turning her face to the side and looking out of the corner of her eye to survey the damage. It was definitely a pronounced break, she could see the distinctive disparity between the upper part of her nose and the lower which had shifted slightly to the right. Fucking bitch.
"I'm gonna kill her." Lucas looked at her over the rims of his glasses and raised an eyebrow. Mariska rolled her eyes. "Of course, by kill, I mean bring her in for prosecution under the proper judicial system," Mariska amended as she gently touched her nose. Pain shot through her nose and around her skull and she pulled her hand away with a wince. She hadn't even started on the deep gash across her eyebrow. Damn thing had only stopped bleeding because dried blood had sealed it shut.
The red hooded freak would do well to either get out of town or get caught by the cops. If Mariska got a hold of her she was determined to even their score. Mariska did smile slightly as she remembered watching the woman get to her feet in the museum. She had been favouring her shoulder pretty heavily.
"Could you come over here and set this please? I look like Owen Wilson." Lucas pushed himself up from his chair readjusting his glasses as he walked over. He bent down to inspect her nose 'hmming' at Mariska as he took her chin and turned it left and right.
"She certainly did a number on you," he touched her brow and she jerked back as the wound reopened and began to leak blood down her temple.
"Urn... Ow!" She said glaring at her partner.
"Don't be such a baby," he pulled the medical tray over as well as a stool and sat down. "I can't do much with your nose until the swelling goes down in a couple of days, but I can get that eye sewn up and try and patch up the rest of you."
"A couple of days? Hell no, you're setting this bitch tonight," she argued pointing at her face.
"Mariska, chances are it won't even set right if I do it now," he argued taking her chin again to get another look.
"I don't care! Every time I breathe I can feel the cartilage scraping together. Fix. It." He sighed reaching for her. He placed the heels of his hand at the base of either side of her nose.
"Ready?" He asked. She nodded minutely and closed her eyes. The sound and feel alone would be enough, she didn't need to see the snap of his wrists that would bring her nose back into alignment. "Here we go," he pressed on her nose and turned his wrists and Mariska felt nauseous as the cartilage rubbed against itself and slid back into place. The initial pain was almost enough to make her pass out and she looked down at the metal medical table to see her fingers wrapped around it with a white knuckle grip.
"Better?" She breathed out of her nose sending flakes of dried blood into her lap along with a small trickle of fresh red liquid.
"Much." He nodded and turned to the tray pulling out baby wipes to clear her eyebrow of blood before he started to sew her up.
"You know why this happened right?" He asked as he brushed at the blood. She fought the urge to jerk away from his hands, his touch rougher than normal.
"Because the top of her skull and my face got into an argument?" Mariska asked looking upwards as Lucas began to press on the wound to clear it of any detritus.
"Because you got sloppy," Lucas corrected turning away from her to thread the needle. He pulled out a syringe of local to numb the wound and she slapped his hand away as he moved for her.
"Pardon fucking moi? I got sloppy?" She asked glaring at her partner. "You're the one who didn't tell me Bizarro me was running around poaching fucking artifacts. She wasn't on your radar either jackass. How the hell was I supposed to know she was a goddamn ninja?" Mariska asked.
"You think normal women run around on rooftops breaking into museums? You should have assumed she would have been above par when it came to combat."
"Do I look like a fucking psychic? Where the hell were you on your recognition programs? With that new upgrade you were whining about you should be able to take a cell phone picture of a thumbnail and be able to techno geek your way an ID." Mariska said. "I'm the one who's out there in the field, I'm the one doing the leg work, I'm the one constantly putting my ass on the line and all I get from you is shit."
"If you stopped patrolling like shit you wouldn't get shit. You're getting complacent, you're used to the same old criminals, stupid assholes who don't think beyond the heist.
We got into this business fighting a mafia don or don't you remember? Ever since we took him down you've been getting sloppy. Last year you wouldn't have ever let that woman get the best of you." Lucas said tossing the medical instruments back on to the tray.
"Get your head out of your ass Mariska, we have a new bad to fight and we won't make it through if the one doing the leg work doesn't start taking her job seriously again and stop fucking around."
"I don't take my job seriously?!" She screamed sliding off the table to tower over her seated partner.
"Ever since you began to see Alana you've missed patrols, cut out early, you're letting her cloud your judgement and it's starting to show when you're out on the streets." Mariska glowered at her partner clamping down on the urge to take a step forward and crack him on the jaw.
"Need I remind you you're the one who told me to 'get out there', 'move on? I'm just doing what the almighty Oracle told me to do. Never mind that you could take a page out of your own book and try and actually live your life for a change. We survived Lucas, you're going to start having to live with that fact sooner or later instead of hiding down here trying to find a way to make it right. Lisa's gone and nothing we've done since her death or can do from this point on will ever make that change," Mariska said. She turned away and headed for the stairs, she would sew herself up at home like a normal person.
"If you had been on your game that night, protected her like you were supposed to, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Mariska's hand paused on the stair railing as the words registered. She had to run through them in her mind one more time to make sure she had actually heard them right. When she was certain that her ears hadn't been playing tricks on her Mariska calmly towards her partner and charged.
Either he hadn't expected her to lash out or he had been out of the field too long. Mariska's tackle hit him full on and they crashed to the floor rolling across the cracked cement. The problem with fighting someone who had trained with her since childhood was that he knew all her moves and her weaknesses. The moment they hit the ground he began to throw punches into her ribs and she growled as he caught a tender spot. Months in a wheel chair had given him superior upper body strength and he managed to muscle her down straddling her stomach.
Mariska wriggled in his grip snorting as he took solid hold of both of her wrists trying to pin her hands above her head.
He had never learned or at least never broken that habit. She wasn't sure if it was his own ego or the general thoughts of the male side of the species but getting her on the ground wasn't any sort of sign of victory. She pulled her feet under her butt and swung her hands down to her hips as she used her legs to push her pelvis up. Lucas shot face first toward the ground and was forced to let go of her lest he break his nose against the concrete. Even with his quick reflexes his chin still skimmed across the top of the ground as he rolled feet over shoulders back into a fighting stance. Mariska swung her body around on the floor kicking her feet out to take him down at the ankles and bringing him back to the floor. He lay there, winded, as Mariska pushed herself to her feet.
"Maybe, if you had been on your game, protected her like you were supposed to, we wouldn't have had to do this," Mariska said spitting out a mouthful of blood. She grabbed her cell phone from the table as she passed. "We all three were at that warehouse Lucas, we knew at least one of us wasn't going to make it out of there. I'm sorry it was Lisa that took it, I am. You know I loved your sister with everything I had in me. But it's a disgrace to her memory to squander the gift she gave us by cacooning ourselves and keeping the world out. We survived for a reason and 1 refuse to believe that it's all about vengeance."
Mariska walked quietly up the steps leaving her partner to wallow in their guilt.
Mariska looked at her reflection in the steamed up mirror debating whether she could get away without actually sewing up the gash on her forehead. She had taken a shower and washed away the dried blood and afterward tied an icepack to her ribs. Her black eyes were developing nicely as was the bruise along her cheekbone where one of the punches had clipped her. There was also a neat slice along the edge of her jaw where the throwing dagger had skimmed by her as well as the large gash running the length of her brow from the headbutt which she was currently inspecting.
She touched her index finger to said gash rolling her eyes as it began seeping blood again. The swelling around it had forced the wound to open and it was liable to leave a nasty scar if she didn't do some damage control.
She reached for the isodyne and rubbed it along her brow going in search of her medical kit while the area numbed somewhat. If Mariska thought she could sew a straight line while drunk she would have shotgunned the bottle of whiskey in her cabinet. Unfortunately, her motor skills were the first thing to go, so she was going to have to go about it in a sober manner.
Standing in front of her mirror she threaded the needle and reached up towards her eye letting out a mild curse as she tried to maneuver it properly in the mirror. Spatial awareness had never really been her thing. Finally getting the hang of it she pushed the needle through the skin sucking in a breath as she tugged on the thread to pull it tight.
It had been a while since she'd had to sew herself up.
In the very beginning, before their team had gotten a reputation on the streets, they had been able to go the hospitals and get treated. They had claimed everything from sports accidents to bar fights to the nurses asking the questions. But, as the trio had become more well known, they could no longer risk going in to the hospitals together. They were no longer anonymous to the doctors or the other staff. Lisa had taken to the medical treatment of their crew learning the tricks of the trade from a friend of hers in the nursing program and whatever books she could get her hands on.
Her last attempt at self repair had been a night last spring when Lisa and Lucas had gone on a family vacation and Mariska had been left to her own devices for two weeks. She had promised not to patrol on her own, Lisa had convinced her of the stupidity of going out totally solo. It was a promise Mariska had fully intended on keeping until she had seen the armoured truck robbery and a security guard facing down the barrel of a sawed off shotgun. In the end she had saved the man and taken very little damage, relatively speaking. She'd had to pull a couple of buckshot out of her leg and the pesky little pellets had left wounds that had required stitching.
Unwilling to show up at the hospital with such an obvious wound she had sat down with a bottle of Jack and Lisa's med kit and put in six stitches along her leg.
Neither of the siblings had been pleased.
Mariska sighed at the memory and inspected the stitches in the mirror to ensure they were straight. She hoped they were, fucked if she was going to take them out and do them again. She clipped off the suture and tied the end throwing the spent medical kit into the garbage before heading for the kitchen for more ice.
She would throw some ice on her head to bring the swelling down while she had a nightcap to calm her nerves. She grabbed a glass and a Ziploc bag filling both from the ice dispenser before heading to her cabinet to pull out the whiskey. She knelt down to grab the bottle in the back of the cabinet her hand skimming across a leather binder. Knowing what it was she bypassed it for the alcohol pouring herself a stiff drink before capping it and grabbing the leather book.
She hadn't looked at it in awhile, it usually it only came out after a hard night's patrol and a couple of drinks while she was feeling melancholy. Mariska sat at her coffee table placing the glass beside her as she began to flip through the binder. The first page was an article from nearly three years ago, their first, when she and Lucas had stopped a mugging. They hadd been wearing ski masks, -not intentionally it had been freezing that winter-, when they had seen a couple of teens going after anoider woman. With their training it had been easy enough to scare them off though Mariska supposed it had looked like something awesome to the lady they had rescued. She had called her and Lucas her Guardian Angels.
The name had stuck.
She looked at the next page, dated only slightly later, describing two masked vigilantes whom had stopped a fight outside a bar from escalating to an all out riot. And again, a month later, when they had foiled a robbery attempt at a deli. Mariska hadn't really wanted to be a vigilante, she wasn't averse to helping people but she had never been interested in looking for trouble. It had been Lucas' cause in the beginning and as his best friend she had followed him into the fray to make sure he always had someone on his six. He had been the unofficial leader at the time and Mariska had been the sometimes sidekick.
Lisa had found out about their masked adventures when she had pieced together some news stories with Lucas' inexplicable injuries. That was when the playing field between Lucas and Mariska had become more level. They both had a junior partner to look after and Mariska had stepped up to the plate with zeal, teaching Lisa all she could to keep the young woman safe on the streets. As Lucas had become more involved with locating crime hot spots and the masterminds of the city Mariska had claimed the streets interested in a more grass roots approach to crime fighting. Lisa had split her efforts between the two of them eager to learn the grander machinations of organized crime while still participating in the small picture.
For her part Mariska had loved having Lisa in the field. It kept her more alert, more attuned to the world around her, so she could protect her best friend's younger sister. A woman she had thought of as family for most of her life. But, as life had a tendency to do, things had begun to change just as they were all getting comfortable with their roles. Mariska had found her feelings towards Lisa shifting as she began to look at the young woman as a partner and equal rather than as Lucas' little sister. They all grew a lot in that first year though, looking back, Mariska had to shake her head at how immature they were.
They had thought wearing the masks made them infallible, untouchable. They were the guardians of the city and could do no wrong. It had been that new confidence that Mariska had first noticed about Lisa. She had gone from an intelligent but shy teenager to a confident crime fighter slipping the responsibility on as though it were a coat that had been tailored to her. They had joked it ran in the family.
She turned to the next page ignoring the slew of clippings that were tucked into the corner for the one that was incased in plastic. It was one of their first front page pictures, one of the few of all three of them at once. They were all in various states of battle Mariska flipping a would be robber over her hip as Lucas and Lisa traded punches with his partners. Each of them had that one framed.
It had been that picture that had clearly put into focus what they all had become. The protectors, the Guardians. It had been that day, after watching Lisa calmly move through what was otherwise a chaotic battle, that Mariska had realized she had managed to fall in love with her best friend's baby sister. It had been an odd day to say the least. She had spent nearly a month coming to terms with the self revelation and deciding a course of action.
Unwilling to compromise her partnership with either of the siblings she had all but decided to keep silent when she and Lisa had been caught in some super schizo's trap of death. It had been one of those stupid -end of the world reveal all- moments and Mariska had spilled her guts. Obviously the trap hadn't worked quite the way the designer had intended.
She and Lisa had escaped at the last moment after Lucas had magicked open some doors for them. The next few days had been awkward to say the least.
But, they had pushed through the uncomfortable silences and stilted conversations and eventually found their way to one another.
And Lucas had only threatened Mariska a little.
That had only been six months before Lisa's death. For a long while following that fateful night, Mariska had wished they'd had more time together. That she had realized her feelings earlier, gotten over the awkward stage sooner. But as she had moved into acceptance and her grief had begun to fade from all consuming to something a little...less, Mariska knew that they had done everything in perfect timing. All the dancing around, moving back and forth had allowed them both to grow, to find themselves and eventually be what the other needed. She still wished their time had been longer, but was glad they had moved slowly and been sure of themselves and of each other while they were together.
Mariska sipped at her drink smiling as she read the headline crediting the police with taking down one of the most powerful mafia dons on the east coast. There was no mention of the Guardians, -there couldn't be-, but it had been they who had raided the docks and found the evidence needed to put the man and nearly three quarters of his organization away. It had been one of their greatest achievements and the start of the end.
Whether it was officially said or not, word on the street was that the Guardians' had been the orchestrators of the Don's downfall. It had made them feared by the lower level criminals and hated by those in power. They had become targets and where their team could once move easily through the streets, gangs now waited to bait them in, attacking innocent people to pull them out into the open. Everyone and anyone with a team of thugs had them running pell mell across the city trying to keep order while keeping their identities in the bag.
It had worked for awhile. They made it through the entire summer without more than the usual bumps and bruises though they all sorely needed a break. The worst was that they knew they couldn't leave, couldn't stop. To disappear would make it look like defeat to their enemies and abandonment to the innocent people they fought to protect. They had soldiered on never really to stopping to think about the trends only worrying about the task at hand. The next robbery. The next drug deal.
They should have been worrying about more.
They were all three burning out, constantly burning the wick at both ends trying to maintain the upkeep of both of their lives. Lucas had more or less relegated himself to the operations center monitoring the city and prioritizing the incidents. Mariska and Lisa were masked and in the field most of the night and some days constantly carrying their costumes to be ready at a moment's notice. It had been one such day where they had been caught off guard, Lucas too. The chaos had started in the afternoon with a tip about a slave ring in the city. By sunrise the next morning the Guardians were one member short and Mariska's life and Lucas' body had been shattered.
Mariska snapped the album closed finishing her drink with a zealous gulp and leaving the glass on the table as she headed for her bedroom. She laid on the bed eyes watching the bright red numbers of her alarm clock as they cycled through. Slowly she felt her lids grow heavy, the alcohol taking effect, and allowed herself to drift into sleep.
"I can do this," Lisa argued turning to look at Mariska and Lucas. Mariska shrugged her shoulders at the man, it was true. Lisa was the youngest but she was just as capable as either of them. She also happened to be the only one who had a chance in hell of passing as the courier who was supposed to meet the slavers at the warehouse. Said courier was currently lying unconscious and blindfolded in a small room off the basement while they waited for the drop time to roll around.
"I don't like it," Lucas said slicing his hand through the air. "We have no idea if this guy is just going to take the money and run or not."
"Luke, we know he's got the kids, he's been picking them off the streets for weeks, we need Lisa to go in so we can ID the guys involved and find out where they're stashing the kids. It'll be quick and easy."
"Never mind this guy has a reputation for killing other people's soldiers."
"If he wants to deal he can't kill anybody," Lisa cut in. "Look we don't have a lot of time and we're fresh out of options. It's this or he moves on to the next buyer and we lose those kids to whatever pervert has the cash to pay to get his jollies." Mariska nodded, her lover had a point. It was a now or never kind of deal.
"We all go in then, Mariska and I will be in the wings as back-up," Lucas said his tone leaving no room for argument from either woman. Mariska shrugged she hadn't planned on arguing anyway, she had agreed to let Lisa play courier. That didn't mean she had intended to leave the woman to her own devices. There was risky and there was stupid.
"We've got a few hours before the drop and it's already been a long day," Mariska said. "We should all get some rest." The siblings nodded Lucas walking over to check their captive was still out cold before heading to the stairs. Mariska looked over at the freight elevator before turning to the stairs as well, no point in being lazy about things now.
"Your shoulder bothering you?" Lisa asked as they walked. Mariska put her hand up to her right shoulder massaging it lightly to try to work out the kinks.
"A little, damn punk caught me pretty good." They had been thwarting a bank robbery, the third in as many weeks, when Mariska had taken a 9mm slug to the back. The world had gone dark for a moment as the pain had registered and then she had been reaching for her batarang turning quickly to knock the weapon from unsteady hands. When she had unmasked him she had found him to be not much more than a child, probably no older than herself. It had been the leader of that merry little band that had told them about the slavers.
"I'll get you some ice, go lie down," Lisa instructed turning Mariska towards one of the small bedrooms their warehouse apartment sported. They tried not to sleep there too often, -all wanting to have a life separate from this one-, but the summer had forced them spend more and more time there as crime had begun to reach a fever pitch.
Mariska laid down on the bed taking off her overshirt and pants and settling under the covers in her tank top and underwear. Lisa joined her shortly afterward placing an ice pack wrapped in a towel on her shoulder to help bring the swelling down.
"You know as well as I do the Cardoso's are making the deal with Tuchi, not the Gereros," Mariska said as her partner drew gentle patterns on her back. "Tuchi is only bringing in the Gerero courier girl so he can take her out and start a war between the Cardoso and the Gerero families,"
"I'm aware," Lisa admitted leaving off the gentle touch to tuck herself tightly against Mariska's front.
"He'll start shooting the moment he knows you've got the cash."
"I'll get the location of the kids out of him before then and you'll get me out before he can start going trigger happy."
"I don't know L," Mariska wrapped an around her partner's waist burying her head in the nape of her partner's neck. "This is a little risky, even for us."
"We can't just let those kids get shipped out to God knows where 'Rish, this is who we are, there's no one else to stop this but us," Lisa reasoned taking a tight grip of Mariska's hand. "It'll be okay, you and Lucas are going to be there, I'll be fine."
"Does Lucas know about Tuchi and the Cardosos?" Lisa nodded.
"I told him while you were getting the courier kid settled into the cell."
"And he didn't fight harder on this?" Mariska asked pulling away momentarily to look at her partner.
"Oh he did, but he's starting to learn that I'm not the junior partner anymore and that anything he's willing to do he should be willing to let me to do. This was the only way to get what we need in time and he knows it. Mr Logic himself can't deny that this is what has to be done."
"Not denying and agreeing are two very different things," Mariska reminded placing a gentle kiss at the base of her partner's neck.
"I know, I just reminded him that I have two people watching my six both of whom are super kick ass." Lisa looked down at Mariska. "We're going to be okay. Promise." Mariska nodded wanting to believe in the younger woman's words, needing to believe them. She leaned forward kissing her lover needing the closeness to reassure herself that, for the moment at least, they were alive and well. Pushing away all thoughts but those of the woman in her arms Mariska concentrated on happier things.
When they awoke it was nearly dusk and they headed downstairs quickly, it was almost time. Lisa would be going without any protective gear relying on Mariska and Lucas to get her out of harm's way once they had what they needed. Tonight was about rescuing the kids, tomorrow they would worry about busting the bad guys.
Mariska tugged on her Kevlar vest zipping it up before throwing on her leather motorcycle jacket her mask tucked into the inner pocket. Lucas was similarly dressing himself as Lisa doublechecked the money and readied all of their recording equipment. Everything would be transmitted back to the base via a wireless uplink, there would be no need for a phsycial wire on Lisa, the clear sunglasses she was wearing would act as then-audio link.
"Alright, one more time," Lucas said. "You take the money to the warehouse, tell him you want proof of life and location of the kids before you hand the case off." Lisa nodded. "If it gets too hot too quick give the signal we'll pull you out." Another nod. "If you don't want to do this we'll find another way kid."
"I'm going to be fine, stop worrying," Lisa said waving off her older brother. The three of them walked over to the car they had pulled the courier girl from and Lisa slid into the driver seat waiting for Lucas to hand off the cash.
"We'll shortcut our way to the warehouse and get into position before you get there, we'll be back in radio range once you hit the two kilometer mark."
'"Kay, I'll catch you on the inside," Lisa started the engine and Lucas moved away to settle himself on his bike. Mariska leaned against the car door.
"Watch yourself," she warned. Tuchi had a reputation for losing his temper quickly, if he sensed a set up they would kill Lisa before either Mariska or Lucas had opportunity to respond.
"You too," Lisa kissed her before settling into her seat and pulling the seat belt over her shoulder. Mariska settled herself on her bike and she and Lucas watched as the young woman drove out of the small warehouse. Nodding to each they started their engines and followed behind Lisa cutting in a different direction from Lisa to shortcut to the warehouse. They reached the meet quickly and hid their bikes before bypassing the security with relative ease. Once in position they signaled to one another to indicate their respective locations, Mariska tucked amid the I-beams running crisscross along the ceiling, Lucas laying atop one of the tall stacks of crates a little closer to where the action would be.
Mariska had the better overall vantage point but Lucas would have better access to the going's on and a quicker response time if things went south.
"She's transmitting again," Lucas said. His voice would be a whisper on his end but the throat mic made it come across loud and clear on Mariska's side.
"Yeah I got her." She thought she could hear a car in the distance and began to tap her fingers along the I-beam impatiently. The sooner this was over the better.
"Mr. Gerroro isn't willing to pay this much money sight unseen, I want to see the kids before I start handing cash over to you," Lisa said. There were footsteps now, the group was inside the warehouse proper. Mariska fidgeted slightly in place, taking a quick look around to reassess the guard's position. There were six stationaries, two at either entrance of the building, three standing near the large stacks of crates and the sixth near an office. Mariska squinted at the office's frosted glass window, it was sporting some weird emblem. She dismissed it offhand, graffiti wasn't really high on her list of priorities at the moment.
There were also two patrolling guards moving around the warehouse hands firmly wrapped around the weapons that were slung over their shoulders. Mariska sighed quietly she hadn't counted on so many, judging by Lucas' disgruntled look he hadn't either. This had the potential to get very messy.
"I'll be frank with you Little One, Gerroro's offer comes across as an insult," Tuchi said as he led Lisa into the section of crates monitored by guards. "Cardoso's offer is much more lucrative. Is Gerroro planning on negotiating or should I just sell my goods to people who appreciate their worth?"
"Well, there's no telling what they're worth until I actually see them now is there?" Lisa asked. "Mr. Gerroro isn't about to give you top dollar for sub par goods. Show me what you've got and we'll discuss negotiations." The gun was out so quick Mariska barely had time to register before her hand was pulling a batarang from her belt and sighting on Tuchi. Lucas held up a hand to indicate for her to hold.
"There are no discussions, no negotiations, Cardoso is willing to pay 130% of what Gerrero is offering, you give me better we start to talk, deal or no deal?" Mariska thought she could see her lover swallow as she stared down the barrel of the .45 in the man's left hand.
"Deal," Lisa said with a nod. Tuchi dropped his gun smiling broadly at her. Lisa managed to smile back reaching out her hand to shake on it. That was the signal, they weren't going to get the location of the kids from Tuchi, it was time to go. Mariska tied off the line on her belt to the I-beam as she watched Lucas army crawl forward. They were both in position to jump as Tuchi reached forward with his right hand to shake with Lisa. As he shook his left hand came up gun pointed towards Lisa's gut. Mariska dove off the I-beam batarang in hand and aimed at the gun in Tuchi's hand. The sharp weapon clipped the revolver sending the bullet off course but not clearing Lisa' body entirely.
The young woman dropped as the bullet hit her leg sending up a spray of blood as she fell. Mariska landed on the hard concrete detaching her line as she sent a punch into the solar plexus of the nearest man. She snapped out her baton and brought it down hard across the back of his head dropping him to the floor. She heard the gun cock milliseconds before it fired the bullet sending up splinters as it connected with the crate next to her head. She turned to see Lucas drop kicking the shooter into oblivion the gun clattering loudly to the floor. Two down.
Lisa had her hand wrapped around leg pushing herself back and out of the fray as the guards began to converge on the two crime fighters. Mariska kept herself close to at least one man at all times trying to discourage them from opening fire by keeping their peers within the line of sight. One of the men didn't seem to care and snapped off two shots dropping the man in front of Mariska and landing the next in her chest. She stumbled back, surprised that the gunmen had so easily sacrificed one of his coworkers.
Mariska tossed a batarang at him the weapon slicing deep along his face and causing him to turn away just long enough for Lucas to put him down with a fierce punch to the jaw.
Mariska kept one eye on Lisa kicking a gun over to the younger woman when she had the chance between blocking one man's haymaker to her ribs and another's buttstroke to her jaw. She dodged the latter the former eking past her guard and into her side. She hit the deck, her Kevlar vest providing little protection at her side where the strike had landed.
Mariska looked up to see the man grinning at her metal shining along his fist. Brass knuckles.
Well if that wasn't fucking cheating she didn't know what was.
She kicked her feet trying to take him out at the ankles the strike cut short as she felt a wire wrap around her neck and begin to pull. Her hands immediately went to her throat as she was dragged away from the melee. She bucked and kicked trying to find some purchase on the floor or a way to unbalance the thug behind her. A gunshot rang out and the weight behind her dropped leaving Mariska gasping as she pulled the wire away from her neck. She looked over at Lisa who had pushed herself to her feet and was leaning heavily against one of the crates, a smoking gun in her hands.
While grateful for the save Mariska was chagrined to notice the men had turned on Lisa guns upraised. She pulled two batarangs from her belt getting one off and knocking out one man before a shot landed in her shoulder. The second batarang flew but missed its target the man she had been aiming for firing off two rounds before Lucas put him down.
Mariska put her hand to her shoulder and turned to check on Lisa a growl erupting as she saw the young woman slide down the crate a trail of blood in her wake. Mariska's and Lucas' twin cries of grief were drowned out only by the sound of a two quick shotgun fires and Mariska watched in horror as her other partner fell yelling out in pain. She had no time to help him as a third and forth shot connected forcing her to the ground with barely a whimper. She couldn't breath deeply enough to manage anything more.
Mariska looked off in the distance eyes falling on the weird symbol on the office door wondering if it would be the last thing she would see, she couldn't even really make it out at this point. Her vision began to darken as someone with sharp shoes launched kicks into her ribs.
She tried to turtle to protect her head grunting as she felt something in her midsection crack. She had never broken a rib before. So that was what that felt like. It didn't matter, she was done, they were done. It was over. Mariska had known this would probably be the way things ended, she just hadn't expected it to be so soon. They still had so much to do. So many people to help.
People to help.
Mariska managed to turn getting a look at Lucas who was moaning on the floor as a pool of blood spread out beneath him. He was alive. So was she and maybe Lisa still had a chance. They were her family. She would die for them. If they were worth dying for they sure as hell were worth fighting for. Mariska tucked more tightly into herself reaching for a flash bang on her belt. It would damn near deafen her at this range but she was expecting it and they weren't, that would have to be enough.
She activated the weapon closing her eyes to minimize the damage. She heard surprised cries as it went off and let out a yell that held all of her anger and grief in it as she swung her legs around to take the nearest man out at the knees. He fell to the concrete completely unprepared his head landing with a dull thud. He didn't get up.
Mariska pushed herself to her knees crawling and feeling along the floor for a weapon as she listened to the one man's confused stumbling. She had seen Tuchi take off the moment the fight started, this guy was the only one left, Her heart dropped as her hand slid through warm liquid and she ignored the urge to vomit as she felt the legs of her downed partner and workedher way up to the gun in Lisa's hand.
She pulled the weapon from a limp grip sighting the last man by sound and firing the gun. She heard the crack of wood and listened again firing in line across the room until she heard a cry of pain and the sound of a heavy weight meeting concrete.
Lucas groaned in the background as Mariska felt her way up Lisa's body willing her eyes to clear so she could make out her lover's form.
"Lisa?" She shook the younger woman. "Lis'? C'mon baby, talk to me," Mariska pleaded hands searching Lisa's neck for a pulse. She found none and she tugged her glove off with her teeth in frustration to check again.
The disparate howl that tore from her throat would haunt hers and Lucas' dreams for years to come.
"Noo!" Mariska shot up in bed sucking in deep breaths to try to bring her heart rate under control. She ripped the covers from her sweat soaked body stumbling out of bed and to her bathroom where she promptly threw up everything her stomach had to offer.
God fucking damn it.
It had been awhile since her nightmares had been that intense, that crisp. Her mind went into rewind without her permission retracing the dream. Something was niggling at her. Something new. Mariska shook it off rinsing her mouth out before wiping a cold cloth across her face. She ignored the dull ache that seemed to permeate every part of her body and tossed the cloth into the bathtub eyes falling on the frosted glass shower door.
Her mind sent up a flag and she turned to her make up drawer pulling out an old tube of lipstick. She uncapped it and reached forward closing her eyes as she concentrated on what her subconscious was trying to tell her. The symbol came to her mind's eye transferred through her hand to the glass door. She opened her eyes taking a deep angered breath at the symbol before her as recognition dawned.
"Stella, it's good to see you back in L.A." Alana clapped Adam on the shoulder as she exited the car. He closed the door and followed her into the warehouse. He had been one of her lieutenants for years and was running the operations in the City of Angels. There had been some trouble with the local politicians of late, some newbies had been elected and hadn't learned the way things worked around her city. It would take finesse and some subtle threatening to get the wheels greased again and get operations back into full swing.
Alana walked into her office, nothing changed from when she had left off direct control of LA nearly three years ago. Of course, to maintain discipline, she passed by on occasion, usually in surprise, to make sure all was well. She picked through the file folders on her desk each of them a profile of the upstarts who needed to be taken care of.
Some could be ignored, they wouldn't make it beyond their first term and there was no point wasting good money when the next election would take care of Alana's problem for her. Two or three looked to be the right type to take a bribe and seemed to have the political maneuvering to maintain their new seats for some time to come. It was the other two that would require a more direct approach.
"Get me an appointment with these two," she said handing the man the appropriate files. "No rush, grab them on the way home from work, I don't want to start running into houses and pulling them out just yet." Adam nodded and Alana sat down. "Adam," the man paused and turned to look at her. "Do let them know that that is a possibility if they give you trouble on the pick-up tomorrow."
"Will do boss," she nodded at him in dismissal and he disappeared from the office. Alana sat back in her chair breathing deeply of the old leather. She had rousted the warehouse from an old opponent, a smart mouthed businessman who had thought he had the stomach for crime. Alana had left him to his own devices until he had gotten the wrong idea about parts of her territory, moving his men into her streets. The consequences had been swift and undeniable and by the time the blood had stopped filling the streets she had annexed his men, his territory and his contacts.
That had been nearly ten years ago now, when she had first begun to move from being a solo thief to leading a band. They hadn't been much more than a street gang at that time but a few good deals and her unwillingness to go gently into the night ensured that STELLA would make its way to the top. It had taken time and patience as all things worth having were wont to need but by the time she had turned day to day operations over to Adam they had control of most of the docks in LA and had branched out all over the West coast.
Alana checked her watch, eight am eastern time, she reached for her phone dialing the number from memory. She had waited a couple of hours to call Mariska, despite the young woman's request she knew her lover needed her sleep. She was surprised when it was picked up on the second ring a completely alert Mariska on the other end of the line.
"Hey," was the younger woman's subdued greeting.
"Morning, how you feeling?"
"I've had better days," Mariska answered. Alana frowned, the woman's day had barely begun. That couldn't be good. "How was your flight?"
"Long and boring. I wish I was there to help you feel better," Alana said surprised by her own candor. And honesty. She had been eager to get back to her old stomping grounds and out of range of that pain in the ass 'Guardian'. But now that she was actually in L.A., she found whatever attachments she had been holding onto about the city had disappeared.
"I wish you were here too," Mariska admitted quietly. Alana raised an eyebrow at a noise, it had sounded suspiciously like a sniffle. Alana sat forward pushing the phone closer to her ear as if to hear better.
"Mariska, are you alright?"
"Yeah, just a really bad night, Lucas and I got into a fight and I..." There was a pause, "I got mugged on the way home."
"What?!" Alana stood from her chair threatening to overturn it with her quick motions.
"I'm alright, just got a little beat up," her girlfriend was openly crying now though the sound was muffled slightly by something over the receiver.
"Are you sure you're alright? Did you file a report?"
"I'm fine, just some bruises and a couple of cuts. I didn't call the cops, I didn't get a good look. It all happened pretty fast."
"I'm coming back," Alana said. She would tear through every half rate thug and find the culprits. No one messed with what was hers.
"You don't have to do that, I'm really okay," Mariska said her voice beginning to calm. "I know you have work in L.A, it's really just a couple of bruises."
"I can have someone else take care of business," Alana said leaving her office and snapping her to fingers to signal one of the men. He trotted over to her and she held up a gloved hand. He nodded in understanding waiting silently. "I'll be back by mid-afternoon."
"No arguments," the redhead said. "I'm on my way." She closed the phone cutting off any further protests.
"Get Adam, tell him I want the people we talked about here in an hour. I don't care if you have to drag them kicking and screaming from their offices." He nodded and went off to do as she ordered as Alana dialed Lucky's number.
"Boss lady," he said in greeting.
"Find everyone on the streets last night, I want to know who took on a young woman. Would have been in the West end."
"Friend of yours boss?" He asked.
"Yes," Athena said. Lucky was the type to keep personal matters personal. He was also loyal as a dog and took her personal matters as his personal matters.
"I'll take care of it." She hung up tucking the phone into her vest. She would have the fuckers in hand soon enough. Satisfied that she had done all that could be done three thousand kilometres away from her injured girlfriend Alana turned her attention to organizing things in a fraction of the time she had intended.
Alana tugged her purse higher onto her right shoulder her left hand wrapped around a bag of take out. She double checked her palms as the elevator moved towards Mariska's floor. Thanks to her Kevlar gloves the wire hadn't sliced into her skin. It had merely left angry red welts along her palm that she had soothed with ice and aloe and were now only faint lines across the insides of her hands. They were still tender to the touch but that was easily ignored. The elevator dinged Mariska's level and Alana got off giving a curt nod to the man in the car who had tried to engage her in conversation in the lobby.
She knocked on Mariska's door waiting for the brunette to open it. Both women's eyes widened in surprised at the sight of the other.
"I thought you were joking..."
"Your face..." Mariska's hand immediately went up to her nose trying to cover the damage.
"It's okay, not a big deal, it got broken in high school. It practically breaks if I sneeze too hard," Mariska said moving to the side to allow Alana in. The redhead put the food and her purse on the ground tugging Mariska into the light to take a better look. The young woman's eyes closed as Alana brushed gentle hands over bruised skin.
Her eyes fell on the gash on Mariska's eyebrow and she reached up to touch the edges. The swelling hadn't quite gone and the injured skin was red and warm under her fingers.
"I hit my head on the concrete, I think," the brunette said. "It's a little fuzzy."
"Did they let a first year med student sew you up? The stitches are completely uneven," Alana asked. She thought she saw a flash of distress in Mariska's eyes and cursed herself. "I'm sure it'll heal just fine though, it doesn't look bad enough to scar," she assured before waving off the topic altogether. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really, I haven't had much of an appetite all day," Mariska admitted.
"I'll put this in the fridge for later then, how about we just sit and relax?" The grateful look Mariska threw her way bordered on heartbreaking and Alana renewed her vow to find whoever had harmed the young woman.
Food stowed Alana sat on the couch next to Mariska who had a blanket pooled at her feet, the TV on quietly in the background. Alana's butt had no sooner met the seat that Mariska settled her head into her lap pulling the covers up tightly to her shoulders. Alana had been surprised early on to learn that Mariska's habit of cuddling didn't bother her much. At all actually, if she was being honest. If she was being totally honest she would even admit that she enjoyed the closeness. She had never been able to enjoy such innocent connections with her other partners and it was a pleasant change.
"You didn't have to come back," Mariska said her hands tracing patterns on Alana's denim clad knees. She had been damned if she was going to do that flight twice in one day in a business suit. Alana bent down kissing a tanned temple. She could have fought the feelings that were developing, the ones that were settling down somewhere so deep inside her she hadn't even known the spot existed. With this one gesture, she had admitted, if only to herself, that Mariska was becoming an important part of her life. So Alana said all she could think to say as she ran her hands through soft brown tresses.
"Yes. I did.
Alana woke slowly, her mind sluggish to register where she was. The bed was considerably smaller than her king at home. There was also a wall of warmth plastered to her chest and she felt the rhythmic exhalation against her collarbone. She smiled leaning forward to brush a kiss against Mariska's forehead before adjusting her hold on the woman.
She had no idea what time it was, the heavy black out curtains prevented her from judging by the sun and Mariska was blocking the alarm clock. It didn't matter. She didn't particularly care as the only thing on her agenda for the day was staying close to Mariska. Maybe rent a movie and just spend some time together.
Mariska shifted in her sleep burrowing more tightly into Alana's shoulder. The redhead tugged the covers higher around them knowing the brunette tended to get cold at night. Why the woman insisted at setting her AC to icebox level Alana would never know.
"I don't have to get up do I?" Mariska asked her voice muffled against the tank top Alanda had worn to bed. Alana smiled running her hands through Mariska's hair and givingher scalp a scratch. She could almost swear Mariska purred when she did that.
"Nope, we can stay in bed all day if you want."
"I have to work tonight," Mariska said pulling away slightly so she could push Alana from her side on to her back. She then proceeded to drape herself over Alana head resting on the redhead's chest as she curved the rest of her body around Alana. The redhead continued the gentle massage of her girlfriend's scalp enjoying the weight of Mariska's body on top of her.
"I'm calling in sick for you," Alana said when she was finally able to check the clock. Nearly ten. Odd. It was rare for her to sleep beyond eight.
"You can't, I need the hours," Mariska said tightening her arms around Alalia's midsection before yawning widely. Alana looked down at her lover mentally wincing at the play of bruises marring tanned skin. Dark circles lined Mariska's eyes, she still seemed exhausted after nearly twelve hours of sleep.
"You need to rest," Alana argued. Her girlfriend could be damn stubborn but she wasn't about to budge. Mariska had a habit of pushing too hard, Alana knew the consequences of that, she wasn't about to let the brunette burn herself out ever a few days wages. Bad wages at that.
"Some of us can't actually afford to blow off work two days in a row," Mariska said. Alana could feel her girlfriend smile against her skin. At least Mariska's sense of humour was beginning to recover.
"I don't want you to blow off work," Alana said drawing her nails up Mariska's back. "I want you to quit." Mariska chuckled evidently unaware Alana was being quite serious.
"Funny. That'll happen. You gonna come sleepover when I live in a carboard box?" Mariska pushed up to look at Alana expression changing as she caught the redhead's look. "You're serious? Alana, we're not all wealthy lawyers. I have enough in savings to float me through maybe a month. I can't afford to throw away a perfectly good job."
"I'm not telling you to throw away your job," Mariska gave her a confused stare. "I want you to open your bar."
"With the thousand dollars I have in my account?" Mariska asked with a snort which quickly turned to a wince. "Last I checked it was a little more expensive."
"I'll invest in it and I know enough bankers to swing a loan for the rest," Alana reasoned.
"Alana..." Mariska shook her head hand coming up to her nose as the motion caused some unpleasantness.
"Listen, I've wanted to invest in something new. I already have a number of holdings on the West coast," Alana said. It wasn't quite a lie. "I looked over the proposal you gave me, it's sound."
"This is insane." Mariska moved to roll off Alana, the redhead held tightly to keep her lover in place.
"Why? I have the contacts to make this happen. If there was ever a time to try it's now."
"I don't have a location, a construction crew... That business proposal was a school project for Christ sake."
"With real world applicability, it'll work."
"Even if I did accept. And that's a big 'if. I'd still need to work, rent doesn't pay itself and it'll be months before I could open."
"Take it out of the investment, that's how everyone else does it." Mariska raised an eyebrow at her girlfriend.
"I'm not the type to be a kept woman," Mariska said and Alana rolled her eyes.
"Who's talking about being a kept woman? You'll be paying the bank back with interest and I'll be earning profits comparable to my percentage of investment. Once you're on your feet you can buy me out or we'll leave it as is."
"That's potentially a big risk for you," Mariska said. Alana shrugged. It wasn't really. Not if she burned down a couple of bars and paid the right cops.
"I wouldn't invest the money if I couldn't afford to lose it and there's always some risk with new business. But you've worked in this type of thing long enough to know the market and what will or won't work. I trust you Mariska, you to need to start trusting you."
"It's always a little harder when it's someone else's valuables I'm risking," Mariska admitted. "I don't want this to go bad and have it ruin us."
"It won't go bad and even if it did it won't ruin us. You're a hard worker and you've got a good head for business, if it tanks it won't be because of you."
"Why are you doing this?" Mariska asked.
"Simple answer?" That was easy, 'make money'.
"Honest answer." Mariska countered and Alana smirked. Clever girl. She sighed tapping the pads of her fingers on the small of Mariska's back.
"I care about you and I worry about you. I want to see you succeed and I don't want to watch you kill yourself to do it. I had to climb my way over everyone and his dog to get to where I am. I don't want that for you," she said with a shrug.
"Can I think about it? It's a big decision." Alana didn't really think so. It was a bit of a no brainer. It was a golden deal really.
"Of course, take as long as you want. I, on the other hand, am going to go out and grab us some breakfast."
"You don't have to do that," Mariska argued. "I can just make us something."
"Nope," Alana leaned forward and kissed Mariska's nose. "Stay in bed and rest up, I'm going for Starbucks." Alana threw her long legs out of the bed grabbing Mariska's sweat pants and U of T hoodie and pulling them on. She heard the brunette laugh quietly and turned eyebrow upraised. "What?"
"You look adorable," Mariska said motioning to the shirt which was slightly oversized on her lean frame and the pants which pooled at her feet.
"Adorable?" Alana asked. Adorable was for puppies and small children not women who were hard hitting lawyers by day and world feared criminals by night.
"I am not adorable," Aiana growled moving back to the bed as Mariska held out a hand. The younger woman pulled her forward reaching up to wrap her arms around Alana's neck.
"Believe me, you look adorable," Mariska said. Alana nodded willing to agree to damn near anything when the woman's lips were two inches from hers. The brunette closed the distance between them and Alana moved as Mariska tugged her closer. She straddled the younger woman pulling back momentarily.
Mariska tugged her coat closer around her body trying to ward off the biting wind as she headed for the subway. Her phone rang deep within her pockets and she cursed as she searched for it hands nearly numb when her fingers wrapped around the device.
"Hey Sweetheart, I'm almost at your place."
"Great, dinner's on its way. Just wanted to make sure it'd be warm when you got here," Alana said.
"I'll be there in ten."
"Okay, see you then." Mariska closed the phone and was about to tuck it into her pocket when it rang again.
"Did you need me to pick something up?" Mariska asked as she debated whether to try beating the crosswalk light.
"Mariska." She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk ignoring the irritated glares from her fellow pedestrians.
"Lucas?" She asked, surprised to hear his voice. They hadn't spoken in nearly a month. They were both stubborn and she had been determined not to be the first to break. It had made her search for STELLA more difficult but not impossible. She had simply taken to going to the warehouse when she knew he wouldn't be there.
"Yeah. I... I wanted to tell you," Mariska held the phone closer. "I mean, I wanted to say..." She heard him sigh on his end. "I think I've found STELLA's headquarters or a least a base of operations."
Mariska's ears perked up.
"Actually one of the leads you had," Lucas said. Ah, so he had noticed she had been playing in the computer. No doubt he had also seen her missing equipment. It was hard stashing her gear at her apartment. There was little enough room for her usual things as it was and she had to hide it all from Alana as well. At least, for now. They were getting to the point in their relationship where it wasn't right to hide such a big part of herself. Decisions.
"Where is it?" She asked moving off to the side and leaning against a lamppost.
"Oddly enough, a warehouse along Lakeshore, they're not more than a few klicks from us."
"Punta." That close the entire time.
"I know we're not exactly buddies at the moment..."
"I'll come in tomorrow and take a look," Mariska said easily. "This is the job Lucas, whatever is going on between us, we have a responsibility. I won't let this get in the way of it."
"Uh... Right." She knew that didn't work for him. He couldn't compartmentalize and keep their fight and the job separate. She could.
"Goodnight." She closed the phone with a sigh and headed to Alana's.
"So, how's it coming?" Alana asked taking a sip from her wine.
"Good, good. They're starting to drywall tomorrow and the contractor has the taper-scheduled for Monday. We're on time and on budget so far."
"Fantastic." Mariska smiled at her girlfriend. It was their six month anniversary. It made her happy they had lasted as long as they had but she could also sense a melancholic mood sitting at the edge of her consciousness. She and Lisa had been a few days shy of the landmark when everything had gone wrong.
"You okay?" Alana asked. Mariska smiled at her lover.
"Fine. Just thinking."
"Thinking about something that makes you sad?" Alana asked reaching a hand across the table to take Mariska's.
"Lucas called," Mariska said trying to throw Alana off the track. Alana knew she had lost a lover but now how things had happened. Explaining about the circumstances of Lisa's death meant explaining about the Guardian and Mariska wasn't certain she was emotionally up to that at the moment.
"Did you two sort things out?"
"No, not really. We just kind of ignored the elephant in the room." Alana raised an eyebrow.
"Then why did he call?"
"He wanted some help with a project we were working on. I told him I'd go over and give him a hand tomorrow."
"You're kidding." Mariska shook her head.
"No, maybe it'll give us a chance to talk and get back on stable ground."
"You're a better person than I," Alana said squeezing Mariska's hand before pulling back to concentrate on her meal. "I tend not to forgive so easily."
"For awhile we were all the other had," Mariska said with a shrug. "Life's too short to carry hatred." She thought it was actually a fairly ironic conversation considering that what was bringing her and Luke back together was the desire for vengeance. Well, on her end at least. She hadn't yet told Lucas that STELLA had been responsible for the warehouse. His tempter tended to run pretty hot and he would have done something stupid.
"You're right," Alana agreed. "Unfortunately I'm just not built that way." Mariska shook her head.
"You're one of the most caring people I know," Mariska said standing up and settling herself in her girlfriend's lap. The fact had surprised her in the beginning given how they had met. But the Alana the Guardian had encountered had never shown herself to Mariska.
"You bring it out in me," Alana said wrapping her arms round Mariska's waist. "I've never had this with anyone."
"Well I'm glad that makes me special," Mariska said running her hands through red hair. "But I wish you'd had someone around for you before me." Alana shook her head leaning up against Mariska's chest.
I'm glad it was you."
Mariska threw her duffel bag onto the counter top looking around the basement for any sign of her partner. She shrugged to herself when she found none and began to pull out her gear. He could hold a grudge as well as she could but even he wasn't enough of an ass to ditch her when it was this important.
She heard his familiar steps, -the left one slightly heavier then the right- as he came down the stairs and paused.
"Hey." He gave an almost helpless shrug that she returned.
"How are you?"
"I'm good, nose is all healed, ribs are good to go," she said keeping things at surface level, he could choose to go beyond that.
"I didn't mean..." He paused and sighed. "Good, I'm glad you're ready."
"Alright, so what are we dealing with?" She asked tugging her leather pants on. Lucas limped over to his bag retrieving a large schematic that he unfurled on the table. Without thinking about it Mariska had grabbed his cane from the shelf behind her and passed it across the table her attention already focused on the blueprint.
The cold always made him achy.
"Alright, looks like there's three main entrances one through the front where the trucks offload, one in the back on the lake and one sewer entrance."
"Suggestions?" Mariska asked. Lucas turned his head eyes falling on the freshly serviced SCUBA gear. Mariska nodded.
"Water it is."
Mariska pulled herself along the bottom of the lake bed using the odd seaweed or rocks to move herself rather than expending all her energy kicking.
"Your GPS show's you're heading off course, turn right 10 degrees," Mariska switched position hand coming up to adjust the waterproof ear piece that was sealed into her ear canal.
She moved her body like a serpent minimizing how much effort she was out putting. She needed her energy to keep her body warm in the frigid waters. And for the nearly four mile swim. Mariska hadn't wanted to risk detection from the street so this had seemed like an appropriate solution at the time.
She could really be a moron.
Her patrol gear was strapped to her back and sealed in to keep it all dry. She had some surveillance equipment as well to set in place. They would get hard evidence and form an educated battle plan before making their strike. As much as Mariska wanted to go in and tear the place down she remembered how it had ended last time. That was alright, she had time to wait. It wouldn't make a difference, one way or another STELLA and Stella would both find themselves at the end of Guardian's justice.
"Almost there, one more mile." Had she not been underwater with a respirator in her mouth Mariska would have been unable to bite back the sharp retort that was on her blueing lips. In what world was a mile in frigid water with a hundred pounds of gear strapped to her body considered 'almost there'? She still had to try and haul herself onto the docks afterward. And swim back.
Almost there my well sculpted ass, she thought as she continued to swim.
It had been awhile since the last time she had used her gear and that had only been because it had been in her car when Lucas had locked himself out of the warehouse. She had swum through the waterway and into the basement to unlock the door nearly going deaf as the alarms had blared.
Shaking her head to bring herself back to the present, -nearly unseating her regulator as she did so- Mariska instinctively turtled as something went over head. There was a boat going overtop of her and she pulled out her mini-gun taking aim at the bottom of the boat.
"Don't try it," Lucas warned almost as though he could read her thoughts. "You'll create too much drag, they'll know something is up." She sighed but replaced the device and continued to swim following in the boats' wake. She grimaced as she neared the dock and the weeds became thick and almost un-maneuverable, each time she took a stroke they wrapped around her arm, or a leg, or the fins of her boots.
"You've still got a hundred meters, why have you stopped?" Mariska tugged harshly with her arm trying to either break or uproot the weed that had wrapped solidly around her wrist. She couldn't afford to move too violently or she risked wrapping her entire body in a tangle of weeds, she'd tire herself out trying to get free and not have anything left for the swim home, or possibly to even get beyond the last of the weeds to the docks.
She let her body still and reached down to pull out the knife that was strapped to her leg and began to cut at the weed. It gave way floating out of distance in the darkness and Mariska wished she could risk some sort of flashlight. But, this close in, it was a risk she couldn't take. It certainly didn't help that the weeds were blocking the moonlight from reaching the bottom of the shallowing water.
"Keep moving, you shouldn't be far from the entrance now," she nodded knowing full well her partner couldn't see her. She parted the weeds in front of her and saw a clearing near the bottom. She would settle down there for a second and go over the plan once more in her head before jumping into the lion's den.
The clearing was more just a bald spot barely enough for her if she stood upright but she used it anyway. She had to get in to the docks proper, use their snake camera to find a spot to come up. From there she had to find start mounting surveillance equipment, one camera at every door and in any phone she could find. No more than twenty minutes, she would grab her gear, get back in the water and be back in the ops center before sunrise.
"You stopped moving, you alright?" There was a small panic button sewn into her neoprene suit in case of emergency, it was her official signal that she was fucked and needed a hand. She hadn't pressed it and she wasn't about to, Lucas would realize she was good to go when she started moving again,
Mariska took a deep breath through the regulator, it was different now, facing down STELLA when she knew who exactly they were. What they had done. It was positively nerve wracking if she was being honest with herself. These were the people who had ended the Guardians as they had been known and reshaped what was left of the team into something more. Something darker. It was about time she and Lucas repaid them the favour.
Mariska began to swim staying low to the ground where there seemed to be some distinction between sets of weeds. She felt something against her leg that was distinctly unplantlike and looked back trying to discern in the darkness what had swam past her. Fucking creepy. Diving in the tropics she could understand, pretty fish, clear warm water, what jackass would willingly do the Great Lakes was beyond her.
She continued on, it wasn't far now, maybe another ten meters, she could begin to see some form of light above her. It was this slight amount of light that shone off something silver in the water. Something silver and moving. That couldn't be good.
Mariska dove a little deeper her chest skimming the sand, whatever the hell it was she intended to stay away from it. Knowing her luck and the state of Lake Ontario it was some radioactive three eyed goldfish with a taste for human flesh waiting for an unsuspecting diver such as herself to devour whole.
Or, she thought as something began to move towards her, it could just be a really fucking big eel.
Mariska jerked back as the snake like fish headed for her nearly hitting her shoulder as it swam over her back. She turned to watch it go hand resting on the sandy floor of the lake. There was that feeling again, something other than weeds wrapping around her arm. She looked down watching as another eel came up from the sand winding around her arm. On instinct she began to shake her arm trying to unseat the animal. It moved harmlessly across her chest but by then she had already entangled her upper body in the weeds.
Intellectually she knew she should stop for a second, take a breath, and regroup before trying to get herself free. Her uncontrolled thrashing wasn't doing anything but kicking up more sand and wildlife and further tangling her in the weeds. But, it was hard to let her mind do the talking when she was in the underwater in the dark, wrapped in weeds with live things swimming along her body.
"Guardian? You GPS signal stalled again, are you alright?" Mariska grunted as the regulator was torn from her mouth, the end of it tangled in the weeds as she moved her head around. Her panic threatened to overwhelm her now and it took all her concentration to force herself to still in the water.
She kept her mouth closed and searched with her free hand she her fingers wrapping around the regulator. Her lungs were had already begnun to burn from lack of oxygen as she shoved it back into her mouth and inhaled deeply. Her moment of hysteria over Mariska pulled her knife out and began to methodically cut away the weeds freeing her arm and torso first before relieving her legs of the seaweed.
She could do without that on the way back.
Mariska still kept to the lakebed as she swam though was more careful about where she put her hands. The eels were likely much more afraid of her then she of them but that didn't mean she wanted them swimming all over her again. The lights overhead were getting brighter now and it seemed to be a lot less distance to get from the lake floor to the surface, she was right near the docks.
She would swim in as far as she could and pull herself out of the water once the coast was clear. 'As far as she could' wasn't going to be too very far she realized as she came up to the dock entrance. STELLA was smart, they had gated the water entrance to the warehouse. It looked like it operated on some sort of mechanical pulley that swung the gates inward and allowed the boats to enter. Judging from the lack of animal and plant life around it Mariska had a feeling it was probably hooked up to some juice as well.
She swam along the length of the gate looking for a way, any way, to get herself beyond the gates. She doubted trying to get through either of the other entrances would be any easier and damned if she had swam all this way just to turn back. It would have been nice to search with a light but she had to rely on what was coming from above and her own sense of touch to find some means to get herself through.
The gates didn't rest on the sand floor but they didn't allow enough room for her to swim under it either. There certainly wasn't enough room to swim over top. Not without turning into a human glow stick.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Her hands met the rock of the other side and Mariska began to push along it trying to find anything that might give. She was surprised when a rock actually moved under the pressure falling with a muted thud to the sandy floor. She reached inside the small hole that it created careful not to touch the gate as she pulled on the rocks. Finding that nothing was moving much but did have a bit of give she braced herself against the rock wall and tugged as hard as she could. A large rock fell to the ground kicking up sand around her and clouding the water. When it cleared she could make out the outline of a hole, large enough to get herself through. Not with her SCUBA gear though.
She unstrapped her weight belt and grabbed onto the rock to keep herself from floating upward as she shimmied out of her tanks. She wrapped the weights around them and hooked the shoulder straps around a rock outcropping to keep it settled near the lake bottom. She put her backpack full of camera equipment on and prepped the snake camera as she searched for the small personal respirator. It was a handheld tank with mouthpiece attached, it didn't have more than a few minutes of oxygen. She would have to find a way into the warehouse quickly or end up having to choose between drowning or death by thug.
Bag settled and respirator functioning Mariska took one last deep pull from the large tank and began to maneuver herself through the hole she had created. She sucked in her stomach running her body along the rock as she pulled herself through. Her legs cleared just as she saw an eel swim beside her it's long body waving back in forth through the water. The tip of its tail skimmed the bars of the gate and Mariska jerked back as the whole body of the eel seemed to freeze before it started to convulse. She watched wide eyed as the dead body of the fish floated upward and the muted sounds of laughter filtered through the water.
So much for the docks being deserted.
She continued to swim pulling herself along the wooden struts that supported the docks and headed for the warehouse. Finally coming to the edge Mariska fished the snake camera up through the water to have a look around. There were two guards at the edge of the docks about twenty metres away, and a second set of guards near the warehouse edge where she was positioned. She took another breath from the respirator and looked at the gage, she was already halfway empty. She had at best five minutes left to wait and these guys didn't look to be going anywhere soon.
She could swim back and try to sneak around the back end of the property but the place was obviously well guai'ded, it likely wouldn't make a difference. Deciding that while she was there she might as well try and get something out of the excursion Mariska pulled a waterproof mic from her belt. She allowed herself to float upwards placing the mic just above water level her gloved hand nearly invisible among the shadows of the dock.
"Guardian? The first mic just went active, I'm getting a signal and readable audio." She wouldn't be able to answer him until she surfaced and that was too risky even under the shadow of the docks. She was one flashlight or water reflection away from Swiss cheese. She looked at the gauge on the tank, she had one or two breaths left on it, then she was screwed.
"They're not moving," Lucas said as she moved the snake camera around to get a proper visual. "Tap your emerg signal if you need a way in." Mariska looked at her gauge and sucked in a deep breath, the last one, and tapped her badge.
"I'm going to black out the block, they'll lose main power but they may have emergency generators," Lucas warned. "I'm already in the city grid but it'll take a few seconds to put the power down." Mariska looked at her watch barely able to make out the digital reading, she had never gone over a minute without oxygen. She hoped Lucas didn't run into any road blocks. Already it felt as though her lungs were beginning to burn.
"I'm in, just looking for the right grid area, I have to take it all down to avoid suspicion, I'll lose power as well and the spike might kill our comms. You'll be solo for up to three minutes until the generator kicks in and I can reboot. Tap if you understand."
Mariska held tight to the wooden strut trying to keep herself from thrashing around as her lungs protested the lack of oxygen. She tapped her badge twice trying to try to convey the urgency of the situation to her partner.
"Going silent in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1." It was as though the connection had been visibly severed and Mariska was officially alone, underwater, with no oxygen. Without the help of the lights she wouldn't even be able to find her way back to the SCUBA tank, not before she drowned at any rate. She focused on the sounds of the men above her trying to gauge where they were.
The ones at the edge of the dock hadn't gone anywhere they had been quick to grab flashlights and start sweeping the dock. The ones inside however had moved further away judging by the sounds of their voices and she had no choice but to risk surfacing. Her lungs were threatening to explode in her chest if she didn't get some oxygen into them. She swam upwards hiding herself behind a strut as she surfaced and took as deep a breath as she could in silence.
Mariska checked her watch, two minutes and forty seconds until Lucas would reboot and reopen the comms chanel. She looked up searching for the bottoms of boots between the slats. Finding none she reached upward and pulled herself up rolling quietly behind a set of crates before the other set of guards noticed her. She quickly climbed the stack of crates laying low at the top of the highest stack. She didn't have time to peel the neoprene suit from her body, so she was forced to shiver as she searched for good places to hide the cameras. There were a number of men milling around in the darkness their flashlights the only source of light.
So much for emergency generators.
"Or not," she muttered as lights in the corner came on and the whiz of a generator firing up could be heard over the shouts of the guards beneath her. No matter, there was still ample shadow and Lucas could likely keep the grid down for a few mintues at least. Her best bet was to find STELLA'S office and bug that first, no doubt if the woman had a place of work in the last one she would have one here as well.
Mariska looked upward, it was too far to make the I-beam overhead and she couldn't risk the noise a grapple would make. She sighed and looked across the room, the I-beams lowered another three metres where there was a hoist in the center of the room. She could make those if she took a run at them.
She moved with light feet keeping low as she sprinted across the tops of the crates and launched herself off the edge fists first towards the lower I-beams. She caught it with strong hands allowing her momentum to launch her legs upwards and catch the crossbeams. She held on tightly with her legs performing a sit-up in mid air pulling up her body by her abs. She moved through the beams pausing only to place a camera in the crevice of a beam and attaching a mic to it. She dropped on to her stomach wrapping her arms around the beam as a flashlight passed her position. It kept going and she breathed a small sigh of relief and began to search for an office or anything with STELLA's insignia.
She found the damnable symbol on a glass door, and for a moment, her mind transported her back to where she had lain in wait for her partner to arrive. She felt panic tighten her chest and fought to keep her perch as her mind recoiled at the memory. Mariska forcibly pushed the feelings out of her mind, she had time to freak out later. She couldn't afford to make any mistakes tonight, not when she knew the price of failure where STELLA was concerned. She crawled along the beam eyes constantly scanning for any errant light beams that could expose her.
She checked her watch quickly, forty-seven seconds, give or take a couple, until Lucas was back online. He would be able to keep a better eye on the guards and she could work faster. For now, she had to get into the office.
It looked as though it had been put in as an afterthought. The roof of it was exposed, simple two by fours holding the T-bar for the tiles aloft. It would be easy enough to break in through the top assuming she didn't fall her dumb ass through the tiles.
Mariska lowered herself as far as she could from the I-beam, arms stretched taut as she tried to gauge where she would land. Sending up a quick prayer to Lisa for a hand she let go landing on a single two by four. Her arms pinwheeled as she tried to maintain her balance her bare feet searching for a grip. She fell backwards and turned as she went using her hands to brace against a two by four toes curled tightly around another.
"Fuck me, it's never easy." She pushed herself up and crawled to a corner lifting up an edge of one of the tiles to get a visual of the office. The lights were off of course, no emerg lights in the office itself, it appeared to be empty. She popped the tile and dropped down. She would have to risk a small light now, so long as she kept low and kept it off the floor and off the glass it shouldn't alert any of the guards who were running around trying to restore power.
Speaking of power.
"Guardian, I'm back online, you have 30 seconds before the city restores power." He couldn't hold them off any longer than that, as it was they were likely already looking for the source of the glitch. If he tried to hack them a second time to keep power down it would make it easier to find him. She pulled a mic from her bag unscrewing the receiver on the telephone and tucking it in. She planted bugs over the entire area having a feeling if they were going to find anything it would be here in this office before anywhere else.
She could hear the men getting closer, one of them shouting orders about 'checking the bosses office'. Mariska cursed and ducked beneath the desk, it was a bit cliche for her tastes but, when in Rome. She heard the door open and heavy steps signaled the entrance of one of the henchmen. The light swept along the floor and Mariska held her breath as it came perilously close to her feet.
"He's coming around the desk," Mark warned. She moved her hand to the baton resting on her thigh ready to take him down. The lights chose that moment to turn back on washing the room in bright light. Mariska could see the man's boots at the edge of the desk near the chair and thought they seemed familiar. The dull brown leather reminded her of something. A previous bad guy? A movie maybe?
Gladiator. That was it. Maybe. His boots moved away before she could figure it out.
"He's leaving, you should be clear pretty quick." He didn't turn off the light as he left and Mariska grunted quietly as she unfolded herself from the desk and looked around to ensure he was actually gone.
"Did you recognize him?" Mariska asked quietly as she planted a bug under the desk as well.
"He's the beefcake who broke your ribs in August," Lucas said.
Motherfucker. Gladiator indeed.
"Why didn't you say something, I'm gonna..." She began to move towards the door.
"Do what you went to do and get out of there," Lucas said cutting her off. "This is reconnaissance not the time to start evening scores. Mind on the mission." Mariska rolled her eyes moving fully out from behind the desk. She supposed it didn't matter, now that she knew where to find him she could come back and sort him out soon enough. She crawled low along the ground towards the tile she had popped out.
She was flat against the wall as she stood up and her arm clipped the handle of the built in wall unit. She managed to avoid cursing aloud though the stinging in her funny bone made her want to hit something.
She hated doing that.
Curious by nature and wondering what a criminal mastermind could want with a fairly ornate cabinet she pulled on the door. She realized her error when the alarm began to blare and shouts went up around the warehouse. Mariska decided it was worth the trouble though when her mind registered what was behind the heavy wooden doors.
"Fuck me Freddy."
"What is it Guardian? I can hear alarms, are you alright?"
"That fucking bitch," Mariska breathed as she identified the red costume that hung in the cabinet. "Stella is the thief who shit kicked me last month."
"What? Are you certain?"
"Pretty fucking much." Mariska inspected the left arm of the costume noticing the neat slice that had been sewn with even stitches. No doubt about it.
"They're at the office door, get down!" Mariska dropped hands covering her head as automatic gunshots ripped easily through the drywall and glass sending up sprays of wood and dust everywhere. When the barrage stopped she jumped up running up the wall and pulling herself through the ceiling. There was no hope for it now, they knew she was there, might as well make the best of it.
"Oracle, put through a call to the PD and route them here."
"Are you sure? Response times are pretty good on this end of the city you may not have time..."
"Do it!" She threw herself to the side as they sighted her on the roof of the office. She landed hard on a crate pulling a flash bang from her belt and tossing it over the edge. There was a scream of surprise as it went off and she jumped down next to a guard who had stumbled away from the pack. Mariska grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him into a crate, head first, knocking him out. The sound of the gun clattering gave the others a vague idea of her location and they turned on her with guns raised and firing. By the time the bullets reached her position she had already pulled herself onto a crate.
She went for another of the men who had begun to search for her solo and dropped a piece of rope down looping it around his neck and pulling him up and off his feet. He kicked his legs as she hauled him up holding onto him only long enough to slam his head against the crate before she dropped him back to the ground.
The others had headed for the front evidently thinking she would try to escape that way. That was fine, in about thirty seconds they would run headlong into a squadron of cop cars with a bunch of illegal weapons in their hands.
Mariska used the crates to get as close as possible to the docks, there was no point in taking foolish chances. She dropped down quietly taking a quick look around before walking to the waters edge.
"Police have arrived and engaged with STELLA'S men, you should have more than enough time to..." The last part of Lucas' sentence didn't register as a strong hand wrapped around her ankle and pulled her off her feet. Her head landed solidly on the wooden dock actually dislodging her ear piece and causing her to see stars. Whether her mind was still functioning or not her body knew to go into survival mode and she instinctively lashed out kicking a bare foot at the surfacing face of her attacker.
He made a splash as he fell back into the water and Mariska stood up searching for him. It was the gladiator, it had to be. He pulled himself out of the water at the docks edge and she could see the feral smile on his face as the moonlight illuminated his towering form.
"There's no one to save you this time," he growled as he took a step forward. Mariska smiled as her hand went to her belt.
"Yeah, the boys in black and whites are just here for the bachelor party," she said. Even now she could hear a police siren from a boat in the distance. Lucas was right, they were getting better, there was a time she would still be sitting on hold.
"We both know how this is going to end." Mariska raised an eyebrow as they began to walk towards one another.
"With you in cuffs or at the bottom of the lake?" She asked. He snorted and shook his head.
"Don't think so. You been a thorn in my boss' side for awhile now, time to pull you out."
"You know, it's too bad I'm gonna break your jaw, otherwise you could tell your boss just how badly I'm going to kick her ass." They charged as one Mariska with batarang upraised her opponent with two meaty fists directly in front of him. She let fly well before she met him aiming high.
She clipped his right cheek just under his eye and he turned his face slightly to the side as it hit. She used his momentary weakness and hit the deck shooting out a leg and taking him out at the knees. He Supermaned towards the wood hitting chin first and sliding to a stop. He moaned quietly and attempted to push himself to his feet. Mariska pulled the flagpole from its holder and advanced on him.
"There's no voice in my head to save you this time asshole," she brought the staff down hard across his shoulders. He landed on all fours and she bent down low enough to drive her knee into his face. She would have kicked him if she'd had her boots on, but she had no intention of breaking her feet on his worthless mug. He rolled over onto this back and she brought the staff down hard across his stomach and raised the weapon to put the end into his face. It wasn't pointed but she knew the right places to strike, it wouldn't be hard to end it. She had no doubt if he were in her place there would be no debate. She would be dead.
He certainly deserved it. There was no telling how many innocent kids he had killed in that ring, or other people he had hurt at the behest of his boss. Mariska brought the staff down hard hearing it connect with his head. His head dropped lolling to the side from the force of the blow. She knelt down checking his pulse and nodding as she felt it beneath her fingers, going like a freight train.
As much as she wanted him to suffer they had decided long ago they couldn't be executioners. Killing a man in battle was one thing, killing him in cold blood was a horse of a different breed. They might all be on the wrong side of the law, but that made it all the more important. She and Lucas had to have some rules, otherwise they were just more criminals on the streets, another dangerous gang.
Mariska reached for the man's pocket pulling out his wallet, there was no ID, only some cash which she pocketed. There was a women's shelter not far from her apartment that had been looking for donations. Her eyes caught the tattoo on his left hand, STELLA's symbol. On the right the word 'Lucky' was tattooed across his fingers.
"Not tonight you're not," she said handcuffing him to the rails of the docks. The lights of the marine unit were beginning to scan up the dock now. Mariska let fly a batarang knocking off the power to the electric gate as she ran for the edge and dove in. She hit the water with barely a ripple and swam for her gear finding it easily thanks to the police light that lit up the water.
Police raid on her main storehouse. That would get Stella's attention. Mariska couldn't help the smile that came to her face as she began the long swim home.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me!" Alana nearly threw her coffee cup threw the TV as the six am news blared the story of a large arms warehouse being raided by police overnight. "Fuck fuck fuck." That shipment had been meant for one of the larger Peruvian cartels. They weren't going to be pleased. She wasn't pleased for that matter.
God. Damn. It.
Cold rage simmered in her guts as she headed for her room. She would need to get Lucky out of jail at least. The others didn't know enough to cause her any trouble, they weren't anything more than dime a dozen thugs. Lucky. He knew a little more about the operation. She couldn't afford to keep him around. He would still be in lock-up, that was good, they mixed all types of criminals together in lock-up, it would be easy enough for him to get into a fight. And lose. Alana picked up the phone and dialed the appropriate number.
"Forget the others, Lucky doesn't make it to breakfast," she ordered and hung up. It was unfortunate, he was a good soldier. But she couldn't risk him rolling over on her.
Alana would have to start making plans to leave the city. It would be near impossible for anything to be traced back to her but she couldn't take the chance. Alana had thought she could get another year of out Toronto before moving down to Miami, nothing down there was set up properly yet. That was alright, she would just move plans along a little more quickly than usual.
She walked over to her nightstand picking up her earrings, the new pair Mariska had gotten her. They weren't much, Alana could have bought ones of far better quality and her girlfriend knew as much. It was the fact that Mariska had saved up to get them for her, putting in extra hours at the restaurant while also keeping everything sorted with the bar she was opening. It had been touching, as had been the silver framed picture of the two of them sitting in High Park near the Zen ponds.
Alana sat on the bed and reached over to pick up the picture. Mariska had one arm tucked around Alana's waist the other wrapped loosely around Alana's free hand. Her own hand was near Mariska's cheek, Alana had been pulling the woman in for a kiss when the shutter had gone off. She had known then, after seeing her face in the picture, that she was in love. She had never experienced it before and it had been such an odd feeling in the beginning, putting her in a constant state of unease. Now it was a warm blanket, the thought of it was as much a comfort to her as the physical presence of the woman who evoked the feelings.
She couldn't try to pull the woman out of Toronto, not after just having gotten a business started. Nor could Alana simply take off, not yet, not when there such little risk of being caught and so much worth staying for. She could still get her Toronto operations back up and running, the main storehouse had been taken but she had little stores all over the place. She could dip into it to keep from pissing off the Peruvians and then figure out what to do from there. If it got too hot she would leave the city, but she would tell Mariska and let the woman make her own decision about staying or leaving with her. For now, Alana would remain within the city. If she had to leave the best thing she had ever found she wasn't about to do it without a fight.
Alana knew her main problem. The damned Guardian. The police and politicians were paid well to keep their noses out of her business. The only one dumb enough to attack her openly and then bring the cops down on her was that little upstart. She was going to have to do something about that now. She had been willing to let it go when the woman was just beating on a couple of thugs but this was becoming unacceptable. Now Guardian was endangering Alana's entire operation and threatening her day life.
If Alana was going to stay in Toronto and make a try at a life with Mariska, the Guardian was going to have to die.
"Hey," Alana kissed Mariska on the cheek and sat down putting the coffee on the table in front of her lover.
"Thanks, you're a lifesaver," Mariska said taking a deep pull from the cup before dropping her gaze to the invoice in front of her. "These estimates are completely out to lunch, the drywaller went from charging me a buck twenty five to a fifty cents a square foot. Alana watched as the brunette tapped her pencil on the paper before putting the eraser end in her mouth as she concentrated on the problem. Finally the young woman shook her head and looked up at Alana with a smile.
"Sorry, no work at breakfast," she said pushing it to the edge of the table and focusing on Alana. The redhead noticed the dark circles under her lovers' eyes and raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, Lucas and I were working until midnight or so and then I was trying to figure out how the electrician soaked me for an extra two grand," Alana raised an eyebrow. "Don't worry, he already got an earful, he's only soaked me for an extra two fifty now." Mariska said with a smile. "You okay? You seem...Off?"
Alana smiled, she was usually pretty unreadable but Mariska always seemed to sense when something was... 'off.
"I'm alright, just had a long night myself, I've got a new case coming up and it looks like it's going to be eating up a lot of my time," Alana said.
"God, another jackass making trouble?" Mariska asked over the rim of her coffee cup.
"You could say that." Alana took a sip of her coffee, "I'm going to be putting in some pretty late nights for the next little while..." Alana began watching for her girlfriend's reaction. Mariska reached across the table and took her hand rubbing her thumb over the back.
"It's your job 'Lana, it's okay, it was around before I was. I knew coming in that it wasn't a nine to fiver." Alana smiled, she wasn't leaving this. Not even if it meant bringing the city down around the Guardian's ears. "Besides, it's not like I don't have a million things to keep me occupied," Mariska said motioning with her head to the chaos around them. Drywall lay on the floor of the gutted bar as the tapers worked their way from the back to the front. Alana and Mariska were sitting at the sole table that had been salvageable from the previous bar owner. The seats were more camping chairs then anything else and as they sat Alana could hear the radio that was blasting in the backroom.
"Alright, but after all this is done and you're all set up here, how about we go away some place warm, you and me?" Mariska smiled leaning foi'ward to kiss Alana lightly before she stood.
"Sun, sand and you, just try and keep me off that plane," Mariska ran her hand along Alalia's chin bending down to give her lover one last kiss before she went to meet with the sub-contractor who had walked in. "Thanks for the coffee, now go save the world."
Alana smiled as she watched the younger woman walk away. She wouldn't save 'the' world she was going to save 'her' world. That, as far as she was concerned, was all that mattered.
"What do you want boss?" One of the men asked as they stood in a semi circle around her. Alana looked at the man who had spoken.
Alana watched in satisfaction as the city seemed to erupt around her. It was the third night of her push to flush out the Guardian. The little do gooder had been running around the city with nary a pause thwarting muggings only to have to deal with a bank robbery. Or a carjacking. Or a convenience store robbery.
Lock-ups were starting to overflow as the Guardian put down one criminal after another. They only stayed in long enough for the ink to dry on their bail requests, after that Alana had them back on the streets. It was expensive, keeping a revolving door of thugs, but it was worth it to see the Guardian stretching herself to the absolute limit. Soon, there would be no doubt in the woman's mind as to exactly who had set all of the chaos into motion. No one, but no one, got in her way. The hero was going to learn that fact as all would be heroes had learned before her.
Alana turned to her new head guy, Buck, and motioned with her head. He nodded back signaling the men in the truck who began to reverse backing the end of the vehicle into the glass of the Porsche dealership. They were out of the truck in seconds unlocking the safe to the keys and driving the cars off the lot. Beside her she could hear the screams of a convenience store clerk as he was held at gunpoint. If the Guardian wanted to create chaos in her life Alana would create chaos in hers.
Mariska grunted as the fist caught her across the chin. She ducked and drove her fist into the solar plexus of the man wrapping a cuff around his wrist as he fell and linking him to the dumpster. She let her leg swing out taking out his partner at the back of the knees. His shotgun clattered loudly to the ground letting out a loud boom as it fired. She could see shards of brick spray out from the wall and hoped none had made it through the stone. These were residential buildings.
She slammed the thug's head into the cement knocking him out before she cuffed him to the wrist of his partner and called it in to Lucas.
"I've got another on Indian Road and Bloor," she said as she aimed her grappling gun to the roof of the building and allowed herself to be pulled up to the top. This was insane. It had been nearly two weeks of constant bombardment. Mariska had been running from one end of the city to the other trying to stem the tide of crime that had broken across the city.
Stella had made no qualms about alerting Mariska as to who exactly was responsible. Seemed the woman had taken personal offence about the whole raid on her storehouse. Mariska smirked as she began to jog across the buildings towards the sewer entrance that would lead her to her four by four. She had hit a nerve that night. Finally gotten a strike in on the bitch who was responsible for Lisa's death. That alone was worth every bruise and hour of missed sleep.
And, the wave of crime had helped Lucas establish patterns of the attack. Using some super geek algorithm Mariska wasn't smart enough to understand he had been getting increasingly better at predicting where the next hits would be. The predictions were sometimes a few blocks off but, it at least meant she was in the right area of the city when the shit started to hit the fan. Sooner or later, Mariska would swoop in on a party when Stella herself was there. Then, all bets were off. No more kid gloves, no more ideas of heroism, when she finally got a hold of Stella that would be the end of her and her organization.
"Alarm going off at a bank three blocks away," Lucas said. Mariska nodded leaping from the building and using her grappling hook to swing herself down to the street. She hit the ground at a run and continued to sprint along the road unconcerned about the possibility of being spotted by the cops. They were all occupied keeping the peace in North York. Violence beyond all reason had erupted in the Jane and Finch area and 31 division had called in all free units for back-up.
"Witnesses report seeing a woman in red leather," Lucas updated and Mariska increased her speed dead set on catching Stella. There had been enough violence, enough chaos. She wasn't about tospend the rest of her life running pell mefl across the city to amuse the little bitch.
It was going to end. Tonight.
Mariska reached the community bank quickly. It wasn't more than a small savings place, they wouldn't have much in the way of hard cash, Stella knew that. Mariska was equally certain that woman knew she was in range to answer the alarm. Red leather freak was calling her out.
"Gentleman, I'm afraid the bank is closed, I'm certain they'd be willing to open an account for you during normal business hours," Mariska said to the four men who were tossing the place. She stepped in through the broken window heavy boots crushing the glass under her. The guns they pulled on her were unsurprising and Mariska had batarangs ready letting fly before they got a shot off. The first connected with the man's hand sending the gun to the floor, the second hit his counterpart in the head snapping it to the side and driving him to the ground.
"You're going to die tonight hero." Mariska turned in time to see a red boot coming directly for her head. She took a step back avoiding the brunt of the blow but catching the heel of a sturdy boot. Rather than back off she charged, tackling the woman at the waist and pushing them through the single remaining intact window with a crash,
They rolled along the cement and off the curb Mariska throwing rabbit punches into Stella's side trying to get the woman to release her grip on her. She managed to get a knee between them and pushed sending the woman across the pavement and giving herself enough time to get to her feet and regroup.
Stella brushed shards of glass from her shoulder as she calmly got to her feet and walked towards Mariska.
"What is it with you and glass anyway? Seen one too many action movies?" Stella asked. Mariska reached into her vest pulling out a shard that had managed to sneak beneath the Kevlar. She tossed it to the side and faced her opponent in silence. "What? No more offers to take me in nicely?" Stella asked putting her wrists together as if to offer them to Mariska.
Mariska reached for a batarang as the woman laughed lightly.
"No, I didn't think so."
"You're not just some thief stealing insured goods anymore. You're a weapons dealer, you killed innocent kids in those clubs you run," Mariska accused watching Stella's hands closely for any throwing knives that might appear. Once bitten and all that.
"Please," the woman said with a scoff, "useless little panhandlers, streets are cleaner without them. So you see, we're peers of a sort. You keep the streets safe, so do I, I just go about it in another way," Stella said with a shrug.
"Watch yourself Guardian, she's dangerous," Lucas chimed in her ear.
"I'm aware," Mariska answered quietly as she and Stella began to circle each other in the street.
"You know what happened the last time you went up against me, and the time before that, and the time before that. You really don't have a good record where me and mine are concerned," Stella said. Mariska straightened at that. "Didn't think I'd remember did you, how I put you and your little partner down. Whatever happened to him anyway? Last I saw on the cameras he was bleeding out on my warehouse floor."
"Guardian, what is she talking about?" Lucas asked.
"Nothing, shut up, I'm handling this," Mariska said. Stella canted her head at her and raised a finger.
"Oh ho, gone but not forgotten, who's the voice in your head little hero?" Mariska growled at Stella.
"What did she mean about the warehouse Guardian?" Mariska sighed.
"It was her, it was STELLA that was in charge of Tuchi, they were the ones who wanted to spark the war," Mariska answered. She swore she could see the bitch smirk beneath her mask.
"Think he holds any hard feelings?" Stella asked.
"I know I do," Mariska said her voice low and angry.
"I just bet you do," Stella answered. "Come on then, come teach me my lesson hero." Needing no further goading Mariska flung a batarang toward Stella surprised as the weapon came promptly back at her blocked by one of Stella's knives. "Gonna have to do better than that." Mariska yelled and charged jumping as she neared and swinging her leg around for a hook kick. Stella moved to the side to avoid the strike punching Mariska in the kidney as she landed.
The brunette winced as the blow connected but moved through the pain dropping down to take her opponent out at the knees. Stella jumped over her leg planting both feet in the side of Mariska's head and using it as a means to do a back flip in mid air. Mariska hit the ground hard rolling with the momentum to try and put some distance between her and Stella.
The bitch was good.
"Guardian?" Lucas asked.
"I'm alright," she answered.
"No you're not," Stella said releasing a barrage of throwing knives. Mariska put up her arm to block crying out as one dagger landed deep in her forearm the other skipping along the top of her arm and landing in her shoulder. The kick that came next drove the blade further in to her shoulder and forced her to the ground.
"Guardian?" Lucas' voice began to fade as a fist rocketed into her jaw threatening to send her into the black. Mariska held up her hands to block the unending strikes barely managing to deflect some of the energy let alone block the fists completely. She howled as the knife in her shoulder was twisted and ripped from her flesh her mind barely registering the distant cling as it was tossed to the side.
"End of the line hero," Mariska heard the woman say as the second knife was pulled from her arm and held to her throat. She wasn't certain whether she was grateful for it or not but that was when Mariska's grip of consciousness slipped completely.
Alana held the knife up to the Guardian's throat, the woman had gone limp in her arms. Either from blood loss or the storm of punches Alana had landed on her head. Two weeks of constant fighting had taken their toll on the woman. She hadn't performed half as well as she had at the museum. It was almost unfortunate. She had hoped that the last fight would be something to remember, something worthy of all the trouble the Guardian had caused. Now she was just one more broken hero under Stella's belt.
Curious as to who would actually be so foolish as to go up against her not once but three times she dropped the woman roughly to the ground letting her land with a dull thud.
"Let's see that woman under the mask." She used the knife to cut up the center of the leather vest pulling the woman up by the Kevlar to tug the hood from her head. Her eyes widened at the large lightly tinted glasses that covered the eyes of the hero. They weren't enough to disguise the woman, not from someone who knew her.
"Boss, what's up? The bitch dead yet?" Alana looked up at her men who were approaching her.
"Get back!" She screamed. "Get out of here, I'll deal with her when I'm good and ready." She ordered keeping her body between Mariska and the men. She needed a minute to think.
"You sure you're okay boss? We can load her in the truck if ya..."
"I said go," Alana said her voice a low growl. The men knew well enough to obey when her tone turned so threatening. They walked off with collective shrugs and headed toward the large truck they had used to back into the bank. She waited until they had driven off before standing and looking down at the fallen form of her lover.
"God damn it Mariska." She still had to kill the woman, the Guardian couldn't be allowed to live. Not when her men knew she had her dead to rights. It would look weak to let her live or claim she had escaped. Alana still had to kill her.
She bent down touching her gloved hand to the bleeding face. She could remember so clearly the rage she had felt toward the people she had thought had injured her lover. Had torn the streets apart looking for the bastards who had robbed Mariska, even killed a couple in the search. She had been searching for herself.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
She couldn't kill Mariska, it was out of the question. The woman she loved? The woman she had torn the city apart for just so she could stay with her? Alana was beginning to remember why she had spent all those years alone. Problems like this never would have cropped up in LA.
Alana couldn't just leave. Well, that was a lie. She could. But her abrupt departure would likely clue Mariska in that something was awry. And she doubted the Guardian would ever stop searching for Stella, especially after the taunting she had given the young hero.
She hung her head as another realization came to mind. The lover Mariska had lost, the third member of the Guardian team, it had been the kid her guys had killed in the warehouse that night. She had been the one to put the haunted look in her lover's eyes.
God damn it.
Guardian would never stop looking for her or STELLA. Sooner or later Mariska would figure it out, would come for her. Alana ducked her head kissing her lover's forehead lightly. She wouldn't spend her life living in fear of the Guardian's vengeance and she wouldn't break Mariska's heart by leaving without telling her why.
It would end soon, one way or another, but not like this. She wouldn't kill Mariska in the middle of the street while cowards too frightened to help the hero watched from their windows. She picked the brunette up and walked towards her car slipping the young woman into the passenger seat.
She reached over pulling the ear piece out Mariska's ear and tossing it into the road. She started the engine her mind already blaring loud warning at how poor an idea this was. Logically she should simply kill Mariska and have done with it, move on. tier heart was telling her a different story and she knew that to deny it at this point had the potential to make the rest of her life miserable.
If she was truly honest with herself she respected the Guardian. Respected that someone willingly went in to the streets to protect the pathetic little plebs who were too weak to fend for themselves. It was a noble idea, made more so now that she knew the woman behind the cause. It no longer seemed like an attempt to assuage some hero complex. Mariska never did anything simply to get attention or bolster someone's opinion of her. She did what she did because it needed to be done and she had the ability to do it.
Alana was now certain the same was true of the Guardian. She was a hero for the sake of being a hero, for the sake of the innocent people that needed help. It didn't make her any less a pain in the ass and certainly didn't' change the overall shape of things but it did make Alana feel a little more... uneasy about killing her. And that was without factoring in that the Guardian was also her lover. It was never easy.
The first thing that registered as Mariska awoke was the intense pain in her shoulder. The second was that she was alive to experience said pain. That wasn't right. Her last clear memory was that of having her ass kicked all over the street. No way she actually managed to pull that one out. Lucas maybe?
She opened her eyes slowly and turned her head trying to figure out where she was. There were no bright fluorescent lights or hum of computers so the warehouse was out. A terrifying thought occurred to her and she forced her arm to move if only to prove that she wasn't shackled in. Being tortured to death wasn't her ideal way to go.
Mariska looked down at the heavy blanket that covered her to her shoulder, a sharp contrast to the hard metal table she was resting on. Slowly she pushed herself into a seated position holding the blanket to her chest when she realized she was bare chested. She looked down at her shoulder and touched her hand to the bandage that had been taped to it. Her forearm had been tended to as well, gauze wrapped neatly around the wound.
Where the hell was she?
She slid off the table wrapping the blanket around her shoulders until she found the sweatshirt lying on the table next to her Kevlar vest. She tugged the shirt on and grabbed the vest, no way she would be able to get it on and straps done up with her shoulder.
She tried the door mildly surprised when it gave way without trouble letting her out into a small warehouse. Windows were broken and the cold night air blew through the building and Mariska debated going back for the blanket. She put the thought from her mind as she caught the light at the far end of the warehouse. It shone from a small makeshift office, STELLA's symbol stenciled across the glass door.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," she said as she moved towards the office. It smelled like a trap to her but then, what choice did she have? She was injured, alone and -she checked her ear- likely untraceable by GPS. Pretty fucked as far as choices went.
"It's all about the lemonade," she muttered as she walked over to the office. She opened the door half expecting a set of thugs to crack her over the head or at least attempt to rough her up a bit. It was slightly anticlimactic to find the office empty save for the fresh pot of coffee brewing in the corner.
Mariska raised her eyebrow whoever had tended to her or was supposed to be looking after her couldn't be far. She walked over as it finished percolating and turned it off. She didn't want to burn the place down; she had seen some nasty conflagrations that had started out as simple kitchen fires. With the way the winds were howling outside it wouldn't take long to carry flames to other buildings.
The note 'drink me' taped to the top of the coffee maker seemed to be an odd touch. Mariska took a deep breath inhaling her favourite hazelnut scent. That was ... odd. Maybe she was dead or at the very least hallucinating.
Mariska debated only for a moment before the chill in her bones demand she pour herself a cup. She didn't understand what exactly was going on but she doubted Stella had patched her up just to poison her with a cup of coffee. Mariska took a deep sip feeling the hot liquid hit her throat and travel to her stomach warming all the way down. God, nothing solved the world's problems quite like a good cup of coffee.
Mariska picked up the coffee bag. Her favorite kind. The exact brand. Coincidence? Mariska's eyes narrowed, couldn't be. The blanket and pillow on the table; that showed concern. The bandages, the coffee, that wasn't Stella. Stella was a calculating murdering criminal, this felt more like... like Alana. Mariska looked around the room trying to find any sign of who the previous occupant had been. She put the coffee on the counter mind in overdrive as she opened drawers and tossed papers.
It couldn't be true, there was no way her lover had a hand in this business. Mariska went to the desk opening the top drawer eyes widening at the framed pictures, Alana's favourite. The one from the Zen pond. The words 'I'm sorry' were written on the glass and Mariska had no choice but to sit down lest she pass out.
Alana didn't just have a hand in the business. She was the business. Fuck. Now what? Mariska dropped her head into her hands trying not to let the information sink in. If she could deny it, keep it separate from everything, she might be able to do her job. Do what she had to do and bring Stella in for justice.
Mariska couldn't help herself as she swiped the desk clean knocking everything to the cement floor with a crash. She dropped to the ground wrapping her arms tightly around her knees and tucking her head into her chest. She let the tears come despite herself. She didn't feel betrayed, as much as she expected she would at any rate, nor any anger towards Alana. At least not the Alana she knew, her alter persona was another matter entirely. It was abject sorrow that made her pull into herself. Sadness for the two lovers Stella had managed to kill. For the loss of the life she was building with Alana.
And for what she knew had to come next.
Mariska took a deep breath focusing her mind drawing in calm and exhaling her confusion. There could be no confusion., no hesitation, there could be only the ultimate truth.
She was the hero, Stella, -Alana-, was the villain. This was the job. The mission before all things. Mariska stood pulling the picture from its broken frame and tucking it into her pant pocket.
It was time.
Alana checked her watch, nearly two thirty, Mariska's sedative would have worn off. The young woman was no doubt on her way to Alana's apartment or to her own hide out to armour up and speak to her partner.
She was betting on the younger woman hitting her partner first. Mariska wasn't one to leave without saying goodbye and she had no doubt her lover would want to seek counsel. Alana wished she had someone to seek counsel from, someone to trust in. But the only woman, only person, who had ever truly had her trust was probably en route to kill her. And with good cause.
For her part, Alana was settling her own affairs. She had turned operations in the other cities completely over to her lieutenants. One way or another she would be going underground after tonight, and she needed to have failsafes in place. She had tended to more legal legal matters as well. She was thorough if nothing else
She had signed the bar over to Mariska as well as all of the assets she had earned legally. Alana had never mixed the two incomes and on the surface had always lived within her legal means to avoid suspicion. It would be enough for the woman to do as she pleased, though Alana had a feeling that Mariska would use it to buy Guardian gear rather than anything for herself, assuming she even kept the money. Assuming either of them actually survived.
Alana was still, of all things, a creature of habit, and survival had been her habit for oover thirty-two years. Despite her misgivings about fighting the Guardian -Mariska- Alana knew her long honed survival instincts wouldn't allow her to do anything but fight to the bitter end.
She had to be prepared for that fall out as well. That she would have to live with the knowledge that she had killed the only person who had ever truly meant anything to her.
Alana walked into her bedroom bed still unmade from earlier that morning when Manska had come over. She had dropped by for breakfast and the poor woman had looked so haggard Alana had practically shoved her into bed to take a nap. Alana had thought Mariska had been working herself too hard at the bar.
In actuality the woman had probably been fresh off the streets. She wouldn't have had time for much more than a shower and costume change before meeting Alana. And yet, rather than cancel, she had come over, tired but genuinely happy to see Alana and spend time together.
So many other things about her young lover made sense now. Being up until all hours, the lack of a steady job. All things which by themselves meant little but factored together should have been a flag that something was not as it appeared. And Alana called herself a criminal freaking mastermind.
Alana looked in the mirror hand coming up to the faint scar left from Mariska' batarang. She tried to remember that rage, the anger that had pervaded her being at having been threatened by some pup who hadn't been on the streets more than a few years. It was hard to remember it though. Especially when her mind called up the reason she had been so very perturbed. Normally she would have welcomed the challenge of a good fight but she had been determined to speak with Mariska about their small spat. The one where she had alluded the woman wasn't doing enough with her life. God she was an idiot sometimes.
Alana sighed and pulled on her costume leaving her mask tucked into her vest. It wouldn't be long now.
Mariska stumbled into the ops center shivering from the cold. It had started to rain of all things as she had walked from the Dundas to the lakeshore. The warehouse hadn't been all that far from the ops center, thank God. She would have taken the subway, half dressed and all if the damn thing had still been running. Oh well. It was really the least of her worries.
"Mariska, Jesus, I've been trying to contact you for hour. I found your earpiece in front of the bank. I..."
"Thought the worst," Mariska finished as her partner wrapped a towel tightly around her shoulders. "So did I."
"You escaped?" Lucas asked as he led her to the medical table. She shook her head hoping Lucas could actually see it through the severe shivers her body was being wracked with.
"She let me go," Mariska said as she watched her partner move to the electric teapot and put some water to boil. He turned to look at her eyebrow raised.
"She... let you go?" He asked his confusion evident in his expression. Mariska could understand, she was still confused about it herself. At the very least some part of her was happy to know that Alana cared enough for her not to murder her in the streets. The woman still had to know Mariska would come for her though. Alana had only delayed things. "I don't think I understand. This is Stella, she's the worst criminal Toronto has seen."
"She's killed dozens of people, possibly hundreds, she's responsible for Lisa's death...' His tone indicated he was angry she hadn't shared that piece of information but was concentrating on the big picture for the moment.
"I know," Mariska said as she reluctantly reached into her pocket to pull out the photo. She held it out for Lucas to take and he limped over and grabbed the photo looking up at Mariska.
"This is Alana."
"I know," she said looking meaningfully into eyes that were as familiar as her own. Lucas' eyes widened as he shook his head.
"How? Are you certain?" Lucas asked Mariska nodded, the coffee in the office had almost been clue enough. Only Alana knew where to get it. It had been on of those subtle gestures that had shown the woman's love for her. Lucas handed the photo back to her and she tucked back into her pocket. "What now?" He asked. Mariska sighed and rubbed her hand across her face.
"I do my job," she answered letting the towel fall from her shoulders and sliding off the table.
"Mariska..." Lucas began then stopped obviously unsure as to how to continue. She turned to look at her partner trying to give him a reassuring smile, she was certain it came out looking rather pained.
"It's okay Lucas, it needs to be done," she said as she tugged her pants off along with the soaked sweatshirt and searched her locker for a fresh set of underwear.
"I can do it." Lucas said. "I've seen the way she fights, I can beat her," he offered as Mariska slammed the drawer closed. Where the hell had she put that extra pair of socks?
"You wouldn't last a round with your knee Luke, I'm fine," she said opening the next drawer and closing it in frustration. A hand landed lightly on her shoulder and Mariska started and whirled on her partner with hands up. "Don't. I've got a job to do. If I let this be real I won't be the one who walks away from this."
"No!" She slammed another drawer. "I've already messed up bad enough, first Lisa now this," Mariska looked pleadingly at her partner. "I've got a chance to fix this mistake." Lucas gently pushed her away and opened the top drawer pulling out a pair of socks and fresh bra. He handed them to her holding on to her hands.
"Lisa wasn't your fault, I was an asshole for saying it. And this... Neither of us could have seen this." Mariska looked into his eyes seeing that he meant it. She nodded leaning forward to rest her head against his chest for a moment.
"It wasn't your fault either Luke," she said quietly. "I have a chance to set this right, I can't let it pass."
"If you asked her, maybe she'd leave town..." Mariska knew even suggesting the idea pained him, she could hear it in his voice. Offering to let his sister's killer go free. She shook her head and pushed off his chest.
"I do that, I just put the burden of STELLA on someone else. I can't, this is my responsibility." Mariska said.
"Then I'll come with you."
"No, I've got to do this on my own."
"Mariska, this woman has kicked your ass twice, four times if you count the arena and the warehouse, you need back up." Mariska zipped up her vest foregoing the Kevlar. Alana wouldn't use a gun on her.
"No. I need to know that if this goes wrong you'll still be here to keep going," Mariska said pulling her long leather jacket out and settling it on her shoulders. She loaded her utility belt to the nines hoping in spite of herself that maybe she could bring Alana in alive.
"What do I do without you?" He asked following her as she walked over to the sunglass pulling out a fresh pair and settling a ear piece in her ear.
"Find someone to train," her mind traveled back to the arena, the woman. "There's a street kid, brunette, keeps herself attached to the hip of a younger woman, she made of strong stuff. She's got the heart for it." Mariska said. She turned to her partner and pulled up her hood. The Guardian.
"I don't know if I've got that in me," he admitted as she walked up to him.
"I know. We've made it this far Lucas, we can't quit now," she said.
"You're the one who's talking about not coming back," Lucas accused his eyes watery. Mariska smiled slightly under her hood.
"Like you said, she's kicked my ass twice, hope for the best prep for the worst." Mariska reached forward tugging the man into a hug. He was her brother in all things and it hurt her to leave him. Resolving herself she stepped away and offered him her hand. He took it and shook it firmly sealing the deal. The mission wouldn't stop with her.
"If I don't come, back you'll tell my parents?" He nodded. "And I'll say hi to Lisa for you." He nodded again and she could see he was struggling to keep the tears from falling. "This is the job Luke, this is who we are. No matter what happens, I'm glad we did this, I'm glad I had the chance to be someone people could look to. You gave me that Lucas. Don't ever forget it."
He coughed wiping his eyes and straightening his back.
"I won't." They nodded at each other in unison.
"Time to go to work."
Alana stood at the top of her building, binoculars out, searching for any sign of Mariska. It was nearly four am, the woman had to have made it home by now. She had been tempted, more than once, to head for the warehouse to make sure the woman hadn't encountered any trouble while under sedation. She had managed to hold herself back, barely. To go and check would mean admitting how much she cared. Tonight would be hard enough as it was.
It didn't help her mood any that it had started pissing rain. They weren't the fat warm drops of a summer shower either, they were liquid daggers pelting at her constantly. Alana hoped Mariska had made it home before the rain, her lover hadn't had much to cover herself.
"Stop," she said aloud. She couldn't think like that anymore. She tucked her binos into her vest and stepped away from the ledge. She wouldn't fight Mariska here, not where they had shared so many good moments. Alana needed somewhere more neutral, she wanted to give her lover an even chance.
At least part to her did. The other part was still screaming bloody murder that she hadn't already killed Mariska and moved on to the next problem.
No matter. What was done was done. She had left a clue for Mariska to find her and she was waiting only long enough to ensure Mariska would actually show. The brunette would, there was simply too much unfinished business between the two of them.
Alana looked into the distance vision slightly obscured by the heavy rain that fell. There. Two blocks away the Guardian was jogging towards her building. That was it then. Alana jumped from the roof sliding down the fire escape to the ground below and taking off into the alley. Mariska was smart, it wouldn't take her long to figure it out.
It was almost time.
Mariska took the stairs to Alana's apartment her grappling hook easily pulling her up the 28 flights. Faster than an elevator. She pushed the stairwell open and walked into the hallway eyes scanning for any sign of her lover.
Finding none she continued on to Alana's door debating whether to kick it in just for the dramatics or to use her key. Rolling her eyes at herself she used the key, no point in disturbing the neighbors. Mrs. Trtosky's dog would bark to no freaking end.
It turned out any dramatic entrance would have been wasted, the apartment was empty. Very empty. As in never seen an occupant.
"Huh, neat trick, where was that when my lease was up?" She asked aloud as she walked though the large apartment for any hint as to where Alana would have gone. Surely Stella hadn't just left. There was too much left unsettled between them. Here eyes narrowed at the lone book sitting on the counter in the kitchen. She picked up the thin volume.
"Why I Am So Wise, Nietzche," Mariska read the title.
"What's that?" Lucas asked, his familiar voice a comfort in her ear. Mariska allowed her mind to travel back to when she had first met Alana.
"I know where she's going."
Alana stood beneath the awning of the bar mask tucked in her hand as she waited for Mariska. The wind had picked up again blowing the rain nearly horizontal. Her fingers were damn near numb from the cold of it. It would have been nice if it had snowed instead. Snow was so peaceful, so calming. This just had her feeling like a drenched rat.
"Alana," Mariska called out as she caught sight of her lover under the awning. She pulled her hood down as the redhead stepped forward the rain plastering her hair to her skull.
"Clever girl," Alana said, meaning it, just as she had meant everything else she had said to the woman. "I knew you'd find me."
"Nietzche is an interesting choice for a Friday," Mariska answered, recalling the words she had spoken to the redhead what now seemed like a life time ago.
"We all have our quirks," Alana said with a shrug.
"Why? Why all this?" Mariska asked needing something, anything, a piece of a scrap of logic to justify her lover. Absolve her somehow. Alana merely shrugged again taking a step forward.
"It doesn't really matter does it? Not now. I could say 'I wish it wasn't this way'. And it would be true. Just like it was tme when I said T love you'. Still do. But...This," Alana motioned between them, "this is who we are," Alana said straining her voice to be heard over the rain.
"I'll never be anything but the bad guy and you're too much of a good guy to look the other way. It's one of the things I love about you, your passion, your conviction." Mariska snorted at the answer.
"You love me, just not enough to stop this?" She asked stepping towards her lover.
"Oh Sweetheart, that's the point. This is what I am and I don't love anything more than myself. I wish I could, I just don't have it in me," Alana admitted. Her survival always took precedence, that was why she had survived.
"So this is it then?" Mariska asked her hand coming up to her belt to rest on a batarang.
"Unless you want to walk away," Alana suggested. She was willing to if Mariska was. "You'll never see STELLA again," Alana said looking her lover in the eye to convey her honesty.
"Will you stop or will you just move your crimes to another city?" Mariska asked raising her eyebrows at her lover. The silence that met her question gave her all the answer she needed. Mariska wished she could let her go. Believe that Stella would melt away never to hurt anyone again.
God how she wanted to fool herself.
But she couldn't.
Alana was right, this was who they were. This moment had been coming for nearly two years.
"I can't let you walk," Mariska said pulling a batarang from her belt.
"I know," Alana said pulling her mask from her vest and tugging it onto her face. She watched as Mariska pulled her hood up concealing herself in the deep shadow of the leather.
It would be easier that way.
They could pretend it wasn't each other behind their respective costumes. It was someone else. Someone they hadn't loved. Hadn't wanted to have a future with.
Alana pulled a knife from her vest twirling it in her hand.
"Okay." They nodded at each other and as if by signal they charged as one. Alana watched as the batarang came toward her and launched her knife to knock it off course. The metal projectiles collided and veered to the side as Stella and the Guardian met in a tackle.
Stella grunted as the Guardian's shoulder met her stomach and drove her backward. She grabbed the woman about the waist as she headed for the ground twisting to be sure the other woman broke her fall. They landed roughly on the wooden slats of the pier Guardian grunting loudly as Stella landed atop her.
Stella could have sworn she felt something give as they had hit and reared back launching a punch into Guardian's ribs. The woman in blue fetalled dropping her hands to her midsection to protect her damaged ribs leaving her head exposed. Stella took advantage aiming for a vulnerable temple only to throw her arms forward in surprise as the ground came towards her.
Guardian bucked her hips launching Stella forward and threatening to send her chin skidding along the wooden slats. The woman managed to recover rolling along her shoulder and back onto her feet but not before she lost her advantage over the Guardian.
The hero swung a long leg out connecting with the back of Stella's knee and dropping the woman to the ground. She drove her fist downward wincing as Stella rolled to the side and her hand landed with a crack on the ground. Guardian shook her hand getting to her feet and hands up prepping for the onslaught she was sure her opponent would launch.
Stella jumped throwing a back kick at the Guardian nearly catching the woman in the chest. She used her momentum to keep her body moving continuing through with a roundhouse that the Guardian blocked.
Stella cursed as the Guardian took hold of her kicking leg and swept her other leg from beneath her dumping her on her ass. There was the spunk she had come to expect of the woman.
"About damn time," Alana said. Mariska raised an eyebrow despite the fact that Alana couldn't see her. "Stop holding back Mariska, I'm not going to," Alana warned. The hero nodded knowing she had to take the advice to heart, she couldn't give anything less than her best.
Guardian dove forward aiming for Stella's legs. She pulled the redheads' legs out from under head and dropped an axe kick to her lover's shoulder that caused Stella to cry out in pain. Guardian jerked back as a dagger flew at her head skimming past her throat to land in the back of her hood.
She stepped back and lost her grip of Stella and the red leather clad woman rolled to the side and out of reach. Guardian lifted an arm to block the elbow that was suddenly coming at her and grunted as her forearm met Stella's having to block with her other arm as a second elbow headed towards her. Guardian shot her head forward slamming the crown of her skull into Stella's nose.
Stella stumbled back hand coming to her nose as she momentarily flashed back to the fight at the museum where she had pulled the same move.
"Touche," Stella said as she reached up to her nose and snapped the cartilage back into place with her hand.
"Okay, that was just wrong," Guardian said. Stella could see the woman nearly shiver in discomfort. Or it could have been the cold. This god damn rain could knock it off anytime now.
"I agree," Guardian said. Stella raised an eyebrow, she hadn't realized she had spoken out loud. Stella feigned a punch at Guardian and as the woman brought her guard up to meet it she drove a kick into the hero's stomach forcing her back.
Guardian doubled over sucking in a breath and tried to block out the pain as she brought her hands down to meet the next strike. She was behind the eight ball again as Stella switched gears and aimed for her head. The blow knocked her into the railing that edged the pier and Guardian could have sworn stars began to circle her head. There was a hand in her hair now and she grunted as her head met the railing and she fell to the ground.
Guardian was losing steam, she had to get some ground. She swung a leg out knocking Stella off her feet to land beside her with a thud. Guardian rolled over driving her fist into Stella's temple before trying to push herself to her feet.
Stella growled as she saw Guardian get to all fours and was determined to beat her to her feet. When she realized that wasn't going to happen Stella dove for the woman's midsection slamming them both into the railing. Guardian grabbed her by the shoulders of her vest and launched a knee into her stomach. It lacked the woman's usual power but it was enough to get Stella's attention. Stella was at serious risk of losing this fight.
She couldn't let that happen.
As the Guardian went in for another strike Stella reached up pulling the knife from where it was resting inside Guardian's hood. As Stella pulled it out she drew it along the tanned neck the rain turning red as it combined with the blood and trailed down the Guardian's chest.
Alana winced at the pained 'fuck' from Mariska, Stella went in for the kill.
Guardian didn't have time to staunch her neck wound before the next strike came towards her kidney. She blocked with her forearm growling as it sliced deeply into her already injured arm. She struck with her other hand landing her palm in Stella's nose.
The criminal's head snapped back before Stella launched forward her free hand grabbing around Guardian's neck and driving her backwards. She felt her feet slip on the slick boards and her back connected with the railing. Guardian's mind barely registered what was happening as her body went back over the railing her feet towards the air.
Guardian did a full flip in mid air but managed to find her senses in time to shoot out her hands to grab something to keep herself from plunging into the icy water below.
Stella watched as the hero went over the rail towards the water below. The lake was sporting some serious white caps. Considering the fifty foot fall and Guardian's condition she would no doubt drown in the dark depths of the lake. Stella looked over the railing determined that if she was going to kill the woman was going damn well going to watch. Stella leaned over surprised as a fist came up to meet her and land squarely in the jaw.
The fierce cry that accompanied Guardian as she pulled herself over the railing was enough to make Stella cringe. Now she would see the animal. Stella grunted as the tackle hit her driving her backwards into the far railing. Stella hit the railing, dropping to the ground as she felt something in her torso crack. She lashed out on instinct the knife that was still in her hand cutting deep across the back of the Guardian's calf.
Guardian winced at the sharp pain and reached down to hold the knife at bay while she straddled Stella, her other hand reaching back for the cuffs on her belt. Stella's hand came up to the wrest the knife from Guardian and they struggled for control. She felt Stella's knees come up and prepped for the move knowing what was next. The knife was pointed up at her, the moment she was thrown forward it was all over and Guardian wasn't in position to roll off or move now.
This was it. This was the moment of choice.
Stella watched as realization set in the Guardian's eyes. It was time to decide. She saw the batarang appear in Guardian's hands and bucked her hips as the weapon descended. She was a split second off and the batarang met her gut before she could fully launch the Guardian forward into her blade.
Mariska watched something change in Alana's eyes as the batarang slid into her stomach. There had been a pause, Alana had time enough to use her own blade but she hadn't. The brunette rolled off her lover tossing the bloodied batarang to the side in disgust. Alana dropped her knife hand coming to rest on the bleeding wound her other hand reaching for Mariska.
Mariska took the woman's hand moving in closer to cradle Alana's head in her lap.
"You could've stopped it, you could've won," she accused her voice coming out a choked sob as she held the bleeding woman in her arms.
"Funny thing," Alana said coughing weakly. "You're the only person I never wanted to win against," she admitted. She hadn't ever want to lord over Mariska, she had wanted the brunette to be her equal, her better.
"You lied," Mariska said as she tugged her hood down and pulled off her glasses. "You said you couldn't love anything more than yourself. You lied." Alana made to take off the mask and Mariska brushed her hands away cradling her lover's neck as she took the mask from her.
"Had to," Alana said. "It was the only way you would do what we both know you needed to." Alana's eyes began to lose focus and she struggled to stay awake. Damn rain was making everything so cold. "So young," she said reaching up to cup Mariska's face. "So much pain. I'm sorry I put that haunted look in your eyes. If I could take it back I would." Mariska nodded knowing it to be the truth.
"I know Sweetheart. It's okay, I forgive you." Alana looked into her lover's eyes seeing nothing but honesty, and love.
"I'm glad it was you," she said as the darkness started to descend.
"Stay with me 'Lana," Mariska ordered as the redhead's eyes began to close. They still had time for an ambulance. She could bring her in alive. "Alana?" Mariska shook her lover. "Alana!"
The loud crack of thunder that pierced the night was unable to drown out the wounded cry of a broken woman.
"And in other news, no further leads have been found in the murder of prominent divorce lawyer Alana Pierce. Police suspect the Pierce was a victim of the gang violence that swept across the city last winter. Anyone with information..."
Mariska changed the channel settling on the football game before turning back to the stack of glasses her bus boy had left on the counter. Two months. Two months since Guardian had brought down STELLA. Two months since she had killed Alana. Mariska put the glass down and braced herself against the bar trying to fend off the sting of tears. She took in a deep breath and exhaled repeating until she found her center. She had been doing a lot of that lately.
She wished she could convince herself that she had done the right thing. That the only way that night could have ended was with one of them dead and she should be grateful she had come out on top. But her mind wouldn't allow it. Mariska constantly found herself replaying the battle through her mind looking for some split second that would have allowed her to bring Alana in alive. This was hardest part. Mariska knew that eventually the replays would slow and then stop altogether, it had been the same with Lisa in the warehouse. That didn't make it any easier now though. Not with the pain so fresh in her mind. Not when she still reached out for Alana at night.
Mariska's phone rang from her back pocket and gave a small sigh of relief for being pulled, if only temporarily, from her morose thoughts.
"Ray, could you finish this?" She asked already on her way out from behind the bar. She slung her dishtowel over her shoulder clicking on the phone as she headed for the back door. Her regulars were seated at the bar, nursing their beers as they chatted about the game all of them smiling at her as she passed.
"What's up?" She asked in greeting as she hip checked the back door to open it.
"Drug deal in a bar on Dufferin, looks like they may have connections to the old regime. How are your ribs?" Mariska touched her hand to her ribcage pressing firmly to test them. They were fine. They had been fine for nearly a month now. It hadn't been her body keeping her off the streets and Lucas knew it. Mariska had nearly let her grief, her guilt overtake her again after Alana's death. Lucas had pulled her through as he always had and together then had begun put the pieces of her life back in place. All except this one.
Mariska hadn't been able to go back to the streets. Hadn't been able to put enough trust in herself to keep others safe. She had debated not going back to the streets, simply retiring her costume forever. Slowly Mariska had come to the realization that she couldn't. It wouldn't be right, not after killing Alana. Her lover had given her life so Mariska could live, keep fighting the good fight. Maybe it was time.
No, not 'maybe'.
It was time.
"Mariska, you still there?"
"I'm on it, I'll come in and gear up."
"Thanks." Mariska closed the phone her mind going to autopilot checking her memory for any of STELLA's thugs that might have escaped arrest. The cops had been sweeping most of them up the last couple of months, without Alana to lead and protect them they had gotten sloppy. No one had stepped into the power vacuum, so far as Mariska or Lucas knew, and what was left of the group was slowly dying.
Now, more than ever she knew who she was, who she had to be. Mariska had made sacrifices she had never dreamed of, she couldn't let them be in vain.
No matter what else she became or who else came in to her life, her duty to the city, to the innocent people in it, would come above all else.
That was the job.
That was who she was.
So, now that you’ve got to the end, I’m going to use these last few moments as a shameless pimping for myself. I’m participating in the RIDE TO CONQUER CANCER, a 2 day, 200km from Toronto to Niagara Falls. The Ride benefits the Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top 5 cancer research hospitals in the world. To participate in the Ride I have to raise 2,500$ in donations. I’m going insane on my end, everything from dyeing crazy patterns in my hair to leading nature walks for donations. If you’ve got anything to spare (even an email kicking me in the ass) it would be truly appreciated. J
Help be the Cause for the Cure!!!
To Donate please go to http://www.conquercancer.ca
Step 1. Click 'Sponsor a
Step 2. Click on 'Advanced Search'
Step 3. Enter Rider Id: 521433-6
Step 4. Fill in the online donation form :)
I’ll also be keeping a blog chronicling my training and journey at http://terias-mcklay.livejournal.com , if you’re interested in reading.
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