Blood Red Scream
¡Olé! Award Winner
Disclaimers: Xena: Warrior Princess is owned by MCA/Universal. This is a fan made story, on a fan run site, and not intended for profit.
Rated R for violence and foul language.
Email Trag88 at email@example.com
Ha, take that! Taylor hit the send button. The little shit was dead. Or he would be when he booted up again. She laughed as she shut down and left the school. They'd all be crying to their mommies when they couldn't turn in their term papers. This is just too much fun. I can't believe that after a year of this I still get kicks. I need a cigarette.
She wandered down the campus, out the unprotected entrance directly into downtown. The harsh winter wind pushed her down to Stucky's. At the ATM she used a stolen card to get a few hundred dollars cash. The security camera was broken, no need to worry there. Like she'd worry anyway? They couldn't catch her. They didn't even know where to begin.
She entered the steamed heat of Stucky's, picked up a pack of Marlboro's, a coke and a deli sandwich. The pimple-faced punk behind the counter didn't even give her a second glance.
Where to now? Job's done, a little org voice piped up in her head. Fuck off, she told it. This was no time for memories.
As she walked down the main street a light snow began to fall. A stretch limo with windows an illegal shade of black coasted slowly up beside her. There was the unmistakable swoop of glass against rubber and the low contralto voice of her employer beckoned.
"Get in," the voice said.
With an unaccustomed sigh of agitation Taylor stepped into the warm, plush interior of a very wealthy, very evil woman's limo.
"Where have you been?" the sultry voice accosted her.
"Out," Taylor replied shortly. She was in no mood for the seduction number.
Angels face peered out of the darkened interior, cast in light and shadows. Her pale hair shimmered in the streetlight attempting to penetrate the shaded windows. She sneered, anger darkening her pale eyes.
Instinctively Taylor caught the hand that was about to slap across her face. "Don't," she hissed coldly."I own you, little girl. You will not talk back to me." The sultry voice was now edged with a dangerous undertone.
Taylor lowered her head in an attempt to appear humbled.
The woman was not impressed but wasn't about to push the matter. "Did you get the job done?"
Angel wasnt talking about the little virus at the school. "Of course."
"Good." Angel pulled a packet and an envelope from a hidden side compartment. Then she motioned the driver to stop. The conversation was over.
Taylor stepped out into the cold. It was harsher now then ever before. On the sidewalk, snow falling in white sheets, she reviewed the file, dumped it in the nearest garbage can and lit up a cigarette.
The snow swirled and screamed against her and for the first time in six years she felt the loneliness sink in.
Slow, despondent steps took her down the sidewalk to the outskirts of the city. The sun was rising as Taylor came upon what appeared, on the outside, to be an abandoned warehouse. Without so much as a cautionary glance around she slid through the boarded up side door.
Taking the stairs two at a time she went up the first flight to the second floor landing. There she walked down a litter-covered hall to the end. A shining metal door stood out among the filth. It was relatively new, about two inches thick and locked securely.
Taylor opened a black panel hidden on the right side of the door, typed in the key code and rested her palm on the surface of a black pad. A faint green light scanned her print.
Access granted, the tiny screen read, and the door clicked open. Taylor entered and locked the door behind her.
The room was warm and a massive contrast to the building. What had appeared to be an abandoned warehouse was a front for what she sarcastically referred to as 'home'. The rest of the warehouse was abandoned and at times used for transients or druggies. Some of them knew she was here, but no one bothered her.
Two or three transients had been privy to large sums of cash to keep the more unwanted elements out. And any that stayed here with her permission were left with food or blankets. Though she would never, ever admit such a kind-hearted action.
Most believed, as Taylor did, that she had no heart left.
This part of the warehouse had been sound proofed, and though sparsely done, had a full bath, kitchen, living room and upstairs loft bedroom.
A mass of computers lined one wall of the downstairs living room. There was a large screen TV and a futon on the other side of the room.
The kitchen was fully equipped, though seldom used, and it's only furniture was a breakfast island with two stools. The upstairs bedroom had a box spring and mattress set on the floor and nothing else.
No nick knack's or soveniours littered the free spaces. No posters or pictures adorned the bare white walls. And no personal possessions except clothing and bathroom accessories sat on the plastic crates in the bedroom.
Every computer part known to man lined the far wall in the living room and littered the hall. Some had never been put on the market. Some were bought legally, some by the black market and most stolen.
Taylor tossed the packet of money down on the kitchen counter and went to the cupboard to grab a cup and plate. On her way to the living room futon she shed her hat, coat and boots, pulling the deli sandwich and unopened coke from her pockets.
On the coffee table of crates and a discarded board she laid the food, and cigarettes. With a sigh she picked up the remote and sat down to watch TV.
She skipped the news, cop and lawyer shows, doctor shows and settled on an old episode of the Thunder Cats. She had no desire to check her mail, to boot up the computers and get to work on her next assignment or do much of anything else, let alone sleep.
Sleep was avoided until she was sure she wouldnt dream. Not dreams really, nightmares.
Two hours later the plate was clean, the coke gone, the ashtray full, the TV showing another old cartoon and finally, finally she slept.
Darkness surrounded her and angry voices cried, "Why? Why have you done this to us?"
The dream was the same as it always was. She dared not moved because the arms would grab her; she would tumble and fall and stand up bloodied.
In the darkness she couldn't see the blood but she could feel the sticky warmth and the tinny scent would invade her mouth and nose. As always she'd cry out for the voices to shut up and leave her alone. They never did and she'd awake, nauseous and sweating, shaking with fear.
This time Taylor didn't wake and the dream shifted. Her employer stood before her, shoulder length blond hair in an angry halo around her head. An angry scowl twisted her beautiful features. Rage was a hot blue coal in her eyes.
"I own you, little girl." Angel reached out her arms to pull Taylor into a tight embrace devoid of love.
"You don't own me." Taylor struggled against the arms that held her tight. No one owns me!
"Wrong." Angel's voiced turned seductive. "I own your body." She pulled roughly on Taylor's shirt, ripping the collar. "And your soul." Angel smiled savagely as she pushed Taylor to arms length. "I own your soul." Angel struck Taylor down to her knees.
Taylor trembled in fear and tried to rise, but was struck back down. Blood gushed from her nose and lip. "What do you want?" she cried out desperately.
"More," was the simple reply. Angel stretched down a loving hand to caress Taylors cheek. Suddenly her fingernails dug deep into Taylor's skin.
She cried out in pain. Angel laughed and pulled her hand back, licking her fingers in a horribly erotic way.
"More," Angel whispered insanely, laughing at the shudder that passed through the kneeling form. "More, more, moremoremoremoremoremore...."
"No! No more, Angel," Taylor yelled.
Angel titled her head strangely and looked into the distance. Taylor turned as well.
Another woman had stepped out of the darkness. Her hair was as dark as Angel's was light, trailing down to her mid back. Her eyes were a pale shade of blue. She had the classical features of an ancient Greek goddess and a trim muscular body that stood almost six feet tall. Grace and poise outlined her walk towards them.
There was something familiar...safe about the stranger and Taylor watched her desperately.
Save me? Taylor begged silently.
"Well, well, well. Who is this?" Angel inquired with another sideways tilt of her head. "Your knight in shining armor come to rescue you, Taylor?" She smiled wickedly. "I don't think so, honey. " She addressed the stranger, "she's mine."
A deep contralto voice answered, sending tingles up Taylor's spine. "She's yours no more." The stranger bent a hand down to the kneeling woman. "Come on. There are things to do."
Things to do? Taylor reached up a hand to grasp the slim tapered fingers. Her own fingers slid right through them. With a gasp she drew back and looked up at the stranger.
"Who are you?" Taylor whispered, not noticing Angel slowly approaching.
The stranger's blue eyes were sad. "A friend." Her beautiful form shimmered with light and she looked at something no one else could see. "It's time for me to go."
"Wait!" Taylor shouted as the image began to disappear. "I want to go with you!"
"You aren't ready," the stranger said sadly and looked at Angel.
Angel grabbed Taylor's arm and pulled her roughly away from the stranger, possessing her employee with a strong hand.
"I'm ready." Tears fell from Taylor's eyes. She reached up a startled hand to brush them away. Tears? My god, I haven't cried in over six years.
The dark stranger looked pointedly at Angel. "You are not ready." Suddenly she was gone.
Angel dug her fingers into Taylor's arm triumphantly. "See, I own you!"
"No!" Taylor woke suddenly, fear choking her. The afternoon sun from the skylights brought tears to her eyes. The dream was fading. The stranger was gone.
Angel owned her, body and soul.
Sweat soaked Taylor's body and her hands trembled as she lit a cigarette. The sickly taste of blood was stuck in the back of her throat. She went to the kitchen sink and drank directly from the faucet. Then she returned to the futon and sat stiffly on the edge as she used the first cigarette to light the next. She snuffed out the butt of the first one as she inhaled deeply from the second.
Angel owns me. The unpleasant thought echoed through her head. Arctic blue eyes flashed before her and she sat back startled. I know you, her mind and body screamed. Why can't I remember?
She had to clear her mind and focus on something else, so she went to the opposite wall and booted up two of the computers.
For a minute she sat staring at the screen as it warmed up. The log on screen appeared and she typed the ten-digit password.
ACCESS DENIED, the screen screamed at her.
Fuck. She forcefully pushed the image of saddened eyes out of her mind and retyped the password.
"Access granted. Good morning, Taylor, what would you like to do today?"
"Access project: T-167." Taylor turned the computer chair to the laptop screen as the computer pulled up the file. She typed in another password, got the Win98 screen and connected to the Internet. The modem whirled and dialed.
"Project T-167: opened. Status: unfinished. Do you wish to update?"
"Yes," Taylor voiced the command as she opened the WWW on the other computer. "Project: Finished. Command: Shut down. Payment made. Password: Angel."
Taylor paused a moment.
"Thank you, Taylor. Confirm?"
"Not yet." Taylor turned her attention to the desktop computer. "Command: Uplink. Remote FTP server 102.350.34.568. Transfer data files T-2 through T-167."
"Uplink in progress. Connected to FTP server 102.350.34.568. Data transfer five minutes," the computer responded and the files uploaded.
Taylor turned her attention to the laptop and just stared at the Yahoo search screen shed pulled up a minute ago.
"Transfer complete. Confirm?" the computer asked in a pleasant voice."Confirm," Taylor instructed as she searched the web for a few facts and opened her mail program. "Mail?" she asked the computer, multitasking away her nightmare.
"Shut down and transfer confirmed. Mail: five messages, two urgent."
Her regular e-mail contained today's news, a Microsoft update for only $99.95, and a Barnes and Noble request to see their sight and buy something. She ditched the annoying junk mail. "Read: Urgent."
"From: G.A. Transfer of data required. Sent: 1:30 am EST. Next..." Pause. Damn, long file. "From: anonymous. Problems have arisen with 'software.' Requires immediate fix. File attached. Sent: 2:59AM EST."
"Reply to G.A. Transfer as requested. Attach File T-130." She opened the next e-mail, pleasantly surprised to find someone had read one of her web documents and enjoyed it. "Summarize mail," she commanded as she read.
She listened with half an ear. None of the messages were important. Taylor re-read the e-mail from the stranger.
I just finished reading your story "Scream of the Red Day" and I had to E-mail you and tell you I enjoyed it. It touched my heart where I thought I could no longer feel anything. You've really opened my eyes.
The character was deep and emotional. The settings believable. I felt I was really there as I experienced the character's pain.
I do hope you continue writing it because I'll be checking back often to see the ending.
Sincerely,dg2000 (Darion Grange)
Taylor read it again. People had e-mailed her about the story before. Usually one liners about how good it was or how emotionally charged it was. But this person had admitted it touched her heart and awoken something in her she'd felt she'd lost.
Is it a he or she? Doesn't really matter, Taylor surmised. I think I'll answer this one.
Taylor typed it manually. She'd left out the voice command on the laptop. It held no real work and was more of a play machine then anything else. The gamestick attested to that, as well as all the game CD's piled next it.
The story has no ending yet.
No shit. It was based on real life, exaggerated and names changed of course...and there was no end to her nightmare yet.... Okay, what now? Thank you for reading. Come back soon...write me...write me...write me...grrr.... Taylor was about to trash the reply when the incoming message sign started blinking. Probably another junk mail. She let it blink several minutes as she debated what to say or if to delete her reply. Finally she decided to download it as she lit another cigarette.
It was from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hmmm, okay. What else can the person possibly want to say?
I only have a minute before I go to work. I don't know why I'm e-mailing you again, but I felt the need to. Weird, huh? Well that's all right, I've been called worse things. :)Anyway, I wanted to add to the previous e-mail. I'm sure you are a very busy person so there is no need to send a reply.Sincerely,dg2000
Really? Taylor was intrigued now. Who is this person, and where do they work? Not that it matters, of course. She smiled wryly. Taylor would reply and never hear from them again. That's the way the Internet worked. You made a quick friend over e-mail, IRC, or whatever- over a shared opinion or something. You e-mailed back and forth a couple of times about it then ran out of steam and the person never e-mailed you again.
So why bother this time? Because I'm bored and there's nothing else to do except get to work and I don't want to.
The story has no ending yet. Writer's block maybe, or a life block. Too much pain and too many memories to go back there.T88jvrTaylor hit the send button before she lost her courage. Being honest in an E-mail? What a new concept. Don't know why I did it...don't care.... SEND dammit!
She turned to the opposite computer, with it's cursor blinking. It was silent, waiting for a command. "Command: Open new file." The computer responded by opening the project container. A fact sheet opened, blank and fresh. Sigh, where to begin.
"File opened. Request data."
Taylor's stomach growled. "Pause," she requested and padded into the kitchen. She fixed a bowl of Lucky Charms and sat sullenly on the futon. "Computer resume." Resignedly she set about relaying the facts from the envelope. Her memory didn't fail her. It never did....
She paced around the floor as she talked, scuffing her shoes, impatient to be done. "Command: Done. File save: T-320. Command: Encrypt."
"Confirm?" the computer asked.
"Status: file encrypted. Saved: T-320 at 10:36AM EST."
"Computer, power down." Taylor changed her mind abruptly. "Abort command. Terminate files T-2 through T-167."
"Confirm command: Terminate. Password." The computer whirled as it waited.
"Command confirm: Terminate. Password: screaming." Taylor settled back in the chair, elbows resting on the surface of the table. The E-mail icon was blinking on the laptop.
"Files terminated at 10:40AM EST," the computer responded cheerfully.
"Command: Shutdown," Taylor instructed and settled comfortably into the chair and hit the read command on the laptop.
"Confirm command: Shutdown," the computer instructed.
"Confirm shutdown," Taylor replied absently, a small smile gathering on her face as she read the message from dg2000.
"Have a nice day, Taylor." The computer shut down.
Dear T88jvr,I was just about to disconnect when your e-mail came across. I'm glad you replied even though I said you didn't have to.
So, the story is true then? I thought maybe it was. It feels real. Um, I don't know what I'm talking about. :)Anyway, now I'm late for work. Would it be alright if I sent you a longer E-mail when I return? Maybe we can talk more?
Taylor immediately hit reply.
dg2000,Yes, the story is real. I have no idea why I admitted it, but it's true... I don't know when you get out of work but I've got a long day ahead of me so...
So what? Taylor paused. This person doesn't care about my day. She deleted the reply and started again.
I have work too, e-mail you later...
Simple and to the point. Okay, so it was a bit abrupt, Taylor admitted as she hit the send button, but she/he probably won't be replying anymore since the novelty will wear off while they're at work. Living their own life. Unlike little stupid me who has no life. I hack computers and ruin peoples lives. I sit in this warehouse at my computer, safe behind its screen. I am nothing. I am no one. dg2000 wont give a shit . Why should she?
Taylor needed to diffuse the sudden overwhelming rage. First loneliness, now rage? I'm falling apart. On the flight out she grabbed her cigarettes and the packet of money from the kitchen counter.
Late afternoon crowds littered the sidewalks as Taylor entered downtown. The snow had been plowed aside, mostly melted in the sun's glare.
Where? Where? Where? Sad blue eyes haunted her. There's Sandy's Bar and Grill. Mmmm, lunch time, early happy hour. She ordered the club sandwich and a beer. No one bothered with id. She bypassed the meal and gulped the beer. Then ordered another, and another.
There was a couple in the corner, laughing and smiling.
Abruptly Taylor left, laying some bills down as she went.
Where? Where? Where? Who cares? Emptiness echoes. Three beers, need more. Another place, more beers, a shot or two of whiskey. A lighter step as she exited. Need something more.
Warmth. She wandered in a haze to the seediest part of town where people don't just live, they exist. A transient here and there; a hooker, a pimp, drug dealers.
Taylor didnt look out of place in torn, faded jeans and a hooded sweatshirt beneath her worn leather jacket.
She wandered down a side street to another part of town and stopped at a liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey.
Staggering now, leaning on the wall, watching. There.She took the hand offered and the opportunity to loose herself in pure, mindless sex. There was a nondescript room and she laid money on the counter.
Nothing mattered but warm, naked flesh and alcohol.A body squirmed, screaming beneath her. Lies, all of it lies. The stale scent of sex already on the woman. Don't care, just need a release. Changing positions, floating on sensations. Nothingness, empty.
Lies. Alcohol. Sex. More money on the table. 'Thanks, baby.'
The door closed and Taylor was back on the streets, staggering to the alley, narrowly missing her shoes as her stomach churned. She fell to her knees, retching again and swayed into the littered concrete.
Taylor passed out.
Sweet nothingness. Darkness.
Ahhhhh, fuck! She threw up in the trash again, trying to stand. Her legs wobbled and collapsed beneath her. How much did I drink? What did I do? There was still a considerable sum of money in her pockets, an empty whisky bottle in her hands, and the stale sweaty smell of street sex. I can't believe...no!
It was now dark. How much time had passed? Where am I? I swore I'd never do this again. And look at me! Back where I began. Well, not entirely. Then I'd been the one picking the money off the table and telling some asshole they were the best lay Id had in weeks.
Taylor shuddered and stood. This time she was able to hold the nausea in check. Her head throbbed and her body ached.
On the long walk home she berated herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid fuck! The dark stretch limo didn't register in her peripheral vision until it pulled up directly beside her.
"Get in," Angel demanded.
Ah, shit. Not now.
"You look terrible," Angel commented as Taylor slid into the leather seats with a sigh. "Smell bad too. Spend the night in a dumpster or something, lover?"
Go to hell. "No."
"Nevermind. I want an update."
Update? What? Oh shit, the new file. "I'm working on it," Taylor answered evasively.
"Uh, huh." Angel wrinkled her nose in disgust. "That's why you smell like a drunken whore?"
"Must be." This time the slap got beyond Taylors inebriated senses and shoved her against the door.
"Get out. I want it completed by tomorrow." The limo screeched to a halt. The door popped open and Taylor fell onto the sidewalk. Her feet were barely out the door when the limo took off again.
Damn, I've got to stop ending up on my face on the concrete.
Taylor returned to the warehouse, not giving a damn about the new file. She shed her clothes on the way to the bathroom. After she filled the tub with hot steaming water she sank into it and into oblivion.
The stranger came in the dream again. Only this time they were alone, on a white capped mountain. It wasn't cold and the wind seemed to blow right around them.
The blue eyes looked sadly into hers.
"Please don't be sad," Taylor begged. "I want to go with you, really I do."
"I know." The dark haired stranger held out her hand and grasped Taylor's firmly. The long, tapered fingers engulfed Taylors hand completely. "But you're not ready."
"Yes, I am," Taylor argued. What do I have to do? What more can I do? "I'm ready, take me with you."
The stranger brought up her other hand and gently caressed Taylor's cheek. She leaned into the touch, craving more.
"Not yet. There's something you have to do."
"What? I'll do anything." The warm hand left her face. Taylor looked up with tears in her eyes. "Anything," she whispered.
"Then, wake up."
She'd slipped down into the cool water. Choking and gagging she woke.
Damn. She pulled the plug and stepped out of the tub. On the cold tile she stood shaking, sad and lost. Water dripped down the curves of her naked body, forming puddles on the floor. A cold tremor shook her entire body and she finally reached for the towel.
Mechanically Taylor moved up the stairs and dressed, returned to the living room and sat on the futon, TV remote in hand.
She didn't turn the TV on and instead lay almost comatose, staring at the ceiling, thoughts chaotic in her mind. Do I really want out? Now? After all this time? I can see that day, clearly in my mind, as if it was yesterday. Street cold and dirty, like today... a limo, with the beautiful stranger, extra money on the table, some food that night...
Then again, and somehow the woman, Angel, was telling her to stay, buying her clothes and food. Taylor didn't care, as long as her belly was full and her fingers were warm.
Angel had found her talent with computers, had used it to her advantage. Angel kept Taylor well cared for, until she grew tired of her. Taylor hadn't expected anything or hoped for anything. But it still hurt to find another woman in her place. How many times had it happened before?
Taylor had found her own place to stay, here at the warehouse, but was still employed with Angel, doing things she'd never imagined she'd do in her entire life.
Abruptly the memories shifted to a time before Angel. To darkness and fear. Worse then the streets. There had been a room, Taylor remembered, with an old chest. It stood empty, until her mother had gotten angry. Then the smell of must and mold would fill her nostrils and the darkness held her still and small.
"Stop it," Taylor hissed out loud, shaking the memories off like water. She shuddered and rose from the futon, trying physically to dislodge the pain.
The computers taunted her from the far wall, dark screens like dead eyes following her every move. Bile rose in the back of her throat and she was seconds away from smashing them with her bare hands, when she spied the laptop.
Did she send anything? The inane thought captured her anger and caged it, for the moment. She? I don't know it's a she. Taylor paced over to the laptop and back again. Ok, ok... find out.
She powered up the laptop, ignoring the project computer beside it, knowing she had work to do. Knowing there would consequences.
The e-mail icon was blinking.
Woowhoo! Don't get your hopes up. But there it was. A message, and a long one. Taylor ignored the other e-mails and clicked on the one from dg2000.
Well, I just got back from work. It's been a long day. How about you? There's very little personal info on your site. I was wondering about you all day long. :)
I hope your day wasn't as bad as mine. There was a murder on the westside today. It was gruesome. I'm sure you don't want to hear anything about that, so why don't I tell you a little bit about me. A little personal information about the woman bombarding you with e-mail. :) I hope I'm not bothering you. If I am just tell me to bugger off and I will.You might have assumed I'm a cop, otherwise why would I be talking about murder? Course, I could just be some sicko, but honestly I'm not. Hehehe, honest. You can just ask the body in the closet if you don't believe me.Sorry, I have a sick sense of humor. Which, btw, my friends love. I don't know what else to tell about myself. I'm not all that exciting. So, tell me about yourself, unless you don't really want to. That would defeat the purpose of this e-mail, getting to know you. (Insert song here. "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...") See, there's that humor again. I hope you're at least smiling or I'll feel really foolish. :)
I hope to hear from you soon.
Taylor was in fact smiling by the time she finished reading. It didn't matter that Darion was a woman. It mattered that someone had been thinking about her all day. That someone wanted to know if she'd had a good day.
Her eyes briefly clouded over as thoughts of her shitty day returned.
It's just an e-mail, a little voice chided, no one cares. No one ever did or ever will.
Yeah, but so what if its just an email? Another voice asked. And so what if no one cares? That never mattered before.
Well, maybe it does matter, a soft voice reasoned.
Nothing matters! Now shut up, Taylors own voice asserted itself and even though she had no idea why it DID matter she hit the reply button and began to type.
My day was not a pleasant one.
That was an understatement.I don't wish to talk about it though. I enjoy your sense of humor. It brightened my day. Thank you.There is nothing interesting to tell about myself. I freelance my time and fix computer glitches.
At least that's what I do legally, sometimes... She chuckled wryly and sighed. There was nothing else to tell, especially to a cop. How ironic is that? Getting an Internet crush on a cop, probably a straight one at that.
A crush? Her mind crashed over that fact and sent her spiraling downward. Whoa... stop there! None of that. She signed her name this time and hit send. Then she opened the WWW and surfed around for nothing specific, just passing the time.
Ten minutes later she had an incoming e-mail. With a startled blink she switched over to the mail program and downloaded the message.
It was from Darion.
Pleased to meet you. :) I'm sorry your day was bad. I hope things are looking up?Darion
They are now, Taylor thought with a crooked little grin.Taylor turned the radio on as she replied.
And I am ashes, I am precious, could I be your girl? Could I be your girl? I am ashes, I am Jesus, I am precious. Could I be your girl? Could I be your girl . And I am worthless sounds compared to all your perfect words, could I be your girl? Could I be your girl?
I love that song. I am worthless sounds... if you only knew... Taylor's smile faded. She'd never be anybody's girl. No one would want me if they knew me... There were those damn tears threatening. Geezus, two times in as many days? And not once in the six years prior?
I'm loosing it. I'm really loosing it. Dammit, just reply to the e-mail. Pretend you are normal, you have a life and aren't some pathetic mother fucking daughter of a.... grrrr, fuck, fuck, fuck...
Have you heard of IRC... we could talk that way while I work.
Well, that is if you are still on-line, Taylor thought and sent the reply out. Five minutes later the reply came back.
I'm on IRC right now. My nick is dg2000. Yeah, yeah, real original, I know. See ya there??Darion
Taylor didn't bother to reply. Instead she booted up IRC and hopped on both DALnet and UNDERnet to see if dg2000 was there. Time to meet her... hmmm, interesting choice of channel here... #lesbianangels... let's go check it out... what nick should I use?
She joined #lesbianangels, using the nick T88.
Join T88 [~no1@host-209-214-128-191] has joined #lesbianangels
[foster1]hello T88, are you male or female?
[T88]hello foster and lizbeth
[foster1]thank you and enjoy your stay at #lesbianangels
[dg2000] is that you T88jvr??
[T88] yes it's me
Join madison3[~email@example.com] has joined #lesbianangels
[foster1]hello madison, how are you?
[dg2000] how are you?
[dg2000] are you working right now?
[T88] I'm booting up the other computer...
[dg2000] how many computers do you have?
[T88] A few :)
[foster1]time to tuck the kid into bed, nite all
[lizbethanne] nite foster
[madison3] bye foster
[dg2000]take care foster
[dg2000] I've got a laptop, that I don't really use much, except to go online these days
[dg2000] where are u at T88?
[dg2000] well, where is here I'm in NYC
Part foster1[firstname.lastname@example.org] from #lesbianangels
[T88] where in NYC?
[dg2000] no way, answer my question first :)
[T88] I'm in NYC as well... Brooklyn to be precise
[dg2000] then you have a cute Brooklyn accent, huh?
[T88] Most people would call it crude, not cute
[T88] but U didn't answer MY question
dg2000 acts innocent and says "What question?"
[T88] ha, don't play innocent with me smarty pants
[dg2000] ok... surprise, surprise...brooklyn, too... I transferred here 'bout three years ago
[T88] u r a cop in Brooklyn?? geez
[dg2000] yeah, geez... um, how about I DCC you?
Waiting for DCC Session to be established...
DCC Session established with 126.96.36.199
[dg2000] hey there
[T88] So, what's the DCC chat for?
[dg2000] just thought I'd keep my ghastly public life from channel eyes
[T88] oh, I'm sorry about the cop comment then... I didn't mean to step on toes or something
[dg2000] hey, no problem
[dg2000] did your day get any better?
[T88] yeah, when I got your email
[dg2000] really? I'm glad to hear it then
[dg2000] are you working on something now? do you need to get off IRC?
[T88] No, the computer is voice activated. I can type here and talk at the computer
[dg2000] what kind of work is it?
[T88] a virus
[dg2000] and you're fixing it or something
[T88] or something
The phone rang, startling Taylor out of her silent communication with Darion. brb... phone, she typed. As she answered the phone a sudden dread welled up inside her chest.
"Taylor, darrrrllling," Angel drawled into the phone, "I haven't interrupted anything important, have I?"
Be careful how you answer that. "I'm working on it now, Angel."
"Well, good. I need to see you tonight."
Not a request, a demand, Taylor noted with anger. "I'm busy," Taylor replied curtly.
"Yes. You're always busy these days. Aren't you, darling?"
Oh no, the pet names. Now she's pissed. Just great... "You have me working hard, Angel." She tried to keep her voice normal, even though the fear was setting in.
The chat light on IRC was blinking.
[dg2000] Taylor, are you still there?
"Then it's time for a little r&r, darling."
Taylor could almost hear Angel licking her lips and smiling that seductive smile. "I'm too busy with the new 'software,' Angel." Taylor held her breath.
"Pity." Angel inhaled deeply. "Meet me tomorrow," and she hung up before Taylor could reply.
Dammit, Taylor cursed. With shaking hands she fumbled for a cigarette and lighter. After inhaling deeply she turned to the laptop where Darion was waiting.
[T88]sorry I took so long
[dg2000]is ok, everything alright?
How easy it would be to say no, Taylor shook. Too easy...
[T88]no not alright, I have to go now
[dg2000]is there anything I can do?
Yeah, come over here and save me, please. Get on your horse and brandish your sword. Be my knight in shining armor, and slay the big bad demon.
[T88]just work stuff, don't worry
[dg2000]ok, can we chat again, maybe 2morrow?
[T88]I have a meeting in the morning, but I'll get online... say after?
[dg2000]i get off work around 5:30
[T88]ok, 6ish then, see ya Darion
[dg2000] take care Taylor
DCC Session Closed
After the new 'software' was complete Taylor hooked up through twenty or so different interfaces across the world and piggy backed onto an employee's logon. She then integrated the new software into the company's mainframe. The 'software' was really a virus in disguise. When run it would crash the entire system.
Taylor was not proud of her work this time. Something subtle had changed. Was it for the best? Or would it be her undoing?
Regardless she sent a message to Angel telling her the package was complete and that by the company's opening in the morning all their work would be lost.
Long ago Taylor had accepted the consequences of her actions, but even before that she didn't care. Or rather, had learned NOT to care. Her first job had been to shut down a Cancer research lab.
"Angel, this is important work." Taylor was shocked.
"So?" Angels delicate blond eyebrows had knit together. The first sign of trouble Taylor had missed.
"So, we can't shut it down," Taylor argued.
"Oh, we can't? Why is that, darling?" The second sign of trouble, pet names. And Taylor had missed that too.
"People depend on this work. They need it. Someday they'll come up with a cure, but not if we shut them down!" Taylors wide green eyes glanced up expectantly then back to the folder in her hands.
"'We,' darling, are not shutting them down. You are." Angel reached forward to stroke Taylors hair. "And what does it matter if a few losers die?" Angel twined her fingers in Taylor's fine red-gold hair.
"You can't believe that, Angel." She turned incredulous eyes up to Angel, startled to see the coldness there.
Fear began to rattle in Taylors chest as the fingers tangled tighter.
"It doesn't matter what I believe, darling. Just that you follow my orders." Angel jerked Taylor by the hair until she was standing painfully on her tiptoes. "You will never question my orders," Angel twisted the fine strands of hair, pulling at the roots, "and you will do everything... everything... I say."
Taylor inched up painfully, trying to relieve the pressure on her scalp.
"Is. That. Understood?" Short clipped words and another painful tug as Angel's other hand roughly gripped her chin.
"Y-yes. I understand." Taylor's heart beat triple time against her ribs, threatening to escape. A cold, fearful sweat broke out on her brow and the color in her cheeks paled visibly.
Angel laughed gleefully and kissed her harshly on the lips, biting at the lower one, drawing blood. Taylor had cried out, but was unable to break Angel's loving deathgrip. The hand twisting in her hair was released and descended on her shirt. Angel's favorite game... to take her painfully and roughly, commanding her... driving her to the edge and back again... a guilty, dark pleasure that continuously burned Taylor's heart and soul and bound her, shamefaced, to Angel.
It had never been love for either Angel or Taylor. Lust, and power for the blond she-demon. Longing and loneliness for Taylor's tortured soul. Mostly it worked out. Each got what they wanted from the other, till the blond woman grew tired of the game and moved on.
Why Angel let Taylor live when she was finished with her was a bit of a mystery. Taylor and some of Angel's more trusted goons assumed that the power play was Angel's favorite game and since she still held Taylor in her power and Taylor responded to every whim and errand Angel kept her for that reason. Or perhaps it was because of Taylor's invaluable knowledge of computers and technology in general. She was a very useful tool in Angel's quest for ultimate, unrivaled power. Which, in itself, was highly dangerous. Angel was not known for keeping associates on any longer then they warmed her bed. Once the sheets were cooled an unidentifiable body usually turned up somewhere.
What was that quaint saying? 'Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.'
Taylor knew that the body found on the eastside had been one of Angel's 'associates.'
With a full body shake Taylor rose from the computer chair and crossed the large room to pick up the TV remote. For two hours she channel surfed and power smoked to the point of oblivion.
Her unconscious mind knew she was becoming a loose end in Angel's book. Her work had become sporadic and careless. Once Angel discovered her other projects there was no doubt in the computer hackers mind that she would be the next cold body found.
Almost comatose on the futon the hacker's thoughts were unfocused and chaotic to the point of mind numbing. The slip into sleep was unrecognizable and slow. It was as if she was still awake and could sense the futon under her body, the TV's obnoxious newscaster, and the disjointed whirling of the overhead fan.
It didn't surprise her then to see the stunning blue eyes of the woman from her dreams, or feel the depression her body made as she sat next to Taylor. The familiar voice floated to her ears, as if from far away.
"Taylor?" A soft, long fingered hand caressed her face and tucked errant strands of gold hair behind small, lovely ears.
"This life has not treated you well, little one. Something happened and we crossed paths. You were meant for other, greater things. I was meant for this pain. My pain. The pain that I carry with me each lifetime, trying to amend for centuries of blood and death.
"This is new, something I don't know how to fix. Your dreamscape was my only way of reaching you, till now. But even as the dreams start they fade and you remember only pieces when you awake. Along the way we were cursed, never to share love again, but we were given a chance to break the cycle by having the chance to meet. In this lifetime, or the next. So many times we've been close enough to touch, and feel and love again, just to be thrown apart.
"We have a chance now, Taylor... please remember... please... you were always the strong one. You have her in there with you, her strength... "
Taylor was silent as the woman talked, her thoughts in turmoil, fear so close to the surface that it was pulling her from sleep.
"Who are you?" the words were whispered hoarsely. Had the beautiful women heard?
"I am the other half of your soul. As you are mine. We are not complete without the other."
Something was pulling her, tugging her from sleep. The ringing of the phone. As Taylor's eyes struggled open words floated through her brain in a fog of familiarity. "Please, remember... remember."
Shaking, Taylor sat, ignoring the phone, trying to remember something. But what? What was so important that it made her heart ache and her breath painful in her chest?
Idly Taylor tapped her fingers on the keyboard. The cursor blinked impatiently. Slowly she came to a decision and her fingertips were no longer idle over the keys. She worked furiously and thoroughly to get the campus files back up and readable. Taylor gave no conscious thought as to why she was doing it, just that she knew it was right. And she owed the blue eyed woman this much.
It was 3am before she was satisfied with the results and the fact that it couldn't be traced back to her. The campus had lousy computer security and with a click here and a command there she put in some much needed firewalls, a more secure password logon, and a hidden program that would alert the computer techs when an unauthorized logon was detected.
Amateur hackers would have a hell of a time getting in, but for someone like Taylor there was always a back door, no matter how much security. It was the best she could do for the college without actually talking to the techs and going in there and manually changing their whole system. A small well of pride gathered in her chest.
This feels really good.
With a strange twist of irony she wandered through some files and easily hacked into the Brooklyn police departments mainframe.
With a self-deprecating smile and a healthy dollop of guilt Taylor did a search for Darion Grange and in a matter of minutes pulled up the detective's file.
Born, blah, blah, blah... School, yadda, yadda, yadda... Parents, hmmm, father and mother deceased... Academy training, top five in her graduating class... moved swiftly from beat cop to Detective... nice, clean, boring records, spotless really... Recruited by the FBI then a year of nothing Interesting.
When Darion came back she went back with the local police. Why not rejoin the FBI?
Picture, a ha... The picture loaded, agonizingly slow. First, the top of her head, strands of dark black hair, strong forehead, dark eyebrows... highlighting the most gorgeous blue eyes... blue, pale, familiar... oh my...
The dreams hit her with startling clarity then. A grainy, required police photo superimposed itself over the image of her knight in shining armor. A perfect match.
Taylor leapt from the chair, as if burned. Holy... oh my... no way... can't be... can't be... but it was, is her.
Tears clouded Taylors eyes and with trembling fingers she switched the computer off. She reached for the ever present pack of cigarettes, only to find the pack empty. A quick search told her there were none stashed around the room or the rest of the place.
Restless feet carried her numbed body from the apartment, down the rusted stairs and into the biting cold. The sting of the harsh wind helped to clear the fog from her brain, but not by much. She stumbled a few block's to the BP. Once there she forget the reason she'd gone out and wandered up and down the isles.
Junk food, canned food, snacks, and pastries passed by unfocused eyes. Absently she retrieved a bag of M&M's, a Pepsi and headed to the register. Her eyes came to rest on the stacks of cigarettes and finally she remembered.
She asked for a carton of Marlboro's and handed over the money. Movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. Without conscious thought, reacting instinctively to danger, Taylor ducked out of the way of the revolver and sank to her knees.
She felt the brush of the man's thighs on her arm as she went to the ground, heard the startled grunt, and wrapped her arms around his calves. With a curse he tumbled backward. The gun flew up and out of his hand as he landed on his back on the gritty gas station floor.
Taylor had time to focus on the robber as he fought to gain back the breath she'd forced from his lungs. He was easily a good two feet taller then she was, burly and well muscled. There was no time to be afraid as he lumbered ungracefully to his feet. Instinct took over and she sent a powerful kick to his groin.
He doubled over. With skills she never knew she possessed she landed a hard jab to the side of his neck, sending him to unconsciousness and once again to the dirty floor.
Adrenaline soared through her body. She had to reel in her urge to strike at anything nearby when the young attendant came crashing from behind the counter to stand terrified next to her.
"Are you all right? My God, I didn't even see him coming. How did you know? How did you do that?" the boy rambled.
Taylor held up a hand to silence him. "Call the police and an ambulance." As he hesitated Taylor lightly chucked his shoulder and turned him back to the counter. "Call them now, before he wakes up."
That got the young man moving quickly. For a moment Taylor stood looking at the big man on the floor. The adrenaline rush crashed down around her ears and knocked her knees together as it left.
She grabbed the carton of Marlboro's, ripped it open, tore through the wrapper on a pack and lit up, right there in the store. I should really get out of here, but the sirens were already approaching as she was finishing off her second cigarette.
Taylor stomped out the butt and prepared herself for the tedious hours to come.
Did I really expect 'her' to be here? Is that why I stayed and told myself I HAD to fill out hundreds of forms and sign my name a thousand times?
It was past 8am when all the forms were finally done and she was allowed to leave. The weak winter sun was barely peaking over the city lines, bathing the streets and sidewalks in an eerie glow.
Taylor lit a cigarette as she sat on the curb. There was money in her pocket for the bus, of course, but she still had to meet Angel. THAT she was not looking forward to. What if I just disappear?
She'll find you... a terrified voice cried.
The blaring bass of a dark tinted car startled her back to the present. With a resigned sigh she stood, and made her way down the sidewalk. Head bent in sorrow, she missed the black Jeep and it's blue eyed occupant.
Why can't Angel find ME for a change? Cha, right! Like she'd expand her energies anywhere outside of the bedroom and conquering the world? I think not. Still...
Angel wasn't at her office, her 'back' office OR home. There was the slim chance Taylor's ruthless employer was at the docks, but it'd been a long, long time since Angel had been anywhere near the 'dirty work' end of business.
So, that left one place... the Club. It was better known as Wide Open, one of the more popular Lesbian bars, a few blocks down from Meow Mix.
Taylor hailed a cab, gave the directions, and sat back for the ride. Good thing about cabbies, if they knew where you were headed they either didn't care or knew enough not to say a word.
Since it was only going on about 10am the bar was closed. After she paid the cabby she passed through the alley and approached the side entrance. The door was slightly open.
Taylor hesitated before laying a hand against the warped wood. No light poured outside, and no sounds came from within.
Oh God, have I become a loose end already? As Taylor pushed open the door she half expected to hear the click of a hammer. This is stupid. This is what they do in the movies- go inside when they know they shouldn't and get killed!
She was about to take a step back when a low voice echoed across the darkness.
"Shut the door."
Not, shut-the-door-I-need-to-kill-you-now, but a shut-the-door-I-NEED-you-now...
A zippo flicked and burst into life. Momentary shadows raced across the room and then the light died and was replaced by a soft glow and the smell of warm vanilla.
I hate that smell.
Two more candles were lit, then three and four. Soon the bar was bathed in the soft, romantic flames of ten sickly smelling candles. Tables had been pushed aside to make room for a blanket and pillows. In the center was Angel, reclining on her elbows in nothing more then black lace panties.
"I knew you'd find me, lover." Angels voice was low, sultry. A thin, manicured finger crooked in Taylors direction. Beckoning... time for games, mind numbing, animal sex...
No! "You said you needed to talk to me, Angel. What's up?" Taylor made no move to join the half-naked woman on the floor.
"I said I needed you... not needed to talk to you... Come here."
"I've got other things to do." The words slipped out of Taylors mouth before she could censor them. Oops.
"Other things? Or other women to do, darrling?" Venom dripped from the archangel's fangs. She crawled forward on her hands and knees to the edge of the blanket. Angel was within arms reach.
Taylor gulped convulsively. Goddamn . "Of course not. I've got to ship some hardware out to Bengal and fix a bug." Taylor's eye twitched with the lie.
"Darrling, if that's all, I can have a runner ship out the hardware. You can fix the bug... after." Angel ran her hands up Taylors thighs and caught her thumbs in the belt loops of her pants.
Fuck, fuck, fuck... just run. Get the hell outta Dodge. "I'm on a deadline."
"It. Can. WAIT." A commanding hiss, not to be disobeyed, was followed by Angels teeth tugging at the button on Taylors Levis.
"No, it can't wait. Dren wants the bug fixed now. Or he finds another 'company' to do business with," Taylor moved away from the teasing teeth even as heat traveled across her belly and curled around the inside of her thighs.
Angel still held Taylors belt loops, but she was effectively sidetracked. "Fine. Go fix your little bug." She released Taylor with a small shove that sent her skittering backwards.
Too easy, the hacker thought, as she nearly ran out of the club and once again entered the alley and flagged down a cab. I'm going to pay for that, sooner or later.
The wristwatch of the woman standing beside Taylor in the coffee shop read 12:15. Returning to the empty, lifeless warehouse was not an option right now. Taylor needed the noise and everyday hubbub of city life.
Businessmen and women occupied most of the little tables. All dressed in power suits, out for power lunches in groups of two and three.
What would it be like to be... normal? Out on my lunch hour. A nine to five job. A real house. A family to go home to every night?
If she'd been born into a different family, different city, would anything be different?
Would my soul be dark in the daylight?
One woman in particular caught her attention. She was seated by the window overlooking the sidewalk. Dark hair slipped around her shoulders as she talked animatedly with her hands. The woman looked so... normal, sitting there talking to the man in the dark, pin striped suit. Was he an associate, boss, lover, husband? She wore a wedding band, he did not.
Occasionally she touched his shoulder, or his thigh. He smiled and laughed at what she said. Was he interested in her, or her body? Did her opinion matter?
Taylor watched for a long time as they sipped those silly coffees and ate the little biscuits. The woman batted her eyelashes, touched him, laughed at his jokes, swished her hair back, and displayed her assets teasingly.
He's definitely not her husband... maybe a lover. That they worked together was obvious as they reviewed a file folder with a dark blue insignia. She seemed so together, so happy.
How do people do that? Is it real or all an act? I bet she has a husband who's blue collar, two point five kids and a dog. She works nine to five, comes home, makes dinner, spends time with the kids, then has a romantic evening with her husband.
Taylor wouldn't have been shocked to know that the businesswoman was nothing like she appeared. No one ever was. Ruthless in her career, she had no time for her husband, and didn't want children. She was having an affair with the man at the table, to get promoted. She was filled with anger because she'd hit the 'glass ceiling' and sex with this man was a joke. He couldn't keep it up for more then five minutes. Nor was he about to give her a promotion.
The hacker was strangely disappointed when they left. She sighed, pushed the cold coffee away, and headed back to the busy sidewalks.
It was blustery cold, numbing her ears and nose. There was one place she felt she had to go. The elevator was relatively empty, as was the observation deck. Only foolhardy tourists were roaming around picture taking.
Taylor made her way around the deck, to her usual spot, not looking down on the city until she'd twined her fingers around the rail and pushed her forehead against the cold metal bars.
The park stretched out below her, one of the only green spots in the city. But she didn't see it. Instead the image of blue eyes haunted her. The file was wrong, that's all there was to it. How could they be the same person?
"Stupid, stupid, child," her mothers voice rang in her ears. "You are just too stupid to matter. I dont want to see or hear you."
"But momma, the school said-"
"I dont give a fuck what the school said. Now, get out of my site you stupid little girl."
Tears gathered in Taylors eyes. She was only six. She couldnt understand how someone, her mother, could hate her so much.
"What is this?" Her mother turned on her angrily.
"N-nothing," Taylor stammered. Crying was not aloud.
"Youre crying, arent you?" Her mother grabbed Taylors chin in long fingers that reeked of cigarettes.
Taylor shook her head no. "Im not crying momma. Honest."
"Dont lie to me, girl!" Her fingers tightened painfully on Taylors chin.
"Im sorry momma. Im sorry," Taylor sniveled and tried to stop the tears.
"You are so stupid, Taylor. I wish youd never been born." She dragged Taylor to the box.
The box! "No, momma, no!" She kicked tiny feet as her mother hauled her up and into the empty box. "Im sorry!" She cried as her mother shoved her down and closed the lid.
The rank smell of mold and mildew made Taylor cough and sneeze. "Im sorry, momma," she whispered pitifully in the darkness.
"You just shut up in there, stupid girl!"
Stupid, stupid, stupid. I am not stupid! Taylors fingers gripped the cold metal tighter. "I am not stupid," she whispered painfully.
"I-" she slammed her fist into the concrete wall, "am not-" she turned wild eyes over the observation deck, "stupid!"
Curious and suddenly frightened eyes turned to the disheveled young woman. One young man poised his camera. Wild red-blond hair whipped around wide hazel eyes and open mouth.
He clicked, forever immortalizing the young woman as she screamed at the darkness. He would go on to develop the film. The girl with the savage look would haunt him till he entered the picture into Photography Magazine.
She would be known as Screaming Fury, displayed as the first prizewinner.
After her race down the stairs and back to the lobby Taylor once again turned to the streets. But where to go and what to do now? Fury still burned like a red hot coal in her battered soul.
I cant take this anymore, she shook as she entered the subway and waited in line to buy a fifty-cent token.
The hacker noticed the tail as she went through the turnstile and turned down the subway platform. She leaned against a pillar as she waited for the train, noticing him out of the corner of her eye.
Taylor would have laughed, except for the danger dancing around the whole concept. Angel had never tailed her before.
Angel had called Dren. Checked up on her, and found out she was lying. I brushed her off, twice. What the fuck did I expect, red roses on my doorstep?
More like another fucking nail in my fucking cement coffin! God, what do I do now?
Loose the tail, her unpanicked, rational side finally took over as she stepped into the train. Taylor hurried through the throng of lunch hour traffic, hoping to loose the man in the mass of bodies. No such luck. He was half a car behind her as she made her way to the front.
Fuck... oh looky here... A group of Marilyn Manson wannabe's were blocking the entrance to the next car. This... could get interesting.
Politely she made her through the dark, painted people. And stopped. The tail stopped and turned as if he wasn't following the hacker.
Taylor bumped her arm into the elbow of the young man beside her. "Oh, excuse me. I'm sorry."
"S'ok," he mumbled. His eyes were glazed, stance unsteady.
"Hey," Taylor leaned into his shoulder, "see that dude over there?" Fuck, hope he's not too stoned.
"Yo, which dude?" His words were a little slurred, but his mind, what there was of it, seemed intact.
"The guy in the suit. Ya know, I seen him watchin' you."
"What the fuck?" the boy muttered.
One of his buddies stepped over. "What's up?"
"That guy's watchin you. See him?" Taylor titled her head, motioning with her eyes. "Bet he's some kinda pervert. Look, he's actin' all innocent like."
The young boy and his friend looked closely now. Taylor could almost see the gears in their heads turning.
"Yeah, like he's lookin' over here, pretendin' he ain't." The second boy slugged a third in the shoulder. "Yo, look at the mother fucker over there, man."
Three eyes turned to the tail. He was nervously looking at the floor, over Taylor's head and back.
"I'd be like really careful, man. I saw on the news this perve who like stalked the subways, lookin for boys," Taylor said in all seriousness. It was true, over in the Bronx. But, well... "He follows 'em home. Then fucks around with 'em and gets off when he cuts off their balls." Ok, so that part was totally fucked up. In for a dollar...
The train was slowing down for the next stop.
"Yo," the younger of the two said, "that's really fucked up. Someone should fuck him up." Another boy and the two girls in the group were now listening.
Taylor's back was against the door. The train stopped and she made her move through the door into the next train. The tail tried to follow but was blocked by a group of disgusted, stoned Marilyn Manson wannabe's.
My job here is done! Taylor exited the train, jogged down the walkway and took the stairs to the surface two at a time.
If Angel is tailing me, it's not safe to go to the warehouse. Taylor was wondering down the streets, going in the front door of businesses and out the back door, leaving nothing to chance.
How could I have been so stupid as to lie to Angel? And so stupid to refuse her? I've never refused her before.
Where do I go, and what the hell do I do now? Isn't this the time where friends come in handy? Too bad I don't got any.
Something was nagging at her, something obvious. So obvious that it was completely overlooked. The blond hacker entered a Cyber Cafe, intent on using the back door. She stopped, mid stride, two feet from a laptop. Someone was using it but there was an older computer against the back wall that was unused.
"Can I help you?"
Startled, Taylor turned to the person who'd spoken. He looked to be in his early twenties, boyishly cute, and held a platter that read 'Cyber or Nothing.'
She smiled up at him. "I'd like to use that computer over there, please."
"Sure," he smiled back. "Come with me." The waiter lead her to the counter where he stepped behind a computer. "How much time do you want to purchase?"
Umm. Hell, I have no clue. The clock behind the counter read 4:36 pm in green neon light. An hour an a half. "How about three hours?"
"Done." He tapped on the keyboard and a few minutes later issued her a pass. He explained it would only allow her to access the computer for three hours. After that she had to buy more time. Taylor just smiled and walked over to the computer.
5:30 came and went, painfully slow. At 5:45 she lurked on IRC, waiting for Darion to get home from work and log on to her computer. It was after 6:15 when dg2000 blinked up on her notify list.
Waiting for DCC Session to be established...
DCC Session established with 188.8.131.52
[T88]hi, how was your day?
[dg2000]kinda slow, how about you?
[dg2000]The 14th had a mess on the subway today...some punks took a business man into a store room, stripped him down tied him up and cut off... his private parts, pretty messy Glad it wasn't on my beat.
[dg2000]are you still there Taylor? I'm sorry if I grossed u out
[T88]no, I'm still here
[dg2000]is something wrong?
[T88]I was wondering...
[dg2000]wondering what? are you alright?
[T88]I thought maybe we could meet, ya know, go out for coffee or something?
[T88]I mean we're in the same city n all, we could meet somewhere public... I don't bite...
[dg2000]um, I haven't had dinner yet... what about we meet at Joey's?
[dg2000]do you know where it is?
[T88]yeah... you sure?
[dg2000]honestly, I've been dying to meet you since I found out how close we were
[dg2000]what time is it now? Almost 6:30? Is an hour enough time for you?
[T88]that's fine... I'll see ya there
[dg2000]wait! How will I know who you are?
[T88]don't worry, I'll find you
DCC Session Closed
Taylor's mind ran in circles. She was terrified, elated and terrified all over again. I'm going to meet her. Oh fuck, I shouldn't do this. Angel's after me and I'm going to meet Darion. Have I gotten into yet another mess? How fucked up am I?
I can't do this to Darion. But she's a cop. I- I can just tell her I'm in trouble, and she'll help, right? Yeah, but she's a cop. She'll end up arresting me... it's just dinner. I can do dinner. Waste some time, before my life is over in some nameless, filthy alley.
Taylor shook as she left the Cyber Cafe and hailed a cab.
The weak winter sun was setting and the wind was whipping faster and colder. Taylor had to yell over the country music twice before the cabby pulled up to the curb. She didn't bother to tip him.
Night was upon the city. It wasn't full night, or even late, but the sidewalks were a mass of people returning home or going on the next shift. In less then an hour the streets would clear out in favor of warmer places and the hacker would be easy pickens.
She slipped into the shadowed alley across from Joey's and waited. There were no tails, none that she could see anyway, so she dodged rush hour traffic and headed into Joey's with the vague notion that she must look like shit and needed a bathroom mirror.
Useless, I need a comb. And a fucking makeover. Darion will take one look at me and run the other way. Disgusted, she left the bathroom and asked for a table in back, saying she'd wait for her friend before ordering.
Joey's was famous for down home Italian cooking. The tabletops were clothed in red checkers, candles and wine bottles with roses. The diner was little, the portions big, the waiters friendly and the place was getting packed. It was warm and cheery, a massive contrast to the shaking, disheveled hacker at the back table.
Taylors nerves were shot from waiting. Where is she?
At that moment Darion Grange was exiting the parking garage, looking- feeling- like a teenager on her first date. Her pale blue eyes glimmered in the streetlights and the soft leather of her bomber jacket highlighted her naturally tanned skin.
The dark haired cop walked with a light, expectant step. Men and women alike rubbernecked as she walked by, lustful, awed and/or jealous. She barely noticed. As a woman cop she was use to a lot of unwanted and mostly negative attention.
The biting wind pushed Darion down the sidewalk to Joey's diner. Suddenly she was nervous and wanted nothing more to turn and run, but with a sweaty hand she grasped the door and entered.
Taylor saw Darion first and time seemed to slow as she stood from the chair and waved the cop over. The hacker watched as the woman walked gracefully through the crowd. Her stride was long and purposeful and her eyes seemed to take in everything while her face revealed nothing.
Those eyes held Taylor riveted, lost and drowning. They were one and the same. I know you...
Darion's unexpected smile lit up her face and poured down to the blond woman standing a few feet in front of her.
"Darion?" Taylor found her voice.
"Only if you're Taylor."
That smile again and Taylor was sliding in a heap onto her chair. For a moment she forget who Taylor was and strangled a sob rising in her throat at the thought that Darion was here for Taylor and not a stupid, low-life computer hacker in deep, deep shit. "I'm Taylor," she managed, a heartbeat later.
Darion extended a leather-clad arm. "It's good to meet you." After formally shaking hands Darion removed her jacket and sat, stretching out long, Jean clad legs.
"Uh, yeah. I didn't expect to meet you... so soon." Duh! Find a brain and fast... can we sound any less intelligent? Stupid
"Did you order yet?"
"No. I was waiting for you." Taylor said it shyly. Ive been waiting long enough already. Huh?
Darion motioned a waiter over who retrieved two menus and said he'd be back in just a minute. An awkward silence fell and both women intently studied their menus, taking unobtrusive glances at each other.
Taylor glanced up for about the tenth time, having given up on her menu, and sank into blue eyes.
"Are you ready to order?" Darion asked softly. She's gorgeous. Long golden hair... candlelight giving it fiery highlights... sea green eyes that have seen a lifetime and more...
"Yeah, thought I'd get the spaghetti and meatballs," Taylor grinned.
God, she's even more beautiful when she smiles. "Lasagna, I think. You up for a glass of wine?"
"Sure, but I'm really more of a Pepsi gal."
"Beer for me, but I think it's customary to have red wine at Italian restaurants. All the mob bosses do it on TV," Darion joked.
"Hmmm. They do in real life too. He is." Taylor bent her head in the direction of Tony Finelli who was surrounded by classic goons.
Darion narrowed her eyes. "Associated with the mob, are we Miss Taylor?" One eyebrow rose into her hairline and a slight smile curved her lips.
"I should be so lucky." Unconsciously Taylor sighed.
Darion's other eyebrow rocketed up under her bangs and her smile faded. You are in trouble, aren't you? Darion felt an unexplainable protective surge for the young woman. "Ar-""Are you ladies ready to order?" the waiter interrupted, giving Taylor the chance to pull herself together and smile up at the middle aged man.
The rest of the evening was filled with chitchat, food, wine and a comfortable, easy companionship.
They talked about everything and yet nothing, careful to avoid anything too serious.
"I think I had too much wine," Taylor admitted ruefully as they stood out in the night cold, debating whether to say good-bye or do something else. It was a slight buzz though, only enough to dull her senses. Her teeth were chattering and her fingers freezing, common when she was tired.
"Maybe it'd be a good idea to get you home then." Darion took in the chattering teeth and nearly purple lips. Taylor's slim body was shaking under her thin coat. Darion saw the sudden panic in Taylors eyes. "Walk me to my car at least?"
They walked side by side, elbows occasionally brushing together."So, tell me why you really wanted to meet tonight." Darion studied the slender profile next to her. Startled, guilty, green eyes looked up.
"Well... I thought that since we lived in the same city an all, ya know? That, um, it'd be... interesting." All right. Way to go, Taylor. Let's just put all the cards on the table, not. This was a bad idea. My dreams, her...
"Are you in trouble?"
"Trouble? What do you mean?" the hacker mumbled at the ground.
"You keep looking over your shoulder, like someone's following you. And it looks like you haven't slept in days." The taller woman peered down into sad green eyes.
"I've just been having nightmares."
"Look," Darion took hold of slim shoulders and pulled Taylor to a stop, "I don't know you all that well, but I do know when someone's lying to me. What's wrong?"
"What's wrong? Every fucking thing is wrong. I'm a goddamned loose end right now." All of Taylors frustration and anger came out in a torrent and she refused to look the dark haired woman in the eyes.
"Let me help you, Taylor." Blue eyes met green and everything around them was forgotten.
"You-" Darion cut off in mid sentence, a startled look of pain crossing her face. Her hand went to the back of her head and came away covered in blood. "What the-" Stars swam around her vision and she swayed precariously.
Taylor jumped forward and caught Darion in her arms.
Bam! The force of the second shot tumbled Darion forward, knocking them both to the ground. Taylor fell with the weight of Darion on top of her and the hard cement beneath her head.
There were no screams, no calls for 911, even as faces peered out from behind curtains and around doorways.
Blackness, sweet oblivion, as a shadow loomed over the prone, unconscious women.
Taylor woke with a rude slap across her cheek. Ahhh, damn that hurts. Her eyes blinked open. Angel stood above her, pale and terrifying.
"Darrrling, how's the head?"
"Where's Darion?" Taylor blinked rapidly, focusing on the small room, it's occupants and the pain at the back of her skull.
"Oh. Your little friend?" Angel scratched her chin. "I put her around here somewhere."
"For the time being. Sadly, we have another issue to discuss." Pale, sadistic eyes glittering, Angel motioned to one of the men standing behind her. "I don't so much care that you're off fucking other people, darrling. It's the fact you lied to me. You know I won't tolerate that."
Roger, better known as Brick, stepped forward and backhanded Taylor.
So, this is the game we're going to play. "What do you want?" The hacker licked the blood off her lip with a raised eyebrow.
"I want the password."
"Trying to check up on me?" Owwww. Another slap, harder, cracking her nose. Blood gushed down over her chin. Damn you...
"I called Dren. You had his hardware shipped out last week." Angel leaned in till her breath brushed across Taylor's bloody face. "What you did in the subway... frankly, darling, it was messy. It brought up some questions I'd rather not have answered."
"I won't give you the password. They're my files." And answering questions? Who the hell was asking? Not the cops, or the mayor. They were already happily paid off. The press? Not likely. The press was considered a nothing, a simple nuisance in Angel's book. Who then?
"I want the files and you are going to give them to me. Brick, be a sweetheart and soften her up for me. I need to make a call." Angel fairly bounced to the door with glee. "Be careful not to kill her now."
Be careful not to kill her? What a fucking laugh. Taylor pushed one eyelid up, pain searing across her entire body. Everything that didn't hurt, which wasn't much, focused on a way to escape.
Brick was somewhere outside the door, done with 'softening her up.' Angel had come back, chastised Brick for going too far and left to make yet another phone call.
Taylor still had no idea where Darion was, or if she was even alive.
I've got to find her... this is all my fault... get her out of this mess... dammit, I never should have met her... never have thought I could ask for help... stupid, stupid fuck!
The door creaked open and Taylor painfully looked up into pale blue eyes.
"Darrling, I see you're feeling better."
Taylor sighed. The simple movement caused her ribs to expand and a hot pain throbbed across her chest. There was blood in her mouth.
"Are you ready to give me the password? Or do I need to ask Brick to come back?"
Oh God... "I'll give you the password, but I want to see Darion first." The hacker sat as proudly as the pain would allow.
"Are you trying to bargain with me?" Angel asked with an incredulous tilt to her head.
"No. I see Darion or you don't get the password."
"Bitch." Angle gripped Taylor's chin with long, blood red fingernails. "I don't bargain. I don't make deals. I want that password. Now," she hissed.
Her mothers face flashed before her eyes, the smell of stale cigarettes on fingers sending Taylor careening back through hated memories. She hissed at Angel, "I don't make deals either. No Darion, no password." Taylor looked into icy blue eyes, seeing her life flash before her, not liking how it was about to end.
Angel considered. "Fine." She came around behind Taylor and bent to untie the restraints. "You can see her."
Damn, again that was too easy. Taylor could barely stand and Angel wasn't about to help her. She hobbled out the door, down a nondescript hallway and to a locked door, following in the blond devil's tracks.
The door opened and the first thing she saw was the puddle of blood. It trailed over to a pair of black biker boots.
Above that were jeans and a now familiar leather jacket.
"Be back in five, darrling." The door squealed shut and the hacker was left alone.
"Darion?" Taylors voice echoed off the rusty metal walls. Water dripped from spots on the ceiling and the ocean could be heard outside, lapping at the pier. A dim bulb illuminated her path to the prone woman.
"Darion?" Taylor questioned again. A slight groan was the only response. "God, I can't believe the evening ended like this."
"Mmmah... yeah, how about a second date?" came the quirky, if shaky response.
"Cha right. The second date watch me get somebody killed." I'm damn good at getting other people hurt, the hacker thought grimly. Taylor bent to stop Darion from rising to a sitting position. "Don't. You're badly hurt. Just stay still."
The dark haired woman had little strength to fight, so she laid still.
Taylors gentle fingers searched out the wound at the back of Darions skull. Just a flesh wound. She tore a long strip from her worn T-shirt and wrapped the make shift bandage around Darions dark hair.
It wasn't much, but it'd have to do till Angel let them go. Let us go? I'm not so sure that's an option anymore. Taylor held her head low, ashamed, for the first time in years for the pain she was causing someone else. What makes you so different from the others Darion Grange? Different from the man on the subway? Different from the countless thousands of hours I've spent destroying people's work, business' and research? Different from Julie? She shoved thoughts and memories aside with a shudder.
Taylor absently cradled Darions head in her lap.
"Taylor? You all right?" Darion eyed the battered young woman skeptically when no response came. "I- I, um, you want to tell me now what kind of trouble you're in now?"
Taylors eye was swelling, her lip was split and blood ran from a wound on her forehead. Darion unconsciously raised her hand to touch Taylors cheek.
She flinched away and helped Darion to a sitting position, looking at the warehouse floor. "Not really," she whispered.
Darion struggled to sit further up, pain making her dizzy and nauseous. She choked down the bile rising in the back of her throat. "I didn't see who came up behind us. Did you?"
"No." It was the truth.
"Was this random?" Darion asked, knowing it wasn't, couldn't be. Someone had wanted her out of the picture. Someone wanted Taylor, for something.
"No." The truth again. Taylor now looked everywhere but the dark woman's face. "What's that?" she asked suddenly, intent on a far spot on the wall.
Painfully Darion turned to look. Where? That seam of light? "A door?"
"Maybe." Taylor jumped to her feet. "I seriously doubt Angel would be stupid enough to leave it unlocked, even if she doesn't view you as a threat." The hacker was out of the dim circle of light before Darion could even respond.
Angel? Angel, angel, angel... There was the sound of metal scraping against metal. The clink, clink of chains rattling and a muffled, angry curse. Angel... my god, the 'Dark Angel?'
"It's locked," Taylor stated the obvious, for lack of a better opening. Darion's eyes were wide, pupils dilated dangerously. Shock?
"Dark Angel?" Blue eyes looked up into a suddenly pale face. "God, Taylor, I knew you were in trouble, but... this... the 'Dark Angel?'" With a groan Darion stood, swaying with the pain, steadying herself with fear.
The hacker peered at the dark beauty standing terrified before her. What the hell do I say? Apologize for getting her involved in this fucking mess or just go and give Angel what she wants and try to get the hell out of here with all body parts intact?
A loud squeak and the door opened to reveal Angel in all her deadly beauty. "Well, well, well... sleeping beauty awakens. Lovely, truly lovely." She leered up and down Darion's body. "Do we have a name?"
Darion remained silent momentarily, studying the dark angel. "Little Bo Peep," she finally replied.
"A sense of humor too, how lovely. You certainly know how to pick them, darrling," Angel addressed Taylor. "You got to see your little fuck buddy," Darion's eyebrows skyrocketed under her bangs, "so now you come with me."
The hacker shuffled dejectedly forward. Time to face the music. But a hand came to rest on her shoulder, pulling her to a stop.
"Where are you taking her?" Darion asked."Nowhere that concerns you, darrling." Angel's eyes glinted with the first traces of anger."Well, it does concern me." The dark haired woman tucked Taylor behind her body. "Taylor concerns me."
From this new vantage point Taylor could fairly see the anger now emanating off the archangels body. It pulsed and throbbed with every ache in Taylor's body, from her bloody nose, to her cracked ribs, cuts and bruises. Terror gathered and intensified into a cold knot in Taylors chest.
"Darion?" Taylor whispered.
But Darion and Angel were in a stare down of sorts, appraising one another, sizing up strengths and weaknesses.
"Oh, Brick," Angel called to the door, "do be a dear and come in here."
Taylor sensed rather then felt the roiling tension in Darion's body. Her subtle gathering of muscles, her body coiling, ready to strike. Tentatively the hacker laid a small hand on the leather clad back. "Darion?" she whispered again.
The door squeaked open and in entered Brick, barrel chested, ugly, the embodiment of brute force.
"Cheater," Darion murmured.
"What was that?" Angel asked dangerously.
"Nothing." Darion smiled and turned to Taylor. "What is it?" she asked, feeling the shaking behind her and the gentle touch of a hand on her back.
"Don't do this. Let me give Angel what she wants. Then she'll let us walk out of here," Taylor pleaded.
Darions eyes darkened. "Do you really believe that?"
Taylor glanced at Angel talking animatedly with Brick. "No," she hung her head, "no, I don't believe it at all."
"Then let me find another way out of here."
"How?" Taylor asked with the first trace of hope.
Darion paused to consider. She didn't want Taylor to go with Angel, to let the young woman out of her site, but... "Can you delay whatever it is you need to give Angel?"
"Run her around in circles? I can do that. For how long?" Taylor lowered her voice. "What are you going to do?"
"Ladies, I really do hate to break up the lovefest, but Taylor and I have business to attend to."
Taylor started anxiously towards Angel, giving a sideways glance back.
"Just a minute, sweetie." Darion tried not to stumble over the unfamiliar term. "How about a kiss good-bye?" She stepped forward, pulling Taylor into an embrace, leaning in for a kiss, whispering close to her ear. "Stall as long as you can... twenty minutes, after that, just run like hell."
Taylor nodded mutely, her body a tangle of nerves and sensations pressed tightly against Darion.
"How pathetically sweet, darrling. Kiss your baby good-bye. Now." Angel's words were sugar coated over her impatience.
Darion's head moved a fraction of an inch, her warm breath trailing across Taylor's cheek. Their lips met, soft and sensuous, startling them both with it's intensity.
Taylor stumbled out of the embrace, frightened. Her insides shook with jello-y alarm. Angel waited impatiently, cold blue eyes fastened on the mysterious dark stranger.
Not a word was exchanged as Angel, Taylor and Brick exited the room. Brick stayed behind, posted as guard duty outside Darion's 'cell.' Angel continued down the dimly lit halls, following twists and turns, one hand gripping Taylor's bruised forearm.
They entered an office, more efficiently lit. The hacker's two working computers lined a make shift table. Subtly she felt the invasion at Angel being in her home, felt the fear that she had managed to break the access code, had searched through her belongings...
Taylor sat at the chair, fingers shaking over the familiar switches. She delayed the boot up process as much as she could, trying not to make Angel suspicious, who had drawn up beside her, intently studying the computers.
"Good morning, Taylor. There was an unauthorized attempt to access my hard drive at 3:25am EST."
"Understood." Delay, delay, delay... Absently Taylor ran her fingers over her swollen lip, still tingling from Darions kiss.
"Where would you like to go today, Taylor?" The computer asked.
"The files," Angel interrupted, "show me your files."
The computer picked up an unauthorized voice pattern and the cursor began to flash a lighter color. Good, now the fun starts. Angel didn't seem to notice the change.
"Open file directory c, search all." Taylor commanded. A good five minutes... but boy, is Angel gonna be pissed.
The computer opened a new window and the list began to gather. Programs, sub programs, software add-ons, patches, virus detectors, Winzip, Internet connections, saved pathways and passwords, www, E-mail... every little thing...
"What is all this?" Angel asked impatiently. "I want the projects... not, not this nonsense!"
"You wanted the files on the computer, Angel, and here they are," Taylor replied, as innocently as possible.
"Well stop it," Angel ordered.
"I can't stop a search while it's in progress." Thank God Angel knew next to nothing about the intricacies of computers. She could turn on, type and turn 'em off, but that was the extent of her knowledge. She'd relied on Taylor, her prize hacker, to get done what needed to be done.
"Dammit, Taylor, don't fuck around with me." Angel stood and paced, reining in her temper, knowing that if she killed Taylor the information would be gone, for good.
"I'm not fucking around. You asked for the files and that's what I gave you." I am sooo far from fucking around. Taylor couldn't help the bitterness that crept into her voice.
"Fine. I'll be more... precise." Angel emphasized the last word sarcastically. "I want your project notes, times of delivery and anything subsequent pertaining to them."
Geez, not asking for much are we? "Each file is deleted after transmission, Angel. I have no way of retrieving them." Thank god shed deleted the last one before all this happened.
"Goddamn you hackers. You can do anything with computers, so work your little magic." Angel's hands came to rest on the hacker's shoulders.
"When the hard drive is erased the information is next to impossible to retrieve," Taylor explained patiently.
"Next to impossible? Then you can do it?" An unexpected note entered Angel's voice.
"Yes, I could. But to do it would take hours of searching, unencrypting and reformatting." Truthfully told it could be done, however not on this computer, because it was designed that way. I'm stalling Darion, the hacker mentally cried, hurry up, please, and do whatever the fuck you're going to do.
"Hours..." Angel mumbled.
Silence shrouded the office. The tension was almost tangible, as if it could be seen, reached out to and snatched up.
"I know you, Taylor, better then you think." Angel's hands gripped Taylor's shoulders tightly, menacingly. "You would have a backup." Her voice lowered. "That's what Julie was, wasn't she? A backup, incase I didn't work out."
"Cant you get off that stupid computer for one minute, Taylor?" Julie begged.
"Soon as Im done," the hacker had shrugged, not even turning to look at her lover. "And its not stupid, its my job."
"Well I hate your job " and Julie had gone out into the kitchen.
Julie hadnt even known the half of it. "Julie was not a backup. I've never had back up plans. I've always crashed through life head first." Taylor squirmed under Angels grasp.
"Think whatever you like darrling, but I know you can get me those files and whatever else you've been working on. If I have to Darion will pay the price for your lies." Angel's voice caressed Taylor's ear.
Darion? God no... "Fine," Taylor said stiffly, "but it will take time."
"You don't have much, darrling. So, get to work." Triumphantly Angel returned to her chair, leaned back, and settled in.
All of ten minutes had passed. Stall, stall, stall... "You didn't bring the modem? Or any of the external hardware?" Taylor hoped and prayed.
"The extra shit lying around were stuffed in boxes and brought here," Angel replied.
"Where is it? I need at least the modem." So much depended on Angel leaving the room, if only for a second.
"Fine, what does it look like? I'll have Alan sort through the shit and bring it here." Gracefully unfolding her legs and standing Angel crossed to the desk and the phone.
Taylor began to panic. Dont be stupid, play it cool. She took a deep breath. "Are you sure you want Alan getting it? That moron would probably drop it, break it." The hacker paused anxiously and Angel turned a thoughtful eye on her. "It'd take forever to get a replacement, especially since it's so late." Hook, line and....
"What does it look like? I'll get the damn thing myself."
The warehouse floor had been swept clean, not a bit of rope, wire or anything useful could be found. Darion stood at the door Taylor had spotted less then a minute ago, with no idea what to do. Pain rolled around her head, from one eye to her ear, to the other eye and around the back, to the front, to start all over again.
Absently she scratched an itch under her right breast, her fingertips hitting the edge of the underwire bra. Duh!
So little time and so much to do, Darion thought with a wry smile. Time was beginning to run out as she worked to unchain the door. It took forever, in the space of five minutes, to open the rusty door without so much as a squeak.
With a satisfied smirk, she looked out into the night. The moon shone done on the pier, the lapping water, and slowly a plan began to form.
She leaned in heavy to the guarded door, the pain of fear aching under the bandage, listening. Only a silence on the other side, from someone resting. A single knuckle tap to the door, softly, then she stepped back quickly to hide behind when it opened.
The door swung open, protesting on it's hinges, then silence. Darion could almost hear the frantic swiveling of Brick's head as he searched the room. Then his eyes rested on the open door in back, moonlight filtering through.
Darion heard his sharp intake of breath and his hasty step forward, cursing.
Panic almost froze her to the spot, but her police academy training stepped up and took over. She slammed the door forward, adding the weight of her entire body to it. Another curse, as Brick finally realized what was happening, then a thud and silence.
My gun would be real handy right now. She peered cautiously around the door. The locomotive that never ran out of steam was slowly climbing to his feet.
"Goddamn, son of a bitch." Darion cursed, moved forward and kicked him squarely in the head. He groaned and sank, once again, to the ground.
The dark haired woman stepped carefully around the unmoving body and headed down the hall, hopefully in the right direction. It was time to find Taylor and get out of here.
"Merry Christmas!" Taylor said happily.
"Merry Christmas?" The computer questioned.
"Oh yes. A very merry Christmas." Her heart beat rapidly against her rib cage. It was now or never.
"When is Christmas, Taylor?" the computer asked.
The door clicked behind her. Angel was returning.
"Christmas is in ten minutes," Taylor said softly.
"All right, I found the stupid thing. This is it, isn't it?" Angel held forth a thin device, with numerous small lights across the front, and the phone cord still trailing behind it.
"Yeah, that's it. Where's the phone jack?" Taylor asked. She was afraid the beating of her heart could be heard.
"Under the desk," Angel replied, oblivious to Taylor's pulse roaring in her ears.
Taylor wasted no time in setting up the modem and logging in. Angel was going to get a glimpse of every paranoid thing she could imagine.
"What now?" Angel asked, impatient as always.
"I stored all the information you want onto a remote server. It will only take a few minutes to piggy back across Asia, parts of Africa and Europe... and into the files." Taylor was suddenly very calm, and she couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
While the computer was busy piggy backing them across the world the hacker opened a small side window.
"What's that?" Angel immediately asked.
"The files are encrypted. They need to be dechipered." Taylor began to explain. "This window allows-"
"Nevermind, just do it," Angel commanded.
Oh, yes sir. Yes, sir! A small grin escaped the hacker's usually stoic face. Too easy. Damn, it's too easy. What if something's happened to Darion? That immediately wiped the smile from her face.
She opened yet another window, praying that Angel wouldn't recognize her own mainframes logon interface, even if the computer had already changed all interfaces to resemble Taylors own handmade logon screen as soon as it had recognized another voice in the room.
Once she typed the password and had entered Angel's network of computers, she minimized the window and waited till the remote server had connected and the unencrypt process began. That would take another two minutes.
As files spewed across the screen, changing from binary numbers to English, Angel clapped her hands in maniacal joy. "Now the fun starts. Get up."
Taylor moved, almost reluctantly. Make it look good, a little voice said.
Angel murmured aloud the file names, searching for something. They both knew what that something was. Taylor took a quiet step back, then another...
"Two minutes till Christmas," the computer informed. Damn, in her haste Taylor had forgotten to silence the computer.
"What the hell?" Angel asked, startled.
"It's a... virus... the computer picked up," Taylor explained hesitantly. Angel didn't know much about virus', did she? Would she question it anyway?
"You should get the stupid thing fixed then," was Angel's response as she dipped her hands back to the keyboard and her search of the files.
Come on Darion, this plan only works if I'm out of the way of Angel's rage!
As if on cue... "One minute till Christmas." A new window opened, overtaking the other windows. A big red package appeared. A dancing Santa ran across the screen, dropping off the letters, M-e-r-r-y C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s!
A count down on the big red box began. 59-58-57...
Taylor's heart lodged in her throat as Angel reared up out of the computer chair and faced her furiously. "You would DARE defy me?" Angel roared. Her eyes flashed anger and her body emanated rage.
"No!" The hacker backed up a step as Angel moved forward. "No, it's a virus, like I told you."
"Then fix it," the blond hissed.
"I can't," Taylor lied.
Darion! Where are you? Taylor retreated further as Angel advanced.
"I know what you're hiding, darling. When I find her, you'll regret ever lying to me." Angel said it softly, a whispered promise of what was to come.
Taylor was almost to the door.
"Thirty seconds till Christmas," the computer informed, intensifying the tension and the fear that pulsed around the two women.
A ringing started and Taylor fairly jumped out of her skin. What the... telephone. It's just the phone, calm down. Calm down.
Angel backed over to the desk, her eyes not once leaving Taylor. "What is it?" Her blue eyes widened, her mouth scowling. "Well, dammit, find her! She's injured, she can't go far." Angel slammed the phone down. "Seems your little friend left without you, darrling." A smile graced her face, beautiful and ugly.
"Doesn't matter to me." Calm enveloped Taylor again. Words would not hurt Angel, but they could lift the hacker's soul to freedom. "Julie is far away, Angel. You won't find her. I won't let you. And, after this... you won't find me."
"Pretty sure of ourselves, aren't we? Don't forget, you were nothing before you met me and you'll be nothing without me." Angel sneered.
"I was nothing with you, Angel. I am someone. I'll find out who... later." Taylor took one more step back. Her hand just touched the doorknob. Angel came around the desk.
"Merry Christmas!" the computer cried. Angel turned to stare as the Santa once again crossed the screen. He jumped up on the box, it popped open... and little demons began to swirl out. Hundreds of them, invading programs, eating windows, snaking through the modem... eating everything in sight.
"No!" Angel raced to the computer.
Another ringing started. The fire alarm. Chaos erupted. Angel pounded on the computer keys. Taylor flung open the door and raced down the hall.
She ran into Darion running in the opposite direction. They almost collided. "Let's go!" Taylor cried over the alarm. "How do we get out of here?"
"This way." Darion grabbed the thin arm and pulled them down the hall, to the rusty room.
They skidded to a halt outside the door. Brick was there, waiting, and he was... a little pissed off.
Oh great, Darion thought as she pushed Taylor off to the side and took up a defensive posture. Brick swiped a large, meaty hand in her direction. She ducked under it and came up behind him, and sent a kick flying at his kidneys. He let out a painful groan, but turned to face the dark haired woman in fury.
Darion retreated further into the room, intent on keeping the large man away from Taylor. He bounded forward, struck out again and missed, cursing furiously.
"You can only hit women who are tied up? Is that it, little man?" She grinned at him, taunting him.
"Fucking bitch," he mumbled, clumsily reaching out for her again.
Taylor watched, riveted to the spot. Part of her mind reminded her there was very little time left. Angel would come storming down the hall with reinforcements any second. And any second the demons would be finished and the computer would self-destruct, taking whatever it could with it. Finding fuse boxes, generators... anything the demons could interface with.
The hacker had one motto. Do a job and do it well. Nothing half assed... Taylor took the lock off the door, entered the rusty room and shut the door behind them. Brick was completely distracted by the dark haired beauty, but he was too tall for Taylor to come up behind. She had one chance and only one.
With a short prayer that her aim would be true she hefted the lock, testing it's weight, aimed and threw with all her strength. It bounced harmlessly off his stupid, thick head.
She let out an audible gulp as he whirled to face her, a furious scowl on his ugly face. It changed just as suddenly to an almost comical blank look. As he turned back to see what hit him he fell in a slow ballet dance to the floor, out cold.
Taylor looked over to blue eyes and a startled grin.
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall." Darion shrugged.
There were suddenly footsteps in the hall behind Taylor that urged her into action. "We have to get out of here. Now."
Darion waved a hand toward the back door, waited for Taylor to reach her side, then they both ran for freedom.
"I think I should tell you," Taylor began breathlessly, "that I set the computer to self destruct-"
"What?" Darion stopped, five feet from the pier's edge. She could hear someone cursing inside, footsteps getting closer... "Do you trust me?"
Taylor didn't hesitate. "Yes." Her eyes turned to the moonlit water. Without conscious thought she reached for Darion's hand. "Let's go."
The first of the explosions shook the walls behind them as they ran to the edge. The second explosion shattered windows and shook the foundation as they jumped. And the third explosion sent a fireball racing out the still trembling remains, throwing their jump an extra few feet, slamming them in the water and tearing apart their hands.
As Taylor sunk below the surface screams rang in her ears. Angel's screams? Bricks? Darion's? Or her own?
Fire raced across the surface, extinguished itself to a black cloud and blocked the light from the moon. Taylor kicked up to the surface, amazed to find herself far off to the right, only a few feet from one of the wooden pillars. She grabbed hold with shaky arms, barnacles tearing at her skin as the waves rocked her back and forth.
Her ears rang with the explosion, and her body ached. Black smoke obliterated everything more then a few feet in front of her. Where's Darion? Did she make it? A sob tore through her throat and escaped.
"Hey," a gentle hand touched her shoulder, scaring the shit out of her, "we made it." Darion's voice was hoarse.
In a heartbeat Taylor let go of the pier support and tackled Darion, bringing them both under the water, then sputtering back to the surface.
"Umph." Darion spit out some water. "Glad to see you too. "
"Can we get out of here now?" Taylor asked with trembling lips.
"Yeah," Darion replied gently.
"I need a computer." The hacker's body shook and she coughed, tasting blood. Her mind was not on dry clothes, getting warm, or sleeping. She was focused completely on making sure their tracks were covered.
Darion had other thoughts. Those focused on warmth, sleep and food. Angel was surely dead from the explosion. There was nothing left to do, except get dry then call the cops.
But Taylor knew something Darion didn't. As hard as it was to believe there was a higher power above Angel. "I NEED a computer," Taylor repeated.
"I have a laptop at the apartment," Darion supplied, reluctantly.
"Your apartment isn't safe," the hacker immediately replied.
"Goddamn," the dark haired woman cursed and then mumbled, "All I wanted was a nice quiet evening, some food, maybe... grrr, forget it."
"Well, I'm sorry! I thoroughly regret I ever thought I could ask someone to help me." Taylor's face was pale and her lips trembled violently. When the hurt entered Darion's eyes she was too weak to respond and simply turned to walk away, as she had so many times before.
"I don't regret it," Darion said, so softly that under the dim light of the alley it was sucked up and taken into the shadows before it even reached Taylor.
Taylor's sneakers squish-squashed down the sidewalk in rhythm with her thoughts. Stupid, stupid, stupid, can't keep your mouth shut, stupid, stupid fuck... She was cold, tired, hungry and in pain. The ache that had been in her ribs had intensified in the flight from the pier and the slam into the water. Blood was a constant tinny taste in her mouth. The rib was broken. At least one, maybe two.
The pain threatened to envelop her, pull her down into the darkness, but she wasn't scared. There was one thing left to do before she could surrender to sweet, oblivious death. That something was within sight, at the end of the block. A pay phone. So far, yet so close.
She clutched a bloody arm to her side, breathing shallowly. A few more steps, just a few. Come on, this is important. For once in your God-forsaken-pathetic-fucking-life don't give up!
There. Her hand touched the smooth, black plastic, unhooking the phone as her knees collapsed and brought her to the cold sidewalk. She brought it's cold smoothness to her ear, reaching painfully towards the buttons. It took too long to realize there was no dial tone.
Her luck had finally run out. Blood seeped past her trembling, purple lips. Her breathing slowed and she held onto the receiver like it was a lifeline. It's broken, severed cord dangled down before her eyes, taunting her.
Stars danced around her field of vision. The cord swayed, waving good-bye. "No," Taylor's voice was failing.
"Shhh, I'm here." A gentle voice and soft hands checked her pulse. "I'll get you to a hospital and you'll be just fine." Darion's blue eyes looked down, swallowing Taylor whole.
"Phone," she begged.
"Shhh, sweetheart, save your strength." Darion carefully gathered the young woman up in her arms.
"Phone," Taylor beseeched in a strangled voice, "Julie... warn... 1-212-555-6578... Julie, please..."
"I will," Darion said.
"Promise?" Taylor implored, capturing Darion's eyes with her own cloudy green.
"I promise." Stay with me, Taylor! Don't leave me now. Not when I just found you. But the green eyes closed anyway.
"Julie?" Darion asked into the static void.
"Yes. Hello? Hello, this is Julie." The voice was muffled, high and feminine.
"Um," Darion didn't know where to begin, didn't even know who Julie was. "I promised Taylor I'd call-"
"Taylor? My God, what's happened? Is she all right?"
"We're in the hospital-" Darion began.
"Taylor has a concussion, two broken ribs and a punctured lung. She's still unconscious, so they're running some tests. But the doctor's say she'll be all right. The last thing she said, before she went unconscious, was to call you." Darion listened intently, but there was only silence and static. "Julie?"
"I-I'm here." Julie's voice was shaky. "She'll be ok then?"
"Good. She was never supposed to contact me, unless something went wrong. My God... I- I have to, I have to..." Julie fumbled with the phone, at a loss. Something had gone terribly wrong. "How do you know Taylor? And who are you?" She didn't mean that to be as harsh as it sounded.
"My name is Darion and I met Taylor for dinner the other night. We ran into some trouble." Hello, understatement.
"Take care of her, Darion. She won't like it, but she needs someone. I've got to go." Julie said.
Click. "Hello? Julie?" But the phone was dead. Darion replaced the phone in it's cradle and turned slowly to face the empty waiting room. What now?
Taylor was still unconscious, a chest tube draining the blood from her punctured lung, and an IV feeding her painkillers.
She was dreaming. Again.
A man stood before her, tall as Darion, dark haired with classic features. He was handsome, in a frightening kind of perfection. No smile graced his face, no warmth seeped from his eyes. He was impassive and his eyes spoke volumes for his silence.
Taylor trembled before his familiar presence. As his body began to glow she reeled back in panic. "Oh God..."
"No. I am not the One God, but I am a God." His voice was low, filled with a seductive menace. "I've come back for you, and her." The God's smile never reached his eyes.
"Why? I never did you wrong." She'd spoken before she'd even realized her mouth had opened.
"Never did me wrong!" he roared. "You kept her from returning to me. Where she belongs!"
"No, she chose that path herself. I had nothing to do with it." What am I saying? Taylor could not help but meet the god's gaze fully.
"Little girl, you don't realize the years of hard work you undid. Even today you don't understand." He pointed an accusing finger in her direction.
Little girl? Why you... "Well, super jock, you don't seem to realize something either." Taylor's brash personality surfaced. "You lost her, for good. No amount of meddling in our lives has ever changed that."
"Shut up and listen. We were given a chance to reunite. I'll admit it's rather tedious in the beginning meeting each other all over again and having to work through forgotten memories, but hell, it's worth it. And it's worth being here to stop YOU." Taylor smirked, on a roll now. "Her battle with the darkness you so love tempts her each time, but she fights it. And she wins."
He was still sputtering at her total lack of respect for a god, especially one as powerful as himself. But slowly he smiled. "She didn't fight the darkness this time, you did."
Taylor blinked, remembering an earlier dream.
"You are the one who fights the dark side now, little one." He smiled, contemptuously. "And, if I recall, you were loosing."
He was right, of course, but what did that matter? "So what? I know who I am now, who I was. With Darion I can fight you."
"Do you really think so?" His voice lowered. "Let's find out, shall we?"
With a twist of his hand a fire began to burn in her chest. She struggled for air, clawing to the surface of her dreams.
"Darion!" she screamed.
Taylor's eyes flew open to an empty room, a chill in the air and fire raging in her chest. Darion? Unable to stop the tears flowing freely down her cheeks or the pain it caused she sank back down into oblivion.
Someone was calling her, bringing her back from the darkness. She pushed heavy lids up and slowly focused on the pale blue eyes looking down on her.
"Hey, sleepy head. You had us worried for awhile there." Darion looked fondly at the young woman.
Taylor coughed and pain shot through her chest. She paled visibly.
"Do you need the nurse?" Darion asked, automatically reaching for the call button.
She nodded mutely, tears in her eyes. "H-how long have I... been here?" Her voice was hoarse. Taylor struggled to rise, but Darion's strong, gentle hands kept her to the bed.
"Lie still. They still have the chest tube in." Darion's hand lingered on Taylor's shoulder, sliding down to rest on her forearm.
The hacker gave her a blank look and gave up on everything but fighting the pain.
"We've only been here a few hours. The doctor's ran some tests and did some x-rays. They put in the chest tube to drain the blood and fluids from your lungs," Darion explained as she grabbed the cup on the nightstand, poured water and handed it to Taylor.
"Sounds like I didn't miss anything exciting." She slowly sipped the water. "What else? When do I get out of here?"
Darion smiled ruefully. "A couple of days. They're worried about the concussion. They need to monitor you overnight and it'll be awhile till that comes out," she motioned to the tube.
"What about you?" Taylor asked, noticing the makeshift bandage was gone.
"Just a flesh wound. It stopped bleeding before we even got here."
Taylor tried to move and grimaced as a slice of pain shoot up her side. "I feel like I got run over by a goddamned Mack truck." It hurt just to smile. She handed the cup back to Darion and passed a tentative hand over the bandage on her head, then peeked at the bandage on her ribs. The tube stuck out like a third arm.
The nurse chose that moment to walk in. "No, honey, but it sure was one hell of a hit and run."
Taylor threw a startled glance at Darion, who merely raised one dark eyebrow. "I don't remember it," she mumbled.
"That's not unusual, sweetheart. Shall we get you drugged up and off to dream land?" The nurse winked as she adjusted the flow on the IV. She proceeded to check Taylor's vitals. As she headed to the door she said the doctor would be in, in about five minutes.
"Hit and run?" Taylor asked when the nurse had left. She searched the blue eyes that were hesitant to meet her own.
"Are the meds working yet?" Darion replied instead, then sighed. "It's just easier this way right now."
"Afraid of ruining your career?" Taylor asked bitterly, shifting just the smallest bit, sending a wave of pain racing through her body. She bit her lip to stifle a scream.
"No, I don't care about my career." The dark woman hesitated. "I care about you. If you think you're still in danger, it's better-" she faced the door as the knob clicked.
Taylor's heart soared into her throat, but it was just the doctor.
"Evening, ladies." The young doctor addressed both of them, then turned to face her patient. "Hey there, Taylor, my name's Jennifer Holly. I was the trauma surgeon on call when you arrived in the ER. Since you weren't awake at the time I need to ask you a few questions, all right?"
"Sure, doc." Taylor tried a small smile for the surgeon. It quickly turned to a grimace of pain.
"Still in a lot of pain?" Jen walked around to the IV, examining the chart and the new dosage. She held back a frown as she pulled a chair up to the bed. "First, let me explain what has happened so far-"
"It's all right. Darion filled me in already," Taylor said through clenched teeth.
"Do you have any questions for me then?" The young doctor carefully studied her patient, noting her pale skin and slightly dilated pupils. She made a quick note on Taylor's chart.
"When do the meds kick in?" Taylor got right to the heart of the problem.
"In a few minutes," Jen reassured her. "Think you can help me out with some things now?"
"Sure." Taylor's foot itched. She doubted she'd be able to scratch it for a long time. It was too painful to move and exhausting to talk. "What do you need to know?"
Darion faded over to the windowsill and sat, listening quietly. Her heart ached for Taylor's pain and she wished uselessly that she could take it away. Her own head throbbed, but Aspirin would take care of that later. Taylor's safety and well being came first.
"Do you remember the accident?" Jen asked, tucking an arrant strand of blond hair behind her ear. When Taylor simply shrugged the surgeon continued. "The reason I ask is we need to assess the damages and make sure nothing was missed in the initial x-rays and CT."
"Dunno," Taylor mumbled. "Everything hurts right now." Her eyes were heavy, maybe the painkiller's were helping.
"I understand." Tread carefully here, Jen reminded herself, there's more going on then a simple hit and run. "Your blood alcohol level was high when you were brought in tonight, Taylor."
"So?" she replied, defensively.
"I'm not judging you, hon, I'm here to take the best possible care of you that I can. So, I need you to help me and to tell me the truth." She lowered her voice so only Taylor could hear. "How much did you have to drink before the accident?"
"Just a few glasses of wine," Taylor replied. She was reluctant to give the surgeon anymore information then necessary.
Jen nodded and made another note in her chart. "And before that?"
The young woman sighed and closed eyelids that suddenly felt as heavy as bricks. "Been clean for two days, I think. But... before that... I'm an alcoholic." She opened pleading eyes, passing briefly over the surgeon to rest on the tall, dark shadow by the window. She caught a glint of pale blue.
"Ok, thank you, Taylor." Jen stood, clipboard in hand, making no final notes. "Tomorrow morning you'll be transferred out of ICU and into a regular room. I'll be in the hospital for about another hour. I'll be back in the morning, but if you need anything in the meantime, the nurse can page me." She shot a smile to the dark haired woman by the window as she left.
After quietly shutting the door, she retreated to the nurses station. "Maggie, I need you to watch Taylor carefully over the next couple of hours. The morphine drip isn't going to be as effective as I hoped. She'll need," Jen made a note on how much to give, "and I expect her go into withdrawal. She's in the first stages already. Clammy skin, dilated pupils..." Jen trailed off for a second, made another note, and finally released the clipboard to the night nurse.
"Activan?" Maggie perused the chart carefully. "You really think that's necessary?"
"I wish it wasn't," Jen admitted. "Start her out on 0.5mg interveniously and page me if there are any problems."
"Will do," Maggie assured the surgeon as she left to check on her next patient.
"Oh, and Maggie?" Jen called over her shoulder. "Let her friend stay an extra couple of minutes, ok?"
Maggie just smiled. Jen was a softy, no matter how hard she pretended to be on the outside.
"Darion?" Taylor whispered.
The dark haired woman turned from her silent contemplation at the window sill. Snow was falling, bathing the dirty city in a fresh white blanket of new promises. "Hmm?" Darion moved from the shadows to the bedside.
"It would be safer if you left the hospital... " Taylor reached a hand out for Darion, withdrawing it almost immediately, "and went to the police."
"Safer for who?" Darion asked. "I won't leave you here, alone."
"Angel doesn't leave loose ends," the hacker said softly.
"Angel is dead," Darion replied harshly, regretting it as Taylor shrank back into the bed.
"Even if Angel is dead she's working for someone. She- she has contacts, people who will avenge her death." Taylor blinked back sudden tears. "I brought you into this, and I can't... can't let this happen, again."
"Again?" Darion regarded shimmering green eyes from her less then casual posture on the bedside chair.
"I-I-" Taylor choked on the words.
"Julie," Darion suddenly realized, "who is she?"
"Darion, I can't-" she turned away. "I can't talk about this."
Darion leaned forward in the chair and gently cupped Taylor's chin in her hand, turning, till troubled eyes met her own. "Taylor, whatever you may think we are in this together. I won't leave you alone. I can't. I care about you." Maybe more then I have any right to, Darion thought.
"Why?" Taylor blinked heavy eyelids, sure the drugs were taking affect and she wasn't hearing Darion correctly. Why should she care?
"Why what? Why do I care?" It wasn't something Darion had thought about to any great length. She just knew this young woman was important to her. Shed realized in the first moment she'd met Taylor that nothing would be the same. That she'd been waiting for this moment, this woman, to walk into her life and steal her heart and soul.
"Yeah," Taylor whispered, "why do you care?" When no one has before?
"Because... because I do, and I can't explain it." One dark, quizzical eyebrow rose to hide beneath her bangs and she shrugged, releasing Taylor's chin.
"All right," Taylor accepted the truth quietly. "What now?"
"Now? Now would be a good time to fill me in on the details." Darion smiled wryly. It was a little late for details, after being shot, kidnapped, tied up, and blown off the pier.
"Geez, where do I begin?" Taylor's voice was slurring, the morphine dragging her into the darkness, her body following without her consent. "Lay... ter," she mumbled.
Darion watched Taylor's eyes close, heard her breathing level out in sleep and rose, exhausted, from the chair. It was the waiting room couch for her tonight. Tenderly she kissed the young woman's forehead and bade her sleep well.
"Don't fuck around with me, people. I want answers and I want them now," commanded a voice from the shadows.
Roger, the errand boy, sucked in a ragged breath. Don't kill the messenger, don't kill the messenger... "Sir, I have no answers. Just what I was told."
"Get out," the dark, angry voice demanded. He preferred to stay in the shadows a moment longer, to study his subordinates.
Edgar Jones owned First National Bank and a few dozen smaller ones.
Grace Hansen, with her long, straight brown hair and gorgeous blue eyes, owned Fashion Magazine and a large number of offshore oil rigs.
Teddy Ferrell owned a chain of 'Family' Restaurants and dealt drugs and weapons over seas.
'K' was a representative- leader- for two street gangs that had banded together in the last year.
'Dodger' owned another gang rival to K's gang. For the moment the two sat calmly beside one another.
There were half a dozen others, all owning something big, gaudy, rich- what-have-ya, taking claim to power.
The only one missing was Tony Finelli and of course Angel. Tony was a loose end to be taken care of and Angel... well Angel was Angel, he grinned.
What an odd little group, the dark man almost chuckled. All of them had pledged allegiance to the 'Dark Angel', ultimately pledging their loyalty and their lives to him.
He smiled proudly, things had gone so well this time. Except for that little... brat. Again he frowned. "I am tired of this little girl destroying my plans. I want her taken out of the picture. Is that understood?"
Suddenly the door burst open. The dark man's bodyguards reacted instinctively and placed their bodies and weapons in front of their leader. He held up a hand for silence.
"Y-you...w-e..." the young man desperately gulped air. "We found her." He clutched his chest and bent to his knees.
"Where?" the voice in the shadows demanded.
"Crylor County Hospital. She came into the ER last night, spent the night in ICU and this morning she's being transferred to a private room." The young man straightened and waited to be dismissed.
The dark man in the shadows suddenly chuckled. This is too easy, he decided, but fun, nonetheless. "Very well." His voice lowered an octave till it seduced everyone in the room. "You know the plan."
A dozen set of eyes turned to the shadows and nodded silently. They trusted no one, liked no one, but for power... just what would they do? They were about to find out.
The young messenger could feel the tension in the room, the anger and the pulsing power. It frightened him. It surged around him with a feeling of déjà- vu. As the dark man stepped out of the shadows, the messenger boy stepped back towards the doors, frightened.
Brilliant blue eyes scored the room.
The boy stopped, frozen.
"You." A long finger curled out in the boy's direction. The boy blinked. "I have a message for you to deliver to our little Taylor, boy."
The young man gulped, but nodded.
"She didn't fight the darkness this time. You did. And you are loosing." The dark man dismissed the confused boy with a wave of his hand and retreated to his office. All in due time, he smiled, all in due time...
Darion woke suddenly, with her heart hammering in her chest. Something was wrong. Oh, God, Taylor... She sprinted off the couch and down the hall to ICU.
A startled nurse foolishly stepped into her path. "Wait. Visiting hours haven't started yet. You can't go in there!"
Darion pushed around the nurse and shoved the double doors to ICU open. She's not here. "Taylor?" She turned accusing eyes on the nurse who stumbled in frantically behind her. "Where is she?"
"Ma'am, she was moved up to a private room this morning. If you had just let me explain-" the nurse began, breathlessly.
"Which room?" the dark haired woman demanded with a cold glance. "I was suppose to be told."
"I'm sorry you weren't informed sooner. She's in room 309, on the third floor. It's-"
"Don't worry," Darion said coolly, "I'll find it." She stormed out the way she came in. I was supposed to be told. What if one of Angel's little 'goons' decided to pay a visit?
Dammit, I thought you didn't believe Taylor, a little voice scolded.
Yeah? Yeah, well I do. The 'baddies' always have a way of turning up, again and again. She grinned warily as she stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the third floor.
She found room 309 easy enough but hesitated at the door. Taylor had expressed no real desire for her to hang around, should she?
Darion felt an inexplicable tug at her heart at the thought of abandoning Taylor now. She remembered Julie's advice about taking care of the young woman even if she didn't want to be taken care of. And whoever Julie was, she knew Taylor...
With a smile planted firmly on her face Darion entered the private room. Her heart melted as soon as she saw the early morning sunlight glancing off the pillow and igniting Taylor's hair with flames of sun-kissed gold. God, she's beautiful.
Her footsteps took her closer and closer to the bed. She reached out a hand to touch the sunlight, to trace the line of Taylor's cheek and the curve of her lips. Soft skin met her fingertips, warm and supple.
Déjà-vu lanced through her veins, set her heart hammering once again and brought heat to her face. I know you...
Taylor mumbled in her sleep and Darion hastily withdrew her hand as eyelids fluttered open and slowly focused on her.
"Hi," Taylor murmured.
"Hey, yourself. How do you feel this morning?" Darion's heart still beat against her ribcage. Could Taylor hear it?
"Mmmm, wonderful," she replied, sarcastically. "Like I haven't slept in months and there's a dead something or other inside my mouth."
"An attractive thought," Darion grinned.
Taylor blinked but didn't miss a beat. "Morning breath, gotta love it. Definitely not kiss worthy." Oh my...
The dark haired woman watched the quick play of emotions across her young companion's face. They were gone as soon as they came, unreadable. "So, are you ready to get that thing out today?" Darion changed the subject, waving absently to the chest tube.
"Oh yeah." Taylor was glad for the topic change. Even a little bit of flirting left her flustered. Flirting? Damn, I'm flirting with a woman I barely know, but liken' it. Oh yeah, definitely liken' it.
Darion excused herself to find the bathroom and the doctor. Halfway down the hall a lurking figure briefly caught her eye, but when she turned the figure was gone. Just my imagination, she assured herself. Her trip to the bathroom though was finished in record time.
"Are you ready?" Jen asked as she set up the necessary items to remove the chest tube.
Oh God... "Not really," Taylor answered weakly.
"The easy part was passing the x-ray. This is the hard part, but it only lasts for a few minutes. First, I'm going to take the tape off the original dressing." Jen grimaced inwardly. "You ready?"
Taylor cast a frantic look to Darion who had come back only moments ago and perched on the edge of the hospital bed. Don't wanna do this, really don't wanna do this...
Darion took Taylor's hand in hers, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Close your eyes," the dark woman commanded gently. She placed two fingers on a pressure point and blocked off the pain.
Taylor looked up, startled.
Darion held a finger to her lips and motioned for Taylor to close her eyes again. The young woman did as she was instructed and felt nothing, not even the pull of the tape against her flesh.
Jen laid Vaseline gauze on top of the dry gauze in preparation. She watched Taylor's face closely for a second. "Doing all right?" she asked.
"Yeah," Taylor murmured, clutching Darion's hand, taking comfort in the strength emanating from the long, tapered fingers.
"Ok, hold really still for me now." Jen cut the sutures holding the tube in place. She then took the dry gauze and placed it over the tube insertion site. She paused for a moment to lay down some blue pads on the bed, under and over the tube to keep clotted blood from getting everywhere when she was ready to remove the tube.
"Taylor, I need you to take a deep breath and hum. Anything," Jen instructed.
"Hum?" Taylor grinned. "How about 'I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande?'"
"Works for me," Jen laughed. Taylor took a deep breath and hummed a few shaky notes. "Ok, one more time Taylor, while I take out the tube."
Taylor took another deep breath, closed her eyes and began to hum. "I'm an ol cowhand from the Rio Grande, my legs ain't bowed and my cheeks ain't tanned..."
Jen grabbed the tube and yanked it out in one swift motion, slapping down the Vaseline and dry gauze over the wound.
Taylor stopped in mid hum, almost choking on the pain. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and crushed Darion's hand.
"Shhh," Darion leaned in closer to Taylor's ear, "it's out now, it's all right." The dark haired woman felt compelled to lay a reassuring kiss on Taylor's forehead. She told herself she wasn't doing it because the bandage was in the way.
Taylor opened her eyes and saw that the tube was indeed out and Jen was now taping the gauze down so no air would enter the wound as it healed.
"You need to leave this on for 48 hours. After that you can switch to dry gauze. I'll order another x-ray in an hour and make sure everything's okay." The surgeon gave a reassuring smile to both Taylor and Darion as she cleaned up the mess of blue pads.
Jen hesitated at the doorway, watching as Darion gently brushed the silky strands of hair off Taylor's forehead.
The dark woman's gentle words lulled Taylor into a light sleep even as she removed the pinch shed put on Taylors neck to ease the pain.
Darion noticed the surgeon standing at the door. She reassured Taylor she'd be right back, just close her eyes, and rest.
"Somethin' wrong, doc?" Darion asked as she ushered them both out into the hall.
Jen stopped and looked up into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. If your eyes were truly the window to your soul there was a great depth and love in them for Taylor. She felt a jealous pang, but it subsided almost as soon as it came and she searched her suddenly blank mind for what she had wanted to say.
"Jen?" Darion asked, concerned.
"Um, sorry. I don't know for sure if this is important or not," Jen studied a spot beyond Darion's shoulder, "but when I came on this morning, there was a young man asking about Taylor."
"What was he asking?" Darion's heart jumped into her throat. It could be nothing, it could be...
"He wanted to know if any Jane Does were brought in with severe wounds the previous night. The nursing staff assumed he was a reporter and provided him with the information he requested. They didn't give out her room number or her name though," Jen admitted, fear growing in her heart as Darion's face paled and her eyes darkened.
I should have done this sooner... "Can you call security and have them post a guard outside of Taylor's room?" Darion asked.
"Yes," Jen replied. Darion turned abruptly to go back into Taylor's room but Jen reached out a hand and grabbed her elbow. "Darion?"
The dark woman's face was set in stone, unreadable.
"I- shouldn't..." Jen began, and paused, momentarily flustered. "I shouldn't do this, but if there is some way I can help?"
Darion considered. "Taylor's in enough pain right now, Jen. I don't want her to have to go through anymore, but if it's possible I'd like to move her to a new room, under a different name." She studied Jen, wondering if she was making the right choice in trusting this woman.
The surgeon gave a curt nod and lowered her voice. "I'll get her discharge papers ready and have Taylor released. Then re-admit her under a new identity." My God, what am I doing? This could mean my career. But all she had to do was gaze one more time into those deep pools of blue and know it was the right thing. That another time, another place, she had done the same thing and risked everything for these two remarkable women... and hadn't once regretted it.
"Thank you," Darion smiled sadly, knowing what it would cost this fresh-faced young surgeon should she be caught.
With a security guard posted outside of Taylor's room it meant, ultimately, that the police would have to be contacted. Darion knew many of the police she worked with where in the pockets of the wealthy. She hated it, trusted none of them, but what else could she do? Go hunt down this mysterious higher power?
Something told her that she wouldn't have to go anywhere, that the danger would find Taylor.
Jen had falsified papers after the x-ray, stating that Taylor Morgan had been discharged. Now she was on the 4th floor, under a new name.
The x-rays were good news. Taylor was healing. Jen would discharge her in a few hours as long as no complications developed. She'd been taken off the IV, put on Percocet for the pain and Activan for withdrawal.
Taylor had been ashamed to admit to Darion that she was an alcoholic but it had paved the way for another painful subject that Taylor was ready to share with Darion, and Darion was curious as hell.
"I met Julie at an AA meeting," Taylor began hesitantly. She wished Darion was closer, that she could reach out and hold that warm, strong hand once again. Instead she closed her eyes and sank deep into memories, into another dark chapter in her life.
What the fuck am I doing here? I'm not like these people... not at all. Taylor listened to the man at the podium whining about some thing or another. She was totally disinterested and as the man left the make shift stage she was ready to leave when the woman stepped up and cleared her throat.
"Hi, my name is Julie and I'm an alcoholic." Her voice was pleasant, captivating, and Taylor momentarily seated her urge to race from the small, claustrophobic room.
"Hi, Julie," the crowd responded.
"I've been clean for six months now." She waited for the applause to subside, then continued. "My first meeting I was ready to bolt out that door." She smiled, pointing to the door Taylor had wanted to run through. "But I didn't." More applause.
Julie's next few sentences went unnoticed as Taylor studied the woman. The graceful curves of her body, her high cheekbones and full pink lips, her dark brown hair and brown eyes... beautiful. Taylor felt a pang in her chest and heat traveled across her body. Embarrassed, as if someone could read her thoughts, she focused on Julie's voice and her story.
"I was in a relationship where when things went wrong it was all my fault. My partner was furious at my drinking, so I drank more. I couldn't get up in the mornings without a drink. I couldn't go to work without a drink. I couldn't make love without a drink." The woman paused, took a hesitant breath and continued.
Taylor listened, entranced by the womans honesty.
"My partner couldn't or didn't want to understand. We fought all the time. I became abusive... and hit..." the woman stumbled, looked out at the crowd and for a moment seemed to look right at Taylor, "my partner. My son... saw it, and he was terrified. I ran out of the house and hopped the bars all night long. I don't remember anything else except waking up beside my car, on the pavement. When I got back to the house my partner was gone and so was my son."
Tears clouded Julie's eyes but she picked up courage like she use to pick up a drink. "It took me a month after that to admit I was an alcoholic. My first AA meeting was for my son and my partner but I realized I had to do this for myself. And here I am, six months sober." She smiled and looked out at the crowd as they clapped again. Her eyes met Taylor's for a second time, sending shivers up her spine.
Julie's voice echoed in Taylors soul. The words had gotten through, when nothing had before.
They unconsciously searched each other out as the crowd thinned and people left to return home. That first exchange was awkward as hell, but from that starting point they went out for coffee the following night. They talked about anything and nothing, Taylor lying through her teeth about her 'home', her job, her life.
Things went quickly from there. Julie's partner had turned out to be a woman, who had left her, for good. Julie was heart broken that she couldn't repair the damage she had done. Her son was living with her once again and she had started her life over.
Taylor joined Julie and Mark's lives, all the while working for Angel. She stayed over most nights, making love and talking about the future, going back to Angel in the mornings. For one strange, enjoyable month she lived a double life.
But Julie didn't want alcohol around herself or her son. She was suspicious of where Taylor went, what she did, and confronted her.
Darion sat on the edge of the bed, gently holding Taylor's hand as tears rolled under her closed eyelids. "Taylor, you don't have to talk about this if you don't want to," she said.
Taylor blinked open green eyes, realizing for the first time that her hand was in Darion's. She looked into those blue eyes, flying into something she couldn't and didn't want to stop. "I want you to know who I am, Darion." So it will be decided once and for all that I'm not worth caring about. We can get this over with and you can leave, like I know you want to.
I already know you... Darion slowly reached up her free hand and touched Taylor's cheek. She felt Taylor's body stiffen and let her hand fall quickly back to her side. "All right, tell me who you are, Taylor Morgan."
"When Julie confronted me I was drunk. Like I always was."
"You're drunk," Julie said disgustedly and threw back the covers. She rose from the bed. Taylor reached out to the slim, naked body as it retreated and fell over the edge onto the floor. She giggled and struggled back up and after Julie, to the bathroom.
Julie was scrubbing her face at the sink, desperate to get rid of the stench of alcohol. She cursed as the door banged open. "Get the fuck out, Taylor."
Taylor swayed and caught the doorframe, making her way unsteadily over to Julie. She wrapped her arms around warm, naked skin and planted hungry kisses along her shoulders.
"Stop it. Now." Julie tried to wriggle out of the embrace, but Taylor held tightly.
"Not yet," she slurred. "I'm not finished." Taylor pouted and turned Julie around. She crushed Julie's mouth with a savage kiss.
Julie sobbed and pushed against Taylor's chest. With a grunt Taylor lost her balance and crashed onto the cold linoleum. She let out a string of incomprehensible curses.
"Get out. Get out of my house and get out of my life." Julie turned. "I don't know you anymore, Taylor." She went into the bedroom and dumped out the drawer Taylor had used and threw everything into a bag.
Taylor slumped on the bathroom floor, her heart in chaos. Even inebriated she knew she'd lost Julie, lost the opportunity for love and a happy life. Instead of crying her face turned to stone and her heart turned to ice. Angel had always said she'd never make it without her... so true.
She staggered from the floor, dressed in a flurry of motion and left, not once looking back or saying good-bye.
Taylor refused to look into eyes she knew would be filled with loathing and disgust. But she didn't pull her hand from Darion's either.
"That's not the end of it," Darion said, not a question.
"No, Angel found out," Taylor said simply. "My dear, sweet Angel," she said sarcastically, not looking up, "was, of course, furious. She threatened to kill Julie, and Mark. I didn't know what to do. I tried to contact Julie, but she wouldn't speak to me. Angel sent out some of her goons to finish them. I got there after them," she shrugged.
"What happened?" Darion asked, hurting for Taylor and the pain so evident on her pale face.
"I-I... Mark was dead and Julie was shot. She was barely breathing. I was too late. I hid my little chicken ass in the closet till they left and then I snuck out. I dragged Julie out the back and set fire to the house," Taylor said bitterly. "I brought Julie back to the warehouse and took care of her, hiding her from Angel. She wanted nothing to do with me. I had gotten her son killed." She turned her face, trying to hide from the overwhelming emotions, trying to hide from a past she had never faced before.
Taylor's body shook with silent sobs. Pain burned in her chest and her heart was breaking. Darion couldn't stand the distance anymore and carefully gathered Taylor in her arms. "I'm not going to hurt you, sweetheart," Darion whispered as Taylor initially resisted. "Let it out. Let it all go." Taylor sagged against her chest. "You're not alone anymore."
Pain racked Taylor's body as she clung desperately to Darion's words and her solid body. Something clicked in the back of her mind, something in her tortured soul locked onto Darion and grabbed hold.
"That's right, let it go." Darion soothed and rocked the smaller woman in her arms. I love you Taylor... if I thought I could tell you that right now without scaring you away I would. Darion fought her own tears.
An eternity passed in only moments as Taylor cried herself to sleep, safe in strong, warm arms, one weight lifted finally from shoulders that were no longer strong enough to hold the past by themselves.
The two muscular men made no move to be subtle. It was not in their vocabulary. They walked down the hospital corridors as if they owned the place. Orders were to kill the girl and leave no witnesses.
After calling the boss to tell him that Taylor had been discharged their own lives were forfeit unless they found her. He'd said the only logical thing to do would be to hide right in front of their eyes.
Taylor had never let the hospital.
Between the two they had about half a brain, completely expendable, deadly accurate in their one talent; killing.
On the fourth floor they passed the one and only security guard. At the end of the hall they ducked around the corner. One raised an eyebrow, the other smirked.
They'd found her.
"Stop pacing," Taylor mumbled sleepily. "You're making me dizzy."
"Sorry," Darion answered, absently. What now? What now? Her mind screamed over and over. Taylor wasn't ready to be moved, not without risking her safety.
There was a gentle rap on the doorframe and Jen entered the room. "How are you feeling?" The surgeon checked the chart and the vitals the nurse had taken only moments earlier. Doing very well, better then expected, in fact. "I picked up your prescription, so you're ready to go," Jen glanced at Darion briefly, "whenever you need to." She laid the bag on the bedside table.
"Thanks, Jen." Taylor smiled, studying the surgeon for the first time since she'd been admitted to the hospital. She realized she felt comfortable around Jen, almost as if they'd met before, but that was impossible. Taylor had always avoided going to the hospital.
"It's no problem, Taylor. Remember, no heavy lifting, no over exerting yourself either." Jen winked.
"Gotcha, doc. Wish I could say it's been... fun, but that'd be lying." Taylor smiled again, lighting up her face, warmth shining in her eyes.
"Yep, and I'd say be seeing you, but we wouldn't want that either." Jen wondered if she would see Taylor again. Hoped so, but definitely not treating her once again in the ER. "Darion," Jen spoke as she made her way to the door, "may I speak to you a moment?"
Darion gave a nonchalant shrug and a smile to Taylor as she followed the surgeon out into the hall. "What's up?" she whispered once they were away from the security guards earshot.
"Trouble," Jen whispered as well. "I took my lunch down to the security room, to ask when their shifts changed..."
"And?" Darion prompted, dread circling her empty stomach.
"Couldn't believe what I saw," she muttered. "Two guys, just like the friggin' movies, searching up and down the hallways. They were on the second floor when I rushed out to fill the prescription and warn you."
Dammit, dammit, dammit... then... "They'd have made it up here by now?" Dammit, trouble was coming faster then Darion had expected or was prepared for.
"Most likely." Jen confirmed. Security guards were trained for this kind of thing, weren't they? But those two men had looked like professionals. Holy shit, what have I gotten myself mixed up in? Discreetly she looked down the hall. "Theres a service elevator down that hall," she motioned slightly, "that will take you right to the ground level. Take a left and you'll be in the passenger, patient pickup and drop off area."
Darion nodded. "I owe you, Jen. For this, for everything."
"Just get Taylor out of here. I don't want to see either of you back in the ER, understand?" The surgeon left quickly, before Darion could respond, her rapidly beating heart mingling with the posse of butterflies in her stomach. Good luck, she silently wished.
Two dark suited men waited in the shadows, watching the interaction between the two women, waiting for their opening.
The security guard posed no threat, they'd taken care of men like him before. Middle aged men, seeking benefits, hoping nothing would happen on THEIR shift, just praying the day would end and they could go home and rest tired, aching bodies.
One of the women left, the other returned to the room. They looked at one another with wicked smiles that said 'now or never,' quickly tightened the silencers on their 9mm Glocks and sauntered down the hall.
"Taylor," Darion whispered urgently, "you're gonna have to get dressed so we can get out of here."
"They're here?" the young woman asked, looking unexpectedly fragile.
"Yes," Darion said simply.
"You should go then." Light green eyes pleaded with bright blue.
"We've been through this already. I'm not leaving you." Darion grabbed clothes
from the closest, not caring they weren't Taylor's, since Taylor's had been cut to shreds in the ER.
Goddamn, stubborn as ever... Taylor dressed quickly and painfully while Darion watched the doorway. The hacker tucked the prescription pills into the oversized pants and shrugged the worn Jean jacket into place.
They exited the hospital room silently. Darion cocked her head almost imperceptibly to the side. "Get down," she hissed, pulling them both to the linoleum. Something whizzed past and lodged with a small hollow pop into the far wall.
"Holy shit," Taylor gasped and pain sliced up her side as she lay on her stomach on the cold floor.
Darion risked a glance to the shadows down the hall. They were no longer shadows as two dark suited men stepped simultaneously down the hall. Darion pulled Taylor to her feet beside her. "Run..." she gave her a small shove down the hall. "Left... service elevator," then turned to face the dark men.
Taylor slipped and slid down the freshly waxed floors. A bullet lodged into the wall beside her head, causing her heart to skip a beat and her feet to race faster. There was a thud and a stifled scream. She kept running, grabbed the corner on the left and slid into the hallway. The service elevator was at the end.
Darion... oh God, I can't leave you. She skidded to a breathless halt. Fire lanced through her chest. Shit, if I break this fuckin' rib again. I think I need a warranty on this surgery stuff. She turned and raced back around the corner.
Her world seemed to freeze for a spilt second as she saw Darion. Her long, black hair was captured in a big meaty hand, her body sagging out below her. One of the men had his gun planted against Darion's temple, finger clutching the trigger.
"Noooooo!" Taylor screamed and the world raced forward once again. Three sets of eyes looked up. Darion!
The man raised his gun at Taylor. A long graceful arm swung upward with newfound strength and knocked the gun out of his hand, sending it skidding across the floor to Taylor. She dove for it as Darion rose and disarmed the other dark man.
The rolls were now reversed as Darion and Taylor raised both stolen guns.
I want to finish this once and for all. I'm tired of running, tired of being scared. Darion doesn't deserve this kind of life. Who am I kidding? I'm not even sure why Darion is still hanging around. She poked the gun more savagely into the back of of one of the men they were sharing an elevator with.
He drew in a sharp breath and she smiled. I should waste this bastard right here and right now.
Taylor glanced over at Darion's strong profile. Their eyes met for the briefest moment. Why, Darion, why are you staying with me through all this? She saw something flash beneath that pale, steady blue and turned abruptly away.
They led their charges out of the service elevator into the patient pickup/drop off area and hailed a cab.
"Where to?" the cabby asked cheerfully.
Taylor poked the gun unmercifully into the ribcage of the man seated next to her.
"AA Enterprises," he hissed through clenched teeth. Fucking little bitch, she'll get what's comin' to her. One way or another.
Darion and Taylor raised startled eyebrows and looked at one another simultaneously. AA Enterprises?
Shit, fucking, shit... Taylor squirmed in her seat, wishing desperately that she could stop and pop about a dozen pain pills. She was dizzy and nauseous. The race down the hallway had not been a good thing.
Darion kept a tight grip on the arm of the second man while she gazed distractedly out the cab window. AA... Angel... fuckin' bitch keeps coming back...
Angel and Adam...
For a long time the corporation had been thought to be owned by a single man, Adam Angel. Or by a group named Angel Adam. It hadn't been cleared up until AA Enterprises had started buying up every available property and business and come into the presses as the next multi-billion dollar company.
They had demolished abandoned buildings, brought up children's centers, clinics and stuff in their places. It was hard to pin a monopoly on services that helped the community and brought in good money.
Questions did pop up, but quickly disappeared.
They looked legit on the surface, they covered greed well. Covered the fact that in less then a year they'd have bought all of NYC and it's surrounding suburbs. God knows what other stuff they held in and out of country.
This thing was bigger then Darion had expected. And Taylor probably knew all about it. She glanced over at the haggard profile.
How could you, part of her demanded.
How could you not, another part sighed.
Taylor's face was pale, a light sheen of sweat building on her upper lip. She looked exhausted and determined. The dark haired woman wanted nothing more then to throw the men that sat between them out the cab door and wrap her arms around Taylor.
What's stopping you? A little voice demanded. I'm a cop, Goddammit. So fucking what? That point had seemed to matter little in the last couple of days. She hadn't even called in sick. Doug is gonna clean the floor with my face. Is it worth it? YES! She screamed. Taylor's worth it all.
How can you be so fucking sure? Oh, just shut the fuck up.
"Here we are," the cabby said.
Darion grumbled as she pulled her charge from the car. The second man followed with Taylor almost kicking him out. She threw a wad of crumpled, still wet bills into his window without saying a word.
They began a slow march to the oversized glass doors of AA Enterprises as the cab driver thumbed through the soggy bills.
"Hey," he called, "don't you want your change?"
"Keep it," Taylor called back.
The cabby looked dumbly at the twenties and one hundred dollar bill. Shit, all right, if you say so. He peeled out with a squeal of tires before the woman could change her mind.
"Open it," Darion told the man, pushing him in front of a keypad, located unobtrusively in a little niche beside the door.
"Can't, " he mumbled, "don't got the code."
"Nevermind." Taylor shoved him out of the way. She punched in several numbers. "Shit." Punched in a few more. A few more muttered curses then a beep and the door clicked open. She smiled grimly. "Someone's expecting us."
The men grinned.
"Why's that?" Darion asked.
"The keycode was set to my birthday," Taylor replied quietly. And only one person knows what that is.
"Shit," Darion muttered and shoved the men into the dark interior.
"So glad you could make it," a rich, deep voice purred from the shadows.
They all jumped.
"If you would follow me." The voice had it's seductive charms.
But Taylor didn't move. She grabbed Darion's wrist as the two men started forward into the shadows.
"Taylor, I'm disappointed my messenger boy never gave you my message. I so wanted to hear of your reaction. But perhaps it just wasn't time. The Fates have a way of showing us our destinies, sooner or later."
The voice wrapped around her, settled into her soul and brought forth unpleasant images of blood and death. "Who are you?" Her quiet voice carried over the plush carpets, wrapped around the luxurious chairs and bounced off the sterile walls.
"You know who I am." The two men had reached their employers side. "Come with me... and we will... discuss... an arrangement."
"An arrangement? You have nothing I want," Taylor spat bitterly.
"Oh," he chuckled softly, "I think I do."
From behind them came a shadow and before they had time to react it was tearing Darion's hand from hers. Taylor whirled around, raised her gun, only to have it kicked from her hand. It landed on the carpet with a dull thud.
"Payback's a bitch," came the throaty response from the shadow that held Darion captive.
Taylor's knees buckled and she swayed dizzily. Shit... "Angel."
"Oh yes, darrrrling." Angel stepped out of the shadows, holding a pistol to Darion's head, obviously enjoying Taylor's pale, shaking form. "Didn't think you could kill lil' ol' me, did you?" She smiled, painfully twisting her marred features.
"But.." Taylor stuttered. "How-"
"Technology dear. Such amazing advances in the past year or so. Not that they've been introduced to the public... " Angel drawled to a finish.
Taylor stood stunned. My god, is that... no fucking way did Angel have an arm you'd see in sci-fi movies. Sure, technology was advanced, but to this point .
Angels lower arm was dark, gray metal with protruding pistons and joints that formed fingers. Small red lights flashed on the side, apparently interfacing with implants further up the arm, tapping into implants in certain parts of Angels brain that controlled motor functions.
Taylor mentally slapped herself. It wasn't impossible, never had been... top secret government crap. Fuck, Angel had higher contacts then the mysterious man in the shadows... or HE had the contacts...
"Bor-r-r-ing," the deep voice called. "Let's get on with this."
Taylor desperately cleared her mind and tried to focus. There was no other choice. She followed Darion and Angel, catching a glimpse of deep blue eyes. I'm sorry Darion, her heart broke inside to what would be lost forever. Happiness with Darion. Love. Suddenly she realized what she'd seen shining in Darion's eyes earlier and she was ashamed.
Ashamed for every rottenfuckingterrible thing she'd done in her life. If I could change it all for a chance with you Darion, I would, and I will... I'll fix this, she promised. I'll fix this, if it kills me...
"Let Darion go. You don't need her. She has nothing you want," Taylor said, carefully keeping desperation and fear out of her voice.
The doors to the elevator had just opened before the assembled group.
The two men they'd previously held captive were gripping her arms. She twisted in their grasp, turning to get a good look at the 'shadow man' for the first time.
His eyes startled her, put fear into her chest and she desperately held her heart inside her burning ribcage. I know you... Taylor blinked, mentally shook herself and turned to Angel. "Let her go," she said again.
"No darrrling, she's our insurance policy," Angel smirked. The elevator continued on it's merry way. "The time table has sped up since our little... escapade and there are a few things you are going to do for us. Adam was hesitant at first, thought we should just kill the both of you and get on with it, but I convinced him otherwise."
Adam shot her a dirty look. Keep the monologue to yourself. "Yes," his smile was fake, "you'll come in handy."
The elevator door pinged and opened onto the penthouse lobby. They were escorted down the wealthy corridor with its plush carpet and rich mahogany paneling.
Taylor grinned. Not a nice spot to get blood on, very hard to get out. This must be the tour, how nice. Back alley, dumpster or the harbor for us later? Shit, I've lost my mind.
Darion was oddly quiet. Her eyes skimmed over everything, missed nothing and widened slightly as they entered the penthouse. It had a spectacular view of the city. Lights, stars, and the moon all competed in the window that took up one whole wall. To the left was an ornate desk, complete with leather chair. The walls were richly accented with dark and bright landscapes and surreal images that complimented each other. Besides two chairs in front of the desk the office appeared to be empty.
There were two doors on the right wall. They were headed for the closest one. They entered a room that took Taylor's breath away. It consisted of multiple work stations with state-of-the-art computers. Two techs were busy at work. Taylor recognized one. His name was Lex, and he was roughly 6 foot of bone and pale skin.
"Hey Lex," Taylor said.
He looked up startled, seeing Adam, Angel, Darion and the two men that held Taylor tightly between them. "Hey, Taylor, what's up?"
"Not much," she grinned his way.
"Shut up, Lex. Get back to work." Angel smiled cruelly at him. Lex obediently ducked his head back to the computer and set shaking fingers to work. Angel pushed Darion into a chair and produced a set of hand cuffs, getting a thrill out of locking the dark woman up.
Darion didn't resist. Didn't fight. Stunned at finding out, finally, who Taylor really was. Did it matter so much? She sat and searched her heart as Angel grabbed the hacker from the men and tossed her roughly into a workstation. The sudden clenching of her hands, the racing of her heart and the desire to bash in Angel's head told her all she needed to know.
"Lex has been kind enough to fill in during your absence, darrrling, but I must say he's been... inadequate." Angel's hands rested on Taylor's slim shoulders.
The hacker squirmed under the cold metal of Angel's right hand, sickened by the thought that she'd ever let this woman touch her, kiss her, make love to her. She was repulsed and ashamed.
"I have business to attend to," Adam said in a bored tone. "I'll leave this situation to your... capable hands, Angel." He pulled a cell phone from his pocket as he left, shutting the door behind him. It clicked into place, locking with a sigh.
Angel watched him leave with a sultry smile. "Alright, ladies," she paced between the two techs and Taylor, "let's begin."
Darion strained against the handcuffs, receiving an angry look from Angel. Oh bite me, Darion thought, on second thought, come no where near me if you ever plan to use your eyes again.
Taylor sat, shoulders slumped, at the keyboard. She'd been instructed to hack into a mainframe that none of the others, Lex included, had been able to get into. She refused to look anywhere but the monitor, sure that if she looked to Darion she'd find only anger and hatred. I should have told her sooner. But she wouldn't have stayed! Do you really think she'll stay after this? That is if we get out of here alive. Damn, I'm insecure. Just shut the fuck up and get to work before Angel realizes you haven't done a damn thing.
Lex darted glances over his shoulder to Taylor every few seconds. Rumors were Taylor was dead. She certainly didn't look like she was doing so well. He focused back on his monitor and his work before Angel paced back his way.
Taylor ran through thousands of numbers and their possible combinations till she passed the first security lock. It took her only a second to figure out the next one before she moved on to the third block. Lex had gotten this far, but no further. Numerous windows popped up and she blinked rapidly.
"Lex," she whispered, "what the fuck is this?"
Angel stopped pacing and rested on the edge of the desk, curiosity written on her marred features. "Stuck already, darrling?"
"Not at all. Lex got here first. If he has some ideas we could get through this sooner," Taylor replied.
Angel nodded at Lex's questioning look and he wheeled his chair over next to Taylor. "What I could figure out... " he began softly, "is that it's a maze of sorts."
"A maze?" Taylor's brow quirked, interested despite the circumstances.
"Yeah. The first window that popped up is the beginning. The last window is the way out." He reached over for the mouse without thinking and Taylor batted his pale hand away.
"What's the sequence for the rest?" she asked, minimizing all but the first window.
"That I couldn't figure out," he admitted ruefully. "They have to be completed in order or youre locked out."
"But there's nothing in these windows," Taylor mumbled, studied the window closer and spotted the tiny mark at the bottom. She clicked on it and a password screen faded into sight. "Ahhh, I see," she smiled, the hacker part of her already rising to the challenge. "I got it Lex, go back to what you were doing."
Lex reluctantly wheeled his chair back to his console. Angel stood and began to wander the room once again, one eye on her hackers and one on Darion.
The first part of the maze was simple. She found the numerical password and the screen disappeared. Nothing popped up in it's place, highlighted or showed anything significant. So she took each window and sized all twenty of the remaining to fit in the screen. There didn't seem to be any kind of order to them and she was reluctant to touch the small marks on each page to show what they contained. It was possible that once all had faded into view a lock would go up.
She sighed and got to work. The hacker minimized the last window; the exit, and concentrated on the rest.
After a few moments she clicked the marks and studied the results. Nothing locked up or set off an alarm. "So far, so good," she murmured.
Darion watched Taylor's intent face and the way she sat straighter as she sank into her element. "I want to talk to Adam," she said suddenly, her voice startling them in the almost silent humming of computers.
"Sorry, Adam's busy." Angel replied.
"So, I think he'll be interested in what I have to say," Darion said firmly.
"You can tell me, darrrling, and I'll be sure to pass it on." Angel came to stand less then a foot away from her beautiful captive.
"No deal. I talk to Adam." Darion worked the cuff around her wrist, trying to ease it off a raw spot.
Angel's face darkened with anger. I'm going to enjoy breaking this one. She captured Darion's strong chin in her left hand, enjoying the feel of Darion's smooth, warm flesh. "I don't make deals." She leered up and down Darion's body, taking in the feminine curves, lines of muscles and exposed flesh.
Darion's free hand came up and wrapped around Angel's slim wrist. She yanked the hand away in revulsion. "Don't ever touch me."
No one talks to me that way. Angel tore her hand away from Darion's firm grasp and struck her solidly on the face with her metal implant. It struck Darion's face with a satisfying crack.
Taylor's head spun away from the monitor. Darion! She rose to her feet.
Darion's head reeled back with the impact, slamming against the seat back. She clenched her jaw and refused to cry out in pain. A warm trickle of blood seeped out of her broken nose and down to her lips. She licked it off with a grin and grasped her nose between both hands. With a sick popping sound she re-broke it and snapped it into place. Briefly her eyes clouded with extreme pain.
She looked up at Angel. "Is that the best you can do?" Darion caught Taylor's eyes over Angel's shoulder and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.
Angel's face contorted in rage. "You insolent bitch."
Taylor, terrified, back stepped to her chair and sat. Oh God, Darion, be careful.
Darion took on a feral smile. "Come on, let's settle this. Once and for all."
Baited, Angel stepped forward, retrieving the key from her pocket.
"Angel!" Adam had entered the computer room unexpectedly. Angel's head swiveled to the side, savage look still in place. Darion lashed out with her free hand and struck Angel across the face, drawing a thin line of blood.
"Bitch," the she-demon reacted instinctively, pouncing on Darion, "you got my only good side. You'll pay for that." But Adam was suddenly dragging her back, restraining her against his chest. "Let me go!" she screamed.
"Now, now, Angel, don't let your... passions... get the better of you." He smoothed her hair and touched the line of blood on her cheek.
Angel caged her rage, if only in the presence of Adam. And if only for the moment. "When we are through here Adam she's mine."
"Of course, baby." He kissed her deeply and possessively. "First things first though. How's our little hacker doing?"
"See for yourself." Angel retreated to a corner, 'licking' her wounds.
Adam was fuming on the inside but his face was impassive, stoic on the outside. Damn that Angel, she's going to ruin this yet. He stood behind Taylor, looking over the hacker's shoulder at her progress. One window remained on the screen. Lex had proved useless, but damn... Taylor was everything Angel said and more. "Tell me what youre doing."
His rich voice rumbled in her ear and Taylor shivered. "I'm on the last stage of this security block," she answered cryptically.
"How?" he asked.
"Simple. Each window had a faint picture in the background. It was more of a puzzle then a maze."
"And now this?" Adam pointed to the last window.
"This this is the fun part," she smiled easily.
"Good work," he praised her sincerely. "Let me know immediately when you get inside."
A shiver of pleasure traveled up her spine. It left her feeling dirty.
He made his way back to the door casting a disgusted, sidelong glance at Angel.
The low contralto voice stopped him in his tracks. "Yes?" He turned to Darion.
"May I have a word with you?" she asked, then pointedly looked around the room. "In private?"
Adam considered a moment. All right, what the hell? "Unlock the cuffs, Angel."
Angel stared angrily then abruptly threw the key at him. Adam caught it mid air and swiveled gracefully to insert the key and unlock Darion. "Follow me. You've got five minutes to tell me something I want to hear."
Darion hid a smile. Oh, I'll tell you something all right...
"I have a conference call in half an hour, make it short." Adam reclined in his leather chair and gestured for Darion to take the seat across from him.
It was six am, the sun not even struggling to rise yet in the winter sky. Darion absently wiped the blood from her nose as she sat. "I think I have something to offer you."
"What could you possibly have of interest to me, cop?" Adam sneered. He did his homework, left no stone unturned to come back and bite him in the ass.
Darion smiled slightly. "I uncovered some information you may be interested in."
Adam quirked an eyebrow in a gesture so similar to Darion's that for a split second some might think they were related. "Really?"
"Your brush with Tony Finelli left some very unpleasant loose ends." She calmly leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs.
"Those are being taken care of." His eyes strayed to impressively Jean clad legs, missing Darion's satisfied smile.
"Oh, really? Then why is it he disappeared and you can't find him?" she asked reasonably.
Adam scowled. "It's none of your damn business."
"Being a cop I've made it my business." The dark woman's eyes turned cold.
"And I suppose you know exactly where he is?" he replied sarcastically. "And you're just going to tell me, is that it?"
"It's not that simple." Darion uncrossed her legs and leaned forward.
"It never is." Adam smiled, but it never reached his eyes. "Planning to switch sides, Darion?"
"I want in, at a price." She leaned farther forward, capturing his eyes with hers.
"Prove it." He rested his hands behind his head, satisfied that Darion had nothing and was just trying to save her worthless, if not alluring, backside.
"Finelli has made a deal with the FBI to turn states evidence against you. They've placed him in the witness protection plan, worthless though it is. I know where he is and I'll tell you. On one condition." She prayed to whoever might be listening.
"What's the condition?" Adam lowered his arms to his sides.
"That Angel is mine," she stated flatly.
Adam grinned suddenly and let out a heartfelt laugh. He pushed back his chair, still laughing. His arm raised and before Darion could blink he'd rounded the desk and planted a gun against her temple.
Shit, not again. She didn't move. "Well, deal or not?" Darion asked, in her most bored sounding voice.
Adam's deep, rumbling laughter sounded again. "I get Finelli first, then you can do whatever you want with Angel."
A shout from the computer room interrupted any further conversation.
"What's this?" Angel demanded bitterly as Adam and Darion entered the computer room, Darion no longer in cuffs.
"We have an... arrangement." Adam smiled as Angel's eyes darkened with rage.
Taylor looked slowly from Darion to Adam, back to Darion. Both their faces were emotionless. Taylor sighed. I don't blame you... it's the only way you can survive.
Darion struggled to remain calm, expressionless as Taylor turned away. It broke her heart knowing Taylor thought she'd betrayed her.
"What have we got?" Adam asked, seemingly oblivious to the tension gathering like electricity in the room.
"I'm in," Taylor said softly.
Adam clapped his hands together like an excited child. "Excellent." He pulled the hacker from the chair and took a seat at the console.
Angel laid her hand roughly on Taylor's shoulder with a smug smirk directed to Darion, but she refused to be baited, at this precarious point in time.
"Perfect," Adam murmured. It was all coming together. He'd wanted to get Taylor out of the picture, but he admitted reluctantly that they couldn't have done this without her. Angel, for once, had been right, and he'd been wrong. It wouldn't happen again. And he had the precious Darion in his clutches now as well. He wasn't stupid, not at all, but it was too good a chance to pass up.
By 9am the virus would infect every system on Earth. There would be a world wide systems crash and he was the only one who could fix it. Things had fallen into place perfectly. Power, so much power, and it was all his for the taking.
The world would be his.
Darion could almost hear the evil laugh as Adam smiled in smug satisfaction. Her skin crawled and the tiny hairs on her arms and neck tingled with electricity. Wait, something told her. The timings off... just wait. I can't wait that much fucking longer, people!
Adam glanced at his watch. "Show time." He stood from the chair. "We have a call to make."
They all followed Adam to the second door. It led into a large conference room. At each chair there was a monitor, turned to face the head of the table, where Adam now sat. Darion sat to one side, and Angel and Taylor were on the other. His bodyguards stood slightly behind him.
He clicked a few buttons on a keyboard that slid out from a pocket under the table. The monitors turned on, one by one. Twelve faces stared solemnly back.
"Ladies and gentlemen." Adam showed perfectly white teeth. "We've progressed faster then originally scheduled." A few audible murmurs surfaced. Adam raised his hand for silence. "Project A.R.G.O. will commence at 9am EST."
"How dare you!" Taylor hissed.
"Shut up." Angel dug her fingernails into Taylor's arm, silencing her with a yelp.
What the hell is A.R.G.O, Darion wondered, risking a questioning glance to the young hacker and the obvious distress the acronym brought.
Taylor withered in her seat. Her precautions might not be enough. A.R.G.O stood for Annihilation Retaliation Government Objective. Just a lot of big words for destroying the world as they knew it.
Adam was saying something else. "Take your systems off-line and reroute to the AA subsystems you were designated." He switched the monitors off without another word and rose to face the window. "Angel."
"I'm right here, lover," she answered, caught in the seductive nature of the game.
"Take your precious little hacker down to the docks and get rid of her before this starts. And take our new partner, Darion, with you." He never turned from the window. Never saw the hateful gleam in Angel's eyes, or the condescending tilt of her head.
"This way, Dari," Angel sneered, walking briskly to the penthouse door.
Adam turned then and caught Darion by the wrist. "Come back without Angel, or don't come back at all."
She nodded silently and left.
Early in the morning this side of the docks were empty. People minded their own business here and the cops didn't bother anyone for the right amount of pocket change.
Darion followed a few paces behind Angel and Taylor, wondering what in hell to do. Her training had never covered falling in love.
Taylor, on the other hand, trudged along in Angel's firm grasp with nothing but hatred on her mind. Hatred for herself, hatred in general for the world and her parents for bearing her into it. The thought of taking Angel with her into the ocean crossed her mind, more then once.
They stopped in the shadow of a large, abandoned warehouse. Angel eyed the surrounding area as Darion leaned casually against the rusting structure. Angel's face took on a look of pure evil pleasure as she bound Taylor's arms and legs with heavy rope.
"Feel familiar, lover?" Angel taunted, running human fingers down the length of Taylor's body. The hacker's body stiffened but remained otherwise motionless.
Darion cringed inwardly, resisting the urge to take out Angel right then and there. An anxious muscle twitched in her leg and she tapped her foot, doing her best to look unpleasantly bored.
"Any last words?" Angel asked as she dragged Taylor to her feet and to the edge of the pier. "No?" She glanced at Darion. "What, no kiss good-bye?"
"Just get it over with. I've wasted enough time with you and Taylor as it is." She refused to meet Taylor's hurt look. I'm sorry, this hurts me too but I promise she won't hurt you anymore.
Angel just grinned as she turned her back on Darion and prepared to throw the hacker into the icy water.
Big mistake. Darion leapt at Angel, knocking her sideways to the wooden planks. Taylor landed on her side as well, dangerously close to the edge.
The dark woman planted a savage fist in Angel's face, drawing back quickly and hitting her again. Angel screamed in outrage, leaping to her feet a little ways from Darion. They circled one another for a moment then Angel feigned a forward punch. Darion went to block it, leaving her side exposed.
Angel laughed, sending a ferocious kick to Darion's right side.
She tumbled backwards but remained standing. Eyes flashing, a low growl starting in her throat, Darion advanced like a panther stalking it's prey.
Taylor rolled away from the edge and slowly got to her knees. Neither woman noticed as they punched and kicked their way around in a small circle.
Blood poured from Angel's nose. Darion's eye would swell considerably in the next day or two and a jagged line from Angel's right hand traveled from her temple to her jawbone.
Enough! Taylor cried. Angel was close enough now. Lucky for Taylor her hands had been tied in front of her body, unlucky for Angel as the hacker reached out and latched onto Angel's clothing with everything she had. "No more," she whispered with a smile, pulling them both backward into the icy Atlantic.
It was over in a split second and Darion stood stunned as the water rippled and sealed over their heads. "Goddamn, son of a bitch!" she swore. For a paralyzed second she stood then tore off her jacket and dove into the water after them.
The water hit Taylor like a block of ice. As it covered her head it began to numb her body and mind. One thought stayed with her and her fingers never let go of Angel's jacket as they twisted frantically in the water.
The electronic implant sparked, arching along Angel's arm, stopping her heart. The dead weight carried Taylor quickly down.
Darkness and loneliness sank with her. Good-bye, Darion. I love you. She let her mind float into the nothingness, almost sad to be leaving as she suddenly realized how she really felt towards the beautiful, blue eyed woman who had saved her life and stayed with her. I owe you this. I owe Julie, her son and the world my death. I promised...
An image gathered and surrounded her. Trees, sunlight, oddly the smell of pine needles... She was there as she had been before and would forever be. Dark hair flowing around her shoulders she extended a long, tanned arm. Her mouth opened, struggling to form words she'd always found difficult to express. She snapped her mouth shut and squared her shoulders angrily, an emotion she was comfortable with.
"Don't you leave me," the dark woman cried. "Don't leave me."
Taylor reached her hand out for the woman's. For Darion. For life... and let go of Angel's dead body.
"Don't leave me!" The words rang in Taylor's ears. She struggled uselessly against the thick ropes. Her heavy, oversized clothes dragged her down. Noooo! I changed my mind! Darion! Stars painted the canvas of her closed eyelids. Her chest ached, forcing her to inhale a lung full of water.
It was too late.
Darion broke through the water in clean, neat slices, expanding energy she didn't know she had. Something graced her fingertips and she grabbed at it blindly, trying to pull it even with her. Angel's pale, dead eyes mocked her.
Fucking shit... she let go and dove further down after Taylor, using Angel's body as a pushing point. The cold water was numbing her fingers and other extremities. She was becoming sluggish.
Fine strands of golden hair tangled in her outstretched fingers and in the cloudy water she saw Taylor's limp body. Adrenaline surged through her body as she climbed back up and broke the surface of the water with a shuddering breath.
With strength born of desperation she pulled her body and Taylor's out and up to the pier. Shaking, Darion laid Taylor on her side to drain as much water as possible from her lungs. She felt for a heartbeat, almost whooping with joy at the shallow pulse.
"Come on, don't leave me now," she whispered and rolled Taylor onto her back. Lungs aching she touched her lips to Taylor's cold, blue mouth and exhaled. Again. Then again.
Taylor suddenly gasped for her own breath and flailed her bound arms in panic. "Darion!"
"Shhh, shhh, I'm right here." Darion grabbed the frantic arms and pulled Taylor's shaking body to her chest. "Ok, ok... shhh."
"A-am I d-dead?" Taylor struggled to raise her head and look into watery blue eyes.
"No, hon, alive and kickin'." Darion closed her arms tighter around her friend, kissing her forehead tenderly.
"Angel?" the hacker asked wearily.
"Dead," was the simple reply.
"Good," Taylor sighed and let her body sag into the safety of Darion's strong arms. "Thank you."
"For what?" Darion asked as she fumbled with the waterlogged ropes and gave up a second later to wrap her dry coat around the shaking young woman.
"For... " Taylor coughed painfully, "for not leaving me."
"In this together, remember?" Darion absently wiped away the water dripping into Taylors eyes.
"Together, I like that," Taylor whispered and closed her eyes against the pain.
They borrowed Angel's shiny black Mustang Convertible to navigate the morning rush of traffic turning the heat turned to full blast.
Taylor had passed out in the passenger seat from pure physical and emotional exhaustion. Darion was close to doing the same but this wasn't over yet. It was nearing 8 am and things had to change quickly or the damage would be irreversible.
She stopped only long enough at the run down apartment that she had lived in the last two lonely years to pick up dry clothes, the laptop and her gun.
Taylor was still sound asleep as Darion pulled into a motel.
The young man simply stared at the beautiful, bloody and wet woman as she paid in cash for a single.
Darion carried the young woman into the room then left to stash the Mustang around back and grab the remaining items from the car.
Darion closed and locked the door before crossing the worn carpet to the bed. "Wake up, sleepy." She shook a slim shoulder.
"Mmmahmph," Taylor mumbled.
"Come on, you need to get out of these wet clothes before you catch pneumonia." She was already stripping out of her own, throwing them in a careless heap as she made her way to the bathroom and grabbed some towels. She was toweling off her hair, standing in just her underwear, when Taylor moaned again and slowly sat up.
The hacker blinked rapidly.
Darion didn't seem to notice or care that she was half-naked, simply threw some dry clothes at Taylor, picked up her own and wandered into the bathroom.
Taylor stared after her, mouth slightly open. Wow, nice butt. She manually worked her jaw shut and stripped out of her clothes into Darion's extras. They were way too big but they felt heavenly and warm. She lay back down and snuggled into the pillow and the scent of lemon fresh detergent.
A moment later she felt the bed shift as Darion settled on the side. "Don't fall asleep yet, Taylor." She pulled the case with the laptop onto the bed as Taylor struggled to open her eyes. "Can you access AA Enterprises from this?"
Taylor grinned sleepily. "Point me to the phone jack."
"Good," Darion nodded, considering her next words carefully. "We don't have much time to stop A.R.G.O. Will you have time to hack in and stop the virus?"
"I don't have to," she yawned.
Darion's eyes darkened and narrowed. "What do you mean you don't have to?"
Taylor sat up slowly, regarding the suspicious look. "I mean that the virus isn't going to work. Or at least not the way Adam wants it to," she amended softly.
"I'm sorry," the dark woman replied, "I'm not use to trusting people."
"I understand." Taylor smiled gently as an understanding and warmth unexpectedly passed between them.
Darion nodded, rose and headed to the phone. "I've got to get back, Adam is expecting me." Got to do one thing first.
"I'm going with you." Taylor stood quickly and sat again as cool blue eyes said 'sit.'
Darion picked up the phone and dialed an all too familiar number. "Warrior in Athens," she said into the receiver, noting Taylor's wide-eyed stare. There was going to be a lot of explaining to do later. "Trojan horse is at the gate." She hung up the phone.
"What the hell is that all about?" Taylor's voice was suddenly suspicious.
"I don't have time to explain now." The dark woman made her way to the door, kicking wet clothes out of her way.
"No," the hacker commanded firmly, striding to the taller woman's side. "Tell me now."
Darion turned, her patience barely in control. But her face softened when she looked into Taylor's open, vulnerable eyes. "I promise I'll explain when I get back." She raised the youthful face up. "You bring Adam down from the outside and I'll take care of the rest, all right?"
Taylor's mind rushed with ideas. "What if you don't make it back?" she asked fearfully.
Darion gathered the young woman up in an impulsive hug, tucking the fair head under her chin. "I'll be back and I'll explain everything then, ok?"
"Promise?" Taylor murmured against the strong chest.
"I promise." Darion pushed Taylor back to arms length and looked deep into her eyes.
"Be careful," Taylor whispered, an ache in her heart, face cold where Darion's warmth had been.
"Right. Don't let anyone in." The next moment was awkward as they both stalled. Darion turned to the door, effectively ending the moment, and didn't look back as she stepped into the weak morning sun.
Taylor watched her walk down the sidewalk and turn the corner, standing a long time in the chill wind before she shut the door and got to work on the laptop.
Her resources were limited but she understood what Darion wanted her to do and she had already begun the first step back in the computer room when she'd only suspected what Adam was up to.
Goddamn, I need a cigarette. She poked through the pile of soggy clothes, finding her meds and a couple of crumbled bills. She wandered into the bathroom, poured a cup of water and popped a couple pills. Still need a cigarette. Do I have time? She glanced at the VCR. Oh yeah, plenty of time.Darion drove the Mustang recklessly down the streets. Traffic was increasing to almost impassable levels in some places and it was pissing her off.
Goddamn city drivers. She peeled around a corner, down the alley and pulled up in the back lot of AA Enterprises. She parked the car, wiping her sweaty palms on her Jeans as she left and made her way to the back door.
She rode the service elevator up to the 24th floor, exited and made her way down the hall to the Penthouse elevator. A dark premonition flirted with her self- conscientiousness. She shrugged it off and let herself off into the lobby, walking with purposeful strides to Adam's office.
She entered his office without knocking.
Adam was seated at his desk and raised a wry eyebrow as she entered, noting the thin scratch and swelling eye. "Problem taken care of?"
Darion's face remained cold, impassive. "Yeah," was all she said. Oh yeah, I'm just beginning to take care of this. Warrior in Athens! Trojan horse at the Gate! You're goin' down, bastard. I want to spend ALOT of time with Taylor and not have to look over my shoulder all the time for you, you son of a bitch. The anger must have shown in her face because Adam grinned.
"Good. Ready to proceed with A.R.G.O?" He turned on his heel, heading for the conference room, not waiting for an answer. The conference room was the same as before, the monitors all turned to face the head of the table. This time however there was a laptop at Adam's seat.
It was 8:51.
The world hinged on a whole 9 minutes and Taylor's hacking skills. But what had she meant earlier about not really having to stop the virus? I should have asked.
Only time would tell. It was Darion's job to take Adam down and she focused on the task at hand rather then a sleepy Taylor, drowning in her oversized clothes, looking extremely cute.
Cigarette dangling out the side of her mouth, unlit, Taylor was busy hacking into the AA mainframe and routing around the directories for something to blow the world's socks off with. Whoa! Jackpot, baby. I hit the winning numbers in the World's largest lottery.
She punched a few keys and pulled up surveillance tapes. Damn, you just gotta love technology, she grinned widely.
Mmmm, this could be interesting too. She hacked into the live feed in Adam's office. No one was there. She switched cams till she got a shot of Adam and Darion in the conference room. Adam was seated at the large table and Darion was seated at the windowsill looking out over the city. What are you thinking, my friend?
Darion was thinking she needed a plan and needed one fast. I should have talked this over with Taylor before I left. Ok, ok stick with the facts. They want him alive, not dead, so popping him was out of the question. Unfortunately.
She wanted to stand and pace but it would draw unnecessary attention and possibly arouse suspicion. With narrowed eyes and a feigned nonchalance she studied the room further. There was a security camera in the far corner and nothing else but landscapes on the walls. Unconsciously her fingers went to the gun hidden behind her back. With a start she drew her hand away and stood, crossing the room to sink into the chair beside Adam.
He looked up, gave her a brief grin and went back to whatever he was doing on the laptop. "I must say, Darion, I didn't really expect you to come back. Angel has a... way... of getting exactly what she wants."
"I'm not that easy," she said in a low voice.
Adam chuckled easily. "I know."
"Know what?" Darion asked as one graceful eyebrow rose into her bangs.
"Nothing much," he answered evasively. "But I know power. I know that everyone wants it and only a chosen few are destined to receive it."
"And you are one of the chosen?" she asked, biting back sarcasm.
"Of course." He looked up from the computer, laying dark eyes on Darion. "So are you."
Phffffftttt, she almost said. Power is not all it's cracked up to be. Never was... "Its my turn now, isn't it?" She smiled seductively, watching as he blinked rapidly.
Still gorgeous as ever, he thought and smiled. "Yes, imagine how awesome together we'll be."
Snap, something fell into place. Adam didn't see the startled look in her eyes as he returned his attention to the monitors and booted them up. It was 9am, show time.
Darion masked her face as an image returned to her, dim, yet spectacular in its brilliance... Taylor was laying in her arms, face and body bloody and dying. Yet it wasn't Taylor. Anger and rage filled her. She clenched her hands and lifted the slim body over her head.
"Revenge!" she screamed and prepared to throw the young woman over the cliff when a foot suddenly connected with her temple and sent them both sprawling to the ground.
"I hate you!" the blond screamed and sent them both flying over the edge.
Nooooo! Darion snapped her attention back to Adam and the monitors. Holy fucking shit...
"It's time," Adam was saying. Twelve faces smiled in anticipation as the computer stole into the Earth's satellites and prepared to unleash a worldwide virus. Adam happily rubbed his hands together as the red bar lengthened, indicating a successful upload.
The program opened on his computer, showing his own face back at him. "Good morning Adam, ready for hell?"
Darion saw him flinch, face muscles gathering to savage intensity as he flew out of his chair. "Taylor!" he screamed.
His own face laughed, mocking him.
The monitors shut down, one by one, replaced by the program. He grabbed the laptop and threw it against the wall. "You," he turned to Darion. "You've done it again, haven't you? You and her... everytime," he cursed.
Taylor would have paid a million bucks, gladly, to be in that office next to him, laughing too. But Darion was there and now in danger. Kick his ass, babe.
She double-checked the satellite feed, making sure it was broadcasting to the world. Instead of uploading the virus Adam had, unwittingly, started a program Taylor had downloaded from another FTP site- one shed created during a very bored summer two years ago- in the few spare seconds when Angel was sulking in the corner.
While Adam's virtual image laughed his files were sent through the FBI's main systems as well as the governments and the AA subsystems were destroyed.
His subordinates were probably shredding files right that moment and throwing things into bags, hitting the runways in their personal Leer jets, to escape to other countries.
Not bad, she mused, not bad at all. The security cams went down unexpectedly and she was left blind. Shit, Darion, be careful.
She went back to the surveillance vids and searched through them, anything to distract herself from the battle she knew Adam and Darion were now engaged in.
Darion backed up a few paces, reaching behind her for her gun. Her fingertips were just closing on it when Adam smiled and drew his own.
"Well, since the shit has now hit the fan... ha, I love that saying... you're going down with me. Someone owes me a little favor and you're it." A pale, thin, blue light surrounded him, distorting his face momentarily till it relaxed into his old form.
Darion blinked, drawing her gun around front, aiming it at Adam. No, not Adam, someone else, someone familiar and deadly...
"Damn," she gasped.
"I was wondering if you'd remember." The light faded, and he smiled. "You know, I seriously debated whether I should win you back to my side. But I had so much fun destroying Taylor's life this time. What with that whole little mix up by The Fates and all I should ask them to mess up more often."
"You bastard, she never deserved that. Why?"
He shrugged. "It was... fun."
Darion's face lit with a feral smile. Since there wasn't really an Adam she didn't have to bring him in... alive. She disarmed the safety and aimed between his eyes.
"There's that fire I love," he chuckled. "Maybe you are the same."
"I am who I am and nothing will change that. I've defeated you before," she pulled the trigger, "and I'll defeat you again."
"Oh," he fell to his knees in mock pain, "that hurts."
She shrugged. "It was... fun."
For a tense moment they stared each other down, then with a wicked smile Darion tossed the useless gun to the side and held her hands out as if in supplication to the God of War. He had no use for his gun either. There were much more... painful... ways to take her with him. With a show of pure maniacal egotism he crushed the solid metal in his hand and tossed it to the ground.
"Shall we?" His words danced around the room and flitted around Darion's ears.
She took the weight of it with a low, rumbling chuckle. "After you."
He raised a solitary finger. "Oh, I think I'm going to enjoy this." The finger leapt to fire and arched across the room.
Darion jumped out of the way at the last second and felt it burn right past her ear as she ducked into a roll and came up beside him. She lashed out in a wide arch that sent the god staggering backwards.
He scowled and advanced, combat ready. They circled lightly around each other in a dance that was all too familiar.
"Haven't you grown tired of this yet?" she asked, waiting for an opening.
He paused, a blank look flashing briefly across his face. "You know something? I really am tired of this. Just come back to me and this can all end, right here, right now."
"No way." She found her opening and sent a right hook flying into his jaw. If he hadn't been a God it would have broken his jaw. Instead her hand bounced off almost harmlessly. "Dammit," she cursed. Where's a sword when you need one?
His face darkened. You'll pay for that. And when I'm done here that little hacker won't know what hit her either. His hands blazed to life, fire jumping from one then the other. Darion managed to fall to her knees and miss the first one but as she rolled away from the next it caught her in the shoulder and sent her flying into the wall in searing pain.
I can't let him get to Taylor, was her only thought as she stood painfully and looked for a weapon to use against the god. There was nothing. With a piercing cry she leapt into the air, away from another bolt, and flipped onto his shoulders.
He grabbed her thighs and pushed off with his feet, flipping into the air and forcing Darion to use her hands as the spinning point on the floor, successfully tearing them apart on the downside. They ended in a heap on the floor. Both struggled to their feet, vying for the upper hand. They squared off and exchanged fists and feet.
From the open conference room door came the commotion of armed officers.
The gods head snapped up at the sound and Darion stood breathlessly, waiting for his next move.
"Till next time..." he waved a hand, light shimmering around him, and disappeared.
Darion held her hands up in peaceful surrender as the cops rushed in the door. "Detective Darion Grange," she smiled, exhausted, and began to explain what had happened, omitting, of course, the small fact that Adam was really the god of war. Something even she was loath to believe.
All well and good but Darion was forced to go to the police station and complete hours of paperwork.
With sleep blurred eyes she dialed a number at a pay phone somewhere in the middle of the city and waited till a deep voice answered. "Remember nothing," she said and quickly hung up the phone to dial yet another number.
Is it over? she wondered as she listened to the incessant ringing on the other end of the line. Finally Taylor answered with a muffled hello. "Ill be back in half an hour," Darion said.
"Ill be waiting," Taylor replied.
A ridiculous smile plastered across her face Darion hung up and took a cab back to the motel.Darion staggered through the door of the motel and Taylor grabbed for her arm as she faltered, kicking the door shut behind them.
"You're hurt." All thoughts of jumping into Darion's arms and hugging her ferociously were scattered to the wind.
"No biggy, been hurt before." But she let Taylor guide her to the bed and remove her shoes, sighing as a cool washcloth graced her forehead.
"What happened?" Taylor asked, not really sure if she wanted to know.
"I- I don't ... " Darion stammered and rose up on her elbows. The washcloth slid from her forehead to her lap. Her faced crinkled into lines of worry and fear. "I don't know, Taylor."
"It's all right, we don't have to talk about it." Gently she pushed Darion back onto the bed and replaced the wet cloth. "Close your eyes and rest for a bit."
"Mmmmm," Darion mumbled, happy to comply. Happy just to be back with Taylor. "C'mere," she whispered and opened her arms in a silent invitation.
Taylor didn't hesitate to sag into Darion's embrace. "I'm glad you came back," she murmured, trying hard to hide suddenly overwhelming emotions.
"Mmmha, so am I." Darion kissed the silky blond head tucked under her chin and smiled, the pain all but forgotten. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
"I love you, Darion," but she knew the dark woman was asleep, and with a smile of her own closed her eyes and slowly joined her.
"What do we do now?" Taylor asked, seated at the small motel table, crunching down some Frosted Flakes.
Truth time already? Darion paused between her next bite of bagel. "Now, um, now I need to... "
"Tell me what you wouldn't before?" One more bite and the flakes were gone, leaving a sweet sugary coating in Taylor's mouth. "About the phone call, I mean."
Darion nodded. "Yeah." She rose from the table, taking the trash with her and deposited it in the garbage. She was stalling and she knew it. What she had to tell Taylor could damage the fragile friendship they'd formed. What if Taylor left? What if... no, I don't want any of this without her...
"Spit it out, babe. No secrets, ok?" Taylor encouraged her, giving her arm a brief squeeze as she threw out her trash and sat on the bed. She patted the spot beside her but when Darion shook her head and began to pace Taylor's heart skipped into her throat.
Darion took a deep breath, risking a look into Taylor's eyes. They were filled with so much trepidation that she almost didn't continue. Almost. "I'm not a cop, Taylor. Not even FBI. Well, not anymore," Darion sighed.
Taylor simply waited for her to continue and her heart to be ripped from her chest.
"After high school I didn't know what to do, and had quite a few jobs..." Darion continued nervously. "Anyway, I decided to join the police academy. I graduated first in my class. My first precinct I single-handedly solved a murder case that no one else had been able to." Her voice still held a touch of pride at that particular memory. She paced the length of the motel room. "The FBI recruited me. At first it was nothing exciting. I still had to prove myself." Darion stopped in front of the window and peeked behind the curtain.
"So what?" Taylor asked from the bed.
"I-" Darion began.
"You've been lying to me since we met," the hacker accused.
"No!" Darion crossed the room and knelt in front of Taylor. "I went undercover on government orders. A year ago I retired from the FBI and a man approached me. He offered to set me up for life if I did one thing for him, and that was to take down Adam. So I went undercover as a local cop. Meeting you... was... the best coincidence-"
"Fuck you, Darion." Taylor leapt from the bed, sending Darion flat on her ass with the sudden movement. "I led you right to what you wanted, so you can go now. Go to the fucking cops, FBI, CIA or whoever the hell it is you work for. I'm outta here." Taylor grabbed her cigarettes from the table, heading to the door. I need a drink, desperately, flashed through her mind. Oh yeah, something really strong...
"Wait! Taylor, let me finish explaining." Darion raced in front of Taylor and blocked the door.
"You've said enough. Get the fuck out of my way," Taylor replied through clenched teeth.
"Don't you think you deserve to hear the truth?" Darion pleaded with icy green eyes, begging her to understand.
"I don't know what's true anymore," the young woman said softly, her face falling and her heart shattering to a million tiny pieces.
Taylor's pain sliced sharply through Darion's soul. Darion led her to the bed and sat hesitantly beside her. "Yes, I went undercover to expose the real purpose behind AA Enterprises, but the corruption in the department led me only in circles, no matter how close I got to those rat bastards." She shook her head and those memories away. "I had no idea who you were when I first e-mailed you. I asked you out because you sounded intelligent and passionate in your writings." Darion gently took Taylor's chin in her hand and turned slowly till they were looking eye to eye. "I didn't realize till you mentioned Angel's name how much trouble you were in and even then I assumed you knew nothing of Adam, or his plans. I didn't use you to find him."
"Why did you stay then?" Taylor asked in a strangled voice.
"Because..." Darion began to blush, "because I fell in love with you." Furious at herself for admitting it and putting them both in an even more awkward position she dropped her hand and turned away.
Taylor blinked several times, tears beginning to cascade down her cheeks. "You love me?" she whispered hoarsely.
Darion didn't hesitate. "Yes," she met Taylor's gaze again.
"Even after you know who I am and what I've done?"
"Yes. In spite of, or because of... I love-" Darion reached up and lightly thumped Taylor's chest, just above her heart, "you, Taylor Morgan."
Taylor took the long, tapered hand gently in her own. She didn't know what to say or if she could say anything at all, so she kissed the bruised knuckles, the pulse point at Darion's wrist and elbow, catching her breath before rushing to capture Darion's soft lips. "I love you too," she whispered as she pulled away.
Darion sat breathlessly, her eyes still closed. Silence descended on the room as she tried to settle her heart back inside her ribcage.
"I shouldn't have done that?" Taylor's tears fell freely now.
Darion quickly looked up. "Kiss me again."
Taylor choked on a sob and flung herself into Darion's outstretching arms. My God, if this is a dream don't ever let me wake up. They held tightly, as if at anytime something would try and rip them apart. An eternity passed in mere seconds as two hearts came home.
"Hey," Darion said gently, extracting herself from the embrace, "do I get my kiss?"
Taylor laughed. "Oh, you betcha. Anytime you want, Darion." She sealed her new promise with a sweet, passionate kiss.
They took a cab to Joey's, where Darion's Jeep was still parked in the garage.
With a sad sigh Taylor watched the city sights flying by. She'd been born and raised here and thought she'd die here. So much had happened in this melting pot city. Her parents had died here and so had loved ones. She'd turned to a life of crime, hacked computers, ultimately killed...
Her whole life was nothing but a backwards glance now and she was happy to keep it that way. To leave it all behind, except Darion.
Taylor wanted to ask 'what now' but that seemed to be all she'd been asking these last few days. Had it really been only days and not weeks or months? Yeah, the longest days of her young life. So much had changed. She felt like a different person, but inside she knew she was still Taylor Morgan. Hacker, killer... you name it she'd probably done it. How could Darion love all that? My God, insecure or what?
"What are we going to do now?" Taylor asked anyway, keeping her eyes on I-95 as they flew out of the city, past dead winter trees and into the future.
"I don't know," Darion glanced at the rearview mirror, over at Taylor and back to the road. "I now have enough money to buy a house somewhere and disappear." Will you come with me? she wanted to ask.
"Money wasn't the question," Taylor said softly, folding her nervous hands into her lap.
"Then what is the question?" Darion kept her tone carefully neutral.
"I... you, um... Are you just going to drop me off at some bus station and go on with your life?" The young woman hunched down in her seat, suddenly terrified of the words she'd so recklessly stuttered out.
Taylor looked briefly into pale, blue eyes. "No?"
"I want you to come with me," was all Darion could manage, but there was so much more to say. I love you, I love you, I love you... I hardly know you, yet it feels like I've known you forever. Stay with me, let me hold you, kiss you, make love to you...
"Where?" Taylor studied the dark, classic profile, heart lodged in her throat. "And for how long?"
There was a brief silence as the Jeep hurled passed a dark sedan and pulled into the far right lane. "I don't know where yet but I want you to stay as long as you want." Forever, please?
"I guess I could stick around... until you get tired of me." A faint smile edged the corners of Taylor's mouth. How 'bout I just stay forever?
Darion pulled into the far right lane, heading for the next service exit. "Nah, I won't get tired of you." A smile graced her face from ear to ear and her heart melted into her knees. She turned into the gas station slash restaurant parking lot and pulled into a space. As she turned to face the young woman beside her she turned off the engine and held out a hand with her heart on the sleeve of her coat. "I don't know where we're going yet and it doesn't matter, as long as you are with me."
Taylor's throat constricted unexpectedly and she blinked back tears. "I love you, Darion."
"And I love you." Darion gathered the young woman into an embrace. Their foreheads touched, lips less then an inch apart. "Stay with me?"
Taylor paused. "Are there going to be computers there?" She could feel the dark woman's eyebrow lifting slightly and she grinned. "Because if there are were going to need a sledge hammer or two."
Darion let out a soft breath of laughter. "I'm sure we can stop at a Home Depot on the way."
"Well then," Taylor chuckled, "I'm in."
"Good," Darion responded and bent in for a kiss. The kiss lingered, long and passionate, till they slowly, breathlessly pulled apart.
The ex-hacker turned suddenly serious. "Do you think it's over? I mean do you think..." her sentence trailed off as Darion leaned back and regarded her gently.
"I'm not sure it'll ever be over, but together we can fight anything that comes our way." Darion traced the line of Taylor's jaw, watching it relax under her fingertips.
"Yeah, together. I like that." Taylor kissed the tanned fingers as they ran over her lips.
"Me too," Darion smiled. "So, what now?"
"Well, let's get some gas, some food, and a hotel somewhere." The young blond reached out and twirled soft, dark hair between her fingers.
"A hotel?" Darion raised a dark eyebrow, lowering her voice.
"Yup... after that we got all the time in the world to decide what's next." Taylor batted suddenly seductive eyelashes. "Deal?"
"Oh yeah, I think I can handle that." Darion opened the door to the Jeep and jogged to catch Taylor on the other side. "Race ya inside?" Her eyes sparkled.
"What do I get if I win?" Taylor asked.
"Me." Darion grinned and took off toward the restaurant.
Oh yeah... I can definitely handle that! Taylor raced to the doors, her heart and shoulders lighter then they'd ever been. For one earth shattering second she heard her mother laughing, calling her a stupid little girl and she searched desperately for Darion in the vast parking lot.
Taylors eyes caught Darions bright blue as they shimmered in the early spring sunshine. The love she saw radiating her way was enough to place the grin back on her face.
Last laughs on you, mum she called silently as she raced to catch up with Darion.
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