Pendragon: My Angel, Brianna
Written by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez and Mandi Ohlin
Story Idea by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez and Robby Bevard
Artwork by Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez
* * * * *
Note: Jane's tarot reading goes as follows...
Querent (covers one) - Six of Swords
Card 2 (crosses one) - Ten of Wands
Basis of question (beneath one) - Lovers
How querent has been thinking about question (crowns one) - Star
Recent past (behind one) - Three of Swords
Near future (before one) - Two of Cups
What querent brings to situation (fears) - Tower
Situation has to offer (surroundings) - Wheel of Fortune
Inner hopes and fears (hopes) - Judgment
Outcome (summation) - Ten of Swords
* * * * *
Previously on "Pendragon" ...
The elder, her hair braided into a silver crown, glared at Arthur. "The young one is right. No human is allowed this far into our forest." She cast a look at Griff and Cavall. "But ye travel with those like us. I would like to know why."
Arthur bowed and said respectfully. "Milady, I am Arthur Pendragon, once and future King of Britain, and with my companions, Sir Griff and Cavall, I am following the trail of my mentor Merlin. He resided here for a time in ages past and I hoped to find some small trace of him."
The old she-garg regarded him carefully beneath heavy eyebrow ridges reminiscent of stag horns. "I am Kylie, elder of this clan. No human has resided here in my time or the time of she who led here before."
~~~Into the Woods~~~
* * * * *
Griff and Brianna exchanged a bemused look. "I believe we can accommodate you on this," Griff said drolly. "With your blessing, Lady Kylie, Brianna and I have agreed to be mates."
Kylie hobbled forward, pulling herself straight with the aid of her gnarled staff. She regarded them with a calm dignity. "Brianna, this a decision to be made carefully. If ye wish to be mates wi' Griff, it means going where he goes and sharing in one life together, even leaving th' forest an' all o' us. Is this what ye want, lass?"
Brianna went to her and bowed her head. "It is, Kylie. My heart sings for Griff an' I cannae bear wi'out him, even if it means leavin' my home an' all I love."
"Nonsense, lass." Kylie reached out and stroked Brianna's brow ridges. "As long as ye hold all that ye love in yuir heart, ye'll always be home. Be wi' Griff, an' be happy yuir whole life long."
~~~My Lady Fair~~~
* * * * *
"Please." Jane held her hands to her sides to show she wouldn't attack. "I have to know who those thugs were. The bobbies have enough troubles now with a madman on the loose and Henry's too busy to look into it - he's my husband," she added, seeing Brianna's puzzlement. "I think it has something to do with a mysterious new client of mine."
Brianna sat on the roof edge and twirled a strand of green hair around her talon. "What is yuir trade?"
"Research librarian. But this woman ... she's not normal. And I could tell she knew something when I told her about the attack. If you see anything else, you or your friends, could you give me the message? If they do this to anyone else? Please?"
There was something burning in the woman's eyes, something Brianna couldn't name. It looked similar to Kylie's upon hearing one of her charges was leaving the forest to enter the world of Man.
"I promise," she said softly, then smiled.
Jane opened her mouth, then closed it. Finally, she whispered, "Will I ever see you again?"
"I ... I dunnae know. 'Tis highly irregular... and I'm not verra fond o' humans..."
"My mum always said, ye cannae throw out all the bad apples because a just one rotten core." Jane spread her hands wide, pleased at Brianna's expression. "Born and bred i' Scotland. I keep the accent to meself when I dunnae want funny looks."
Brianna hesitated. "Where?"
"Where would ye like to meet?"
~~~The Reluctant Thief~~~
* * * * *
My Angel Brianna
Into the Mystic, late evening
It was a slow night.
Leo sighed, leaning tiredly against the counter. Contrary to what one would believe, watching the shop when there were no customers was sometimes more tiring than it was after the busiest night of the year. Perhaps it was the boredom, or perhaps it was the stiffness from being stuck in one place with very little to do. The leonine gargoyle sighed again and rubbed his sore neck. What he wouldn't give for a short glide just to stretch his limbs.
The sound of women's laughter drifted from the back room, and Leo glanced back there for a moment. Of course, he couldn't go for a glide; he'd promised Una he'd watch the shop for her. He just hadn't anticipated the quiet. In the past three hours, only one bona fide customer had dropped by the shop, and was still browsing around.
So it was a relief when the young man found what he was looking for and approached the counter. "Love charms?" Leo chuckled, ringing his purchases up. "Haven't caught that special lady's eye?"
The boy looked embarrassed. "Just a gift for her birthday." He sighed. "I wish it was that easy. To just - make everything right with a magic charm."
Leo counted out the change. "No, magic just isn't enough, I'm afraid. Not for someone you truly love." He handed the boy his change and put the charms in a box. "There you are. Have a good night."
As the boy hurried out, another peal of laughter sounded, louder than before. Leo smiled and shook his head. "No," he repeated quietly, "magic just isn't enough."
* * *
"...and when he pulled out the book, every single stack collapsed," Jane Nelson finished, eliciting further chuckles from Brianna and Una. "It was like a domino effect, one after the other. The poor fool spent four hours reorganizing all the books he'd catalogued!"
Brianna laughed in spite of herself as Jane completed her tale. "That's awful! What happened to him?"
"They hadn't the heart to dismiss the boy," Jane told her, "but they couldn't in good conscience let him assist in any more research. I believe he's sweeping floors now."
"Perhaps that's best for everyone," Una observed. "Would you two like me to continue?"
She had laid down a few cards already in the formation she had chosen to show Jane and Brianna; the Celtic Cross was the most common pattern. As the other two calmed down and turned their attention back to the deck, she laid down the next card. "This crowns one..." she murmured, smiling as she turned over the Star.
"That usually symbolizes hope," Brianna murmured to Jane. The green gargoyle had taken to watching Una when she did readings and had learned the meanings of some of the cards. Hope was one that she watched for. The clan had seen precious little of it until the end of the Unseelie War.
Una shot her friend a reproachful look, murmuring to herself as she continued to turn over cards. "This is behind one." The Three of Swords appeared, and Jane seemed to stiffen briefly at the sight of the swords piercing the heart. "This is before one..." Una recited, turning over the Two of Cups, "this is one's fears... hmmm."
She showed them the most recent card. "The Tower. It signifies change. The breaking of a current situation, the old making way for the new."
"There's been enouf o' that here lately," Brianna observed quietly.
Una studied the card thoughtfully, remembering its importance. Oddly enough, the image of the blazing tower did not seem as ominous as it usually did. "As a rule, it's not a good omen, but the placement is odd." She pointed to the card drawn right before it. "I've rarely seen it paired with this before."
"The Two of Cups?" Jane asked, looking at the card curiously. "What does that mean?"
"It means a number of things," Una replied, studying the card thoughtfully. "Usually, the strengthening of a bond or connection - between lovers or friends."
Before she could elaborate, the small clock in the shop chimed. Jane checked her watch, and nearly jumped when she saw the time. "Goodness, it's ten o' clock already. I had no idea how late it was." Suddenly nervous again, she stood up, setting the teacup down on the table. Her hands were shaking, and Brianna and Una stood as well.
"Jane, if ye're in a rush, I'll give ye a lift home--" Brianna began.
"No!" Jane fairly screamed out the protest, and tried to compose herself. "I mean, thank you, Brianna, love, but I don't want to inconvenience you. I can take a cab just as easily." She reached down to pick up her purse, tripping over the hem of her long skirt as she did so.
As she fell, she just barely managed to catch herself on the chair. Concerned, Brianna hurried to help her friend stand. With Brianna supporting her, Jane got back to her feet. "Thank you. I'm just out of sorts today, I--" She broke off with a hiss of pain as Brianna patted her on the shoulder.
"Are you all right?" Una asked, coming around the table to Jane's side. The researcher's blouse was rumpled, and the edge of a nasty bruise could be seen beneath her collar.
Brianna saw it too. "Jane, what's happened?"
"It's nothing, really," Jane replied, pulling her collar up to conceal the bruise. "I-I tried to retrieve some books from a high shelf and knocked them on top of me, that's all." She smiled nervously. "Perhaps I'm on my way to sweeping floors as well."
"You should get someone to look at that," Una advised.
"I plan to," Jane answered, clutching her purse tightly. "But it's late, and I really must be off. Thank you for a lovely evening," she told Una, clasping their hostess' hands in her own before turning to Brianna. "We must get together again soon."
Brianna hugged Jane gently, noticing her friend wince slightly as she did so before Jane broke away. "Good night," she said as Jane hurried through the shop and out through the front door, barely stopping to acknowledge Leo as she did so.
The two gargoyles hovered by the door to the shop, watching her go. "What was that about?" Brianna wondered aloud. "Why wouldn't she tell me?"
Una did not reply. She turned and walked back to the table, looking at the cards curiously. "This is one's surroundings..." she intoned, laying down the next card in the pattern.
The Wheel of Fortune. Unexpected twists of fate.
Something told Una that whatever was going on was bound to be complicated.
* * * * *
An hour later
Breathing hard, having run nearly the whole way, Jane clasped to the knob of her flat's front door, leaning against it to catch her breath. Clutching her hand to her chest, she tried to slow the beating of her heart before she went in. Swallowing nervously, she opened the door, walking in.
Sitting in his favorite chair, watching the television, sat her husband Henry. His head turned to the side when he heard the opening of the door, and he stood up to face his wife as she closed the door behind her. She looked up at him, smiling.
The air grew colder ...
"Hello, love, sorry I'm late."
He looked at her, his eyes smoldering, just barely under control. "Where were you?"
"I was with friends. Don't worry, I was safe, they're good friends ..."
"Do I know these friends, Jane? Have I met them?"
"Well, no ... " She had told Brianna all about Henry, but he'd never actually met her ... or any of her friends at the shop. "She's a close friend of mine."
"Why haven't you introduced me yet?" Henry's voice became more irritated in its pitch. "I mean, sometimes I would like to get to know your friends, Jane."
"It's ... it's complicated, Henry ... she's afraid of your reaction ..."
Henry slammed down his hand on the back of his chair. "Why would she be afraid of me?!" His eyes narrowed. "Or is it that you don't want to bring her here, that I embarrass you ..."
"No, Henry ..." Jane started backing away from her husband fearfully, raising her hands. "Henry, it's not like that ..."
"You and your secrets ... sometimes I wonder why I put UP WITH IT!" He pushed over a table to make his point, approaching her even more threateningly. Jane crouched against the wall, watching him approach, feeling her fear grow with each passing second.
* * * * *
The sounds coming from behind door number 5-B became louder and more violent in nature. What had started as a one-sided verbal argument had now escalated to breaking glass and furniture noises, the near-incoherent screaming of a man and the frightened sobbing of a woman, nearly lost in the ruckus.
A young couple entered the hallway, holding each other in an affectionate embrace as they walked the length of the hall toward their own flat. As they passed by 5-B, though, they were stopped by the horrifying sounds coming from inside. Listening for a brief moment, they could hear every indication of a brawl taking place inside. They could hear a man yelling over the din, over every shattering noise and fistfall. Beneath the violence, they could hear the whimpering of a woman ... defending herself.
The couple looked at each other, then back at the door. The man made a motion toward the door to knock.
His wife's words stopped him. He looked at her. "Why not? She needs help."
"It's their problem, dear, not ours. Leave them be."
The man sighed, looking back at his wife. Clearly by his face he was not happy about leaving the situation as it was, but he complied. They continued down the hallway, finally making it to their own flat.
* * * * *
Two hours later
The woman's sobs were the only sound in the darkened room. Lying on her side among the wreckage of furnishings, plants and dishes, Jane Nelson rested at last, huddling in a fetal position and holding herself to recover from her ordeal. Her left eye was now swollen shut, a cut opened over her right eye, her body was bruised and battered. Tears flowed freely from her eyes, tears from her pain and from her heartbreak.
She laid in that position, unmoving, unwilling to raise her husband's ire again, until he came back into the room. Even then, she was still unwilling to move.
Henry looked upon her, and suddenly his face took on an expression of regret ... confusion ... sadness, almost. He felt his own tears begin, realizing what he had just done. Quickly, he came to Jane's side, picking her up from the floor and holding her tenderly in his arms.
"Oh, Jane ... Jane, I'm so sorry ... I'll never do it again ... I couldn't help myself ..."
She looked into his eyes ... his tear-filled eyes, just now releasing their burden. Her own heart melted, seeing his regret and feeling his pain ... not to mention her own. She lightly kissed his forehead, holding his head in her hands tenderly.
"Jane, forgive me ... oh, my Jane ..."
She heard his words, but her mind told her something opposite. She held him in her arms, even as her heart began turning against him.
The room remained cold ...
The rest of the night, she stayed there with her sorrowful, apologetic husband ... comforting him and herself.
* * * * *
Into the Mystic, early evening
"Are you sure we should bring her here?" Leba demanded as the three young people slipped into the alleyway, heading for the back door of the magic shop.
"We've got t' go somewhere," Rory replied, stepping up to the door and pulling out the spare key Leo had given him. "Meeting in alleys isn't all that convenient."
Leba caught his arm. "Rory, I know she's your friend, I-I know Luin says you can trust her, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be careful!"
Molly cleared her throat loudly, causing the other two to turn and stare at her."If ye dragged me here just t' ignore me, I'll be going now."
She turned to go, but Rory was quicker, grabbing her gently by the arm. "No one's going anywhere," he told her firmly.
Leba frowned at the two of them, still looking entirely unconvinced. Molly's gaze flickered over to the blonde minstrel, then back to Rory. She nodded, and he released her, taking Leba gently aside. "Leba, 'tis not like we're bringing her back t' the estate. The shop's no secret what with all th' investigators poking about."
"I suppose not," Leba sighed after a moment. She turned to include Molly in the conversation. "I'm sorry, but – it seemed so obvious."
"Too obvious, don't ye think?" Molly pointed out, but there was no bitterness in her voice.
Seeing that it was the closest thing he would get to a reconciliation, Rory sighed, turning back to the lock. "It'd be safer for all our sakes if we stayed together," he muttered.
Molly cocked her head as he unlocked the door and opened it for Leba to enter first. "Ye just want t' keep an eye on me, Rory, don't ye?"
"Aye. Can ye blame me?"
She considered it for a moment, then smiled as she followed Leba inside. "Not a whit."
* * * * *
"Nothing," Leba sighed. "All our narrow scrapes, and what've we got to show for it? Absolutely nothing."
Leo emerged from the storeroom, still blinking somewhat sleepily. The blonde minstrel was standing in the middle of the shop, while Dulcinea was sitting on a stool, poring over some printouts. Rory was sitting with a young woman Leo didn't recognize, her shoulder-length red hair a shade darker than Rory's. Kevin was nowhere to be seen, but he was probably driving a shift that evening.
"Well, now we know someone's framing Arthur specifically," Dulci pointed out, looking up from her reading. "Someone clever - or connected - enough to use the police to do it, too." Leba shot a concerned look at the redheaded girl.
The redhead groaned. "For the last time, I've nothing t' do with this business!"
Rory shook his head, clutching his oaken staff tightly. For a moment - in a tiny portion of a second - the staff seemed to glow with an unearthly light. "Molly's sincere in that, Leba. Give it a rest, will ye?"
Dulcinea ignored the tension between the other two women, studying the printout thoughtfully. "So the question is - who would want to set Arthur up? Who would have cause to set all of Britain out for his blood?"
"We asked Colin about that a few nights ago," Leba sighed. "Arthur doesn't say much about his private life."
It was the redhead who spoke next, staring at Rory. "An old enemy, then?" she suggested pointedly, putting the stress on the old. The others turned to look at her, and she shrugged. "'Tis not impossible."
"What do you mean, 'old?'" Leba asked suspiciously, her eyes narrowing.
"What does it sound like?" Molly shot back acidly.
"We do have a bit of a lead, though," Dulcinea interrupted loudly, bringing the conversation back to the subject at hand. "Whoever's setting Arthur up used this Hathaway character to do it. "
Rory nodded, understanding. "If we investigate Hathaway, perhaps he might lead us to whoever's behind this." He frowned. "Though I'm not eager to break into his office a second time."
"I could stand and watch you go back and forth all night," Leo interrupted loudly, "but if you don't mind, I'd rather just open the shop for the evening."
"Sorry, Leo," Leba apologized sheepishly as Una appeared from the back room as well. "We didn't notice it was sunset already."
"I don't see how you could notice a thing with the curtains," Leo reassured her, gesturing to the curtains drawn across the front shop window.
"And I'm glad of that," Una added. "But we might want to continue this in the storeroom."
The group followed her into the storeroom, where Brianna was still brushing off the last flakes of stone sleep. She glanced up to greet the newcomers, and her eye immediately fell on the redheaded girl. "Who is this?"
Immediately, Dulcinea and Leba turned to stare at Rory. The Irishman sighed. "This, ah, this is Molly. An old friend."
"An old friend who was mixed up with the Minions," Leba supplied helpfully.
The three gargoyles started in surprise at that, and Rory flinched. Molly groaned. "Of all the..." Sighing, she collected herself. "I didn't know what I was getting into," she explained with the tired tones of someone who has repeated the same story many times. "I found out th' hard way, and I took off. Now--"
The sharp jangling of the bells above the shop entrance cut off any further conversation. The bells jangled again, accompanied by a frantic pounding. For a moment, everyone gathered there hesitated; while the police hadn't been about in quite awhile, there was always a chance that the ringing bells could signify the arrival of an investigator. Or something worse.
It was Una who broke the silence, looking pointedly at Leo. "If we have customers, shouldn't someone be there to wait on them?" she hinted acerbically, smiling. Leo rolled his eyes heavenward and murmured something about females before turning to go.
He had barely stepped into the hall when the frantic cries could be heard. "Brianna? Una? Leo? Please, someone answer me!"
Brianna recognized the voice at once. "Jane?!"
She fairly flew out of the room and bolted down the hall to the main shop, knocking Leo backwards in her haste. Rory and Una helped the leonine gargoyle stand as the rest of the group followed after Brianna.
When they emerged into the shop, Brianna was already at her friend's side. Una let out a horrified gasp. Leaning on Brianna for support, Jane was a terrible sight to see. It was plain that she had been attacked - if the swollen eye and cut lip weren't obvious enough, her slow, unsteady step and the stricken look on her face made her pain clear to those assembled. "Jane, what's happened?" Brianna cried.
"I-I couldn't stop..." Jane gasped, shaking her head. "I didn't know where else to go..."
Una pushed her way through the group, coming to support Jane on the other side. "Let's get you into the back and get you cleaned up," she told Jane, her manner suddenly businesslike as the two gargoyles guided the shaken woman towards the back.. "Leo, would you--"
"I'll mind the shop," Leo finished as the three friends filed into the back, leaving the others to wonder.
There was a moment of silence before Leba spoke. "What was that all about?"
Leo sighed tiredly. "I'll explain it later."
* * *
It took a few minutes and some cajoling to get Jane to calm down and allow Una to pour her a cup of tea. Her hands were still shaking as she took the saucer and tentatively took a sip. Suddenly, she burst into fresh tears, nearly dropping the cup. Brianna deftly caught the teacup before it could slip from Jane's hands. As she set it back on the table, she exchanged meaningful looks with Una, who nodded and slipped out of the room, leaving the two friends alone together.
Brianna sat down beside Jane. "Who's done this to ye? Jane, tell me!"
"I... I can't..." Jane managed between sobs.
"Yes, ye can," Brianna assured her, taking Jane's shaking hands in her own.
"No... it's been so long..."
"Yuir my friend, Jane," Brianna insisted. "Ye can trust me."
Jane continued to shudder and sob, shaking her head vehemently. Una quietly got up and left the room, leaving the two of them relatively alone together. "He doesn't mean to," Jane said suddenly, her voice shaky. "I-I should have known better... when he gets into his moods it's impossible to argue with him..."
"Who doesn't mean to?" Brianna pressed. "Please, Jane!"
"Henry. My husband," Jane managed.
Brianna was aghast. "Yuir - yuir mate did this to ye?"
Jane nodded. "Henry - it's not his fault. He worries about me when I'm gone for so long--" She unconsciously leaned against the wall as she spoke, and jerked back up again with a hiss of pain.
"Let me see that," Brianna said.
This time, Jane did not argue, but allowed her friend to roll up the sleeve of her blouse. Brianna's eyes widened. From her forearm to her shoulder, Jane bore numerous bruises and scratches - some fading with time, others so fresh they had to have been inflicted that night. "Not his fault?" Brianna echoed in disbelief.
"He doesn't know what he's doing," Jane told her, gently rolling her sleeve back down. She was somewhat more composed now, but still visibly shaken. "Henry is just overprotective."
"Protection is nae tryin' tae kill the one yuir tryin' tae protect!"
Jane sighed. "He's got reason to be angry, love. I've been spending late nights at the library, and usually I forget the time. I've been forgetting him." As Brianna opened her mouth for an outraged retort, Jane silenced her. "I know, he goes a bit too far. Quite a bit too far, true, but he's--" She broke off, unsure how to say what she wanted to. "He needs to be loved. He needs someone to change him. And I think I can."
Even if it means he'll kill you? The question lingered in Brianna's thoughts, but she didn't allow it to pass her lips. "What if ye can't? Jane, where I come from, mates dinna harm one another. If they do, than they shouldn't be mates! Ye shouldn't stay with this man if he beats ye like this!"
"And go where?" Jane asked matter-of-factly. Brianna blinked, taken aback by the sudden frankness in Jane's voice. "Brianna, I've been with the same man for years now. Loved the same man for years now. Before I met him, I didn't have much in the way of family. But I have a family now, have had one - and even with our problems, how can I simply walk away?"
"Ye came here, didn't ye?" Brianna pointed out, only to have her friend shake her head helplessly. "Please, Jane, stay here a while. At least just for the night. I'll nae have any peace if I don't know ye're all right," she added, eliciting a weak smile from Jane.
"Well, since you put it that way..." Jane broke off with a sigh. "All right, then. If it's not too much trouble, I don't want to be a bother."
"It's no bother at all," Una replied, appearing in the doorway with an armful of linens. "There's an extra bed in the storeroom. I'll just have to make it up."
Brianna stood up, taking the bedsheets from Una's hands. "I'll fix the bed up, if ye don't mind."
Jane was staring blankly at the floor during this exchange. Suddenly, she lifted her head, her eyes still wet with tears. "Thank you," she said quietly.
Una smiled. "Think nothing of it," she said before she followed Brianna into the hall, closing the door behind her.
Alone, Jane sat there, reveling in the quiet and wondering if she had made the right choice. She picked up the teacup again and took a long drink, her hands no longer shaking.
* * *
The redheaded girl leaned against the wall by the door, clenching and unclenching her fists as she listened to the dialogue going on in the other room. Having heard Leo's explanation, the other three humans were talking amongst themselves and did not notice her eavesdropping at first. Molly knew it was wrong, that it was none of her business, yet there was something hauntingly familiar about this.
She'd known the moment Jane had walked in what the cause of her injuries were. While she'd never let it happen to her, of course, she had seen it a number of times back home in Ireland, in the small town where she'd first taken on the human guise of Molly O'Leary. It had never ceased to amaze her how some humans could profess to love one another while hurting the one they loved. How the victims of their "love" insisted that everything was fine was beyond her.
But it was more than that, she was sure. She just couldn't put her finger on it...
"But I have a family now, have had one," she heard Jane say, "and even with our problems, how can I simply walk away?"
Molly froze at those words and the dark memory they echoed. In her mind, she could see the tired face of an old friend, the resigned look in his eyes as the same words passed his lips. She could see the terror and agony of his face as he was engulfed in the flames of his uncle's wrath.
How can I simply walk away?
Without even thinking, she fairly launched herself off the wall, jerking away as if it were something repulsive. She stormed into the shop, not stopping or slowing as she passed the surprised gargoyles and humans. Her attention was fixed solely on the door and the warm night outside. She had to get out. She had to think.
Rory was out of his chair immediately, unconsciously grabbing hold of Luin. "I'll fetch her," he assured the others, following the disguised Child of Oberon outside.
He was surprised to find her simply standing out there at the curb, staring into space. Rory tugged at his collar; it was unseasonably hot even for July, and uncomfortably so. "'Tis a bit warm out tonight," he reminded her. When she didn't reply, he tried the direct approach. "What was that all about?"
She turned to face him, and he hesitated at the look in her eyes. She drew herself up proudly, trying to maintain a cool demeanor, but he could see right through the cracks in her facade: something was very wrong. "Ye know what happened to that woman, don't ye? Ye saw her."
Rory frowned, looking down at the pavement. "I've a fair idea." Molly did not reply. "What is it? What's troubling ye, Moll?"
Still no reply. After several moments of silence, Rory sighed. "Fine, then. If ye're too proud to tell me, I'll be getting back inside." He turned to go.
"'Tis happening again."
Her voice was soft, her words barely a whisper, and Rory turned back. Maybe it was just his imagination, but her eyes seemed to be glimmering with unshed tears. "It got to ye back there, didn't it?" Rory realized.
"I don't know," Molly sighed, wiping at her eyes in frustration. "I heard her - I heard her prattling on about not being able to walk away from her family, and I..." She shook her head. "Never mind. 'Tis not important. Ye'd think I'd be over this by now."
"But ye're not," Rory said gently, flinching at the glare she shot him. "Molly... ye wanted me to trust ye. But ye've got t' trust me, too. Besides," he added, "The sooner ye tell me, the less chance we have of freezing to death."
Her face softened, and she looked at him thoughtfully, impassively for several moments. "I told ye why I left Madoc, didn't I?"
"Some of it," Rory replied. "Your friend?"
"Umbriel," Molly remembered, lowering her eyes. "Madoc killed him - his own nephew - right before me eyes. And I couldn't stop it." Her jaw clenched in anger. "I tried to reason with Umbriel. I told him Madoc was dangerous. But he wouldn't listen," she marveled, shaking her head. "The poor fool kept saying he had nowhere else to go."
"And that wasn't so," Rory concluded.
Her head came up, and while her features were still, her eyes were fairly blazing. "Anywhere else was safer than Madoc's court. He had so many chances to leave, to seek sanctuary..." She trailed off. "I was near about ready to go with him to Avalon if I had to. How crazy is that?"
"Not that crazy," Rory assured her, thinking briefly of Ferdia. "Not if it saved a friend."
Molly ran a hand through her red hair, sighing. "When I heard her say that... I don't know. 'Tis not the same thing, I suppose, but it scared me for a moment. Just for a moment," she added hastily.
It was Rory's turn to be silent. He did not reply immediately, but studied her, reading the tell-tale mannerisms he'd grown to know well. Although he was still not entirely sure what exactly was going on in her head, he didn't need Luin to tell that she wasn't playacting for once.
"Why don't ye talk to her?" he finally said.
Molly looked up, startled. "What? Why would I do that?"
"Because she needs to talk to someone who understands, someone who might be able to convince her to stand up for herself," Rory answered. "In all the years I've known ye, ye've never backed down from a challenge."
She eyed him suspiciously. "Ye'll have to do better than that."
"And because ye need it too," Rory added.
Molly threw up her hands in a show of frustration. "Oh, very well, then," she sighed, turning and brushing past him as she headed for the shop. She reached the door and turned back to Rory, who was still standing there, surprised by the sudden change. "Are ye going to come in or stand there and melt?"
Smiling, Rory followed her back into the shop.
* * *
The bed was almost completely made when the sounds of Una's footsteps entering the storeroom took Brianna's attention. The Caledonian looked up, worriedly. "How is she?"
Una shook her head. "She's in very deeply. I don't know if there's any way we're going to be able to help her, Brianna. She's very stubborn when she wants to be."
Brianna chuckled. "No wonder I like her so much." She sighed deeply, sadly, returning to her ministrations to the bed. Una came over to her and put an arm around her shoulders.
"There's nothing you could do, you couldn't have known."
A sudden, sharp sob came from the younger gargoyle. "But I should've seen something. Jane's many things, but clumsy is nae one of them. I feel like I let her down ..."
"How? By being here for her, being her friend, offering her shelter? No, my dear, you did everything a gargoyle's supposed to do."
Brianna looked up at Una, the start of tears forming. "But I should've ..."
"No more of this. There's no use in placing false blame on yourself, it won't help the situation and it certainly won't help Jane. Come, we need your help up at the front, mainly to calm Leo down."
Keeping a grip on the younger gargess' shoulders, Una led Brianna out of the storeroom. On their path to the main area of the store, they passed by the table from the previous night ... Jane's reading still incomplete, two significators left undrawn, the deck still sitting at the ready. Urging Brianna to continue on without her, Una turned back to the table, pulling off the top card from the deck and laying it down.
A ponderous expression came on her face. "Hmmm ... hopes with Judgement?"
* * *
A soft knock on the doorframe startled Jane. Looking up, she was surprised to see a strange young woman standing in the doorway. It took her a moment to identify the young woman as one of the humans who had been gathered at the shop. "Is this a private party?" the she asked with a small smile.
Jane hesitated, uncertain; she didn't know the stranger at all, and had earned the right to be a little jumpy. Then again, the woman was obviously a guest of Una and Leo, and didn't seem threatening in the least. "No, I, um… come in, Miss…"
"Molly. Molly O'Leary. I'm a friend of a friend."
Jane smiled wanly, gesturing for the girl to come in. "Jane Nelson."
Molly shook hands with Jane, taking a seat on the other side of the table. As she sat down, she cast a wary glance at the tarot formation before getting down to business.. "I'm sorry, but I happened to hear what ye were sayin' a few minutes ago."
Jane flinched. "Oh, dear. I suppose half of London could have heard me, the way I was bawling."
"No, I - I was eavesdropping," Molly admitted, studying her hands for a moment. "Ye're staying the night, then?"
Jane nodded, smiling. "Brianna wouldn't have let me do otherwise."
A comfortable silence settled between them, as Jane sipped her tea and Molly contemplated her shoes. The quiet lasted for a while, and it was jarring when Molly finally spoke. "Ye can walk away, you know. 'Tis not as hard as ye might think."
"What?" Jane blinked, processing the remark, before she let out a deep sigh. "Yes it is. You don't understand. "
"Oh, I understand. I understand a little too well. That's why Rory sent me down here to talk to ye. I lost a good friend last year," she began quietly. "One of me best friends."
"I'm sorry, I…" Jane began, but the words died in her throat as Molly's saddened gaze met hers.
"Umbriel... didn't have much in the way o' family either," the redhead sighed, continuing her story. "So he decided to stay with his uncle - just so he could be near and with some sort of kin." There was a bitter edge to her voice. "But no kin was better'n that madman."
Jane found herself almost riveted to her seat as Molly continued her tale. Perhaps it was the tea, perhaps it was fatigue, or perhaps the girl was just a good storyteller, but there was something compelling about Molly's voice that made her want to hear more. "His uncle - the old rotter was into some dirty dealings, there's no question about that. But he was violent - dangerous. Umbriel knew that, but he wouldn't leave. I visited him, met with him in secret, pleaded with him to just walk away. But he kept saying there was no place else he could go. He even thought he could talk sense into his uncle."
Several seconds passed, and Molly didn't continue. "What happened?" Jane asked, almost fearful of the outcome.
Molly was looking past her, staring blankly at the wall as she spoke. "His uncle found out... that Umbriel wasn't doing what he wanted. Umbriel even tried to reason with him at the very end, but he… he was beyond reason." She said no more, but she didn't need to say a word. The rest of the story was clear in the bad memories that lingered in her eyes.
"What - does this have to do with me?" Jane asked.
"Nothing," Molly admitted sadly. "And everything. I don't know what I'm doing here," she added, standing and looking away. "I thought... I thought..." She combed her red hair back from her face with her fingers, holding it back for a moment as she tried to collect her thoughts. Jane frowned into her teacup again, unsure what to say to the strange girl.
"I thought o' him," Molly finished, turning back to Jane. "When ye were talking, I remembered him, saying the same things to me."
Jane smiled sadly, not looking up. "Thank you, but this - this is different."
"Ye're right," the girl agreed, "It is different. Ye can still leave him, ye know."
"I don't have anyone else. I don't have anywhere to go," Jane protested, weakly repeating the mantra. The words didn't seem to ring quite as true.
For answer, Molly spread her arms wide as if to embrace the walls around them. "Then what are ye doing here? Looks like somewhere to me." She pulled a chair over beside Jane. The librarian didn't flinch or move away; for some reason, Jane was entranced by her unusual visitor. "And don't ye dare say ye don't have anyone else," Molly continued, clearly on a roll. She inclined her head towards the open doorway and the voices that drifted faintly down the hall. "I came here only an hour ago, and I can see ye've got friends here. That friend of yours... the green one with the braids... "
Jane's smile deepened somewhat. "Brianna."
"Ye should've seen the way she bolted for th' front when she heard ye calling her name," Molly told her, a mischievous smile appearing on her face. "She fairly plowed over the rest o' us to get to ye. Nearly knocked - uh, Leo out cold on the way. "
At the thought of Brianna bowling over Leo like that, Jane couldn't stifle the laughter that bubbled up within her. "Oh, I wish I could've seen that!" As her mirth finally subsided, she regarded Molly with curiosity. "You're quite the talker, you are," Jane remarked.
Molly shrugged. "I'm also right. And ye know it."
For once, Jane did not protest.
* * * * *
Early the next morning
Jane awoke with a start, heart racing, hands shaking, in a cold sweat. Slowly, as she came down from her panic attack, she scanned her surroundings, at first frightened, then finally remembering where she was. Nervously, she clutched the blanket to her ... the one Brianna had loaned her to stay the night in the shop's back room. She looked down at the blanket, clutched within her fingers.
Her bruised fingers ... her injuries were taking much longer to heal this time, it seemed. She looked around, not seeing anything except the sun streaming in the lone window in the storeroom, giving faint light to the dark place.
"They must be in stone by now ..." Jane's reasoning did nothing to reassure her, she still did not have her friend to talk to this morning, to tell of the horrifying dreams she had endured.
Dreams of Henry ...
She did her best to collect herself ... her clothes were a little disheveled, but with a little work she could make herself presentable. Brushing herself off, pinning her hair back in a more or less respectable ponytail, she collected her coat and slowly made her way out of the storeroom.
She was only stopped near the door when she spotted Brianna's stone figure, sitting there. Her head was turned, her face showed a trace of worry ... she appeared to have been watching Jane's slumber when the sun arose. It was strange to the woman, but it seemed like only now, when her friend was a cold piece of stone, could she see the true worry in Brianna's face, see the concern she had shown the previous night with her words.
Slowly, she bent over to the face of the statue, her eyes now starting to water anew.
"Thank you, my friend ... thank you for everything."
She placed a soft kiss on the statue's cheek before turning and leaving.
* * * * *
"Jane? Are you all right?"
Unearthing herself from the book she was dug into, she looked into the eyes of the head librarian, an elderly man with the look of a professor about him. Shaking her head, she knocked her senses back into place.
"I'm fine, Mr. Boothsby. Just got lost in my work for a moment."
Mr. Boothsby put a hand on her shoulder. "You look terrible, Jane ... I could let you go early today ..."
"I'm fine, really. I'll make it."
The elderly librarian almost attempted another argument, but then thought the better of it, sighing softly and going back to his own work. Jane looked after him for a moment before returning to her own research.
However, her mind could not return. It kept rerunning the events of the previous two nights to her ... the cruelty Henry had shown her ... against the kindness Brianna and the others had shown her ...
Unconsciously, her thoughts rambled to Molly. Remembering her words from their long conversation ... the pain that Molly had shown in her voice as she reminisced about her doomed friend. It sounded so similar to Jane's current life ...
The room grew colder ...
It was identical to Jane's own life. She gave her all to a man who paid her back with pain and violence. Under the pretense of love, she had sentenced herself to slavery.
Just as suddenly, her thoughts came back to Brianna ... her young gargoyle friend. Brianna had told her about her secluded life in Caledonia, about how Griff had brought her out of her isolation and to the modern life. But had she ever known the kind of relationship that Jane was in? She couldn't have.…judging by her reaction when they talked the previous night, she couldn't understand it at all. Jane now felt herself fill with guilt ... how could she put her friend through that?
Jane nearly jumped out of her seat this time. Turning around, she saw her latest private client, Safiya Fadiman, standing calmly a foot away. The Arabic woman was smiling, as though taking pleasure at Jane's discomfort, and it only made Jane more uneasy than she normally was around the woman. It didn't help that she'd seemed to appear out of thin air, with no sound or corner-eye motions to announce her approach. It took a moment before Jane composed herself, closed the book before her, and then looked down at the drawers of her desk.
"I scared you, no," Fadiman said with that same cat-eating-a-canary smile. "I apologize for that; I have a tendency to do that, and I must say I've come to enjoy it." When Jane didn't answer immediately, Fadiman started in again. "You do remember we had an appointment today?"
Jane kicked herself mentally; she shouldn't have been surprised by the visit, since Fadiman's appointments had all been on a regular schedule. But with Henry and all lately...
She quickly started looking through some of the other books on the desk in front of her. "I'm sorry Ms. Fadiman, I just momentarily forgot about our meeting today."
That caused Fadiman to arch an eyebrow. "Indeed," she mused, in a tone that sent a slight thrill down Jane's spine. The woman regarded Jane with an interested eye. "Is there something wrong, Ms. Nelson? You seem... out of sorts."
Jane smiled weakly. "Problems at home, nothing you need to concern yourself with. Ah, here we are." She pulled out a thick file, opening it up and turning it to face her client.
Fadiman flipped through the pages quickly, almost distractedly. Every now and again, she nodded her head, or paused to read something in more depth. Jane waited with bated breath, though she didn't know exactly why, until Fadiman finally closed the file and looked at her. "There's not much here," she said bluntly. "Most of it I've found myself in my own searches..."
"There isn't much to work with at all, I'm afraid," Jane explained. "I did find a few bits and pieces about the exploits of a group of knights that, if the time period is correct, could very well be the Gryphon Knights or a different incarnation of the myth."
"But have you found anything concrete?" Fadiman asked.
Jane sighed. "The Gryphon Knights are connected to the legend of Avallach, and much like the Knights of the Round Table with Arthur, the stories directly referencing them disappear after their king is slain. It'd be like trying to find out what happened to Sir Bedivere after Camlann; the troubadors weren't very interested in that part of the story."
"But you haven't found anything about where they might have gone to?" Fadiman insisted.
Jane shook her head sadly. "I've pretty much reached the limit of my resources here at the library; and what references I've gotten to using lately are considered more books of myth and fairy tales than 'serious academica'."
The slightly older woman gave an enigmatic smile. "Sometimes fairy stories are more accurate than fact, Ms. Nelson." She turned the file back to Jane, sliding it back down on the desk.
"I'll keep looking for you, then. As I said, there's plenty of resources, it's just their accuracy that's suspect. And there may be one other place I haven't looked yet..." Jane closed up the file, turning to put it back in her desk. A sharp pain went through her side ... where she had been struck more than once by Henry ... as she bent over to put the file in her drawer. She let out a pained whine.
Fadiman was immediately around the other side of the desk to help her deposit the heavy file. She got a good look at the librarian's face ... while from a distance it would look normal, at this range it was obvious there was makeup covering up a large swelling around her left eye.
"How long has he been doing this to you?" Fadiman said quietly.
Jane gave her a shocked look, and started to protest, but Fadiman raised one red-gloved hand to stop her. "I know what your injuries are," she said slowly. "I am no stranger to violence, especially the violence people are capable of commiting on each other..."
The look now in her sapphire eyes made Jane almost feel sorry for, rather than afraid of, this woman for the first time. She didn't look like a confident aristocrat; now she looked almost...hurt, like she herself was. "You...?" Jane began.
Fadiman shook off the melancholy and was back to herself in an instant. "The point of the matter is," she said, abruptly cutting Jane off, "what are you going to do about it?"
Boring into the librarian with her eyes, Fadiman produced a card and handed to Jane. "This is the name of a lawyer I know in this area," she said. "He's skilled in handling this sort of matter, and I will pay for any expenses incurred." Jane started to protest, but Fadiman raised her hand. "Do not think this is charity, Mrs. Nelson. You are nothing more than a valuble resource to me, but that in turn means your welfare is somewhat my concern."
"Well...what do I...?" Jane wasn't sure about the offer.
"Go to him and explain your problem," Fadiman explained matter-of-factly. Then she shrugged. "Or don't." She got up and started to leave, stopping only at the doorway of the room. "Just be honest about this to yourself: either you're going to walk out of your house, or you'll be carried out."
And with that, Fadiman walked out of the room, leaving Jane there stunned and simply staring at the card and the number on it.
* * * * *
That evening, Into the Mystic
Brianna's startled cry greeted the three humans coming in the back door. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Rory could see Brianna standing next to the spare bed. The bed itself was stripped, the sheets and blankets folded neatly at the foot of the bed. Its occupant was nowhere to be seen. "What's going on?" Dulcinea asked as she and Leba followed Rory inside.
"Jane agreed to stay a while," Una explained. "When we woke up, she had already left."
Leo frowned, looking about the storeroom. "Perhaps she just went out for the day," he suggested. "After all, she can't have just stayed inside."
"And stripped the bed before she did so?" Una pointed out.
"You mentioned she worked in a library," Leba added. "She probably just went to work."
Brianna bit her lip. "But Jane was nae well enouf t' go anywhere. Ye saw her as well as I did."
Rory shook his head. "Did ye look up front?"
Una put a hand on her friend's shoulder, trying to calm her. "We're not doing any good just standing here worrying. How long ago did she leave?"
"She was gone in th' morning," a voice answered. Molly was standing in the doorway, looking tired. "When I woke up, she'd already left." She crossed over to Brianna, handing the light green gargoyle a slip of paper. "She left ye this note."
Brianna handed the note to Una, who read it out loud:
I didn't mean to put you through all that last night, and I'm sorry. You don't understand what it's like between me and Henry, and I can't expect you to. I need to work this out for myself - I don't want to drag you into this. Thank you for all you've done for me.
As Una finished reading, she passed the note back to Brianna, who stared at the paper in shock. "Work this out?" the light green gargoyle echoed.
Leba and Dulcinea exchanged knowing looks; they had gleaned the gist of the situation the other night.
"She must have gone back to that madman," Una realized quietly.
Brianna clenched her fists. "Why? Her own mate did that t' her - callin' it 'protection' - and she still went back t' him?"
Molly sighed. "She thinks she can change him, I'll wager. And she loves him."
"That won't do her much good if he kills her," Dulci interrupted, her eyes dark with the remembered anger of someone who's seen it happen before. Molly flinched visibly at that remark.
Brianna scowled, unconsciously crumpling the note in her talons as her eyes blazed red. "He'll nae lay a hand on her!"
"Now wait a moment, love," Leo began, seeing the rage in his friend's eyes as she started for the back door. Brianna shoved past him, ignoring his protests. Rory tried to block her path, but she pushed him roughly out of the way, shoving him into the wall. Brianna threw the door open and dashed out into the alley.
Leba and Una followed outside in time to see Brianna scamper up a drainpipe and launch into the night sky. "Brianna!" Una shouted. "Wait!" The dark shape faded into the night, heedless of her cry.
Inside, Leo was helping a dazed Rory to his feet. "Are you all right, then?"
"Aye," Rory sighed, brushing himself off. "Seems like I'm getting knocked on me bum by females all th' time lately." The look Molly gave him was almost apologetic.
Dulci pulled her jacket on, striding towards the door just as Leba and Una came back in. "Where do you think you're going?" Una asked.
"Someone's got to stop this," Dulcinea told her. "I say we go find this husband of hers and show him just what 'protection' means."
"I'm with you," Leba said.
"Wait a minute," Rory interrupted, grabbing her shoulder. "Think about this. We can't just go charging in. The police won't look kindly on it."
"Not with all this Connection business," Una added.
Leba looked Molly up and down. "And where were you during all this?"
"Legging it around London, of course," Molly replied acidly. No one seemed satisfied by her answer. "I went looking for her," she admitted. "Didn't know where she worked, but ye all were in stone," she told the gargoyles, "and the rest of ye were back at yuir secret hideout I'm not allowed into, so I had t' do something."
Leba snorted. "I don't suppose you turned anything up."
For answer, Molly took a folded scrap of paper and handed it to Rory. He unfolded it. "What's this?"
"An address, ye daft fool. It's her flat. I went to th' building meself, but no one was at home."
Dulcinea nodded. "That's probably where Brianna's headed."
"Griff and Caspian are patrolling tonight, I think," Leo recalled. "Someone might want to fetch Griff and let him know what's up. If anyone can talk Brianna out of this--"
Rory thought for a moment. "Leba, I need ye to go find Griff and tell him to meet us at this address." He handed Leba the slip of paper and turned to Dulcinea. "See if ye can't get Kevin t' give us a lift in the van. We'll have to go after Brianna ourselves."
"We'll take care of things here," Una added, heading towards the front.
Rory turned to Molly. "Moll, ye wouldn't happen to remember exactly how to get to the place, do ye?"
She shrugged. "I've a fair idea."
He gave her a strange look, but shook it off. "Then we're going to need your help on this, too. Coming?"
Surprised, Molly forgot to be flippant. "Aye."
* * * * *
Una headed down the hallway towards the main shop, pausing as she passed by the small side room. On the table, the tarot cards were still lying there, undisturbed from the other night. She almost dismissed them entirely, but one card caught her eye... the last card in the spread, which she had neglected to turn over.
"Una? Coming, love?"
"In a moment," she called back, moving towards the table as if in a trance. The final card... how could she have neglected the final card?
Slowly, she reached for the cards, her hand shaking as she flipped the last card over, the one that signified the possible outcome of the question. Una gasped.
The final card pictured a body, run through with ten swords.
* * * * *
Somewhere in London
The walk home this evening seemed longer than usual. The waning daylight did not help matters much, as her bruised face was closing her eyes unconsciously and leaving her barely able to see in front of her.
Or was that her tears ... ?
Looking for a landmark she recognized, it came upon her almost as soon as she had started looking. She came upon the memorial, the WWII gargoyle memorial. This evening, the shadows looming larger under it made the two standing figures upon it ... Brianna's mate Griff and a Scottish gargoyle that Brianna had told her bore the name "Goliath" ... more giant in comparison. They dwarfed her in their shadows, the airplane wings they stood on being more like an elevated platform where they looked down upon their protectorate.
Jane's gaze traveled up to Griff, to admire his eagle's profile, the long beak jutting out proudly, defiantly. In that moment, she could see what Brianna saw in him ... his pride and sense of duty, demonstrated in the sturdy pose he was placed in with the memorial.
"You seem like a wonderful mate, Griff." Jane's voice trembled as she addressed the statue. "You must make Brianna very happy."
Jane closed her eyes, her heart sinking. Finally her eyes let go of their heavy load of tears.
"I wish my Henry could have been like you." She let her tears flow for a brief moment, then continued on her way to her flat.
* * * * *
One hour later
She approached door number 5-B with apprehension ... she knew that Henry would not be happy this evening, especially after what she had to tell him. She held the business card tightly in her hand, after a moment thinking to put it into a pocket in her skirt. She took out her key, slipping it into the lock.
"Heaven help me ... give me a guardian angel tonight ..." She turned the key in the lock, her other hand turning the doorknob, and opened the door.
The flat wasn't much changed since she had left it the night before ... still cluttered with the aftermath of Henry's rage. In a corner of the room, Henry sat in his chair, watching the television. Her entry alerted his attention, and he was on his feet by the time the door was closed.
"What kept you THIS time?!"
Jane steeled herself.
The room grew colder ...
"I can't take this any more, Henry. It's started to affect my job ... it's affected my life too much already ..."
Henry started boiling over. "What?!"
"I don't want you to hurt me any more." Jane tried to keep her heart hardened to this man, this brutal creature who would beat her with abandon. "I've hidden this for far too long, Henry ... I'm not going to cover for your rages any more ..."
Henry's voice became louder, rattling the corners of the room. "It's that BRIANNA, isn't it? She's been talking to you, giving you these foolish ideas ..."
Jane shook her head, fearfully, her voice shaking. "It's not Brianna, Henry, it's me ... I don't want to hurt any more ..." She finally sighed resignedly. "I'm leaving tonight."
She tried to move past her husband, walking toward their bedroom, intending to collect her belongings. Henry watched her for a moment, then turned around and followed her.
"You're not going ANYWHERE! You are my WIFE, I expect you to HONOR THAT!"
With those words, Henry took a swing at her.
* * * * *
Brianna slowly glided to a narrow ledge, just outside a window she knew belonged to Jane's flat. To keep her balance she dug her talons into the bricks, clamping herself against the wall. Gritting her teeth, trying to keep her strength, she listened to what was conspiring inside.
Suddenly, a potted plant went flying through the window, breaking through it and falling to the street below. Now she could hear fully what was happening. And as she listened, she felt her anger grow ... the red glow of her eyes illuminated the alley she hid in.
"Henry, please ... stop ..."
"OR YOU'LL WHAT? YOU'LL LEAVE ME?"
Fistfalls could be heard, flesh upon flesh impacts. Jane whimpered under the barrage, as Henry's rage was heard through his violent actions and his screams. Brianna could hear the impacts become faster ... could feel the nausea coming on, more and more sickened by the treatment Jane's mate gave her.
She worked her way toward the window slowly, barely able to garner the courage to look inside. But she forced herself to ... knowing that Jane's life was in danger.
As her eyes focused in the room, she finally saw the scene ... the room's furniture was in a shambles ... overturned chairs and tables, broken glass and china were everywhere ... and in the center of it all was Henry standing over Jane, who was lying on the floor, helpless.
"YOU'LL NEVER LEAVE ME!!" Henry rocked his foot back, landing a swift, hard kick to the back of Jane's head.
That crossed the line. Brianna's eyes glowed brightly. With no concern for her own safety, she let out a primal scream and crashed through the remnants of the window glass to attack.
* * * * *
"There! That's it!"
At the redhead's shout, the car pulled up close to the mouth of the alley. Quickly, Rory and Molly leaped out of the vehicle, looking for the Caledonian they had been following. "Are ye sure?" Rory asked, scanning the sky for any sign of Brianna.
Molly cast around, frustrated. "It has t' be, I'm sure of it!"
Eventually it was Dulcinea who saw the glow in the alley. "There! She's there!"
They all looked where Dulci had pointed, and finally located Brianna, enraged to the point that the entire alley was illuminated in the red glow of her eyes. Suddenly she screamed and dove into a nearby window.
Rory looked to Molly, who was now at his side. "Call the police, Molly ... at the very least they'll be able to clean up."
* * * * *
Henry heard the scream behind him and instinctively ran for the opposite wall, turning to face his assailant, and completely unprepared for the sight that came to his eyes ... a pale green gargoyle, eyes glowing a demonic red, approaching him and growling.
"Leev 'er alone! Yoo've doon enouf damage!"
Henry backed away in fear, as the female looked down at Jane, shaking her shoulder lightly. Jane roused a little, looking slowly to her friend.
"Brianna ... "
Brianna felt relief wash over her ... Jane was still alive, but barely. "Yuir goin' ta be all right, Jane."
Henry backed away further, as Brianna stood upright ... towering over him by a long shot, she began stalking toward him, her rage nearly uncontrollable.
Henry's expression told nothing but fear. "You ... you're Brianna?!"
Brianna growled, her eyes glowing more, her anger nearly tangible as she reached for Henry. "I'm surprised yeh listened to 'er tell yeh that much information, since yeh seem to enjoy ignorin' 'er!"
Her talons found purchase in Henry's shirt, picking him up roughly and thowing him against another wall. She came nose-to-nose with the man, who now shook with fear rather than anger.
Her next words came out as a savage growl. "Gimme one reason why I shouldn't kill ye where yeh stand, beast!" She bared her fangs at the frightened man, growling louder, making him quiver more.
She turned away from Henry for a brief moment, looking back at Jane, who had now dragged herself over to where Brianna now had Henry pinned. "Don't kill him, Brianna ..."
"And why shouldn't I? He wasn't goin' t'stop when ..."
"Leave him, Brianna." Jane sighed sadly, letting her tears flow freely. "Leave him for the law. I should've done that the first time."
Sirens ouside grew closer ... someone had called the police. Brianna turned her head to listen to the sirens' approach. Henry, sill in her grip, shivered and asked fearfully, "Will you kill me?"
Brianna then turned back to him, her eyes still glowing. "Nae. Ye'd be getting off easy that way. Yuir goin' to the police to pay for yuir crimes against sweet Jane ... and ye'll do it in one piece, which is more than ye deemed fit for yuir mate."
The gargoyle finally dropped the man, the totally emotionally broken man now, turning back to Jane. "Will ye be all right? I'll take yeh to the hospital ..."
"No, Brianna, the police will call an ambulance. It'll be easier this way." Jane put up a hand to stroke the side of her friend's face. "Go on, now, you don't want to be here when the police come up."
Brianna nodded, turning back to the window. She took a last brief look in to her friend before leaping out, diving into the alley and spreading her wings to glide away. Just as she jumped out, the door burst in, as four uniformed police officers broke it down.
They took a look at the circumstances ... the man, still standing, the woman barely conscious, bruised and bleeding, and immediately took action, handcuffing the still stunned Henry Nelson and taking him away. One of the officers, the only woman among them, crouched down at Jane's side, pulling out her handset and calling for an ambulance.
* * * * *
Molly stood at the mouth of the alley, hugging the wall as her eyes searched the sea of flickering lights. She watched as the three officers came out of the building, escorting a stunned and scared man between them. He was still shaken, his eyes full of confusion and residual terror. Despite herself, Molly smiled thinly with satisfaction as he was hustled into one of the vehicles.
Her smile faded as the ambulance pulled up. No... oh, not again...
She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to block out the harsh blinking of the sirens, only to be confronted with an image of Umbriel's terrified face behind her closed lids. Molly shuddered, trying to blink back the tears that threatened to form.
Strong hands closed gently around her shoulders, but she didn't pull away. "Molly," she heard Rory say softly. "Moll, are ye all right?"
She shook her head. "Too late," she muttered bitterly. "We were too late..."
"Ye don't know that," Rory told her.
Molly watched silently as the stretcher was hauled up the steps into the building. "They didn't catch Brianna, though."
"Nay." Rory squeezed her shoulder gently. "Ye did a good thing tonight, Moll."
"There's a first."
After a moment, he released her again. "We need t' go. Too many police about."
Nodding, Molly turned and followed Rory back down the darkened alley, back to where the van was parked a block away. "What did she say t' him, I wonder?"
"What do ye mean?"
"Maybe she wasn't just crawling back t' him," Molly continued. "Maybe she... tried t' confront him herself. 'Tis a completely daft thing t' do, but..."
Rory nodded, understanding. "'Tis a right bold thing t' do."
"Aye." She glanced up at the sky, smiling sadly at something only she could see. "That it is."
* * * * *
St. Mark's Hospital, two nights later
Molly kept close to Rory, the overwhelmingness of the hospital atmosphere starting to get to her. "Are we almost there?"
"Almost. I know you don't like hospitals, we'll make it quick. We just need to let everyone know how she is."
The ICU came quickly as they walked through the halls, approaching the admitting desk. After inquiring with the duty nurse, they were directed to a convenient doctor, a woman in her late 20's who regarded them with a cautious eye.
"You're not police, are you? Because the last thing that poor girl needs is to have some detective in her face asking her questions she's in no condition to ..."
"We're not police, doctor."
"Oh good." The doctor's face softened. "Too many times we get these abuse victims in here, and before they even have a chance to recover, they're being given the third degree."
Molly nodded, knowingly. "How is she, doctor?"
"Well, I'll tell you this much, the news isn't great. The best thing she's got going for her right now is that she's alive."
As she spoke, the doctor led Molly and Rory to the door of Jane's room, pulling a chart out of the basket by the door. She cleared her throat, opening the chart and continuing.
"Ah yes, Ms. Nelson. Well, she was in pretty bad shape when she came in, I'll tell you. After we got her stabilized, she was examined by just about every doctor in the hospital."
Rory nodded. "How bad is it?"
The doctor consulted the chart some more, then continued. "She's suffered an intracerebral hematoma ... it amounts to bruised neural tissue, there's some internal bleeding in her brain. We're watching her for neurological effects, but right now it appears she's having a lot of trouble with motor skills. I'm also calling in a couple more consults, to make sure that monster didn't do any deeper damage to her."
Molly nodded again. "Thank ye, doctor." She started leading Rory out of the ward. The doctor had a confused look on her face.
"But ... don't you want to see her? I thought ..."
Rory looked back at the doctor, stopping for a moment. "She needs her rest, doctor. We're not going to disturb her, we'll just take the message back to her friends." He came back over to Molly's side, sharing a knowing glance with her as they left, leaving a thoroughly perplexed doctor behind them.
* * * * *
The window opened quietly, and soon one brown arm was hooked on the windowsill, followed by the arm's owner, Griff. Bending over and looking down from where he stood, he whispered, "Coast is clear, love."
He reached a hand down from the window. Just as he did, the rousing of the patient in the bed behind him brought his attention away briefly. He looked to see the bed's occupant awakening.
"What's going on?"
Griff smiled, looking back at Jane, whose eyes opened a bit wider when she recognized him. "Don't worry about getting up, Jane, I'm just bringing a visitor by to see you." Finally pulling his arm up, he helped Brianna in the window.
Jane smiled, as much as her dressings would allow. "Brianna, you came, I'm so happy you're here ..."
Brianna smiled, fighting tears bravely, but ultimately failing as she sat at the bedside of her friend. "Th' doctors have been keepin' us posted as to yer condition. They said ye might nae walk again."
Jane sighed. "Maybe so, but it's a small price to pay for my freedom. And I don't care if I never use my legs again, so long as I have friends to help me." She pushed aside a stray lock of Brianna's hair. "And you are my friend, Brianna."
Brianna sobbed, taking Jane's hand. "I should've been there for ye, Jane. I should've been there sooner. I'm so sorry."
Jane suddenly reached her other hand to pat Brianna's shoulder. "Ye have nothing to be sorry for, my friend. I should've seen long ago that Henry could never be helped, no matter how much I loved him."
Brianna's tears were now falling freely. "But ..."
Jane squeezed Brianna's hand. "Listen, Brianna ... I should've been the one to be faster." She smiled wistfully, looking up at Griff, who stood at his mate's side. "I still wish my Henry could've been more like you."
He knelt down by the bedside next to his mate, smiling down on Jane. "I know Brianna is just like you, Jane. And I'm thankful for it every night of my life."
Brianna looked up at her mate, who stroked her face lightly. "I'll meet you back at the shop, love. I'm sure you two have some catching up to do."
Brianna nodded wordlessly, allowing Griff to take his leave of the room, jumping out the window and into the night. She then turned her attention back to Jane, reaching over and gently pulling her into an embrace.
"I promise ye, Jane ... ye'll never be helpless, so long's I'm yer friend."