"The Quality of Mercy"
by Angel Maxwell (Eternal SailorM)

Disclaimers: Everything here belongs to me. That? right. Me. Mine. Steal, die, after being beaten with a sledgehammer. Vague disclaimers are no one? friend.

Dedications: How sad is it that I have no one to really dedicate this chapter to? I suppose it should go out to the ones who have stood by me through thick and thin, especially over the last two or three years, with all the turns my life has taken. Bru, Aya, this one is for you.

Goddess, she hated undercover work. The truly undercover work, not the usual jobs like every member of the order was routinely sent on. No, she hated the truly undercover work that forced her to change her appearance and adopt some of the most ridiculous disguises ever invented.

Take now, for instance. Her own red hair had been deemed too memorable, so it was all caught up in a hairnet beneath the black wig she wore. Brown contacts covered her green eyes, and what had to be an unhealthy amount of make-up had been liberally applied to her face.

She stared at herself in the bathroom mirror, eyeing the raven hair, the brown eyes darkened further with kohl rims, the ruby-tinted lips. This wasn? couldn? be her! The woman staring back at her was Mary Shelton, not...

"Jeannie?" a male voice asked from the other side of the door. "Are you ready yet?"

Just like that, the tension in her broke, and a smile began to tug at her lips. "I'll be out in a minute," she called through the door. Hastily she dabbed a bit more of the too-red lipstick on, tucked the nearly new tube down the front of her dress, and pulled the door open. Just outside waited a young man less than a year younger than she. He looked completely uncomfortable in something other than his usual baggy jeans and tee-shirt, though she did have to admit the suit looked rather good on him. As she watched, he tugged at his tie, not nervously but like it was choking him. To him, it probably was. Her lover was not one for collars, of any type.

"I'm ready, she announced brightly.

"About time," he muttered, turning to face her. A faint smirk touched his lips. "I can't wait to get my Jeannie back." He fingered a lock from the black wig. "I want my witchy redhead back."

She had to shake her head at his impatience, thought it was a bit typical of him as of late, ever since IT happened. They both thought of the events of two months ago as IT. IT had interrupted all their lives, but she saw the difference most of all in Sean. Claudia had been his partner, after all, and now she was gone. She was still adjusting to that fact herself; she and Claudia had always been good friends, and now...

And now she and Sean had each other to lean on. She knew it pleased him to no end that they'd gotten Claudia's blessing before she was gone. If it had been anyone other than Sean's surrogate sister, she might have had to be jealous. As it stood now, though, she missed the other woman terribly.

Sean's arm snaked around her waist, and he drew her closer to his side as they made their way back into the main room of the elegant restaurant. It was no wonder, really, her lover was almost claustrophobic in here; the haziness of the smoky atmosphere seemed to shrink the already small room.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" Sean's husky voice breathed in her ear.

She held back the reflexive shiver and considered the words. This was most definitely not her type of mission; if anything, this kind of thing was... had been Claudia's type of gig.

"I think so, she finally said softly."

He stopped, turning to face her, and leaned down close to her face. "If you're not up to it, tell me now and I'll do it."

She shook her head. "I'll handle it."

He eyed a moment, amber eyes assessing her, then he brushed his lips across hers. "All right. I'll be right beside you though."

She smiled. "And of that, I'm glad. Let's get this over with so we can go home."

She stepped past him, coolly walking up to the corner table occupied by two older and two middle-aged men. Her eyes skipped back and forth between the older two till she recognized the one she was here for. "Mister Andrews," she began before she was cut off by one of the younger men's derisive voice.

"Father, someone has sent a mutt puppy here to see you."

Beside her, she could feel Sean tensing, but she made herself press on anyway. "Mister Andrews, I represent the -"

The same man who had interrupted her before cut in again, rising to his feet. "I don't care who you represent. Get that filthy mutt out of our sight. The Andrews family doesn't associate with Weres."

She heard a low growl coming from Sean. She wanted to reach back and comfort him, but any touch now would be perceived as hostile, so she forced herself to try one more time. "Mister Andrews, the Church sent me to -"

"For the last time," the man's son cut in, this time grabbing her arm tightly and giving it a small shake, causing a soft gasp to escape her, "get -"

This time, he was cut off as Sean in turned seized his arm, bodily lifting him by it, and threw him against the wall. She could barely understand him as he growled out, "Keep your hands off her," and she was used to the changes his voice could make; she couldn't imagine how it would sound to others. She had to fight down the age-old impulse to shiver, and she took a second to be glad Sean was on her side, than Lupercans were fiercely loyal to whomever they considered theirs. And Sean most definitely counted her as one of his people, thank the Goddess.

Her brief second of relief was short-lived, though, as she began to notice beyond herself. Sean held himself tightly, as if preparing for a fight or perhaps holding himself back from killing the person who had touched her. The other tree men were reacting as well; they weren't as good as Claudia had been at producing guns from nowhere, but they weren't too far off.

At the suddenly deafening sound of a bullet being chambered, she found herself being pushed behind Sean. Cracking and stretching sounds filled the air for a brief moment, then a Wolf the size of a small pony filled most of her vision as he leaped at the nearest opponent. Bones crunched and blood spurted from the man's throat, dousing the Wolf's muzzle, in the split second before he turned on the next and leaped.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the entire restaurant was in a panic, people running each other over as they rushed towards the doors. In the midst of the pandemonium, the man who had grabbed her had started to stir. Before she could call the Wolf off the third man's throat, the man had once again seized her, holding a gun to the side of her head. "Stop!" he yelled, catching the Wolf's attention. It let out a low growl and padded a step closer, eyes laying back menacingly. "No closer!" The man's finger tightened on the trigger, she froze in panic, and the Wolf stopped. "Change back!"

The same cracking, ripping, and stretching sounds rent the air, and Sean stood before them, nude save for blood, some of which she knew was his and was a product of transforming. "Let her go," he ground out.

The other man just laughed, re-aimed, and fired at Sean. He dodged but wasn't as fast in human form; it was enough to limit the wound to a scrape along the side of his shoulder. A scream slipped from her lips, and she struggled vainly against her captor. Right beside her ear, the gun went off again. She couldn't see who it was aimed at or if it hit its intended target; her mind was blanking out.

Around her and the man holding her, a fierce wind began to howl. A pressure she hadn't even realized was there lifted as the wig tore away and her own hair tumbled down. Someone no, two people were screaming, and she supposed one of them had to be her. The arms that had been locked around her wrenched free, and she limply fell to her knees. A warm body wrapped around hers, one that she instinctively recognized. "-Sean," she murmured.

"It's all over, Jeannie," he whispered, running his hands through her hair over and over. It was exactly the kind of gesture she would have used to calm him, and she was a little surprised to feel herself relaxing.

"What about -?" she forced from near unresponsive lips.

Sean swallowed and nodded behind her. Dread creeping into her, she turned to see her former captor half-embedded in the opposite wall, while the other half remained in the ceiling fan that...

She gave up trying to rationalize tonight and let Sean pull her to her feet. She shivered as he stepped away from her, tracking him with her eyes as he retrieved a jacket someone had left behind, pulled it on, and buttoned it up to cover himself.

Finally she took and released a deep breath, taking in the full carnage surrounding them. "Cardinal Sergio isn't going to like this one bit," she concluded breathlessly.  "We were just supposed to find out which side of the war his family was coming in on."

"Sergio will have to live with it, Sean stated, exhaustion in his voice. "What's done is done."

Once upon a time, she mused to herself as he led her out the back and into a waiting car, she had been distressed by the lack of regard he showed for human life. She tried not to let it bother her now. It was just the nature of the Wolf that hid just beneath the surface. She should probably be glad he didn't eat the bodies or something.  Besides, she loved him either way.

The car pulled up to the rear entrance of the city's largest Catholic cathedral, and the pair of them slid out of the backseat. A dark-robed priest awaited them at the back door, letting them in and leading them below to the doors of the catacombs. There waited a familiar lean figure dressed in scarlet and white robes. "Cardinal Sergio," Jean greeted, taking a slight bow in his direction. Sean merely nodded to the older man. "Cardinal, there was -"

The man held his hand up for silence and instantly achieved it, as she swallowed the rest of what she had been going to say. "I have already heard what happened tonight. I must say, I am very disappointed in you both. Changing in front of all those people You know better than to do that, Sean. Why do you give me trouble now, after all these years?"

"I think you know why. You sent -"

"Stop! We do not speak of that ever again!"

She winced and slowly stepped forward, into her usual role of mediator. "Why did you decide to meet us tonight, Cardinal? We were supposed to go back to the Estate tomorrow and make a full report." Not to mention finally have some free time for just the two of them with no one looking over their shoulders.

"I received a new mission from the Vatican this morning. There is a rogue that needs to be stopped. I would prefer it be handled without bloodshed, and that is why I have come to the two of you," he explained, pushing thin-rimmed glasses off his face so he could rub the bridge of his nose.  He must be tired, she supposed, since his already thick Italian accent was becoming more pronounced.  "You are best equipped in this situation to deal out mercy. I believe you can stop it without being forced to kill it." Here, he shoved a stack of papers loosely bound in a folder at them, and she took it out of reflex.  "You two and Simon will leave in the morning." And with that, he swept back up the stairs to the daylight, the door clanging shut behind him.

The moment the two of them were alone in the candlelight of the crypt, Sean started pacing, moving as much as he could in the confined area.  "Mercy? For a rogue?" he muttered, running a hand through his hair and disrupting some flakes of dried blood. "Since when do we give mercy to rogues?"

A bit curious on that herself, she flipped open the folder and felt her eyes bulge. "Sean?" she whispered, her voice echoing in the cavern. "I think I know why."

He froze, turning to face her. "Why, Jeannie?"

Mutely, she turned the folder around so he could stare into the face they both knew so well. "They're sending us after her."

All the blood drained from his face, and he sagged against the wall as his legs seemed to go out from under him. "No... No, it can't be..." he whined. "Claudia?"


16 March 2004

And welcome to your first glimpse of the world within my novel, Hunter's Path. Here you've had your introduction to two of the main characters, Sean and Jean, and a little info on another, Claudia.

So who's ready for more? ^_~