Sappho - True Confessions

     Sappho paused to catch her breath.   Running in the snowy woods was no easy trek, even given that she was in better shape now than she'd ever been.  This was an odd mission anyway; she'd felt uneasy about taking it from the start.  
     She reached down to her hip, feeling the comforting weight of the .45 hanging from her belt.  Not that there were many things she couldn't take care of the old fashioned way, but she just felt better somehow, knowing it was there.  

     The night-lighted woods were eerie.  The snow covered everything with the same dreamy blue light, reflecting the half-moon hanging low in the sky.  Two hours ago, sitting in Louisville Municipal Airport, she'd fooled herself into thinking she'd be relaxing in a warm motel room by now, with the surveillance done and photos faxed already.  

     But the woods were unforgiving, and she'd nearly skidded down several dry washes already in the circular route she was taking to the hollow.  

     Damn good job of hiding his kind do…

     She was tracking a leech.  One whose existence threatened a cairn very near to here.  She had been given a name and a description.  

     And a warning.  

     "He's already subverted another Garou.  Used some kind of leech magic on her.   She's useless to our purpose now, might as well be a 'Dancer.  "

     Sappho had received that news with amazement.   A Garou throwing in with a leech? A Fury, no less!And the young Artemis shook her head sadly, sighing.  

     "Yes, it's true.  These are the things that went on right under the old leader's nose! Find out all you can, send pictures back to us.  Then get out of there.  

     Have no contact with our former pack mate.  She will betray you at a seconds notice.  Remember, we fight for Gaia!"

     And Artemis and she had howled in unison, heady with the power of knowing they were right and the world was wrong.  

     So now she stood on a hillside, with the snow drifting over the tip of her Doc Martins, and tried to rekindle a little of that flame of confidence.  

     But all she felt was the howling wind and driving snow.  

     And she felt cold, and alone, and so very, very small.  

     "So," Tommie said softly, "You were fighting for truth, justice, and the American way?"
     Sappho hadn't heard this phrase before, and she simply shrugged.  She took another long pull from the bottle and wiped her face with the back of her hand before continuing her story.  

     Tommie motioned toward her, holding his hand out toward the bottle.  She pulled back, then capped it and tossed it to him.  He caught it easily, and then raised it to his lips.  

     Is he getting…closer?… she wondered, but knew she hadn't seen him move, so dismissed it as a phantom of her racing mind and bleary eyesight.  

     Besides, he couldn't get to her before she plunged to her death.  And she knew it.  

     And Tommie knew better.  So he sat, and he waited for her to continue.  It was early.  He had all night.  

     He had all the time in the world.  

     She'd made it to a rise in the snowy hills shortly before sunrise.  It had taken her much longer than she'd anticipated, because she kept losing her bearings and wandering back toward the road.  Even after she knew she was doing it, she seemed powerless to stop herself.  
     She cursed the storm, the snow, the uneven ground that made walking such a chore.  Then, she heard the slightest sound on the other side of the hill.  

     She froze, then, unmindful of the cold, dropped to her belly and crawled toward the crest.  From the top, she would be able to see the entire valley beyond.  

     She waited what seemed like an eternity, then the man – no, not man, leech thing maybe, not man – strode into view.  

     She tensed as his steely blue eyes swept the area, looking for a sign of any intruders to his hiding place.  Then, obviously satisfied that no one was here, he walked on.  She risked a better look then, raising her head from the snow and staring at him as he walked parallel to the hillock.  

     And then her eyes opened wide in amazement and shock as she beheld the living radiance of Gaia herself, clouding around the leech, spilling down from his forehead like a soft cloak of light.  She fell backwards, gasping silently in the cold air.  

     Whaddafuck is that!?!?…????…he carries the blessing of Gaia?…yet he is a leech…I can smell it on him…

     And as her mind turned and rambled inward on itself, he walked silently through a copse of trees and disappeared from view, leaving her shaken and confused, crouching on a hillside far from home.  
     Later, in a cheap motel room twenty miles away, she sat in a tub of hot water and tried to reconcile all that she'd seen.  

     She knew he was a leech, that he hunted the woods and the fringes of the big city.  She knew he had human kinfolk somewhere in the area, because he couldn't just be living in a cave without some kind of daytime protection.  She knew he was sneaky, and predatory, and …

     And blessed by my Lady, Gaia….  

     And that made no sense at all.  
     She warmed herself in the tub until she was near to falling asleep, then dragged herself to the nest of blankets and pillows she'd made on the floor.  A chair barred the door against any intrusion.  The 'Do Not Disturb' sign hung on the knob outside.  

     Her final thought before falling into sleep was that sometimes the hunter and the hunted led similar lives, indeed…

     She woke, rested and still confused, in the twilight.  She sat for an hour weighing her options.  

     He was a leech…
     He was blessed…

     But he was a leech…

     But he was blessed…

     The ashtray was overflowing by the time she'd thought it out carefully enough to form a plan.  The plan was simple enough.  
     She'd take a cab to the airport, get a plane, go back to her pack, and tell them she'd failed to find any trace of the leech.  

     It would be the first time she would lie to her superiors, but it was under exceptional circumstances, she told herself.  

     And the road to hell is paved with exceptional circumstances.  

     "So you knew about me, what, ten, eleven years ago?" Tommie interjected.  
     She took another drink, then passed him the bottle.  The breeze from the Hudson was really kicking up now, bringing with it the smell of raw sewage and diesel fuel.  She nodded, eyeing him warily.  

     "More like thirteen or fourteen," she said, after a moment's thought.  

     "So why did you decide to go against your leader?" he asked.  

     "Because, whether you believe it or not, Mister Gunn, I still had a sense of right from wrong in those days," she said, daring him to argue.  

     He didn't.  He just handed her the bottle, and leaned back on the rock.  

     He'd managed to work his way up to being within an arm's length of her, and she still gave no sign of noticing.  

     Now, if he could just decide whether he was going to grab for her, or not…

     But on the way to the airport, sitting in the back of a taxi, she'd seen something that would dog her thoughts for years, until it finally came to a head in a place far from Bender Creek, Kentucky.  Glancing toward the lights of a gas station, she saw a familiar face in the snow.  
     It was her sister.  

     Sappho's heart nearly rose into her throat as she stared out the window, unconsciously putting a hand to the glass as if she could reach out and touch her from here.  

     It was definitely her sister; there was no mistaking the dark red hair with the shock of white sweeping from the left temple.  She was walking out of the little corner store, with a package in one arm.  Three little boys crowded around her, maybe five or six at the most, one hanging onto her coat, one holding her free hand, and the third walking confidently ahead of her, toward a dark blue jeep.  She had turned slightly, as if speaking to the storekeeper, and Sappho could clearly see her neck, with the beginning of her mark at the collarbone.  

     She nearly howled her name, so excited she was that she had found her sister.  

     Then, the last scene at Finger Lakes came unbidden to her memory, and she remembered the Rite of Scorn pronounced on Boudiccea.  She turned her face away quickly.  

     But not quite so quickly that she did not see the man who now came up behind her sister, his shadow outlining her in the doorway.  

     The man with the steel blue eyes.  

     The leech.  

     She turned back again, gasping in surprise.  

     Sappho's fingers were on the door handle without thinking, ready to attack, to defend, when her sister turned to the man.  

     And handed him the bag so that she could scoop up one of the children, who was trying to climb up her leg.  

     And then the man smiled at the boy, who reached out to touch his father's face with a pinching gesture.  

     Then the light changed, and the taxi pulled away, leaving Sappho with a sinking feeling, that there was something so much bigger than she would ever understand going on here.  She felt as incidental as a pigeon that had wandered into a parade, and about as confused.  

     The cabbie had to speak to her three times before she acknowledged him, getting out of the cab at the main terminal.  She paid with a fifty, didn't wait for her change, and wandered into the warmth of the building, to await her flight back home.  

     By the time the plane was taxiing down the runway, she'd nearly forgotten what had happened.  It seemed like a dream of great pain; she could remember the sensation, but not the feeling.  

     And she stayed in that state of mental shock long after she'd disembarked into the hustle and bustle of Miami International Airport, just happy to be home where things made sense.  

     "So what did you tell them?"Tommie asked.  
     She regarded him with half-closed eyes.  

     "I told them I hadn't been able to find anything indicating the presence of a leech in the area they'd sent me to.  And that was the truth.  "

     Tommie nodded his head.  He could empathize with her self-preservation ethic, if nothing else.  

     She patted her pockets, an unlit cigarette hanging from her lip.  He flicked open a lighter and offered it to her.  As she bent over the flame, he thought to grab her, but decided the timing was wrong.  

     She had to want to live.  Right now, she just didn't want to die.  Yet.  

     And he noticed, as she looked at him from underneath her eyebrows, how much she resembled her sister.  The way she cocked the corner of her mouth up when she smiled, the length of her eyelashes, all these things made him think of Boo.  

     And something stirred within him.  

     He pushed it back.  He was a widower.  And he would stay that way.  

     He glanced at his finger, where he still wore the ring she had given him, their first year together in Kentucky.  They'd exchanged rings with the idea of comforting Grandpa; Tommie had impressed on her that Grandpa was a church-going man.  

     But Grandpa had simply looked at them, as she stood on the front porch with her bulging belly, and smiled.  

     "Welllll, I'd say you got all the love you can give to these little bundles…an' thet's all thet counts.  I don't care whut th' Parson says.  I know you cain't git married, Tommie, there ain't no blood tests in this world thet wouldn't ring bells and whistles in some fancy-schmancy lab somewhar.  "

     And he'd invited his grandson's new 'bride' in for some coffee and cookies.  Then he'd regaled her with old stories, until finally Tommie had to slip away to his cave, with the coming dawn.  

     But he'd kept the ring, and she'd kept hers.  He'd found it in the wreckage of the trailer, twisted and blackened.  He'd been very close to murderous frenzy then, if he had had anyone to frenzy upon, he would have.  

     And, looking at his ring now, he could almost feel her hand on his shoulder.  

     He sighed, and shook off the feeling.  If he had time, he would think about it today, when he went to sleep.  But for now, he had more important things to do.  

     Like save a life.  Or help to end one quickly, without pain.  

     She still sat, staring at him, eyes of the greenest green.  Boo in those eyes, in her smile, in her embrace…

    No, no, and no, Tommie-boy…she aint interested in men, an even if she was, dontcha have enough troubles already…mebbe you just need some time away from things…get out with someone who can listen to ya for a change…

     But he wondered, for a brief second, if she were the same as her sister in … other ways, and that thought brought with it a quick flash of Boo, naked, riding him like a wild animal.  

     But, somehow, it wasn't Boo; for when the woman looked down at him in ecstasy, it was Sappho's face he saw, smiling lustily at him.  

     The thought, once thought, was harder to push back the second time.  

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And then what happened?