Chapter Six



If Angel is tailing me, it's not safe to go to the warehouse. Taylor was wondering down the streets, going in the front door of business' and out the back door, leaving nothing to chance.

How could I have been so stupid as to lie to Angel? And so stupid to refuse her? I've never refused her before.

Where do I go, and what the hell do I do now? Isn't this the time where friends come in handy? Too bad I don't got any.

Something was nagging at her, something obvious. So obvious that it was completely overlooked. The blond hacker entered a Cyber Cafe, intent on using the back door. She stopped, mid stride, two feet from a laptop. Someone was using it, but there was an older computer against the back wall that was unused.

"Can I help you?"

Startled, Taylor turned to the person who'd spoken. He looked to be in his early twenties, boyishly cute, and held a platter that read 'Cyber or Nothing.'

She smiled up at him. "I'd like to use that computer over there, please."

"Sure, " he smiled back. "Come with me." The waiter lead her to the counter, where he stepped behind a computer. "How much time do you want to purchase?"

Umm. Hell, I have no clue. The clock behind the counter read 4:36 pm in green neon light. An hour an a half. "How about three hours?"

"Done." He tapped on the keyboard, and a few minutes later issued her a pass, that, he explained, would allow her to access the computer for only three hours. After that she had to buy more time. She just smiled and walked over to the computer.

5:30 came and went, painfully slow. At 5:45 she lurked on IRC, waiting for Darion to get home from work and log on to her computer. It was after 6:15 when dg2000 blinked up on her notify list.

Waiting for DCC Session to be established...

DCC Session established with


[T88]hi, how was your day?

[dg2000]kinda slow, how about you?

[T88]I dunno

[dg2000]The 14th had a mess on the subway today...some punks

took a business man into a store room, stripped him down

tied him up and cut off... his private parts, pretty messy

Glad it wasn't on my beat.

[dg2000]are you still there Taylor? I'm sorry if I grossed u out

[T88]no, I'm still here

[dg2000]is something wrong?

[T88]I was wondering...

[dg2000]wondering what? are you alright?

[T88]I thought maybe we could meet, ya know, go out for coffee

or something?

[T88]I mean we're in the same city n all, we could meet somewhere

public... I don't bite...

[dg2000]um, I haven't had dinner yet... what about we meet at


[dg2000]do you know where it is?

[T88]yeah... you sure?

[dg2000]honestly, I've been dying to meet you since I found out how

close we were

[T88]what time?

[dg2000]what time is it now? Almost 6:30? Is an hour enough time for


[T88]that's fine... I'll see ya there


[dg2000]wait! How will I know who you are?

[T88]don't worry, I'll find you

DCC Session Closed

Taylor's mind ran in circles. She was terrified, elated and terrified all over again. I'm going to meet her. Oh fuck, I shouldn't do this. Angel's after me and I'm going to meet Darion. Have I gotten into yet another mess? How fucked up am I?!

I can't do this to Darion. But she's a cop. I- I can just tell her I'm in trouble, and she'll help, right? Yeah, but she's a cop. She'll end up arresting me... it's just dinner. I can do dinner. Waste some time, before my life is over in some nameless, filthy alley.

She shook as she left the Cyber Cafe and hailed a cab.

The weak winter sun was setting, and the wind was whipping faster and colder. Taylor had to yell over the country music twice before the cabby pulled up to the curb. She didn't bother to tip him.

Night was upon the city. It wasn't full night, or even late, but the sidewalks were a mass of people returning home or going on the next shift. In less then an hour the streets would clear out in favor of warmer places and the hacker would be easy pickens.

She slipped into the shadowed alley across from Joey's, and waited. There were no tails, none that she could see anyway. So she dodged rush hour traffic and headed into Joey's with the vague notion that she must look like shit and needed a bathroom mirror.

Useless, I need a comb. And a fucking makeover. Darion will take one look at me and run the other way. Disgusted, she left the bathroom and asked for a table in back, saying she'd wait for her friend before ordering.

Joey's was famous for down home Italian cooking. The table tops were clothed in red checkers, candles, and wine bottles with roses. The diner was little, the portions big, the waiters friendly and the place was getting packed. It was warm and cheery, a massive contrast to the shaking, disheveled hacker at the back table.

Her nerves were shot from waiting. Where was she?


At that moment Darion Grange was exiting the parking garage, looking- feeling like a teenager on her first date. Her pale blue eyes glimmered in the street lights and the soft leather of her bomber jacket highlighted her naturally tanned skin.

The dark haired cop walked with a light, expectant step. Men and women alike rubber necked as she walked by, lustful, awed and/or jealous. She barely noticed. As a woman cop she was use to a lot of unwanted and mostly negative attention.

The biting wind pushed her down the sidewalk to Joey's diner. Suddenly she was nervous and wanted nothing more to turn and run, but with a sweaty hand she grasped the door and entered.


Taylor saw Darion first and time seemed to slow as she stood from the chair and waved the cop over. The hacker watched as the woman walked gracefully through the crowd. Her stride was long and purposeful, her eyes seemed to take in everything while her face revealed nothing.

Those eyes held Taylor riveted, lost and drowning. They were one and the same. I know you...

Darion's unexpected smile light up her face and poured down to the blond woman standing a few feet in front of her.

"Darion?" Taylor found her voice.

"Only if you're Taylor."

That smile again and Taylor was sliding in a heap onto her chair. For a moment she forget who Taylor was and strangled a sob rising in her throat at the thought that Darion was here for Taylor and not a stupid, low-life computer hacker in deep, deep shit. "I'm Taylor." She managed, a heartbeat later.

Darion extended a leather clad arm. "It's good to meet you." After formally shaking hands Darion removed her jacket and sat, stretching out long, Jean clad legs.

"Uh, yeah. I didn't expect to meet you... so soon." Duh! Find a brain and fast... can we sound any less intelligent?

"Did you order yet?"

"No. I was waiting for you." Taylor said it shyly, thinking she'd wait forever for the blue eyed beauty.

Darion motioned a waiter over who retrieved two menus and said he'd be back in just a minute. An awkward silence fell and both women intently studied their menus, taking unobtrusive glances at each other.

Taylor glanced up for about the tenth time, having given up on her menu, and sank into blue eyes.

"Are you ready to order?" Darion asked softly. She's gorgeous. Long golden hair... candlelight giving it fiery highlights... sea green eyes that have seen a lifetime and more...

"Yeah, thought I'd get the sphagetti and meatballs." Taylor grinned.

God, she's even more beautiful when she smiles. "Lasagna, I think. You up for a glass of wine?"

"Sure, but I'm really more of a beer gal."

"Me too, but I think it's customary to have red wine at Italian restaurants. All the mob bosses do it on TV." Darion joked.

"Hmmm. They do in real life too. He is." Taylor bent her head in the direction of Tony Finelli. He was surrounded by classic goons.

Darion narrowed her eyes. "Associated with the mob, are we Miss Taylor?" One eyebrow rose into her hairline and a slight smile curved her lips.

"I should be so lucky." Unconsciously Taylor sighed, causing Darion's other eyebrow to rocket up under her bangs and her smile to fade.

You are in trouble, aren't you? Darion felt an unexplainable protective surge for the young woman. "Ar-"

"Are you ladies ready to order?" The waiter interrupted, giving Taylor the chance to pull herself together and smile up at the middle aged man.

The rest of the evening was filled with chit chat, food, wine and a comfortable, easy companionship.

They talked about everything and yet nothing, careful to avoid anything too serious on a first date.



"I think I had too much wine." Taylor admitted ruefully as they stood out in the night cold, debating whether to say good-bye or do something else. It was a slight buzz though, only enough to dull her senses. Her teeth were chattering and her fingers freezing, common when she was tired.

"Maybe it'd be a good idea to get you home then." Darion took in the chattering teeth and nearly purple lips. Taylor's slim body was shaking under her thin coat. She also saw the panic in her eyes. "Walk me to my car atleast?"

"S-sure." They walked side by side, elbows occasionally brushing together.

"So, tell me why you really wanted to meet tonight." Darion studied the slender profile next to her. Startled, guilty, green eyes looked up.

"Well... I thought that since we lived in the same city an all, ya know? That, um, it'd be... interesting." All right. Way to go, Taylor. Let's just put all the cards on the table. Not. This was a bad idea. My dreams, her...

"Are you in trouble?"

"Trouble, what do you mean?" The hacker mumbled at the ground.

"You keep looking over your shoulder, like someone's following you. And it looks like you haven't slept in days."

"I've just been having nightmares."

"Look," Darion took a hold of slim shoulders and pulled Taylor to a stop, "I don't know you all that well, but I do know when someone's lying to me. What's wrong?"

"What's wrong? Every fucking thing is wrong. I'm a goddamned loose end right now." Taylor was intent on the pavement, refusing to look the dark haired woman in the eyes.

"Let me help you, Taylor." Blue eyes met green and everything around them was forgotten.


Bam! The force of the shot tumbled them both backwards. There were no screams, no calls for 911. Blackness, sweet oblivion, as a shadow loomed over the prone, unconscious women.

Chapter Seven


Taylor woke with a rude slap across her cheek. Ahhh, damn that hurts. Her eyes blinked open. Angel stood above her, pale and terrifying.

"Darrrling, how's the head?"

"Where's Darion?" Taylor blinked rapidly, focusing on the small room, it's occupants and the pain at the back of her skull.

"Oh. Your little friend?" Angel scratched her chin. "I put her around here somewhere."

"She's alive?"

"For the time being. Sadly, we have another issue to discuss." Pale, sadistic eyes glittering, Angel motioned to one of the men standing behind her. "I don't so much care that you're off fucking other people, darrling. It's the fact you lied to me. You know I won't tolerate that."

Roger, better known as Brick, stepped forward and backhanded Taylor.

So, this is the game we're going to play. "What do you want?" The hacker licked the blood off her lip with a raised eyebrow.

"I want the password."

"Trying to check up on me?" Owwww. Another slap, harder, cracking her nose. Damn you...

"I called Dren. You had his hardware shipped out last week." Angel leaned in, till her breath brushed across Taylor's bloody lip. "What you did in the subway... frankly, darling, it was messy. It brought up some questions I'd rather not have answered."

"I won't give you the password. They're my files." And answering questions? Who the hell was asking? Not the cops, or the mayor. They were already happily paid off. The press? Not likely. The press was considered a nothing, a simple nuisance in Angel's book. Who then?

"I want the files. And you are going to give them to me. Brick, be a sweetheart and soften her up for me. I need to make a call." Angel fairly bounced to the door with glee. "Be careful not to kill her now."


Be careful not to kill her? What a fucking laugh. Taylor pushed one eyelid up, pain searing across her entire body. Everything that didn't hurt, which wasn't much, focused on a way to escape.

Brick was somewhere outside the door, done with 'softening her up.' Angle had come back, chastised Brick for going too far, then left to make yet another phone call.

Taylor still had no idea where Darion was, or if she was even alive.

I've got to find her... this is all my fault... get her out of this mess... dammit, I never should have met her... never have thought I could ask for help... stupid, stupid fuck!

The door creaked open and Taylor painfully looked up into pale blue eyes.


"Darrling, I see you're feeling better."

Taylor sighed. The simple movement caused her ribs to expand and a hot pain throbbed across her chest. There was blood in her mouth.

"Are you ready to give me the password? Or do I need to ask Brick to come back?"

Oh God... "I'll give you the password, but I want to see Darion first." The hacker sat as proudly as the pain would allow.

"Are you trying to bargain with me?" Angel asked, with an incredulous tilt to her head.

"No. I see Darion or you don't get the password."

"Bitch." Angle gripped Taylor's chin with long, blood red fingernails. "I don't bargain. I don't make deals. I want that password. Now." She hissed.

"I don't make deals either. No Darion. No password." Taylor looked into icy blue eyes, seeing her life flash before her, not liking how it was about to end.

Angel considered. "Fine." She came around behind Taylor and bent to untie the restraints. "You can see her."

Damn, again that was too easy. Taylor could barely stand, and Angel wasn't about to help her. She hobbled out the door, down a non-descript hallway and to a locked door, following in the blond devil's tracks.

The door opened and the first thing she saw was the puddle of blood. It trailed over to a pair of black biker boots. "Ohmigod..." Above that were jeans and a now familiar leather jacket.

"Be back in five, darrling." The door squealed shut, and the hacker was left alone.

"Darion?" Her voice echoed off the rusty metal walls. Water dripped from spots on the ceiling and the ocean could be heard, lapping at the pier. A dim bulb illuminated her path to the prone woman.

"Darion?" Taylor questioned again. A slight groan was the only response. "God, I can't believe the evening ended like this."

"Mmmah... yeah, how about a second date?" Came the quirky, if shaky response.

"Cha right. The second date watch me get somebody killed." I'm damn good at getting other people hurt, the hacker thought grimly. Taylor bent to stop Darion from rising to a sitting position. "Don't. You're badly hurt. Just stay still."

The dark haired woman had little strength to fight, so she laid still as Taylor thoroughly checked her over, and bandaged the wound at the back of her head with strips torn from her T-shirt.

It wasn't much, but it'd have to do till Angel let them go. Let us go? I'm not so sure that's an option anymore. Taylor held her head low, ashamed, for the first time in years for the pain she was causing someone else. What makes you so different from the others Darion Grange? Different from the man on the subway? Different from the countless thousands of hours I've spent destroying people's work, business' and research? Different from Julie? She shoved thoughts and memories aside with a shrudder.

"Taylor? You alright?" Darion eyed the young woman skeptically when no response came. "I- I, um, you want to tell me now what kind of trouble you're in?"

The hacker refused to look anywhere but the warehouse floor. "Not really." She said.

Darion struggled up onto her elbows, pain making her dizzy and nauseous. She choked down the bile rising in the back of her throat. "I didn't see who came up behind us. Did you?"

"No." The truth.

"Was this random?" Darion asked, knowing it wasn't, couldn't be. Someone had wanted her out of the picture. Someone wanted Taylor, for something.

"No." The truth again. Taylor now looked everywhere but the dark woman's face. "What's that?" She asked suddenly, intent on a far spot on the wall.

Painfully Darion turned to look. Where? That seam of light? "A door?"

"Maybe." Taylor jumped to her feet. "I seriously doubt Angel would be stupid enough to leave it unlocked, even if she doesn't view you as a threat." The hacker was out of the dim circle of light before Darion could even respond.

Angel? Angel, angel, angel... There was the sound of metal scraping against metal. The clink, clink of chains rattling and a muffled, angry curse. Angel... my god, the 'Dark Angel?'

"It's locked." Taylor stated the obvious, for lack of a better opening. Darion's eyes were wide, pupils dilated dangerously. Shock?

"Dark Angel?" Blue eyes looked up into a suddenly pale face. "God, Taylor, I knew you were in trouble, but... this... the 'Dark Angel?'" With a groan Darion stood, swaying with the pain, steadying herself with fear.

The hacker peered at the dark beauty standing terrified before her. What the hell do I say? Apologize for getting her involved in this fucking mess or just go and give Angel what she wants and try to get the hell out of here with all body parts attached?

A loud squeak and the door opened to reveal Angel, in all her deadly beauty. "Well, well, well... sleeping beauty awakens. Lovely, truly lovely." She leered up and down Darion's body. "Do we have a name?"

Darion remained silent momentarily, studying the dark angel, instantly disliking the rhythm of her body. It was one thing to be nervous and unable to hold still, but to be filled with so much raw energy and hate... that your body actually shakes with it... "Darion." she replied.

"Darrling," Angel addressed Taylor, "you got to see your little fuck buddy," Darion's eyebrows skyrocketed under her bangs, "so now you come with me."

The hacker shuffled dejectedly forward. Time to face the music. But a hand came to rest on her shoulder, pulling her to a stop. "Where are you taking her?" Darion asked.

"Nowhere that concerns you, darrling." Angel's eyes glinted with the first traces of anger.

"Well, it does concern me." The dark haired woman tucked Taylor behind her body. "Taylor concerns me."

From this new vantage point Taylor could fairly see the anger now emanating off the archangels body. It pulsed and throbbed with every ache in Taylor's body, from her broken, bloody nose, to her cracked ribs, cuts and bruises. Terror gathered, intensified, into a cold knot in her chest.

"Darion?" Taylor whispered.

But Darion and Angel were in a stare down of sorts, appraising one another, sizing up strengths and weakness'.

"Oh, Brick," Angel called to the door, "do be a dear and come in here."

Taylor sensed rather then felt the tension in Darion's body, her gathering of muscles, her body coiling, ready to strike. Tentatively the hacker laid a small hand on the leather clad back. "Darion?" She whispered.

The door squeaked open and in entered Brick, barrel chested, ugly, the embodiment of brute force. Taylor shivered.

"What is it?" Darion asked, feeling the shaking behind her and the gentle touch of a hand on her back.

"Don't do this. Let me give Angel what she wants. Then she'll let us walk out of here." Taylor pleaded.

Darion turned to her with troubled eyes. "Do you really believe that?"

Taylor glanced at Angel, talking animatedly with Brick. "No," she hung her head. "no, I don't believe it at all."

"Then let me find another way out of here."

"How?" Taylor asked with the first trace of hope.

Darion paused to consider. She didn't want Taylor to go with Angel, to let the young woman out of her site, but... "Can you delay whatever it is you need to give Angel?"

"Run her around in circles?" I can do that. "For how long?" Taylor lowered her voice. "What are you going to do?"

"Ladies, I really do hate to break up the love fest, but Taylor and I have business to attend to."

Taylor started anxiously towards Angel, giving a sideways glance back.

"Just a minute, sweetie." Darion tried not to stumble over the unfamiliar term. "How about a kiss good-bye?" She stepped forward, pulling Taylor into an embrace, leaning in for a kiss, whispering close to her ear. "Stall as long as you can... 20 minutes, after that, just run like hell."

Taylor nodded mutely, her body a tangle of nerves and sensations pressed tightly against Darion.

"How pathetically sweet, darrling. Kiss your baby good-bye. Now." Angel's words were sugar coated over her impatience.

Darion's head moved a fraction of an inch, her warm breath trailing across Taylor's cheek. Their lips met, soft and sensuous, startling them both with it's intensity.

Taylor stumbled out of the embrace, frightened. Her insides shook with jello-y alarm. Angel waited impatiently, cold blue eyes fastened on the mysterious dark stranger.

Not a word was exchanged as Angel, Taylor and Brick exited the room. Brick stayed behind, posted as guard duty outside Darion's 'cell.' Angel continued down the dimly lit halls, following twists and turns, one hand gripping Taylor's bruised forearm.

They entered an office, more efficiently lit. The hacker's two working computers lined a make shift table. Subtly she felt the invasion at Angel being in her home, felt the fear that she had managed to break the access code, had searched through her belongings... She sat at the chair, fingers shaking over the familiar switches.

Taylor delayed the boot up process as much as she could, trying not to make Angel suspicious, who had drawn up beside her, intently studying the computers.

"Good morning, Taylor. There was an unauthorized attempt to access my hard drive at 3:25am EST."

"Understood." Delay, delay, delay...

"Where would you like to go today, Taylor?" The computer asked.

"The files." Angel interrupted. "Show me your files."

The computer picked up an unauthorized voice pattern and the cursor began to flash a lighter color. Good, now the fun starts. Angel didn't seem to notice the change.

"Open file directory c, search all." Taylor commanded. A good five minutes... but boy, is Angel gonna be pissed.

The computer opened a new window and the list began to gather. Programs, sub programs, software add ons, patches, virus detectors, winzip, internet connections, saved pathways and passwords, www, email... every little thing...

"What is all this?" Angel asked impatiently. "I want the projects... not, not this nonsense!"

"You wanted the files on the computer, Angel, and here they are." Taylor replied, as innocently as possible.

"Well stop it." Angel ordered.

"I can't stop a search while it's in progress." Thank God Angel knew next to nothing about the intricacies of computers. She could turn on, type and turn 'em off, but that was the extent of her knowledge. She'd relied on Taylor, her prize hacker, to get done what needed to be done.

"Damn it, Taylor, don't fuck around with me." Angel stood and paced, reining in her temper, knowing that if she killed Taylor the information would be gone, for good.

"I'm not fucking around. You asked for the files and that's what I gave you." I am sooo far from fucking around. Taylor couldn't help the bitterness that creeped into her voice.

"Fine. I'll be more... precise." Angel emphasized the last word, sarcastically. "I want your project notes, times of delivery and anything subsequent pertaining to them."

Geez, not asking for much are we? "Each file is deleted after transmission, Angel. I have no way of retrieving them."

"Goddamn you hackers. You can do anything with computers, so work your little magic." Angel's hands came to rest on the hacker's shoulders.

"When the hard drive is erased the information is next to impossible to retrieve." Taylor explained patiently.

"Next to impossible? Then you can do it?" An unexpected note entered Angel's voice.

"Yes, I could. But to do it would take hours of searching, unencrypting and reformatting." Truthfully told it could be done, however not on this computer, because it was designed that way. I'm stalling Darion, the hacker mentally cried, hurry up, please, and do whatever the fuck you're going to do.

"Hours..." Angel mumbled.

Silence shrouded the office. The tension was almost tangible, as if it could be seen, reached out to and snatched up.

"I know you, Taylor, better then you think." Angel's hands gripped Taylor's shoulders tightly, menacingly. "You would have a backup." Her voice lowered. "That's what Julie was, wasn't she? A backup, incase I didn't work out."

"Julie was not a backup. I've never had back up plans. I've always crashed through life head first." Taylor squirmed under her grasp.

"Think whatever you like darrling, but I know you can get me those files, and whatever else you've been working on. If I have to Darion will pay the price for your lies." Angel's voice caressed Taylor's ear.

Darion? God no... "Fine." Taylor said stiffly. "But it will take time."

"You don't have much, darrling. So, get to work." Triumphantly Angel returned to her chair, leaned back, and settled in.

All of ten minutes had passed. Stall, stall, stall... "You didn't bring the modem? Or any of the external hardware?" Taylor hoped, and prayed.

"The extra shit lying around were stuffed in boxes and brought here." Angle replied.

"Where is it? I need at least the modem." So much depended on Angel leaving the room, if only for a second.

"Fine, what does it look like? I'll have Alan sort through the shit and bring it here." Gracefully unfolding her legs and standing Angel crossed to the desk and the phone.

Taylor began to panic. "Are you sure you want Alan getting it? That moron would probably drop it, break it." The hacker paused anxiously and Angel turned a thoughtful eye on her. "It'd take forever to get a replacement, especially since it's so late." Hook, line and....

"What does it look like? I'll get the damn thing myself."


Chapter Eight

The warehouse floor had been swept clean, not a bit of rope, wire or anything useful could be found. Darion stood at the door Taylor had spotted less then a minute ago, with no idea what to do. Pain rolled around her head, from one eye to her ear, to the other eye and around the back, to the front, to start all over again.

Absently she scratched an itch under her right breast, her fingertips hitting the edge of the underwire bra. Duh!

So little time and so much to do, Darion thought with a wry smile. Time was beginning to run out as she worked to unchain the door. It took forever, in the space of five minutes, to open the old rusty door without so much as a squeak.

With a satisfied smirk, she looked out into the night. The moon shone done on the pier, the lapping water, and slowly a plan began to form.

She leaned in heavy to the guarded door, the pain of fear aching under the bandages, listening. Only a silence on the other side, from someone resting. A single knuckle tap to the door, softly, then stepping back quickly to hide behind when it opened.

The door swung open, protesting on it's hinges, then silence. Darion could almost hear the frantic swiveling of Brick's head as he searched the room, then his eyes resting on the open door in back. A sharp intake of breath. A hasty step forward, cursing.

Panic almost froze her to the spot, but her police academy training stepped up and took over. She slammed the door forward, adding the weight of her entire body to it. Another curse, as Brick finally realized what was happening, then thud and silence.

My gun would be real handy right now. She peered cautiously around the door. The locomotive that never ran out of steam was slowly climbing to his feet.

"Goddamn, son of a bitch." Darion cursed, moved forward and kicked him squarely in the head. He groaned and sank, once again, to the ground.

The dark haired woman stepped carefully around the unmoving body and headed down the hall. Hopefully in the right direction. It was time to find Taylor and get out of here.


"Merry Christmas!" Taylor said happily.

"Merry Christmas?" The computer questioned.

"Oh yes. A very merry Christmas." Her heart beat rapidly against her rib cage. It was now or never.

"When is Christmas, Taylor?" The computer asked. Could a computer be sad?

The door clicked behind them. Angel was returning. "Christmas is in ten minutes." Taylor said softly.

"Alright. I found the stupid thing. This is it, isn't it?" Angel held forth a thin device, with numerous small lights across the front, and the phone cord still trailing behind it.

"Yeah, that's it. Where's the phone jack?" Taylor asked. She was afraid the beating of her heart could be heard.

"Under the desk." Angel replied, oblivious to Taylor's pulse roaring in her ears.

Taylor wasted no time in setting up the modem and loging in. Angel was going to get a glimpse of every paranoid thing she could imagine.

"What now?" Angel asked, impatient, as always.

"I stored all the information you want onto a remote server. It will only take a few minutes to piggy back across Asia, parts of Africa and Europe... and into the files." Taylor was suddenly very calm, and she couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

While the computer was busy piggy backing them across the world the hacker opened a small side window.

"What's that?" Angel immediately asked.

"The files are encrypted. They need to be dechipered." Taylor began to explain. "This window allows-"

"Nevermind, just do it." Angel commanded.

Oh, yes sir. Yes, sir! A small grin escaped the hacker's usually stoic face. Too easy. Damn, it's too easy. What if something's happened to Darion? That immediately wiped the smile from her face.

She opened yet another window, praying that Angel wouldn't recognize her own logon interface, even if the computer had already changed all interfaces to resemble it's own as soon as it had recognized another voice in the room.

Once she typed the password and had entered Angel's network of computers, she minimized the window and waited till the remote server had connected and the unencrypt process began. That would take another two minutes.

As files spewed across the screen, changing from binary numbers to English, Angel clapped her hands in maniacal joy. "Now the fun starts. Get up."

Taylor moved, almost reluctantly. Make it look good, a little voice said.

Angel murmured aloud the file names, searching for something. They both knew what that something was. Taylor took a quiet step back, then another...

"Two minutes till Christmas." The computer informed. Damn, in her haste Taylor had forgotten to silence the computer.

"What the hell?" Angel asked, startled.

"It's a... virus... the computer picked up." Taylor explained hesitantly. Angel didn't know much about virus', did she? Would she question it anyway?

"You should get the stupid thing fixed then," was Angel's response, as she dipped her hands back to the keyboard and her search of the files.

Come on Darion, this plan only works if I'm out of the way of Angel's rage!

As if on que... "One minute till Christmas." A new window opened, overtaking the other windows. A big red package appeared. A dancing Santa ran across the screen, dropping off the letters, m-e-r-r-y c-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s!

A count down on the big red box began. 59-58-57...

Taylor's heart lodged in her throat as Angel reared up out of the computer chair and faced her furiously. "You would DARE defy me?" Angel roared. Her eyes flashed anger, and her body emanated rage.

"No!" The hacker backed up a step as Angel moved forward. "No, it's a virus, like I told you."

"Then fix it." The blond hissed.


"I can't." Taylor lied.


Darion! Where are you? Taylor retreated further as Angel advanced.

"I know what you're hiding, darling. When I find her, you'll regret ever lying to me." Angel said it softly, a whispered promise of what was to come.

Taylor was almost to the door.

"Thirty seconds till Christmas." The computer informed, intensifying the tension and the fear that pulsed around the two women.

A ringing started and Taylor fairly jumped out of her skin. What the... telephone. It's just the phone, calm down. Calm down.

Angel backed over to the desk, her eyes not once leaving Taylor. "What is it?" Her blue eyes widened, her mouth scowling. "Well, dammit, find her! She's injured, she can't go far." Angel slammed the phone down. "Seems your little friend left without you, darrling." A smile graced her face, beautiful and ugly.


"Doesn't matter to me." That calm enveloped Taylor again. Words would not hurt Angel, but they could lift the hacker's soul to freedom. "Julie is far away from us, Angel. You won't find her. I won't let you. And, after this... you won't find me."


"Pretty sure of ourselves, aren't we? Don't forget, you were nothing before you met me and you'll be nothing without me." Angel sneered.


"I was nothing with you, Angel. I am someone. I'll find out who... later." Taylor took one more step back. Her hand just touched the door knob. Angel came around the desk.


"Merry Christmas!" The computer cried. Angel turned to stare as the Santa once again crossed the screen. He jumped up on the box, it popped open... and little demons began to swirl out. Hundreds of them, invading programs, eating windows, snaking through the modem... eating everything in sight.

"No!" Angel raced to the computer.

Another ringing started. The fire alarm. Chaos erupted. Angel pounded on the computer keys. Taylor flung open the door and raced down the hall.

She ran into Darion running in the opposite direction. They almost collided. "Let's go!" Taylor cried over the alarm. "How do we get out of here?"

"This way." Darion grabbed the thin arm and pulled them down the hall, to the rusty room.

They skidded to a halt outside the door. Brick was there, waiting, and he was... a little pissed off.

Oh great, Darion thought as she pushed Taylor off to the side and took up a defensive posture. Brick swiped a large, meaty hand in her direction. She ducked under it and came up behind him, and set a kick flying at his kidney's. He let out a painful groan, but turned to face the dark haired woman in fury.

Darion retreated further into the room, intent on keeping the large man away from Taylor. He bounded forward, struck out again, and missed, cursing furiously.

"You can only hit women who are tied up? Is that it, little man?" She grinned at him, taunting him.

"Fucking bitch." He mumbled, clumsily reaching out for her again.

Taylor watched, riveted to the spot. Part of her mind reminded her there was very little time left. Angel would come storming down the hall with reinforcements any second. And any second the demons would be finished and the computer would self destruct, taking whatever it could with it. Finding fuse boxes, generators... anything the demons could interface with.

The hacker had one motto. Do a job and do it well. Nothing half assed... Taylor took the lock off the door, entered the rusty room, and shut the door behind them. Brick was completely distracted by the dark haired beauty, but he was too tall for her to come up behind. She had one chance and only one.

With a short prayer that her aim would be true she hefted the lock, testing it's weight, aimed, and threw with all her strength. It bounced harmlessly off his stupid, thick head.

She let out an audible gulp as he whirled to face her, a furious scowl on his ugly face. It changed just as suddenly to an almost comical blank look. As he turned back to see what hit him he fell in a slow ballet dance to the floor, out cold.

Taylor looked over to blue eyes and a startled grin.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall." Darion shrugged.

There were suddenly footsteps in the hall behind Taylor, that urged her into action. "We have to get out of here. Now."

Darion waved a hand toward the back door, waited for Taylor to reach her side, then they both ran for freedom.

"I think I should tell you," Taylor began breathlessly, "that I set the computer to self destruct-"

"What?" Darion stopped, five feet from the pier's edge. She could hear someone cursing inside, footsteps getting closer... "Do you trust me?"

Taylor didn't hesitate. "Yes." Her eyes turned to the moonlit water. Without conscious thought she reached for Darion's hand. "Let's go."

The first of the explosions shook the walls behind them as they ran to the edge. The second explosion shattered windows and shook the foundation as they jumped. And the third explosion sent a fireball racing out the still trembling remains, throwing their jump an extra few feet, slamming them in the water, and tearing apart their hands.

As Taylor sunk below the surface screams rang in her ears. Angel's screams? Bricks? Darion's? Or her own?

Fire raced across the surface, extinguished itself to a black cloud and blocked the light from the moon. Taylor kicked up to the surface, amazed to find herself far off to the right, only a few feet from one of the wooden pillars. She grabbed hold with shaky arms, barnacles tearing at her skin as the waves rocked her back and forth.

Her ears rang with the explosion, and her body ached. Black smoke obliterated everything more then a few feet in front of her. Where's Darion? Did she make it? A sob tore through her throat and escaped.

"Hey," a gentle hand touched her shoulder, scaring the shit out of her, "we made it." Darion's voice was hoarse.

In a heartbeat Taylor let go of the pier support and tackled Darion, bringing them both under the water, then sputtering back to the surface.

"Umph." Darion spit out some water. "Glad to see you too. "

"Can we get out of here now?" Taylor asked with trembling lips.

"Yeah." Darion replied gently.

Chapter Nine

"I need a computer." The hacker's body shook and she coughed, tasting blood. Her mind was not on dry clothes, getting warm, or sleeping. She was focused completely on making sure their tracks were covered.

Darion had other thoughts. Those focused on warmth, sleep and food. Angel was surely dead from the explosion. There was nothing left to do, except get dry then call the cops.

But Taylor knew something Darion didn't. As hard as it was to believe there was a higher power above Angel. "I NEED a computer." Taylor repeated.

"I have a laptop at the apartment." Darion supplied, reluctantly.

"Your apartment isn't safe." The hacker said immediately.

"Goddamn." The dark haired woman cursed and then mumbled, "All I wanted was a nice quiet evening, some food, maybe... grrr, forget it."

"Well, I'm sorry! I thoroughly regret I ever thought I could ask someone to help me." Taylor's face was pale and her lips trembled violently. When the hurt entered Darion's eyes she was too weak to respond and simply turned to walk away, as she had so many times before.

"I don't regret it." Darion said, so softly that under the dim light of the alley it was sucked up and taken into the shadows before it even reached Taylor.


Taylor's sneakers squish-squashed down the sidewalk in rhythm with her thoughts. Stupid, stupid, stupid, can't keep your mouth shut, stupid, stupid fuck... She was cold, tired, hungry and in pain. The ache that had been in her ribs had intensified in the flight from the pier, and the slam into the water. Blood was a constant tinny taste in her mouth. The rib was broken. Atleast one, maybe two.

The pain threatened to envelop her, pull her down into the darkness, but she wasn't scared. There was one thing left to do before she could surrender to sweet oblivious death. That something was within sight, at the end of the block. A pay phone. So far, yet so close.

She clutched a bloody arm to her side, breathing shallow. A few more steps, just a few. Come on, this is important. For once in your God forsaken pathetic fucking life don't give up!

There. Her hand touched the smooth, black plastic, unhooking the phone as her knees collapsed and brought her to the cold sidewalk. She brought it's cold smoothness to her ear, reaching painfully towards the buttons. It took too long to realize there was no dial tone.

Her luck had finally run out. Blood seeped past her trembling, purple lips. Her breathing slowed, and she held onto the receiver like it was a life line. It's broken, severed cord dangled down before her eyes, taunting her.

Stars danced around her field of vision. The cord swayed, waving good-bye. "No." Taylor's voice was burbly, failing.

"Shhh, I'm here." A gentle voice, and soft hands checking her pulse. "I'll get you to a hospital, and you'll be just fine." Darion's blue eyes looked down, swallowing Taylor whole.

"Phone." She begged.

"Shhh, sweetheart, save your strength." Darion carefully gathered the young woman up in her arms.

"Phone," Taylor beseeched in a strangled voice, "Julie... warn... 1-212-555-6578... Julie, please..."

"I will." Darion said.

"Promise?" Taylor implored, capturing Darion's eyes with her own cloudy green.

"I promise." Stay with me, Taylor! Don't leave me now. Not when I just found you. But the green eyes closed anyway.


copyright 1998 Valerie Ross


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