Deep unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state. George Elliot
He had been her grandfather, not of blood, but of spirit. She had first been taken away from her family, her father had chosen her twin brother instead. And she had been given to the Chens, a family who already owned her older brother. It was complicated, and twisted, but it was her story. And now—she stood at his gravesite, watching the first rose thrown inside. She had been sent to him, the Chens wanted her to be Americanized. And he had raised her, gave her a home during their summers. He had become her family, a grandfather.
But now he was gone. And she had been called back, from her Guardianship duties. To say goodbye. One last time.
That was her life. Found and molded into a perfect warrior, a weapon. Responsibilities. Obligations. Duties. Of hundreds of thousands on her shoulder's, now more because of the Eldership. It was an alliance that had unified their war-torn nation. China. Where she had been taken too. She had unified that alliance. She brought peace there. A prophecy her sensei had spoken of, that now she had finally fulfilled.
And at the end…she was saying goodbye to her grandfather.
Standing at Marlon's gravesite, Shane waited alongside Ryan, Jasmine, Tone, Benny, and Uncle Chris. As Jasmine turned to leave—a flashy princess 'cousin' who drank too much alcohol and was spoiled to the core, but also jealous of Shane, who seemed to be adored by everyone—Shane remained, head bent. Her eyes closed, the soft fabric of her dress clinging to her slim form, the wind whipping around her hair, she remained sheltered with Ryan to one side, Tone behind her, and Uncle Chris, Jesse, and Nathan to her left. The priest had already murmured his last prayers, the rest had left, their goodbyes already spoken.
Uncle Chris patted her gently on the arm, the last to leave, then turned to pad silently, reluctantly, to his black limousine. Now it was just Shane and Ryan.
Hearing it pull away, Jasmine and the rest inside, Shane opened her eyes once more. With one car remaining, Shane knelt. Touching her knee to the ground, the unearthed dirt, she touched her fingers and felt the moistness from the drizzle. It was gloomy. Dark.
She watched the closed casket, now deep in the earth. As if waiting.
Feeling Ryan's hand come to rest on her shoulder, she felt his squeeze and nodded as he turned to walk away.
Alone, Shane remained.
An hour passed and she hadn't moved.
Coming to stand behind her, Ryan asked, "Do you want me to stay, Shane?"
Shane shook her head, "No." She whispered, "I'll find my own way."
"It's raining, Shane, you shouldn't stay out too long—not in your dress. You might get sick."
"I'll be fine."
"You don't have any weapons, I can't guarantee it'll be safe when it gets dark."
"I'll be fine." Shane replied, numb.
"Shane," Ryan sighed, patient, "I can't lose you too."
Glancing up, Shane replied, softly, "I'll be fine. Promise."
"Okay. I'll call for a car, you can keep the limo. Stay as long as you like, I'll have some food delivered for you and the driver. Some blankets too. Maybe a coat for you." Ryan murmured, turning to walk back.
"Okay." Shane nodded, absent-mindedly, her eyes upon the casket.
Approaching, ten minutes later, Ryan announced, "My car's here. Are you sure you'll be okay? I can stay with you, if you want?"
"I'll be fine."
"Okay…well, I'm going to go. There's blankets and food in the limo waiting for you. Shane. I forgot about your coat."
Looking back up, Shane grinned, faintly, "Don't wait for me."
"I'm just going to go home—to the house, I mean."
"Ryan…go be with someone tonight. Don't be alone."
"And you? What about you, Shane? I could spend it with you—we could drink by the fire tonight. We don't have to talk, don't have to do anything." Ryan offered.
"I don't know how long I'll be. You should go and see your girlfriend, wasn't there a ring in your pocket the other day?"
"I should be surprised, but I'm not. You seem to know—well—everything. And yes, there was a ring in my pocket, but—with—well, with everything that happened, that can be put off for later."
"Go be with her. You love her, you shouldn't spend this time without her."
Standing, Shane said calmly, gravely, "You want her to be a part of this family, enough for you to buy a ring—you should be worrying about her right now, not me. Or at least letting her worry about you. I mean it, spend tonight with her."
"I'd rather be with you, I don't know the next time I'll see you." Ryan said simply.
"I'll be fine, Ryan." Shane said clearly, "It's not the first time I've lost someone I love. This is part of my life, remember, Ryan? Death. Dying. I'll be fine."
"Okay…there's—there's food and blankets. A sub, I know that you like subs. And a blanket, for when—you know, you get cold, if you get cold. A blanket. Just in the limo."
Exhaling sharply, Shane whispered, "I'll be fine, I'd just like…I'd like some time alone, okay? I will be fine."
"Alright." Ryan nodded, stepping back. "I'll be at the house, for when you—if you come home tonight…and I'll have Cora there with me. You can meet her, finally. Okay—I'm going." Backing up, "Uh—I can bring the blanket to you, out here. If you'd like? And the sub—I can bring it out here, you don't have to walk the whole way to the car for it."
"Go." Shane said forcibly.
"Okay…I'm going. I'll see you…I'll see you tonight then."
Hearing his footsteps, the drizzle turning to rain, Shane knelt back down as she heard a door open and close. As his car pulled away, she closed her eyes, her head bending forward.
Thoughts of him swirling in her mind, Shane smiled, her eyes closed. "You—I could hate you, you know. You chose this time to go, this time—when I'm done and now you decide to die. You bastard." She grinned, a soft laughter, "I'll never be done, I guess—you could have waited, all I'm saying. At least until I could've joined you, but no—it had to be now. You old geezer."
Sniffing, catching on her words, Shane leaned forward. A tear trailing past her eyelid. Her hands in small fists, pressed against her thighs.
Hearing the driver announce their arrival, Shane opened her eyes, her head lazily rolling against the leather-cushioned seat behind her. Reaching over, she opened her door and stepped gracefully out, encompassing the mansion before her, each window lighted. The snow blanketed around, holding it in place, snug. The Christmas lights wrapped around the tallest pines, the bushes trailing around the mansion and yard. Even the drive-way's gate flickered in white Christmas lights.
Taking a breath, Shane smiled softly to the driver as he took hold of the door. Stepping onto the sidewalk, she approached the door, seeing the rich Oak-door swing open, Ryan's concerned face frowning back at her.
Stepping through, she murmured, underneath her breath, "She better be here and you had better not have been worrying about me the past few hours."
Taking her blanket, wrapped around her shoulders, Ryan murmured in response, "She is here and I have been worried—not going to apologize for that. It's been three hours, you're family—like I have a choice about worrying." Stepping back, he reached behind him, "And you're chilled to the bone. Here's another blanket, and the fire's going. Martinis have already been served."
Grinning, she said faintly, "That was his drink, his drink and mine. We'd sit on the patio, drink those, and gossip."
"I know." Ryan whispered, resting his chin on her shoulder, "I know." Squeezing her shoulders, he passed by, leading the way.
Following behind, Shane smiled in greeting, seeing a slim brunette stand, brushing her glimmering black hair behind her ears. "You must be Cora."
"Hi. And you're Shane." Cora responded, nodding, her hands folded before her. Standing close, she nodded again, "Ryan's told me a lot, guess it's not the best of meetings—with, you know—the circumstances. But it's really great to meet you…finally meet you, that is."
"You too." Shane smiled again, extending her hand for a drink that Ryan extended, "Thanks."
"Peppermint, for the holiday, you know. And because he loved them." Ryan responded, wrapping an arm around Cora's waist, drawing her closer to him. Taking a sip, he then remarked, "I forgot, sorry, Shane—but you had a phone call. I guess you left your phone here because I heard it ringing from your room when I was up there earlier. Didn't see who it was… sorry."
"Oh thanks. I'll go see in a moment." Shane commented, taking a sip. Sitting down, she curled in a ball, her eyes gazing to the fire, fingers wrapped around the glass in front of her.
Clearing her throat, Cora sat down beside Ryan. "Uh—Ryan tells me that you grew up in China. You spent some summers here with Marlon. That's how you came to be family."
"Uh huh." Shane murmured, distracted, taking a sip.
"I think that's great. I grew up in Colorado, came to New York when I was a teenager, my mom owned a modeling agency. After the divorce, I lived here full-time. My dad—"
"Cora." Shane spoke up, lifting her eyes, "We have time for that later. I'm sorry but I just said goodbye to a man I considered a father-figure in my life. I'm not normally a small-talk person, but I'm even less right now, this evening. I'm sorry."
"Oh!" Sputtering, smiling, Cora patted her chest, "I'm really sorry—I'm nervous. But—I'll shut up."
Kissing the top of Cora's head, Ryan asked, his eyes studying Shane, "What about Keetan? Where is he?"
Shane replied, evenly, eyes gazing into the fireplace, "He doesn't know. I didn't tell him."
Frowning, Ryan asked, "Why? You'd think—I expected him to be here. Why isn't he, Shane?"
"I'm gone, he has to take care of business at home."
"—it's none of your business, Ryan, alright?" Shane snapped, her fingers tightening around the glass.
"Okay. Sorry. Just remembering your advice to me, Shane—remember?" Ryan said softly, taking a sip, his arm tightening around Cora's shoulders.
Lifting her chin a fraction, Shane called out, "Benny. Tone. Sit."
Lifting a finger, Ryan gestured to them, "Grab a drink, guys."
Nodding, both walked silently into the room and poured themselves a drink. Settling their large, muscular bodies on the ground, Tone against Shane's chair and Benny against Ryan's couch, each tipped their drink and sipped. "To Marlon." Tone said quietly, raising his glass.
Each raised their glass.
Wiping a lone tear from her cheek, Shane whispered as the rest proclaimed, "To Marlon."
"He's a pisser, isn't he?" Benny griped a moment later.
Coughing, Ryan asked, smiling, "Why do you say that?"
Giggling, Cora took another sip.
"Because he died." Benny replied, "Didn't think he'd ever die and then he just did. He's a pisser."
"I took him coffee that morning." Tone said quietly, grinning faintly as Shane's hand squeezed his shoulder, "You always told me how he liked it, told me to take him the coffee—even when he didn't ask. I took it to him. It was gone when he died. He must've drank it and then died." He added, wryly, "The pisser."
"Two cream, two sugar." Shane said quietly.
"He'd never admit it." Tone remarked.
"No. But he never complained about his coffee those mornings. And when you got it the way he asked—black—you'd think the damn house was falling down around him the way he bitched. Found any little thing to gripe about." Benny grumbled.
Cora hiccupped, taking a long drink.
"And when Uncle Chris wanted to expand the business too. I think he chose now to go just so that he didn't have to deal with all the hullabaloo because of that—ask me, that's what I think. He just didn't want to deal with saying no to Uncle Chris. Took the easy way out." Benny complained, taking a long gulp. "Geezer bastard."
Grinning, Shane asked, "Can I have another?"
Jumping to his feet, Tone filled her glass, then returned. Settling back down, he remarked, "I agree, Benny, he just wanted to take the easy way out. Acted like he was dying every day the past four years—he was just looking for the right time to go. Uncle Chris should never have brought Jasmine back into the family, she just added to the drama—probably the real reason why he's gone. Marlon didn't want to have to deal with Jasmine coming back, which she would've anyway once Uncle Chris would've been told no on the family expansion. Uncle Chris would've done it just to get even with Marlon. Marlon knew that, he decided the only way to get away was to just go. That's what I think."
Staring into the fire, Shane noted, "I don't think I've ever heard you talk that much, Tone."
Grinning, "Never needed too. Marlon did all the talking."
"He's a pisser. That's all there is to it—just a great big pisser." Benny mumbled, filling his glass.
"I liked him." Cora spoke up, quietly. "He told me stories about Ryan. He always said that he had to warn me about him, but I think he was just doing it because he wanted to tease Ryan. He loved you, Ry, I could tell that. Even the first time I met him, he was really nice to me."
"Because you have big boobs." Benny remarked, "And because he thought you'd keep Ryan out of his hair. That's why he was nice."
Laughing, Shane finished her second drink.
"Shut up, Benny." Ryan laughed, finishing his drink, standing for a second. "And he was just teasing Cora, that's all."
"Because he wanted you to marry Shane." Benny proclaimed, frowning, he added, "Probably shouldn't have said that outloud."
Raising her hand, Shane requested, "Another glass."
Rising from the couch, Ryan filled hers, Cora's, and his own. Settling back down, he huffed, "Grandfather always knew that would never happen, he'd moved on. He liked Cora, he liked you, sweetheart--"
"—and I agree that he's a pisser. Big pisser." Ryan continued.
Filling his second, Tone murmured, "He sure liked his candy. God—that man could eat his way through three candy-dishes a day."
"I know." Benny announced, "I had to make a special trip one time just to go for candy. Because he'd run out."
"I don't think that's why—I think it's because he had a crush on the secretary at Dr. Jurgens." Ryan debated, "I took him one time to see him—he didn't talk to me once when we were there. He talked to her the entire time. That was the last time I went with him to the dentist."
"That makes a lot more sense." Benny admitted, finishing off his third. "We need another batch made up."
"I'm in the mood to get drunk." Tone announced. "Drunk and have a good all-out fight."
"Me too." Shane murmured, finishing her third.
Frowning, Ryan mumbled, "I could go for a rumble—"
"No, honey, I don't want you to fight." Cora mumbled, tucking her head against Ryan's shoulder, her eyes closing.
Watching her, Tone said quietly, "Wait until she's asleep."
"Two minutes, tops." Benny added.
Grinning, Shane said, "I liked his stories." Her eyes growing somber, she said quietly, "He'd tell me stories about me and Ryan, when we were younger. And about him and Uncle Chris. He used to pick on Uncle Chris. Oh—," laughing, "and about Jasmine. He would giggle when he talked about her."
Laughing, Ryan added, "Yeah, he would. He loved telling stories about Jasmine, something about her that reminded him of his sister—Kathryn." Sobering, he continued, "But she died."
"She's a pisser too." Benny spoke up quickly.
Frowning, Shane clarified, "She died when he was thirteen."
"Still a pisser, if you ask me. Family of pissers."
"Pissers." Tone repeated. "I need a fight." Eyeing Cora's sleeping figure, he remarked, "She's sleeping now. Put your woman to bed and let's go, Ryan."
"I'm tired of the word 'pisser.' We need a new word." Benny proclaimed, standing up. Eyeing Shane, he asked, "You gonna fight with us? How much have you drank? You'll need to be careful, make sure you don't accidentally kill someone."
Yawning, Shane mumbled, "I won't kill anyone—unless I want to kill someone, then I'll kill someone. I can control myself."
"You've had three Martinis." Tone spoke up, still sitting down. "You're drunk."
"I want another drink. And I won't fight, if that makes you happy. I'll stand and referee." Lifting a hand, she ordered, "Lift me up."
Pushing himself to his feet, Tone grabbed her hand and hoisted her in the air, throwing her over his shoulders. Ignoring Shane's yelp, he asked, "Ryan, you coming?"
Considering Cora's sleeping form, then grinning as he took in Shane's dangling feet over Tone's chest, Ryan remarked, "I think that if there was ever a night for the four of us to go out, it'd be tonight. Grandfather would want us to get in the best damn fight we could find."
"Well, let's go then. Don't usually talk this much when we're looking for a fight." Benny ordered, standing at the door, coats in hand. "It's the damn Martinis…that's what it is. Let's go."
Passing through, Tone grabbed his coat and Shane's.
Ryan lifted Cora up and traipsed up the stairway. Returning a moment later, he took his coat and shut the door, Benny walking through first. Closing the door, he followed behind, climbing into the open door of the limo.
Rapping on the divider window, Ryan instructed, "McDuff's."
Sitting up from reclining on her own bench, Shane argued, "Not McDuff's, that's too close to China-town, too close to where the Chens are. Don't want to deal with any of that stuff tonight."
Frowning, Ryan corrected, "Take us to The Dancing Pony."
Looking around herself, Kimberly nursed her drink. Her eyes noting the laughing sorority sisters, their hopeful friends, the hopeful fraternity brothers. They all were playing a game. One she'd checked out of long ago. She no longer cared. Catching sight of a giggle behind hands, one whisper to another sister, Kimberly rolled her eyes.
They were morons. And just stupid.
Hearing a high-pitched shriek, the sound of a sister playing dumb, pretending to huddle in the couch. Knowing that she merely wanted to be 'tackled', an excuse for both to get physical. To move the game a further step. And hearing the inevitable mock-growl from whatever fraternity brother was launching himself after her, Kimberly tossed back her drink. Reaching into her purse, she dug for another $20. Feeling a bartender instantly at her elbow, she handed it back, drawling, "I want another one."
"Is that a number on this? Kimberly…I'm shocked!"
Glancing up, seeing Davis, she retorted, "Don't worry about it—it's the rejection number…and it was for the bartender. Not you."
Sitting on the stool opposite, Davis grinned, "Not anymore, huh?"
"I might be a bitch, but I can be a damn good best friend."
"That's what I hear." Davis murmured, lifting his hand, two fingers in the air. "And Claire is a damn good best friend back at you—I remember from both sides now."
Grinning, Kimberly asked, "Isn't it weird? That you've dated us both—that has to be weird."
"Dating! As in the current sense—I'm still dating Claire, remember? Just want to make that distinction here." Davis said quickly, tossing Kimberly her money as he extended his own to the waitress.
"Thanks. For this." Kimberly raised her glass.
Taking a sip, perusing her over his rim, Davis asked, cautiously, "Dare I ask what brings you to this party? And why you're drinking—alone? Or is that too much over the boundary line of ex's? Or ex's dating your best friend?" Waiting a moment, "Unsure of what I just said."
Laughing shortly, Kimberly shook her head, "I have no idea. Don't worry and…," taking another gulp, "I'm here for two reasons. One—this sorority wants to merge with our chapter. They want to expand through California. And two…I wanted to have a drink where I knew I wouldn't run into anyone I knew."
"Ah…anyone that—he—knew also…am I right?"
"Somewhat. And…yes." Kimberly answered briefly, the amusement vanishing abruptly.
Gesturing between them, drink in hand, Davis leaned forward, "I'm not really sure how to act right now. I mean—in the old days, I would've said some smart-ass comment. Probably something like how we should go get some ass or go watch some ass or—just drink till we're wasted and do something really stupid to our principal. However," puffing his chest up, Davis grinned, "I am much wiser and more—well—a little bit smarter. Enough to know that I don't—well—I don't like seeing what I'm seeing. In you. I'm worried, Kimberly."
"Claire sic you on me?"
Abruptly laughing, Davis shook his head, "Uh—that's a hell no. Claire is still content with us never speaking, much less having this conversation."
Frowning, Kimberly asked, "So what are you doing here? Question goes around, didn't you know?"
"I am here…," pausing, Davis relented, reluctantly, "because…my little sister goes here. She called, some guy was bothering her and I was in the neighborhood."
"You have a sister?"
"See…I'm much more wiser now." Davis stated, ruefully, "And she's my father's daughter from his second marriage. We're not close, but she likes to pretend to have a big brother at times. I think one of her friends has a crush on me—she's calling a lot more than she used too."
Clearing her throat, Kimberly asked, "The real question of the hour is…does Claire know about this sister and does your sister know about your new girlfriend?"
"Uh…I did a lot of work in New York. Worked a lot on my own faults, but…not communicating is still one of them. I'm not that forth-right with information like this."
Finishing her drink, Kimberly commented, "That works for me. The less information I get, the better."
"Don't." She said quickly, scooting off her stool, "I haven't talked to anyone—and I'm sure as hell not starting tonight."
"Claire told me about him. About what he meant to you."
"I said to not! Davis, really!"
Grabbing her hand as she tried to leave, Davis said quietly, clearly in the deafening noise, shrieks, "You have friends. Some great friends."
Stopping abruptly, her movements ceasing, Kimberly stared at him, intently. Feeling a hardness encase her being, she then said strongly, harshly, "He was great too. And he left. Everyone leaves." Yanking her hand free, she pushed through the crowd, uncaring of the cries of protest as she shoved from her path.
Turning into an alley, Keetan turned his engine off. Straddling the bike for a moment, he gazed at the city's lights, the whizzing of traffic, the skyscrapers encircling him. Reaching beyond his eyesight. Frowning for a moment, he swung his leg free. Displaying the Lao symbol, he threw some bills to two homeless men near him. "There's double that if you watch my bike."
Squinting, seeing the symbol, one man asked, "You from the Lao family?"
Thoughtful, he nodded and harrumphed, "The bike will still be here. Mark my words."
"If it's not, I've killed for less." Keetan remarked, turning to walk down the alley. Coming to the street, he darted across the street, toward the nightclub's entrance door, lines of people aligning the street and around the next corner. Bypassing the line, Keetan nodded once to the bouncer, ducking inside. Opening the back door, he jogged up the stairs, quickly coming to the third, fourth, then sixth floor. Entering the hall, he turned to his immediate left and hit the panel, a hidden elevator opened. Hitting the 33nd floor, Keetan leaned a shoulder against the wall as he waited. Hearing the ping, arriving, he turned down the hall and approached the opened doorway at the end. Standing in the doorway, Keetan saw the representative of the Alliance gazing out over her window, the glass paneling encasing the entire wall, surrounding the entire office, all three sides.
"Hong Kong isn't as neutral as you think it is." Keetan spoke up.
Whirling around, her face white, Amy exclaimed, "Damn Guardians."
Grinning faintly, thoughts of Shane flashing through his mind, Keetan then stated, "I'm right, you know. The Alliance set their headquarters here because they thought Hong Kong was safe from any of the Families rule. They're wrong."
"The Families ruled China. Hong Kong is not China."
"Hong Kong is the meeting place between China and the rest of the world. Especially Japan. The Hoto family."
Sighing, Amy argued, "The Hoto family has been disbarred from Hong Kong. The Alliance made sure of that. That, I do know."
"I'm just saying you might want to be more careful, you might not be as safe here as you think you are."
"What do you want, Keetan Lao? You here for Shane, have some command from her?" Amy asked sharply, turning away from the window. Crossing to her desk, she spoke, "Have you found my son? Has she found my son? If not, I really don't want to be talking to either of you two."
Frowning, Keetan replied, "There's been rumors of attacks on some Shang families in the Northland. I'm wondering if you would have any idea about those, if you might have a guess for the reason of the attacks?"
Chuckling, Amy snapped, "Because you think the Alliance is still rebelling against the Families rule?" Sighing, she said impatiently, "The eldership was formed, the Alliance is a part of the Eldership, so no, I have no idea why there might be some attacks on the Shang family. If you want to sniff around someone who might have an idea, why don't you try the Lee family? Or the Hmong family. They weren't included in the Eldership, they'd be more inclined to attack one of the Powered Families of the Eldership."
"Look, I know that there's been dissention in the Alliance. Your leadership isn't fully supported as you claim it to be, the Alliance wanted all Families to be disbanded and that hasn't happened. It's not a leap to imagine that it might be Alliance in the Northland, where it's always been strongly represented, to rebel against the Eldership and attack the Shang family."
"I don't care! How about that, Lao Guardian?! If those attacks are by my people, I actually might agree with them. The Chen family and the Lao family are more honorable than the Shang family. You and Shane, I will stand by and support. The Shang Family, I do not." Amy cried out.
"The Shang Guardian is a Shaolin. Sheomy's lineage is the embodiment of honor."
"Sheomy is their acting Guardian. He's not the real Guardian. He's not a Shang, Keetan. He's a Shaolin and just happened to be screwing one of their precious daughters when it came pretty clear that you and Shane were going to win the war, they chose him because he's their only reason they are still in power." Amy spat, "He showed up and the Shang Family was smart enough to jump on him, he's their best ticket. But he's not their real Guardian, he's just a symbol for them to hide behind. Sheomy is an excuse so that you and Shane don't have to take the time and energy to deal with their family."
"He's a band-aid. The Eldership is a band-aid on the real problem of this world we live in."
Hardening, Keetan spoke through gritted teeth, "Fix any dissention in the Alliance or I will." Leaning across the desk, he added, "I feel bad for your situation, I do, but I'm not going to let you show me disrespect because your son got taken away from you. And I'm not going to let your anger serve as a reason for you letting your people attack a family that is part of the Eldership. Fix the problem, or I will." Straightening, he continued, "I don't think you want me to fix it the way Guardians have been taught to fix problems." Turning to the door, he threw over his shoulder, "In other times, Shane might have had to break her way into this building, but I didn't have too. I was let in. You're not as safe in Hong Kong as you think you are. Why don't you start with that problem first."
Hurrying to the door, Amy called after his departing form, "Where's Shane? She promised me she'd find my son. Where is she?"
Turning and walking backwards, Keetan studied Amy, noting the panic, the frustration. Noting the desperation. Stopping, he said quietly, "She's with Michael right now. Would you like me to call her and ask if she's found your son yet? Do you want to press your luck?"
Her jaw firm, Amy stepped back and slammed her door shut.
Considering the door for a moment, Keetan turned and left.