Niki woke up to find Darius standing over her. Instantly awake, she jumped up and threw her arms around him. She couldn't believe she had fallen asleep in the hallway of what she should have considered dangerous territory, but she had been too tired to stay awake. Fortunately, Garm could function as an excellent pillow.
"Niki?" Darius asked, almost gasping for breath as she squeezed him. "What's going on?"
"The Anitreh are trying to kill you," she said immediately, letting go of him and allowing him to breathe easier.
Their fylgjas did not have as friendly a greeting as the two humans, at least not on Garm's part. He growled at Viceroy, backing away from her slightly. Niki knew it was likely he'd just growl and not try nipping at her, but because she didn't need the 60 kilogram wolf causing any trouble, she sent calming thoughts to him through the lihnyg. He kept his eyes on the feline, but stopped growling. Hopefully, he'd remain calm for a while.
"So why are you here?" Darius asked, glancing over at Garm.
"Not to kill you," Niki said. "I'm here to save you."
"Save me?" Darius asked. "What do I need to be saved from? Thanks for the warning, but I figured you guys would be coming after me anyway."
"Darius! I'm serious!"
"Yeah, me too." He unlocked the door of his apartment and walked inside. "But hey, Niki, it's nice to see you again. And you might as well come in and get cleaned up and sleep somewhere better than on top of Garm."
Niki sighed, knowing that achieving her goals would be difficult, but she wasn't the type to give up so easily, especially with so much at stake. She walked into Darius' apartment and was surprised at its state. She had never known Darius to be the most organized or tidy person, so she had expected at least somewhat of a mess.
"Do you hire a maid?" Niki blurted out, unable to believe that Darius had kept his place so neat on his own.
"Uh, no," he said. "Not really. My, uh, friend helps with the cleaning."
"Your "friend?"" Niki asked, making air quotes. Even though they hadn't spent any time together for two years, she knew there was something he wasn't telling her. "What kind of "friend" is it? Imaginary? Boyfriend? Fuck buddy?"
"Go through that door and to the right," Darius said, pointing at his bedroom door. "There's a bathroom in there. I'll find you something clean to wear. How'd you get so dirty anyway?"
"I'll tell you after I shower," she said. She followed his directions and found the bathroom with ease. Garm followed her, and even though it was a small bathroom that the wolf didn't fit in very well, Niki thought it was for the best. At least he wouldn't get into any fights with Viceroy.
Niki stripped down, throwing her dirty clothes and torn into a heap. The only thing that was still in good condition was the power suit and that was only because it had been designed to handle stress. The only easy part of her journey had been the flight. Once she landed, things only became difficult and got worse the more time that passed.
She couldn't set the aircraft down in the middle of the city, but she had the data in the plane for where the Anitreh intended to land. There was supposed to be a vehicle in place for them to take into the city, but Niki was either too early or the person in New York who was supposed to leave it had been alerted of the sabotage. Guessing it was the latter, Niki had taken off on foot. She didn't want to wait around for someone to find and capture her. Or kill her, since that seemed to be the Anitreh's go to method for rogues.
At the first opportunity, she stole a car and took off. Unfortunately, the owner of the car called the police and Niki was forced to abandon the vehicle and take off on foot again. As soon as the police realized she was an Anitreh, they had opened fire. If a person with an ability was committing a crime, or what appeared to be a crime, law enforcement almost always shot first and asked questions later. Niki didn't want to hurt the police – they were just doing their jobs, after all – but she had been forced to engage. Most of the damage to her clothes had happened in that incident.
Deciding that stolen vehicles were not the best method of getting around, Niki continued on foot. Fortunately, most of the distance had been covered and she made it into the actual city. She didn't have money to catch a cab, so she'd had to steal from yet another innocent person. She felt horrible, but she had to do it. Once in the cab, she'd made it to Darius' apartment without further trouble. She had the driver drop her off a good distance away, since she knew he'd easily identify the rogue Anitreh with a wolf and she didn't want the police to immediately find her.
She showered quickly, and when she got out, she saw that Darius had left a clean towel and clothes for her. It didn't bother her that he'd been in the room while she showered. They'd grown up together and shared a bathroom for years. They'd walked in on each other countless times and never thought anything of it.
Niki considered putting her suit on, but decided against it. With the power off, it was rather heavy and a pain to carry and she didn't want to use up the power, especially since she didn't have plans to do anything where the suit would be helpful. The clothes Darius had given her were obviously his. She was several centimeters taller than he was, and it showed in the pants. How the clothes looked really wasn't a concern, though.
She went back into the living room where Darius stood looking out the window. He turned around and looked at Niki when she walked into the room, and for several moments, they just stood there staring at each other.
"So," Darius said.
"Yeah," Niki replied.
"What happened on the way here?" Darius asked.
Niki didn't really want to waste time telling him the story, but she had promised, so she started to tell him the story. She started at the very beginning, when Barton had first started to get her involved in the strike force. She told him all about how some of the captains wanted him dead and what they suspected him of doing, and finally she told him about how some members of her strike force were out to kill him and how she had to leave to get to him first.
"That's…" Darius shook his head. "Niki, why'd you do it?"
"Betray the Anitreh. You can't go back you know. I'm really not worth all the trouble. Maybe it would have been better if they just killed me."
"Darius! How can you say that? You're my best friend! I don't care about the Anitreh! I just want you to stay alive. That's the only thing that matters to me."
Darius smiled slightly and said, "Thanks Niki. It's nice to know I've got a friend."
"Oh come on, Darius. You know I've always been your friend. Always will be. But we should get out of here. Now. Before the others get here. They could already be here."
"I'm not leaving," Darius said, shaking his head. "I don't have anywhere to go. At least here, I know where I am and where to go to hide if I have to. And there are people who will help protect me."
"I'll help you," Nikii said. "So will Barton."
"Barton's an Anitreh," Darius reminded her.
"He's the one who warned me about the others. He wants to help you. I don't know what he plans on doing, but he doesn't want to kill you. He's been against it from the beginning."
"What if he's just saying that to get you involved?" Darius asked. "He knows you won't go for killing me, but he knows he can get you to bring me in and then he'll kill me."
"That's stupid," she said, firmly believing that. "He wouldn't do that. You know him, Darius. He's not like that."
"I thought I knew a lot of the Anitreh," Darius said. "Turns out I didn't."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't you want to get some rest?" he asked.
"No. I want you to tell me exactly what's going on. Actually, I want you to head back to Seattle right now and you can talk on the way."
"Seattle?" Darius asked. "Is that where the Anitreh have been hiding? Thanks for the info."
"Knock it off Darius," Niki said, not liking what he was implying. "You've got to talk to me. I just want to help."
"Yeah, I know," he said. He stepped over to her and gave her a quick hug. "I'll tell you everything. I promise. But you need rest. What I have to say isn't something you want to hear when you're sleep deprived. And hungry. You sleep, and I'll go get food. Then we can talk."
"Fine," Niki said, resigned. She was tired and hungry, and she knew that arguing back and forth with Darius wouldn't get them anywhere. Both of them were stubborn and Niki knew one of them would have to give in. She was too tired to care about winning and went over to the couch and laid down.
"Wake me in an hour," she said.
"Sure," Darius agreed.
Whispered voices woke Niki, and her first thought was that Darius had lied to her. She felt more rested than she should if she'd only been asleep for an hour. She tried to sit up, but realized that she wasn't covered with a blanket, but a wolf. Pushing Garm off of her, she sat up and saw Darius and a woman in the kitchen, speaking in low voices.
"You lied," Niki said as she stood up.
"Oh, you're awake," Darius said, his attention pulled away from the woman as he walked towards the couch.
"Yeah, no thanks to you," Niki said, her attention more focused on the other woman. She was about the same height as Darius with long, black hair. Niki thought she was rather scrawny looking, but compared to her own muscular frame, most women did. "You said you'd wake me in an hour."
"You needed more sleep than that," he said with a shrug. "I feed Garm, by the way. Not sure what you're feeding him these days, but I just gave him some ostrich."
"Thanks," Niki said. She really couldn't hold it against him that he didn't wake her. She felt much better after her nap. "He's mostly been eating kibbles, but I'm sure he's grateful for real food."
"Hi Niki," the woman said. "My name is Wynter. I'm a friend of Darius. He's told me all about you."
"Oh. Well, that's not good." Niki couldn't help but wonder just what sorts of things Darius had said about her.
"It's all been good," Wynter assured her. "Just stories about the two of you growing up together."
"Well, I'm sure you know more about me than you want to know. So, you the friend that cleans his apartment?"
"Come on Niki," Darius interrupted. "It is possible I clean up myself."
"You already said you had help," Niki said. "Just making conversation. Getting to know your friend, because you haven't told me anything about her."
"I'm really not that interesting," Wynter said. "I'm just a regular person doing regular things."
"She's an amazing artist," Darius said. "Don't forget that part, Wynter."
"Are you going to be in town long, Niki?" Wynter asked, changing the subject.
"I hope not," she replied, looking at Darius. "But it's not really up to me."
There was silence in the room, and Niki guessed that Wynter was trying to figure out what she meant by that statement, while Darius just looked annoyed that she had hinted about wanting him to leave.
"Where are you staying?" Wynter asked, and Niki thought she detected a hint of jealousy coming from the other woman. That was a rather interesting bit of information that Niki thought might come in useful.
"Nowhere," Niki said, shrugging. "If Darius doesn't throw me out, I'll probably just sleep in the hallway or something. Probably stay close by no matter what though."
"Don't be ridiculous," Darius said. "You're not sleeping in the hallway. You can sleep here." Wynter looked unhappy, and when Darius saw that, he quickly added, "Or in one of the other units. The one across the hall is fully furnished."
"Well, then," Niki said. "Guess I'll be staying across the hall."
Niki was now sure that Wynter and Darius were more than just friends. She had absolutely no romantic interest in him, but Niki didn't know if she really liked Wynter. For some reason, she felt suspicious of her. Niki reminded herself that she was technically in hostile territory, so perhaps she was just feeling suspicious of everyone.
"I did get that food I promised you," Darius said, breaking the awkwardness between the two women. "Ordered two pizzas, because I figured you still eat like a damn hyena."
"Damn straight I do."