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Rated: E · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1532281
Adventure story with a mystery assassin and a team of International troubleshooters.
The Devil’s Return



                             CHAPTER  ONE



         Diablo meant ‘Devil’ in Spanish but in Nice, the name was used to strike fear into those who would hurt or oppress,

         The Corsican drug syndicate and their hired thugs in the police and military were just a few who cringed at the name. While people on the street spoke of him in praise.

         He found it ironic to be thought of so highly by people, but then all his recent life was ironic.  Especially at times like this when he could think hard and remember what it was like, what he was like, before he came to be a dark myth.  To be spoken of only in whispers.

         On this night, the Devil found himself perched in a hidden alcove above a dimly lit street.  Watching the head of a special team of U.N. investigators that had been sent to find him.  A team that was getting closer than he liked to the heart of a very dim circle that would ruin everything he’d worked for.

         He’d know when the team known worldwide as The Ravens arrived that things would have to be handled carefully.  He knew the best way to do that would be to watch the pretty blond haired young woman to ensure his secrets stayed hidden.

         The lightning flashed across the black sky, illuminating his place of hiding and showing the white cross-shaped scar over his left eye before going dark again.

         It was this scar among many that Diablo cursed as he ran a gloved hand over his deeply tanned olive skinned face tiredly, watching his objective leave the library in a hurry.  He knew it was time to do what he’d been dreading as he touched the silenced pistol in his belt.

         “Tonight, Casey White, you die.” He whispered regretfully.  Silently jumping to the ground, he moved to catch up with the woman and finish what had to be done.

         Unaware of the impending danger, top international agent and daughter to the President of White-Hartley Enterprises, a well known international corporation, Casey Lee White was swearing rapidly as she crossed the rain slicked street.  Oblivious to everything but the information she’d just found.

         Things that just didn’t match the official version that they’d been given.

         Born to British business magnate Tyrell White, only daughter Casey only worked in the official business as a cover when in the field working for the secret United Nations Task Force against international terrorism or with the group of men her father employed. Like now.

         “Mac was right.” She decided to herself, her soft voice carrying the British lilt she was born with.

            Digging for both her car keys and cellular phone, she felt the darts strike her in rapid order.  “What the bloody hell?”

         Casey dropped all she was holding to reach for her neck just as a car with bright headlights screeched around the corner and came right for her.

         Whatever the British anti-terrorist might have done was cancelled by the fast acting drug, an arm suddenly snagged her waist to pull her out of the way and the last thing Casey heard was the tires screaming, a few gunshots and a streetlight before unconsciousness claimed her with a haunting voice in her ears.

         “Welcome back to Nice, boss.”





                             

                                                           



                                          CHAPTER  TWO



         Getting drugged and waking up was the pits in Casey’s mind as the fog cleared in her head.  She carefully opened one eye to view her present location. 

         Blurry green eyes couldn’t see much of the spacious but cluttered room the 26 year old agent found herself in.

         Heavy red/gold drapes hung on bare stone walls and covered some old heavy oak furniture.

         A two-step drop separated the tiny alcove she awoke in from the rest of the place.  A roaring fire was blazing in a massive fireplace across the room.

         “Ah, the pretty one wakes.” A gravelly voice of an old man spoke from nearby.  “Diablo will be happy.”

         Casey’s head still spun from whatever she’d been hit with so she knew escape was out of the question.  “Diablo.” She repeated softly, the name registering.

         “Yes.  My master has been worried that you hadn’t woken up before now.” The old man, bent at the waist and obviously crippled on his left side, smiled with three teeth missing.

         “Worried enough to try to kill me?” Casey scoffed, moving slowly to sit up on the too soft bare mattress.  “Yeah, right.”

         “If that was true, you’d be dead by those fools who tried to run you down 2 nights ago.”

         The sudden deep voice came from the darkest shadows, surprising both Casey and the old man.

         “Master, you’re back!” instantly the old man was moving toward the fire.  “I’ll fix you...”

         Staying in the shadows, Diablo moved around his home with ease.  “No, Stavaros, I’ll eat later.  Take the rest of the night off.” He ordered, forcing his voice to stay rough as he went on.  “My guest and I need to talk.  Alone.”

         Stavaros looked between the two hesitantly.  He could easily see into the darkness, reading the eyes of the man there.  He decided the girl was in no real danger and backed away.

         “Be good, young ones.” He called over his shoulder before vanishing.

         Casey fought the sudden sickness to study what little she could see, since her ‘host’ seemed inclined to stay in the darkness.

         Diablo was tall.  At least 6’6, with an athlete’s body, the long legs of a man who was used to both authority and fleeing by the way he held himself in front of the fire.  Though the long leather coat he wore with his loose fitting clothes hid his exact weight and build.

         “The drugs haven’t worn off yet, so you’ll be dizzy for a while longer.” He spoke easily as if feeling her eyes on him, but the rough tone kept his voice cold and distant.  Even when he added to himself with a chuckle.  “You’re only awake now because you’re too damned stubborn.”

         “If you didn’t try to kill me, then who did?” Casey demanded,  blinking to clear her head and nearly passing out.  “Why would anyone?”

            “Maybe because you and your friends are finding the right answers to the wrong questions.” Diablo suggested, turning to watch the pale face with large blue eyes get paler.  “This isn’t the first time you’ve come to Nice and had such problems.” He spoke carefully.

         Casey felt herself go still at the mere mention of the last visit she’d made here three years prior.  “My mates and I came back looking for..”

         “Me. On whatever Captain Leclair wants blamed on me, but not for his involvement with the crime syndicates.” The man sat back in a red velvet high-backed chair, his gloved fingers steepled in front of him, hoping they weren’t shaking enough to notice.  “You and I both know that most of these charges are false.”

         “Yeah.  Mac and I thought something wasn’t right with Leclair’s office.” Casey sighed, wincing until she finally had to lay down.

         “Like after the explosion three years ago?” Diablo threw back, standing slowly and reaching for a glass of wine.

         “You know?” Casey forced her eyes open to stare at his lean, rugged profile, fighting past the waves of guilt and loss.  “How do you.?”

         Diablo swallowed the wine in one gulp, threw the glass at the fire in a fit of restless energy and long buried rage.  “A friend died that night and you did nothing to find him!” his voice held an accusatory tone that surprised them both.

         Casey looked away before he could see the tears or the hurt could get any worse.  “We spent six months looking for Nick.” She argued, starting to feel the world go gray again.

         Consciousness came and went as Casey fought the drugs in her body. Laying still in hopes of easing the stomach churning sickness and was surprised to feel his hand brush her cheek with a vaguely familiar tenderness.

         “You spent all those months looking for a man proclaimed to be dead.” Diablo let out a breath, making a final choice that would either save his soul or destroy him.  “Why?”

         Casey wasn’t sure why this was important to him but knew on instinct that it had to be spoken of and settled.  “Nick isn’t really dead. I know that.” She whispered, pulling her jacket closer in action to the chills she felt.  “I wanted to find him so badly.  We all did.  To this day, I know that Nick didn’t die in that boat explosion three years ago.  The ‘Ravens & I will find him one day.”

         Silence lasted between them.  Only then did he hear the muffled sobs next to him that she tried to stop.  “No.” he sighed, reaching over to gently lift her chin up to look at him.  He cursed the glazed look in her eyes as he let light shine on his face.  “Nick isn’t dead and yes…you have found him.”

         Sure she was sicker than she’d thought, Casey looked up at the jade green eyes with a cross branded over his left eye, his darkly rugged face had a much harder look than she remembered.  A mouth that normally smiled, seemed set in a hard scowl that lessened slowly as he touched her face.

         “Hello, Casey Lee.” Diablo, once called Nicholas Wolfe, greeted her softly.  He swore softly when he seen her pass out again as he laid his former friend back on the pillows.  “Yeah, real great way to start this.”





                                            CHAPTER  THREE



         “We can’t lose our friend. Not to mention our own boss’s daughter.” Macon Reed, leader of the world known mercenary unit and top executive of White-Hartley Enterprises, the Ravens, argued bitterly as he paced his office of his private home in Nice.  “It’s not possible.”

            The black haired native of Texas as known Casey White’s father’s for years, since they had both served in various capacities in the militaries for their countries and when Tyrell White had formed his corporation to use it help fight terror around the world he’d made the call to his former friend.

         Luke Nelson raised his eyes from the file in his hand to watch his best friend prowl in nervous energy.

         As second in command for the ‘Ravens, he had been equally alarmed when Casey had vanished two nights before and even more curious about the alarm the local cops were showing.  Not over the young woman’s kidnapping but by the lack of a corpse.

         “Well, it’s possible since we’ve done it.” He finally replied, not blinking at the cold look he was given.  “Mac, sit down and listen to Phillipe..”

         “I’ll listen while moving, thank you.” Reed clipped the words harshly, stopping with a sigh of regret.  “Sorry.” He muttered, finally sitting on his cluttered desk.  “Talk, Philippe.”

         The young man spoken to, tall and reed slim with definitive features, waited a second before deciding it was safe to speak.

         “I’ve gone over the scene three times and I’ve talked to people who were in the area that night.”  Philippe LeFluer, the vice-president of four ofWhite-Hartley’s offices, began in a cool French accent, stretching long legs out.  “Nothing I get matches with what LeClair or his people say happened that night.”

         Reed already knew that and resisted the urge to groan in frustration.  Ever since arriving in Nice, nothing the police captain said or did made sense or matched what they’d first been told.

         “Two days in a city this size with as many guys as we’ve got and nobody can find her.” He muttered scowling at a report.  “Why doesn’t that sound good?”

         “Captain LeClair said that if Diablo has Case then she’s as good as dead.” Nelson reminded him, grinning at the look Reed shot him, adding dryly.  “Of course, he also hasn’t told us the truth since we’ve been here.”

         “Philippe, honest opinion on our Mr. Diablo.” The merc leader requested, wanting an opinion that mattered.

         Philippe hesitated, knowing what he knew and what he suspected.  “To the cops and the French Mafia, he’s bad news with a silent attitude of death.  Seems to go after Catholics but never civilians.  Only cops and from what I can tell, they were dirty.”

         “What do the locals say about their hero?” Nelson asked, double looking at something he just saw and feeling his gut freeze.

         “That he’s just that, a hero.” Philippe returned with a shrug.  “What he takes off those he kills, he gives to the people.  Medicine for the clinics, food for the homeless shelters, etc.  The only odd thing about him is his aversion to the Catholic Church.”

         Reed didn’t care about that since the ‘Ravens were atheists.  What he cared about was his friend, where she was and how she was.

         “Hey, Mac?  It’s funny that LeClair was the investigator of the explosion that killed Nicky and he’s still giving us problems over almost the same things now, huh? Nelson remarked, going on when all he got was a blank look.  “I mean, we were checking on police corruption and drug smuggling.  LeClair kept getting in the way until the day we get a solid lead and then BOOM!”

         “The boat you were using as a base goes up in flames with both Nick and the proof he’d gotten on board.”Philippe jumped in.  “Your case was over and you were out of what hair he had until Diablo brings you back.  The librarian verified that Casey had found something that night and now she’s gone with the information.  Macon, it can’t be a coincidence.”

         The buzz of the phone cut him off as Reed snatched the receiver up with a sharp greeting, listening intently while frowning.

         “Philippe, what’s the Brotherhood of the Cross?” he asked after a pause.

         “Rumored to be a secret religious order determined to punish the wicked.” Philippe scowled in distaste.  “We’ve had encounters with them since they don’t mind drug dealers so long as they’re good Catholics.”

         Reed nodded with a hum.  “You said our man Diablo has a thing against Catholics and drug smugglers while Captain LeClair and his bunch has just arrived at St. Michel’s Monastery in a couple trucks.” He mused, smiling.  “We’ll check it out and maybe figure all this out, while hopefully, finding our boss alive and well.”

         “Mac, we really don’t know if…” Philippe stopped himself in time before reigniting Reed’s temper.

         “You go back to the house, send Peter’s unit out to me and try to get us some clearance.” The ‘Ravens’ boss ordered the younger man while pulling his leather jacket on.

         Biting his tongue Philippe kept his darker thoughts to himself.  Silently praying their friend was safe wherever she was and this whole mess turned out better than their last job in Nice had.







                                                CHAPTER  FOUR



         Flashes of memory fought for attention as Casey White’s mind struggled past the drowning images of fire, betrayal and terror.

         It was finally the terror that broke to the surface and had her jerking awake, upright with a scream that died on her lips as soon as she laid eyes on him.

         Reasonably certain that he was making a mistake, Nicholas Wolfe, ‘Diablo’, had taken his former friend from the dark alcove where he’d placed her the night he’d saved her life to deeper into his current home.  To his private rooms. His sanctuary.

         He’d been sitting at the bottom of the king-size French 16th century bed for hours just watching her sleep uneasily, silently wondering why he was willing to risk the pain of the past after burying it for so long.

         “Easy.” He gently soothed, watching her eyes carefully and relaxing a little when he saw they weren’t quite as glazed.  Expecting her obvious fear and surprise over seeing him.  “Casey, lay still.” He urged quietly, mentally cursing the scars on his face while equally grateful that she couldn’t see the rest of his collection.

         “…Nick?” she finally whispered, still feeling on edge by recent events and uncertain if she were seeing things due to the drugs.  “Bloody hell.  Is it…you?”

         As Diablo he’d made his emotions dull and his voice gruffer than normal.  Nick was honestly surprised by how easy it was for him to slip back to a tone he’d always used with Casey .

         “Yeah, it’s me.” He smiled slightly to try to relieve her tensions but felt himself tense as she reached out to touch his face.

         Casey caught this but ignored it, concentrating on the rugged, razor-stubbed face she once knew so well and had dreamed for three years of seeing again.  “How…we thought…What happened?” she finally demanded.

         “That’s a real long story.” Nick rubbed a hand over his face wearily, trying to decide where to start and how much to tell her.

         “When the boat exploded it must have stunned me because I woke up…” he began slowly but paused to locate a jug of wine and a glass.  Needing it to get through what he had to say.  “I woke up chained to a wall in a 5x8 room with no windows and a door with only a slit in it.  That was my…home for over a year.”

         Casey kept quiet, allowing Nick to speak at his own pace and used the silence to get her bearings back and was finally able to ease to the edge of the bed.  Feeling only a little dizzy.

         “Who kept you there?” she asked quietly, attempting to stand but felt her legs begin to shake under the strain.

         “The Brothers of the Cross are a cult devoted to wiping all sinners and unfaithful off the map.” Nick spoke as his arm gently encircled her waist, sitting back down on the bed with her.  “They tried to get me to “repent from my wicked ways” and to “see the true light of God”.” He snorted with a dry smile that didn’t meet his jade green eyes.  “Guess an atheistic merc was a good choice for them, huh?”

         “Is that where you got this?” Casey half expected him to grab her wrist or jerk back when she lightly ran a finger over the scar branded on his face.

         Slowly, more slowly than he felt like, Nick took her hand away from his face and held it loosely in his.  Surprised to find his own hands were trembling more than hers.

         “Among many others.” He confirmed, looking away from her green eyes after a second because he recognized the hurt shining in them.  “They wanted to either break my will or kill me.  They tried their best but all their best got them was the bringer of their end.”

         Casey heard the hard, harsh voice and could feel the hatred radiating from his eyes.  “How did you escape to become this one-man army?” she inquired carefully, feeling cold again.

         Nick’s gaze softened a little as he glanced at her.  “The old man you saw, Stavaros, was a handyman at the monastery where I was held.  One day, after they’d beaten me until I was raw, he helped me get away.  Then spent months tending the wounds.” He shook his head and sipped the wine in an effort to shake the memories.  “I was certain that I’d die from infection but when I healed emotionally and physically I knew that I needed to do something.”

         “You were watching me the night I was attacked, why?” Casey asked, things beginning to click with what she knew and things she’d learned that night.  “LeClair’s a member of this ‘Brotherhood’, isn’t he?  That’s why he was so upset when we were here before and why he’s been upset now.  He’s getting paid by the French mob and the Brotherhood of the Cross are running drugs through local churches.  Right?”

         Nick didn’t have to answer.  By the way he tensed up and walked to the fireplace told Casey everything she needed to know.

         “He bombed our boat because you learned the truth and wanted you silenced.” On an excited roll, the young woman forced herself off the bed.

         Ignoring the increasing chills and sudden sweating, she stared at his back.  “If you knew all this, why didn’t you find us during the last three years?” Casey wanted to know, confused to why he wouldn’t tell his friends he was alive.

         “I’m not the man I was Casey.  I didn’t want you to see what I had become.” He finally replied after a lengthy silence, burying the guilt that question had brought.  “I know you must have thought me dead.  It was best to leave it like that.  For all of us.”

         “Because of what you’ve done as ‘Nice’s silent champion of justice’ or because of your scars?” the question was asked without true malice and with a much needed dose of realism.

         His fingers went white around the glass and he was about to throw back an angry lie when a sudden moan had him spinning around to see Casey White drop to the stone floor like a rock.

         “Casey!  Damn it!  Stavaros!!”  Nick was beside Casey in a second, yelling for the old man because he knew he needed help.

         The young woman had been regaining color in her face.  Now, as Nick gently picked her up, she was a sickly gray color and as he laid her back in bed he could feel her shivering violently even though her skin, ice cold to touch, was clammy from sweat.

         “Easy baby.  You’ll be fine.” He promised, sitting and holding her to him when he felt her trying to pull closer to him.  “Stavaros!!!”

         The old man, long past keeping up with his true age, still moved quickly despite his crippled leg.  He did so now when he heard the tone of the young man’s voice.

         After saving the boy from the Brotherhood, Stavaros had treated Nicholas as a son and loved him like one, even knowing that they would soon need to part forever.

         But that was not now and Nicholas sounded truly afraid.  Something the old Greek had never heard before.

         “I heard you the first time Nicholas.”  He sighed in reproach, entering the rooms he tried to avoid and frowned.  “She’s ill.”

         “I know that!”  Nick snapped harsher than he intended but he was rattled worse then he could ever remember being in years.  “What’s wrong with her?” he demanded.  “She was fine and this happened to her.  Why?”

         Stavaros had been worried about this happening from the minute his charge had brought the pale young woman home.

         He’d been a chemist in his youth and knew the effects certain drugs had on people.

         “You friend, by your own words, is allergic to many things.  That’s what all this is about.” He replied in a gentle tone, feeling for a pulse while explaining further.  “The drugs in her body have finally settled and her body was relaxed enough that a sudden reaction has occurred.”

         Nick knew enough to understand and didn’t like it.  “What can we do for her?” he asked, trying to keep his voice low and soothing as she trembled against him.

         As Diablo, Nick had no feelings, emotions or ties to anyone.  Not even to himself.  But Diablo was a man born of desperation and a need for vengeance.  He now understood that his quest for revenge on the men who’d tried to kill him and had taken away all he’d loved might have taken yet another costly turn.          The life of his friend.  The only person he’d ever let himself love.

         “Stavaros, can’t you do anything for her?” he asked, feeling helpless as his friend curled in his arms.

         The old man was silent as he looked at the girl’s eyes, finally looking up.  “She needs more help than we can give her.” He stated grimly, adding as he laid a hand on the boy’s tense shoulder.  “Take her home Nicholas before we revisit  the place of both our destinies.”

         Nick knew what that meant and clearly understood his quest would soon be over.  One way or another.

         His life as Diablo had been leading up to this moment, but before he completed his mission there was one thing he had to be sure of first.

         “I’ll meet you there after I’ve taken her…home.” Nick quickly put what he would need that night into his bag before slipping into his leather jacket and carefully picking Casey up.  “Home where she’ll be safe and won’t have to see what I must do.”













                                        CHAPTER  FIVE



         Mac’s on his way to St. Michel’s to confront LeClair.  I want four squads backing him up.”  Philippe Lefleur told the telephone as he argued with both his Kevlar bulletproof vest and the French Minister of Defense.  “I got your proof Andre.  Just get me the..” he broke off as a shadow entered the patio doors and felt himself freeze.  “Holy shit.” He whispered, wincing.  “No, not you Andre.  Just get those anti-terrorists up here now!”

         Suspecting had been one thing.  Actually seeing the elusive shadow himself was quite another.

         “Nick.” Philippe blinked twice before seeing his employer’s daughter and swearing in rapid French.  “What’s wrong with her?  Has she been with you all this time?” he demanded after yelling for a medic.

         “Yes to the second.  As to the first, she’s having a reaction to the drugs she was shot with.” Diablo returned as he gently laid the young woman down on the sofa in the den before looking at the muttering executive.  “Take care of her Philippe.  I’ll finish what LeClair started.” He paused briefly to whisper his goodbyes before vanishing into the night.

         “Nick, wait!”  Philippe yelled but it was too late.  “Paul, help the boss!” he shouted to his medic as he took off to meet his friends and prayed this didn’t blow up on them again.



         

         St. Michel’s Monastery looked more like a fortress than a holy place.  The high towers were the perfect place for snipers.

         Which was why the Ravens were careful to take them out first before approaching the place.

         “Peter, keep things quiet and come up from the docks.  Silent weapons and keep a few prisoners this time.” Reed ordered, parking his high-tech motorcycle behind the unmarked police car.  “Let’s go see what’s what.”

         After studying the plans for the ancient fort turned monastery, the ‘Ravens had to split to cover all  the angles of escape and were armed well enough to handle a possible army.

         “Ahh, Mr. Reed.  What a surprise.” Captain Henri LeClair looked stiff as he greeted the mercs, knowing all along they weren’t U.N. agents as their papers proclaimed, nodding to the robed men next to him.  “Brothers Claude and Tomas run this place.  My men and I help out once a month to move…”

         “That wouldn’t be when they need to move another shipment for the Syndicates, would it?” Reed countered coldly, leaning against a door while his present team spread out cautiously.

         The monks froze before offering fake smiles.  “You are mistaken.  We can show you our home from top to bottom and you will see that we are merely…”

         “The Brotherhood of the Cross has a hefty financial deal with Oslow Martine of the Corsican Syndicate.  Don’t bother sputtering cause we’ve seen the files.” Luke Nelson tossed a thick folder onto the floor.

         Silence lasted until LeClair coughed, shuffling his feet.  Reaching slowly behind him when the first series of explosions rocked the fort to its foundations.

         “What the--?!” Reed swore at the unexpected blast and swore even more when Brother Tomas hurled a dagger.  “Damn!” he dove to one side to avoid the blade, pulling his .357 Magnum from its shoulder holster as he rolled to one knee to fire at the monk.  Hitting him in the chest with two slugs.

         Taking advantage of the distraction, LeClair and Brother Claude both bolted for the lower sections of the monastery.

         “So much for doing this the easy way.” Luke muttered, raising one eyebrow curiously. “Now what?”

         “Take them out now!” Reed snapped, heading for the basement with a muttered curse.  “I want LeClair alive.”

         The ‘Ravens took the battle to their enemies with  a cold vengeance.  Never blinking when cops and monks started trying to kill them.

         “LeClair!” Reed yelled to the balding cop ahead of them, firing a warning shot.  “Stop or my next shot goes through your head!”

         The Nice police officer stopped, slowly turning with a smile.  “I thought your kind would be like that.” He sneered.  “Evil, corrupted punks with a license to kill.  You’ll all burn for your sins.”

         “The doctrine of the Brotherhood?” the Texas merc leader inquired, still holding his Magnum firmly.  Ready to fire.  “That’s where your true loyalty is, right?”

         Nelson was leaning in a side door, an angry look in his blue eyes.  “Entertaining recreation room you guys got here.” He commented coldly, jerking a thumb back into the room.  “Hot coals, rusty pliers, a battery with cables and a wall full of whips and chains.  You boys have a real wicked sense of fun.”

         “Oh yeah.  They’re real fun when it comes to punishing for sins committed.” A dark voice spoke from the deepest shadows.

         Mac knew the voice and seen the flicker of fear flash in the cop’s eyes as Diablo, the man his team had come to Nice to hunt, stepped from the darkness.

         “Damn.” He breathed.

         Nick’s hard eyes pinned LeClair, smiling at the look in the cop’s eyes. A look of knowledge.  A look of fear.

         “Bon soir, Captain.” He found the strength somewhere to keep his voice low and even despite being confronted by his past and the man who had ‘killed’ him.  “As promised, I’ve returned to finish what you started in that room three years ago.”

         LeClair glanced around for help but found only cold-eyed foes.  “So, it is you.” He found his voice.  “I should have known you weren’t dead.”

         “You killed me LeClair.” Diablo corrected coldly, stepping fully from the dark, allowing his trademarked short blade to hang loose in his fingers.  “You killed the man I was only to create the demon of death before you now.”

         The Ravens exchanged quick, wary looks with their leader.  “I’m not too sure about this idea anymore.” Luke murmured, never in all his years with the Ravens had he seen a dead man’s eyes on a living breathing human.  “In fact, I think we should go home now.”

         “Little late for that now, pal.” Reed snorted, stepping slightly to one side and putting a hand up in form of restraint.  “We’ve found enough evidence on the Captain to put him and his ‘Brothers’ away for life.” He announced.  “Nick….”

         “He’ll get off, Mac.” Nick’s tone had dropped to a hard, icy quiet while the fire in his eyes continued to flare at the cop and his wire thin control nearly snapped when the hand clasped on his arm.

         “The Brotherhood of the Cross has been operating for centuries, Mac.  They’ve always avoided punishment because of their influential friends.  This time will be no different.” He argued.  “Mac, I survived what they did to me, what he did, only because I trained and waited for this day.  LeClair will not escape what he’s done.  Either to me or…to her.”

         That caught the attention of the Ravens.  “She was with you?” Nelson asked, keeping his handgun ready in case he had to act fast.

         “I kept her from being killed by his goons.  I just recently left Morgan with Philippe.” Nick replied, debating on breaking his former leader’s hand in order to complete his mission or just knocking him out and taking his chances with the other mercs.  “She’s having a bad reaction to their drugs.”

         Reed swore under his breath, still keeping his hand on the trembling shoulder.  “Nick, it’s over.  Let it go.”  He stated firmly.

         Diablo started to argue when the situation went out of their hands.

         “It will be over when all you evil, sinful monsters are out back in the fiery pits of Hell where you came from!” LeClair spat, suddenly pulling the dagger from his belt.  “To the Devil with you all!!” he screamed, throwing the dagger and bolting for escape.

         Surprised, Reed knew things had gone sour when Nick suddenly jerked him to one side to avoid the blade when a shadow appeared in front of them, intercepting the ruby hilted dagger with a low grunt.

         “Get after him!!” Reed snapped while catching, much to his shock, a frail looking old man.  “And find our medic, ASAP!!” he called as an afterthought.

         “Stavaros.” Nick was on his knees the instant recognition hit.  “Why?” was all he could manage, seeing the blood pouring from the older man’s chest.  “I could’ve have…”

         The old Greek shook his head, coughing up blood.  “You…would have saved your friend but…not yourself.”

         “What’s the difference?” Nick demanded, barely aware that Stanley Weller, the Ravens medic, had arrived with a half a dozen soldiers in tow.  “Stavaros you old fool…” he cut off when the old man’s hand came up to slap him across the face.

         “Mind your tongue, boy.” He rasped, batting Weller’s hand away. “Leave me be.  Nicholas, you must listen to me for once.”

         Reed motioned his people away to give his friend and the dying Greek their last moments in private.

         “Let Stan help you.” Nick urged, feeling things he’d believed long dead as he watched his mentor die in front of him.  “You have the rest of your life…”

            “I have cancer, my son.  My life is over.” Stavaros corrected with a raspy cough, clutching Nick’s hands to keep him still.  “I knew it was time for me to go and so I will ask a final favor of you.”

         Nick cursed before nodding.  “Whatever you ask, it shall be.” He promised, hearing the sounds of battle but focusing in front of him.

         “Go from this place and don’t look back.” Stavaros instructed, quickly cutting off all his objections.  “I have taught you well and you have done well but now it’s time for you to go home.  Go with your friends, Nick.  Because I know, as you do, that you wouldn’t be able to let that pretty one go again and still live with yourself.”

         “Stavaros.” Nick started when he looked into the other man’s eyes and saw the truth.  “You were the shadow informant who led me to watch over Casey.  You knew LeClair would slip up when the Ravens returned.  You…”

         “…knew you had to face the past to find your future.” Stavaros smiled up at the young man, feeling death coming closer.  “You have come full circle, my son.  Do not let an old man’s death to stop you, Nicholas.  Remember all that you are and know that…I..” blood choked his next words but Nick heard them anyway.

         “I know.” He whispered, lightly reaching up to close the eyes of the man who’d become his father.  “You brought me back from death and showed me the light in the shadows.  Your lessons will not be vain, Father.” He vowed, standing slowly and reaching for his blade.  “Where did he go?”

         Reed had no doubt who he was talking about.  “Peter reported that LeClair was heading for the docks.” He answered, stepping again to one-side to warily block his path. “Nick!”

         “Take everyone and go Mac.” Nick declared quietly, green eyes flashing in subdued anger.  “LeClair is mine.”

         “What happens then?” Reed called after him, exasperated.  “Are you planning on vanishing again?  She deserves better than that!”

         Nick paused to look back at his friends.  “If I survive, I’ll find you.” He answered, disappearing into the shadows as he had come and leaving his former friend wondering if the Devil would ever fully enter the light again or if the darkness had claimed him years ago.





                                          CHAPTER  SIX



         “So then the whole monastery blows up.  Thankfully after we’d gotten the prisoners and evidence away.” Chief Inspector Claude Jardine of the French Surete was exclaiming as he paced the den, drinking brandy to calm his nerves.  “No sign of that traitor LeClair or of Diablo.  Perhaps both perished in the ensuing fire or perhaps Diablo never existed at all except in LeClair’s warped mind.”

         Philippe.’s eyes rolled toward the ceiling, to where he knew Mac Reed was busy explaining things to their employer’s daughter and friend.  “Oh, he existed, mon ami.” He sighed, stretching his legs out and settled in to listen to the Inspector.



         “I sent Luke’s team down to search the waterfront but they haven’t found anything yet.” Reed finished, looking over his shoulder and swearing to himself that he had to find them a new life.  “Casey, we don’t know that Nick’s gone.”

         Casey White hadn’t fully recovered from her reaction to the drugs but she wasn’t quite as shaky, pale or nauseous as she had been.

         Now though she felt numb again as she stared out the French doors that led to her second floor balcony.  In her heart she knew Nick was gone.  Not dead, but gone again from their lives.

         “Cover the press.  We’ll stay around a few more days.” She ordered without looking at him.  “Make sure both the people and the Mob know that the Brotherhood of the Cross is out of business.”

         “He’s o-kay,Case.” Reed assured her while closing the door behind him.

         After a few minutes of listening to her house settle around her, Casey stepped out onto the balcony to watch the dark blue Mediterranean wash the rocky shore that laid beneath the house.

         She could feel the cool night winds wisp past her, moving the silk robe around her while she listened to Nice’s night sounds and sensing, almost feeling, a presence close to her in the darkness.

          “Is he dead?” she asked softly.  Not moving from the stone railing.

          “Yes.” Nick Wolfe silently dropped down from the roof, his long hair blowing around his face.  “My demons are finally gone and Diablo can rest.” He spoke quietly yet determinedly.

         Silence enveloped them for a long while until Casey finally turned to look at him.  “What does that mean for you?” she inquired curiously, watching his face closely and seeing the long buried emotions in his jade green eyes.

         “I…don’t know.” He admitted with a surprised laugh, taking his long, worn leather coat off despite the cold and tossing it into a corner.  “I haven’t had to think about making choices the last few years.”

         Casey, using the full light of the moon, saw the scars on his upper arms and shoulders that his sleeveless shirt didn’t cover.  “Bloody hell, Nick.” She whispered softly.

         Nick looked at her fully after a minute of warring with his conscious over what he was doing.  “As you can see, LeClair did his job.  I’m not the man you knew.”

         “No.  You’re not.”  Casey agreed softly, hesitating before slowly letting the robe fall off her shoulders and carefully undoing the buttons of her silk nightshirt enough to show her right shoulder and upper chest.  “But as for scars changing a person, I guess then neither am I.”

         He could easily see the ragged white scar tissue that marred her, otherwise, smooth white skin.  Marks as if someone had taken electric wire and branded it into her skin along with scars of a different type.

         “When…how?” he asked while gently touching her, letting his fingers trail down her throat before replacing the shirt and robe with trembling hands.

         “Last year in Beruit.  We had a job involving the rescue of some orphans.  Luke and I got caught by some zealots and they….” Casey stopped, trying hard to keep her voice even, her face calm in front of the sudden flash of anger she saw in his eyes.  “Nick, please.  They don’t change who we are and..” she halted when a sudden wave of dizziness caused her to retreat back to her bed to lay down until things stopped spinning.  “Nick, don’t go yet.” She called to him, unable to keep her eyes focused enough to see him.  “Nick?”

         “I’m here, baby.” He assured her gently, sitting on the bed next to her and laying a cool damp cloth on her head.  “Lay still Casey.  I’m not going anywhere until you feel better.” Nick promised in a soothing voice, surprised when she turned to him in silent request.

         Nick hesitated before sitting back against the brass headboard and allowing his friend to curl up in his arms.  “I need time to think.” He commented in mild warning.  Kicking himself for doing this to either of them.

         “I know, Nick.” Casey whispered, laying her head against his chest and fingering the gold chain he still wore.

         “I want a chance to find out who I am again and what I’ve become.” He spoke as he carefully tightened his arms around her, surprised when he felt her relax and even more surprised by what he felt as he looked down at her.  “I need to see if I can still work in a group or…”

         

         “I know that too, Nick.”  Casey interrupted slowly, looking up at him with a smile that almost reached her eyes.  “The Ravens and I will be here when you’ve decided what you want.” She stated, lowering her eyes and voice as she added.  “I’ll be here when you learn who you want.”

         The whisper didn’t miss Diablo’s ears as his smile gradually relaxed and warmed as he pressed a soft kiss into her hair. “What I want are my friends.  The only people who ever gave me a chance.” He declared with no doubts in his heart or mind and added in a softer tone that had her looking back up.  “Who I want is the same person I’ve always wanted.  You’re in my arms now.  I will never let you go again.”

         Casey traced the scar branded on his face, struggling to say just the right words despite the hammering of her heart in her throat.  “Come home Nicholas.”  She saw the way his eyes changed subtly into a deeper color a heartbeat before he lowered his mouth to hers for a kiss that had years of buried passion in it.

         “I’m already home, Casey Lee.” He whispered against her lips before drawing her closer to him, stretching out beside her on the bed and allowing himself to give into the next kiss while gently holding the young woman in his arms.  Smoothing a shaking hand through her hair while she fell asleep curled in his arms, comfortable and safe and Nick sat in the quiet dark room saying goodbye to his past and welcoming his future.







                                            THE  END

         





         

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