Never Be the Same: Chapter Sixteen


Elia looked desperately uncomfortable the entire way to Bobbi Leigh’s office, and Sierra couldn’t blame him. But they had agreed to do this, and neither of them saw any other way out. They needed Bobbi Leigh’s help. “I knew I would have to see her again to pull this off,” he admitted, “I guess I’m just not ready yet.”

“Well, be ready,” Philip sniffed from the front seat of the car. “Miss Williams’ time is quite valuable and you’ve already wasted more than enough of it.” He heaved a dramatic sigh and glanced down at his tablet, tapping at the screen. “I do not get paid enough for this.”

Sierra doubted it was his intention, but Philip’s grousing lightened the mood in the car. In the backseat, she and Elia exchanged grins and she reached out to take his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “It’s almost done,” she whispered.

He drew a deep breath and nodded. “.”

Philip directed them to an underground parking lot a few blocks away from Bobbi Leigh’s office. After they parked, he led them not back to the skyscraper, but instead to a very well-appointed bunker where Bobbi Leigh waited for them. “Mister Sapienti,” she said, offering Elia her hand in greeting. “Orsino’s wolves haven’t ferreted out this part of my complex yet. You and your friends will be safe here for the evening. As will your cargo,” she wrinkled her nose and gestured at his backpack. “We can deal with that after I have ensured Orsino’s representatives are no longer in Texas.” She showed them into the bunker. “In the meantime, I’ve had food brought in. Eat some dinner, get what rest you can. I’ll be back first thing in the morning for the simulacrum ritual. The meeting with Orsino’s men is set for ten a.m.”

Grazie,” Elia said, bowing his head to her as he slipped the backpack off his shoulders, dropping it in a nearby chair. He did not let go of the strap, cautious even here. “For what it’s worth, I apologize for the trouble I have caused you and your people.” He glanced over his shoulder at Sierra and Cammy with a pained expression. “I bring nothing but trouble wherever I go, it seems.”

Something motherly flickered across Bobbi Leigh’s face. “You were dealt a bad hand and you refused to fold. I understand that. Hell, I can even respect it.” She arched a brow at him. “I do wish you had told me your situation when you first came to us. It would have saved some fuss.”

“Maybe,” Elia conceded. “But I didn’t know you. I didn’t know who you were yet. How could I be sure you would accept me? You could have turned me over to Orsino, or at best just told me to get out of your city and keep on running.” He paused and tilted his head, giving her a considering look, “Would you have let me stay, knowing who I was running from?”

“It’s a good question,” Bobbi Leigh answered, “but a pointless one. The opportunity did not present itself, and now I guess we’ll never know, will we?”

“No, I suppose we will not.”

“Just so.” She moved to the door, Philip speeding up to get there first and open it for her, “Good evening to all of you.”

She left, the door locking with a distinct electronic click behind her. The three of them stood there for a few minutes, looking around and then at each other. Sierra’s stomach let out a loud growl. “She said something about food, right?”

They found the bunker’s kitchen with the promised food and tucked in, too tired to speak much. The clock on the microwave said it was only nine o’clock, but to Sierra it felt like midnight or later. To say it had been a long day would be an understatement. After eating, they went in search of a bedroom. They found three, but all gravitated to the one with two full beds, by unspoken agreement deciding that they should stick together in the night. Elia took one bed while Cammy and Sierra shared the other, all of them asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.


They woke to a loud ringing sound some time later. Sierra had no idea how long she’d slept, and the darkness and unfamiliarity of the bunker only disoriented her more. Elia recovered his wits first, stumbling out into the hall and finding the source of the ringing. It cut off abruptly, and Sierra heard Elia say, “Ciao?” in a sleep-muddled voice. Ah. A phone. “Of course,” Elia mumbled, “grazie.” There was a click as he hung up the phone, and he came back into the room, rubbing at his eyes as he turned on the light. “That was Joey,” he told them. “Bobbi Leigh will be here in forty-five minutes. He said there are toiletries in the bathroom if we wish to freshen up before she arrives.”

“Dibs,” Cammy said, stifling a yawn. She climbed out of the bed and brushed past Elia, patting him on the shoulder as she went. “Bloody hell,” she muttered as she made her way down the hall. “I hope she’s bringing breakfast.”

“Wow,” Sierra said, fishing her burner phone out of her jeans and checking the time. “She wasn’t kidding when she said first thing in the morning. It’s only five.” She stared up at Elia. “How long does this ritual take?”

He shrugged. “I have never heard of it,” he admitted. “I assumed she could cast a glamour on an, er, pre-existing corpse. This sounds like something else.”

Sierra started to ask where Elia expected Bobbi Leigh to get a corpse but decided she didn’t want to know. She suspected concepts like legality might not fully apply to the magic world. Or at least not laws made by and for mundanes. Once more, she wondered just how entwined the two worlds really were. She decided that was also something she probably didn’t want to know.

Sierra took the shower after Cammy, and emerged to the cheering smells of both coffee and bacon. She got dressed and made her way to the kitchen, grinning at Elia as he handed her a mug and a plate. “Bless you, Pequeño, bless you,” she said, finding that the plate held not only bacon, but eggs as well.

“You haven’t called me that in a while,” he said with a quiet smile.

Sierra blushed and covered up the slip by taking a sip of her coffee. “Where did you get the food?”

“It was in the fridge,” he said, nudging her toward a chair. Cammy sat at the table, her plate nothing but crumbs, with a cup of coffee of her own.

“Gracias,” Sierra said, giving him a one-armed hug, careful not to spill any of her breakfast. “Now, go get cleaned up.”

He nodded and slipped out of the kitchen while Sierra joined Cammy at the table. “I think you should keep him,” Cammy said, winking at her. “He makes better eggs than you do.”

Sierra ignored the teasing in favor of eating. A glance at the clock showed her that Bobbi Leigh would be arriving any minute. “Elia says he’s never heard of this ritual that Bobbi Leigh mentioned,” she said once her food was gone. “Have you?”

“No,” Cammy said, shaking her head, “but I am not as familiar with human magic. From the name, it sounds like she’s going to make a copy of Elia to hand over.”

“Will that work, do you think?”

“We’re going to find out.” Cammy replied.

There was a sharp knock at the bunker’s entrance, followed by the sound of the lock disengaging. Sierra and Cammy glanced at each other and then both stood, moving back to the main room. Elia joined them in the hall, and the three entered together to find Bobbi Leigh, Philip, and a slew of other faces. Sierra was relieved to recognize Joey among them, his wrist appearing fully healed. She also saw Sandy, the leader from the attack at Intira’s. The werewolf carried a large black bag. It took Sierra a moment to realize it was a body bag. Oh, Dios. Maybe they had brought a pre-existing corpse. Her breakfast turned in her stomach.

Bobbi Leigh must have seen her distress and guessed its cause. “Not to worry,” she said with an amused smile. She gestured for Sandy to set down the bag and open it up, displaying its contents.

“Clay?” Sierra asked, eyebrows shooting up.

“Not for long,” Bobbi Leigh said. “Mister Sapienti, if you will?” She held out a hand, beckoning for him to join her. “If everyone else would please give us some space?” The others in the room moved back to the walls. Sierra and Cammy followed suit. “Now, for the unpleasant part,” Bobbi Leigh said, turning to Elia. “I will need some samples.”

Sierra watched in discomfort as Bobbi Leigh poked and prodded at Elia with various utensils. She took hair and fingernail clippings, drew a blood sample, asked for him to spit in a paper cup, and had him breathe into a small glass vial. Then she cut off small pieces of his shirt and pants and scraped off a bit from the sole of each shoe he wore. Sierra was dying to ask what all of this was supposed to accomplish, but aside from Bobbi Leigh’s polite requests to Elia for each sample, the room was dead silent. Sierra wasn’t about to speak up. Once she seemed to have everything she needed, Bobbi Leigh transferred all of the materials to the mound of clay in the body bag. Sierra took a closer look and realized it had been molded into the rough shape of a person. She watched in growing fascination as Bobbi Leigh pressed each piece of the collection into the clay, burying some within it, and just pressing others down onto the surface. The glass vial, she buried into a slit in the clay throat. Once it was covered, she held her hand over the throat and muttered a word too low for Sierra to hear. There was a faint tinkling of breaking glass.

“Very good,” Bobbi Leigh said, standing and taking a wet towel from Philip. She wiped off her hands and then gestured for four of her people to join her and Elia beside the clay body. “We’ll form a circle,” she said, extending one hand to Elia and the other to the woman closest to her. “Mister Sapienti, if you will kneel beside the vessel and place your other hand upon its breast? Very good, thank you.” She cocked her head toward Cammy. “Miss Kay, would you care to join us?”

“Me?” Cammy’s eyes widened. “What would I need to do?”

“Just lend your power. A fae’s charm isn’t necessary, but it will give the result more authenticity.” Cammy drew in a short breath, glancing between Elia and Sierra. When neither objected, she nodded and stepped forward, taking the hand that Joey held out to her. The last member of the circle stepped in, taking Cammy’s other hand and resting his free hand on Elia’s shoulder to close the connection. “And now,” Bobbi Leigh said, drawing a deep breath, “we begin with the actual work.” She closed her eyes and began humming a low tune. It sounded suspiciously to Sierra’s ears like “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

This went on for what seemed like ages, although as far as Sierra could tell, nothing seemed to be happening. She glanced around the room, taking in the expressions on everyone’s faces. Elia looked focused, and the others in the circle looked tense. Outside of the circle, expressions seemed to fall under the headings of attentive and mildly curious. She glanced at Cammy and found her friend’s face alight with rapt fascination, almost delight. It was reassuring, because it meant something was happening, even if it was beyond Sierra’s ability to see. At long last, Bobbi Leigh stopped humming. She gave Elia’s hand a tight squeeze and a spasm coursed through him, the body under his hand shimmering like a heat vision. Elia let out a small gasp, and so did the second Elia that now rested on the floor. His eyes snapped open and he scrambled to his feet, staring around him in clear confusion. The real Elia stared back, unable to speak.

“Not bad,” Bobbi Leigh mused, stepping forward to examine her work. She reached out to the confused young man in front of her, running a calming hand down his arm. “Shh, it’s all right. Everything is going to be fine, dear.”

Dove sono?” he asked, wild eyes searching the room. They landed on Elia and stopped, widening even further. “Chi sei?” he demanded, pointing at Elia.

“Oh yes,” Bobbi Leigh murmured, stepping back beside Elia. “He will do nicely. Miss Keene, if you please.”

“With pleasure,” Sandy growled, stepping forward. She raised a gun and fired a full round point blank into the false Elia’s chest. Even with the barrel Sierra assumed to be a silencer attached to the end of the weapon, the shots sounded unbearably loud.

“Bloody hell!” Cammy cried out as the body fell back to the ground. She grabbed Sierra’s arms, holding her back when she tried to get to Elia. The real Elia, who had stumbled back at the gunfire and was holding onto a chair, trying to stay upright as he stared at what was, for all intents and purposes, his own body.

“Bag it up,” Bobbi Leigh said, glancing back at her people. “Oh, do calm down,” she said to Sierra. “He wasn’t real.”

“Like hell he wasn’t!” Sierra cried. She’d seen his eyes. That had been Elia.

“It was just a copy,” Bobbi Leigh said, shaking her head. “A very good one, yes. It will have to be, to fool Orsino’s men. Now,” she said, turning back to her people. “Let’s get this cleaned up. I’ve got a meeting to get to.”


The air still smelled of blood and gunpowder, even though Bobbi Leigh’s people did clean up the mess before they left. She’d even had the foresight to bring along an extra rug to replace the stained one in the main room. Sierra, Cammy, and Elia were all more than a little shaken by what they’d seen, and Sierra resented the intrusion of Philip, left behind by Bobbi Leigh. That is, she resented his presence until he let out a beleaguered sigh and ushered them all into the kitchen, sitting them down at the table and fixing them each a cup of coffee. “It wasn’t really you, you know,” he said to Elia.

“I saw his eyes,” Sierra whispered, “he wasn’t just some empty thing.”

“That’s because it was fresh,” he explained, “and in the presence of its source. A simulacrum doesn’t hold its source’s essence for very long, and it fades even faster the further away it gets.” He shrugged. “You can usually get one good task out of them, and then they just,” he waved his hands in the air like he was doing a magic trick, “sort of melt away. Useful for establishing alibis, or handling meetings which you could do in your sleep.”

“That’s why she had him shot right after he was made?” Sierra asked. “To preserve the illusion?”

Philip nodded, but Cammy snorted. “Oh, I imagine that was only one of the reasons for that little display,” she said in a bitter voice.

“She’s right,” Elia said, sitting forward. “That was a reminder, too. She means business.”

“Miss Williams is quite brilliant at multi-tasking,” Philip said with a smug smile.

Sierra narrowed her eyes at him. “Why are you here?” she asked.

“Hold that thought,” he said as his phone began to ring. He answered it, listened to the person on the other end, said, “Understood,” and hung up. Turning his attention back to the others, he said, “Miss Williams thought you might wish to observe the meeting with Mister Orsino’s men,” he said. Standing up, he gestured for them to exit the kitchen. “If you’ll follow me.”

He started for the main room, but Elia held back, face paling. “Can we do this somewhere else?” Sierra asked.

“Oh, fine,” Philip said. “You’re a sensitive lot.” He changed direction and led them to the biggest bedroom instead, which boasted a king sized canopy bed and a sitting area, complete with a widescreen television. While Sierra and the others sat, Philip pulled out a USB device and connected it to the television, then opened up something on his tablet and tapped at the screen. “There, we should be connected to the security feed in the main building.” He tapped at his tablet some more, and the television cycled through shots of different locations. “Here we are,” he said, stopping on one at last. “Ah,” he looked up, eyebrows rising in surprise. “Well that’s interesting.”

Elia let out a strangled noise and rose to his feet. “What is he doing here?”

Sierra looked up at the screen. It was split into multiple sections, showing the same room from different viewpoints. The security cameras, she guessed. The room looked like a standard conference room, but it had been set up more like an audience hall. The large chair at the front of the room, the only chair present, was empty. A group of about a dozen people were being shown inside. Sierra recognized half of them as the guards from Orsino’s office. The rest are probably the other shift, she thought. It was the man at the very head of the group who had caught Elia’s attention. Older than the rest, he had an air of danger about him that Sierra could feel even through a screen. As she watched, a door at the back of the room opened and Bobbi Leigh walked through. “Can we hear what they’re saying?” Sierra asked.

“Just a second.” Philip tapped his screen again.

“Vittore,” Bobbi Leigh said, moving to take a seat. “No longer satisfied to threaten me by proxy, I see.”

Sierra whipped her head around to Elia. “Orsino?”

He answered with a sharp nod, his eyes never leaving the television.

“Roberta,” Orsino answered. “I apologize for not letting you know of my presence ahead of time. I came to investigate an incident yesterday at my offices. When I landed this morning and learned of this meeting, I came straight here.”

Bobbi Leigh’s eyes narrowed, but she accepted the explanation with a curt nod. “As I told your people, I’ve caught your fugitive for you.” She gestured to the group standing by the back door and they opened it, allowing Joey and Sandy to enter, each carrying one side of the body bag. They set it down on the floor in front of Bobbi Leigh’s chair, and at another gesture from her unzipped it to reveal the simulacrum. Sierra had to look away from the screen. Cammy reached over and squeezed her hand.

“You killed him?” Orsino stepped forward, staring down at the body. He sounded annoyed. Good.

Bobbi Leigh arched a brow. “He killed my best technomancer. Am I not entitled to justice? If you wanted him alive, you should have been clearer in your instructions.”

Orsino glanced at the man behind him, then shrugged. “It is just a waste. I had plans for this one. Alonso.” He snapped and the other man came forward. He bent over and sniffed at the body.

“What is he doing?” Sierra asked.

“Confirming that it’s really Mister Sapienti,” Philip said.

“Orsino’s other wolf,” Elia elaborated, face hardening. “The one who killed J.D.”

Alonso stood and nodded to Orsino, who let out a sigh and nodded back. “That’s over with, then. Pity it had to end this way.” He glanced up at Bobbi Leigh with a frown. “But I’m afraid we still have a problem.”

“We have many problems,” Bobbi Leigh drawled, looking unconcerned, “most of which will cease to be once you and your lackeys collect your prize and get the hell out of my city.”

Orsino’s face darkened. He took a step forward but Joey and Sandy moved in between him and Bobbi Leigh. Orsino stopped, looking up at her. “This young man broke into my offices yesterday afternoon. He took something from me. If you caught him, you must have my belonging. I want it back.”

“Why doesn’t he just say it’s the tuar ceatha?” Cammy wondered aloud.

“He’s trying to figure out if she knows he doesn’t have it anymore,” Sierra guessed. “He doesn’t know what Elia did with it after it was stolen. He doesn’t want to tip his hand.”

On the screen, Bobbi Leigh started laughing. Orsino stiffened, but she held up a hand, saying, “Oh, bless your heart. I don’t know who broke into your offices yesterday, Vittore, but it wasn’t young Mister Sapienti. My people found him yesterday morning, about forty miles east of the city. He gave them quite the chase. I assure you, he was nowhere near your offices yesterday.”

Orsino scowled down at the body, then turned back to his people, conferring with the guards in Italian. He pointed at the simulacrum and questioned them intensely. “He’s asking if they’re sure it was me,” Elia supplied.

Orsino wheeled back around, fixing Bobbi Leigh with cold eyes. “My people watching your building say two of the thief’s accomplices entered these premises last night,” he accused.

“Oh really?” Bobbi Leigh tilted her head, feigning curiosity. “Can you describe them, please?” Orsino snapped his fingers and one of his people handed him two pieces of paper. Sierra only got a quick glimpse at them, but they looked like sketches. Bobbi Leigh looked them over with a frown. “Hmm. They resemble two of the members of my security staff, it is true. I can present them for questioning, if you’d like?”

“Please do,” Orsino said, crossing his arms.

Bobbi Leigh called over one of the guards on the door and said a few quiet words to her. She slipped out and returned a few minutes later, two women in tow. Cammy let out a surprised laugh. “Oh, she is good.”

Sierra blinked up at the screen. The two women Bobbi Leigh presented looked very similar to Cammy and herself, but they weren’t dead ringers. Close enough that someone watching from across the street, say, might mistake them, though. “How did she–?”

Philip smirked. “Miss Williams helped some local fae out of a bind a few years back. They gave her a few top-notch glamours in payment.”

“Won’t Orsino be able to sense the magic? He’s fae, too.”

“Not unless someone of his blood cast the glamour,” Cammy said with a grin. “That’s part of what make us so powerful. We can hide our magic from other users.”

“Huh. Neat.”

Indeed, it seemed that Orsino and his people could not detect the ruse. Orsino called the guards forward to ask if these were the women they’d seen break into the office, and each of them shook their heads no after a close examination. Bobbi Leigh dismissed the women and Orsino called Alonso forward. He began sniffing the body again, this time standing up and shaking his head. “He asked him if the body held any scent of his offices,” Elia told them with a smile.

Bobbi Leigh watched these proceedings with ill concealed amusement. “It seems someone has had one over on you, Vittore.” Her expression hardened. “Although I do not like the implication that they were trying to bring my people into the matter. Whoever did this must be aware of our current disagreement, as well as your hunt for Mister Sapienti.”

Cazzo fae!” Orsino spat out. “My apologies, Roberta,” he said, looking up at Bobbi Leigh. “It seems a rivalry from my home has followed me here.” He gestured for Alonso to close the bag and gather it up. “But you have held up your end of the agreement. I will trouble you no more. If you will excuse me.”

Bobbi Leigh nodded and Orsino turned to go, his people falling in around him.

“Is he really giving up on the stone that easily?” Cammy asked, sitting back in her seat.

“And why did he assume it was the fae who stole it?” Elia wondered.

“Miss Williams discovered that a group of fae in Italy have been trying to obtain Orsino’s tuar ceatha for the past few years. It seems he believes they even have a few spies at his court. This would not be their first attempt on the stone.”

“Well that’s convenient,” Sierra muttered.

“I’m not complaining,” Elia said, relief flooding across his features.

“Now what?” Sierra asked Philip.

“Now, we wait for Miss Williams to call,” he said, turning off the feed and removing the USB device from the television.


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