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This is a sequel to A Dark and Endless Night. Like its predecessor, it's a

Forever Knight/TS x-over--but also like D&E Night, it doesn't require

familiarity with FK to make sense (at least that's the plan...by the end, all

should be explained. More or less...)

Yet again like the previous one, and in keeping with the title, this is pretty

dark. Hope you enjoy nonetheless...and away we go!

DISCLAIMER: Sentinel chars belong to Pet Fly Productions, FK chars belong to

James Parriott and tptb, story belongs to me, but since there's no money being

exchanged that matters little enough...I find the greatest reward comes from the

readers anyway (hint hint ;)

 

Darkest Before Dawn

XmagicalX

 

My partner is a vampire.

How can you possibly say that so it sounds meaningful? I've wanted to tell

Simon. Even if Blair opposes it--God, Simon's been a friend for years. He's

been Blair's friend since the anthropologist wormed his way into the station and

signed on as an official observer. He might not expound on the friendship but

he's always had a special place in his heart for "the kid", half as a mentor,

half out of respect--it goes both ways, after all--and an extra bit of

camaraderie derived from both of them having to deal with me on a regular basis.

I want to tell Simon. He has a right to know what's going on with his friend.

That there's a reason Sandburg hasn't come to the station in the past five

months. That he avoids his old acquaintances, his old life, with good

justification. That through no fault of his own, he can't be the man he was not

so long ago.

But how can I say it and have it believed? I've tried, God help me. I've stood

in front of a mirror and actually spoken the words aloud--I tried it in the

station bathroom once, about a month ago. Was planning to march into the

captain's office and tell him everything.

My partner is a vampire. There's no way to say it. At the very best it sounds

like I'm making a joke, and not a very funny one at that. At worst, when I put

every iota of sincerity in the final syllables, I sound ready for the nuthouse.

Took me a while to get used to even the word. I couldn't say it for some time,

or write it, or even read it without reacting. Sometimes it would cut into me,

like a knife or a bullet to the heart, that painful. Other times I'd feel like

laughing, only if I did it would be hysterical laughter and once started it'd

never end.

Blair still won't use that word. Not unless he's angry, or so deep in

depression he doesn't care.

Which is true more often than not, and it's getting worse. Six months ago--six

months ago he still was human. He laughed far more than he cried, and though

things got him down he'd spring up from them soon enough. Simon called him a

rubber ball once, not to his face. No matter how much crushed him he always

bounced back. He was that alive, that vibrant, a battery of

constantly-recharged energy. Nothing could stop him for long.

A little more than five months ago Blair encountered a man. No, he encountered

a monster, his murderer, the vampire Lucien LaCroix. And that light, his life,

was extinguished. And sometimes now I think all that remains is my friend's

ghost.

He sits still. It sounds strange but that's his most inhuman characteristic. If

he doesn't remember to he doesn't even breathe, and he sits so motionless for

hours at a time. It's not meditation as he used to do. No soothing music, no

smoky incense, not a yoga position or anything so ordinary. He'll be in a

chair, or on the sofa, or once in a while standing by the window. And he'll

stare forward and simply not move.

He talks differently, too. Quieter--his ears are more sensitive now, as finely

tuned as my own. And less, far less. Because he has less to say, perhaps, but

that never stopped him before. There's times now he can beat me when I'm at my

most taciturn.

He doesn't laugh, or very rarely, and then at things most wouldn't find

humorous. He's no longer teaching; neither is he studying, either at the

university or on his own. The anthropologic texts gather dust on the shelves,

their scholar absent, gone.

There are physical differences, too. Ones anybody would pick up on, which is

why he stays away from station and university. Predominately the pale skin,

cold to the touch. Sunlight burns it; one ray can blacken him if he's careless,

or obliterate him should he turn suicidal.

And then there's the changes only a Sentinel would notice. The odd reflective

sheen of eyes and hair. And the heartbeat. There is no heartbeat, no pulse;

the heart is still even when he moves. Of everything, it is this that disturbs

me the most, even after so many weeks. The preternaturally freezing touch of

his fingers, and that absent rhythm. It used to be the one sign I always could

pick him out by, his most distinguishing feature, more recognizable than

fingerprints or face or voice. But it's gone now.

Sometimes I want to go to him and shake him, like I did the first time I ever

saw his new form--like I did the first time I met Blair Sandburg at all. Lift

him up by his collar and scream into his face "What are you? Why aren't you my

friend?" Or get rid of him altogether. Move him out of the loft and out of my

life. He's broken ties with everyone else in the mortal world; why does he stay

with me?

My Sentinel side, those deep hidden instincts and intuitions would approve. Even

now occasionally when I catch sight of him they'll rear inside me, order me to

do what's necessary to protect the tribe. Destroy the evil, kill the predator,

murder the vampire.

But there's another part at the same time that tells me to protect the Guide.

And sometimes I'll still see Blair. I'll drop a random comment and he'll laugh,

his old surprised chuckle. Or he'll say something, mention my senses and his

study of them and he'll sound exactly like he always did, anthropologist and

friend and Guide all mixed up in his tone.

It's those moments I live for now. The brief instants that nothing's changed.

I'm on the night shift now, and he still rides along with me in the passenger

seat of my truck when I'm not at the station. Sometimes in silence, but

sometimes we'll have discussions and I'll be with my partner, communing with my

best friend, and I'll know that I'll never give this up. Not without a fight.

And there are times too that I remember what happened, why it happened. What

LaCroix said. It was for me that this occurred. It was for me that Blair tried

to hunt down the vampire stalking Cascade, and for me that he offered himself.

If LaCroix had taken the full sacrifice, and not brought Blair across into

darkness...what would I have felt then?

Is it right to sell your soul to the devil for a good cause?

Was I worth it?

The only hope now is that there might be a way back over. A way to return Blair

to life, that's what I seek. That's all I really am looking for now. I do my

duty. I'm still a Sentinel, and still a police officer. But what am I worth

without my partner to back me up?

Yes, Blair still rides with me. Without permission from my captain or the

station, though Simon's seen it and not commented. A couple years ago I

wouldn't have dreamed of dragging a civilian with me without the proper

authorization. Never mind the abilities--and vulnerabilities--of that person.

But something changes in you, when you touch the unreal. When a man with

glowing eyes and fangs literally takes flight after a cold-blooded murder. When

you see someone draw nourishment from blood and heal instantly, when you touch a

body and find it cool as a corpse and as silent, only it moves and talks and

breathes...reality is different after that.

I wondered before we confronted LaCroix, how he could live as he does, no ties

to the mortal realm, neither identification nor birth certificate nor laws. I

don't question it now. That kind, his kind, Blair's kind now--they aren't

subject to our rules. They're murderers but they kill to live; they are

criminals of the worst order and yet they are never caught or punished. I take

Blair with me, unofficially, and it never crosses my mind anymore that it's

hardly permissible for him to follow me anywhere. Everywhere now; I don't tell

him to stay in the truck anymore. It would be pointless. If the sun is down and

there's no flame, I'm far more easily injured than he is.

There are advantages to the vampire state after all. He can move faster than I

can track, even take to the air, a trick he's only just mastering, and slowly.

Blair will only use his new powers when absolutely necessary, and then

grudgingly. He who always told me to accept my talents and use them to their

limits denies what he himself is capable of.

But he'll invoke them at times. Like the accident, two months back, the sports

car flipped by a drunk driver, a young couple trapped under their automobile and

dying. We were the first on the scene, the paramedics and the firemen with the

Jaws of Life coming but delayed, and I straining to lift the vehicle off their

broken bodies and failing. Blair hooked his hands under the hood, his eyes

flashed gold, and then it was off them. Tossed aside like a piece of tin foil.

Adrenaline, I told the paramedics when they arrived. Both the kids inside

survived. And I'm grateful, but it shook me too. How can I help it? I'm the

cop, a former Army Ranger. I bench press over two hundred pounds. Blair's my

partner and for his size sturdy, but he's the brains more than the brawn. I

don't feel threatened that he's so much brighter, that's the order of things,

he's got the education after all. Earned smarts, though I know damn well most

of what flashes in his eyes is innate intelligence from the day he was born. So

be it.

But now he's stronger, too. Faster. And a match for most of my Sentinel's

senses. I can see farther, perhaps. Of course I can go out in the sun, which

is a definite advantage. And if it's not blood it tastes like nothing to him.

But everything else...

Maybe that's the real reason I want to talk to Simon. Bemoan my own

insecurities. This isn't about Blair at all, it's just about me dealing with my

new--newly made partner.

Then I see him, seated on the couch, not moving, not breathing, his eyes on the

window. And I swear and cross the room in a hurry to close the shade, because

the sun is coming up and has almost passed the tops of the building, about to

shine through the glass and destroy him.

Placidly he turns his head, motionless except his neck pivoting to pin me with a

steel-gray stare. In the darkness he now dwells in the blue of his eyes too

often fades. He doesn't speak, only looks at me, and even after five months I

can still see the pain there in his gaze, as clear as ever, pure because it

seems to be all that's left in the center of his soul.

But somewhere locked away inside him I know my real partner, my human friend, my

Guide still lives, and it would be worth all I am and more for his return.

 

 

"Go to bed," Jim told his partner. Not quite an order but more than a

suggestion. "Sun's up, I'm not going anywhere, and you need the sleep."

"So do you." Flatly; his tone might have been sulky, might have been angry, but

more likely was just tired. And hungry.

Starved, really. Jim examined his friend. A vampire ate less than a mortal

man, their nutrition more concentrated. But nonetheless as essential for their

survival as food was for the living.

Yet Blair disliked to feed. For as long as possible he would avoid it, once as

long as a week. The first few days he was fine, but by the third day he'd be

noticeably weaker, and by the next it would be visibly obvious, his skin

tightening across his face, shrinking in around his muscles, giving him the

gaunt look of famine. At the end of that horrible week Jim had finally uncorked

the bottle and pushed it into his hands, forcing him to drink it down. He had

been too weak to resist.

The blood came from butcher shops around the city. Mostly cow, some lamb and

pig as well. Jim had found that they were willing to supply it to him for a

small fee and would not ask questions if he did not come too frequently.

Apparently several small groups used blood in religious practices; Jim decided

he was grateful for the boon and didn't need the details.

So now in the back of the refrigerator were always a couple tall green bottles.

If one didn't inspect them too closely, and didn't lift them to observe how

thickly the liquid inside sloshed, they were easily mistaken for red wine.

Except to Jim's honed senses. Even chilled, even in the glass and under the

cork he could smell the blood whenever he entered the kitchen.

He was very attuned to blood now--no, that wasn't entirely true. The scent had

always caught his attention, signal of injury, of pain, of danger. The sickly

sweet and metallic flavor was familiar to him as the feel of his own skin, the

recognition written into his genes. Part of a Sentinel's inner catalogue of

signs.

But he was more sensitive to it now. It repulsed him, turned his stomach

whenever he sniffed it. He had experienced terrible things in his life and not

flinched, but whenever he opened the refrigerator and spied those tall bottles

he was touched with nausea. It affected him elsewhere as well; while he hadn't

gone vegetarian his taste for red meat had disappeared. Even Wonder Burger lost

its appeal, when he entered and smelled the pink uncooked patties behind the

plastic counters and wax paper wrappings.

He doubted Blair had noticed the change in diet. Not when he couldn't eat

regularly now, when the scent of normal food twisted his stomach the same as the

blood did to Jim's. Yet another adjustment he could not easily make. Probably

that was part of the reason he was so loath to touch the bottles in the

refrigerator, even when needing their sustenance.

The other reason was because of that need. The desire. Jim had seen Blair when

he drank, the blank and ravenous glaze that formed over his bright eyes. An

addict getting a fix as much as a hungry man at a meal. The very pleasure he

took from the blood repulsed him, horrified him. Controlling that appetite was

one of the few ways he had left to be human, to show mortal domination over his

impulses, and even that could not last for long before he lost to the craving.

But it didn't stop him from trying. Three days now and counting; Jim kept a

close tally of the time, not anxious for a repeat of the awful week. "You should

eat something."

A flash in his partner's eyes, but the spark died soon enough. "Drink, you

mean. I can wait a little more." Tiredly he pushed himself off the sofa and

headed for his room. Jim tracked his progress, noting the slower pace and the

hollowing cheeks. A little more, but not very much longer before he had no

choice.

Blair had no sooner settled on his bed when the phone trilled. Jim grabbed it

hurriedly. Not that it mattered; if his partner was still awake he would have

heard it easily, and just as readily would listen to whatever conversation

played out; if he were asleep then nothing would wake him, short of sunlight,

sunset, or screaming directly in his ear. The sleep of the dead...

"Ellison here," he answered.

"It's Simon. Look, Jim, I know you're off-duty now, but can you come to the

station? I want everyone available on this new case and it'd be better if you

could be briefed all at once." Translation: Simon wanted the city's Sentinel

aware and working on it as soon as possible.

"I'm on my way."

"Thanks, Jim." No mistaking the relief in the captain's voice. Then, hesitantly,

"Sandburg's not around, is he?"

Jim glanced at the closed door to Blair's room. "No, he's not available. Sorry,

sir."

The exhalation might have been a sigh; hard to say. "We'll be waiting for you,"

and Simon hung up.

Jim's hand was on the doorknob when Blair's quiet voice came to his ears. "Give

Simon my regards."

He paused, not turning the handle. Spoke softly to the air, "I wish you were

coming, Chief."

There was no response. Jim looked back, saw the sunlight glimmering around the

edges of the shade. Have to get larger ones, he reminded himself yet again,

black-out shades that will cut all the light. At least give him the freedom of

movement in the loft.

He opened the door and proceeded outside to the crisp morning air.

 

 

Detective Ellison arrived a few moments late, unobtrusively found a seat in the

back of the room. Captain Banks breathed a silent sigh of relief and greeted

him with the barest of nods before continuing.

He didn't see Jim as much now that he was on the night shift. Occasionally

Ellison would work overtime or come into the station midday on an errand, and he

had attended a few of the weekly Major Crimes poker games though they were no

longer scheduled at the loft. But Simon missed his presence around the bullpen,

missed the insights he had about cases and more general things. Missed his

friend, though he understood the reason for his absence.

No one knew precisely what was wrong with Blair Sandburg. They understood it

was a medical condition, serious enough that he had dropped out of the

university life as well as left his position of police observer. Jim refused to

give details, apparently at Blair's request. Whatever it was, Blair was not in

the hospital and not actively being treated. The one time Simon had tried to

ascertain how bad it truly was, if his life was indeed threatened--Jim's glare

had been frightening, but his assurance was convincing: Sandburg was sick, but

not on the verge of death.

The captain had seen him a couple of times, still driving with Jim, though his

observer identification and ride-along pass had been revoked. Simon saw no point

in calling them on it, as long as they were careful. Blair didn't look much

different, a little thinner, a little paler. And not so active; the most

disturbing part of the glimpses he had caught was how still the younger man had

sat or stood. Eyes on Jim but passively observing. Simon didn't understand it

himself; what could have changed him so drastically, harnessed that energy? It

saddened him, what little he knew. Whatever had happened to the kid, he didn't

deserve it.

He wished he could talk to Sandburg. Didn't care if he wanted to keep his

illness a secret; he wouldn't ask any questions, just exchange a few words.

Sports, the weather, Jim's senses--Blair had always had something to discuss.

Simon wouldn't admit to anyone--except perhaps Jim--how much he missed the

anthropologist's eager presence around the bullpen. Something vital had been

lost with his departure and Jim's shift change. Heart, maybe. All the

detectives did their jobs to the best of their abilities, but the determination

with which they tackled their cases was weaker, their convictions lessened Loss

of morale. Blair had been far more than unofficial mascot of Major Crimes, but

it was that function that Simon almost missed the most.

While his mind mentally reviewed the recent dilemma his mouth was speaking to

the assembled team of detectives, rattling off the details of their latest case.

He already had given more thought than he cared to the matter at hand. The

black-market organ racket, not new but not something he had ever wanted to turn

up in Cascade. Four bodies already; they had been dumped in the river so their

origin was unknown, but one had already been identified as a local girl. Only

twenty-six, and the expressions on her bereaved parents' faces were enough that

the captain could tear apart the perpetrators with his bare hands.

Easier said than done. The gang was widespread and well-organized; Cascade was

only their latest base of operations. Members had been picked up here and there

across the country, but only small-time, delivery boys, two surgeons. Only one

of the actual killers, and he had gotten off on a technicality. Not guilty

officially, but Simon had spoken to the captain in San Francisco and believed it

when she said they had released the wrong man. None of those captured had known

enough to be of help, or were so skilled at refusing to speak that they fooled

their interrogators as to their ignorance.

The detectives reacted with the appropriate anger to what Simon told them, the

younger ones raring to go, the older and more experienced sickened by the

defilement of the bodies. Liver, heart, lungs carefully removed, perversion of

surgery, a practice meant to save lives ending them.

Simon felt honest pity for those who turned to the ring--sometimes for self, but

too often the patients were family members and others beloved, children,

parents. Willing to pay outrageous prices and even higher moral dues to save

those they loved. But the criminals, the murderers--they didn't care about

that. It was the money that drew them, plain and simple; they cared as little

for the lives they saved as they did for those they destroyed. Choosing their

victims randomly, whoever might not be missed. The girl had been a prostitute,

a fact carefully concealed from a mother and father who had lost track of their

daughter several years before. He didn't inquire how she had ended up in that

position; no matter what her home life had been, for her parents to rediscover

her in such a horrific manner...

He was glad when he was finished, gratefully stepped off the podium and let a

lieutenant begin coordinating the attack. There were plans for stings,

following up leads, an array of tactics spread out in the hopes that one would

be successful, that this would be the time and place where the killing would

stop.

A private war was about to be waged, and Simon took aside one of the key

soldiers, "Jim, my office."

Ellison glanced around as he seated himself. Probably checking to see if

anything had changed in his month-long absence. Simon felt something spark

inside when he saw his detective in the chair across the desk. Back where he

belonged; now if only a long-haired observer was perched at his side all would

be well...

No time for that now. "Jim, I wanted to talk to you about a specific aspect of

this case I thought you should be following up. You'd be here regardless; every

detective we have is involved. And you especially, I don't have to remind you

why..." Was Blair still tutoring him in using his senses, Simon suddenly

wondered, what did they call it, 'guiding' Jim?

"At any rate--this isn't general information because it's probably the most

sensationalist aspect, and the media's going to have a field day with this as it

is. But you remember the homicides a few months ago, the so-called 'vampire'

killings?"

Jim stiffened, nodded sharply, his face blank. What the--dammit, Simon berated

himself. Of course he'd remember; that was right around the time Blair got

sick. The observer had disappeared and scared the hell out of them for a few

days before the truth came out. Unpleasant associations..."Sorry, Jim. I know

you set that case as officially unsolved, and there haven't been any more

murders, at least not in any country we're communicating with. This isn't the

same man, I don't think. It might be completely unrelated.

"But all four bodies were drained of blood. The pathologist said it could be a

result of the surgical procedure, or even deliberately drawing the

blood--maximum usage of the corpse." Simon grimaced. "But at my request he

checked--one of the bodies had marks on the neck. Like those other homicides.

I thought you should know, maybe pursue that angle?"

Again Jim nodded. His face had gone white at Simon's words, but he stood

quickly enough. "I'll definitely look into it when I go on duty tonight, sir,

and I'll keep you posted."

"Thanks." Simon awkwardly indicated the vacated chair. "You sure you don't want

to stick around for a bit? Anything on your mind?"

"No." Guilt flitted across Jim's features, was smoothed over. "Sorry, Simon.

But I need some sleep--I was getting to bed when you called. Maybe later?"

"Sure. Of course." Simon hoped he did an acceptable job of hiding his

disappointment. He hadn't really been thinking of Jim's altered schedule; the

Sentinel normally rose with the sun and retired around the time the moon set.

Strange for him to have reversed his hours--no. Not especially. He wanted his

days free to be with Blair. Or maybe it had more to do with the nights; he had

mentioned something offhand once, about Blair avoiding the sun. Related to his

condition, sensitivity to UV, easily burned perhaps. Not something Simon dared

press Jim about, though.

He bid the detective goodbye and good morning. Or night, as far as Jim was

concerned. Then proceeded to the bullpen to confer with the rest of his people,

trying to ignore the continuing absence of his two best men.

 

 

"It's not LaCroix." Blair shook his head emphatically. His curls whipped around

his face and for a moment he looked almost ordinary, a scholar protesting what

went contrary to his knowledge. "I'd know if he had returned. I'd feel it."

Jim didn't question it. There were parts of Blair's nature now that he couldn't

comprehend and didn't try to. Instead he asked, "But could it be another one of

you?" Another vampire? He couldn't use the word directly with him.

"I don't know." Thoughtfully. "Maybe. If I could see the body..."

"I could get you into the morgue tonight." Dusk had fallen, sunset soon and then

they could get to work. "We need to know precisely what we're dealing with."

He had good reason. With the exception of LaCroix, and now Blair, Cascade had

few supernatural presences. The anthropologist mentioned this more than once,

how they had never come close to encountering one before. He suggested that Jim

might be the cause--the Sentinel, he theorized, was a born vampire-hunter.

Jim often felt like denying such a fantastical heritage, but his subconscious

was all too telling. He knew how to kill that kind of demon, the many varying

methods. He knew their danger, and felt it, a force impinging on himself,

warning of danger, of evil. When LaCroix first arrived he had felt that

tension.

Now it was an ever-present symptom, humming like a live wire in his brain.

Stronger whenever he was in close proximity to his partner, but always there in

the back of his mind, a constant buzz. Blair had never admitted to a comparable

feeling, but Jim suspected that it might exist, other vampires' own innate

warning system. Warding them away from Cascade and their possible hunter.

But younger vampires felt it less than older, apparently. At least that would

explain a couple months back, when another one appeared in the city. Blair was

the first to notice that one, not from an inner sense but simple observation; he

saw the wingless fiend gliding over the streets. Maybe just flying for fun;

maybe seeking prey.

At any rate, Blair told his Sentinel. The following morning Jim went hunting

himself, armed with a cross and a wooden stake concealed under his coat.

He knew what he had to do, but he had little experience with these matters.

Aware of the vampire's superior speed and strength, he hoped that daylight would

give him sufficient advantage. Blair had almost prevented him from going, but

he convinced his partner of his safety. Reasoning that he probably wouldn't

even find the monster.

He was wrong. More proof for Blair's theory; he wandered to the alley without

even thinking about it, uncovered the vampire hidden in his cardboard lean-to.

And he proved as ineffective as his Guide had feared.

It was Blair who saved him, his partner who he had rescued more than once. Not

even present, and yet protecting his Sentinel. Jim Ellison had faced death

enough times to recognize it in the fangs and yellow eyes of the monster. The

warm afternoon breeze and the ephemeral sunlit glow of the shadows weren't

enough to delay the vampire's strike.

All that stopped him was Jim's quiet words. He didn't even know why he spoke,

"My partner will hunt you if you take me."

More than once Blair had invoked his partner's name and position to save

himself. Jim couldn't imagine why he tried the reverse, and yet he did.

And the vampire paused, hissing, "Why should I care, who's your partner?"

"He's one of you," Jim informed him. Feeling more than a little strange telling

the creature but fixed on his course. These dark ones had an understanding of

one another greater than most of mankind. "Blair Sandburg."

At that the vampire reared back. His eyes darkened to brown and he gasped,

"Sandburg? LaCroix's mad son?"

There were advantages after all to Blair's master being as old and powerful and

insane as he was. At the very least it gave him a reputation. "LaCroix's

child," Jim confirmed. "The partner of Cascade's guardian. Get out of this

city, take no lives and I won't stake your worthless heart." He had been almost

giddy, cheating death and in such a fashion. The creature had fled, terror in

his eyes, risking being burned by the sun in his haste to obey.

It had been one of the few times in recent months that he had walked the streets

with the sun high, his shadow short behind him, nodding at the citizens he

passed, the people he protected. It had been as well one of the few times Blair

smiled, when he had related the story, a true amused grin as he had at onetime

often worn.

He wasn't smiling now. "What about you, man? Are you picking up anything?"

"No," Jim admitted. "Even if I was, I'm not sure how'd I distinguish it from

what I get from you..." He trailed off, wondering how to possibly right that,

reword it so it lost the bitter edge.

But Blair was oblivious to the implied affront. "It's a case of interference,

but there should be a way around it. Distance lessens the effect--when you were

at the station, did it feel differently? The sensation any more than usual?"

In spite of himself Jim nearly smiled. The one remaining way to bring Blair

back to himself--give him an intellectual puzzle and he snapped right on track.

He may not consider himself still a Guide, but nonetheless he took his duties as

one seriously. In answer, "No, Chief. Sorry. I wasn't paying attention. I

didn't notice anything different."

Blair frowned. "Jim, this is serious. Not only if there's another one of us in

Cascade--but do you realize what might be going on? They could actually be

working with these body-snatchers, organ takers, whatever you call them."

Now Jim scowled. Immediately obvious and yet it hadn't occurred to him; the

threat of any vampire had been worrisome enough. Good thing immortality hadn't

dulled his partner's mind. "Men and vam--your kind--together. That's not a

pleasant thought."

"No!" Blair agreed emphatically. "But it makes sense; they'd be the perfect

assassins. They're made for it--we're made for it. Unnatural-born killers."

There was no bitterness in how he said it. Even a month ago his tone would have

held anger, spiked with that nervous, nameless fear that plagued him. A man

losing his soul, only now he almost sounded resigned to it. Beginning to accept

his fate--"They're made for it," Jim corrected, reminded him, "You're no

killer."

His partner neither denied nor agreed with the statement. His eyes were flat

slate gray. Unreadable.

"If there is one in town," Jim said slowly, "I should be able to find it. Like

I did last time. And if they're working with this group it will make it that

much easier to get everyone involved." He glanced at his watch. "I've got

almost four hours before sunset--"

"No way!" Blair was animate again. "No go, man. You're staying here until

nightfall; if you're going hunting then I'm coming with you."

"I did fine last time--" Jim protested. There was a time that would have been

enough, a time that his word set the law of house and partnership.

No more. "Last time you got lucky. Jim, I know what you're going to face here.

I know you're a Sentinel, that it's your duty to fight these things, that it's

in your blood. But Sentinels can't work alone. I'm still your partner, that's

what you said, man. Is that still true?"

What choice had he but to reluctantly concur? Blair nodded sharp agreement.

"Then wait for me. Anyway, two against one are better odds."

Especially when one was a match for the predator. There was logic in what he

had to say; Jim listened to it. Besides, if Blair truly was determined to keep

him there it wouldn't be physically possible for him to leave. Still another

readjustment of their balance that he had yet to be comfortable with.

Night finally fell, and Jim and Blair ventured out onto the streets. Together,

as Blair had insisted. They drove first to the morgue; the body had hardly been

pulled out of the drawer when Blair nodded. "One killed him."

"What?" the mortician demanded. "You haven't seen nothing, you got a sixth

sense or something?"

Blair glanced down swiftly at the corpse and deliberately turned away. Though

small, the marks on the neck were plain to Jim's eyes as well. "He just knows

what to look for," the detective assured the bemused coroner, and they continued

on their investigation.

Surprisingly it was Blair who initiated the conversation as they drove. "You

remember Dan, with those other murderers?" he murmured. "Going on about Dracula,

but he didn't believe it, not really, he just thought it was cool."

"I remember." Jim refused to so much as glimpse his partner's expression. The

coldness in his tone was enough. "I didn't believe it either, but I didn't

think it was 'cool'. They're killing. It doesn't matter how or why or what's

doing it; the death is what's important. What we have to stop."

"We romanticize it." Blair's voice was soft, dream-like, speculating on society

as he often used to, only now it was the darkness that fascinated him so.

"Serial killers get all the publicity, and vampires..." The word slipped out

smoothly, broken by the pause following it. "We're the greatest of all, we hunt

for need and for pleasure and we kill out of that lust."

"Not this one," Jim pointed out. "Whoever, whatever it is--they're killing for

these people, and this group murders for money. It's that simple. He's a

mercenary, whatever else he may be." When there was no response he shifted in

his seat, idling at a corner waiting for the light to go green. "So where are

we going?"

"Where are you taking us?" Blair asked in answer.

The light changed and he had turned the truck before he caught the question. "I

don't know." The station was the other way--

"Don't fight it." Blair's voice was low, smooth. Prickles ran up Jim's spine,

hearing the odd breathless quality to it, the air not quite naturally exhaled.

All the same he responded to the guiding quality, allowed himself to relax and

drive. "Just go where you want to," his partner instructed. An odd heaviness

was entering his tone, and Jim knew that he couldn't entirely disobey even if he

wished to. He stifled the fear and anger that power evoked in him and complied.

Unnatural, against rules of man and science, but within a few minutes they were

pulling up alongside an old townhouse. Not the best neighborhood but the

building was in good condition, the trim freshly painted and the stairs swept.

He was about to climb out of the truck when Blair laid a cold hand on his arm.

"Don't do anything yet, just listen."

Jim nodded and opened his ears. No distracting sounds from the individual

seated by him. Inside he could make out a variety of voices. A mother putting

her son to bed. A couple arguing over what movie to watch. A television

blaring over a radio, cutlery against ceramic dishes...a hushed conversation.

"What shall it be this time? Young man, young girl, big, small, good heart, good

lungs?" The speaker was male, sounded young.

An older man answered him. "Keep it down. Jesus. If you're not careful--"

"If I'm not careful enough I'll leave. I don't care where I take my business;

you are simply convenient."

"For the sake of our convenience, then--tread careful, okay? The cops found the

bodies."

"That's them," Jim hissed, reaching for the radio. He requested backup and

turned toward Blair, pulling his gun from its holster. "I can hear two

heartbeats in the room, though. I'm not sure the killer we're looking for is

here." But his own heart spoke differently. He could feel his pulse soaring,

thunder in his ears, and it wasn't all the tension of a possible bust.

Vibrations in the air, invisible currents warning the guardian of danger beyond

who walked by his side.

And Blair was not oblivious, though he said nothing, silently following Jim

around to the alleys behind the townhouse.

He thought they were quiet, but before they reached the back he heard the

younger man hiss, "They're outside now." Muffled oaths, a quick retort of

footsteps on stairs, and a door slammed shut.

Jim swore, not even wondering how they had been noticed, running to his goal.

He saw a man jump out of a first floor window, hitting the ground running.

Readying his gun, "Freeze!"

But the man was already around the corner, and by the time Jim made it there he

was out of even the Sentinel's sight, lost in the growing night.

The slightest rustle in the alley behind him. Blair, he thought at first, but

when he turned he saw a woman all in black, tall, beautiful, raven hair flowing

around a too-white face. Pale eyes widened as they met his glare, then suddenly

she whirled.

Blair stood behind her, close enough he could grab her with his instant motion.

But he did nothing, arms limp at his sides, transfixed by the figure before him.

"Stay where you are," Jim called across the distance, knowing he would not be

heeded. He started toward her, but she glanced back, saw him and ran.

Vanished; there was no sign of her when he reached Blair.

"You could have stopped her," he accused, not hiding his ire.

His partner turned to him slowly, as if it were a burden to focus on him. "Did

you hear her heartbeat?"

"No." Irritated with himself now as well, that he had been distracted from his

duty.

"She had none." Faintly, as if he were commenting to himself and not to Jim at

all.

"That was her! The vampire, the killer, and you let her escape!" He was angry

with himself more than with Blair, angry that he had been concentrating on the

wrong people, not following his too-accurate instincts. Angry as well that his

Guide no longer could show him the proper course. But it wasn't his fault, he

had to remind himself, it wasn't truly him...

Except Blair now was shaking his head, his look still dazed, "No. She's not the

killer." Finally he met Jim's eyes, his own filled with a blank confusion

overlaid with remembered pain. Jim felt his self sink, his wrath draining away

into the bottomless, incomprehensible depths of that gaze as Blair explained,

"She's LaCroix's daughter."

 

 

Blair waited in the truck as Jim filed his report with the station. Probably got

into a 'discussion' with the lucky night shift captain on duty, judging from how

long it was taking. Ellison was developing quite a reputation as the bane of

the night owls; his penchant for stubbornly insisting on certain investigations

while not specifying how he had come by his information set their teeth on edge.

Combined with his less-than-amiable attitude, the only captain who was ever

happy to see him was Simon, when his turn on the night shift came up every few

weeks.

Blair supposed that if he were in there now, backing up his partner as duty

commanded, he might be able to smooth things over. At least pour a little oil

onto grinding cogs. That had always been one of his unspoken functions before,

hadn't it? Once he had been accepted, the rest of the bullpen had been more than

pleased with his work as a buffer. Jim hadn't been exactly Public Enemy Number

One before Blair had begun working with him, but good detective or not he hadn't

been on the top of anyone's party list, either.

Nothing was preventing him from going in, trying to calm whatever ruckus Jim was

stirring up. Except he couldn't. Walking by the front desk--he would be undone

the moment he met the night sergeant's friendly gaze. Impossible to make it to

the bullpen, stand under the flickering greenish glare of the florescent lights

and observe the world he had so happily inhabited. And what if someone he knew

were working late? It wasn't Simon's shift, but Joel, or Rafe, or Brown? They

would look into his unnatural eyes and draw back from his pale complexion,

reject what they saw. No friend of theirs, not any more, no longer a member of

the human race.

Rationally he knew that they wouldn't catch on, not for some time at least.

They thought he was ill; they would write off his white skin to disease. They

might even pity him, though he doubted he could take that, either. Unlike Jim

with his instincts and enhanced senses, they would be blind to the predator

masquerading as one of their own.

But he couldn't maintain the charade long without cracking, even if he didn't

have to hide what he was. His very self--his nature now would oppose him. To

be around humans, surrounded by humans, with their warm breath and living scent

and beating hearts...that was what he never could admit to anyone, not even Jim,

how much he desired it. Not the companionship, not anymore. He had always been

a social being, but it was not society he now craved but something deeper, more

integral. To touch their lives, to take their essence--

'It is the only way for our kind, the only way we have to love a mortal, to hold

their love.' LaCroix's words, a ghostly whispering in his son's ear. But to

listen was to murder; to love was to be a killer. No; he would stay away from

that temptation.

So he sat quietly, waiting in the dark truck and watching people going about

their ways on the streets. Jim would be reporting "suspicious activity", as

nothing more could be specified lest he reveal his abilities. In the morning he

would tell Simon the whole story; for now the captain present would have to make

do with what was given.

He would say nothing of the woman, the black-haired woman in the alley. At

Blair's behest, and more because it would do the police little good to try to

hunt one of that kind. Jim didn't believe she was innocent.

And yet...Blair wasn't sure himself what he believed, and didn't know if he

should believe all that he did. But she wasn't the one they sought; she wasn't

an enemy, he didn't think.

Then what was she? LaCroix's daughter, the ancient one's child, second only to

his favored son now dead and gone. Nicholas Knight, a son that Blair had

replaced in that one's twisted vision. But she--he had seen her before in his

master's blood, the beautiful curves of the face, a porcelain doll's mask

embellished with ebon hair and sapphire eyes.

Except when he had seen that face in reality, actually encountered her perfect

form--she had meant nothing. He recognized her, but only from those shifting

images absorbed from LaCroix. The woman herself was nothing beyond the

slightest sensation evoked by another vampire's presence. There was no

impression of that bond, that link that had existed between him and his master.

The same bond he had felt between himself and the dead Nicholas, a connection of

blood relation, nothing like how humans defined it and yet more powerful still.

With her, perhaps distantly inside himself he had felt the tiniest twinge--but

he could as easily be imagining it. And yet he knew he wasn't mistaking her

heritage. LaCroix had brought her across; there could not be two such unreal

women.

He had tried to explain this to Jim, but his partner hadn't been able to

understand, never having experienced that nearly tangible connection. When he

admitted that he was not so attached to the woman the Sentinel demanded how he

could insist on her innocence.

He couldn't. He didn't know. LaCroix's daughter would not be especially

inclined toward good, unless she had been in life as well. He didn't tell Jim

but one of the crucial images he recalled, one in his mind when he slept, was

her beautiful face lifting with a smile, her eyes golden and her mouth bloody.

Sometimes he dreamed he ran beside her through a dark wood, hunting, a mortal

man fleeing from them...from the three of them; Nicholas would be at his other

side in that dream.

And yet he knew another likeness, a brief one that he never could hang onto but

that haunted the outskirts of his mind. She would be standing in darkness, and

then the sun would rise and she would not move, and instead of burning her skin

would darken slightly, take on a rose hue. He could hear her heart pulsing

lightly, and see the living blood pumping through the veins on her throat.

Sometimes she would be wearing a long black dress, simple and ancient in its

style, and he would know he viewed her as she had been centuries ago, still a

mortal woman, her hair tangled and her cheeks bruised. But once he glimpsed her

standing in sunlight in a jacket and jeans. Modern clothes, her hair styled and

her gaze sharp.

She wasn't the killer. There was far more to her than that.

The driver's side door opened and Jim slid into the seat. "Sorry for the delay,

Chief, I was going through mug shots. I think I id-ed at least one of our

culprits."

He tensed. "The woman?"

Jim shook his head. "Didn't even try. But I got an okay look at the guy and

found a shot of him--one bad character, Gil Cantor. He's wanted for involvement

in the deaths of three officers, two in Chicago and one in LA."

"A cop killer?" Blair shook his head. Vampire or no, the Cascade PD was going

to eat him alive. The police were extraordinarily protective of their own, one

of his earliest observations of their subculture.

He remembered when he had been inside that circle of blue and gold, accepted in

that tight loyalty. That time in the Wilkenson Towers, when he had emerged from

the elevator to find most of Major Crimes extending a hand to help him out.

Again during his return from the hospital following the Golden overdose, they

all gathered around him teasing and grinning and he knew that when they had

collared the dealers it had been partly for him, protecting him.

He wondered if they even remembered him anymore. Did anyone ever bother asking

Jim what had happened to his partner? Of course Jim wouldn't tell, and he would

never want them to know, but the question intruded on his thoughts nonetheless.

"We're going to get him," Jim said, oblivious to the track his partner's

thoughts were taking. "We're going to get all of them. If you had seen what

they did to these people..." He trailed off. Blair had never been able to grasp

the full extent of the horrors humans were capable of inflicting on one another.

And yet in a way now he was a part of those horrors; if he had never committed

them himself, he had an understanding of that surpassed much of what even Jim

had seen.

It didn't take much of his imagination to picture the state of the corpses. The

torn and mangled torso, desecration of a body's temple, and the killer's way of

bringing death was quicker and neater but no less an atrocity. Murder was

murder, no matter the manner or reason.

The rest of the night passed without incident and they returned to the loft.

Jim, weary from what he had done and seen, the newest case already weighing

heavy on his shoulders. Blair was not tired, though he moved carefully to avoid

showing weakness. In the elevator he casually rested his hand against the wall,

fighting a wave of dizziness. Eyes on Jim, wishing for the thousandth time that

there was something he could do.

Make a random comment, crack a joke, about what? About him being tired--'Getting

old there, Jim?' Or be sympathetic, empathetic, echo his feelings, 'Man, long

night, I can't wait to get to bed.' Maybe change the subject; or offer

encouragement, perhaps best of all, 'So what's the plan for tomorrow, to bring

these bastards down?'

He wanted to say anything, but he couldn't so much as reach out and nudge his

partner's shoulder. Not without Jim jerking away, an unconscious reaction to

the chill of his too-close presence.

Jim closed the door behind them and then turned on Blair, "Go eat, drink,

whatever you want to call it. Now."

"Jim--"

"Sandburg, do you think I'm blind?" with a quick gesture at his eyes.

"Nighttime or not I can still see you, Chief. And I notice when you start

relying on walls and desks to keep standing. You're starving."

I know, Jim. Believe me. "I'm a little hungry. I can take it. It hasn't been

that long; I was a little weak with the sun almost up. That's all."

Every line of his face and stance reflected his friend's unhappiness. "We still

don't know how safe it is for you to keep doing this to yourself. I don't need

any Sentinel senses to see how much it takes out of you..." He glanced at the

refrigerator.

No, Blair silently begged. If he took out a bottle, brought it too close...just

knowing it was there was temptation enough, the attraction almost physical.

Every part of him longed for it, for a taste of even that cold, bitter blood.

Trying to be practical, "Look, Jim, there's only one bottle left. I know how

much you hate getting it; I can hang on for a couple more days at least."

Clearly his partner was doubtful. "Why are you fighting it? Everybody gets

hungry, I know it's not normal what you ingest--" as if he found some comfort in

turning to the unwieldy vocabulary, the blanket logic of science, "but you do

need it. Like I need food. I don't mind getting it for you, I'd be lying if I

said it's no trouble, but you know I'm willing to--"

"I know." How could he ever thank him? Everything Jim did for him, it only drove

it sharper home, how little he could do in return. How long before Jim finally

realized that one-sidedness, the gifts unpaid for, and began to resent him for

it? "Please, Jim, it's not necessary. Not yet. I'll take it when I need it,

okay?"

Reluctantly his partner agreed, and Blair silently sighed relief. Impossible to

explain why he resisted; he knew Jim couldn't understand, and was even more

grateful when he accepted it all the same. Partly it was true, making the

supply last that much longer, not requiring him to make many visits to the

butcher shops. They were an attack on his senses, Blair knew, an assault the

Sentinel tolerated with effort.

But beyond that, it was because he hated it so. Detested that unnatural greed,

the cravings not only inhuman but antihuman. It sickened him in ways he barely

knew himself, that he had feelings closer to a murderer's than to a sane man's,

that he could understand the call for death and pain that drove a killer to act.

And yet when he was drinking--when he brought the glass to his lips all that

vanished, the disgust, the revulsion washed aside by the cool blood. He never

could stop, had never drunk less than the entire contents of a bottle in one

great swallow. A die-hard alcoholic wasn't half so welded to his liquor as

Blair was to his particular addiction. All his life he had rejected using

drugs, that weak chemical dependency, despite what he had been exposed to. Only

to find himself in death chained to something far worse.

It wasn't the blood he so loathed; it was the pleasure. The abhorrent

satisfaction he derived from drinking, even cold and dead from a bottle. To take

from life--the longer he went, the worse it grew, that desire. The less he

became able to focus on individual people, individual faces and voices and

thoughts and feelings; the more he heard, saw, felt their lives, that overriding

warmth and steady rhythms that reminded him of all he had lost, and suggested to

him as well how much he wanted it back. It all began to blur after a bit, the

hungrier he became, until it was effort to even distinguish a single person from

the crowd, even to recognize someone familiar.

During his experiment, the week he had lasted without his sustenance, by the end

Jim had been the only person he still knew, still could remember enough not to

attack him and take his life. If anyone else had entered the loft then, Simon,

one of his former students, even his own mother, he would not have been able to

stop himself. Of that he was sure. But he had fed from Jim once and that was

enough; never would he risk him in like manner.

He would never let himself go that far again, but he had learned his limits, and

he knew he could survive another day at least. The strain it took to control

himself--high; but he was gradually learning to survive it, keep it from showing

how great an effort he had to make. Jim noticed, but not as much, and usually

only if Blair was inattentive. He could hide even his hunger from the Sentinel.

Not from his own body, however. Hard to sleep with the craving wailing in his

ears, filling his mind with visions of his destiny, his true place in life, in

taking life. In the darkness of his room he paced, casting his eyes

occasionally to the closed windows. If he shoved the curtains aside, raised the

shades...would he be blinded? Or for a moment would he view the sun as he had

before, that brilliant disk, purity in its fire, beauty in its light. It would

burn away the cold and the hunger--it would burn away his self, too. Not worth

it, though he longed for it as much as he desired the blood.

At last it set. The call came shortly before the sun dipped behind the

buildings. He listened attentively to both sides of the conversation, gratified

when Jim rapped on his door. "Are you awake yet?"

Answering the summons, "Yes. Are we going?"

Jim grimaced. "You heard? Then you know they spotted our man. West side, by

the shipping yards--"

Blair nodded impatiently. "Yeah, I know, I heard. They're calling in the army

and we're invited."

"I'm invited." He didn't bother pointing out Blair's severed attachment to the

force. "It's only dusk--"

"It's nearly sundown. I'll be fine. Jim, you might need me on this one."

Especially if they were indeed right about the nature of the killer.

Especially if she, the killer or not, was there.

"Let's go, man," and he headed out before Jim could form a reasonable protest.

 

 

A fair-sized gathering had mobilized by the time they arrived. Near the docks

the final rays of the sun stretched over the horizon; Blair stayed in the shadow

provided by the truck while Jim met with officers in charge.

He glanced over at his Guide once, white face bright against dark hair and dark

clothing. Wishing not for the first time that he had some way to track him

other than the lost heartbeat. Hopefully he'd stay put for this; Jim didn't

want him involved, not when it wasn't necessary.

"Glad you could make it, Jim," Simon expressed his thanks. Familiar words, those

were becoming. The Sentinel nodded acceptance as the captain explained the

situation. An anonymous tip had brought them here; listening devices, the

electronic equivalent to a Sentinel's hearing, had located a clandestine meeting

going on two blocks down. Hopefully they were unaware of the small army

starting to surround them. Jim recognized most of the faces present--other

detectives, regular beat cops, a couple of sergeants he hardly had seen out from

behind a desk, and the SWAT team.

Blair all but hid from their view, sticking to his corner by the truck. As

unwilling to mix with the officers as Jim was to let him be included. This might

work out after all--

The radio crackled, letting them know they had been spotted. A universal oath

rose from those gathered, and then they closed in, hoping to salvage what they

could from the blown operation.

Jim would have followed the general lead, except he heard something, the

slightest puff of displaced air, like a bird's wing flapping. A sound he almost

recognized, accompanied by a distant distinct feeling he was growing all too

familiar with. And two sets of footprints, heavy steps of a man running, and

the faint tap of a woman's low heels. No time to alert the rest; he pursued

alone, down a side alley--

Almost shocked he was, to see her again. Unmistakable, dressed the same, her

hair braided now but as black as before. More surprising still she didn't seem

to see him, her attention entirely focused on the man in front of her. He

halted his headlong dash as she stepped before him, then drew a gun from his

belt. Aimed it at her, the threat clear.

Suddenly, before Jim could act, he saw her distant eyes glow gold, her mouth

open in a feral snarl. The man's gasp was audible. Frantically he backed away

from the monster, but she was upon him, and Jim wondered how to stop her from

where he was. Criminal or not, this was no way for a man to die--

Except instead of grabbing him and taking his life, she flung him aside, bodily

lifting him and throwing him into the wall. He heard the man groan and knew he

had survived, and she raised her head, met his eyes, her own again pale blue.

The slightest tilt of her head, angled toward the man. Unmistakably a

command--deal with him. Then she was running on silent feet down the alley.

Easily he inferred her purpose, the second set of footsteps clear. Slow,

irregular, not running but sneaking, a second man attempting to escape the net

by subterfuge. His heart pattered like a jackhammer. Jim realized then she

indeed had no pulse, her heart as still as his partner's.

The fallen man's beat was slowed but steady; he was already coming to as Jim

knelt beside him, secured the handcuffs around his wrists and jerked him to his

feet. "You're under arrest, you have the right--"

"Release him." That rapid pulse thundering louder than before. He turned and saw

the man himself, easily recognizing Cantor from both the mug shots and his

run-in the night before. This time however he was not fleeing, and his order

was supported by the revolver he had trained on Jim's head. "I said, let him

go, if you don't want me to blow the back of your skull off. I know you're

wearing a vest but I don't see any kevlar on your ugly face."

Slowly the detective raised his hands. Five steps closer, and he could risk

attacking the man, counting on surprise to throw off his shot. Just a little

nearer, bastard...but Cantor wasn't approaching. Warily he circled the two

other men, growled, "Come on, Doug, get up, we gotta get out of here."

The man kneeling at his feet moaned but was in no condition to escape yet. To

assure this Jim put a hand on his shoulder and shoved, not roughly but enough to

make him lose his tentative balance.

"That's enough, cop!" Cantor spat, taking a step back and steadying his gun.

"One more of you down ain't gonna hurt me much--"

He clicked back the hammer, and Jim glanced around, listening for any sign of

another presence. Another officer, or the woman--she had helped before, but

there was no trace of her now. He trained his vision on the revolver's trigger,

readying himself to dodge to the side as it was squeezed and knowing his chances

of beating the bullet were minimal at best--

The trigger was pulled. He heard the gunshot's thunder and simultaneously a

swish of air as darkness blotted his view of the barrel firing.

Expanding his field of sight he saw his partner standing between him and the

gunman. Blair jerked slightly but didn't fall.

Cantor swore, cocked the gun again and fired directly at him in a single rapid

motion.

Blair took a step toward to him.

The assassin retreated back, readied his gun and took careful aim. Before he

could pull the trigger Sandburg lunged, knocking the revolver from his hands.

And Cantor screamed, a full-throated terrified sound.

"Blair!" Jim cried, unsure who he truly was seeing, what was occurring. White

hands clutched Cantor's jacket, and he twisted his head toward Jim, peering back

over his shoulder like an owl. His eyes flashed orange, red-tinged gold and

whirling in the dimly lit street.

Jim had to force himself not to step back, meeting that savage look, not his

friend, nothing of his Guide in the figure before him. "Blair--" he began.

His partner growled, a low rumble that shook Jim's very core. Pale lips drawn

back from dagger-sharp fangs, pink tongue flickering between that vicious

whiteness.

Nothing human in him.

Cantor shrieked again, "Save me, get him off of me, help me!" and struggled

against the stone-cold grip of his assailant. Battered his head, and slowly

Blair turned back to him. Under that yellow glare Cantor shrank into himself,

mumbling incoherently, his hands raised in defense or supplication.

And the vampire struck, his head lashing forward to sink fangs into the neck of

the man. Immediately the body went limp in the powerful grasp, hung paralyzed

as the creature drank his fill, back arching slightly as he pulled the life from

the human.

Jim only stared, lost in the vision, the wild ferocity unfitted to the city

street and dirty cement walls. "Blair..." his lips hardly formed the word,

finding nothing recognizable in the monster. He heard the man's heart beating

softer and slower until it faded away. A man killer by nature must be killed,

the predator of man must be hunted by man, and he was the hunter, the guardian

of mankind. Everything he had denied rushed at him; with despair he understood

the truth of what he had been told all along, and had not been able to accept--

Then it was over, the corpse falling from numb hands, and Blair stood before

him. His blue eyes were wide, their unseeing gaze directed at the body sprawled

awkwardly on the pavement; his mouth open and stained scarlet, panting in little

breaths like whimpers or sobs.

The moment stretched into infinity; then Blair raised his eyes to look at Jim.

No plea in them, no request for understanding or acceptance, and no excuses;

only a comprehension of all he had done, and an embrace of the agony he had

sowed. Through his jacket, embedded in his flesh and surrounded by patches of

red, were the two bullets intended for his partner.

Slowly Jim raised his gun, cocked it and fired twice. The bullets thudded

distantly as they impacted Cantor's corpse, dug into his chest, both straight

into his heart. A little ways away he listened to the approaching footsteps,

police running to the shots they had heard a couple minutes prior, before the

world had ended.

He looked to Blair, but his partner could not see him, methodically shaking his

head as if only now trying to renounce what he had done. His hair fell from his

eyes as he rocked his head back, gazed at the sky. Then he shot upward,

forsaking gravity to dive into the stars, an arrowhead figure silhouetted across

them before entirely vanishing into the night.

 

 

"All right," Simon muttered, more to himself than to the officers around him,

"what the hell is going on?"

Ellison was standing by one of the cruisers, outlined by the blue strobes

flashing behind him. His arms were crossed and his head angled down as he

stared fixedly at the ground.

In the cruiser behind him Douglas Cantor was in custody, woozily resting against

the back seat door. He had a concussion. They probably should be taking him to

a hospital but it didn't look that serious and no one was too interested in

leniency at the moment. Good ol' boy Doug was a hired killer with a record a

mile long. He wouldn't be seeing the light of day for a long time as it was.

His cousin Gil would never walk in it again. Gil Cantor was going to be more

permanently buried.

Simon wasn't shedding any tears over that. If anything the senior Cantor had

been worse than his cousin. And the death had been the work of one of his top

men. Jim didn't make mistakes; not like that--it had been a justified shoot.

Cantor's weapon had been found a few feet from his outstretched fingers; they'd

find gunpowder residue on his hands, almost certainly. He had been threatening,

maybe even gotten a couple shots off--several officers reported hearing two sets

of gunfire, though none of his bullets had been found yet--before he had been

rightly taken down.

So why was Jim looking like he had just executed his best friend?

"Jim?" He approached with some caution. The detective blinked, sharp eyes

focusing on his captain. Taking that as a good sign, "Jim, I need your gun."

Trying to keep from sounding gruff, "There's going to be an investigation of

course, but there shouldn't be any problems. You're not going to go down for

this, but you have to cooperate now."

With a nod Ellison took his weapon from his holster and wordlessly handed it

over. "Thanks. Take the rest of the night off--go home. Get some sleep, you

look exhausted." Maybe talk to Blair? Simon wondered if he should risk

suggesting it. Dammit, he needed the kid here now, with his psych degree and

natural empathy. Killing a man, even a son of a bitch like Cantor, was no easy

matter to bear. Simon was Jim's friend, yes, but he knew damn well he wasn't

cut out for counseling. Not like Sandburg. All the same--"Jim, what happened?

Want to talk about it?"

He'd need to sooner or later as it was. Right now he was their only witness;

Doug Cantor had already confirmed that he hadn't seen anything, or didn't

remember if he had. Pretty bad bump he had taken. Was Jim responsible, or had

he managed to accidentally knock himself out? A shame all criminals weren't so

clumsy...

The detective wasn't offering anything. "Jim, we'll need to find out

eventually. You did shoot him, right?"

Did he imagine the momentary hesitation? At least he finally got a verbal

response--"Yes. Twice. He would have killed me."

"Good. That's what they need to hear." Simon breathed a sigh of relief. That's

what I needed to hear. "Was anyone else there, besides you and the two

Cantors?"

Jim frowned. Unmistakable, the twitch of the muscle as his jaw tightened,

clamping down on whatever he might have been about to say.

"This could be important," prompted Simon. "Three different officers saw a

woman in black running from your general direction. Did you see anyone like

that?" His pitch raised slightly as he asked it, that anxious tone he couldn't

help but affect whenever he probed Jim's senses. If anyone could have gotten a

good look at that mysterious lady who breezed past all the police combing the

area, it would be Ellison.

But the Sentinel only shook his head, barely an answer to the question.

Something abruptly clicked in his expression, as if he were shaking out of a

trance--or a zone?--and he straightened up, murmured, "Did anyone see Blair?"

"Blair?" What the hell--"Nobody's seen him that I've heard--Jim, why? Was he

here? Did he see this?"

No reply. Nothing new there. "Jim!" Simon demanded. "Where's Blair? Is he

around now?"

"I don't know, Simon, dammit, I don't know!" Simon barely recognized his

expression--god, was it anger? Or fear?

"What's happened to him, Jim?" Not quite succeeding at keeping his voice level.

"What time is it?" The words crackled out, commanding.

"I don't know--almost ten," Simon answered automatically, glancing at his watch.

"Why? What does that--"

"Five," Jim was muttering, "Sunup's around five...I have to find him--" He took

off toward his truck.

"Jim!" the captain called after him. "Where are you going? Where's Sandburg?"

"I don't know!" Jim shouted back angrily over the roar of the engine starting.

The tires screeched against the pavement as he pulled away, speeding down the

street pursuing his unstated concern.

But apparently he was going to find out. Simon wished that he had some

assurance that he'd be let in on the discovery. If only Jim could trust him

enough to let him know what was going on with the kid...if only he could be

certain that Jim did in fact know...

Sighing, he suppressed his unanswered questions and turned back to his duty.

Pausing long enough to mutter one more time, "Okay, Jim, what the hell is going

on?"

 

 

Seven hours.

He couldn't believe it hadn't hit him sooner. That blank horror in Blair's

eyes, and then he fled... In seven hours the sun would rise, and the Sentinel

knew with an unfathomable, unreachable instinct deep in his heart that if he

didn't find his partner before then he would never see him again.

He scanned the streets, peering down alleys as he drove, as if he expected to

see Blair in one. No, of course he wouldn't stay in sight. But where? Not the

station, certainly. Not the loft; he'd know Jim would too easily find him

there. Probably not even his office at the university; once his haven, now only

another reminder of a life he had lost.

Why had this happened? Of all the people it could have occurred to, all of the

many terrible events that could take a person, why this? Why Blair, the young

one, the gentle one, all his intelligence and compassion now cloaked under a

shadow so dark that even his light was lost in it.

For him to have killed...it was the single dominating element of his new self,

and the one he had fought against with every piece remaining of his shattered

heart and soul. 'You're not a killer,' how many times had Jim assured him? How

many different ways had he affirmed his belief in his partner, and seen Blair's

trust spark dimly in his bleak gaze. Only to have everything proved so

violently wrong.

You're not a killer. He had seen otherwise with his own eyes and yet he still

believed in what he said. The creature that had murdered the man Cantor--it was

and yet it wasn't his friend, his partner, his Guide. In body yes, in mind

perhaps, but something had pushed aside his bright spirit. The monster inside,

the vampire--in power briefly to commit that heinous crime, and then once more

shoved back. Amazing really that Blair had managed to so tightly rein it in at

all.

But could he control it again, now that it had fed?

And if he couldn't, would he willingly allow it to survive, when it was in his

power to destroy it?

Dammit, where was he going, this aimless wandering wasn't helping. He should

stop, think this through, deduce...

'Don't fight it', his Guide had told him, and he felt it now, like a string

pulling him, like a knife blade sliding along his throat, slick and sharp and

deadly. In one instant the sensation drew him in; the next it repulsed him, but

he kept with it, followed it to its source. Parked the truck by the warehouse,

not so far from the shipping yards after all. In the distance he could still

hear a single siren wailing.

Movement caught in the corner of his eye, a murmur at the edge of his hearing.

Slowly he turned, the feeling of the presence cool against his skin.

Not Blair. The woman.

Her eyes widened slightly, as if she perhaps had been expecting someone else,

and she crouched. To spring away, along the ground or into the sky, running

from him. "Wait!" he called.

She stopped. Met his gaze, and he shivered involuntarily. How pale blue her

eyes, diamond chips in her china face. "Wait," he repeated. "You helped me

before, I need your help now. Please."

She inclined her head to one side. Then spoke, her voice soft and not as harsh

as her appearance, words rolled about a foreign accent, "I was helping your

cause, your duty, because it was my own. It involved one of my own. But why

should I help you with a personal matter?"

"Because it involves 'your own' too. If by that you mean your relations or your

people."

A furrow in the smooth brow. "How do you mean?"

"My partner." He wasted no time dragging the words out, knowing he had to

convince her, and quickly, before she chose to flee. Or give in to her other

nature. He didn't stop to consider what danger he might be courting. "You saw

him before, he's one of your kind, one of you. I need to find him--"

"To kill him?" Lightly and without feeling, almost as if she were curious. That

was what shone so hard in those eyes. Comprehension. She saw what he was; it

didn't frighten or anger her, but she understood all the same.

"No," he denied his nature, his self, and told the truth. "No, to save him.

He's my friend, my partner like I said. I know what he is, I've known for

months, since he became one of you. He was my friend before and that didn't

change." That couldn't change. "But--"

Somehow he had caught her attention with his broken words. "What must be

saved?" There were the beginnings of curiosity in her tone.

"He does--I can't explain everything, not now. But he's not really one of you,

he can't take it, it's too different from what he used to be. And--" Could she

understand, would she, this cold sleek huntress? "He killed someone, only a few

hours ago, he never killed a man before, either when he was human or now. It

wasn't his fault, and the man would have killed me, or him if it was possible,

but Blair stopped him, and then he lost control."

He didn't expect the understanding that flared in her eyes, nor her slow nod.

"Yes. But now you would find him..."

"He can't live like this!" Jim shouted, not sure if he was addressing her or

some greater power. Once begun he couldn't stop, "It's killing him a second

time, only nothing at all will come back from this death, if he's still gone by

sunrise--" If he couldn't find him...he had to, there was no other way.

A Sentinel's duty to protect his Guide, but it wasn't the Sentinel now who was

desperate, who was pleading for the help of this strange woman demon. The

Sentinel should be able to track his Guide, but that bond had been ripped apart,

and he had nothing now, his senses useless in finding a dark and silent one-time

man. All that was left was the thinnest cord of friendship, frayed and tearing,

and with dawn's light it would finally be cut.

"Please," he begged. "If you can find him, please..."

She didn't take a step and yet suddenly she was in front of him, gemstone eyes

glittering. "You said my relations; what did you mean by that?"

"He is LaCroix's child," Jim explained quietly, and didn't need to go on. She

drew back, eyes widening, acknowledgment of the kinship in her look. "Help me

find him. "

"LaCroix's, made only a few months past..." the woman murmured. Jim nodded,

confirmed it, and suddenly she swept forward. Her cold hard arms had wrapped

around him, neither gentle nor harmful, and her eyes were mere inches from his.

Not blue ice; now they were fire, yellow through the darkness.

He couldn't struggle, that was how strong that grip was, but he tried to moved

against her. "Don't," she whispered, a freezing breath in his ear. "If we must

reach him so quickly, don't waste time fighting."

And they were rising, the ground no longer solid against his feet, moving surely

into the realm of air, abandoning the earth entirely. His head whirled, and

instinctively he tightened his own hold on her, trying to find equilibrium in

this unbalanced, weightless world.

Together they rushed through the sky, cool wind cutting across his face, a

medley of lights and shadows flashing before his eyes. They were moving too

quickly for anything to be clear, but he vaguely recognized the corners of

buildings, red and white headlights on streets far beneath them.

Could Blair truly do this, so unnatural an act, so inhuman? He had to admit to a

certain exhilaration, the delight any man takes in spiting the common way of the

world. All the same it was painful in a manner he couldn't define.

Frightening, to be separated from everything below, outdistancing sound, too

swift for vision to be more than a blur. He could sense nothing truly of his

city except its general solid presence; of its people he felt no sign. It might

have been abandoned for all he could tell, and that was wrong, for he to be

divided so completely from those he served. No way for they to reach him, or he

them.

Then it was over, her hands setting him impersonally on the floor--he knew this

place. Too well he recognized the crumbling walls, the boarded windows.

He should have thought of it, and yet it hadn't occurred to him that of all

Cascade Blair would choose to return here, where the nightmare began, the

vampire's lair. LaCroix's old refuge. It was on this dusty, junk-strewn floor

that Blair had last stood as a mortal man, here that the final drops of his

human blood were spilt. The last place Jim had ever wanted to see again, and he

would have thought his partner's feelings would be even stronger.

And yet here he was, standing straight with his arms crossed, the streetlights

outside casting a shadow behind him. His back was to them, the dark curls

falling over his collar reddish in the dim glow. He made no move as his partner

approached, though Jim knew his steps were audible, echoing over the splintered

floor. "Blair?"

"Jim, please, go." Fixed on the window in front of him his eyes were slate gray,

expressionless, and his voice held hardly more feeling.

"'Fraid not, Chief," and he was surprised his own tone didn't break. "Not until

you're ready to come with me."

"Don't." Unfamiliar, building anger in the word.

"Don't what?" He honestly didn't understand.

"Don't stay, don't insist on this, don't call me that!" Blair lashed out, though

he never looked away from the cracked glass. "Why can't you understand? It's

over, everything I was is over. This is the last thing I can do, don't you see?

If I keep trying to hang on, going along with you and pretending that nothing's

really changed--it's all falling through my fingers, and I've lost almost

everything, when I lose what's left it will be too late for this. Let me end it

now, when I still can, and no one else has to die--" his voice began to rise and

ruthlessly he forced it down, "no one, not if you let me go through with this."

"No one will die, unless I let you do this!"

"Jim." Suddenly his tone was soft, reasonable. His deeper voice that he drifted

into naturally as a professor or as a Guide, explanations clear and simply

defined. "You were there, you saw it, you heard his heart stop. What I did..."

The eyes closed, white shutters over the gray pools. "I killed him, I couldn't

help it, my choice and he's dead and he won't be the last. If I could tell you

how it felt..."

There were a thousand things he could have said. That he knew what it was like,

that terror and rage and shock that thrilled through you when you first saw a

man die and it was by your hand, of your volition. And the blank grimness

afterwards, when the last light in his eyes faded and you're left with only his

body cooling, an empty body that did nothing to you, that meant nothing to you,

except that you put out its soul. He could have spoken more generally, about

soldiers facing it for the first time, the sickness, how there is no cure but

time and even that is not complete, but even after taking a life one's own life

out of necessity continues.

He could have said what he felt, that Cantor had been a bastard and a murderer

in his own right, that had he killed him himself he wouldn't have grieved long.

He even could have pointed out the obvious, that Blair had acted to save their

lives, save his life.

Instead he said what came easiest, the easiest to explain, to accept, and true

besides: "It wasn't you."

"That's what you want to believe," Blair whispered. "That's the biggest game of

all, you've been convincing yourself of it all along. That it's not me, it's

something inside of me, like a demon possession and you're just waiting for the

exorcist to come. I'll tell you this, I'll tell you this now, Jim. I wanted

him. I wanted his blood, I wanted his life. I'm so cold, all the time, and it

warmed me like nothing else can."

At last he turned, faced the Sentinel. In the shifting light Jim registered the

changes in his face. Full now, not gaunt, cheeks rounded as they once had been

and the marble skin giving over to a soft pink luminescence. Almost he could

pass for living, if his eyes weren't so dead. If his heart still beat. But

otherwise human...

"I wanted this," came the quiet hiss of his words, "I wanted to be like this, to

feel like this, it's the closest I've come to living again, to being again. I

wanted it so badly, and now that I know how much I can have, do you think I

wouldn't want it again, I wouldn't want more? This isn't the monster, Jim, this

is me, my wishes, my will, and it doesn't mean I'm under control or losing

control, what I'm losing is what I was. It's not covered up, it's extinguished.

"And that's why, before I'm gone, I'll douse everything, I have to end what's

left. Or else you'll have to, in a month, in a year, will you be able to do it

then? Protect the city and kill the killer, will you be able to do it, drive the

stake into me?"

Jim shook his head, wordless denial, and Blair gasped, "Then leave me alone now,

so you won't have to, so I won't force you to. Just say good-bye and go!" The

last a wail, as if he could feel himself losing his own argument.

"I can't," Jim insisted quietly. "You know that better than me. I'm a

Sentinel. And you're my Guide. No matter what you say you're becoming, I still

need you."

"Damn you." Very low, and danger in the quiet. "Oh damn you, Jim. That's

always what you turn to, when there's nothing else, twisting whatever the fuck I

told you and turning it back onto me. 'Every Sentinel had a partner, someone to

watch his back'," a sick mimicry of his naive excitement years before, "and you

take it now and make it a hold on me, as if it's my duty, something I was born

to as you were born to your senses. My responsibility, as if you needed me, as

if you do still need me. Why, Jim, why call on that, when you know I'm right to

do this, why use that to stop me?"

Because it was the only thing left, the only card he knew could not be ignored,

the only plea that Blair could not turn away from. The only way to preserve

something so much greater than that need, something far more important than

Guides and Sentinels and all the distant grad-student crap. Because it would

work when nothing else would, pull him back from this edge, and on a saner

gentler night he could tell him what he wanted to say, somehow begin to describe

how much more he was than a simple requirement, a Sentinel's partner. "Because

it's true."

Was it Blair who wouldn't meet his gaze, or was it he who had to turn away,

afraid of what he might see in those inhuman eyes?

In the silence he glimpsed her coming forward. He had all but forgotten the

woman, too focused on what he had to say and do, almost assuming that since she

had helped as he had asked she would find no reason to stay. But she had, and

now she glided toward them quietly, her heels hardly stirring the dust on the

floor. Without another choice he stepped back and allowed her to face what he

could not.

 

 

Blair of course had seen her, standing quietly to the side observing them. He

didn't care; she didn't matter, she had no role in this charade. It was Jim he

had to convince, and he knew before he began that he would fail. Deep inside he

wondered if that was because he wanted to lose; because he wanted to find reason

to still go on, continue with this artificial being. However wrong it was.

She wasn't a part of that, but now she made herself one of the players,

interceding when neither of them had anything to say. He watched her with all

the coldness he now was capable of as she took the position before him. Matched

his look with an unknowable expression in her pale eyes.

This close, with such an opportunity to examine her, she was as much an enigma

as ever. He remembered her, reminiscences not his own and yet he knew them so

well. Knew her so well, as intimately as a lover knows his beloved, every facet

of her being, her life, her death and history after flickering in the back of

his mind. And yet he didn't have so much as her name.

And when he stared into her diamond eyes he saw nothing, as opaque as his own

were in a mirror. He felt nothing from her except a vague kinship, the

knowledge that she was the same as him, even without listening for her still

heart or peering at the gold that lurked in the shadow of her irises.

For slightly less than infinity she stared into him, as if she could view his

spirit while keeping her own hidden. With one slender hand she reached to his

face, the fingertips brushing lightly against his cheek as if to touch his very

self.

"Mon Dieu," she breathed. "Ah mon frère, he should never have made you."

For everything he had been expecting, he was not prepared for the pity in her

whisper. There was nothing he could say, no response he could make. Instead he

stood unmoving while she withdrew her hand. "So young, so new, and yet so

ancient...tu es un ange, un ange mais maintenant, you are trapped." As if she

could not look from him her eyes did not move when she gestured toward Jim.

"You are partnered with him, you know him, understand him, do you not? He is le

gardien, but you are part of him still..."

"He's my Guide," Jim said huskily, "LaCroix couldn't change that."

"Did he know?" Anger perhaps in her voice as she addressed Blair. Or sorrow.

"Did he realize, when he made you his child? It is wrong, to take across one

already bound to another existence..." Her eyes flickered over him, returned to

meet his. "C'est un grand mal."

Almost harder to bear her compassion, worse than the cold dismissal she had

subjected him to before. It deepened her mystery, and he found himself

beginning to loathe this dark unnatural woman, this secret being, who lived as

he did and yet survived it, not overwhelmed and at the same time not so frozen

that she couldn't feel. "Who are you?" he demanded.

And without hesitating she answered him. "Janette du Charme. Ten centuries ago

I was brought into darkness by Lucien LaCroix."

He shook his head. "No, you can't have been. I'd know. I'd feel it..." Though

his memories told him other than the signals in his heart.

"I am no longer his child," she whispered.

Then he understood. As if the final piece had been placed, everything foggy and

uncertain in his mind resolved into blinding clarity, "The one in a billion, the

single chance--" He stared at her; all made sense, and then nothing did. "But

you aren't now, you were, you crossed back over into the sun but you're living

at night now..."

"Yes," and she denied none of it.

"She's the one?" Jim belatedly understood. "The one who became human?" In two

swift steps he was looming over her, not quite daring to touch her marble skin.

"How did you do it, how did it happen? Before you were a--"

"I was a vampire for a thousand years," Janette confirmed, "and a human for

thirty, twenty-nine in the eleventh century--and one year in this decade, not so

long ago."

Blair saw something growing in his partner's expression that he thought had been

crushed, something he himself had lost months past. Hope. "It is possible.

How?" Jim pressed.

He saw it in her look, almost regret. She didn't know, or if she did it was

truly unique, impossible to repeat. Else why would she be in darkness now?

To divert her from unanswerable questions, to keep that slimmest hope in the

Sentinel's look, he asked instead, "Why did you come back across, why are you

one again? Who brought you over the second time?"

She closed her eyes, and with their strange light barred she seemed far less

powerful, weaker, almost fragile. "I am Nichola's daughter."

He knew that name. Whispered, "Nicholas. Nicholas Knight, LaCroix's son, your

brother..."

"Hold on," Jim interrupted, "I thought Knight was a straight shooter, I thought

he didn't--"

But she was nodding, eyes shut as if to hide her from her own words, "His name

was Nicholas de Brabant, long before he was your Detective Knight, Nicholas de

Brabant, a knight of the Crusades...my brother, my father," my lover, though she

didn't say it aloud, and didn't need to, not when the truth was clear on her

beautiful face.

"And he brought you back across," Blair murmured.

"Yes, though I begged him not to. I was dying, and he refused to let me go, and

I thought I should hate him for it. I thought I did..."

Until she felt him die, and realized the breadth of her loss. If she could cry,

she would be now, but after so long she had lost or forgotten that human form of

expression.

With their positions exchanged, Blair found in himself sympathy for her, the old

urge to comfort though he had no solace to give. He almost wished he dared

touch her; he would have enfolded her in his arms if she were a mortal woman.

If he were a mortal man.

Instead he waited for the moment to pass, for her gleaming eyes to slide open,

no tears on their dry surface. He saw Jim's mouth move and spoke quickly to

forestall his query, "Why are you in Cascade? What brought you here? You're not

with those men, the killers." Not a question, a statement, but he couldn't help

feeling doubt gazing at her cool countenance.

However she supported what he said. "No, I'm not with them. I'm pursuing them,

or rather I am seeking the one they work with. You've sensed him," and her gaze

shifted to include both of them. "A vampire, using his demands as an excuse to

kill wantonly. I have tracked him here, and last night he only barely managed

to escape me. I will bring him down yet."

"Why?" Jim demanded, eyes narrowed, all suspicious cop. "Why do you care?"

"Because he is one of our kind!" she snapped. "He risks exposing us, and he

kills without need, only lust. Do not think because we prey on you that we

think nothing of you. We all were human once, and now you mean more to us than

anyone did in life--you nourish us in more than flesh and blood, you dominate

our feelings, our love. Without you we are dust." She laid her fingers on

Blair's shoulder. "And you both know this, you understand, mon cher, more than

any other I have ever met."

Bitterly he shrugged off her touch. "It's not like that, it's nothing like

that."

"Non," she contradicted, "tu comprends, it is everything 'like that', and that

is what you fear and hate the most." Very slightly she shook her head. "Little

wonder what LaCroix saw--you are so little like him and yet at the same time I

can hear Nicholah speaking through you."

"I'm not Nicholas."

"No," she agreed. "You are the partner of the guardien," giving the word her

French pronunciation. "And you serve alongside him still. If you would truly

protect the people of this city, you will help me hunt this vampire, this hired

killer."

"Why?" he had to ask. "Can't you find him yourself?"

But she shook her head. "Non. You I found because we share blood--if you were

older, more experienced, you would feel the ties between us. But he is not a

'relation'; when I am close I sense his presence, but much distance can be kept

in a city of this size. Mais vous..." Her gaze flicked from Jim to Blair and

returned to rest on the Sentinel.

"I can find him," Jim agreed gruffly.

"Jim--"

"If we help you with this," he asked her, ignoring Blair, "will you help us?

Show us how to make him human again?"

That same terrible pity in her eyes, her voice. "I will try," she vowed softly.

"Everything I can do I will, but I tell you now, I do not know that it can be

done. I have never heard of its like occurring before, and I have not managed

it myself a second time."

Sharply Jim nodded, extended his hand without waiting for Blair's own

acknowledgment. After a momentary hesitation she reached out and shook it,

sealing the bargain. The Sentinel couldn't quite prevent his flinch when her

cold flesh contacted his own, but she made no comment, her face expressionless.

"So," Jim said, snatching his hand back only a little too swiftly. "Where do we

start?"

"I will tell you what I know, if you agree to give your own resources." Blair

nearly smiled at that, the quick reply and the subtle reminder that agreements

aside, anything she had to offer would be assisting their own duties as well.

She was smart, this black-haired kinswoman. Janette, his relation by unholy

birth.

Message received, Jim capitulated, explaining first about the organ procurers

and then the involvement of the Cantors. His eyes were constantly in motion,

glancing from his partner to the woman to the window, city lights glittering

beyond the cracked glass. Blair did not focus on his words, listening instead

to his pulse thudding rapidly in his chest, accelerated by adrenaline and a

natural fear-response to the creatures before him. Familiarity couldn't dispel

that. The effort of will it took for him even to stand before them must be

tremendous; he felt a moment of compassion for the Sentinel, and even greater a

sense of gratitude that he had no way to repay or even express.

It occurred to Blair that as clear as the sound of the heart was, as easily as

he could feel the warmth that always radiated from the living man, he felt no

real longing for it, the awful craving diminished to only a faint murmur, simple

to ignore. The cold that ran through him was numbing, not biting, and he could

almost appreciate the bright clarity with which he viewed the world, the feeling

of power in his body, the swiftness of his thought and motion--

Just as abruptly he recalled where his strength originated and jerked back,

forced his hand down before he covered his mouth in ineffective denial. To his

surprise he caught a flash of blue, Jim staring at him, attentive to his every

motion. Bleak understanding in his eyes, but no rejection, no hatred. Even

after all he had said, that was the greatest shock of all.

Janette was speaking now; if she noticed their silent exchange she did not

interfere. She had little more to tell them, save that the vampire was a new

member of the criminal ring--she didn't know his name or his age; had never even

set eyes on him, but she had been tracking him for only the past month since he

had embarked on this murderous career.

"I can feel him in the city," she clarified. "But only in that I know there is

another of us beyond you and I. You," and her unblinking gaze returned to the

Sentinel, "you have a sense truer than ours. Can you find him?" Frowning

slightly she looked to Blair, reminded, "He could not find you."

"He's untrained," Blair explained. "I can help him. He feels it but he needs

me to guide what he feels, to understand it." He still does need me. Whether

I'm truly a Guide or not.

She nodded. "Je comprends. I have never met one of you before, but there are

legends--you are a formidable enemy. LaCroix..." she hesitated momentarily.

"LaCroix told us of encounters centuries before he knew Nicholas or I. He said

as well that the partners of the guardians were their weakness--and more their

strength. This is true of you as well." Turning to Blair, "Show him, then.

Give him the skills of those ancient ones."

He couldn't promise that, not in the best of circumstances, but he could try as

he always did and hope for the best. Drawing a deep, pointless breath he

stepped up to Jim. The Sentinel watched him closely, mouthed words so quiet

Janette might not have heard, "We'll show her, Chief."

He could have grinned, the declaration of trust more convincing than a thousand

oaths. Instead he fell to the task at hand, "Close your eyes. Monitor your

breathing, slowly, in and out..." This should sound natural, every word flowing

from him, painting a path the Sentinel could easily follow. He never remembered

concentrating so hard on what he said, how he said it.

He had to think it through now; he had no choice. Carefully, "I want you to

picture--no, I want you to listen. You can hear heartbeats, all the people

around us, their pulses. But you can hear something else, too, you can hear the

void. There's three, three silences. They echo in your ears, like bells.

Resonating like a bell rings. Two right in front of you. Can you hear the

silence, Jim?" Can you possibly find meaning in this nonsense?

"Yes." Straightforward, determined.

He held his breath, no difficult feat. "Can you hear the third one? The third

silence?"

A long pause, and he lowered his head, rubbed his eyes. Face it, it's gone, to

a place you can't reach--"Yes," Jim replied.

A struggle not to cry out. Keeping his voice level, "Good, that's good, Jim.

You still can hear it?" The Sentinel nodded. "Where is it? Tell us how to find

it."

"I--I can't tell." Jim grimaced, his eyes squinting as he concentrated. "Too

distant..."

"Jim, find it." Power in his directive; he forced his partner with the command

of his intonation. In the corner of his eye he saw Janette's head lift

curiously.

But the Sentinel responded. "There," he pointed unerringly, opened his eyes.

Specified, "About a mile, different set of docks but the same idea. Don't think

he's going anywhere."

"Merci," Janette bowed shallowly to them, and then she was gone, soaring out the

window.

"Wait!" Jim called, too late. He turned his glare to his partner, "That wasn't

the bargain!"

"We didn't work out the specifics." Though Blair himself was startled by her

speed. "I could..."

His jaw clenched, then he nodded. "We don't have a choice. Be careful."

"She'll come back," he assured his partner, not knowing where his certainty

originated but trusting it. Implicit in his words too was his own assurance.

I'll be back. And Jim stepped back, allowed him to follow.

The air was cool against his skin, not freezing but a soft breeze. He hardly

knew he could do this until he had, and then he was all but terrified by the

exhilaration. No fear, no dizziness, only the giddy realization of his own

power. Lights and shadows streaming past him, he need not heed them, the wind

his only contact with the world. Before he hadn't experienced it, too caught up

in his own darkness. Now he wondered how he couldn't have felt it. Could a

bird pumping its tiny wings possibly know this freedom, this release? Surely

only his kind could appreciate it fully, unhindered by physical or moral law.

And there was the temptation, and the horror of it. Focusing instead on the

task at hand he searched for Janette. Found her some distance ahead, not

visible but to his inner eye. A bond between them, she had said, and now that

he understood it he could feel it, a dim beacon but present.

Over a series of low flat buildings now, and she halted, touched the ground and

rejoined it. After a moment he fell from the height to land lightly beside her.

Strange, the cement under his feet.

She didn't seem angry he had pursued, only raised her hand before her mouth to

indicate silence. They both cocked their heads, listened. People surrounding

them, none near. The faintest touch of the third presence, but as she had said,

he couldn't locate it, only feel its vibration.

Janette's eyes narrowed suddenly. "Do you--" she began, and then he heard the

sirens, saw the blue flicker. She stepped back and automatically he followed,

retreated into shadows.

A circle of light pierced the darkness before they could move, a white circle

surrounding Janette's black silhouette. Her eyes yellowed and she began to

snarl, caught herself and stood in place as a voice echoed around them, "Don't

move! Cascade PD! Stay where you are!"

A second flashlight beam swung close and he pressed back, wondering what they

would think if they found him, what they would do. He thought he recognized the

officer shouting. If he stayed he might convince them to free her--she could

escape, but if she did she risked revealing herself to all the observers

surrounding them; he could distinguish at least five separate heartbeats. Odd

were at least one would resist her suggestions.

They might believe him. But then again they might not--and would they even know

who he was, Jim's former partner, now so much changed? He deliberated in the

shadows, watching them approach. Janette's gaze caught his; she angled her head

sharply, righted it again. The communication was clear: Escape while you can.

I can manage this.

He wasn't sure he believed that but since there were no other options he obeyed,

rising before they reached him and rushing unseen through the night air, back to

Jim, to report what had happened and choose their next action.

PART II

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