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Simon rubbed his forehead in a vain attempt to erase the headache budding behind

his eyes. A four hour nap in the middle of the afternoon was no longer enough

to sustain him, not after being up the entire night before. And it looked like

he wouldn't be getting back to his apartment anytime soon, either. Getting old,

Banks--these all-nighters are beginning to take a toll.

Especially nights as long and difficult as these. Doug Cantor was secured down

in the holding cells. As was the woman--now she was an oddity. Sheer luck that

they had caught her at all...luck, and an unidentified informant hoarsely

whispering her location. Simon had taken the call himself, not trusting the

vague male voice, but an anonymous tip had helped them before and they needed

something to go on. And it had paid off.

He almost wished it hadn't. There was something not quite right about the woman

in black, even when standing quietly behind bars. Her eyes a little too bright,

her skin a little too pale. The accent on her words was distinct and yet it

slid around, less pronounced, then more, sounding definitely French one moment

and American the next.

Canadian, rather; she had given Canada as her current residence, given her name

as 'Janette de Brabant.' He couldn't accuse her of lying outright, but all his

recent inquiries had turned up no such name, and it wasn't a known alias in

either the US or the northern provinces. If she had a criminal record it had

been separated from her fingerprints; all preliminary reports drew a blank. And

she had no form of identification on her--one wouldn't expect her to be carrying

around her birth certificate maybe, and she wouldn't have needed a passport to

cross the border, but no driver's license? Not so much as a credit card--she had

a wallet, a slim black leather pouch containing fifty bucks Canadian, and that

was it. The only thing that corroborated a word she said.

Which admittedly wasn't much. She gave no alibi or reason for being where she

had been. If she had seen anything she wasn't about to talk about it. She did

insist she was innocent of whatever she had been charged with, but even this was

announced in a cool and half-hearted monotone.

The only spontaneous statement she had made was at the end of the interrogation

when Simon stood to leave. She rose as well and said clearly, "Captain Banks, I

would like to speak with your Detective Ellison, when he arrives."

"What? Why? He's not a lawyer, Ms. Brabant. I'd be more interested in legal

counsel, if I were in your shoes." He didn't bother asking how she possibly

would know of Jim. He wasn't sure he wanted to know that, either.

As he had learned was characteristic for this...woman...she didn't answer his

queries, and obviously had no interest in a lawyer. Simon pitied the poor

public servant handed her case.

Meanwhile he returned to piecing together whatever the hell had happened last

night. Doug Cantor, once he fully came to, proved to be even more stubborn than

the woman de Brabant. It became apparent that he did not know her, however;

Simon supposed that was a point in her favor, but it sure as hell didn't make

identifying her any simpler.

And then there was the matter of Gil Cantor's body, and how precisely he had

died. His cousin was adamant on that point--"Ellison did it," Doug spat, but

under further questioning he confused the details. He didn't remember; he was

only hoping to bring down one of those who had apprehended him.

Though no one told Cantor, the evidence all pointed to the truth of his

accusation, whether he knew it or not. The rest of the truth, however, was that

it had definitely been a justifiable shoot. Internal Affairs for once wasn't

going to be pressing too hard during the inquiry--even IA went a little easy

when the corpse was a cop-killing bastard like Gil Cantor.

Which still left the entire matter of the case as it was. The black ring was

still around the city--the Cantors, as far as anyone could guess, had been their

killers. Important in terms of putting them away, but not high in the ring's

hierarchy. They'd just hire more collectors. Most likely in another city,

since their operation was compromised in Cascade. On the short term the police

department's job had been accomplished; the city's citizens were again safe.

The larger picture, however, was that the killers were still out there, and

innocent people would still be dying to support their black business. Won the

battle but lost the war, and Jim wouldn't be any more content with that bitter

success than Simon was--

Speak of the devil. Banks lifted his head and saw Ellison in his doorway, hand

posed to knock. "Come in," Simon called to him wearily, having much news to

tell, and seeing that Jim looked in far better condition to hear it than he had

last night. "Have--"

Whatever question he had been about to ask died on his lips when he saw who

followed the detective. His partner, Blair Sandburg, head bowed as he slipped

through the door and closed it behind him. Simon hurriedly pushed himself to

his feet, "Blair--Sandburg! It's about t--good to see you. Are you here

officially or..." He trailed off, uncertain as he rarely was.

Sandburg wasn't responding, not with his normal wide smile anyway. His mouth

had curved up at Simon's stumbling over his name and he nodded at the greeting,

but there was something too quiet about him. Not listless, quite; his body was

tensed, shoulders hunched. And his eyes were bright; he didn't look sick, his

cheeks round as ever and flushed pink. Attentive, but quietly so. Not

interrupting, even when Simon paused.

It was Jim who broke the silence. "Simon," he said, "we're not quite here

officially--we have some information, sort of a request." He glanced sidelong at

his partner, an uninterpretable look but Simon was long accustomed to those

between the pair. His next words, though, came as a surprise. "The woman you

arrested last night, Janette du Charme--she's innocent. You should release her

tonight."

Blinking, "Du Charme?" Simon latched on to the simplest point to dispute. Start

small and work your way up... "She gave her name to us as Janet DeeBrabant."

"de Brabant," Blair corrected his pronunciation quietly. His first words yet.

Simon turned to him, and again lost his train of thought--he had never seen

Sandburg show such intensity. Energy, yes; but now it was restrained, burning

in his eyes while his body stood so still. They glittered in the florescent

light, harder than his partner's ever got, and Jim's glare was notorious among

cops and criminals alike.

"Sandburg?" Banks murmured, almost unconsciously, not questioning him so much as

the true identity of the man in his office.

"de Brabant," Blair repeated. "But that's an alias. Her actual name is Janette

du Charme," stressing the accenting of the given name.

"Okay." Simon agreed. "Janette du Charme. Now," he growled, blustering in the

face of the observer's frightening stare, "why do you care?" Addressing both of

them, but he couldn't tear his eyes from Blair's gaze. "What's your relation

with Ms. du Charme?"

"Relation?" Something unnatural too in the way Sandburg smiled, abrupt and

brittle, lips stretching back from his teeth. Not his ordinary beam at all.

Hardly humorous, happy, or emotional at all. "She's my...my niece," as if he

had only just figured out the connection himself.

That took Banks aback. "Your niece?" Then his eyes narrowed, "Sandburg, you

don't have a sister that you've ever mentioned, or a brother," let alone one so

much older as they'd have to be--"then how--"

"It's true," Jim broke in. Confirming the statement flatly. There was a note in

his tone that Simon didn't recognize, not coming from the detective. Pleading.

Not asking or requesting, almost begging... "Sandburg knows her, and she's not

involved with Cantor and the rest."

"Then why was she there?" Simon demanded, because he had to. Part of his duty.

"She hangs around with murderers for kicks? Don't tell me she's a vigilante."

Jim reacted to that, but Blair's expression was as strangely unmoving as his

body.

"No," he said quietly. "She's not."

Simon saw it then. Didn't understand any of what he glimpsed, but he knew how

she actually figured in. "She's not really your niece, is she, Sandburg? But

she's..." Not his girlfriend; she didn't seem his type anyway. He tried to peer

through the kid's opaque eyes, wondering how they could shine and still be so

shadowed. "She's got something to do with...whatever this is." Awkwardly.

"Whatever the hell's wrong with you, though I don't see it now."

He found confirmation in Jim's face at least. "Blair...whatever's wrong. I

want to help, you know that. But I want to know, too..." Dammit, he had

promised himself that he wouldn't interrogate Blair--he had promised Jim, for

that matter. But it had to be asked eventually, and he didn't know how to

subtly imply it. And Jim wasn't glaring at him, wasn't looking at his captain

at all. His eyes were on his partner, and upset.

Blair didn't sound similarly disturbed. "Janette is related to that. But she

is related to me as well, because of it." Of course he didn't explain--"And she

is innocent."

"She's on our side," Jim remarked, but he didn't sound like he completely

believed it.

Simon breathed deeply. "All right. I want to know. Especially if I'm going to

release a potential criminal on your say-so. Even though you don't want to tell

me, and maybe you think I shouldn't know, but I'm your captain, and your friend,

and I think I have a right." He looked from one to the other, Sentinel and

Guide, partners, and tried to keep the unease, the pain, even the fear from his

tone. Standing by his duties instead of his emotions. "I need to know."

Jim looked to Blair as if asking permission, role-reversal. The kid didn't

move--God, if Simon didn't know better he'd swear he wasn't even breathing.

Slowly he took a step back--the captain was startled to see Jim do the same, the

slightest retreat from his partner. Abnormal behavior from the usually

protective detective.

And then everything was wrong, because Blair raised his head and his eyes were

no longer blue but green-laced gold, sparking like an untended fire, and when he

opened his mouth there were fangs protruding past the even row of teeth, sharp

and white and glistening.

Simon's back was literally against the wall, instinctive action forcing him away

from the monster. All he could hear was his pulse thumping loud and fast in his

ears, his mouth to dry too swallow. Without conscious direction his hand groped

toward his holster, the gun, though what good would bullets do, except the

creature stood so still, not approaching--

Not a creature, it was Blair, still was Blair Sandburg. The face wasn't

changed, nor the clothing, only the eyes and teeth were altered. He stared at

them because he couldn't look away. It occurred to him belatedly that he had

never once considered it a trick, a disguise--false canines perhaps, but not

those eyes, no contacts could create such a vivid flaming glow. And his

intuition overrode his logic regarding the nature of this being.

Except it was Blair. Blair lowering his head again, mouth closed, and when he

looked up again his eyes were gray, dulled.

Simon stumbled forward to his desk and collapsed into his chair, gaze still on

Sandburg, unable to tear away. Jim watched him with concern behind his schooled

features but did nothing. He heard a faint mumble and realized it was his own

voice, "That's what happened, five months ago, it was true, good God. The

killer..." Jim nodded grim confirmation. For five months now, what a secret,

how had he managed, bearing it alone?

"Sandburg?" Simon asked again, cleared his voice and repeated it.

And Blair nodded, slowly, not looking at him but speaking with the same soft

intensity, "She is my niece, captain, and my sister, the daughter of my master

and then of my brother." Blood ties from cursed and tortured births... "She's

not the one, sir, she's not the killer now, though, I'm--"

Jim dared to speak, interrupting the monologue, "She's innocent, Simon, like

we've been saying. And besides--she knows how. She knows the way to undo

this." Unmistakable, the ferocity in his voice, a thousand bottled emotions

finding a vent.

Simon wondered only briefly why none of that anger or hope was audible in

Blair's own voice. At least now he understood, or was beginning to.

And it was only in passing that he wished to have never learned the secret after

all.

 

 

She felt him enter the building half an hour before she heard their approaching

footsteps. If he had not come she would have applied her force to the lazy

guard watching the cell. A day spent in this prison was acceptable; at least it

was safe from the sun. But a night could not be tolerated.

He came, however, as she had known he would. Even if he didn't believe she

could help--and Janette agreed with his belief. For all that she wished it

could be otherwise. But he came to her support in spite of this. Because of

loyalty to family, or honor, or some other trend--because he knew she was

innocent, and could not allow her to be considered guilty. His justice was not

harsh, not when his compassion swayed it all toward mercy.

He was very like Nicholas could have been, in another time, another life. From

the moment she had heard him speak she had never questioned LaCroix's motives.

Condemned them, yes. But she understood all the same.

It startled her to see him again; in her mind's eye she had lightened his hair,

shortened it while making his form taller. Physically he did not resemble her

passed brother, her master. But the dark curls framing his face, the brilliance

of his undead eyes--different, but as beautiful as Nichola.

In front of him were the other two, the large dark captain, his commander; and

his partner. The guardian, James Ellison. A mortal man with eyes that burned

as fierce as any vampire's, with hearing and vision and the rest as

finely-tuned. To meet him was to understand why her kind hated his, feared

them.

And yet by his own free will he stayed at Blair's side. Now hers as well.

"Ms. de Brabant," the captain said, clearing his throat when she turned to him.

"Or Ms. du Charme, as I've been told it is." Quick glance at Jim Ellison as if

garnering support, then he braced himself to meet her gaze and went on, "Based

on Detective Ellison's recommendation, corroborated by his partner, I am

releasing you on your own recognizance. We would like you to stay in the area in

case your testimony is needed later, but you're free to go." Suiting action to

words he opened the door, stepping back as she glided out to freedom.

"Thank you, captain. I still have business here, so I will stay."

"Thanks." For whatever reasons he didn't sound entirely grateful. Janette paid

him little heed, coming before Blair. As the mortal captain bowed under her

eyes, so she felt her own self give a little before his gray stare, matched

behind him by the blue glare of his partner. Fiery was the guardian's look, but

her brother's was cold, disturbing in its clarity. A little of his

master-father's biting intensity, not anger but something in him raged, not

aggressive and yet the depths were vicious.

Wordlessly he turned, and she followed them out of the police station onto the

streets. "We can hunt him tonight, now?" she pressed.

The guardian answered her, "Not him, them. Catching the killer is important,

but not as much as getting all of the bastards."

"That is your duty," she reminded him. "I seek my own prey."

She saw him bristle but before he could retort Blair spoke, "Our goal is the

same. If we can find him, then we might have them all--"

"Or he might have stopped working with them, since his associates are in prison

or dead," Ellison snapped. "And what good does it do if we find him? None of us

have had much luck apprehending him so far."

"A mistake on my part," she admitted. "I acted too quickly and without

forethought. He drew me especially to that site in order for your people to

find and take me. I will have my vengeance for that as well."

They had reached the detective's truck. Now Ellison slammed his fist into the

hood of his vehicle, faced her unflinching. "That's all this is? Lady, Janet,

de Brabant, whatever the hell you call yourself, I still don't understand what's

your deal with this. Is it all some wild revenge, or is it just your idea of a

game, eternity getting dull so you'll play the hero for a while? I know what you

are and what your kind does, what makes you so special? You're hunting this

vampire but you don't care about the human killers, you're saving his prey but

you don't give a damn about anyone else. I still don't get why you helped me.

I'd be grateful except I don't understand it, and you stand there all quietly,

say nothing while using me, using us--why? For what do you do this at all?"

There was a rushing in her ears; she could hear his blood racing through his

veins in his anger, his heart beating all the louder and faster and livelier.

Beside him Blair his partner listened, still and silent as he accused her of

being. Through the roar she found words, an answer for him, "For Nichola, what

he tried to do and couldn't always succeed, for his life and death I act now.

And for my own, my own life and death..." She remembered, how sweet and strong

and powerful living could be, the value of a single human. Their right to take

one another's existence, but wrong for her kind to claim what had once been

theirs and now lost for good, stealing what they did not truly need.

Had she been wrong in hunting only the worst of the hunters, disregarding the

natural predators? Had she betrayed Nicholas when trying to follow him? Why, the

detective had demanded, and it was a valid question, yet the answer was vague as

she tried to grasp it.

She remembered so well, that moment shortly before the sun rose, early in the

morning, she wishing she could still see dawn. Another city, but not so distant

that she didn't feel the cry, heard not with her ears but in her heart. The

tearing, the renting of her world, and she had known what had happened, had shed

tears in her shelter for her brother, her father.

She hadn't returned, but she found herself weeks later in a different city and

had known he was there as well. Never had she intended to see him again, not

even knowing if Nicholas had ever told him before dying. Yet she found herself

facing him that same night, over the body of his latest victim. Looked into his

eyes and saw the truth she had denied, not thinking it possible. Pain in

LaCroix's glare, and fury, and madness.

He had done it, she understood then, it was by his hand that the final blow

fell, and the knowledge of that act haunted the ancient one, destroying him.

Always a killer but now he slew wantonly, without care or consideration for

their kind's secret. And of course no concern for the humans under his fangs

beyond his desire for their blood.

She had lacked the courage then. Too well did she remember her old master, her

past father, the millennium they shared. And somewhere too in LaCroix was a

match for the grief she felt, an equal agony that only they two could know. For

that companionship as much as any she fled him, left him to his blood and his

murders.

But later, many nights after, she encountered another, a brazen young fool

anxious to prove his strength and feed his lust. She saw him worrying the neck

of a graceful older woman, carelessly spilling the warm blood as he lapped it

up, the scarlet matting her long dark hair. He had sense enough to conceal the

corpse in a dumpster, but she felt sudden anger all the same, anger at his

carelessness, at the casual way he dispatched of a life, not even savored but

ravished only because it was in his power to do so.

She fell on him as he rose to flee his crime. Dragged him down to a rooftop and

there she herself fed on the sour sharp tang of her own kind's blood. Not rich,

not living, but filled with its own energy; it held none of the pleasures of a

mortal feeding but no pain, either. When she finished she left him, returned to

the shadows before the sun struck her and listened to his shriek as the rays

burned away his weakened body.

And no more humans died at his cold hand. She almost could feel Nicholas's

approval. The next time she encountered a wayward killer she dispatched her

quickly, without hesitation, thrusting the stake home and ignoring her terrible

cries. In two cities now the police were startled but pleased, a string of

disappearances abruptly over, a trail of burned bodies ended without

explanation. Confusing, but no more people died.

By the time she had destroyed six she was accustomed to it. Twice she granted

mercy on her intended prey; one hunted only rarely and then with great care and

deliberation, the other seeking not random murder but revenge. It was the young

soulless she pursued, those that murdered only for the pleasure of blood. The

monsters of their kind, and she could feel no guilt or sympathy for them. She

barely felt like one of them; at one time they had all been her kin, but

now--she had been changed, she had experienced more than any of them, even

Nicholas, and she was no longer truly their relation.

Perhaps they understood; those vampires who met her eyes always shied away as if

they saw something terrifying in her, something invisible when she examined

herself in mirrors. And the Enforcers never came for her, though she killed

their own kind. Perhaps she did belong to another race now, a different new

being--if so her duty was clear, and willingly she fulfilled it.

Then she had heard of him, a hired assassin, using his powers to win himself

infamy and more material possessions. The worst perversion yet, and she had

come to this city burning to feed on his blood and remove him from this

undeserved existence.

Only to discover these two instead, a pair of beings neither entirely human nor

her old kind. Like her, true kin, but they could not understand that. The

guardian hated her for it, because of what they had in common that he could not

see, would not see. And her brother--she could not guess at what he felt, could

not understand all the emotions behind his gray eyes. Perhaps he understood.

Perhaps he didn't. Either way, he had agreed to ally with her.

Silently they climbed into the detective's truck, they in the front seat and she

squeezed into the back. She made no protest; at least they allowed her space at

all. Ellison drove grimly, seeing her whenever he glanced into the rearview

mirror, suspicion always evident in his look. They had no planned destination,

but even with Blair's soft prodding they went nowhere. Finally the guardian

pulled over to the side of the street, turned off the engine. Fists resting on

the wheel clenched in frustration, "Chief, we're not getting anywhere. I can't

sense him. Maybe he left after all."

"No," she and Blair replied as one. She continued for both of them, "He is

still here, somewhere. But now he is cautious."

"So now what?"

"We wait. Until he tries to kill again, and then we will find him." No hunter

could successfully hide himself while bringing down his prey.

Blair nodded. Ellison hunched over the wheel, arms crossed and resolutely

staring forward, every inch of his body expressing his discomfort. After a

moment of silence she motioned to leave the vehicle.

"Where are you going?" the guardian demanded.

"It serves no purpose for us to wait here. Perhaps more could be accomplished

if our efforts were divided, and you must have other duties."

"Or maybe," and the threat was clear in his tone, "maybe you know more than

you've told us. You're free, maybe you were only being polite to stay with us

this long, now you can go and take all your secrets with you--since we haven't

really helped your crazy hunt what do you owe us anyway?"

Ellison's glare was scathing, accusing; her brother beside him said nothing,

only leaned forward to allow her to exit. "I made a pact with you," she

murmured. "I will fulfill it. But I will tell you now that I don't know the

secret, only the mystery."

And quietly she told them how it had happened. Not embellishing but giving the

details, not so long a tale, and they sat silent in the truck while she stood

outside and spoke.

She told them how she had decided to leave, how a place, a mere city, small

mortal people had started to become important to her, and how it was impossible

for this to be. How she had left, and found a new home in another place, no

longer dear to her.

And then how she had met him, and the courtship, and how love found her

unawares, a family absorbed her before she could flee it.

Somewhere in the telling she felt a burning behind her eyes, like dry tears, as

if she would cry at the memory. Only one other had heard this before, and he

dead close to a year now. She forced back feeling and went on.

He hadn't rejected her, even when he had seen her true self; he had taken that

side of her to himself as well. They had made love, and she could still

remember so clearly the utter sweetness of his blood, offered freely and without

reservation. Not one drink but many, small swallows that raised her to heaven

though she should have been damned by the very act. So many nights together,

long joyous hours, and she should have known with all her age and experience

that it could not last forever, could barely last a moment.

But her heart had been broken all the same, holding his body on the cold street.

That moment she had learned the truth, when she discovered that she could not

save him after all, that he and they together had brought her back to the light.

Except he went to a greater darkness never knowing what he had given her.

That was all she had to tell. They waited in silence for several moments as if

they expected more, but the story was ended. At last Ellison shifted

uncomfortably, "That's it? He died, and you were human?"

"I believe I was mortal before that moment, but I don't know--I had no way of

knowing," Janette whispered. "I tried to take revenge on his killers--I did, in

the end, but they killed me in the doing, and Nichola saved me by returning me

to this non-death, this not-life..."

"You don't know how it happened," Blair stated flatly. "A little at a time, and

somehow you became human again. No magic tricks, no rituals--"

"It's something, it happened, it can happen--" The guardian's insistence was

ferocious.

Janette shook her head. "It happened, but I do not understand how, and so I

cannot tell you--but I know this. Nicholas loved the doctor Natalie, more than

he had cared for anyone in centuries. It was not a mistake that he took her

life--they were trying it, I am sure, trying to recreate my 'accident'. If you

knew Nichola, knew how badly he wanted what you desire, freedom from the

curse--and she would have helped him, always she sought his cure. They loved

each other, my Nichola and his Natalie. But it wasn't enough. And now they are

dead..." She caught her breath before the sob escaped.

A hand on her shoulder, cool and comforting. "It wasn't your fault," his soft

voice assured her. "It was their choice."

As it now was theirs. She looked into his gray eyes, past them to the piercing

blue of his partner's. "You understand, it's not the cure, I don't know the

cure. Il n'y a pas d'un. Only la chance, and fortune rarely favors us..."

He understood; the resignation in his expression only confirmed that he had

known all along. But the guardian would not be so quick to surrender what

chance they had, and she turned away from the determination in his gaze.

 

 

"No, Jim!" Blair almost shouted, for what he wished was the final time. How

long had they been arguing now, an hour, two? Since dawn had come and they had

returned to the loft. And no closer to an understanding. "I know myself, I know

what I am. And I can't do it. Once before--I did take from you before." He saw

Jim's hand unconsciously rise, sensitive fingers run along the tiny invisible

scars on his neck. "And you nearly died, because I couldn't stop myself--"

"But you did," Jim pointed out.

"I don't even know how! And I don't think I could do it again, now--you've seen

me, I barely remember how it feels, I just know that when I'm drinking that's

all there is, nothing else matters. And now..." he caught his breath. "Now

that I know I can...kill. Now that I understand what it's like--I won't be able

to stop, once I begin. I know it. Nicholas--he was centuries old, he had so

much experience, and he still killed her. I'd be stupid to think I'm any

different. You're crazy for even thinking you can trust me..."

Surprised to feel a touch on his shoulder, warm and living. He looked up and

Jim's blue eyes flashed. "I'd be crazy not to trust you," his partner

corrected. "If you only figure out you can trust yourself--then maybe we can

beat this yet."

He shrugged off the hand, prepared to renew the battle, when both paused,

hearing the steps in the hall. The knock was accompanied by the telltale odor

of cigar residue. "Simon," they announced simultaneously, and Jim rose to

answer.

Captain Banks entered and immediately glanced around, wondering if the woman

might still be with them. Jim at the door and Sandburg on the couch but no sign

of her, for which he was grateful. Jim verified this, "She's not here, sir; we

took her to a hotel at the end of my shift."

"All right. I take it you didn't find anything?" Disconcerting, how very still

indeed Blair sat. All the more disturbing now that he knew why; for pity's sake

the kid didn't even look like he was breathing, and with an invisible shiver it

occurred to Simon that perhaps he wasn't.

Something passed between them, an unspoken message that he couldn't begin to

guess the content of. Then, "No, Captain, we got nothing." Bitterly.

"Then this will be news. I interrogated Douglas Cantor pretty thoroughly, and

in the end he spilled a little. No names, no places, but it's a start... To

begin with, du Charme is pretty much cleared--Cantor confirmed he has no idea

who she is, swore he never saw her before. But he did admit that he and his

cousin had an accomplice...a man they were hiring themselves on the side, who

worked with them and committed most of the recent murders."

"So Cantor's trying to shift all the blame onto the real killer?"

Why did he get the impression that Jim knew more about the third man than even

Doug Cantor did? "Yeah--the way he talks, I get the feeling neither of them

liked the guy very much. There's a possibility now that he'll go directly to

the ring since the Cantors are out of the picture..."

"That will work to our advantage," Jim said. "This is the guy we've been

tracking, Janette too--and I can find him."

"How--" Simon began, and then it hit him. "Of course, he's a--he's one of--"

"He's one of my kind." The captain jumped at Blair's first words. "Yes, he's a

vampire. That's why Janette was hunting him--that's why we need to stop him

now. Even if he's not with the gang, he's still a killer. And he'll murder

again. It's what he is."

Icy, his tone. That was what this killer was, and what Janette du Charme was as

well--what Blair himself was. No. Simon couldn't see it.

But he suddenly wondered...no. Time for that later, there were other concerns

now. "Jim, you said you could find him?"

"Maybe, Simon. Yeah. I..." He looked oddly uncomfortable. "Sandburg thinks it

has to do with the whole Sentinel deal. I've got an instinct, like intuition

only it's more definite. I sort of can tell they're here, where they are

sometimes..."

"He's a protector," Blair said quietly. "Sentinels were bred to be vampire

hunters among their other duties." A breathless imitation of a laugh. "Not that

I could put it into the dissertation, but it's true. He's equipped to take my

kind down, same as he goes after any other enemy."

Simon glanced at each of the two partners in turn. Blair, small and still on

the couch, and Jim standing tense as a wound spring, jaw tight.

"This--instinct," he remarked, "does--does Blair bring it out in you?"

Jim didn't reply, though the muscles of his cheek clenched. Blair nodded. "He

shouldn't be around me. It hurts him, having to control it all the time."

"It's not such a big deal, Chief, don't make it sound so big," Jim admonished,

but he was putting more effort into the words than they should have required.

Jesus. No wonder Ellison had been on edge of late. Not only a secret to be

kept, but everything that accompanied it...

Deep breath, and don't look too far into the kid's dusky eyes or you'll never

get out. "So you think you might be able to track this guy?"

"We managed it before. That's how you found Janette--he lead us there and

called you to the scene," Jim explained. "We didn't have any luck last night,

but tonight--she told us that if he hunts he won't be able to hide, and I

agree."

"Only goes to reason," and there was a familiar note to Blair's tone, a hint of

the animated anthropologist at last coming through. "You are supposed to be

guarding the people; if they're in danger you should be extra tuned."

"Why not search now?" Simon demanded. "This guy's out there, how do you know

when he'll hunt--"

"Not during the day, he won't be," Blair murmured.

"We only work nights," Jim confirmed, shooting a quick look at his partner.

"Blair can't go out now, none of them can--they can't take the sun. It...hurts

them."

"What, they crumble to dust? Like Dracula?"

But the Sentinel's frown was far from joking. "Close enough." When Simon

blanched, "We can't risk it, okay?"

"Okay..." Far be it from him to argue with Ellison in that mood. "Tonight,

then. Will Janette be joining you?" Both nodded; Simon sighed. "All right.

But I want to be fully informed." His glare swept over both of them. "I've been

kept in the dark for too long; protecting Cascade is my job, too. Whatever you

find, where ever you end up, I want to know. And you might need backup--I want

these guys caught. All of them."

"Understood, sir." In that rigid, too-formal tone of a former army ranger.

"Good. Now..." After coming this far he decided to press on. "What's up with

you, beyond what I already know? What were you arguing about when I showed up?"

When they looked at each other, "I've known you two for close to four years now;

I can tell when you're at odds. Even now--Jim was up and pacing, and Sandburg,

you're still curled up on that couch. Both of you are on the defensive, against

one another, and I want to know why." He could think of quite a few reasons on

his own, of course--but his own intuition told him there was more he couldn't

guess at, and he trusted his instincts.

Surprisingly it was Blair who answered. Without preamble he explained Janette's

story, glossing over the more confusing elements but the gist was clear. Jim

stood through it frowning, a tic developing in his tight cheek, but he said

nothing.

When the anthropologist was through Simon rocked back on his heels, regarding

both of them and feeling as washed out as Blair looked. "She was the...the

'daughter' of the one who did this, that killer, 'La-Qua'?"

"LaCroix," Blair corrected.

Ignoring him and the French, "That's how you and Janette...but she became human?

She was mortal again?"

"Until Nicholas Knight brought her back over," Jim verified. "So she told us,

and I believe her."

As Simon was inclined to; it was too crazy a tale to have been made up. "And

now..." He lifted his glasses and pressed his fingers to his temples, the

earlier headache taking on the characteristics of a full migraine. "Jim, you

want to do this? Did I miss something, or is that what you're suggesting?"

"It's the only way we've heard of so far," the detective responded stiffly. "We

should try it."

Flatly, to avoid a misunderstanding, "Jim, it's insane. It sounds like the

woman herself doesn't know if it would work another time, and even so--unless

there's something you two haven't been telling me for the last few years, the

situation is a little different..."

"I doubt it was the sex." Just as plainly. "It sounded like it was that he

wasn't afraid, and he let her drink only a little at a time. Well, I'm willing.

And I'm not frightened."

Of course not; Blair was his partner, and the occasional times when Jim Ellison

gave his trust it was completely and without reservations. Sandburg wasn't

exactly one to inspire terror, either...at least not before. Glancing at him

now, motionless and white-skinned, with his eyes unreachable gray...Simon

shuddered imperceptibly, turned back to Jim. Reasonably, "It sounds like he

needs to be willing, too--Blair, you're not cooperating?"

"I won't do it." His the coldest tone of all.

"Good," the captain risked Jim's wrath. Ellison's flash of anger was brief,

however; his gaze was intent on his partner. Deliberately he took one step

closer to him, raised his hand, wrist toward the ceiling and palm tilted down.

"It could save you," he whispered.

Simon was shocked to see the flare in Blair's colorless eyes, not blue but

golden fire. More aghast at his response, a growl low in his throat like a big

cat's, a terrible inhuman rumble. Jim stood his ground, faced the creature

resolutely.

With a coughing sound that might have been a sob Sandburg flung himself off the

couch and past them, Simon stumbling back in his wake. His bedroom door

slammed, and Jim turned, appeared as if he'd follow. Instead the captain

grabbed his shoulders, faced him. "God, Jim, what was that, what the hell are

you doing?"

When he got no answer, "Talk to me, man, you've been holding this down for five

months, you can let some of it go now. I know you're not stupid, why are you

trying to do this? When Blair knows it's wrong and is refusing?" Simon couldn't

prevent his shudder. "I saw that look, he knows--he could kill you, Jim. Maybe

he won't, but he can, that's why he won't do this."

"He didn't before," Jim insisted.

"...before?" Simon suddenly remembered Ellison's brief time in the hospital,

when they were tracking the original killer months ago. Then the killer hadn't

attacked him as they had thought; it had been...his stomach lurched. Jim lead

him to the couch and he dropped into the seat Sandburg had just vacated. "This

is real," he muttered to himself, trying to believe it. My God. Vampires,

drinking blood, those fangs below those flaming eyes, set in the face of a man

he thought he knew... "It's all real..."

He was talking under his breath but of course the Sentinel heard him. "Yes. All

of it. And I fed him before."

"God, Jim, that...do you know how close that was? We thought you were going

to--does he know?" Of course he did, his mind snapped. No wonder he was being so

stubborn...

"He didn't, though." Jim sounded so reasonable, quietly persuasive, abnormally

calm. "He stopped himself. That's why this could work, because he can. If we

take the time to try--it's a chance. It's more than I had hoped, to know it can

at least be done..."

"And if it can't? If he kills you? What then, Jim, is he going to have a chance

in hell?" Are any of us? He couldn't help but picture that fire burning in the

unnatural eyes. "You can't charge into this blindly, you have to think it

through, and that's Blair's department--listen to him on this, Jim. If he's

refusing..."

"He's frightened," Jim protested. "He's refusing to consider the possibility--"

"Or he's considering more of the possibilities! Jim, why are you so damned

certain this will do any good? Why do you have to push this?"

Abruptly Ellison stopped pacing. In the middle of the rug he stood, shoulders

stooped, eyes focused on the coffee table, refusing to meet Simon's. "Do you

know why this happened?" he whispered. "You don't know, of course, you didn't

know any of it. Sandburg--he didn't want anyone to know, that's what he fears.

That they'll find out, and that they'll either hate him for it or try to accept

him anyway--I don't know what he's more afraid of.

"He's changed, you know it, it's unmistakable. It's not how he looks, it's not

even what he is now, it's more, it's inside. He was killed." His words were

without inflection; he might have been the one dead. "He died, Simon. Do you

know why? He went to LaCroix--he went to him, found him..."

"Why?" He couldn't believe it, what could the kid have wanted, what knowledge

would have been worth the danger, what reward--

And suddenly he knew, saw it in the cant of Jim's lowered head, in the blank

glare of the Sentinel's blue eyes. What else could it have been but that...

"He was hunting me," Jim related. "He was going to hunt me, and Blair found him

out, and stopped him..." The catch in his words was too short for Simon to

respond. "You understand, if there's a way, I have to take it, if I can bring

him back then I have to do it. The cost doesn't matter. If he can live again,

if I can give him that..."

Simon inhaled shallowly, trying not to disturb the quiet. The Sentinel might

have been stone, hardly breathing at all.

At last the captain spoke. "Jim. If Blair knows this--he wouldn't believe it.

He wouldn't blame you. And he wouldn't ask this of you--he's not asking it.

This plan sounds like suicide to me, and Blair won't allow it, and now that I

know, neither will I." He held up his hand to forestall Jim's protest. "There's

got to be a way yet, and you'll find it. But you've survived this long, you two

can manage still--I know you can. Even with him being...what he is." Adjusting

his glasses and standing, he went on, "And we still have work to do as it is.

This ring is still present; I need you on this one, Jim. Both of you."

Especially with the advantages they had revealed.

For a moment he thought there'd be an argument. Instead the detective nodded

curtly. "Tonight, Simon. We'll find him. We'll get them all."

"Glad to hear it." Not only his determination, but where it now was focused. He

could nap a little easier now, knowing they were on the job. Back at work.

"One more thing," and he lowered his voice, suddenly wondering how much the kid

might have heard. Any of it? All of it? "Jim, after last night, when you left

with Janette...I didn't report this officially, but I went downstairs. Now, I'm

no mortician--but Cantor's body. It had a couple of marks on the neck, the

coroner said they might be insect bites, but...was Janette there when you took

him down?"

"She didn't attack him, Simon." That was honesty Ellison-style, nothing but the

truth but far from the whole truth.

"But she was there? Was--" He had been, Simon remembered. Jim had wanted to know

if Blair had been seen, at any rate. Could...he wouldn't get an answer from

Jim. Even if he had wanted one. "I suppose it doesn't matter," he said slowly.

"No one would buy vampire bites, and he's got two bullets in the heart, that's

a good enough cause of death for me."

"We'll get to work soon as the sun gets down," Jim told him.

"Thank you," the captain replied, and left to grab the few hours of sleep

remaining before it set.

 

 

Janette met them on the curb outside their apartment; she was standing quietly

beside Jim's truck by the time the sun had set and they had descended to the

street. If she noticed the uncomfortable glare both Sentinel and Guide directed

at her she made no comment. Without greeting or preamble they climbed into the

vehicle and drove off. Not to the station; after a couple blocks passed by

Blair asked, "Where are we going?"

"I can't sense him, if that's what you're asking." The Sentinel kept his eyes

fixed on the street. "But this is a police investigation and I'm a police

officer; we're returning to the scene of the crime for clues."

No argument from either passenger, for which he was grateful. He wasn't sure if

he was ready to have a real conversation with his partner. He knew he couldn't

handle speaking to the demon woman in the back; it froze him solid just to catch

a glimpse of her crystal eyes in the mirror. Weren't vampires not supposed to

reflect? Another myth dashed...he wondered why that hadn't occurred to him in

the last five months. Because he had never noticed Blair's presence or absence

in mirrors?

Or because she seemed so much more to be the genuine article. An old one, like

LaCroix, centuries of murder staining her slender white hands. He remembered

Simon's expression that morning, the sudden shock as everything hit home. When

he truly realized what Blair was, not superficially acknowledging the proof

before his eyes but comprehending the full scope and reality of the change.

Well, hell, he should have a little sympathy for his captain. After all, it had

taken him almost half a year to reach that same understanding. Blair was right,

all this time he had been fooling himself. Trying to believe that everything

was as before, even as he adjusted around the change. Feed him blood instead of

tongue, shrug off the mood shifts and look away from the occasionally abnormal

eyes and fangs. He still was the same person, wasn't he, the same man, his

partner.

Except he wasn't. He hated Janette du Charme, just for being present when that

point was driven home. They would have reached this crux eventually on their

own. She hadn't even hastened it, really--it was Gil Cantor and his ill-thought

attack and all that followed.

But she offered them the solution and then pulled it out of their reach,

tantalizingly close except Blair refused to reach for it. Maybe he was right.

Maybe Jim was wrong and it was simply a suicide plan. Maybe there was no fix,

quick or otherwise.

Maybe there was nothing he could do.

He hated her, for giving hope and then tearing away all he had left.

Don't think that through yet; you have other things to occupy your time. His

job, a Sentinel neglecting his duties, and that was wrong. There were more

people in the city than he and his partner and the two other killers.

The warehouses were deserted except for the night guards. He parked the truck,

climbed out and ignored the couple accompanying him. No feeling for unnatural

rhythms, no reaching beyond his limits--this was a police investigation and he

conducted it as such, ducking under the yellow tape cordoning off the area Doug

Cantor had been shot and Gil had died. Pacing the dirty alley, searching for

something to show itself and give away a critical meaning.

Nothing, either to the naked eye or his enhanced senses. All right, go back,

begin at the beginning and work back up to the present. There was another site

of interest--he was in the vehicle, almost pulled away without them but they

moved with that silent instant rush and were again beside him as he drove.

Threading his way through the streets to the townhouse where he had first

sighted Cantor.

Blair said nothing, asked no questions. But he and the woman flanked the

Sentinel as he ascended the steps, knocked on the door.

After several summons the main door was cracked and a bright eye gleamed out at

them through the chain. "Excuse me, sir," Jim said, taking out his badge.

Dredging the name up from the report he had filed several days prior, "Mr.

Riley, we're with the police, may we have a few words with you?"

Long inspection and then reluctantly the man opened the door, allowed them

entrance. "This is about Rick, isn't it, I knew that boy got into trouble, I

knew it, should've kicked him out years ago," he mumbled as he lead them to the

living room. "What's he done, well? I let him stay here but just because I'm

his father doesn't mean I'm accountable, he's an adult, he's a lazy bastard, my

son, but he's grown up."

"I don't know if your son has done anything," Ellison answered carefully. "But

he might be in trouble. Is he in?"

"No, he's never in, he just lives here," Riley replied, seeming unaware of the

contradiction in his words. "He's out with friends or something. His friends,

I never see them. He's got his own door and his own key, in the back, there's

his rooms. I'm just his father."

"All right," Jim said patiently. "Do you have a picture of your son?" The man

gestured to the mantelpiece, a photograph in a plastic frame of a frowning young

man. Janette peered at it, shook her head. Not their vampire, then. He had

doubted it would be. "Mr. Riley, you said you never see his friends, but does

he bring them over? Did he have anyone visiting a couple days ago?"

Riley's eyes narrowed. "You cops already asked me these things, a few nights

back, said there was a fugitive hiding here or something. I don't know, I told

them already. He might have had someone, I don't remember. I thought you'd be

asking something different this time, haven't you figured that out yet?" This

with a sneer. "Keep bugging honest people with these things when you can't

figure it out on your own, like we're going to change our story and then wham,

you can slap on the handcuffs and take everything we have, that's what you're

looking for, right? Well, I ain't changing it, I didn't hear nothing."

"So you don't know anything about what happened three nights ago?" Sandburg

rarely pushed so obviously--but this wasn't Blair, not entirely, how indeed had

he missed it before? His sensitivity had been fading all along--not just his

alertness to shifts in Jim's senses, but all his empathy, decreasing as he

retreated farther from others, farther from life.

He was dying. How could Sentinel eyes have been so blind?

Riley stared at the irritating upstart, the rejoinder on his lips dying when he

peered a little too deeply into the long-haired cop's eyes. Not grasping all he

saw, but enough to shy back and answer gruffly, "I don't know nothing, like I

said."

Before Jim could respond to that Janette leaned forward. "But perhaps you do,"

she murmured, her voice low and even, almost seductive. But it wasn't out of

attraction that Riley's gaze locked with hers; the man went rigid, snarled in a

web woven around him before he could blink. The spider addressed her fly, "Tell

us what you recall, little man. What did you hear?"

"I...I..." the words were slowly dragged from his core. "I knew he was up to

something, I knew it, but when I listened--I didn't hear him. Had the glass

against the wall but there were two...two others talking...that's a cold one,

he's bad, but the other's worse..."

"What did they discuss?" Smoothly, but Jim felt his flesh crawl, having to fight

the spell of her voice though it wasn't directed at him. Blair on the other

hand sat calmly, almost relaxed, and watching with an expression that might have

been approval.

Riley fought too, but to find answers, not deny them. "They, they're talking

about killing, I should call the cops, don't truck with the pigs but they're

dangerous. Rickie, Rickie, where'd you find them, where are you? What kind of

shit are you in now, boy, this is big trouble..."

"Did they say anything of meeting again?" Janette inquired, cool in the heat of

the man's emotion.

"They...they tell Rickie it's dangerous, like he should know that, and that they

won't come back. He's getting upset, no, boy, you're over your head, listen to

them...they want to go elsewhere and he wants to come. It's drugs I bet, it has

to be, money, that's what he wants...I told you not to play those games, boy,

but he never listens--"

"Where?" Janette insisted. The man shook his head, sweat beading on his brow.

With a sudden swift motion she grabbed his face in both hands and forced him to

meet her eyes, blue as the palest sapphire. "Tell me where they were to meet."

He only gasped at first, and then as if he saw a nightmare in her gaze he

screamed out, "Stanford Way! They got a place there, he said that place," as if

a dam had been broken he babbled on, "they were gonna go there next time they

needed to, that was where they said they were going to, and then the bad one

says something soft and then he slams open the door and his hands are freezing

and they're around my neck, forget, I didn't hear nothing, I didn't hear

nothing, I didn't hear nothing, I believe him, he's right, I don't remember, I

didn't hear nothing..." The man was sobbing, tears running down his face and

mingling with the sweat. Janette released him and he dropped into his chair,

shaking.

A series of thumps heralded a descending figure, footsteps hurried on the

stairs. A younger man burst through the door to the living room, in features

resembling both the older Riley and the photo on the mantelpiece. "Who are you?

Get away from him!" he shouted upon observing the three, backing up his order

with a revolver.

Jim showed his badge. "Put the gun away. We're not hurting your father." At

least not in any way that could be proven. "You're Richard Riley?"

"Yeah," the other spat, lowering the weapon but keeping his finger on the

safety. He approached with some caution, bent down and put a hand on his

father's shoulder. "What'd they do to you, Pop?" Addressing them in a far

harsher tone, "What'd you do to him, why'd he scream like that?" Defiant though

there was nervousness in his eyes, a criminal's fear of the law? Or the worse

fear of those unjustly persecuted? They had nothing solid against Richard Riley,

possible aiding and abetting but no absolute evidence.

"We didn't hurt him," Jim repeated, wishing he could believe it. "We just

had...a few questions." Taking the opportunity now that the son had revealed

himself, "What do you know about Gil Cantor or his associates?"

Richard frowned blankly. "I don't know who the hell you're talking about." The

sincerity in his denial was peculiar.

Stranger still was his heartbeat, raised from adrenaline but beginning to slow,

and giving no sign of lying. His confusion was real. As was his anger, "You've

been pushing my father around? He's not into anything you should care about,

he's an old man, you got to be careful with him."

The senior Riley raised his head, "Rickie?" and Richard put his hand back on his

shoulder, "It's all right, Pop, I'm here, I'm gonna figure out what's going

on--"

Before Jim could formulate an explanation Janette spoke over him. "We did

nothing to your father. We were never here, and never asked you anything. Pick

your associates with more care, Richard. And guard your father from the dangers

you might have introduced him to unknowingly."

Both of the Riley men nodded stiffly, their eyes blank and mouths partly open.

Janette turned and strode out, Blair ushering Jim when he did not immediately

follow. They closed the door behind them, proceeded to the truck. Jim drove a

block away in silence before laying into her, "What the hell was that, you

didn't need to do that!"

"To the contrary," Janette replied placidly. "It might have raised unnecessary

delays had we settled matters by your conventions. Ours, when applicable, are

far simpler."

"You screwed with their minds, and I sat and watched! We sat and watched!" He

didn't know if he was angrier with himself for not stopping her--or with Blair,

for not even seeming to care. Nor did he make any attempt to enter the

disagreement now. "Why'd you force that out of him, we could have--"

"You never would have heard that address otherwise," she shot back. "It was

hidden from their memory--from both their memories--by one of ours. There are

few ways to break such a command except by another order, and certainly that is

the quickest. I was given to understand that time was of importance."

Ellison smashed his fist into the steering wheel, briefly satisfied by the burst

of pain. He couldn't argue her logic, only the cold-blooded nature of it--and

perhaps he couldn't even protest that. It was her nature, after all. And she

had gotten results. He had walked the edge of ethical and necessary more than a

few times before; it was not her act that disturbed him so much as her methods.

To know that he could as easily fall under her...

Blair must have realized that sense was prevailing, for he spoke at last, "So do

we go to Stanford Way now? Or is it too late; that was a couple days ago..."

He used the question to focus himself. Back to the task at hand, their duty.

"They've been busy in the meantime. We know this guy is going to want to meet

when it's dark, and since last night we know he was hiding...we might get

lucky."

"So we go there now?" Urgency beginning to color Janette's cool tone.

"Not right away." Jim turned the corner. "First we report to Simon like we said

we would, take a stab at who it in that part of town might be working with these

thugs. Then we gather our forces--and then we see if we can bring them down

like we've planned. Once and for all."

 

 

Sometimes investigations fall flat. Sometimes the crucial piece of evidence

drops through the cracks, or the major suspect escapes, or the key witness

vanishes before anything can come of it. It is a hard fact of a police

officer's life that good does not always triumph; failure is a part of

existence, and if one can't take that then one can't cut it as a cop.

Once in a while, however, everything falls into place with such beautiful

precision to make a grown policeman weep.

Stanford Way was one of the finer neighborhoods in Cascade. Among its

illustrious residents were seven doctors of the medical professions; of these,

two were practicing surgeons. Of the surgeons, one was out of town on a

month-long sojourn in Europe with his family.

That left Dr. Paul Nyman, an expert in cardio-vascular surgery who had fallen

on relatively hard times. His wife had left him last year, and he had lost his

job at Cascade General due to "personal complications" his employers refused to

elaborate on. Nevertheless he somehow had the funds to maintain his accustomed

style of living. And currently parked on the curb outside his ten-room house

was a sleek rental car registered under the name of "Thomas L. Jones."

"As in Tommy Lee Jones?" Simon muttered to Jim, as they pulled up across the

street of their target. Three other unmarked cruisers were surreptitiously

taking positions nearby.

Jim shrugged. "It might not be assumed, but 'Mr. Jones's' license registration

didn't check out in all the records. Maybe one of the bosses likes 'The

Fugitive' or 'Men in Black'."

"Could have been worse," Blair spoke up suddenly from the back seat. All three

pairs of eyes turned on him; he shrugged. "It could have been under I.

Jones--as in, Indiana..."

Simon began to groan, caught himself and shook his head instead. The corners of

Jim's mouth lifted. Blair was showing more interest in this duty than he had

for anything in weeks. Eleven o'clock at night, camped outside a stranger's

house and wondering if they were anywhere near the right place, let alone having

a chance of hell of actually doing something, and Sandburg was practically

bouncing in his seat.

Like the old days. At least for the moment.

And if he disregarded the other presence behind him; even without looking in the

mirror he could feel Janette's eyes burning freezing holes through him. Once

this was over she'd be gone, too. Hard to feel anything but relief when

recalling that.

"You hear anything?" Simon twisted in the passenger seat of the truck. His

captain was having a harder time sitting still than his partner.

Unsurprisingly; Simon had put a lot of faith in the single unconfirmed report of

his detective. If this operation proved a bust he'd have a lot of explaining to

do. Understandable that he was concerned; to his credit that he was as calm as

he was.

In answer to the question Jim listened. Voices inside the house, at least three

different men talking and he thought he could hear a few more breathing. "You

haven't given us reason yet to trust you."

Breezy and cold was the response: "You'll get your reason--what were you looking

for? A good pair of lungs, preferably B negative? That's your highest bidder at

the moment, at least that's what your assassins said."

"The Cantors?" A third man.

"Yeah, the Cantors. I've been doing all their recent commissions, I figured

with them out of the way you could use another pair of hands, right? And I can

get a higher cut without a middleman. So, the lungs. Meet me anywhere you like

in twenty-four hours, pay me and they're yours."

"We're leaving Cascade," announced the original speaker. "It's getting too hot

for comfort here. If you were smart you wouldn't be so eager to show off."

"I won't get caught." Brazenly insulting, his self-assurance. "Cops don't mean

anything to me. I'll bring you the body and you can take what you want. All I

want is the money. And the blood."

"The blood?" That curious, tremulous tone was different from the other three.

Treading less familiar ground. Dr. Nyman, perhaps? "Why?"

The speaker confirmed the identity Jim had already guessed. "None of your

business, just personal taste...unless you have strong objections?"

"No." Flat reply from the third voice. "We'll choose the locale."

Jim dialed down his hearing and turned his attention to the inside of the truck.

"This is it. They're in there, Simon."

"You're sure." He reached for the radio, but Jim grabbed his wrist, shook his

head. "No, sir, not a good idea. We don't want to be overheard."

The captain hissed, lowering his tone to match the detective, "What? We need to

coordinate--"

"He's right," Blair whispered from the back. "The more and louder we talk, the

better chance he might hear us."

And that was enough. Simon released the receiver and leaned back. Quietly

asked, "So what do we do?"

"If we get out, and move fast, they'll follow. Hopefully before everyone inside

notices." Putting words into action, Jim opened his door, slid out of the seat.

Simon, Blair, and Janette followed suit. The captain gestured as subtly as he

could manage, and after a few confused moments the various scattered officers

emerged and began to surround the place.

When all were positioned, Simon marched up the front walk and, after one final

signal, rang the doorbell.

Jim heard the reaction inside. The curtains on the second floor were briefly

shoved aside and he caught a flash of a white face, clearly made out the oath,

followed by, "It's the police--good-bye, gentlemen, I'm out of here."

The reactions to the declaration finally allowed Jim to make a complete

headcount--five, plus Dr. Nyman and the vampire-assassin. Pounding on the

steps inside was the cops ascending; a second set indicated two flights of

stairs. Jim swore and headed around back; already officers there, but these

were dangerous criminals, and Nyman's backyard was spacious and landscaped with

all manner of foliage. If just one got away it was more than they could

afford--the entire ring certainly wouldn't be here and if their capture was

leaked there went the chance of securing a sting operation.

He arrived in time to tackle a man all in black aiming a gun at an officer busy

collaring another suited man. The man fought back, silent and vicious, but Jim

locked him in a half-Nelson and cuffed him, growling the Miranda rights through

gritted teeth. He shoved him toward a uniformed officer and scanned the dark

yard. Four clumps of officers around suspects, and inside the house Nyman was

screaming for his lawyer.

There were two unaccounted for. He raised his head in time to catch sight of

the black and white shadow flitting through the sky, like some monstrous

trench-coated bat. Dipping back over the house, heading downtown--and flashes

of two black shapes in pursuit. He took a step in their direction and then

recalled himself to the task at hand--one more man, where was he...

Scanning the perimeter he noted the fence, hard to climb without being obvious;

would he risk it? If he knew anything of the suspect--an internal voice spoke in

the tone of his Guide, you've got senses, use them! Without delay he opened his

ears as well as his eyes, began sifting through heartbeats. Many in the

backyard, but all visible, inside the house Nyman and two other cops, by the

front door--

Jim dashed through the back door, nearly bowling over Simon on his way to the

yard to survey their success. He crashed out the front entrance in time to see

the man push himself out of the living room window, hitting the ground running.

Smart man; he wasn't going for his car but for the house next door, probably to

hide in the open garage.

The Sentinel didn't give chase; withdrawing his gun, he took careful aim and

fired directly in front of the man's foot. He jumped, spun around. In the porch

light Jim knew the gun in his hand showed up clearly, aimed straight at the

man's chest. "Don't move," he commanded, and the man, open-mouthed in shock,

raised his hands. "How'd you see me?" he muttered, not knowing that his low

tone could be heard as easily as his dark-clothed form had been spotted.

Simon and two other officers returned to the front at the sound of the gunshot;

Jim snapped cuffs on him and pushed him into their arms on his way to his truck.

The captain called after him, "Where are you going now?"

"There's one we still have to get!" Jim shouted back, and roared away in pursuit

of the real quarry, the most dangerous of all and the only one to escape. Not

for long, he vowed. This ends tonight.

It wasn't difficult to find him. Jim drove without thought or concentration,

unerringly heading in the correct direction--with three of them in such close

proximity, he could hardly do otherwise. And they were not too distant; he

located them soon enough on the rooftop of a low apartment building. Hadn't even

made it downtown. He screeched to a halt in front of the place and, waving his

badge at the doorman, dodged inside, deemed the elevator too slow and charged up

the three flights of stairs.

He arrived on the roof in time to see the monster, teeth and eyes in full

unnatural display, raising a sharp stake of wood. Prone at his feet Blair

stared up at the specter in mute horror, his eyes round and golden. He made no

attempt to escape, perhaps frozen in shock or perhaps momentarily stunned--they

were powerful creatures, but not invincible.

There was no sign of Janette. Jim had no time to be angered by that absence;

the vampire was bringing the stake down, and he had his gun out before the arc

was completed, had fired before the stroke hit home.

The vampire screeched terribly as his weapon was thrown from his grasp, turning

his yellow glare on Jim. He clutched his gun, knowing it was useless against

the monster but hand-to-hand was hardly effective with such beings and the stake

was across the flat roof, the monster between he and it--

A snarl proceeded Janette's spring, and then she was on top of the other

vampire, knocking him to the ground. Emerging from the shadows at the roof's

edge, she had immediately attacked. A long scarlet scratch burned down the side

of her pale face, edged with blood though none dripped from the wound. She did

not seem to perceive the injury, intent as she was on her enemy, fighting to rip

her teeth into his neck.

Before he could wonder at their feral battle it had ended, the larger male

throwing her down so hard that the crack of her skull against the cement would

have been audible to regular ears. She collapsed but Blair had already risen,

struck with a ferocity comparable to his attack on Cantor, though now he and his

foe were more evenly matched. Fangs glittered in the orange glow of their eyes.

The other vampire was tall, young in appearance and perhaps handsome had his

face not been contorted with vicious rage. Short, straight dark hair and a long

black coat, the very image of the classic fiend of legend, only these fangs were

real, seeking to bite and tear and drink blood from the flesh. His fingernails

too were long and sharp, and he clawed down Blair's neck as they wrestled. Jim

heard his partner cry out but the marks did not bleed, healing even as they

fought.

He was frozen for a moment by the sheer horror of the spectacle and the inhuman

speed of the assault, but the cry galvanized him. Couldn't shoot; not only

would he risk hitting Blair but the bullets wouldn't affect either one.

Physically there was nothing he could do sufficient to stop the onslaught, not

with they so invulnerable, at least not with what he had...but the vampire was

distracted now. Stealthily, trying both to avoid that yellow stare and avert

his own eyes from the onslaught his partner was enduring--he could handle

himself, he had to, surely he was strong enough, determined enough--Jim began

working his way to the other side of the roof.

Janette pushed herself up, observed the progress of the battle but instead of

rejoining it she scuttled backwards on hands and knees, darting toward Jim's own

goal. She didn't reach it, for all her unnatural haste; the other vampire

howled suddenly and flung Blair aside, pounced on her. She struggled in his

grasp, kicking and beating at him, but his hands clutched her throat,

unyielding. Hissing through his fangs, "Why fight your own, do you think

yourself an Enforcer?"

Janette could not answer; he was not killing her but without air she could not

speak. Blair, pushing himself to his knees, cried across the darkness, "No,

we're the law! You can't murder, no matter what kind of monster you are!"

The creature snarled, words modulated weirdly by his inhuman teeth, "Not my

kind! What abominations are you, not mortal, not vampire--"

If Blair had an answer to that he never got the chance to give it. The

vampire's attention had been diverted, only for an instant but Janette took it,

bucking free of his grasp. "We are people," she growled, "the same as any of

you or any of them. And we do what we must--" Without more warning she leapt at

him, seeking to lock her own fingers around his throat.

He was too fast. Jim barely saw the gleam of metal appearing in his hand and

then he stabbed upward, wrenched to the side. Janette's head arched back in a

silent scream, eyes wide with pain, and she staggered back and fell. In the

vampire's hand the knife dripped scarlet, the same deep red now staining her

jacket. Where the heart was, but of course that couldn't kill. Janette writhed

on the cold cement, not a mortal wound but severe--

Blair hissed and crouched at her side as if to help somehow, and the other

vampire's lips stretched back over his teeth in a grinning grimace.

"Abominations, both of you, and I'll do what I have to--" Blair sprang at him

then and the monster twisted the knife around and down, plunged it into his

side.

"No!" Jim shouted before he could stop himself, but his protest went unheeded.

Blair dropped, but his enemy caught him by the hair and wrenched his head back,

exposing his neck. For an instant it seemed that he would feed, but then he

brought the knife up--

There is more than one way to kill a vampire, and not even their powers can

survive decapitation. With no other choice, Jim snatched up his object and

charged.

The vampire surely saw him coming peripherally but ignored the mortal to

continue his deadly swing. Jim crashed into him full-force before it was

completed, using his momentum to drive the stake into the monster's chest,

beneath the ribs, where the still heart resided.

The vampire's powerful arms wrapped around him, nails digging into his flesh

through his coat, but he paid the pain no heed, stabbed the wooden spear deeper

as well as he could with the awkward leverage. With every shove the creature

gagged and stumbled back, still clutching him. Slippery, his grip on the wood,

now coated in warm thick liquid--but the monster was dying.

So lock-stepped they reached the end of the roof, the vampire's back against the

low wall, and he moved suddenly, one final resistance, pushing into the air and

backwards, dragging Jim after him. And then they were falling.

Explosion when the ground met them. The monster on top of him convulsed once

and was motionless, a heavy body pressing him down into the pavement. Moment of

triumph, and then a moment of agony blacking out the weight above him and the

blood cold on his hands, and then, before he had time to so much as realize his

death, there was nothing at all.

 

 

They both saw the other vampire rising over the house, escaping into the city

night. Blair didn't need Janette's hushed suggestion; he ascended with her in

unspoken accord, shot after him. It was Janette who struck, diving like a hawk

to smash into him mid-air, knocking them to the rooftop. The collision dazed

both enough that Blair had time to land beside them and grab the renegade.

He threw off the grip in an instant, snarled, "Who are you? What is your

business with me?"

"I guard this city," Blair spat, "from monsters like you."

"Like me?" the other laughed. "Like yourself, you mean?"

He should have expected the accusation and yet it stung. Janette was prepared,

however, and attacked again with a different tact--a long wooden stake,

withdrawn from the depths of her coat.

The other vampire howled and dodged at the final instant, slamming his fist down

on her wrist with force enough to shatter every bone. Janette only gasped, but

he yanked the stake from her weakened hold. The sharpened tip dug into her

cheek, ripped a long gash, and then he clubbed her over the head and kicked her

aside into the shadows.

"She is a mad one; what are you?" hissed the vampire, his dark eyes now golden

as they met Blair's own. "A guardian of this city--what title is that for us?"

"Not for me," Blair growled as the other stalked closer. He couldn't leap, not

with the stake the other held raised before him. "The guardian is my partner.

We'll bring you down together." Jim was coming, he could feel it, the sensation

deep inside, half fear, half triumph.

"Then the rumors are real," breathed the other. "There is a challenge I'll take

up--but first you must be gone, little partner--" He lifted the stake, and Blair

tensed, eyes locked onto the weapon, preparing to shift to the side once the

stroke was begun--

It never fell; the bullet screamed past, knocking the stake from the other's

grasp, and Jim had arrived, Cascade's Sentinel. Wise enough not to immediately

join the battle; instead he stayed in the shadows, not announcing his identity,

the vampire unaware that the challenge had arrived, distracted as he was by the

attacks of the others. Janette, like Blair, realized the unannounced strategy

and continued it.

Then he revealed his knife, the silver blade cutting deep, and for a second

Blair felt Janette's pain as if it were his own, knocked to his knees by the

blow. He attacked out of necessity and almost didn't recognize his injury when

the knife sliced his own flesh, her phantom agony mixed with his. The

glittering edge raised above him, blurred by dry tears and blood rage, and he

paralyzed by the grip on his skull and the light sparkling scarlet along the

knife's blade.

But he wasn't afraid; somehow he knew that Jim was there, ready and able to

help; the Sentinel always there to catch him when he fell. He stared up at the

knife and the twisted white visage of his kinsman and felt no fear. And no

surprise when Jim's blow came, slamming the other aside in the throes of

unexpected death.

With the threat gone he collapsed, barely finding the strength to drag himself

to Janette's side. She was struggling to her knees, hand pressed against her

injured side as it healed. He glanced down at his own wound, in detached

amazement observed the skin knitting together, the blood absorbed back into his

body.

He didn't know what signaled it, Janette's eyes widening as she stared forward,

or an exclamation from one of them, or an internal signal of warning, but he

twisted around in time to see both tumble off the roof, the dying vampire

pulling the Sentinel after him.

Blair lunged forward, but too late, the wound bleeding again and he slowed by

his injury. He might have cried out or maybe it was the wind screaming in his

ears, but he still moved, plummeting off the roof and landing silently on the

pavement below, his knees absorbing the impact without his notice.

Jim was sprawled beneath the other vampire's body, his legs twisted awkwardly

under him, head angled back. Deadweight, the once-animate corpse; Blair shoved

it aside, the wooden stake so deep in its side that the movement didn't jar it.

He touched his partner's shoulder, glimpsed his white hand and almost withdrew

it, but he needed that contact. Felt the pulse thudding under his fingers,

should be racing with adrenaline but instead it was slow, unsteady.

Jim's eyes were half-open, the vivid blue glazed in the shadows. His mouth

parted as if he were trying to speak, but to Blair's horror instead of words

only a thin red stream dribbled forth. No breath exhaled for speech, but his

lips moved, "Take...take it now...last chance..."

"No no no, dammit, no, Jim!" Can't shake him, can't risk moving such injuries,

you'll worsen the internal damage--"Jim! Stay with me, we won, he's dead, we

won, Jim, we'll get you to the hospital, don't do this man, don't do this--" The

words would have no effect but they poured out regardless of his will, "You

can't, you can't--" He knew that look, as surely as he knew his own face. Knew

his expression had once been that way, final comprehension, seeing beyond

anything real and living.

On the floor of a decrepit building, with the vampire's fangs drinking from his

throat, and he had fallen down into darkness, up into light, his eyes widening

with unknowable understandings. Just as Jim's eyes opened fully now, Sentinel

vision seeing everything with greater clarity than mortally possible--

Only he had come back from that brilliant abyss, gone and returned, swallowed

the blood of the monster--the blood, the blood drawn from him, the blood of

death and life and healing. He looked down at his chest, hardly a scar left now

of what should have been a deadly wound. Life...

With his sharp inhuman teeth he slashed his wrist, a few dark crimson welling

up, and before the cut could seal over he pressed it to his partner's lips,

"Drink, damn it, it can save you, it can heal--" but he wasn't moving, wasn't

responding, the liquid smearing his chin.

Hands on his own shoulders, drawing him back, "Mon frere, arrete. It will take

more than a few drops of our blood to return him to life. Je suis desole--"

"No!" Or did he cry it only in his mind? Tore free of her gentle hold and knelt

beside him, heedless now of the injuries, lifting the slack head and pressing

his wrist to his mouth once more, "Drink! Listen to me, you have to listen to

me, Jim, it will save you, please, I can't do this without you, man, please..."

His jaw worked suddenly, the slightest of movements but a little of the blood

trickled down his throat, and then he shuddered as if struck by an electric

charge. But he continued to swallow, drinking it in, and then drawing it from

his veins. Could feel it flowing, quickening through his body as it was sucked

from it. Under his hand the skin was heating, active again as he drank life

from the source.

He felt his own life pouring from him, bringing a darkness soft in its

emptiness. Falling as the other's body lifted, only hands caught him, a voice

distantly calling, "Mon frere, you must be cautious," but he couldn't stop this;

what was necessary must be done...

"He cannot drink this way," she murmured, "you must take to give--but a little

at a time, Blair. Only a little at a time." Gently his head was lifted, and

something pressed to his lips--living, the blood running under the skin, not

hers but mortal. No! he tried to refuse, but his teeth grazed the wrist and the

liquid burst into his mouth and he had no choice but drink it down, sweet salty

but tainted, the merest taste before it was torn away.

He tried to protest again, this time at the deprivation, but he could hardly

move, weakness in place of strength, a void where once was power. He recognized

the flavor, not a taste but a feeling known through his core. Changed...the life

twisted, falling, dying, but still Jim's blood. Never, he had sworn to never

touch that cup, and was momentarily glad that it had been taken from him, as

everything faded, sight, touch, taste, sound, even memories falling silent in

the void...

Before everything was lost something brushed his lips, choking as he

involuntarily gulped it in, and in his ear her voice reminding him, "A little at

a time, je ne comprends pas, mais bois soigneusement, mon frere, drink

carefully..."

"Come or go," came another command, and he lifted his head to find himself at

the cliff's edge once again.

Balanced between standing and falling, life and death, and the man was there as

he had been before, a silhouette in a doorway to infinity. It was not Blair he

addressed now with calm patience. "You must choose," he said, as he had told

Blair before, but he spoke now to the Sentinel.

Jim stared out, not into the abyss and not through the door, but toward the

invisible horizon as if his eyes could see it. Not down, not over, not behind

him; always his focus was ahead. He made no move in either direction; he hadn't

heard the question or noticed the figure.

No irritation in that one's tone, of course. "It is your decision, and it must

be made. Take what path you will."

One foot lifted, a step forward, toward the door or off the cliff. "No!" Blair

cried. And Jim's head snapped around, finally registering his presence. He

could call him back, order him to return--

As LaCroix had summoned him. No. There was no answer there; instead he turned

toward the figure. "Don't make him choose."

Difficult to make out the man's features through the brilliance, but every line

of his body reflected his surprise. "You should not--"

"But I'm here. Whether or not I should be," Blair anticipated the objection.

"Just as you're here, Nicholas..."

And it was confirmed, though he had known his vision could not be mistaken. He

stepped from the way to stand before them, not a ephemeral figure now but a man,

taller than Blair but shorter than Jim, all in white, golden-haired and dark

eyed. An angel he looked, but Blair knew better and drew a breath, seeing at

last the face of his brother. Just as he had appeared in the photographs, in

memories, except that the despair had lifted from his visage. Some of the light

here shone from his eyes.

"You know me," he said quietly.

"I'm your father's creation."

"Yes..." Eyes flickered over him, as if the other was as interested in Blair as

Blair was in him. "And you walk this path with even more reluctance than I

did."

"It was the only choice I could take, though." He glanced back at Jim, staring

in open-mouthed shock at his vision, perhaps disbelieving or perhaps believing

it all too well. "That's why I'm here now. Don't make him decide. Just let

him go back, and I'll come with you--"

"No!" And the Sentinel was active once more, shoving in front of Blair. "What

the hell are you asking? I made a choice before here, I agreed to be what I am

supposed to be--what do I have to choose now?" With a pointed look back at his

partner. Blair stayed quiet, allowed the other to answer.

"You chose before," Nicholas agreed. "And well. You chose to continue, to walk

forward off the cliff--" and Jim jerked to realize his vision was so clearly

known--"but you made another decision now, and this time you fell..."

He didn't continue but allowed his words to penetrate. Jim blinked, "I was, I

was falling--" His eyes widened. "You mean, I...I'm now..." Looked back at

Blair, "And you were--I remember, giving me..." Then he stopped. Turned his

back completely on the figure by the door to confront his partner directly, "No!

This doesn't have anything to do with you. It's my decision!"

"It's mine!" Blair insisted, with a passion he hadn't felt in too long. "I made

it before, I'll take it now! I've been dead for the last five months. You know

that--what are you losing, that you haven't already lost? At least now there's

some purpose--"

"It's not worth it. I'm not worth it. I wasn't before, why'd you do it, when

you could have had your entire--" He whirled around suddenly, spoke with great

caution to the vision of Nicholas, "We're both here now, right? And you want a

choice--if I choose to go with you, can he return? As what he was? Can you

arrange that?"

He hesitated, a long pause as he examined each of them in turn. Blair shook his

head in denial; Jim countered his sharp gaze, refusing to back down.

"Normally," he said at last, "the master summons the child to return. That is

how you find your way," and he met Blair's eyes. Reminding him of how he had

followed LaCroix's call, the only path back to his Sentinel's side. "How you'll

return now..."

"He'll find a way, if you'll let him," Jim responded immediately. "Give him the

chance--"

"Give you the chance!" Blair overrode him. "I'll stay. Like I said. The city

needs the Sentinel, they all need you alive--"

"And I need you, Chief." Very quietly, gently, and all the force of his life in

his voice.

"You'll manage. Like you have been. I taught you how." I'm sorry, Jim, but I

need you alive, I need to know you're alive, if only for the instant before

oblivion...

But he didn't say anything more. Instead he pushed past Jim and flung himself

toward the door, knowing it would close behind him, knowing that his sacrifice

must be accepted.

Jim cried out but was too late to stop him. It was not his hand but Nicholas's

that caught his shoulder. "You are willing," he murmured. "Then this can be

done, but in another way. You would give yourself for him?"

"Yes," Blair panted. "Everything I am, for his life, for his way back."

"I'm not going without you," Jim said. His tone was not stubborn but immutable,

as fixed as a mountain and less likely to alter.

"You have to. If this is the only chance--Jim, listen to me. Everything you

are, everything you've done for me and everyone else--there's so much more you

can do. It's worth--it's worth whatever I can give, to let you go on--"

"And what am I worth without you?" he asked quietly. "What is a Sentinel

without a partner--what am I without my friend?"

Nicholas looked from one to the other with a terrible sort of kindness, the

tenderest understanding. Then, "You've both made your choices," he stated, "now

it will be done." He raised his arms and the glowing portal closed. The ground

seemed to shift underfoot, and then it rose even higher, or perhaps the cliff

base dropped to an infinity greater still. Upwards with growing speed, until

the wind shrieked in their ears and all was a blur, and through the chaos he

regarded Blair and Jim.

Everything was going dark once more, and to one of them Nicholas said, "When you

see her, if you see her once more, my sister, my daughter...tell her I'm sorry.

Tell her I always loved her...if I had known what you know, I never would have

taken her again--" His voice was lost in the silent tumult.

Blair felt cold stone beneath him, realizing only then that for all his actions

he had felt nothing on that cliff's edge, and then the exhaustion claimed him,

dragging him down for the final time.

 

 

He came awake by degrees, at first simply accepting the sensations assailing

him, cool hardness below, cold air above, distant vehicle engines and tires

squealing on streets. Lights flashing dimly through his eyelids, and the acrid

smoke and tar that was the smell of the city.

No pain, though, and cautiously he made the first tentative motions. Nothing,

though before the agony had lanced through him with every breath. His own pulse

was no longer loud in his ear, reduced to the distant rhythm he perceived if he

focused and ignored the rest of the time. This gave him the confidence to sit

up, the pavement digging into his palms, and he opened his eyes.

Janette crouched before him, her hands clasped loosely as she stared down at

him, pale eyes unreadable. When he met them she deliberately looked to his

side.

His head whipped around, found the object of her attention. He was curled up on

his side, back to Jim, hair a limp dark halo on the cement. Automatically Jim

reached out, not only with his hand but his senses as well, listening for what

was not there--

And found it. He held his breath, not daring to believe what he heard. Steady,

loud not because of volume but because he was intent on it as always before.

The constant, throbbing pulse of a living heart, its distinctive cadence one he

hadn't forgotten in the intervening months, and never would.

Sudden motion in his peripheral sight was all that tore his gaze away. She had

risen to her feet. Nodded once slowly to the questions in his eyes, and turned

to leave.

"Wait!" he called faintly. She paused and he said, "We--we saw him. He wanted

us to tell you, he told us to tell you that he was sorry. And that he--"

She nodded again. "I know." Maybe her lips curved the smallest angle upwards, a

smile to brighten her entire face. "Good-bye, guardian. I thank you for that

message." And she was gone, not even a shadow passing before his eyes.

In her wake Blair stirred. Before he lifted his head completely off the ground

his eyes snapped open, so wide they were circular, mouth gaping in a silent

gasp. His heartbeat sped up and his breath came short, one hand rising to

clutch at his own throat. "Ji--Jim?"

"Right here, Blair."

"Do--were--were we..." The words were barely enunciated.

"I think we were. I think we did..." He dared look directly at him. "Chief, I

can--I can hear--"

Blair's head rocked back as he stared up at the rose-tinged sky. No stars

remaining, only the prevalent soft glow that heralded sunrise. Suddenly he

struggled to his feet, stumbling toward the street, out of the building's shadow

toward the coming light.

"No!" Jim called him back, they didn't know for certain, they couldn't be

sure...but his partner ignored him, raising his arms to greet the sun's first

rays.

 

 

Dawn had come hours ago where he was, but he was safe behind the walls and heavy

curtains of his hotel room, waiting for night to fall once more. Stalking the

streets in darkness, choosing prey that he never touched, only imagined the

struggles and the hot blood. He hadn't tasted that in months, not even cold

from a bottle--it was not necessary, though the ache of hunger became more

pronounced each night. His son had been right; every drink had divided him

further from the past, from his memories.

Too valuable to risk it; memories were almost all he had remaining. Most of his

children had fallen to the centuries; the ravages of time did not age them but

there were other prices to pay. Of those left there were none he cared for, all

thoughtless creations, meaningless outside their tiny sphere and petty

influences. Save one, and he dared not approach him again; to do so would be to

destroy, or be destroyed...

But he felt him, for all the time and distance separating them, for all the

difference of night and day. Alone in the room he sat and shivered once, as if

in a draft though the coldness of air could not disturb him. He knew when his

son left this plane, a return to the abyss he had walked away from before.

Almost with his own eyes he saw the light growing around him, the sun rising,

finally the first beams sluiced over the buildings' roofs. As he hadn't for

close to two millennia he glimpsed the beautiful purity of dawn, and then even

the vision was bright enough to sear his eyes, forcing him to open them again in

the darkness of his room, rub away the phantom pain.

Another son lost to him, another child stolen by the promise of morning. The

image of his Nicholas floated ghost-like in his mind, and it seemed that he

could see him many times at once, the young knight's bravura, the more

experienced companion's brooding, the grief at the end. For an instant he

thought he saw another view of his face, holding a peace and a forgiveness he

had never expressed in life or in death, but that was gone and the father was

left in the darkness again, waiting for night to fall and the mourning to pass.

Though for a moment he remembered the light, and knew that in the loss was an

aspect of redemption.

 

 

As the sun reached the corpse it began to smolder, the body and blood reduced to

nothing but ash shifted and swirled away by early breezes. He noted this

without seeing it, eyes closed against the glory, jacket cast aside and arms

still raised. Feeling the caress of gold on his skin, darkening the whiteness

to a red that might hurt later, but now it was heat in his bones, carried by

blood racing through his body. He stood in the sun and despite the morning

chill he was warm, and when he felt the touch on his shoulder he didn't jump or

open his eyes, only smiled, knowing that his partner's presence and his presence

beside him meant more than any words or look could ever convey.

 

 

I'm awake. It's half past three AM, still dark outside, and I'm tossing and

turning in my bed.

I suppose it's not surprising. Only a week, after all; my internal clock is

still adjusting to a normal schedule. No more need to be nocturnal.

At least it's not nightmares. I haven't dreamed once this last week. Thank God

I haven't. How long is it going to take for my dreams to be normal again?

Was it a dream? The jury's still out on that one...Jim and I, we haven't

discussed it at all. Afraid we'll jinx it if we try to verbalize whatever we

might have seen, might have experienced, might have chosen. Afraid that if we

do we'll find that this has actually been the dream, that this is the illusion

and that other existence is still a reality...

Or maybe that was the fantasy, those past five months, I've considered

that--Simon has convinced himself that's the case, I think. He's perfectly

content with how it all turned out, hell, even the federal agents acknowledged

how much good the Cascade PD did. The ring was stopped, the killings are over,

does anyone really care how? As far as the captain's concerned most of the past

couple days never happened, and if they did he's determinedly forgotten.

Probably for the best.

I wish I could forget.

It was real. Everything's too vivid for it not to have been.

I want to get back to the University, have to think up an appropriate reason for

my extended absence. After so long away...no, I want this, as much as I want

anything. Need to reassert myself, find the me I thought was lost. Return to

my studies and my research on Jim. And get back to the station, reclaim my

position as his official partner.

Reclaim my place as his Guide.

The loft is quiet. When I hold my breath I can't hear a thing; the streets

outside are empty this dark and early morning. If I concentrate there's the hum

of my alarm clock, or maybe that's my imagination.

Of course I couldn't possibly hear the soft breathing upstairs, not normally,

and yet when I can't make it out my heart catches for an instant. I have to calm

myself, reassure myself that this is as it should be. Normal people can't hear

so precisely; only a Sentinel has that range. I'm no Sentinel; I'm the Guide.

I'm the partner of Cascade's guardian.

It's for that reason that I rise; before I realize what I'm doing I climb the

stairs. Now I'm standing at the foot of Jim's bed, watching him sleep, chest

evenly rising and falling. If I slow my breathing a little I can match his

inhalations and exhalations.

I remember when I was little, if I had had a nightmare or something, I'd go to

my mom. I wouldn't have to make a sound, Naomi would always wake up instantly;

she said it was motherly instincts.

Sentinels must have the same instincts. Yeah, I'm sure Jim would appreciate me

relating that anecdote in the dissertation. But he comes right awake, and it's

after I've clambered up the stairs, I'm just standing there, quiet. He felt me.

Opens his eyes and sits up in bed. "Chief?"

"Sorry--sorry, Jim," I stammer, "I didn't mean to wake you." I turn back around

and retreat. God, what was I thinking; I'm more of a basket case as a mortal

than I was as a...

His voice stops me. "Blair? Trouble sleeping?" No teasing, just sympathy.

"I'll be fine."

"Having nightmares?" Pressing, not forcefully but with maternal concern. I

really should mention this to Naomi at least. See, Mom, I am well cared for...

"I haven't been dreaming," I remind him.

I can't see his expression but it sounds like he's frowning when he speaks.

"You're sure you're all right?" He wants it to be nightmares. He wants it to be

monsters so he can go "boo!" and frighten them off, bizarre horrors that he can

tease away. He wants it to be something he can fix.

I'd let you fix it, Jim; I'd let you put it right. If I only knew what it was.

It's over, it's all over, we won, and I'm... "I'm okay. Jim--Jim," and it all

comes rushing out, "did you see it, do you remember? You were--you fell, and you

were..."

"I remember," he confirms, and suddenly I'm sitting on the end of his bed,

taking deep breaths, trying to ignore the visions of my memories shining before

my eyes. "We both were there," he goes on softly. "And the man--Nicholas--he

asked me to choose."

"And you did."

"And so did you," he points out. "And--and it worked." End of story. Army man

Ellison knows better than to stick his nose where it don't belong.

I was never in the military, and curiosity has always been my strong point. But

I don't want to push this. Only enough to acknowledge what was done for us.

For me. "I think we made a trade," I remark slowly. I've been piecing it

together in my mind, enough that I might understand it. "I offered--"

"I know what you offered." Almost angrily.

"The same that you did. But I think--I think Nicholas took my choice. Took

mine, so you would live..." He took my existence. My immortality. And used it

to make two of the dead mortal again.

Jim already understood. He nods, whispers, "But why? That's what I can't

figure, why he allowed it..."

"I don't know." I don't know if he could understand what's been lifted from me.

The shadow that Nicholas had existed under for so many centuries, and yet when

given the opportunity to take it from another he didn't hesitate, not bitter

that he had never had the chance, not vengeful for what he could never

experience. What might he have sacrificed, to give us that choice? What

decisions had he made to allow us our lives?

If there is any justice in the universe, he will be rewarded. If there is any

balance...but what is our price? What will I have to pay for what I was, what I

did?

I'll find out. Or maybe I already have. Maybe all debts are canceled, I'll

never really know. I should just be grateful now for what I have, what has been

returned to me. I am grateful.

I stand, go over to the window and look outside up at the sky. The black has

turned to navy and then gray, the stars giving way to the coming dawn. I

anticipate the sunrise and there is no fear, no itching distant terror, only the

thrill of the coming day.

Jim comes up, puts his arm over my shoulders and watches with me, saying

nothing. I lean slightly into the embrace and he doesn't react, doesn't shy

back or tense. So completely natural, the gesture, and no effort needed to

maintain it, no revulsion to suppress.

I glance up and he's smiling. It's his real smile, the rare one I've only seen

a handful of times. God, if he could produce it regularly I wouldn't have a

chance; there isn't a woman alive who wouldn't fall in love with that look the

moment she saw it. But he's as unconscious of its power as he is of its rarity.

He doesn't know how brilliant it can be.

I smile back. Because I can't help it. Because I want to. Because I'm happy,

despite everything that came before and is to come. Right now, I'm here waiting

for dawn's light to touch me, and I can be the Sentinel's partner again, and I

can feel my own heart beating.

If I listen I can hear him breathing, but I can't hear his pulse. If I put my

head to his chest I could listen for it, but I don't need to, I know it's there.

I sneak another look and I see it, the small cock of his head. He's listening

even if I can't. He can hear my heart beating, and his smile widens the tiniest

bit, a little brighter still. Like he carries around his own sun, hidden inside

most of the time and he only shows it when he knows it won't burn. That's my

partner, that's my friend, a light that can't be extinguished. I won't let it

be. Just as he won't let my own go out. We keep close and shield each other,

and I'll do it as best I can, as long as I can. And so will he. That's what

life is about, I guess. Our lives, anyway. There isn't any other way it could

be.

And we stand there together and wait for the sun to rise.

 

 

fin

 

 

Well, that's that...hope you all enjoyed the ride!

For those following FK continuity, Janette's fate as human and then back to

vampire was revealed in the 3rd season ep "Human Factor", and honestly her

transformation was as big a mystery in the show as I made it out to be in the

fic. (Fortunately, 'cuz it meant I could fudge the details!) As for the rest,

it was all a figment of my demented imagination, take it as you will...

Many many thanks to my beautiful beta's, Becky and Signe and support from

sHolmes, and all my gratitude to Taleya for the webpage and everything. My

sister gets the most credit for whining until it was completed, but sincere

thanx to all you great readers who encouraged me. I love you guys!

 

 

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