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It almost seemed like he could hear Jim's voice, calling to him, summoning him.

Blair raised his head, gazed dully over the empty streets. No one in sight,

though if he cared to listen he could hear the presence of people inside their

homes, talking, sleeping, watching television. Living their ordinary, beautiful

lives, a chaotic harmony ruling them all. A song of which he no longer could

sing a part.

Jim was not one of them. His voice was not in his ears but in his head.

Yet he still could hear the Sentinel's demand. What are you?

The rejection, the fear, even the...hatred had been clear in his voice. Never

had he heard Jim sound like that. Not to the worst criminal, the most insane

psychopath they had ever encountered. And never to Blair. The closest he had

come was probably when first they met, and Jim had been half mad then himself,

his senses spinning out of control and his mind following. He didn't think he

needed the babbling of an over-eager grad student, and conversely Blair himself

had had not a clue what to say to the living embodiment of his studies. It had

taken time for them to learn how to talk to one another.

A skill now lost, and would it be possible to regain it?

He shouldn't have run, and not in that manner, but he hadn't chosen to act,

hadn't had any control over the fire that ignited inside. Whenever it flamed

the only way he had found to handle it was to leave it behind, race away with

the speed he was only beginning to comprehend. Another ability to match the

rest. Another compensation for the violation of his spirit. He could flee from

anything.

Was this what his existence would be reduced to, endlessly escaping from life

and death both? No. There must be more. There was his life. He had left no

corpse behind, so it must still belong to him, Blair Sandburg. He was yet that

man. No matter that every emotion he had ever felt, every thought he had ever

had, was completely alien in his memory. He could remember them all with

startling, inhuman clarity. But he couldn't understand what he recalled.

Close to his ear something hissed. He snapped around, spied the sleek black

cat. Lean and rangy as all street animals that survived had to be, its golden

eyes the only part of its form not melting into the shadows. Small as it was,

it bravely defended its territory from the larger invader.

Pinning the animal with his own yellow-eyed stare he felt the desire rising in

him, revolting, uncontrollable. "Get out of here," he hissed at the cat. Then

screamed it, "GO!"

The creature bolted, ears flattened to its skull, recognizing with natural

instincts the danger inherent in this not-man. Difficult to block his own

reflexes, to hold in place and not dive at the animal, snatch up its tender

life.

"Hey, um, man?" mumbled a human voice. "Everything cool?" There was a man in

the alley near him, a young man, stringy blond hair falling in his hazel eyes.

Dilated pupils and pulse accelerated; he was stoned on something. Yet still he

cared, asked, "You okay? You shouted weird there, real loud..."

The heartbeat was rapid thunder, the plunging echoes of a waterfall running

thick and scarlet in the veins. If he looked too closely at the thin neck he

could see the pulse pumping below the ear, the face pink and flushed with the

blood it supplied. Glistening moist eyes, rounded cheeks, everything soft and

wet with life. His own hands clasped together were like marble, that hard, that

dry.

"Go," he whispered. Tore his gaze away from the other man, the only real man.

Louder, forcing old air from his lungs, "I'm fine, please go."

"You look sorta pale..." The man leaned down, squinting at him. "You sure

you're okay?"

Then he was staring into the glazed hazel eyes. The man's expression was frozen

in an absurd mask of confusion; he directed it, "I'm fine, get out of here."

"Go..." The man's echo faded into oblivion. He began to shuffle away. Slowly,

too slowly; if he laid his tongue against his teeth he knew what he'd feel, the

knife-like points. "Get out!" he roared, and the man turned, spell shattered.

Eyes widened as they took in the transformation of the figure before him, and

then the man stumbled away shouting.

It took all his strength to stay back, to press against the wall and not pursue

him into the night. Hunted yes but never hunter, he vowed, knowing full well

how impossible a promise it would be to keep.

Hunted indeed, because that man had surely gotten a good glimpse of him. Even

if he chalked it up to the effects of whatever drug he was on, there would be

others. The word would spread, something that looks human but is not human

wanders the streets, and such a bizarre and deadly cross of identities could not

suffer to live in the modern world. Beasts were to be conquered; it was their

station in life. In death.

Jim had seen him clearly enough. Jim had seen enough to realize what he was.

The Sentinel was a hunter, to the very core; this beast would be targeted

eventually. What side of the line would he himself fall on, the hunter or the

hunted, predator or prey, human or monster? Was the choice even his?

Or could Jim make the choice? Would he, could he find the man trapped in the

beast's form? Of course he could; he was the Sentinel, he saw what others

couldn't, sharper and deeper vision, too. He had seen the truth, the monster

his partner had become...

He didn't want to face Jim. In a very real way he couldn't, couldn't see that

rejection again, that horrified understanding.

Blair his partner, friend, Guide, could have confronted Jim without fear or

timidity. That man wasn't gone. But he might as well be, for all the backbone

that remained beneath his too-white skin.

It was impossible. He could never be what he once had been, and to attempt a

return would be pointless, hopeless. Perhaps dangerous, given the nature of

what he was.

Come back, Jim's phantom voice implored, begging as the Sentinel never would,

his own mind conjuring what he wished to hear. Come home.

I can't.

Come back, it pleaded, and he knew that no matter his decision he couldn't

resist the siren for long.

 

 

Despite his exhaustion sleep was long in coming, and when it arrived it was

haunted by dreams. Not the prophetic vision of the previous night but vivid and

frightening imagery that slipped from his mind the moment he jerked awake.

Once he was being chased, hunted, by the black jaguar he knew as his spirit

guide. Then it was in front of him, bowing its great head and intoning words he

couldn't understand. Its golden eyes sparked at him and the wolf passed between

them, once again threw its burning body off the cliff.

He was in the alley, the creature before him wailing, "It's me!" and then it

hurtled into the sky as a black bat, leathery wings brushing Jim's cheek.

Kneeling by still water he saw Blair's reflection shimmering on the surface, but

when he reached for it the liquid turned blood-red, staining his fingers.

The wolf howled as it fell, the cry trailing away into the wind with the smoke.

He never quite could catch it before it leapt.

All the long night he woke with gasps, blinked blearily around the empty loft

before falling back into the nightmares. Once he felt his lips shaping a

syllable as he drifted off. Blair. A soundless call that owed nothing to his

conscious mind and everything to instinct.

At last when his eyes snapped open he saw the gray light filtering through the

shades, the cool natural glow that precedes dawn. High time to rise, though his

body protested the motion, tired by the restless night. Of no importance; he

forced himself up. Under the fatigue his entire self was singing with tension,

vibrating like a plucked string. Something in the air, humming to his senses,

alerting him to danger. For the entire week he had felt the sensation

distantly, but now it buzzed almost aloud, impossible to ignore.

Last night, the thing in the alley, it had spiked too, but not with this

pressure, an ominous air of expectancy. As he pulled back the curtains he

almost imagined something would leap out at him. Could all but see dark form

crouched on the balcony or dropping from the roof.

But nothing was there, and the city still was mostly silent, the few traffic

sounds muted by the pre-dawn hush. Stretching overhead and into infinity the

sky was salmon, the inside of a seashell bigger than the world.

He had a sudden longing for Blair to be standing beside him, going quiet in the

way he did on rare occasions, when awestruck by beauty. The gray buildings cut

into the panorama, their jagged geometry combating the splendor but unable to

destroy it.

It was Blair who had taught him to overlook the flaws and admire the beauty

behind them, Blair who had shown him how, when the city pressed its blocky ugly

weight on his shoulders, to look upwards, the sky always startling in its glory.

Even on the coldest of days the sun's beams were warm caresses on his sensitive

skin, the sun itself too brilliant for him ever to look at except to admire out

of the corner of his eye. Beauty over and all around, but it had taken his

partner to reveal it to him, a gift Blair would forever shrug off as nothing.

'What are friends for?'

He listened unconsciously, became aware of it when only silence met his ears, an

emptiness that should be filled with the soft heartbeat and quiet breathing of

his Guide. Should be, but it hadn't been for two mornings now, and in a vague

and upset way he was becoming convinced that it never would be again.

Over the square silhouettes of rooftops the first rays of the sun began to

gleam, spreading golden fire through the shadowed streets, giving definition to

the omnipresent light. Once the first shafts peeked over the skyline the rest

soon followed, an orange orb rising in the amber sky.

When the final beam at last broke free of the horizon and ascended into the sky

proper, he turned away. The ritual complete, the day now begun, and he almost

reborn, rejuvenated by the light, the darkness in his thoughts not gone but

scattered.

And something screamed, a pure and unreal expression of agony.

The cry was distant, too quiet for him to have heard it normally, yet it

lingered in his ears long after the sound itself died. For a single moment he

was frozen by his recognition of the pain; then he was running to the door.

Elevator too slow so he charged down the stairs, his long legs taking them three

at a time and still it wasn't fast enough.

Late into the night the block was mobbed with people, but now at sunrise it was

deserted, cars only blurs as they shot down the empty streets. He didn't even

glance around, his gaze instantly drawn to the single figure present.

He was on his knees, huddled in the long shadow cast by the cab of Jim's truck.

White hands covering his face, white fingers wrapped around long dark strands of

his hair. The hunched shoulders shivered as if chilled despite the leather

jacket.

The clothing, the hair of the figure was as familiar as his posture was alien.

He didn't need to see his face or hear his voice; all he needed was to

understand how he was hurt, and how to keep him from further pain.

"Blair?" he whispered, crouching by the figure. Hesitating only an instant

before laying his hand on the quivering back.

The words were hissed through clenched teeth, barely audible. "Out of...the

sun...can't..."

Without waiting for more he scooped his partner into his arms, lifted him bodily

and started back inside. Blair drew himself into a foetal position as if

unaware of even being held, though he pressed his face against Jim. His arms

were crossed over his head.

As soon as Jim stood Blair cried out, not the scream he had heard before but a

piteous moan. Then Jim saw one of the white hands, half-resting on his arm.

Where the sunlight touched the blanched skin smoke rose, wisps of steam curling

up into the clear morning air. There was a scent, not of cooked flesh, almost

more like burning wood.

Eyes wide, mouthing oaths he didn't know he knew, Jim hurried inside, trying his

best to shield his burden from the sun's abuse. When he had slammed the door

shut with one foot Blair shuddered against him, relaxing only the slightest bit.

Rather than releasing him Jim carried him to the elevator, up to their home,

now grateful that no one was present to witness this spectacle.

He deposited the shaking figure on the couch, went to the windows and tightly

shut shade and curtains before returning to him. Examined who he had rescued

with equal parts concern and dread.

He was now curled into the corner between the arm and back of the couch, his

face pressed into the cushions, arms folded around himself. The back of one

hand clutching the leather jacket was blistered, the pale skin bubbling with

angry burns. Jim stared at it, unable to believe that the injury was caused not

by flame but simply from the sun's rays. But he had seen it burn!

Only now could he afford to consider this, think over what he had done, what he

had brought into his home. There was no doubt that this was the creature from

last night, the white skin, the same clothing. Still no heartbeat, and the

breaths came as low sobbing gasps that sounded forced.

But the dark curls falling over the jacket's collar, the shape of the hands

grasping it, even the jacket itself--this was Blair, as familiar as he had

always been, and yet so changed as to be unrecognizable. A Blair inhuman, a

Blair with eyes that could flash like a wolf's and the fangs of a predator. A

monster.

Vampire.

It couldn't be. Not in the hard-core world of science and reason, the twentieth

century's clear delineation of fact and fantasy, nonfiction and fiction.

But he looked at the white burned hands, heard the silence where a pulse should

sound, and knew the truth beyond myth and reality. Knew as well what to do.

The flames of a funeral pyre, or a wooden stake driven into the quiescent heart,

or purest of all the warm good rays of the sun, reducing the undead body to

nothing but ash--

"No!" and wasn't sure if he spoke aloud. He abandoned the thoughts and the

images following them, forced himself to reach out and place a gentle hand on

the shoulder of his friend.

"Blair?" he asked. Not entirely sure, at the same time he was positive.

Slowly the head turned, the hair brushed aside. In spite of all he had seen in

his life, Jim couldn't keep from gasping, from pulling back the smallest bit,

hand dropping away.

The face was burned, far worse than the hands. The skin was blackened, charred,

dried against the bone so the cheekbones were sharply defined, lips shriveled

back from white teeth. The hair was untouched, thick curls a mockery of a wig

framing the horror mask face.

And the eyes--the eyes were whole, soft blue orbs that seemed to contain the

only moisture in the figure. Blair's eyes, staring out of an inhuman body,

filled with pain and grief and a thousand other terrible emotions.

Blair's eyes without the spark that was supposed to light them, lacking the glow

of life, of intelligence that always shone from inside. However deeply Jim

looked into them he only saw more pain, agony raging through him, his body

shuddering in its wake, his mind torn apart by the power of what he felt, the

wounds not only on his flesh but seared in his spirit.

Jim's paltry medical training seemed not enough to even heal the physical

injuries, yet he knew he was the only hope Blair had. An ordinary man would

already be dead from the burns; he now was dying. Jim could see it in his

glazed eyes, in the way his grip on the folds of his jacket was loosening, in

the slowing breaths as the effort he made to breathe like a human became too

much.

Something inside Jim was demanding that he let this be, that death was the only

correct course, and for him to end the job was the only proper action. He

fiercely overrode the impulse. This was Blair, his friend, his partner, his

roommate and Guide and everything else in the world. No matter how he had been

changed. And it was Jim's duty, it always had been, to protect him, heal him,

save him. Love him. The form wasn't important; the man Blair, who he was,

still existed somewhere inside this creature now.

And there might be a way to cure him, at that. At least heal his wounds and

bring him back to himself. If everything else were true... "Blair," he

murmured. Put his hand back in place on his shoulder, met the blue eyes

unflinching and ignored the scarred face, "You need to eat..." Such an awkward

way to say it, but he couldn't bring himself to actually verbalize what he

meant.

Blair understood, eyes widening as he wildly shook his head in mute protest,

hair twisting about his tortured face. Jim ignored him, seeing in his look that

he had supposed correctly, that he could help him heal. "You need it," he said

softly. "I don't mind. Take what you need." I've given blood before. And

this was a more worthy cause still.

Blair shook his head again, and this time added in a choking voice, "No,

don't--" But he was starved; there was hunger in his eyes, in the manner he

looked Jim over.

Without thinking about it, without stopping to consider his actions, only

conscious that he could do something, he raised his hand, palm up and wrist

revealed. In the empty quiet he could hear his own heart beating, see the pulse

vibrating lightly under his skin. Almost he could feel it, the blood pumping

through the artery.

When he looked up, Blair's eyes were fixed on the same point, lowered lashes

quivering in time with the beats. Silently Jim offered his hand, knuckles

brushing his partner's crossed arms.

A shudder, and then Blair's hand lashed out, white fingers folding around Jim's

arm, cold even through the fabric of his shirt. The eyelids shut and when they

lifted the eyes were green rimmed with gold. Black lips pulled back from sharp

canines and then he was lunging forward, not at the proffered arm but at his

neck. Cool smoothness and then two tiny stings, like insect bites, and ice

spreading from them, all warmth drawn with the blood from his body.

 

 

He hadn't intended to, had tried with building desperation to turn away and

refuse the gift, but the heat was too close, the hunger rode too high. His

mouth was locked to the source and breathing it in with great gasps, gulping at

the liquid energy spread tingling throughout himself. Some resistance but it

was too small, too weak to have any effect on his desire.

There was a heartbeat; he wasn't hearing it, he was feeling it, the blood moving

through his system with the steady thumping rhythm. To have a pulse again, as

if he were human, to be warmed from the inside out, like a human. This

sensation wasn't like those brief instants in the alleys; it didn't end, it went

on and on, he revelling in the simple joy of being a man again, not a monster...

But the heart was slowing, the beats coming with greater moments between them.

Dying, just as he had, but it was still going, and he would stay with it until

it had contracted for the final time, waiting, waiting for the last beat--

No! With all his might, his new great strength, he shoved backwards, away from

the source, away from that life-giving heat, plunged back into the cold barren

darkness. Curled on his side shaking, the wooden floor rough to his

too-sensitive fingertips, and unwilling, unable to raise his eyes and look upon

the terrible crime he had committed.

He couldn't have, he couldn't have, never would he have hurt him, his friend,

his Sentinel; yet the blood was tepid on his lips, metallic salt on his tongue,

and now he could never deny the monster he had become.

 

 

He had been watching with interest, the shadows of the tall buildings offering

more than enough protection from the sun's burning. A slight touch of fear when

he observed his incautious fledgling heading for his mortal home, and so late

into the night, the sky already lightening. With grim horror he watched as the

sun rose above the rooftops, the beams sluicing down the streets to sear the

young one's flesh.

Nothing he could do but see him take to scant cover and hope he could survive

this. Too great a trial for most newborns, but this Blair was as strong in

death as in life, his hold on his existence powerful as ever. It would take

more than the risen sun to destroy him.

Then the man, his partner, emerged from the building. Went to him as before,

drawn to him as if following an invisible, undetectable signal. But this time

he seemed to reach an acceptance of what he found, lifted him and brought him

out of danger without question.

Perhaps he wasn't what he had suspected. They were supposedly long dead as it

was; impossible that one should openly welcome a vampire, go so far as to bring

a vampire into their home, no matter how well-acquainted they had been in life.

And unheard of that one of the old guardians would present his blood, his life,

to such a creature. This man had, understanding what he was offering and giving

it all the same. Blair's resistance had been as impressive as before, but in

the face of his wounds and his need it had been a battle even he couldn't win.

At first it seemed he had been triumphant, that the first life taken by this

fledgling would be one so effective his very self would be changed for good, he

becoming as he was meant to be. But instead he rebelled, at the final moment

flung himself away. Then knelt unmoving on the floor, eyes seeing and not

seeing the death, mind unable to grasp the magnitude of his deed.

Something all too familiar in the tableau. The mortal, lifeless on the floor,

his son crouched by the body, his thoughts not the expected turmoil but a blank

slate. Tabula rasa, everything burned away just as his skin had been by the

sun.

Eventually this would have happened, inevitably he would have ended up in this

position, but this was too soon, not eight hundred years but a mere three days.

And yet his expression, his emotions, everything was as it had been before, that

absolute surrender to grief.

No; he wouldn't give in this time, he would not allow this to end, let alone

bring about that closing. The mortal man--he was not entirely gone. His heart

still beat, faintly, barely a movement but it was there. His life had not been

completely stolen.

Get out he silently commanded his son. Hide yourself and let this pass. In the

apartment above he felt Blair lift his head, hark to the order. Like a robot he

obeyed, mechanically rising from the floor, with measured steps entering his own

room and concealing himself in the closet.

While his son followed the only instruction left to his crumbling mind, he took

the small celphone from his pocket. The former possession of a victim, now

rightfully his property. He activated it, dialed the emergency number and spoke

swiftly, "There's been an accident." Gave the address and broke the connection

before any questions could be asked.

Then he settled in the darkest corner of the alley and waited, watching.

 

 

He tried to snap awake as was his custom, but his eyelids barely lifted, his

limbs sluggishly unresponsive. His vision swum into focus gradually, long

seconds before he could recognize his captain, croak, "Simon?"

The man swung around immediately. "Jim! How do you feel?"

"Like..." He was stumped as to an appropriate comparison. "Like hell." Almost

he asked what happened, but thought he should know. Dawn it had been, sunrise,

he gazing out the window...

Hearing the unasked question Simon began, "We found you in the loft--"and then

Jim saw a crystal-clear image. Not just dark skin but black, burnt, and blue

eyes shining out of the ruin. Blair's eyes, sapphire turned gold, he extended

his arm to him and then the teeth at his throat, piercing, the world freezing

around him...

His hand went up, rubbed his neck, fingertips feeling the two tiny bumps raised

on the skin. "Blair--where's Blair?"

Simon shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jim. There's been no word."

Relieved or disturbed, he didn't know which himself, he sank back against the

pillows. Spongy white hospital pillows; he was accustomed to these beds, but it

was discomforting to wake and Blair not there, not watching over him.

Unnatural.

The sun streamed through the light window shades and he squinted against the

glare, suddenly wondered if Blair would ever be able to hold vigil again. Not

in that golden glow--"What time is it, how long--"

"It's a little past five. You've been out for almost twelve hours," Simon

reported quietly. "An emergency call came in that there'd been an accident at

your address; when we arrived with the paramedics you were unconscious on the

floor. Pulse thready and you stopped breathing, touch and go for a couple

minutes there--you scared the hell out of us." For a moment he brooded in

silence.

Finally the captain resumed, "I have a feeling you've already guessed, but

your--problem--was blood loss, no other injury except those marks on your neck.

He went after you, Jim. Did you see him?" There was worry in his tone, and

even more urgency.

Yellow eyes and fangs against his throat. He barely hesitated. "No. I don't

remember. I was in the loft, but I didn't sense anyone." Anyone who didn't

belong there, at least.

Simon sighed. "I'm not surprised. I was hoping--we need this guy now, Jim. All

of Major Crimes is hunting his head on a platter. Between attacking you and

what might have happened to--" He stopped abruptly.

"What's happened to Blair?" Jim demanded sharply, completing his sentence.

But the captain shook his head. "Nothing, like I told you. We haven't found a

single sign one way or another, and it's becoming a big concern..."

"He's not dead," Jim assured him. Knowing that Simon would take the conviction

as a manifestation of their bond, not as a simple statement of fact. Knowing as

well that he'd take some comfort in the assurance.

He dozed. Simon was still speaking, a guard being stationed outside, but he

couldn't keep himself awake against the lethargy of the drugs and the weakness

of the blood loss. The captain left, he was distantly aware, and later a doctor

entered, then a nurse to administer a pill he spat out. Didn't need more sleep

than his body already was demanding.

Something was in the room, something slipped through the door and shut it with

the faintest of clicks. Jim forced himself to sit up, throw off the tiredness

weighing him down. Outside the shades the sky was dark, the night fallen.

He was standing in the corner, arms limp at his sides, the jacket sleeves

hanging down over his white hands. In the dim room his face seemed to glow, it

was so pale, and his blue eyes glittered.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, so softly the Sentinel had to strain to hear.

"Don't be," Jim told him, his own voice raspy. "I asked for it--"

"I should have been able to stop--"

"You did," Jim shot back. "I'm still breathing."

"Your heart's still beating." Almost an echo, the faltering breath.

"Yes," Jim agreed immediately. Unlike this being's, who stood so silent he

might have been a ghost, a vision. But the grip of his hand had been like steel

in its strength. "I told you to..." He couldn't fully believe it, even though

he had indeed requested it, had brought it on himself. Couldn't comprehend what

had truly been done. "It worked," he allowed instead. "You're healed."

Pale fingers reached up to touch pale cheek, as if amazed himself at the

transformation, the skin again round and smooth. His face now was the very

likeness of Blair's, except for the lost coloration. The eyes were as

recognizable as ever. Blue, not yellow gold.

"And you're Blair," Jim said. "I'm sorry, before, when I doubted--I didn't

know. You're still there, Sandburg."

"Yes..." Though he was slowly shaking his head. The words then spilled out.

"Jim, I'm not, I was, Jim, I was. I used to be Blair, but I don't know--"

Confused, tormented, but the same voice, hoarser but still the same. "You're

still him," Jim stated fiercely. "You're Blair Sandburg, my partner. No matter

what that monster did to you, you're still my friend."

"If he's a monster," he gasped as if it was torn from his soul, "then so am I.

He made me just like him, he made me what he is--" The pause broke the phrase,

as if he couldn't quite verbalize the nightmare.

Icy claws ripping at Jim's own heart. "Did you--" those fangs, biting into his

throat--"did you kill..?"

"No." A tremulous cry. "No, you were the first, my first human, he did the

others, he killed the others. I had to feed, I had to, but I've

killed...animals, in dark alleys..."

Then he was still Blair; there was no more doubt. But the anguish; a horror,

Blair who had never so much as hit a squirrel in the road, now forced to killing

with his hands and teeth, the brutality that never had entered his makeup now

the center around which he acted. Brutal, the monster that had done this to

him; from his evil this originated. Not in Blair.

"You're here now," Jim said, "you've returned. Now that I know about this we

can find a way to beat it. And we can stop the monster from killing again--stop

the vampire." He managed to say it plainly, without skepticism. Presenting the

facts as he knew they were.

But Blair was denying them, head turning from side to side in negation.

"No--don't you understand? We can't, we can't work together, we're no longer

partners."

The stark certainty chilled him, more than any angry protest. "What are you

talking about? You're here, you're not a killer--you've been changed, but

you're still the same man, the same soul. I don't care how the sun affects you

or what your diet is, you'll always be my partner. My friend. My Guide."

"That's what you say," Blair breathed. "But what do you feel?"

"What do you mean?"

"What do you feel?" Sharp, the commanding tone he mustered when pushing Jim's

senses. "When you look at me, listen to me, sense me, what do you feel?"

He didn't close his eyes; he didn't need to think about it. He wanted to deny

it but he couldn't; and he couldn't lie. Not about this; not to him.

"Uncomfortable," he whispered. The voice with the unnatural hiss; the skin too

smoothly white and cold. The heartbeat nonexistent, so that the figure was

unreal for all its solidity, not alive for all its motions. Dead, death,

murdered and murdering--"I can tell, okay? It's obvious to me, and it's

disturbing--I know you're--you're not quite human. Anymore. It doesn't

matter--"

"It does." The harshness of his voice--he was angry, upset, but more than that:

he was deliberately exaggerating the very qualities that were so inhuman.

Purposely raising Jim's hackles. "There's a reason you know. A reason for your

abilities to evolve that I didn't know about. My senses are a match for

yours--hearing, touch, smell...my vision's better, perhaps not quite as fine but

almost.

"As a Sentinel, you're a guardian; your duty is to protect, written into your

genes. Guard the tribe. From enemies--from predators. Such as the vampire

killing now.

"Such as me."

How many way to kill him, and as Sentinel he knew them all, flashing unbidden in

his mind: fire, stake, sun--No. "You're not a danger," Jim stated. "Not to the

city, not to the 'tribe' or anyone in it. No matter what you say, I know you're

more than that, more than the monster. Whatever my instincts tell me be damned.

You are still my partner--and together we protect this city, the people in it.

You're not the murderer here, you never will be."

"Jim," his voice was furious. Enraged, and with shocking suddenness the vampire

flared golden in his eyes. For all that he continued to speak, calmly except

for the tremor in his words. "You don't understand, you're refusing to see.

You're forgetting, ignoring, what happened this morning. I understand, I've

been doing it myself, can't believe it happened so it's too easy to convince

yourself it didn't--but it did. Unbelievable but I can't deny it, you can't

afford to.

"I almost killed you, Jim. It wasn't an accident, it wasn't a mistake. And if

you knew how, how easy it was for me...you wouldn't doubt what I'm trying to

explain. I could have killed you, I all but did. And I might again. You're

not safe with me. No one is."

"I believe you could have killed me," Jim said quietly. "Could have--but you

didn't. You won't. I know you, Blair. You're stronger than this. You've

already proved that. And I'll prove stronger, too."

"Look at me!" he shouted, stepping close. Opening his mouth to reveal extended

fangs beneath glowing jack-o-lantern eyes. Monster. Jim struggled to keep from

recoiling. "I'm a killer, I'm made to kill, I will kill, and then I'll be the

murderer you have to stop! And you sense that, with all your abilities you know

what I am!"

"Yes," Jim agreed. "You're my partner."

He looked at first as if he would protest, continue to argue what supposedly

separated them. But something inside him shattered with Jim's affirmation; the

yellow eyes went gray, the mouth closed, and the unnatural strength left his

body as he crumpled.

Jim caught him as he collapsed, pulled him onto the bed rather than the tile

floor. Then kept his arms around him as Blair began to shake, tightened the

grip as if he were physically holding him together.

At last the tremors resolved into sobs, and Jim held him like a child, rested a

cheek on the curly head and rubbed the back, rocking slightly back and forth.

He ignored the strangeness of the sensation, offering comfort to he who so often

gave it. Just as he ignored the unnatural feel of the shoulders under his

hands, through the jacket cold as if beneath the skin flowed liquid nitrogen.

Pay no attention to the terrible inner impulse, the one that screamed to force

this creature back, demanded that he slay it as was his duty, end its miserable

existence.

No; all that mattered was the pain expressed, and how through his support he

could alleviate it. The tears that stained his hospital gown were hot as the

body was cool and tinged scarlet. But no less meaningful regardless, and he

felt each one as it fell, accepted every burning touch.

Slowly Blair returned to himself, pushed away and stood unsteadily. Red tracks

drying on his bleached face but he made no effort to wipe them away, as if the

gesture would be too human for him to attempt.

The look in his opaque gray eyes was too like his expression in the alley, when

he had screamed his identity. About to bolt, and Jim spoke quickly to stay him,

"How can I help?"

His mouth gaped for several seconds, and Jim could all but see the words on his

tongue--how can you ask that? After all you've already done, how can you offer

still more? For all its paleness Blair's visage was expressive as ever, his

thoughts demonstrated as plainly through look as when they were verbalized. To

Jim, at least, who had the experience to read what was shown.

Unspoken communication passing between their gazes; Jim showing only confidence,

Blair gradually coming to believe it, if wary of accepting it. It was a great

relief to Jim, to know that this facility had not been lost. Their friendship

hadn't died when Blair's heart had stopped; tested but they could pass yet.

They would.

And Blair understood. He nodded minutely, admitted, "I need your help," in that

sibilant hiss of a voice. Jim waited, tense with anticipation, knowing whatever

it was would not be easy. At last the vampire whispered, "I need to find my

master."

The emotion in the final word--suppressed, coldly monotone and yet beneath it

seethed all the anger and grief that had heated his tears. Jim shivered as he

continued, "I need to find my 'father', find out who he is and why he cursed me

this way. And learn from him..."

He trailed off, but Jim could complete the thought. Learn from him if there was

a way to undo what he had done. He who had brought this about might indeed know

how to reverse it, unmake the vampire and free the Guide from the ashes of his

death.

It must be possible.

 

 

He didn't understand. Blair watched him work with a measure of despair, a

measure of hope.

Jim was doggedly trying to disregard the state of his partner--his former

partner. As if there was an easy way to overlook his missing pulse or freezing

skin. In spite of the fact that whenever Blair reached past him for one of the

files he automatically snatched back his hand. Avoided contact without thinking

about it--to even approach him was an effort.

Did he think that Blair wouldn't notice; did he believe that if he ignored them

these impulses would vanish, that in time he would grow accustomed to them?

Perhaps he did. Perhaps they would; perhaps it was possible. Blair didn't dare

hope. At any rate, there was no way he could express his gratitude, that Jim

was making the effort.

He was attacking this problem with the same determination that he approached any

case. Calling on all his resources, those of a police detective as well as a

Sentinel. Without telling even Captain Banks, Jim had discharged himself from

the hospital and promptly returned to the investigation at hand.

Those at the station had said nothing, of either the hour or Jim's condition.

They stepped aside when he advanced, answered his questions without asking any

of their own. He barely guessed their deferential behavior had more to do with

his expression than duty. Of course the reasons they thought were behind his

ferocious glare were different from the truth, but all the same: they knew

better than to get between Jim and threat to his partner.

He'd pushed avenues that had hardly occurred to him before. Uncovered details

that had seemed inconsequential, now taking on an appalling significance. And

brought them back to the loft. Back to Blair.

"Let's look at what we have," Jim began. Calmly, and Blair shook off his

musings and listened. Almost managed to discount the way Jim's gaze slid away

from his, never managed to meet his eyes directly for long. It didn't matter;

what he had to say was what of more importance. "Three months ago there were

two deaths in Toronto.

"Two members of the Toronto PD, a detective and a pathologist. They don't know

if it's the same killer. The MO is different. Both of the bodies were found in

the detective's apartment, not on the street. And only one was drained..." The

swiftest of looks in Blair's direction and then his focus was again on the file.

"The other--the detective was staked. Wooden spear, stabbed through the

heart--no difficulties finding the murder weapon; it was left in the body."

To assure that the dead would remain so. Not rise to some hideous

half-life--but if he had so died, for how long before had he walked? And the

coroner, killed inside...

No need to ask questions; Jim was already answering them. "I thought this needed

a closer look, so I contacted the precinct captain in Toronto. He was willing

to talk--" Despite the late hour. Blair wondered if Jim had even noticed. The

sky was only just beginning to lighten--he glanced at the window. Shades

tightly drawn; it wouldn't matter when the sun rose. He felt no need for sleep

himself, only the hunger pangs, and Jim was not about to rest.

Now he gave the details, the information regarding those first deaths that

hadn't appeared in the Interpol report. "The bodies were found lying alongside

each other. There wasn't any sign of a struggle; there wasn't any sign of an

intruder, either.

"From what Captain Reese told me, it wasn't that unusual that she, the

pathologist was there." He checked the report, "Apparently this Dr. Lambert was

often at the detective's home. If they were a couple they were very discreet,

but they were close friends regardless.

"Something not mentioned elsewhere--if it wasn't for the circumstances of their

deaths, suicide would have been considered. The doctor had just lost a friend;

the detective's partner had been shot, died only hours before..." He aimed

another look at his own partner. Turned away and went on, "But obviously he

didn't drive a stake into himself. So who--"

"He did it." He didn't know himself where even the words came from. But he

recognized their truth. "The one--my master. Raised it..." Like lightning,

flashing across his mind's eye and gone. He could feel polished carved wood in

his hand, then only the smooth file he held, thin paper edge biting into his

palm.

Jim waited. At last he murmured, "The detective--Nicholas Knight, if you buy

that name. He was unusual. Had a reputation. He was a good cop, lot of

collars. But here's the stuff I needed to ask his captain about. This Knight,

he was on permanent night shift, a precedent set before Reese joined the

precinct. Supposedly had a rare skin condition that Dr. Lambert was treating

him for. More than that, he never was seen eating. Anything, ever. And at

least a couple times he had extremely close calls--nearly died, recovered

faster...faster than was humanly possible."

Blair nodded, not requiring or wanting it said outright. They both understood.

"But all that explains is why he was killed like that," Jim said instead. "Not

why he was killed. Not who did it. Or who murdered Dr. Lambert."

"What are these?" Blair asked. If he knew the answers...he might have them.

Somewhere deep in a subconscious not his own. He didn't want to probe that

unfamiliar darkness. Instead he examined the folder in his hands, removed the

photographs inside.

"That's them," Jim told him quietly. "The victims."

The first picture, an attractive brunette woman, meant nothing. But the other

image...golden hair and storm-dark eyes, and a mouth half-smiling. Yet no

happiness in that smile, or in the slight furrowing between the brows. Rather a

brooding pain, a shadow cast on his boyish light, present even in the photo of

the dead man.

"The angel," and wasn't aware that he had whispered aloud until he caught Jim's

curious gaze.

"When..." he tried to explain, "when I was dying..." If his hearing hadn't been

enhanced he wouldn't have caught Jim's tiny inhalation. Pushing on, "I was by a

cliff, I mean, I thought...there was a doorway, and he asked me to choose..."

Impossible for him to continue, but Jim's eyes, at last meeting his own, made no

demands. Patience in his look. Understanding. Blair could almost drown in the

Sentinel's accepting comprehension.

Other concerns. This time he was the one to pull away. "This is Nicholas

Knight?" At Jim's nod, "He is one--what I am."

Again, belief without proof. Knowledge that Jim embraced without doubt, only

because Blair told him it was so. God, what power he had over this man, over

his friend--why don't you understand? It's different now, I'm your enemy, why

is that all you choose to disbelieve? Why can't I believe it myself?

Jim, who had always seen into Blair's heart with the same penetrating vision

with which he viewed the world, now seemed blind to his inner torments. Could

his eyes really be that opaque now, his face only reflecting the surface and not

betraying his true self? How many times had he wished for that control--now

granted it struck him with the same pain as every other element of this horror.

And Jim continued to speak, oblivious. "Could he have done it? Murdered Dr.

Lambert? Not our psychopath but this detective?"

"Maybe," he forced himself to whisper. It rang so true. Yes...

"But why, if they knew each other? This doesn't add up..." It doesn't make

sense. But what did, now?

The words, unspoken, hung in the air nevertheless. Blair knew he should be

speaking, Jim counting on him to fill the silence. There were so many things he

could say. The obvious, that their killer had slain both Lambert and Knight.

That they were merely the first victims of a serial murderer, and the nature of

either killer or victim wasn't the issue.

But that was wrong, false, and nothing would leave his tongue. He felt

paralyzed, mouth and mind both.

Jim caught that at least, spoke softly, almost hesitantly. "Captain Reese gave

me something else. Something he wanted to tell me--he sounded like he was

waiting to tell someone. I think this whole affair has him more worked up than

even Simon can get." The slightest smile, fading when it went unreturned. "I

think Knight and Lambert were friends of his. They meant more than just

coworkers, people under him. Three months later and he sounded like this still

was hurting him.

"Anyhow--he has a suspect. Had one. No proof, not even enough evidence to

warrant searching for the man. Only a vague hunch, but when he finally

mentioned it--I thought this might be it. The man disappeared from Toronto the

night of the murders. Reese hasn't been able to find one trace of him since.

"Detective Knight possibly might have had a connection with him. Apparently the

suspect managed a club that Knight frequented; he also," Jim frowned down at his

notes, "he also had a radio talk show--some late-night thing--that the detective

always caught.

"The trouble is, no one knows who this guy really is. Was. The club was owned

by a woman who moved out of town and has proved untraceable; he gave the radio

show from a booth in the club but wasn't paid for the airtime. He didn't even

have aliases--he simply didn't have a name, at least not one publicly known.

Any acquaintances he might have had are either incommunicado or flat-out not

talking. That's the strangest I've heard yet--I didn't know you could live in

the twentieth century without some kind of identity.

"The closest thing to a name Reese could give me is his radio persona--the

Nightcrawler."

The Nightcrawler. The melodrama of the name was counteracted by the shiver that

coursed down Blair's spine. Frighteningly familiar, recognizable and yet he

knew he had no memory of it meaning anything at all.

Jim's voice broke the revelation. "Reese faxed me a photo of this Nightcrawler

man. Just in case. He was sort of a minor celebrity in a certain part of town,

apparently..." From another folder he took out the sheet, a fuzzy

black-and-white copy of the distant photograph.

Blair grabbed it from him, stared trance-like down at the image. Dramatic

lighting, a showman's flair, the man posed with a supercilious smile, nearly a

sneer. Exaggerating the darkness, giving him the look of a classic villain, all

suave wickedness.

The enhancement had not been necessary. Even in bright daylight his evil would

have shown, in the serenely cruel set of the mouth, the cold-blooded smoothness

of his brow. He lay one white finger beneath the eyes. Gray ink, but he saw

blue, icy azure glaring at him. Never had he seen such an iridescent blue but

in one other pair of eyes; and those never had that fiendish cast.

The only difference in the blurred image, the only quality uncaptured, was the

madness. The insanity that he had witnessed didn't burn in this photograph; in

fact there was almost humor. Mockery in the sneer, but at least a part aimed at

his own self, and there was almost a whimsical tilt of the head, a teasing air.

As if for all his evil this man could still laugh inside, as if some part of him

saw the irony of the universe and honestly enjoyed it.

All the same, "That's him. My...the one responsible." The Nightcrawler. Yes;

the name fit this picture, if not the man himself.

What had changed him, what tides could have swayed that ancient devil? He was

older than he appeared, far older; weren't vampires supposedly immortal?

Was he immortal now? If he avoided the sun, would he too live forever?

"We'll find him." Jim spoke quietly but with great force. "He's still around,

and I'll help you hunt him, like I promised. He'll answer for this." His gaze

went to the window, the sunlight glimmering around the edge of the shade.

"Tonight."

Blair nodded, thanking him with gesture because the words wouldn't come. Broke

eye contact with the photograph he clutched and spared the smallest look at his

partner, trying to convey the least bit of the emotion he felt.

Dropping the fax his eyes fell on the other two photographs. The detective.

Nicholas. That was the appropriate name, no doubt there. How may years had he

existed before the Nightcrawler ended that life? Was he too a killer, a

murderer...

And yet despite what he had been, he had had human relations. Human friends.

His captain, mourning his loss. And Dr. Lambert, gazing clear-eyed at the

camera, a lovely, confident, intelligent woman. She had died with him--because

of him? Had she known, had she understood? Was it possible for a human to love

their predator, their enemy?

Jim shifted in his chair. Blair tore himself from his reverie, wondering how

long he had sat motionless, gaze locked on those images. Time itself almost

seemed different, rushing along, then pausing, as if its currents swirled around

him without touching. Life stopped and began again with greater haste than

ever.

He waited for sunset, for night to fall, dipping into moments that time

stretched for near eternity and others that he blinked and missed an hour. All

the while thinking, thoughts chasing in circles around his mind and coming to no

conclusions. Jim finally fell asleep, a fitful doze. Blair's movements now

were too swift, too silent to awaken him.

He watched Jim as he slept. His friend still, his partner. Despite that such

as he shouldn't be able to have these. Nicholas had--he felt a sudden surge of

sorrow, longing to know a man he had never met, and never could. They had

something in common, what they were, and what their friends were.

Jim appeared so fragile. Never would he have thought that possible, Jim his

partner, his Sentinel, the larger of their pair, the stronger. He was the

detective, the cop, the one who gave the orders expecting to be obeyed. Who

caught the suspects and cowed them with his mere presence, who wielded the gun

and drove the car.

But curled up in his chair now, dark circles under his eyes hinting at his

exhaustion. His weakness. His bones were like brittle wood; they could be

snapped into kindling with a simple twist of white hands. His throat could so

easily be crushed, so the chest would no longer rise and fall as he breathed,

the pulse no longer flutter behind the ear.

He could hear the heart now, beating, delicate life and sweet blood. And

faintly on the neck, when he looked closer, he could see the two tiny wounds,

flushed pink as they healed.

Another time, another world, it seemed. He could not have done that, made those

marks; never could he have produced such injury.

He nearly died. Blair mouthed it aloud, as if hearing it would make it real,

convince himself. Jim stirred, didn't waken. A tribute to his fatigue.

Or to his trust.

Looking away, he again saw the photographs. Had Nicholas ever drank from a

human? One of his friends? Perhaps he would have understood, what it was when

you couldn't stop, when your world was reduced to a beating heart and the heat

you needed to warm you, when nothing matters beyond those basic sensations.

How could he have forgotten friendship, even for a moment? How could he have

forgotten Jim, until it was almost too late. He had nearly died, and you did

that, he told himself, you all but killed him. Even if he can ignore that, you

can't. Not ever. Too dangerous to even try.

At least until this was over. If ever it could be ended. Then he could turn

away from this, try to pick up the pieces and mend what he had broken. And Jim

would help. Jim who would never forget his friend, never forget what Blair

meant to him.

He settled deeper into the couch and tried to avoid both the photographs' blank

stares and Jim's sleeping life. Maybe after tonight he would have the answers,

the solution. At least the knowledge to deal with this.

Until then all he could do was hope, and anticipate the confrontation. Facing

the Nightcrawler. His master.

 

 

Strange for Blair to dare go to the bedside of his one-time friend. Stranger

still for that partner to accept him. To bring him home again.

His newest son's unpredictability was his most stunning quality of all. Warping

the world about himself, his existence carving a path through unknown territory.

He had known the man was strong, that energy had drawn him to begin with. His

ability to resist, the shocking independence of his mind--but this, now. It was

almost as if granting him immortality had enhanced those very elements which

were so uniquely human.

The increasing paradox of his creation fascinated him more than ever. The sun

rose and he retreated to his domicile, pondering the growing complexities of

this situation.

Dangerous enough that he had brought across, however unknowingly, the partner of

a guardian. That the partner had not rejected him--had not slain him as was his

birthright--that was disastrous. That he had assisted in saving that man, a

born vampire hunter...but he could not have allowed him to die, not by Blair's

doing. The consequences would have been too great to bear. For all of them.

Now, however, it was too threatening to allow this to continue. Action must be

taken, and his child was his responsibility. Blair must be forced to

acknowledge what he had become, and that realization required full separation

from the mortal realm. To divide him completely from the life he once had.

At last night fell. He rose to join the darkness outside, haunt the streets and

select a victim. The hunger was a fierce rising tide and he anxious to sate it.

Then find his son.

Except before he even reached the windows he felt Blair's presence rapidly

approaching. In a vehicle, the young one not fully versed with wingless flight,

but definitely heading in his direction.

Of course he could avoid him as he had been. But curiosity held him in place,

and he secreted himself in the deep shadows to observe before departing.

Was Blair following his instincts, or simply being logical in coming to where

everything had been centered, where first he saw him and later the

transformation had been effected? At any rate, he entered through the door this

time, unlocked with the key held by his partner. The detective accompanied him

up the stairs.

He watched them, knowing that even eyes as sharp as theirs couldn't penetrate

the deepest shadows, and there was no other trace of him for them to sense, no

pulse to hear or warm breath to feel. The presence of the detective, the mortal

human, shone like a beacon in the empty building.

But it was his partner that drew his eye. His son, not retreating or hiding,

and not so tortured by his own self. Not running or curled into himself, but

straightened, assured. What a beautiful being he had created; he admired his

work as an artist contemplating a favored painting. The dark hair so well

complemented the white skin, the blue of the eyes so deepened as to not wash out

in the pale face, but light enough reflect the night's moon. And the distant

inescapable pain of his expression couldn't shade the beguiling innocence of

youth. A countenance nothing like Nicholas's; and all the same identical to it.

The two, mortal and immortal, guardian and partner, climbed the stairs, walked

to the middle of the floor. He frowned imperceptibly as he watched them move.

The detective with ground-eating, dominant strides, his Blair all but bouncing

in the broken gliding gait of the newly formed--yet both paces synchronized,

every motion of one an echo of the other's. Staying abreast and always equal.

It was a physical representation of the connection he had witnessed between

them. A bond; and watching it now, he saw proof of its endurance. He had

encountered romantic love between vampire and human before, had felt it himself,

the sweetly agonizing mixture of lust and need and joy. But this, almost

tangible between the two men--friendship, yes, but love such as brothers have,

that closeness. The only thing he knew of its like were the ties of vampires to

one another, bonds formed in the giving and taking of the blood, the singular

loyalty uniting master and child, father and son.

And yet his bond with his own son was superseded by this mortal relation.

Almost out of his control he felt the vampire stir within him, the bloodlust

mounting with the urge to kill. Yes, before anything could proceed it must be

ended, this travesty of friendship. But not now; he must await the proper

moment. Move too quickly and he could damage his son beyond repair, destroy all

they shared. He had nearly made that mistake several times with his Nicholas,

but the connection he had forged had survived every trial, excepting the last.

Or even the last, if he dared recall those final words and believe them true...

His Blair, however, had still to be won over, brought across and yet still

hanging onto his mortality. His hold must be loosened patiently, gently.

Looking over his son one final time, he prepared to leave unfound. Then Blair

rocked back his head and shouted to the ceiling, his voice cutting through walls

and windows to rise to the stars, "Nightcrawler! You're here, I know it. Come

out, face me, whatever you did to me!"

A strange name to be summoned by, but one he had chosen for himself, and must

accept as his own. "Nightcrawler!" Blair called again. "Answer me!"

The detective was scanning the room, sharp eyes peering for what he had glimpsed

before and forgotten. Blair stood in the center and stared ahead, as if he

could see his master before him. Confident that his command not only was heard

but would be obeyed. As if he was speaking privately he said, low-voiced, "I

need to talk to you, Nightcrawler."

Bravely and yet he was afraid; commanding and yet it was a plea. He should go

as he had planned, ignore this challenge.

But he had never been able to resist the needs of his children. A weakness used

against him before; a weakness that had killed a son, and yet he couldn't

forsake that desperation, that honest entreaty. "Nightcrawler," Blair whispered

one final time, and he answered the appeal.

 

 

Out of nowhere he appeared. There was no warning, not the least signal. One

moment they were alone in the dusty decrepit building, back to back, Blair

barely hearing the words that issued from his own mouth.

The next he stood before them, soundless as he moved through the dead quiet,

swifter than even Blair's new eyes could track. As if he materialized, a

blacker silhouette under black shadows. Blair heard Jim catch his breath, loud

in the stillness, and his heart beating all the faster. But his expression was

as calm and cold as the monster's, staring him down with the defiant intensity

with which he had faced him before.

The Nightcrawler. His eyes, focused on Blair as if the Sentinel didn't exist,

were pale blue, but they burned with the same fiery fury as when orange with the

vampire. "You called for me," he hissed, shattered the stillness.

Blair took a step forward, between the monster and his Sentinel. Drew a deep,

unneeded breath and said, "You did this to me. You made me into--into your

kind."

"I did," agreed the vampire. "I gave you this gift; I made you my son." One

hand lifted as if it would touch his child's cheek, but he did not reach

forward. "My Blair."

"I'm my own man." He felt lightheaded; he felt the moments around him

stretching into eternity, giving him every chance to frame his words exactly as

he wished to speak them. "However you changed me, I am still my own self. You

don't have any hold over me."

"Ah, but you are wrong." Was there a flash of amusement in those pale round

eyes? "No matter how a son wishes it, he is still his father's. There is no

way he can forsake the tie; it extends into his heart, flows with his blood. To

break free is to tear out your heart. To die."

"Is that how he freed himself?" Blair whispered. "Is that why he did it, to cut

himself loose from you?"

"Who?" the word a merest breath.

"Nicholas. Nicholas Knight. Your son."

Suddenly the eyes were golden, the fangs bared as the vampire roared, "You will

not say that name!"

He felt it again, he didn't understand how, but he felt the memory as if his

body were acting it out, bringing down his arm, the stake solid in his hands.

"You did it," he accused. "You killed him, you drove the stake into him. A

father who kills his son has no right to expect loyalty from other--"

The Nightcrawler's hand caught him across the chin with a force incomparable to

anything human, throwing him across the room to slam into the wall. He heard

Jim's angry exclamation and leapt to his feet to make it clear there was no

damage. It stung, but the pain was already fading, the dizziness clearing.

The vampire loomed over him. "Do not speak of what you do not understand," he

ordered coldly. "And do not presume to dictate the measure of my power over

you."

"I will," Blair growled, bracing himself for another blow. "You're no father,

you're not my master. You murdered me--" behind him he saw Jim's jaw clench,

and prayed he would not interfere, "you tried to destroy me. You're my enemy,

that's all I know you as, my enemy, my killer. The only power you'll ever have

over me is fear, and now you don't even have that, because there's nothing worse

you can do to me. You think you know me, you know my name, where I'm from, who

I know. All I know of you is how I hate you, and that you're the Nightcrawler."

Without warning the laughter that had escaped him before bubbled inside,

exploded out. He choked it off, "The Nightcrawler, you're a worm, you're not

even a man, the only name you have is Worm."

And yet the monster did nothing, as if he didn't understand the insult, or was

beyond it. He waited for Blair's silence before speaking, and then softly. "I

have had many names, but the one that I have chosen as my own, that I have lived

under for a thousand years, is Lucien LaCroix."

Had the vampire not already known him, Blair would have felt an insane desire to

introduce himself, so politely formal was the vampire's tone. Lucien LaCroix,

and that did fit him. It was a minor triumph to at last give name to the

monster. It made him the slightest bit more human, that much easier to talk to

him. At last he dared ask it, "Why? Why, when you could have simply killed me,

or ignored me? Lucien, why did you do this to me?"

LaCroix's eyes widened at the name, and for an instant Blair wondered what

mistake he had made in addressing him. But he replied readily enough, "I gift

you with immortality, and you demand justification? Is it not enough that I

choose you; of all the weak humans I have taken, it was you who I deemed worthy

to take across, to grant this greatest of boons?"

"You think it was a gift?" He couldn't prevent his furious astonishment from

shading his tone. "Man, what would you call punishment? And either way, it

still doesn't tell me why--why did you select me?"

"I might as easily ask you, why did you hunt me?" was the calm response.

He glanced over LaCroix's shoulder. Saw Jim, watching them intently. The

Sentinel wasn't moving. He wanted to; it showed in every line of his stance,

barely leashing his energy, struggling to keep in control and not attack this

monster threatening his partner. His heart and breathing were accelerated with

adrenaline; the only reason he stayed still was Blair's almost imperceptible

shake of the head. No, he silently requested, don't get involved. It's too

dangerous for you. And Jim trusted his judgment in this, did not move.

The vampire's intense gaze was focused on him, demanding an answer. Jim would

hear every word; there was no helping it. "As I told you...before...I was

searching for you because you were hunting my partner. Because I knew what you

were, and knew that he wouldn't have any way of defending against you. And I

hoped, I thought..." God, what had he thought? That knowledge was power, that

understanding the nature of the evil would give him advantage over it? With the

clarity of hindsight he cringed at his own naivete.

"Of course, you did it all for him." Irony great in the monster's tone.

Suddenly he whirled around to face Jim. "Tell me, sir, how does that touch you?

If I had never encountered you--if you had never come to me, I never would have

learned of him--never would have seen his strength. And he might have remained

unchanged, the man you once knew, aging as you age, dying as you die."

He turned back, and Blair saw his eyes flash, perhaps a spark of gold beyond the

blue. "You see, don't you," he rasped, "you understand the magnitude of what I

gave you. All I have spared you. And you realize that this gift is yours to

grant as well." His gaze slid toward Jim and back to lock onto Blair.

He knew what the vampire was suggesting yet could not believe it. "Never. I

told you, he would never take that choice. He's not a killer!" No matter what I

may be. "And he's my friend--I won't damn him. I won't destroy him the

way--the way you do."

"It is your choice, of course," purred LaCroix. "Yours and his. But if you will

not take him across, then take him. Complete what you began. If he is your

friend--if you wish to keep his friendship, then bring it into yourself, where

it will be preserved for as long as you care to survive. It is the only way for

our kind, the only way we have to love a mortal, to hold their love."

"No!" Blair snarled, "you know I won't."

"Why, when you have already tasted his soul?" The vampire's shoulders rose and

fell in a subtle shrug. "It is hardly a greater step to take his life. And he

will die regardless. Whether at your teeth, or with a bullet from the guns men

so casually wave around, or of the ravages of age--eventually he will fall. We

are the only ones who are not prey to death, and you already profess to deny him

that path."

"He always was meant to die eventually," Blair said quietly. "I always knew I

would die. All mortals know that. We live with it--we actually live, we use

our years the best we can. Do all we can with what we have--and I won't end

Jim's now. Never. Like you said he's not immortal, but he's got plenty of time

left, and what I know he'll do with it, how many more people he'll help--I'd

never consider it. As long as he lives, as long as he can act, he's worth more

than all of your endless life."

"Now you so speak," whispered LaCroix, "but how will you when he is dying, when

the bullet has struck home, or senility has withered his mind in a tired body?

You say all the time he may have left matters, but what is it to us, we to whom

a year is a single heartbeat, a decade is a single breath? Time is relative,

Blair. You'll soon learn that what is all-important to them is all but nothing

to us. You must learn."

"No!" Blair returned fiercely. LaCroix's gaze dropped, heavy lids shadowing the

blue eyes. Solemn; almost his aspect was sorrowful. As if disappointed in his

son, or even worried. "He never learned that, did he," murmured Blair, new

understandings forming in his mind. "Nicholas, your son. He was a detective,

he was trying to act human, live like humans, relate with mortals the way you're

insisting we can't. He did it."

"He failed." For all the anger in the vampire's snarl, his face was still, cold,

empty of emotion. "He lost his game, and it killed him."

"No," Blair corrected automatically, "You killed..." He trailed off before he

was visited with his master's rage. Instead he said, "But he killed her, didn't

he. That doctor, pathologist, Jim said. She was his friend, and he killed her.

Was it because you told him to? Did you feed him this garbage you were laying

on me, about it being the only way for us to love?" He felt rage welling inside,

so hot it burned away even the hunger. Fury for the death of that son, his

brother Nicholas, whom he would have known and never could.

But--"No," breathed LaCroix. "He never would listen to me, for all I knew, for

all I warned him of. If I had but acted sooner--I understood, and yet

underestimated the depth of his attachment, the height of his emotions. I told

him to leave, to separate himself, I tried to convince him, but he wouldn't go.

He couldn't surrender his quest, his foolish, idiotic search for a 'cure' to

this.

"If only I had seen...I could have ended it. If I had taken her before she

became so crucial to him, so essential..."

Blair looked over, at Jim standing so still. His pulse had slowed, and his

eyes--unfocused. As if he had zoned, but on what sense Blair couldn't guess.

He should know, it should be natural to observe the direction of his interest;

yet the instinct he always relied on was absent.

Or perhaps it wasn't a zone; the emptiness of the stare--as if his spirit was

swallowed. A trance induced not by his senses but by the invisible pressure of

the vampire's voice. At least he wasn't in immediate danger.

"If you had killed her," Blair heard himself say, "your son never would have

forgiven you."

"Yes," agreed LaCroix. "But the pain he would have felt could not have matched

what I experience now."

Slowly he stepped back, eyes still locked on Blair. "However, every choice is

growth, every occurrence teaches one how next time to chose. Lessons mean

nothing if one does not learn from them..."

He moved, and this time because Blair was watching so closely he saw the action,

just managed to make out the blurred form of the vampire springing forward. He

lifted Jim in his arms as if the man were a toy, pinning him to his side. Long

white fingers shoved his head down, wrenching his neck back so the throbbing

vein bulged, and LaCroix's fangs dipping close.

"Stop!" Blair screamed, and his master paused.

"If you do this," whispered the son, "then I will kill you."

"It is no less than your nature," LaCroix answered, and sank his teeth into the

Sentinel's throat.

Blair was unaware of his own speed, his own defiance of natural law. He saw his

own self move almost as if he were disconnected from it, saw his hands flash out

of their own accord and break Jim free of the vampire's embrace, tossed him

aside and reached for LaCroix.

His master tried to slip away but Blair was the faster. Clutching the smooth

pale neck and distantly he recalled the first taste, the power like living

electricity, sweet fire. He plunged his own fangs into that source and sucked

hard, deliberately drawing the energy into himself. Strong hands tried to shove

him back but he hung on, drinking it down.

More here than the heartless blood, the undead's life. He was drowning, not

only in the burning blood but in the images flowing with it, an unending parade

of memories of an endless existence. Pain, like sun's flame, charring

everything. Not a still photograph but a living depiction of Nicholas his son,

smiling in torchlight. A black-haired beautiful woman bowing to him, kissing

his hand, his cheek, and a thousand others, some living, some dying, laughing,

crying, life's whole vista displayed. He saw a mountain afire and a girl

laughing, blood staining her mouth. He saw a young woman gazing up at him in

adoration, even love, before raising her eyes higher, to the stars.

He saw himself standing over a dead or dying mortal, and his son kneeling beside

her, barely daring to touch one cool hand, and he saw himself bring down the

stake that sent him to join her. He felt the pain as if he had stabbed his own

heart, only instead of ending, fading into nothingness, it grew, expanded until

every memory was tainted with it, every essence of his being permeated.

And he saw his own self, his true self, from different eyes, a frightened

mortal man daring him to do the unthinkable, and then it was over, and there was

nothing more he could do save to protect his child, preserve what he had made in

death and fear and love and pain.

When Blair at last pulled free, his master fell, the vampire's large frame

trembling as he lay gasping for breath. His back arched against the floor as he

stared upward, harsh blue eyes wide with shock and anger.

Blair's shaking hand rose, pressed to his teeth, feeling the sharp points

scraping his skin. The warmth of the red blood, still filling his mouth. And

the many, many memories not his own engulfing his mind.

Footsteps behind him, vibrating the floor. He half-turned, saw Jim. No longer

frozen in the vampire's paralysis, and not unarmed. He had yanked free a side

of one of the decrepit window frames, a long narrow strip of wood tightly

grasped in both hands. Crude, but the stake would prove deadly nonetheless.

Blair's thoughts cried warning as the Sentinel stalked closer.

He brushed past his partner with only the briefest glance at him, raised his

weapon high over the prone vampire. Something wild in his blue eyes, as if his

will were subverted by instinct, operating under the almost-feral tendencies of

an active Sentinel.

LaCroix glared up at him, hissed, "You think you can harm me? I know what you

are, I know your kind." Jim paused, and the vampire went on, "You are as

powerless against me as the Gauls' guardians were against my armies! I already

have your partner, and you too will fall..." but there was a glint of fear deep

in his eyes. He was too weak yet to stand or use his vocal tricks.

For a long moment Jim hesitated, and then with sudden unpredictability he

brought the stake down. Arcing through the air toward the vampire's heart,

about to stab through, transfix its still being and bring about final death, the

same service LaCroix had performed for his own son not so long past. The same

motion, final, deadly, ending an eternity--

"No!" Blair commanded, and Jim froze in place, the point of the rough stake

almost piercing his master's coat. He realized after the fact the tone of his

own voice, the vampire's order, even the Sentinel unable to refuse.

LaCroix shakily rose to his feet, with an impotent snarl batted the stake from

Jim's hands. The Sentinel made no response, paralyzed, though his eyes were

alert, conscious and angry. The vampire ignored him, turned to his son, "Wise."

Then, formally, "I thank you for your assistance. While such methods are not

deadly to me, that would have proved uncomfortable."

"I didn't do it for you." But why, why had he done it? Stopped Jim from doing

the right thing. This monster, this murderer deserved death. He spoke without

thought, allowing his mouth to say what it would, "I did it for Nicholas. For

those who didn't deserve death, and only go on inside you now." Did he mean any

of that? "And for myself.

"I have to--I have to know. Is there any way to change this? I know how old

you are, all you've seen--you have to know. You have to tell me..."

Slowly the vampire shook his head. For an instant he seemed almost regretful.

"No. There is no end, excepting death."

"It's never happened?" He heard his voice rise. "Not once? There's no

possibility?"

LaCroix's eyes flashed. "Once," he whispered. "Once, a chance occurrence, one in

many billion and never to be repeated. And very many have tried throughout the

ages. All have failed. Always they will. When you choose living over death,

it is a choice to last forever."

He stepped forward, and Blair moved swiftly to place himself between his master

and his Sentinel. "I chose to gave up my humanity," he said softly. "But I

never chose to abandon my life, or my friends. Or my partner."

"But you did. It was, you could say, part of the deal."

"You didn't let me read the fine print," growled Blair. "I had another

obligation." Pointedly he glanced at Jim's still form.

For a long moment LaCroix said nothing, only returned his fledgling's steady

stare. Then, so quietly the words hardly required breath, "I see I may have

miscalculated. Had I known what your partner was, and what you were to him,

before I brought you into this existence...it was foolish of me. Better I

should have simply taken you, then him."

"Get out," Blair told him. "Get out of this city and don't come back. We'll

kill you if you return, Jim and I. You said you know--'guardians', you called

them. They're a danger to you, they're bred to slay you. Jim is one, the

greatest guardian you'll ever meet. And I'm still his partner no matter what

you did to me, I'll still watch his back as well as I can. Together we're a

match for you. More than a match."

Still silent, the vampire looked from Blair to the Sentinel, broken stake at his

feet, and back at his son again. Unspoken comprehension in his face, and then

he soundlessly backed away, to the windows.

"LaCroix," Blair called across the dusty floor, and he stopped. Listened.

"Lucien, you should know, you must know, it doesn't help. Every life you take,

all the pain you cause--it just hurts more. I know you feel it. And it

separates you from him. From Nicholas. Even if you don't believe he continues

in anywhere but your mind, your memories--he's still there. Until you bury him

under all the blood, and then he'll be gone forever."

The ancient being almost seemed to shiver, trick of the moon playing with

vampiric eyes. His lips moved, silently mouthed words he could not say, of an

apology, addressed to no one, or perhaps to his son, the one dead, the one

surviving. Or perhaps only another illusion, shifting light animating the still

mouth.

Then he was gone, noiselessly rushing into the night. A shadow blacking out the

stars and finally nothing, no sign remaining.

Jim whirled, free of the hypnosis, trying to track the invisible form across the

sky. At last he turned from the window. Met Blair's eyes without speaking, his

own burning with hurt confusion nearing anger.

Blair shook his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I couldn't. He made me this,

I couldn't..." He had no answer to give. And could only hope that none was

needed.

 

 

As he spoke into the phone Jim's roving gaze fell on his Guide, immobile in the

wooden chair. A marble statue but for the dark hair and blue eyes. "Yes. He's

here. I'm with him now," he assured his captain.

All the same Simon sounded worried. "He's all right? What the hell happened?"

"Nothing. He wasn't..." Hard to keep his own voice calm. He wasn't used to

lying, not to a good friend. But there were other commitments. "It wasn't what

we thought. He left on his own, he should have told me, but...he's sick. He

doesn't want me to give all the details, but it's pretty serious. I don't think

he wanted anyone to know..."

"God." Hushed. Simon hesitated before asking, "How--how bad is it? It's

not..."

"He's not dying," Jim told him, with another glance across the loft at Blair.

On the contrary... "But it's not good. He won't be able to make it to the

station for a while yet."

"So he's being treated?" Hopeful; when Simon thought he was speaking privately

he wasn't so wary of showing his friendship with the observer.

Dammit, he'd want to know the truth, even if he wouldn't be able to believe it.

He'd be able to accept it in time. Jim almost spoke, then met Blair's eyes,

coldly blue and unnatural. No. "Maybe. We're--he's looking. We're hoping..."

For the impossible, perhaps.

Some of that disheartenment must have come across. Simon said, "Don't give up

on him. Like I said before, he's tough. He'll pull through whatever this is.

I know both of you too well to think anything like this is going to stop you, as

long as you don't let it."

"I won't. Thank you, Simon," Jim murmured.

"At least it wasn't as bad as we feared," the captain said reassuringly, and

missed the breath that caught in Jim's throat. He continued, "I'll let everyone

at Major Crimes know, we'll all be rooting for him. Tell Blair we're waiting

for him to be back here where he belongs."

"I will. Thanks," Jim said again, and hung up the phone. Turned to Blair.

"You heard, didn't you." With Sentinel hearing he easily could have, and his

friend's ears now were comparable...

"Yes." That monotone, so different from his former lively voice, and he almost

accustomed to it. Like getting to know an entirely different person. Not

human. He stopped himself from listening for a pulse that would not be there.

Blair suddenly pushed out of the chair, the restless movement of a man who

cannot sit quietly with all that happens around him. That motion was same old,

finally familiar, and Jim felt himself smiling to observe it. His partner--his

partner still and always--paced to the balcony, opened the doors and stepped

into the cooler night air.

Jim followed. He had a sudden flash of the vampire, LaCroix, plunging out the

window into the sky. Could Blair as easily take flight, ride unseen winds away?

Pushing down the alarm evoked by the image he joined his Guide. "Hey."

Again with the statue routine, that brooding motionless stare into nothing.

Couple of seconds before he responded, "I can't. I can't go back to the

station, I can't work with you anymore, not there at least. What if they

realize..?"

"They wouldn't believe it," Jim remarked.

"Yes, but they'd know something was wrong, we couldn't hide it forever. I can't

be who I was, do what I used to. I can't even go outside during the day--I

can't get to my classes, I can't follow you, can't ride along..." His voice

changed as he spoke, growing flatter with every word, instead of raising in

pitch becoming less emotional as his distress heightened. "There's no easy way

around this, you can't just write it off as a 'condition' or an illness or

whatever you told Simon. Jim, what are we going to do?"

The Sentinel considered this for half a second. Then suggested, "Convince Simon

to move me to the night shift."

For a moment Blair only stared at him, mouth paused partly open in protest, eyes

glowing faintly through the darkness. Then he laughed, his short high chuckle

that always sounded slightly forced, little more than a catch in his voice

except for the humor it so infectiously displayed.

Jim could have cried, hearing it again. Instead he grinned, cautiously but

enough to show. "I was serious, Chief. How else are we going to handle it?"

"How?" He scrutinized Jim, his concentration so intense it almost made his

friend uncomfortable, but he looked away before the feeling became too much.

Then, "You're serious. You really think we can manage this?"

"Blair," and now he was entirely in earnest. "How many things have you

'managed'? How many times have my senses gone haywire and you've figured out

what to do, brought them under control when I thought it was impossible? Or

calmed me down when I'm angry--Carolyn used to say she couldn't manage that with

a cruise missile. Hell, you convinced Simon to let you ride along, long hair

and all--you did that, you can do anything."

"You believe that?" Jim nodded soberly. But Blair shook his head, denying it.

"You heard LaCroix. I believe him, Jim. He wasn't lying when he said it

couldn't be done. And he wasn't lying when he said his armies had defeated the

Gauls, either. I felt that, when I--when I took from him. He's ancient. If I

could have talked with him, only for a few hours..." For a moment his eyes

shone, not with a vampire's unholy fire but the enlightenment of a scholar. It

faded too soon, however. "He's seen so much, but he never saw a way for

that--for what I am to come back over."

"He hasn't seen everything," Jim stated fiercely. "And he even said it happened

once."

"A one in a billion chance--"

"He's never known a Sentinel's Guide before. Or he'd know what he was in for.

You told me once that all Sentinels had backup, their partner. Well, you're

mine, Chief, and nothing's going to change that. No matter what some crazy

vampire tried to do about it. We got rid of him. We'll find a way to beat this

yet."

Another long and still pause. "Jim. I'm sorry--about LaCroix. You could have,

I know you could have, I shouldn't have done anything--"

"I know. It's all right. I understand." He hadn't at first. At first he had

been furious, terrified and enraged by the invisible hold Blair had on him. He

had been in Blair's power before, but always in the past it had been his choice,

his decision to put himself in his Guide's hands. That freeze hadn't been of

his own volition, his will disabled.

Or maybe it had been his after all. Before Blair hadn't been able to produce

that all-controlling timbre, and yet Jim had obeyed him, instantly and without

question when necessary. Was this different? He had spent over three years

trusting his Guide near-absolutely; if he could trust anyone with this power it

would be Blair.

But how he had wielded it--that had taken longer to accept. Allowing the

vampire escape--LaCroix hadn't been merely a criminal. More than the murderer,

even--he had been evil, an old and ominous force that had to be destroyed, that

needed to be destroyed. The Sentinel bearing the stake had been no more under

Jim's conscious direction than when he had been stopped by Blair's command.

And yet he had been stopped. By Blair, who knew better than any mortal man the

dangers of that monster. It had seemed the greatest of betrayals, the Guide

going against his Sentinel to assist a predator of the tribe. It hurt deeper

than anything Blair or LaCroix could do to his body.

But the predator was banished, the tribe safe. And Blair had saved the vampire

who had damned him. His master. His father.

"I understand," Jim told him. "If you had let me do it--you wouldn't be the man

you are. That you've always been, and still are. My partner. My friend."

"It's about friendship." A merest whisper.

Jim nodded. "Yes." Sounded familiar, the words more than the tone. "Exactly."

"I said that," Blair murmured. His eyes were focused on the sky, the stars

fading into the morning haze. "A while ago, when we came back from Peru."

Jim did remember. Not with the same clarity Blair seemed to, his precise

recitation of the phrase. But he knew it, and knew it as well to still be true,

more important than before. He still needed Blair, as a Sentinel needed a

Guide. But it was the friend that would stay with him through this trial, and

it was for friendship that he would help him reach the end, for the sake of his

friend that he would take on anything to bring him back, pay any price to

restore the stolen life.

The air was warming; he turned his face to the east and felt the sun's heat

begin to touch his skin. Looking back to Blair, "You better get inside."

Blair gazed in the same direction, eyes narrowed against the budding light. He

hesitated a long moment; Jim almost feared he'd have to physically shove him

back into the loft. Then he whispered, "I only wanted to see it," and slipped

inside, silently, his progress to his room untraceable by sound or feel. Jim

watched him to be sure, then glanced back to the sun. Rose red tip showing over

the edges of rooftops.

"You'll see it again," he promised his partner, the vow aloud only in his heart.

A breeze wafted by, stroking his cheek with tiny cold droplets of mist. What

could he do to fulfill it? Nothing, other than search for the way back, and

find it. Whatever it took.

He had heard the vampire LaCroix's words, understood what he had implied, what

Blair had admitted. He knew why Blair had been caught to begin with, and that

he hadn't known at the time did not absolve him from the blame. The Sentinel

was meant to protect his tribe, but it had been the Guide who had sacrificed all

for his Sentinel.

And what was Jim, if he was not willing to do the same? What kind of

Sentinel--what sort of friend?

A light tempo of rain pattered around him, condensed water falling from the

warming air. He retreated inside and closed the windows behind him. Watched a

single drop wind its way down the glass to the bottom of the pane, and then he

lowered the shades, shut out the sunlight beginning to scatter the clouds

outside.

He could hear Blair moving in his room, the bed creak as he laid down. Even a

vampire required sleep, apparently. Jim certainly did; it had been a long

night. And many more to come.

He climbed the stairs to his own bed, laid down and listened to the final

raindrops tapping on the roof. At last silence, not even breath downstairs. To

himself he repeated his vow.

Then he slept, and waited for the next night to fall.

fin

to be continued in "Darkest Before Dawn"

 

 

End Notes:

For those unfamiliar with Forever Knight, the events described in this regarding

the deaths of Nicholas Knight, Dr. Natalie Lambert, and Nick's partner Tracy

Vetter all occurred in the episode "Last Knight", the show's finale. Although

these happenings have been interpreted in myriad ways, I chose (for this fic, at

least) to take them at face value. I couldn't help but wonder how the survivor

would deal with his loss...

I wasn't planning to write this thing at all, but now that I have I think I

might also need to do the sequel I hadn't planned to write. Would anyone be

interested?

At any rate, thanx for reading it all, triple thanx to everyone who wrote,

encouraged, and threatened me, and endless gratitude to betas Becky, Signe, and

my sis as always. :)

Remember, the Nightcrawler loves you all!

XmagX

 

 

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