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This is a sequel to A Dark and Endless Night. Like its predecessor, it's a Forever Knight/TS x-over—but also like D&E Night, it doesn't require familiarity with FK to make sense (at least that's the plan...by the end, all should be explained. More or less...)
Yet again like the previous one, and in keeping with the title, this is pretty dark. Hope you enjoy nonetheless...and away we go!
DISCLAIMER: Sentinel chars belong to Pet Fly Productions, FK chars belong to James Parriott and tptb, story belongs to me, but since there's no money being exchanged that matters little enough...I find the greatest reward comes from the readers anyway (hint hint ;)
My partner is a vampire.
How can you possibly say that so it sounds meaningful? I've wanted to tell Simon. Even if Blair opposes it—God, Simon's been a friend for years. He's been Blair's friend since the anthropologist wormed his way into the station and signed on as an official observer. He might not expound on the friendship but he's always had a special place in his heart for "the kid", half as a mentor, half out of respect—it goes both ways, after all—and an extra bit of camaraderie derived from both of them having to deal with me on a regular basis.
I want to tell Simon. He has a right to know what's going on with his friend. That there's a reason Sandburg hasn't come to the station in the past five months. That he avoids his old acquaintances, his old life, with good justification. That through no fault of his own, he can't be the man he was not so long ago.
But how can I say it and have it believed? I've tried, God help me. I've stood in front of a mirror and actually spoken the words aloud—I tried it in the station bathroom once, about a month ago. Was planning to march into the captain's office and tell him everything.
My partner is a vampire. There's no way to say it. At the very best it sounds like I'm making a joke, and not a very funny one at that. At worst, when I put every iota of sincerity in the final syllables, I sound ready for the nuthouse.
Took me a while to get used to even the word. I couldn't say it for some time, or write it, or even read it without reacting. Sometimes it would cut into me, like a knife or a bullet to the heart, that painful. Other times I'd feel like laughing, only if I did it would be hysterical laughter and once started it'd never end.
Blair still won't use that word. Not unless he's angry, or so deep in depression he doesn't care.
Which is true more often than not, and it's getting worse. Six months ago—six months ago he still was human. He laughed far more than he cried, and though things got him down he'd spring up from them soon enough. Simon called him a rubber ball once, not to his face. No matter how much crushed him he always bounced back. He was that alive, that vibrant, a battery of constantly-recharged energy. Nothing could stop him for long.
A little more than five months ago Blair encountered a man. No, he encountered a monster, his murderer, the vampire Lucien LaCroix. And that light, his life, was extinguished. And sometimes now I think all that remains is my friend's ghost.
He sits still. It sounds strange but that's his most inhuman characteristic. If he doesn't remember to he doesn't even breathe, and he sits so motionless for hours at a time. It's not meditation as he used to do. No soothing music, no smoky incense, not a yoga position or anything so ordinary. He'll be in a chair, or on the sofa, or once in a while standing by the window. And he'll stare forward and simply not move.
He talks differently, too. Quieter—his ears are more sensitive now, as finely tuned as my own. And less, far less. Because he has less to say, perhaps, but that never stopped him before. There's times now he can beat me when I'm at my most taciturn.
He doesn't laugh, or very rarely, and then at things most wouldn't find humorous. He's no longer teaching; neither is he studying, either at the university or on his own. The anthropologic texts gather dust on the shelves, their scholar absent, gone.
There are physical differences, too. Ones anybody would pick up on, which is why he stays away from station and university. Predominately the pale skin, cold to the touch. Sunlight burns it; one ray can blacken him if he's careless, or obliterate him should he turn suicidal.
And then there's the changes only a Sentinel would notice. The odd reflective sheen of eyes and hair. And the heartbeat. There is no heartbeat, no pulse; the heart is still even when he moves. Of everything, it is this that disturbs me the most, even after so many weeks. The preternaturally freezing touch of his fingers, and that absent rhythm. It used to be the one sign I always could pick him out by, his most distinguishing feature, more recognizable than fingerprints or face or voice. But it's gone now.
Sometimes I want to go to him and shake him, like I did the first time I ever saw his new form—like I did the first time I met Blair Sandburg at all. Lift him up by his collar and scream into his face "What are you? Why aren't you my friend?" Or get rid of him altogether. Move him out of the loft and out of my life. He's broken ties with everyone else in the mortal world; why does he stay with me?
My Sentinel side, those deep hidden instincts and intuitions would approve. Even now occasionally when I catch sight of him they'll rear inside me, order me to do what's necessary to protect the tribe. Destroy the evil, kill the predator, murder the vampire.
But there's another part at the same time that tells me to protect the Guide. And sometimes I'll still see Blair. I'll drop a random comment and he'll laugh, his old surprised chuckle. Or he'll say something, mention my senses and his study of them and he'll sound exactly like he always did, anthropologist and friend and Guide all mixed up in his tone.
It's those moments I live for now. The brief instants that nothing's changed. I'm on the night shift now, and he still rides along with me in the passenger seat of my truck when I'm not at the station. Sometimes in silence, but sometimes we'll have discussions and I'll be with my partner, communing with my best friend, and I'll know that I'll never give this up. Not without a fight.
And there are times too that I remember what happened, why it happened. What LaCroix said. It was for me that this occurred. It was for me that Blair tried to hunt down the vampire stalking Cascade, and for me that he offered himself. If LaCroix had taken the full sacrifice, and not brought Blair across into darkness...what would I have felt then?
Is it right to sell your soul to the devil for a good cause?
Was I worth it?
The only hope now is that there might be a way back over. A way to return Blair to life, that's what I seek. That's all I really am looking for now. I do my duty. I'm still a Sentinel, and still a police officer. But what am I worth without my partner to back me up?
Yes, Blair still rides with me. Without permission from my captain or the station, though Simon's seen it and not commented. A couple years ago I wouldn't have dreamed of dragging a civilian with me without the proper authorization. Never mind the abilities—and vulnerabilities—of that person.
But something changes in you, when you touch the unreal. When a man with glowing eyes and fangs literally takes flight after a cold-blooded murder. When you see someone draw nourishment from blood and heal instantly, when you touch a body and find it cool as a corpse and as silent, only it moves and talks and breathes...reality is different after that.
I wondered before we confronted LaCroix, how he could live as he does, no ties to the mortal realm, neither identification nor birth certificate nor laws. I don't question it now. That kind, his kind, Blair's kind now—they aren't subject to our rules. They're murderers but they kill to live; they are criminals of the worst order and yet they are never caught or punished. I take Blair with me, unofficially, and it never crosses my mind anymore that it's hardly permissible for him to follow me anywhere. Everywhere now; I don't tell him to stay in the truck anymore. It would be pointless. If the sun is down and there's no flame, I'm far more easily injured than he is.
There are advantages to the vampire state after all. He can move faster than I can track, even take to the air, a trick he's only just mastering, and slowly. Blair will only use his new powers when absolutely necessary, and then grudgingly. He who always told me to accept my talents and use them to their limits denies what he himself is capable of.
But he'll invoke them at times. Like the accident, two months back, the sports car flipped by a drunk driver, a young couple trapped under their automobile and dying. We were the first on the scene, the paramedics and the firemen with the Jaws of Life coming but delayed, and I straining to lift the vehicle off their broken bodies and failing. Blair hooked his hands under the hood, his eyes flashed gold, and then it was off them. Tossed aside like a piece of tin foil.
Adrenaline, I told the paramedics when they arrived. Both the kids inside survived. And I'm grateful, but it shook me too. How can I help it? I'm the cop, a former Army Ranger. I bench press over two hundred pounds. Blair's my partner and for his size sturdy, but he's the brains more than the brawn. I don't feel threatened that he's so much brighter, that's the order of things, he's got the education after all. Earned smarts, though I know damn well most of what flashes in his eyes is innate intelligence from the day he was born. So be it.
But now he's stronger, too. Faster. And a match for most of my Sentinel's senses. I can see farther, perhaps. Of course I can go out in the sun, which is a definite advantage. And if it's not blood it tastes like nothing to him. But everything else...
Maybe that's the real reason I want to talk to Simon. Bemoan my own insecurities. This isn't about Blair at all, it's just about me dealing with my new—newly made partner.
Then I see him, seated on the couch, not moving, not breathing, his eyes on the window. And I swear and cross the room in a hurry to close the shade, because the sun is coming up and has almost passed the tops of the building, about to shine through the glass and destroy him.
Placidly he turns his head, motionless except his neck pivoting to pin me with a steel-gray stare. In the darkness he now dwells in the blue of his eyes too often fades. He doesn't speak, only looks at me, and even after five months I can still see the pain there in his gaze, as clear as ever, pure because it seems to be all that's left in the center of his soul.
But somewhere locked away inside him I know my real partner, my human friend, my Guide still lives, and it would be worth all I am and more for his return.
"Go to bed," Jim told his partner. Not quite an order but more than a suggestion. "Sun's up, I'm not going anywhere, and you need the sleep."
"So do you." Flatly; his tone might have been sulky, might have been angry, but more likely was just tired. And hungry.
Starved, really. Jim examined his friend. A vampire ate less than a mortal man, their nutrition more concentrated. But nonetheless as essential for their survival as food was for the living.
Yet Blair disliked to feed. For as long as possible he would avoid it, once as long as a week. The first few days he was fine, but by the third day he'd be noticeably weaker, and by the next it would be visibly obvious, his skin tightening across his face, shrinking in around his muscles, giving him the gaunt look of famine. At the end of that horrible week Jim had finally uncorked the bottle and pushed it into his hands, forcing him to drink it down. He had been too weak to resist.
The blood came from butcher shops around the city. Mostly cow, some lamb and pig as well. Jim had found that they were willing to supply it to him for a small fee and would not ask questions if he did not come too frequently. Apparently several small groups used blood in religious practices; Jim decided he was grateful for the boon and didn't need the details.
So now in the back of the refrigerator were always a couple tall green bottles. If one didn't inspect them too closely, and didn't lift them to observe how thickly the liquid inside sloshed, they were easily mistaken for red wine. Except to Jim's honed senses. Even chilled, even in the glass and under the cork he could smell the blood whenever he entered the kitchen.
He was very attuned to blood now—no, that wasn't entirely true. The scent had always caught his attention, signal of injury, of pain, of danger. The sickly sweet and metallic flavor was familiar to him as the feel of his own skin, the recognition written into his genes. Part of a Sentinel's inner catalogue of signs.
But he was more sensitive to it now. It repulsed him, turned his stomach whenever he sniffed it. He had experienced terrible things in his life and not flinched, but whenever he opened the refrigerator and spied those tall bottles he was touched with nausea. It affected him elsewhere as well; while he hadn't gone vegetarian his taste for red meat had disappeared. Even Wonder Burger lost its appeal, when he entered and smelled the pink uncooked patties behind the plastic counters and wax paper wrappings.
He doubted Blair had noticed the change in diet. Not when he couldn't eat regularly now, when the scent of normal food twisted his stomach the same as the blood did to Jim's. Yet another adjustment he could not easily make. Probably that was part of the reason he was so loath to touch the bottles in the refrigerator, even when needing their sustenance.
The other reason was because of that need. The desire. Jim had seen Blair when he drank, the blank and ravenous glaze that formed over his bright eyes. An addict getting a fix as much as a hungry man at a meal. The very pleasure he took from the blood repulsed him, horrified him. Controlling that appetite was one of the few ways he had left to be human, to show mortal domination over his impulses, and even that could not last for long before he lost to the craving.
But it didn't stop him from trying. Three days now and counting; Jim kept a close tally of the time, not anxious for a repeat of the awful week. "You should eat something."
A flash in his partner's eyes, but the spark died soon enough. "Drink, you mean. I can wait a little more." Tiredly he pushed himself off the sofa and headed for his room. Jim tracked his progress, noting the slower pace and the hollowing cheeks. A little more, but not very much longer before he had no choice.
Blair had no sooner settled on his bed when the phone trilled. Jim grabbed it hurriedly. Not that it mattered; if his partner was still awake he would have heard it easily, and just as readily would listen to whatever conversation played out; if he were asleep then nothing would wake him, short of sunlight, sunset, or screaming directly in his ear. The sleep of the dead...
"Ellison here," he answered.
"It's Simon. Look, Jim, I know you're off-duty now, but can you come to the station? I want everyone available on this new case and it'd be better if you could be briefed all at once." Translation: Simon wanted the city's Sentinel aware and working on it as soon as possible.
"I'm on my way."
"Thanks, Jim." No mistaking the relief in the captain's voice. Then, hesitantly, "Sandburg's not around, is he?"
Jim glanced at the closed door to Blair's room. "No, he's not available. Sorry, sir."
The exhalation might have been a sigh; hard to say. "We'll be waiting for you," and Simon hung up.
Jim's hand was on the doorknob when Blair's quiet voice came to his ears. "Give Simon my regards."
He paused, not turning the handle. Spoke softly to the air, "I wish you were coming, Chief."
There was no response. Jim looked back, saw the sunlight glimmering around the edges of the shade. Have to get larger ones, he reminded himself yet again, black-out shades that will cut all the light. At least give him the freedom of movement in the loft.
He opened the door and proceeded outside to the crisp morning air.
Detective Ellison arrived a few moments late, unobtrusively found a seat in the back of the room. Captain Banks breathed a silent sigh of relief and greeted him with the barest of nods before continuing.
He didn't see Jim as much now that he was on the night shift. Occasionally Ellison would work overtime or come into the station midday on an errand, and he had attended a few of the weekly Major Crimes poker games though they were no longer scheduled at the loft. But Simon missed his presence around the bullpen, missed the insights he had about cases and more general things. Missed his friend, though he understood the reason for his absence.
No one knew precisely what was wrong with Blair Sandburg. They understood it was a medical condition, serious enough that he had dropped out of the university life as well as left his position of police observer. Jim refused to give details, apparently at Blair's request. Whatever it was, Blair was not in the hospital and not actively being treated. The one time Simon had tried to ascertain how bad it truly was, if his life was indeed threatened—Jim's glare had been frightening, but his assurance was convincing: Sandburg was sick, but not on the verge of death.
The captain had seen him a couple of times, still driving with Jim, though his observer identification and ride-along pass had been revoked. Simon saw no point in calling them on it, as long as they were careful. Blair didn't look much different, a little thinner, a little paler. And not so active; the most disturbing part of the glimpses he had caught was how still the younger man had sat or stood. Eyes on Jim but passively observing. Simon didn't understand it himself; what could have changed him so drastically, harnessed that energy? It saddened him, what little he knew. Whatever had happened to the kid, he didn't deserve it.
He wished he could talk to Sandburg. Didn't care if he wanted to keep his illness a secret; he wouldn't ask any questions, just exchange a few words. Sports, the weather, Jim's senses—Blair had always had something to discuss. Simon wouldn't admit to anyone—except perhaps Jim—how much he missed the anthropologist's eager presence around the bullpen. Something vital had been lost with his departure and Jim's shift change. Heart, maybe. All the detectives did their jobs to the best of their abilities, but the determination with which they tackled their cases was weaker, their convictions lessened Loss of morale. Blair had been far more than unofficial mascot of Major Crimes, but it was that function that Simon almost missed the most.
While his mind mentally reviewed the recent dilemma his mouth was speaking to the assembled team of detectives, rattling off the details of their latest case. He already had given more thought than he cared to the matter at hand. The black-market organ racket, not new but not something he had ever wanted to turn up in Cascade. Four bodies already; they had been dumped in the river so their origin was unknown, but one had already been identified as a local girl. Only twenty-six, and the expressions on her bereaved parents' faces were enough that the captain could tear apart the perpetrators with his bare hands.
Easier said than done. The gang was widespread and well-organized; Cascade was only their latest base of operations. Members had been picked up here and there across the country, but only small-time, delivery boys, two surgeons. Only one of the actual killers, and he had gotten off on a technicality. Not guilty officially, but Simon had spoken to the captain in San Francisco and believed it when she said they had released the wrong man. None of those captured had known enough to be of help, or were so skilled at refusing to speak that they fooled their interrogators as to their ignorance.
The detectives reacted with the appropriate anger to what Simon told them, the younger ones raring to go, the older and more experienced sickened by the defilement of the bodies. Liver, heart, lungs carefully removed, perversion of surgery, a practice meant to save lives ending them.
Simon felt honest pity for those who turned to the ring—sometimes for self, but too often the patients were family members and others beloved, children, parents. Willing to pay outrageous prices and even higher moral dues to save those they loved. But the criminals, the murderers—they didn't care about that. It was the money that drew them, plain and simple; they cared as little for the lives they saved as they did for those they destroyed. Choosing their victims randomly, whoever might not be missed. The girl had been a prostitute, a fact carefully concealed from a mother and father who had lost track of their daughter several years before. He didn't inquire how she had ended up in that position; no matter what her home life had been, for her parents to rediscover her in such a horrific manner...
He was glad when he was finished, gratefully stepped off the podium and let a lieutenant begin coordinating the attack. There were plans for stings, following up leads, an array of tactics spread out in the hopes that one would be successful, that this would be the time and place where the killing would stop.
A private war was about to be waged, and Simon took aside one of the key soldiers, "Jim, my office."
Ellison glanced around as he seated himself. Probably checking to see if anything had changed in his month-long absence. Simon felt something spark inside when he saw his detective in the chair across the desk. Back where he belonged; now if only a long-haired observer was perched at his side all would be well...
No time for that now. "Jim, I wanted to talk to you about a specific aspect of this case I thought you should be following up. You'd be here regardless; every detective we have is involved. And you especially, I don't have to remind you why..." Was Blair still tutoring him in using his senses, Simon suddenly wondered, what did they call it, 'guiding' Jim?
"At any rate—this isn't general information because it's probably the most sensationalist aspect, and the media's going to have a field day with this as it is. But you remember the homicides a few months ago, the so-called 'vampire' killings?"
Jim stiffened, nodded sharply, his face blank. What the—dammit, Simon berated himself. Of course he'd remember; that was right around the time Blair got sick. The observer had disappeared and scared the hell out of them for a few days before the truth came out. Unpleasant associations..."Sorry, Jim. I know you set that case as officially unsolved, and there haven't been any more murders, at least not in any country we're communicating with. This isn't the same man, I don't think. It might be completely unrelated.
"But all four bodies were drained of blood. The pathologist said it could be a result of the surgical procedure, or even deliberately drawing the blood—maximum usage of the corpse." Simon grimaced. "But at my request he checked—one of the bodies had marks on the neck. Like those other homicides. I thought you should know, maybe pursue that angle?"
Again Jim nodded. His face had gone white at Simon's words, but he stood quickly enough. "I'll definitely look into it when I go on duty tonight, sir, and I'll keep you posted."
"Thanks." Simon awkwardly indicated the vacated chair. "You sure you don't want to stick around for a bit? Anything on your mind?"
"No." Guilt flitted across Jim's features, was smoothed over. "Sorry, Simon. But I need some sleep—I was getting to bed when you called. Maybe later?"
"Sure. Of course." Simon hoped he did an acceptable job of hiding his disappointment. He hadn't really been thinking of Jim's altered schedule; the Sentinel normally rose with the sun and retired around the time the moon set. Strange for him to have reversed his hours—no. Not especially. He wanted his days free to be with Blair. Or maybe it had more to do with the nights; he had mentioned something offhand once, about Blair avoiding the sun. Related to his condition, sensitivity to UV, easily burned perhaps. Not something Simon dared press Jim about, though.
He bid the detective goodbye and good morning. Or night, as far as Jim was concerned. Then proceeded to the bullpen to confer with the rest of his people, trying to ignore the continuing absence of his two best men.
"It's not LaCroix." Blair shook his head emphatically. His curls whipped around his face and for a moment he looked almost ordinary, a scholar protesting what went contrary to his knowledge. "I'd know if he had returned. I'd feel it."
Jim didn't question it. There were parts of Blair's nature now that he couldn't comprehend and didn't try to. Instead he asked, "But could it be another one of you?" Another vampire? He couldn't use the word directly with him.
"I don't know." Thoughtfully. "Maybe. If I could see the body..."
"I could get you into the morgue tonight." Dusk had fallen, sunset soon and then they could get to work. "We need to know precisely what we're dealing with."
He had good reason. With the exception of LaCroix, and now Blair, Cascade had few supernatural presences. The anthropologist mentioned this more than once, how they had never come close to encountering one before. He suggested that Jim might be the cause—the Sentinel, he theorized, was a born vampire-hunter.
Jim often felt like denying such a fantastical heritage, but his subconscious was all too telling. He knew how to kill that kind of demon, the many varying methods. He knew their danger, and felt it, a force impinging on himself, warning of danger, of evil. When LaCroix first arrived he had felt that tension.
Now it was an ever-present symptom, humming like a live wire in his brain. Stronger whenever he was in close proximity to his partner, but always there in the back of his mind, a constant buzz. Blair had never admitted to a comparable feeling, but Jim suspected that it might exist, other vampires' own innate warning system. Warding them away from Cascade and their possible hunter.
But younger vampires felt it less than older, apparently. At least that would explain a couple months back, when another one appeared in the city. Blair was the first to notice that one, not from an inner sense but simple observation; he saw the wingless fiend gliding over the streets. Maybe just flying for fun; maybe seeking prey.
At any rate, Blair told his Sentinel. The following morning Jim went hunting himself, armed with a cross and a wooden stake concealed under his coat.
He knew what he had to do, but he had little experience with these matters. Aware of the vampire's superior speed and strength, he hoped that daylight would give him sufficient advantage. Blair had almost prevented him from going, but he convinced his partner of his safety. Reasoning that he probably wouldn't even find the monster.
He was wrong. More proof for Blair's theory; he wandered to the alley without even thinking about it, uncovered the vampire hidden in his cardboard lean-to. And he proved as ineffective as his Guide had feared.
It was Blair who saved him, his partner who he had rescued more than once. Not even present, and yet protecting his Sentinel. Jim Ellison had faced death enough times to recognize it in the fangs and yellow eyes of the monster. The warm afternoon breeze and the ephemeral sunlit glow of the shadows weren't enough to delay the vampire's strike.
All that stopped him was Jim's quiet words. He didn't even know why he spoke, "My partner will hunt you if you take me."
More than once Blair had invoked his partner's name and position to save himself. Jim couldn't imagine why he tried the reverse, and yet he did.
And the vampire paused, hissing, "Why should I care, who's your partner?"
"He's one of you," Jim informed him. Feeling more than a little strange telling the creature but fixed on his course. These dark ones had an understanding of one another greater than most of mankind. "Blair Sandburg."
At that the vampire reared back. His eyes darkened to brown and he gasped, "Sandburg? LaCroix's mad son?"
There were advantages after all to Blair's master being as old and powerful and insane as he was. At the very least it gave him a reputation. "LaCroix's child," Jim confirmed. "The partner of Cascade's guardian. Get out of this city, take no lives and I won't stake your worthless heart." He had been almost giddy, cheating death and in such a fashion. The creature had fled, terror in his eyes, risking being burned by the sun in his haste to obey.
It had been one of the few times in recent months that he had walked the streets with the sun high, his shadow short behind him, nodding at the citizens he passed, the people he protected. It had been as well one of the few times Blair smiled, when he had related the story, a true amused grin as he had at onetime often worn.
He wasn't smiling now. "What about you, man? Are you picking up anything?"
"No," Jim admitted. "Even if I was, I'm not sure how'd I distinguish it from what I get from you..." He trailed off, wondering how to possibly right that, reword it so it lost the bitter edge.
But Blair was oblivious to the implied affront. "It's a case of interference, but there should be a way around it. Distance lessens the effect—when you were at the station, did it feel differently? The sensation any more than usual?"
In spite of himself Jim nearly smiled. The one remaining way to bring Blair back to himself—give him an intellectual puzzle and he snapped right on track. He may not consider himself still a Guide, but nonetheless he took his duties as one seriously. In answer, "No, Chief. Sorry. I wasn't paying attention. I didn't notice anything different."
Blair frowned. "Jim, this is serious. Not only if there's another one of us in Cascade—but do you realize what might be going on? They could actually be working with these body-snatchers, organ takers, whatever you call them."
Now Jim scowled. Immediately obvious and yet it hadn't occurred to him; the threat of any vampire had been worrisome enough. Good thing immortality hadn't dulled his partner's mind. "Men and vam—your kind—together. That's not a pleasant thought."
"No!" Blair agreed emphatically. "But it makes sense; they'd be the perfect assassins. They're made for it—we're made for it. Unnatural-born killers."
There was no bitterness in how he said it. Even a month ago his tone would have held anger, spiked with that nervous, nameless fear that plagued him. A man losing his soul, only now he almost sounded resigned to it. Beginning to accept his fate—"They're made for it," Jim corrected, reminded him, "You're no killer."
His partner neither denied nor agreed with the statement. His eyes were flat slate gray. Unreadable.
"If there is one in town," Jim said slowly, "I should be able to find it. Like I did last time. And if they're working with this group it will make it that much easier to get everyone involved." He glanced at his watch. "I've got almost four hours before sunset—"
"No way!" Blair was animate again. "No go, man. You're staying here until nightfall; if you're going hunting then I'm coming with you."
"I did fine last time—" Jim protested. There was a time that would have been enough, a time that his word set the law of house and partnership.
No more. "Last time you got lucky. Jim, I know what you're going to face here. I know you're a Sentinel, that it's your duty to fight these things, that it's in your blood. But Sentinels can't work alone. I'm still your partner, that's what you said, man. Is that still true?"
What choice had he but to reluctantly concur? Blair nodded sharp agreement. "Then wait for me. Anyway, two against one are better odds."
Especially when one was a match for the predator. There was logic in what he had to say; Jim listened to it. Besides, if Blair truly was determined to keep him there it wouldn't be physically possible for him to leave. Still another readjustment of their balance that he had yet to be comfortable with.
Night finally fell, and Jim and Blair ventured out onto the streets. Together, as Blair had insisted. They drove first to the morgue; the body had hardly been pulled out of the drawer when Blair nodded. "One killed him."
"What?" the mortician demanded. "You haven't seen nothing, you got a sixth sense or something?"
Blair glanced down swiftly at the corpse and deliberately turned away. Though small, the marks on the neck were plain to Jim's eyes as well. "He just knows what to look for," the detective assured the bemused coroner, and they continued on their investigation.
Surprisingly it was Blair who initiated the conversation as they drove. "You remember Dan, with those other murderers?" he murmured. "Going on about Dracula, but he didn't believe it, not really, he just thought it was cool."
"I remember." Jim refused to so much as glimpse his partner's expression. The coldness in his tone was enough. "I didn't believe it either, but I didn't think it was 'cool'. They're killing. It doesn't matter how or why or what's doing it; the death is what's important. What we have to stop."
"We romanticize it." Blair's voice was soft, dream-like, speculating on society as he often used to, only now it was the darkness that fascinated him so. "Serial killers get all the publicity, and vampires..." The word slipped out smoothly, broken by the pause following it. "We're the greatest of all, we hunt for need and for pleasure and we kill out of that lust."
"Not this one," Jim pointed out. "Whoever, whatever it is—they're killing for these people, and this group murders for money. It's that simple. He's a mercenary, whatever else he may be." When there was no response he shifted in his seat, idling at a corner waiting for the light to go green. "So where are we going?"
"Where are you taking us?" Blair asked in answer.
The light changed and he had turned the truck before he caught the question. "I don't know." The station was the other way—
"Don't fight it." Blair's voice was low, smooth. Prickles ran up Jim's spine, hearing the odd breathless quality to it, the air not quite naturally exhaled. All the same he responded to the guiding quality, allowed himself to relax and drive. "Just go where you want to," his partner instructed. An odd heaviness was entering his tone, and Jim knew that he couldn't entirely disobey even if he wished to. He stifled the fear and anger that power evoked in him and complied.
Unnatural, against rules of man and science, but within a few minutes they were pulling up alongside an old townhouse. Not the best neighborhood but the building was in good condition, the trim freshly painted and the stairs swept. He was about to climb out of the truck when Blair laid a cold hand on his arm. "Don't do anything yet, just listen."
Jim nodded and opened his ears. No distracting sounds from the individual seated by him. Inside he could make out a variety of voices. A mother putting her son to bed. A couple arguing over what movie to watch. A television blaring over a radio, cutlery against ceramic dishes...a hushed conversation. "What shall it be this time? Young man, young girl, big, small, good heart, good lungs?" The speaker was male, sounded young.
An older man answered him. "Keep it down. Jesus. If you're not careful—"
"If I'm not careful enough I'll leave. I don't care where I take my business; you are simply convenient."
"For the sake of our convenience, then—tread careful, okay? The cops found the bodies."
"That's them," Jim hissed, reaching for the radio. He requested backup and turned toward Blair, pulling his gun from its holster. "I can hear two heartbeats in the room, though. I'm not sure the killer we're looking for is here." But his own heart spoke differently. He could feel his pulse soaring, thunder in his ears, and it wasn't all the tension of a possible bust. Vibrations in the air, invisible currents warning the guardian of danger beyond who walked by his side.
And Blair was not oblivious, though he said nothing, silently following Jim around to the alleys behind the townhouse.
He thought they were quiet, but before they reached the back he heard the younger man hiss, "They're outside now." Muffled oaths, a quick retort of footsteps on stairs, and a door slammed shut.
Jim swore, not even wondering how they had been noticed, running to his goal. He saw a man jump out of a first floor window, hitting the ground running. Readying his gun, "Freeze!"
But the man was already around the corner, and by the time Jim made it there he was out of even the Sentinel's sight, lost in the growing night.
The slightest rustle in the alley behind him. Blair, he thought at first, but when he turned he saw a woman all in black, tall, beautiful, raven hair flowing around a too-white face. Pale eyes widened as they met his glare, then suddenly she whirled.
Blair stood behind her, close enough he could grab her with his instant motion. But he did nothing, arms limp at his sides, transfixed by the figure before him.
"Stay where you are," Jim called across the distance, knowing he would not be heeded. He started toward her, but she glanced back, saw him and ran. Vanished; there was no sign of her when he reached Blair.
"You could have stopped her," he accused, not hiding his ire.
His partner turned to him slowly, as if it were a burden to focus on him. "Did you hear her heartbeat?"
"No." Irritated with himself now as well, that he had been distracted from his duty.
"She had none." Faintly, as if he were commenting to himself and not to Jim at all.
"That was her! The vampire, the killer, and you let her escape!" He was angry with himself more than with Blair, angry that he had been concentrating on the wrong people, not following his too-accurate instincts. Angry as well that his Guide no longer could show him the proper course. But it wasn't his fault, he had to remind himself, it wasn't truly him...
Except Blair now was shaking his head, his look still dazed, "No. She's not the killer." Finally he met Jim's eyes, his own filled with a blank confusion overlaid with remembered pain. Jim felt his self sink, his wrath draining away into the bottomless, incomprehensible depths of that gaze as Blair explained, "She's LaCroix's daughter."
Blair waited in the truck as Jim filed his report with the station. Probably got into a 'discussion' with the lucky night shift captain on duty, judging from how long it was taking. Ellison was developing quite a reputation as the bane of the night owls; his penchant for stubbornly insisting on certain investigations while not specifying how he had come by his information set their teeth on edge. Combined with his less-than-amiable attitude, the only captain who was ever happy to see him was Simon, when his turn on the night shift came up every few weeks.
Blair supposed that if he were in there now, backing up his partner as duty commanded, he might be able to smooth things over. At least pour a little oil onto grinding cogs. That had always been one of his unspoken functions before, hadn't it? Once he had been accepted, the rest of the bullpen had been more than pleased with his work as a buffer. Jim hadn't been exactly Public Enemy Number One before Blair had begun working with him, but good detective or not he hadn't been on the top of anyone's party list, either.
Nothing was preventing him from going in, trying to calm whatever ruckus Jim was stirring up. Except he couldn't. Walking by the front desk—he would be undone the moment he met the night sergeant's friendly gaze. Impossible to make it to the bullpen, stand under the flickering greenish glare of the florescent lights and observe the world he had so happily inhabited. And what if someone he knew were working late? It wasn't Simon's shift, but Joel, or Rafe, or Brown? They would look into his unnatural eyes and draw back from his pale complexion, reject what they saw. No friend of theirs, not any more, no longer a member of the human race.
Rationally he knew that they wouldn't catch on, not for some time at least. They thought he was ill; they would write off his white skin to disease. They might even pity him, though he doubted he could take that, either. Unlike Jim with his instincts and enhanced senses, they would be blind to the predator masquerading as one of their own.
But he couldn't maintain the charade long without cracking, even if he didn't have to hide what he was. His very self—his nature now would oppose him. To be around humans, surrounded by humans, with their warm breath and living scent and beating hearts...that was what he never could admit to anyone, not even Jim, how much he desired it. Not the companionship, not anymore. He had always been a social being, but it was not society he now craved but something deeper, more integral. To touch their lives, to take their essence—
'It is the only way for our kind, the only way we have to love a mortal, to hold their love.' LaCroix's words, a ghostly whispering in his son's ear. But to listen was to murder; to love was to be a killer. No; he would stay away from that temptation.
So he sat quietly, waiting in the dark truck and watching people going about their ways on the streets. Jim would be reporting "suspicious activity", as nothing more could be specified lest he reveal his abilities. In the morning he would tell Simon the whole story; for now the captain present would have to make do with what was given.
He would say nothing of the woman, the black-haired woman in the alley. At Blair's behest, and more because it would do the police little good to try to hunt one of that kind. Jim didn't believe she was innocent.
And yet...Blair wasn't sure himself what he believed, and didn't know if he should believe all that he did. But she wasn't the one they sought; she wasn't an enemy, he didn't think.
Then what was she? LaCroix's daughter, the ancient one's child, second only to his favored son now dead and gone. Nicholas Knight, a son that Blair had replaced in that one's twisted vision. But she—he had seen her before in his master's blood, the beautiful curves of the face, a porcelain doll's mask embellished with ebon hair and sapphire eyes.
Except when he had seen that face in reality, actually encountered her perfect form—she had meant nothing. He recognized her, but only from those shifting images absorbed from LaCroix. The woman herself was nothing beyond the slightest sensation evoked by another vampire's presence. There was no impression of that bond, that link that had existed between him and his master. The same bond he had felt between himself and the dead Nicholas, a connection of blood relation, nothing like how humans defined it and yet more powerful still.
With her, perhaps distantly inside himself he had felt the tiniest twinge—but he could as easily be imagining it. And yet he knew he wasn't mistaking her heritage. LaCroix had brought her across; there could not be two such unreal women.
He had tried to explain this to Jim, but his partner hadn't been able to understand, never having experienced that nearly tangible connection. When he admitted that he was not so attached to the woman the Sentinel demanded how he could insist on her innocence.
He couldn't. He didn't know. LaCroix's daughter would not be especially inclined toward good, unless she had been in life as well. He didn't tell Jim but one of the crucial images he recalled, one in his mind when he slept, was her beautiful face lifting with a smile, her eyes golden and her mouth bloody. Sometimes he dreamed he ran beside her through a dark wood, hunting, a mortal man fleeing from them...from the three of them; Nicholas would be at his other side in that dream.
And yet he knew another likeness, a brief one that he never could hang onto but that haunted the outskirts of his mind. She would be standing in darkness, and then the sun would rise and she would not move, and instead of burning her skin would darken slightly, take on a rose hue. He could hear her heart pulsing lightly, and see the living blood pumping through the veins on her throat.
Sometimes she would be wearing a long black dress, simple and ancient in its style, and he would know he viewed her as she had been centuries ago, still a mortal woman, her hair tangled and her cheeks bruised. But once he glimpsed her standing in sunlight in a jacket and jeans. Modern clothes, her hair styled and her gaze sharp.
She wasn't the killer. There was far more to her than that.
The driver's side door opened and Jim slid into the seat. "Sorry for the delay, Chief, I was going through mug shots. I think I id-ed at least one of our culprits."
He tensed. "The woman?"
Jim shook his head. "Didn't even try. But I got an okay look at the guy and found a shot of him—one bad character, Gil Cantor. He's wanted for involvement in the deaths of three officers, two in Chicago and one in LA."
"A cop killer?" Blair shook his head. Vampire or no, the Cascade PD was going to eat him alive. The police were extraordinarily protective of their own, one of his earliest observations of their subculture.
He remembered when he had been inside that circle of blue and gold, accepted in that tight loyalty. That time in the Wilkenson Towers, when he had emerged from the elevator to find most of Major Crimes extending a hand to help him out. Again during his return from the hospital following the Golden overdose, they all gathered around him teasing and grinning and he knew that when they had collared the dealers it had been partly for him, protecting him.
He wondered if they even remembered him anymore. Did anyone ever bother asking Jim what had happened to his partner? Of course Jim wouldn't tell, and he would never want them to know, but the question intruded on his thoughts nonetheless.
"We're going to get him," Jim said, oblivious to the track his partner's thoughts were taking. "We're going to get all of them. If you had seen what they did to these people..." He trailed off. Blair had never been able to grasp the full extent of the horrors humans were capable of inflicting on one another. And yet in a way now he was a part of those horrors; if he had never committed them himself, he had an understanding of that surpassed much of what even Jim had seen.
It didn't take much of his imagination to picture the state of the corpses. The torn and mangled torso, desecration of a body's temple, and the killer's way of bringing death was quicker and neater but no less an atrocity. Murder was murder, no matter the manner or reason.
The rest of the night passed without incident and they returned to the loft. Jim, weary from what he had done and seen, the newest case already weighing heavy on his shoulders. Blair was not tired, though he moved carefully to avoid showing weakness. In the elevator he casually rested his hand against the wall, fighting a wave of dizziness. Eyes on Jim, wishing for the thousandth time that there was something he could do.
Make a random comment, crack a joke, about what? About him being tired—'Getting old there, Jim?' Or be sympathetic, empathetic, echo his feelings, 'Man, long night, I can't wait to get to bed.' Maybe change the subject; or offer encouragement, perhaps best of all, 'So what's the plan for tomorrow, to bring these bastards down?'
He wanted to say anything, but he couldn't so much as reach out and nudge his partner's shoulder. Not without Jim jerking away, an unconscious reaction to the chill of his too-close presence.
Jim closed the door behind them and then turned on Blair, "Go eat, drink, whatever you want to call it. Now."
"Sandburg, do you think I'm blind?" with a quick gesture at his eyes. "Nighttime or not I can still see you, Chief. And I notice when you start relying on walls and desks to keep standing. You're starving."
I know, Jim. Believe me. "I'm a little hungry. I can take it. It hasn't been that long; I was a little weak with the sun almost up. That's all."
Every line of his face and stance reflected his friend's unhappiness. "We still don't know how safe it is for you to keep doing this to yourself. I don't need any Sentinel senses to see how much it takes out of you..." He glanced at the refrigerator.
No, Blair silently begged. If he took out a bottle, brought it too close...just knowing it was there was temptation enough, the attraction almost physical. Every part of him longed for it, for a taste of even that cold, bitter blood. Trying to be practical, "Look, Jim, there's only one bottle left. I know how much you hate getting it; I can hang on for a couple more days at least."
Clearly his partner was doubtful. "Why are you fighting it? Everybody gets hungry, I know it's not normal what you ingest—" as if he found some comfort in turning to the unwieldy vocabulary, the blanket logic of science, "but you do need it. Like I need food. I don't mind getting it for you, I'd be lying if I said it's no trouble, but you know I'm willing to—"
"I know." How could he ever thank him? Everything Jim did for him, it only drove it sharper home, how little he could do in return. How long before Jim finally realized that one-sidedness, the gifts unpaid for, and began to resent him for it? "Please, Jim, it's not necessary. Not yet. I'll take it when I need it, okay?"
Reluctantly his partner agreed, and Blair silently sighed relief. Impossible to explain why he resisted; he knew Jim couldn't understand, and was even more grateful when he accepted it all the same. Partly it was true, making the supply last that much longer, not requiring him to make many visits to the butcher shops. They were an attack on his senses, Blair knew, an assault the Sentinel tolerated with effort.
But beyond that, it was because he hated it so. Detested that unnatural greed, the cravings not only inhuman but antihuman. It sickened him in ways he barely knew himself, that he had feelings closer to a murderer's than to a sane man's, that he could understand the call for death and pain that drove a killer to act.
And yet when he was drinking—when he brought the glass to his lips all that vanished, the disgust, the revulsion washed aside by the cool blood. He never could stop, had never drunk less than the entire contents of a bottle in one great swallow. A die-hard alcoholic wasn't half so welded to his liquor as Blair was to his particular addiction. All his life he had rejected using drugs, that weak chemical dependency, despite what he had been exposed to. Only to find himself in death chained to something far worse.
It wasn't the blood he so loathed; it was the pleasure. The abhorrent satisfaction he derived from drinking, even cold and dead from a bottle. To take from life—the longer he went, the worse it grew, that desire. The less he became able to focus on individual people, individual faces and voices and thoughts and feelings; the more he heard, saw, felt their lives, that overriding warmth and steady rhythms that reminded him of all he had lost, and suggested to him as well how much he wanted it back. It all began to blur after a bit, the hungrier he became, until it was effort to even distinguish a single person from the crowd, even to recognize someone familiar.
During his experiment, the week he had lasted without his sustenance, by the end Jim had been the only person he still knew, still could remember enough not to attack him and take his life. If anyone else had entered the loft then, Simon, one of his former students, even his own mother, he would not have been able to stop himself. Of that he was sure. But he had fed from Jim once and that was enough; never would he risk him in like manner.
He would never let himself go that far again, but he had learned his limits, and he knew he could survive another day at least. The strain it took to control himself—high; but he was gradually learning to survive it, keep it from showing how great an effort he had to make. Jim noticed, but not as much, and usually only if Blair was inattentive. He could hide even his hunger from the Sentinel.
Not from his own body, however. Hard to sleep with the craving wailing in his ears, filling his mind with visions of his destiny, his true place in life, in taking life. In the darkness of his room he paced, casting his eyes occasionally to the closed windows. If he shoved the curtains aside, raised the shades...would he be blinded? Or for a moment would he view the sun as he had before, that brilliant disk, purity in its fire, beauty in its light. It would burn away the cold and the hunger—it would burn away his self, too. Not worth it, though he longed for it as much as he desired the blood.
At last it set. The call came shortly before the sun dipped behind the buildings. He listened attentively to both sides of the conversation, gratified when Jim rapped on his door. "Are you awake yet?"
Answering the summons, "Yes. Are we going?"
Jim grimaced. "You heard? Then you know they spotted our man. West side, by the shipping yards—"
Blair nodded impatiently. "Yeah, I know, I heard. They're calling in the army and we're invited."
"I'm invited." He didn't bother pointing out Blair's severed attachment to the force. "It's only dusk—"
"It's nearly sundown. I'll be fine. Jim, you might need me on this one." Especially if they were indeed right about the nature of the killer.
Especially if she, the killer or not, was there.
"Let's go, man," and he headed out before Jim could form a reasonable protest.
A fair-sized gathering had mobilized by the time they arrived. Near the docks the final rays of the sun stretched over the horizon; Blair stayed in the shadow provided by the truck while Jim met with officers in charge.
He glanced over at his Guide once, white face bright against dark hair and dark clothing. Wishing not for the first time that he had some way to track him other than the lost heartbeat. Hopefully he'd stay put for this; Jim didn't want him involved, not when it wasn't necessary.
"Glad you could make it, Jim," Simon expressed his thanks. Familiar words, those were becoming. The Sentinel nodded acceptance as the captain explained the situation. An anonymous tip had brought them here; listening devices, the electronic equivalent to a Sentinel's hearing, had located a clandestine meeting going on two blocks down. Hopefully they were unaware of the small army starting to surround them. Jim recognized most of the faces present—other detectives, regular beat cops, a couple of sergeants he hardly had seen out from behind a desk, and the SWAT team.
Blair all but hid from their view, sticking to his corner by the truck. As unwilling to mix with the officers as Jim was to let him be included. This might work out after all—
The radio crackled, letting them know they had been spotted. A universal oath rose from those gathered, and then they closed in, hoping to salvage what they could from the blown operation.
Jim would have followed the general lead, except he heard something, the slightest puff of displaced air, like a bird's wing flapping. A sound he almost recognized, accompanied by a distant distinct feeling he was growing all too familiar with. And two sets of footprints, heavy steps of a man running, and the faint tap of a woman's low heels. No time to alert the rest; he pursued alone, down a side alley—
Almost shocked he was, to see her again. Unmistakable, dressed the same, her hair braided now but as black as before. More surprising still she didn't seem to see him, her attention entirely focused on the man in front of her. He halted his headlong dash as she stepped before him, then drew a gun from his belt. Aimed it at her, the threat clear.
Suddenly, before Jim could act, he saw her distant eyes glow gold, her mouth open in a feral snarl. The man's gasp was audible. Frantically he backed away from the monster, but she was upon him, and Jim wondered how to stop her from where he was. Criminal or not, this was no way for a man to die—
Except instead of grabbing him and taking his life, she flung him aside, bodily lifting him and throwing him into the wall. He heard the man groan and knew he had survived, and she raised her head, met his eyes, her own again pale blue. The slightest tilt of her head, angled toward the man. Unmistakably a command—deal with him. Then she was running on silent feet down the alley.
Easily he inferred her purpose, the second set of footsteps clear. Slow, irregular, not running but sneaking, a second man attempting to escape the net by subterfuge. His heart pattered like a jackhammer. Jim realized then she indeed had no pulse, her heart as still as his partner's.
The fallen man's beat was slowed but steady; he was already coming to as Jim knelt beside him, secured the handcuffs around his wrists and jerked him to his feet. "You're under arrest, you have the right—"
"Release him." That rapid pulse thundering louder than before. He turned and saw the man himself, easily recognizing Cantor from both the mug shots and his run-in the night before. This time however he was not fleeing, and his order was supported by the revolver he had trained on Jim's head. "I said, let him go, if you don't want me to blow the back of your skull off. I know you're wearing a vest but I don't see any kevlar on your ugly face."
Slowly the detective raised his hands. Five steps closer, and he could risk attacking the man, counting on surprise to throw off his shot. Just a little nearer, bastard...but Cantor wasn't approaching. Warily he circled the two other men, growled, "Come on, Doug, get up, we gotta get out of here."
The man kneeling at his feet moaned but was in no condition to escape yet. To assure this Jim put a hand on his shoulder and shoved, not roughly but enough to make him lose his tentative balance.
"That's enough, cop!" Cantor spat, taking a step back and steadying his gun. "One more of you down ain't gonna hurt me much—"
He clicked back the hammer, and Jim glanced around, listening for any sign of another presence. Another officer, or the woman—she had helped before, but there was no trace of her now. He trained his vision on the revolver's trigger, readying himself to dodge to the side as it was squeezed and knowing his chances of beating the bullet were minimal at best—
The trigger was pulled. He heard the gunshot's thunder and simultaneously a swish of air as darkness blotted his view of the barrel firing.
Expanding his field of sight he saw his partner standing between him and the gunman. Blair jerked slightly but didn't fall.
Cantor swore, cocked the gun again and fired directly at him in a single rapid motion.
Blair took a step toward to him.
The assassin retreated back, readied his gun and took careful aim. Before he could pull the trigger Sandburg lunged, knocking the revolver from his hands. And Cantor screamed, a full-throated terrified sound.
"Blair!" Jim cried, unsure who he truly was seeing, what was occurring. White hands clutched Cantor's jacket, and he twisted his head toward Jim, peering back over his shoulder like an owl. His eyes flashed orange, red-tinged gold and whirling in the dimly lit street.
Jim had to force himself not to step back, meeting that savage look, not his friend, nothing of his Guide in the figure before him. "Blair—" he began.
His partner growled, a low rumble that shook Jim's very core. Pale lips drawn back from dagger-sharp fangs, pink tongue flickering between that vicious whiteness.
Nothing human in him.
Cantor shrieked again, "Save me, get him off of me, help me!" and struggled against the stone-cold grip of his assailant. Battered his head, and slowly Blair turned back to him. Under that yellow glare Cantor shrank into himself, mumbling incoherently, his hands raised in defense or supplication.
And the vampire struck, his head lashing forward to sink fangs into the neck of the man. Immediately the body went limp in the powerful grasp, hung paralyzed as the creature drank his fill, back arching slightly as he pulled the life from the human.
Jim only stared, lost in the vision, the wild ferocity unfitted to the city street and dirty cement walls. "Blair..." his lips hardly formed the word, finding nothing recognizable in the monster. He heard the man's heart beating softer and slower until it faded away. A man killer by nature must be killed, the predator of man must be hunted by man, and he was the hunter, the guardian of mankind. Everything he had denied rushed at him; with despair he understood the truth of what he had been told all along, and had not been able to accept—
Then it was over, the corpse falling from numb hands, and Blair stood before him. His blue eyes were wide, their unseeing gaze directed at the body sprawled awkwardly on the pavement; his mouth open and stained scarlet, panting in little breaths like whimpers or sobs.
The moment stretched into infinity; then Blair raised his eyes to look at Jim. No plea in them, no request for understanding or acceptance, and no excuses; only a comprehension of all he had done, and an embrace of the agony he had sowed. Through his jacket, embedded in his flesh and surrounded by patches of red, were the two bullets intended for his partner.
Slowly Jim raised his gun, cocked it and fired twice. The bullets thudded distantly as they impacted Cantor's corpse, dug into his chest, both straight into his heart. A little ways away he listened to the approaching footsteps, police running to the shots they had heard a couple minutes prior, before the world had ended.
He looked to Blair, but his partner could not see him, methodically shaking his head as if only now trying to renounce what he had done. His hair fell from his eyes as he rocked his head back, gazed at the sky. Then he shot upward, forsaking gravity to dive into the stars, an arrowhead figure silhouetted across them before entirely vanishing into the night.
"All right," Simon muttered, more to himself than to the officers around him, "what the hell is going on?"
Ellison was standing by one of the cruisers, outlined by the blue strobes flashing behind him. His arms were crossed and his head angled down as he stared fixedly at the ground.
In the cruiser behind him Douglas Cantor was in custody, woozily resting against the back seat door. He had a concussion. They probably should be taking him to a hospital but it didn't look that serious and no one was too interested in leniency at the moment. Good ol' boy Doug was a hired killer with a record a mile long. He wouldn't be seeing the light of day for a long time as it was.
His cousin Gil would never walk in it again. Gil Cantor was going to be more permanently buried.
Simon wasn't shedding any tears over that. If anything the senior Cantor had been worse than his cousin. And the death had been the work of one of his top men. Jim didn't make mistakes; not like that—it had been a justified shoot. Cantor's weapon had been found a few feet from his outstretched fingers; they'd find gunpowder residue on his hands, almost certainly. He had been threatening, maybe even gotten a couple shots off—several officers reported hearing two sets of gunfire, though none of his bullets had been found yet—before he had been rightly taken down.
So why was Jim looking like he had just executed his best friend?
"Jim?" He approached with some caution. The detective blinked, sharp eyes focusing on his captain. Taking that as a good sign, "Jim, I need your gun." Trying to keep from sounding gruff, "There's going to be an investigation of course, but there shouldn't be any problems. You're not going to go down for this, but you have to cooperate now."
With a nod Ellison took his weapon from his holster and wordlessly handed it over. "Thanks. Take the rest of the night off—go home. Get some sleep, you look exhausted." Maybe talk to Blair? Simon wondered if he should risk suggesting it. Dammit, he needed the kid here now, with his psych degree and natural empathy. Killing a man, even a son of a bitch like Cantor, was no easy matter to bear. Simon was Jim's friend, yes, but he knew damn well he wasn't cut out for counseling. Not like Sandburg. All the same—"Jim, what happened? Want to talk about it?"
He'd need to sooner or later as it was. Right now he was their only witness; Doug Cantor had already confirmed that he hadn't seen anything, or didn't remember if he had. Pretty bad bump he had taken. Was Jim responsible, or had he managed to accidentally knock himself out? A shame all criminals weren't so clumsy...
The detective wasn't offering anything. "Jim, we'll need to find out eventually. You did shoot him, right?"
Did he imagine the momentary hesitation? At least he finally got a verbal response—"Yes. Twice. He would have killed me."
"Good. That's what they need to hear." Simon breathed a sigh of relief. That's what I needed to hear. "Was anyone else there, besides you and the two Cantors?"
Jim frowned. Unmistakable, the twitch of the muscle as his jaw tightened, clamping down on whatever he might have been about to say.
"This could be important," prompted Simon. "Three different officers saw a woman in black running from your general direction. Did you see anyone like that?" His pitch raised slightly as he asked it, that anxious tone he couldn't help but affect whenever he probed Jim's senses. If anyone could have gotten a good look at that mysterious lady who breezed past all the police combing the area, it would be Ellison.
But the Sentinel only shook his head, barely an answer to the question. Something abruptly clicked in his expression, as if he were shaking out of a trance—or a zone?—and he straightened up, murmured, "Did anyone see Blair?"
"Blair?" What the hell—"Nobody's seen him that I've heard—Jim, why? Was he here? Did he see this?"
No reply. Nothing new there. "Jim!" Simon demanded. "Where's Blair? Is he around now?"
"I don't know, Simon, dammit, I don't know!" Simon barely recognized his expression—god, was it anger? Or fear?
"What's happened to him, Jim?" Not quite succeeding at keeping his voice level.
"What time is it?" The words crackled out, commanding.
"I don't know—almost ten," Simon answered automatically, glancing at his watch. "Why? What does that—"
"Five," Jim was muttering, "Sunup's around five...I have to find him—" He took off toward his truck.
"Jim!" the captain called after him. "Where are you going? Where's Sandburg?"
"I don't know!" Jim shouted back angrily over the roar of the engine starting. The tires screeched against the pavement as he pulled away, speeding down the street pursuing his unstated concern.
But apparently he was going to find out. Simon wished that he had some assurance that he'd be let in on the discovery. If only Jim could trust him enough to let him know what was going on with the kid...if only he could be certain that Jim did in fact know...
Sighing, he suppressed his unanswered questions and turned back to his duty. Pausing long enough to mutter one more time, "Okay, Jim, what the hell is going on?"
He couldn't believe it hadn't hit him sooner. That blank horror in Blair's eyes, and then he fled... In seven hours the sun would rise, and the Sentinel knew with an unfathomable, unreachable instinct deep in his heart that if he didn't find his partner before then he would never see him again.
He scanned the streets, peering down alleys as he drove, as if he expected to see Blair in one. No, of course he wouldn't stay in sight. But where? Not the station, certainly. Not the loft; he'd know Jim would too easily find him there. Probably not even his office at the university; once his haven, now only another reminder of a life he had lost.
Why had this happened? Of all the people it could have occurred to, all of the many terrible events that could take a person, why this? Why Blair, the young one, the gentle one, all his intelligence and compassion now cloaked under a shadow so dark that even his light was lost in it.
For him to have killed...it was the single dominating element of his new self, and the one he had fought against with every piece remaining of his shattered heart and soul. 'You're not a killer,' how many times had Jim assured him? How many different ways had he affirmed his belief in his partner, and seen Blair's trust spark dimly in his bleak gaze. Only to have everything proved so violently wrong.
You're not a killer. He had seen otherwise with his own eyes and yet he still believed in what he said. The creature that had murdered the man Cantor—it was and yet it wasn't his friend, his partner, his Guide. In body yes, in mind perhaps, but something had pushed aside his bright spirit. The monster inside, the vampire—in power briefly to commit that heinous crime, and then once more shoved back. Amazing really that Blair had managed to so tightly rein it in at all.
But could he control it again, now that it had fed?
And if he couldn't, would he willingly allow it to survive, when it was in his power to destroy it?
Dammit, where was he going, this aimless wandering wasn't helping. He should stop, think this through, deduce...
'Don't fight it', his Guide had told him, and he felt it now, like a string pulling him, like a knife blade sliding along his throat, slick and sharp and deadly. In one instant the sensation drew him in; the next it repulsed him, but he kept with it, followed it to its source. Parked the truck by the warehouse, not so far from the shipping yards after all. In the distance he could still hear a single siren wailing.
Movement caught in the corner of his eye, a murmur at the edge of his hearing. Slowly he turned, the feeling of the presence cool against his skin.
Not Blair. The woman.
Her eyes widened slightly, as if she perhaps had been expecting someone else, and she crouched. To spring away, along the ground or into the sky, running from him. "Wait!" he called.
She stopped. Met his gaze, and he shivered involuntarily. How pale blue her eyes, diamond chips in her china face. "Wait," he repeated. "You helped me before, I need your help now. Please."
She inclined her head to one side. Then spoke, her voice soft and not as harsh as her appearance, words rolled about a foreign accent, "I was helping your cause, your duty, because it was my own. It involved one of my own. But why should I help you with a personal matter?"
"Because it involves 'your own' too. If by that you mean your relations or your people."
A furrow in the smooth brow. "How do you mean?"
"My partner." He wasted no time dragging the words out, knowing he had to convince her, and quickly, before she chose to flee. Or give in to her other nature. He didn't stop to consider what danger he might be courting. "You saw him before, he's one of your kind, one of you. I need to find him—"
"To kill him?" Lightly and without feeling, almost as if she were curious. That was what shone so hard in those eyes. Comprehension. She saw what he was; it didn't frighten or anger her, but she understood all the same.
"No," he denied his nature, his self, and told the truth. "No, to save him. He's my friend, my partner like I said. I know what he is, I've known for months, since he became one of you. He was my friend before and that didn't change." That couldn't change. "But—"
Somehow he had caught her attention with his broken words. "What must be saved?" There were the beginnings of curiosity in her tone.
"He does—I can't explain everything, not now. But he's not really one of you, he can't take it, it's too different from what he used to be. And—" Could she understand, would she, this cold sleek huntress? "He killed someone, only a few hours ago, he never killed a man before, either when he was human or now. It wasn't his fault, and the man would have killed me, or him if it was possible, but Blair stopped him, and then he lost control."
He didn't expect the understanding that flared in her eyes, nor her slow nod. "Yes. But now you would find him..."
"He can't live like this!" Jim shouted, not sure if he was addressing her or some greater power. Once begun he couldn't stop, "It's killing him a second time, only nothing at all will come back from this death, if he's still gone by sunrise—" If he couldn't find him...he had to, there was no other way.
A Sentinel's duty to protect his Guide, but it wasn't the Sentinel now who was desperate, who was pleading for the help of this strange woman demon. The Sentinel should be able to track his Guide, but that bond had been ripped apart, and he had nothing now, his senses useless in finding a dark and silent one-time man. All that was left was the thinnest cord of friendship, frayed and tearing, and with dawn's light it would finally be cut.
"Please," he begged. "If you can find him, please..."
She didn't take a step and yet suddenly she was in front of him, gemstone eyes glittering. "You said my relations; what did you mean by that?"
"He is LaCroix's child," Jim explained quietly, and didn't need to go on. She drew back, eyes widening, acknowledgment of the kinship in her look. "Help me find him. "
"LaCroix's, made only a few months past..." the woman murmured. Jim nodded, confirmed it, and suddenly she swept forward. Her cold hard arms had wrapped around him, neither gentle nor harmful, and her eyes were mere inches from his. Not blue ice; now they were fire, yellow through the darkness.
He couldn't struggle, that was how strong that grip was, but he tried to moved against her. "Don't," she whispered, a freezing breath in his ear. "If we must reach him so quickly, don't waste time fighting."
And they were rising, the ground no longer solid against his feet, moving surely into the realm of air, abandoning the earth entirely. His head whirled, and instinctively he tightened his own hold on her, trying to find equilibrium in this unbalanced, weightless world.
Together they rushed through the sky, cool wind cutting across his face, a medley of lights and shadows flashing before his eyes. They were moving too quickly for anything to be clear, but he vaguely recognized the corners of buildings, red and white headlights on streets far beneath them.
Could Blair truly do this, so unnatural an act, so inhuman? He had to admit to a certain exhilaration, the delight any man takes in spiting the common way of the world. All the same it was painful in a manner he couldn't define. Frightening, to be separated from everything below, outdistancing sound, too swift for vision to be more than a blur. He could sense nothing truly of his city except its general solid presence; of its people he felt no sign. It might have been abandoned for all he could tell, and that was wrong, for he to be divided so completely from those he served. No way for they to reach him, or he them.
Then it was over, her hands setting him impersonally on the floor—he knew this place. Too well he recognized the crumbling walls, the boarded windows.
He should have thought of it, and yet it hadn't occurred to him that of all Cascade Blair would choose to return here, where the nightmare began, the vampire's lair. LaCroix's old refuge. It was on this dusty, junk-strewn floor that Blair had last stood as a mortal man, here that the final drops of his human blood were spilt. The last place Jim had ever wanted to see again, and he would have thought his partner's feelings would be even stronger.
And yet here he was, standing straight with his arms crossed, the streetlights outside casting a shadow behind him. His back was to them, the dark curls falling over his collar reddish in the dim glow. He made no move as his partner approached, though Jim knew his steps were audible, echoing over the splintered floor. "Blair?"
"Jim, please, go." Fixed on the window in front of him his eyes were slate gray, expressionless, and his voice held hardly more feeling.
"'Fraid not, Chief," and he was surprised his own tone didn't break. "Not until you're ready to come with me."
"Don't." Unfamiliar, building anger in the word.
"Don't what?" He honestly didn't understand.
"Don't stay, don't insist on this, don't call me that!" Blair lashed out, though he never looked away from the cracked glass. "Why can't you understand? It's over, everything I was is over. This is the last thing I can do, don't you see? If I keep trying to hang on, going along with you and pretending that nothing's really changed—it's all falling through my fingers, and I've lost almost everything, when I lose what's left it will be too late for this. Let me end it now, when I still can, and no one else has to die—" his voice began to rise and ruthlessly he forced it down, "no one, not if you let me go through with this."
"No one will die, unless I let you do this!"
"Jim." Suddenly his tone was soft, reasonable. His deeper voice that he drifted into naturally as a professor or as a Guide, explanations clear and simply defined. "You were there, you saw it, you heard his heart stop. What I did..." The eyes closed, white shutters over the gray pools. "I killed him, I couldn't help it, my choice and he's dead and he won't be the last. If I could tell you how it felt..."
There were a thousand things he could have said. That he knew what it was like, that terror and rage and shock that thrilled through you when you first saw a man die and it was by your hand, of your volition. And the blank grimness afterwards, when the last light in his eyes faded and you're left with only his body cooling, an empty body that did nothing to you, that meant nothing to you, except that you put out its soul. He could have spoken more generally, about soldiers facing it for the first time, the sickness, how there is no cure but time and even that is not complete, but even after taking a life one's own life out of necessity continues.
He could have said what he felt, that Cantor had been a bastard and a murderer in his own right, that had he killed him himself he wouldn't have grieved long. He even could have pointed out the obvious, that Blair had acted to save their lives, save his life.
Instead he said what came easiest, the easiest to explain, to accept, and true besides: "It wasn't you."
"That's what you want to believe," Blair whispered. "That's the biggest game of all, you've been convincing yourself of it all along. That it's not me, it's something inside of me, like a demon possession and you're just waiting for the exorcist to come. I'll tell you this, I'll tell you this now, Jim. I wanted him. I wanted his blood, I wanted his life. I'm so cold, all the time, and it warmed me like nothing else can."
At last he turned, faced the Sentinel. In the shifting light Jim registered the changes in his face. Full now, not gaunt, cheeks rounded as they once had been and the marble skin giving over to a soft pink luminescence. Almost he could pass for living, if his eyes weren't so dead. If his heart still beat. But otherwise human...
"I wanted this," came the quiet hiss of his words, "I wanted to be like this, to feel like this, it's the closest I've come to living again, to being again. I wanted it so badly, and now that I know how much I can have, do you think I wouldn't want it again, I wouldn't want more? This isn't the monster, Jim, this is me, my wishes, my will, and it doesn't mean I'm under control or losing control, what I'm losing is what I was. It's not covered up, it's extinguished.
"And that's why, before I'm gone, I'll douse everything, I have to end what's left. Or else you'll have to, in a month, in a year, will you be able to do it then? Protect the city and kill the killer, will you be able to do it, drive the stake into me?"
Jim shook his head, wordless denial, and Blair gasped, "Then leave me alone now, so you won't have to, so I won't force you to. Just say good-bye and go!" The last a wail, as if he could feel himself losing his own argument.
"I can't," Jim insisted quietly. "You know that better than me. I'm a Sentinel. And you're my Guide. No matter what you say you're becoming, I still need you."
"Damn you." Very low, and danger in the quiet. "Oh damn you, Jim. That's always what you turn to, when there's nothing else, twisting whatever the fuck I told you and turning it back onto me. 'Every Sentinel had a partner, someone to watch his back'," a sick mimicry of his naive excitement years before, "and you take it now and make it a hold on me, as if it's my duty, something I was born to as you were born to your senses. My responsibility, as if you needed me, as if you do still need me. Why, Jim, why call on that, when you know I'm right to do this, why use that to stop me?"
Because it was the only thing left, the only card he knew could not be ignored, the only plea that Blair could not turn away from. The only way to preserve something so much greater than that need, something far more important than Guides and Sentinels and all the distant grad-student crap. Because it would work when nothing else would, pull him back from this edge, and on a saner gentler night he could tell him what he wanted to say, somehow begin to describe how much more he was than a simple requirement, a Sentinel's partner. "Because it's true."
Was it Blair who wouldn't meet his gaze, or was it he who had to turn away, afraid of what he might see in those inhuman eyes?
In the silence he glimpsed her coming forward. He had all but forgotten the woman, too focused on what he had to say and do, almost assuming that since she had helped as he had asked she would find no reason to stay. But she had, and now she glided toward them quietly, her heels hardly stirring the dust on the floor. Without another choice he stepped back and allowed her to face what he could not.
Blair of course had seen her, standing quietly to the side observing them. He didn't care; she didn't matter, she had no role in this charade. It was Jim he had to convince, and he knew before he began that he would fail. Deep inside he wondered if that was because he wanted to lose; because he wanted to find reason to still go on, continue with this artificial being. However wrong it was.
She wasn't a part of that, but now she made herself one of the players, interceding when neither of them had anything to say. He watched her with all the coldness he now was capable of as she took the position before him. Matched his look with an unknowable expression in her pale eyes.
This close, with such an opportunity to examine her, she was as much an enigma as ever. He remembered her, reminiscences not his own and yet he knew them so well. Knew her so well, as intimately as a lover knows his beloved, every facet of her being, her life, her death and history after flickering in the back of his mind. And yet he didn't have so much as her name.
And when he stared into her diamond eyes he saw nothing, as opaque as his own were in a mirror. He felt nothing from her except a vague kinship, the knowledge that she was the same as him, even without listening for her still heart or peering at the gold that lurked in the shadow of her irises.
For slightly less than infinity she stared into him, as if she could view his spirit while keeping her own hidden. With one slender hand she reached to his face, the fingertips brushing lightly against his cheek as if to touch his very self.
"Mon Dieu," she breathed. "Ah mon frère, he should never have made you."
For everything he had been expecting, he was not prepared for the pity in her whisper. There was nothing he could say, no response he could make. Instead he stood unmoving while she withdrew her hand. "So young, so new, and yet so ancient...tu es un ange, un ange mais maintenant, you are trapped." As if she could not look from him her eyes did not move when she gestured toward Jim. "You are partnered with him, you know him, understand him, do you not? He is le gardien, but you are part of him still..."
"He's my Guide," Jim said huskily, "LaCroix couldn't change that."
"Did he know?" Anger perhaps in her voice as she addressed Blair. Or sorrow. "Did he realize, when he made you his child? It is wrong, to take across one already bound to another existence..." Her eyes flickered over him, returned to meet his. "C'est un grand mal."
Almost harder to bear her compassion, worse than the cold dismissal she had subjected him to before. It deepened her mystery, and he found himself beginning to loathe this dark unnatural woman, this secret being, who lived as he did and yet survived it, not overwhelmed and at the same time not so frozen that she couldn't feel. "Who are you?" he demanded.
And without hesitating she answered him. "Janette du Charme. Ten centuries ago I was brought into darkness by Lucien LaCroix."
He shook his head. "No, you can't have been. I'd know. I'd feel it..." Though his memories told him other than the signals in his heart.
"I am no longer his child," she whispered.
Then he understood. As if the final piece had been placed, everything foggy and uncertain in his mind resolved into blinding clarity, "The one in a billion, the single chance—" He stared at her; all made sense, and then nothing did. "But you aren't now, you were, you crossed back over into the sun but you're living at night now..."
"Yes," and she denied none of it.
"She's the one?" Jim belatedly understood. "The one who became human?" In two swift steps he was looming over her, not quite daring to touch her marble skin. "How did you do it, how did it happen? Before you were a—"
"I was a vampire for a thousand years," Janette confirmed, "and a human for thirty, twenty-nine in the eleventh century—and one year in this decade, not so long ago."
Blair saw something growing in his partner's expression that he thought had been crushed, something he himself had lost months past. Hope. "It is possible. How?" Jim pressed.
He saw it in her look, almost regret. She didn't know, or if she did it was truly unique, impossible to repeat. Else why would she be in darkness now?
To divert her from unanswerable questions, to keep that slimmest hope in the Sentinel's look, he asked instead, "Why did you come back across, why are you one again? Who brought you over the second time?"
She closed her eyes, and with their strange light barred she seemed far less powerful, weaker, almost fragile. "I am Nichola's daughter."
He knew that name. Whispered, "Nicholas. Nicholas Knight, LaCroix's son, your brother..."
"Hold on," Jim interrupted, "I thought Knight was a straight shooter, I thought he didn't—"
But she was nodding, eyes shut as if to hide her from her own words, "His name was Nicholas de Brabant, long before he was your Detective Knight, Nicholas de Brabant, a knight of the Crusades...my brother, my father," my lover, though she didn't say it aloud, and didn't need to, not when the truth was clear on her beautiful face.
"And he brought you back across," Blair murmured.
"Yes, though I begged him not to. I was dying, and he refused to let me go, and I thought I should hate him for it. I thought I did..."
Until she felt him die, and realized the breadth of her loss. If she could cry, she would be now, but after so long she had lost or forgotten that human form of expression.
With their positions exchanged, Blair found in himself sympathy for her, the old urge to comfort though he had no solace to give. He almost wished he dared touch her; he would have enfolded her in his arms if she were a mortal woman. If he were a mortal man.
Instead he waited for the moment to pass, for her gleaming eyes to slide open, no tears on their dry surface. He saw Jim's mouth move and spoke quickly to forestall his query, "Why are you in Cascade? What brought you here? You're not with those men, the killers." Not a question, a statement, but he couldn't help feeling doubt gazing at her cool countenance.
However she supported what he said. "No, I'm not with them. I'm pursuing them, or rather I am seeking the one they work with. You've sensed him," and her gaze shifted to include both of them. "A vampire, using his demands as an excuse to kill wantonly. I have tracked him here, and last night he only barely managed to escape me. I will bring him down yet."
"Why?" Jim demanded, eyes narrowed, all suspicious cop. "Why do you care?"
"Because he is one of our kind!" she snapped. "He risks exposing us, and he kills without need, only lust. Do not think because we prey on you that we think nothing of you. We all were human once, and now you mean more to us than anyone did in life—you nourish us in more than flesh and blood, you dominate our feelings, our love. Without you we are dust." She laid her fingers on Blair's shoulder. "And you both know this, you understand, mon cher, more than any other I have ever met."
Bitterly he shrugged off her touch. "It's not like that, it's nothing like that."
"Non," she contradicted, "tu comprends, it is everything 'like that', and that is what you fear and hate the most." Very slightly she shook her head. "Little wonder what LaCroix saw—you are so little like him and yet at the same time I can hear Nicholah speaking through you."
"I'm not Nicholas."
"No," she agreed. "You are the partner of the guardien," giving the word her French pronunciation. "And you serve alongside him still. If you would truly protect the people of this city, you will help me hunt this vampire, this hired killer."
"Why?" he had to ask. "Can't you find him yourself?"
But she shook her head. "Non. You I found because we share blood—if you were older, more experienced, you would feel the ties between us. But he is not a 'relation'; when I am close I sense his presence, but much distance can be kept in a city of this size. Mais vous..." Her gaze flicked from Jim to Blair and returned to rest on the Sentinel.
"I can find him," Jim agreed gruffly.
"If we help you with this," he asked her, ignoring Blair, "will you help us? Show us how to make him human again?"
That same terrible pity in her eyes, her voice. "I will try," she vowed softly. "Everything I can do I will, but I tell you now, I do not know that it can be done. I have never heard of its like occurring before, and I have not managed it myself a second time."
Sharply Jim nodded, extended his hand without waiting for Blair's own acknowledgment. After a momentary hesitation she reached out and shook it, sealing the bargain. The Sentinel couldn't quite prevent his flinch when her cold flesh contacted his own, but she made no comment, her face expressionless.
"So," Jim said, snatching his hand back only a little too swiftly. "Where do we start?"
"I will tell you what I know, if you agree to give your own resources." Blair nearly smiled at that, the quick reply and the subtle reminder that agreements aside, anything she had to offer would be assisting their own duties as well. She was smart, this black-haired kinswoman. Janette, his relation by unholy birth.
Message received, Jim capitulated, explaining first about the organ procurers and then the involvement of the Cantors. His eyes were constantly in motion, glancing from his partner to the woman to the window, city lights glittering beyond the cracked glass. Blair did not focus on his words, listening instead to his pulse thudding rapidly in his chest, accelerated by adrenaline and a natural fear-response to the creatures before him. Familiarity couldn't dispel that. The effort of will it took for him even to stand before them must be tremendous; he felt a moment of compassion for the Sentinel, and even greater a sense of gratitude that he had no way to repay or even express.
It occurred to Blair that as clear as the sound of the heart was, as easily as he could feel the warmth that always radiated from the living man, he felt no real longing for it, the awful craving diminished to only a faint murmur, simple to ignore. The cold that ran through him was numbing, not biting, and he could almost appreciate the bright clarity with which he viewed the world, the feeling of power in his body, the swiftness of his thought and motion—
Just as abruptly he recalled where his strength originated and jerked back, forced his hand down before he covered his mouth in ineffective denial. To his surprise he caught a flash of blue, Jim staring at him, attentive to his every motion. Bleak understanding in his eyes, but no rejection, no hatred. Even after all he had said, that was the greatest shock of all.
Janette was speaking now; if she noticed their silent exchange she did not interfere. She had little more to tell them, save that the vampire was a new member of the criminal ring—she didn't know his name or his age; had never even set eyes on him, but she had been tracking him for only the past month since he had embarked on this murderous career.
"I can feel him in the city," she clarified. "But only in that I know there is another of us beyond you and I. You," and her unblinking gaze returned to the Sentinel, "you have a sense truer than ours. Can you find him?" Frowning slightly she looked to Blair, reminded, "He could not find you."
"He's untrained," Blair explained. "I can help him. He feels it but he needs me to guide what he feels, to understand it." He still does need me. Whether I'm truly a Guide or not.
She nodded. "Je comprends. I have never met one of you before, but there are legends—you are a formidable enemy. LaCroix..." she hesitated momentarily. "LaCroix told us of encounters centuries before he knew Nicholas or I. He said as well that the partners of the guardians were their weakness—and more their strength. This is true of you as well." Turning to Blair, "Show him, then. Give him the skills of those ancient ones."
He couldn't promise that, not in the best of circumstances, but he could try as he always did and hope for the best. Drawing a deep, pointless breath he stepped up to Jim. The Sentinel watched him closely, mouthed words so quiet Janette might not have heard, "We'll show her, Chief."
He could have grinned, the declaration of trust more convincing than a thousand oaths. Instead he fell to the task at hand, "Close your eyes. Monitor your breathing, slowly, in and out..." This should sound natural, every word flowing from him, painting a path the Sentinel could easily follow. He never remembered concentrating so hard on what he said, how he said it.
He had to think it through now; he had no choice. Carefully, "I want you to picture—no, I want you to listen. You can hear heartbeats, all the people around us, their pulses. But you can hear something else, too, you can hear the void. There's three, three silences. They echo in your ears, like bells. Resonating like a bell rings. Two right in front of you. Can you hear the silence, Jim?" Can you possibly find meaning in this nonsense?
"Yes." Straightforward, determined.
He held his breath, no difficult feat. "Can you hear the third one? The third silence?"
A long pause, and he lowered his head, rubbed his eyes. Face it, it's gone, to a place you can't reach—"Yes," Jim replied.
A struggle not to cry out. Keeping his voice level, "Good, that's good, Jim. You still can hear it?" The Sentinel nodded. "Where is it? Tell us how to find it."
"I—I can't tell." Jim grimaced, his eyes squinting as he concentrated. "Too distant..."
"Jim, find it." Power in his directive; he forced his partner with the command of his intonation. In the corner of his eye he saw Janette's head lift curiously.
But the Sentinel responded. "There," he pointed unerringly, opened his eyes. Specified, "About a mile, different set of docks but the same idea. Don't think he's going anywhere."
"Merci," Janette bowed shallowly to them, and then she was gone, soaring out the window.
"Wait!" Jim called, too late. He turned his glare to his partner, "That wasn't the bargain!"
"We didn't work out the specifics." Though Blair himself was startled by her speed. "I could..."
His jaw clenched, then he nodded. "We don't have a choice. Be careful."
"She'll come back," he assured his partner, not knowing where his certainty originated but trusting it. Implicit in his words too was his own assurance. I'll be back. And Jim stepped back, allowed him to follow.
The air was cool against his skin, not freezing but a soft breeze. He hardly knew he could do this until he had, and then he was all but terrified by the exhilaration. No fear, no dizziness, only the giddy realization of his own power. Lights and shadows streaming past him, he need not heed them, the wind his only contact with the world. Before he hadn't experienced it, too caught up in his own darkness. Now he wondered how he couldn't have felt it. Could a bird pumping its tiny wings possibly know this freedom, this release? Surely only his kind could appreciate it fully, unhindered by physical or moral law.
And there was the temptation, and the horror of it. Focusing instead on the task at hand he searched for Janette. Found her some distance ahead, not visible but to his inner eye. A bond between them, she had said, and now that he understood it he could feel it, a dim beacon but present.
Over a series of low flat buildings now, and she halted, touched the ground and rejoined it. After a moment he fell from the height to land lightly beside her. Strange, the cement under his feet.
She didn't seem angry he had pursued, only raised her hand before her mouth to indicate silence. They both cocked their heads, listened. People surrounding them, none near. The faintest touch of the third presence, but as she had said, he couldn't locate it, only feel its vibration.
Janette's eyes narrowed suddenly. "Do you—" she began, and then he heard the sirens, saw the blue flicker. She stepped back and automatically he followed, retreated into shadows.
A circle of light pierced the darkness before they could move, a white circle surrounding Janette's black silhouette. Her eyes yellowed and she began to snarl, caught herself and stood in place as a voice echoed around them, "Don't move! Cascade PD! Stay where you are!"
A second flashlight beam swung close and he pressed back, wondering what they would think if they found him, what they would do. He thought he recognized the officer shouting. If he stayed he might convince them to free her—she could escape, but if she did she risked revealing herself to all the observers surrounding them; he could distinguish at least five separate heartbeats. Odd were at least one would resist her suggestions.
They might believe him. But then again they might not—and would they even know who he was, Jim's former partner, now so much changed? He deliberated in the shadows, watching them approach. Janette's gaze caught his; she angled her head sharply, righted it again. The communication was clear: Escape while you can. I can manage this.
He wasn't sure he believed that but since there were no other options he obeyed, rising before they reached him and rushing unseen through the night air, back to Jim, to report what had happened and choose their next action.
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.
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!
Love to know what you think!
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