BLAIR, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

By

Dayspring

Iím in way over my head and I donít know how I got this way. It was an easy task: dust the vampires. Iíve been doing if for years because thatís what I do, thatís what I am. Blair, the Vampire Slayer. Into every generation a handful of us are born to lead the battle against evil. Yeah, yeah, Iíve heard internet rumors, about vampire slayers being only girls and thereís only one per generation, yadda, yadda. Folklore ainít got nothing on urban legend--it spreads faster and lingers longer.

Anyway, I was just doing my usual Friday night patrol of the cemetery and stumbled upon this conclave of vampires. There were only ten of them, so I figured I didnít need to call for backup. Boy, was I wrong. For the most part, vampires are solitary creatures. Sure, they sometimes form "families" if they have a demanding sire or something, but when it comes down to fighting, they are in it for themselves. But it wasnít like that with these guys. They teamed up on me! And although I got five of them staked and dusted, the other five now have me.

I strain as I try to get free, but they have me pinned against the ground and one of them is bending toward my bared neck. Fear is a great motivator and with an adrenaline-boosted burst of strength, I fling off one of the ghouls holding my arms. Unfortunately, another one is bright enough to immediately take his place. This is it. After this I wonít be Blair, the Vampire Slayer. Iíll be Blair, the Scooby snack.

The vampire leaning over me grins, his fangs gleaming in the moonlight. "Scared, Slayer?"

I nod. "Yeah, just how long did it take for your breath to get this bad? Donít you guys have a dental plan or something?"

He growls and--wait a minute. That growl isnít coming from the vamp. In a blink of an eye, heís pulled off me. Just the break I need. I flip to my feet and due to the rush of my last second reprieve, I kick major vampire ass. Kick, turn, dust. Punch, kick, dust. You get the picture. With my trusty stake in hand, I spin around looking for more enemies. What I see is a guy in a long leather duster, dusting the last vampire.

I go over to him to offer my thanks. He turns and suddenly I stop. My God. Can you say G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S? He stuffs a stake into his pocket. Gorgeous and useful. Be still my heart. "Thanks for the rescue," I say, sheathing my own stake.

"You would have eventually taken them," he replies modestly.

"Yeah, right," I scoff. "Iím Blair Sandburg, by the way."

And because itís what we do in polite conversation, he gives me his name. "Jim."

Jim. I like that. Simple, but strong. Jim. But that really doesnít tell me a hell of a lot and I know that my Watcher and boss, Simon Banks, wonít be happy unless I get all the facts. "Got a last name to go with that?"

"Yes."

I wait--and nothing. Oookay. "You like taking moonlight strolls in the cemetery, Jim?"

A shrug.

Of course Iíd fall for the strong, silent type. "Itís dangerous to be out in Cascade after sun down," I warn.

He pulls the stake out of his pocket as an answer.

Right. He knows itís dangerous. Definitely a "duh" moment, Blair. "New in town?"

"In this town, yes. In similar towns, no."

Oh, I get it. There are quite a number of cities located on hellmouths. More than those damn internet rumors say there are. I love technology, but it can complicate things on a much quicker scale. "You a Hunter?" I knew he wasnít a Slayer. We can sorta feel each other.

He gives another shrug, but thereís something sad in it. Then he raises his eyes and the moonlight catches them. I gasp. His eyes are the color of the sky. "Iím just me, Blair. Good night."

Good night? Before I can open my mouth, heís gone, melding into the night like he was a part of it. With a shake of my head, I call it a night and make my way back to headquarters.

Joel, my favorite witch, looks up when I step into the bullpen, then goes back to whatever heís doing on the computer. My Watcher reacts similarly, but there must be something he sees on my face because he doesnít go back to whatever it is heís doing.

"How was your patrol tonight, Blair?" Simon asks, a hint of concern in his voice.

"Ran into ten vamps plotting in the cemetery. They ganged up on me."

Simon steps out of his private office. "What do you mean by Ďganged upí? Are you all right?"

"Iím fine, Simon, thanks to a passer-by. And I mean, they were willing to let one bite me while the others held me down."

"Thatís odd. Vampires donít normally pass up a good meal for the sake of others."

"Yeah, it weirded me out, too."

"And this passer-by, what, distracted them?"

I laugh. "Distracted them with a stake. He dusted at least two of them."

That brings a frown to Simonís dark forehead. But before he can comment, the elevator opens and deposits two other members of the team.

"Iím never wearing my leather loafers to work again," one of them laments. "Look at the scuff marks!"

"Itíll be okay, babe," his partner soothes. "A little polish and a lot of elbow grease--"

"Your elbow grease," Rafe whines.

"My elbow grease," Henri Brown corrects with an easy shrug, "And theyíll look as good as new."

"Youíre so good to me," Rafe says, giving Henri a peck on the cheek.

"Thatís Ďcause I love you, babe." He grins when I make a gagging sound. "Your day will come, Blair."

"Maybe it already has," I murmur. Everyone looks at me. "I had help with the slayage tonight. His name is Jim, and heís new to the area, but not new to hellmouths."

"So thatís the extra bounce in your step tonight," Joel muses.

I go over and plop down beside him. Joelís my best friend. "Oh, Joel, you should have seen those eyes. It was dark, but they caught the moonlight and reflected it back like a clear, mountain lake. And that body. You know Iíve always loved how a man looks in a long coat--"

Simon clears his throat. "Blair, you must be careful. Hunters can be very difficult. Theyíre either getting off on the violence, or itís just plain vengeance."

"Or maybe heís like us, Captain, just trying to make the world a better place." Henri and Rafe start humming Amazing Grace and place their hands over their hearts. I throw a ball of crumpled paper at them.

"Just watch yourself. Remember Sam?"

Samís a female. Sam tried to blow me up because I thought a night of mind-blowing sex was better than a cheap birthday gift. I was wrong. Before I can reassure Simon, Megan comes in and tosses a magazine at Rafe. GQ, of course.

"The mail room says to remind you that you do have a home address," she says as she sashays over to her desk. A hellmouth just opened in Australia, so her people sent her here to learn how we "Yanks" deal with the vampires and the demons and all the other evils that hellmouths spew out on a regular basis. Sheís brash and bold and intelligent. Down Under will be safe in her capable hands when she returns.

"Tell them Iíll use my home address when they get a life. My God, H, look at this suit. I do love a good Italian cut. Wonít I look fabulous in it?"

"You always look fabulous to me, love."

"Banks, donít you have any control over your people?" a voice scolds from the door.

Simon scowls at the red-faced man and turns to H and Rafe. "Gentlemen, Chief Warren seems to think your little public display of affection is disgusting. Truly you can do better than that."

The two men in question stand and proceed to show us just how better they can be. Joel, Megan, and I hoot and bark as our two friends suck face for a very, very long moment. Curiously, I glance at Warren. If he were wearing a yellow shirt and green pants, heíd be a stoplight.

"I donít know why the mayor put up with this," he yells bitterly.

"Because we perform a service your pansy-assed pretty boys wonít do," Simon says, his voice hard as steel. "You and yours turn a blind eye to all the shit that comes from the hellmouth, acting like you donít know what the fuck two puncture holes in the neck mean. Let me tell you something, sticking your head up your ass is a very good way of getting vamped."

Did I mention I love my boss? Hell, I love my job and all my co-workers. "Iím damn glad to be a vampire slayer," I enthuse loudly, flinging my arms around the person nearest me, Joel.

"You preach it, babe!" H says.

Chief Warren doesnít even wait for the elevator; he takes the stairs.

Score one for the fang-bangers, as weíre "fondly" called by the rest of the police force when they think we arenít listening. Formally, we operate under the name of The Special Crimes Unit, but weíre also known as the Scoobydoos, Banksí Cranks, the Blairweres (as in werewolf), and the aforementioned fang-bangers. Who knew that the regs, the regular cops, could be so creative?

"Wonder what he wanted?" Simon muses as he heads back to his office.

Good question. What had the Chief wanted? The regs usually steer very clear of us. Although we share the same building, our floor should have been number thirteen because we were certainly avoided like a curse, at least by our fellow officers. The public, however, was beginning to like the idea that there was somewhere, someone, to turn to when the bizarre happened. They needed to tell someone that their daughter wasnít a wildchild who hung out with a blood-sucking cult, that she was a good girl who just walked on the wrong street. Or that their son hadnít always liked snacking on his friends and family.

Iíve been slaying since I was thirteen. That was the year Simon tracked down me and my mom and explained my destiny to us. Naomi, Mom, wasnít exactly happy that her son was destined to go around killing things that went bump in the night, but she said sheíd known I was special since she first felt me quicken in her womb. "Yuck," Iíd said (I was thirteen, remember?). Sheíd laughed, smiled, then handed me off to Simon. We moved to Cascade and here we remain.

I sped through middle school, high school, and college at the local university, Rainier. Slaying is a nighttime gig, so my days are free and I bore easily. I got my Bachelorís degree, my Masterís, and was well on my way to a doctorate when I saved the mayorís daughter from a Phagian demon. Phagians lay their eggs in humans. When the younglings mature, they eat their way out. When I returned his daughter to him, carrying only her own ova, the mayor asked me if it was possible for me to go public, to handle specific requests from the citizens of the city and investigate certain "strange" events. I referred him to Simon, and he and Simon created the Special Crimes Unit. Joel was our first team member. Heíd been a computer science professor at Rainier with a reputation for dabbling in sorcery. H just showed up one day. Said he was tired of protecting his boyfriendís pretty neck all on his own. We hired both him and Rafe, whose neck does seem to attract a peculiar number of vampires.

The five of us are the basic core of the SCU. We have a few junior members who do research and legwork during the day, and every so often someone comes to us for training, like Megan. On a daily basis we stand shield between Cascade and Hell. Weíre hated by those sworn to protect humans from human crimes. Weíre considered fools by those who turn a blind eye to the supernatural. And even those who do believe, donít understand our commitment, our devotion to a duty that has us flinging ourselves into demon lairs and vampire nests, armed with stakes, swords, crossbows, and faith in the ability of good to triumph over evil. I think itís the faith they canít comprehend. But thatís okay.

I believe enough for all of us.

*****

"I need a hero, I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night," I sing softly as I patrol the cemetery. Itís dead tonight--no, I mean, really dead. Somethingís going on, and I canít find a damn ghoul to shake it out of. "He's gotta be strong, he's gotta be fast. And he's gotta be fresh from the fight."

No sign of Jim either. I was sorta looking forward to seeing him again--just to see if I was just moonstruck last night. I mean, surely he wasnít as good looking as I remembered, right?

"Sorry, fresh out of heroes. Will I do?"

"Jesus Christ," I shout, stepping back and pulling out a stake at the same time.

"Something I said?" Jim questions, giving me a lopsided grin.

"Donít. Sneak. Up. On. A. Slayer," I warn slowly as I get my breathing under control. Then that smile of his sinks into my soul and hell, Iíll forgive him anything. I was right. He wasnít as handsome as he was last night. He looks even better. "Fancy meeting you here," I say coyly. "Out taking the sights of Cascade once again?"

"Can you feel it?" he asks, falling in beside me as I continue my patrol.

"Feel what?"

"Whatís coming."

Other than that shiver down my back? "I know itís too quiet. What do you know, Jim?"

"Tomorrow night is Razzorís Eve."

Razzor. I frown as I try to place the name. Oh, yeah. Seventeenth century demon who liked to squeeze humans until the goody popped out of them. Sorta like eating a twinkie by squishing it in the middle. "Yeah, so?"

"Razzor can be raised."

Damn. Didnít know that. "How?"

"A ceremony of allied vampires, pledging to do their evil as Razzor, not their nature, commands."

Ah. The reason the vampires were working as a team last night. "Apparently you have better reference books than I do. Wanna study together?"

He shrugs and smiles shyly. "Maybe later. Youíll find them by the docks. Warn your team."

"Would you like to join--" Something flashes in the distance and I look away for just a second. When I turn back, heís gone. "I need a hero. I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night. He's gotta be sure, and it's gotta be soon. And he's gotta be larger than life."

Itíd also be helpful if he hung around a lot longer.

*****

"Razzorís Eve?"

Simon frowns from behind his desk as Joel shoves him out of the way and starts typing on his computer. H is lying on the sofa with his head in Rafeís lap, but I have their full attention. Megan sits on the conference table, dangling her legs.

"And you believe this bloke?" she asks. "Why? Because you want to bugger him?"

"No. Well, yeah, I wouldnít mind getting to know him better, but Iím a slayer, Megs. If I thought solely with my dick, Iíd be dead by now. But I would also be dead if I didnít follow my instincts, and my instincts are telling me that Jim is on the up and up. I can trust him. I know that I can."

"Heís dead on," Joel says, looking up from the computer screen. "Razzorís Eve--a time in which the demon Razzor can be raised from death to plague the world. It requires the oath of life and blood from ten vampires who may or may not survive the ceremony."

I stick out my tongue at Megan. How dare she doubt my Jim. And I know as soon as she meets him, sheís going to be sniffing after him. Back, dingo bitch. You can take my stakes and you can take my plans, but you canít have my Jim. Whoa. Where did that come from? "How do we stop this, Joel?"

"The old-fashioned way."

"Research," we all groan together.

"Iím printing out a list of all the pertinent volumes we need to check. Anybody know where we left the handcart?"

Another round of groans, but everyone gets up and starts moving. Some of us prefer action flicks to dramatic literature, but we know weíre not the director. We just play whatever role weíre given.

*****

It takes the day staff well into the next night to find our answers. The ceremony takes place in shallow water. The ten vampires each must give about a pint of blood from a self-inflicted wound. The blood is collected into a sacred bowl, then poured into the water. We have two chances of stopping Razzorís reanimation. We can either take out the vampires, or spill the blood on land. And we have a whole thirty minutes to do it in. No problem for a slayer and his dedicated team.

We converge at the docks. The vamps are "smarter than the average vamps" and have left a Temanite demon to guard their backs. Temanites have twenty tentacles which are capable of individual thought and are tipped with poison. It takes the team as a collective to turn the Temanite into calamari.

By the time we reach the waterfront, the vampires have started the ceremony. We dive into action, staking the vampires, but we screw up. Somehow the bowl gets tipped into the water and the ocean starts boiling. As we scramble for the shore, I hear myself humming the theme from Jaws. I guess itís official--I am a sick bastard.

I look at Joel. "So, did we find out how to kill Razzor?"

"Razzor is invincible."

"Nuh huh," I say decisively. "If heís invincible, why did they have to raise him from the dead?"

"Killing him will require the ritual sacrifice of ten humans. The seventeenth century monks had no qualms about using that method. For some reason I think we do."

Damn. Joelís right. For all extents and purposes, the thingís invincible. Sure, there are ten people Iíd say Iíd sacrifice, but you know Iím not going to do it.

"Thereís another way."

We all turn at the sound of the voice and there he is. My Jim.

"If all the blood offered as sacrifice is replaced by the blood of a single vampire who openly defies Razzor, the ritual is reverted."

"H, take Rafe and find us a vampire," I order.

"No time," Jim says. "This has to happen before Razzor is fully rebirthed in the Waters of Fire."

I look back at the sea. The water is really steaming now. Flame probably canít be far behind. Fuck. This canít be happening. "Jim, tell--" I stop because Jim is walking toward the boiling water. I run up behind him. "What the--" Unscheduled pause number two. Jim turns and--

And heís all vamped out. Facial ridges, yellow eyes, fangs. Shit. I jump back about two feet. The yellow eyes blink slowly, then he continues his walk into the burning sea. When the water reaches his waistline, he lifts a wrist to his mouth. Even in the darkness, I can see his essence spilling into the sea. Not spilling, but gushing. Must have ripped a good five-six inch gash along the vein. Heís saying something to the water and the churning slows down, and finally stops.

In the still quiet that follows, I watch Jim collapse and sink beneath the surface.

"No!" I head for the water and am pulled up short. I swing around and find Simonís hands on my shoulders.

"Blair, heís a vampire!"

Maybe, but-- "He saved us, Simon."

I jerk out of his hold and continue my mad dash into the water. Itís uncomfortably warm, but I dive in and make random grabs until I feel something solid.

The others reluctantly help me drag him to shore. Heís pale and clammy, which I would think is vampire norm, if I hadnít seen him drain himself dry. I startle everyone by lifting him up in my arms. They have bulk and muscle on me, but Iím the slayer, and with that comes strength.

"You should stake him," H says softly.

"Fuck off. He saved all our fucking asses and that buys him, at the very least, time for an explanation. So if you have some bright idea of trying to stake him while my backís turned, you better add more wattage to your bulb."

"At least take him to the cell we have at the office," Simon says.

I can tell heís pissed, but so am I. Megan opens the door to the black van we use when we travel en masse. Itís kinda awkward getting myself and Jim inside, but hands reach out to help and I look at Joel gratefully. I doubt if he understands any more than the rest of them, but heís willing to go along with me, to trust my instincts even when his own are screaming at him that Jim is a vampire, and that all vampires must die.

Friendship like that canít be bought.

*****

The cell is basically a eight by eight by eight metal cage that Joel has reinforced with magic. It sits in the corner of the bullpen and is mainly ignored. We only use it for interrogations which occur very infrequently. The SCU prefers to slay first and ask questions later. That may seem harsh, but the hellmouth rarely emits things that are capable of a moral discourse. They are evil. They die. And we live to slay another day.

Thatís what the others want to happen now. Jimís on the floor of the cage, Iím sitting just beyond the bars, and the others are at their desks with hands clasped around stakes. One of them tossed a stake in my direction after I first got Jim settled, but I left it where it lay. This man--this vampire--had saved my life not once, but twice. Heíd stepped in when we failed tonight. He had given his blood even though he knew there was a chance heíd be staked before he revived. That was not the behavior of a killer, of a bloodlust beast. There is something more to Jim than just facial ridges and pointy teeth. I plan on finding out what.

A tremble, followed by a soft hiss. Those lovely blue eyes flutter open and immediately key in on me. Jim then scuttles to the back of the cell, never making it to a complete standing position. What the hell?

I look behind me. Simon, H, Rafe, Megan, and even Joel are flanking me, armed with more than just stakes. I flash them a look of disgust, and turn my attention back to Jim.

"Easy, man. Youíre safe. Too much testosterone--even Megs," I say lightly, holding out my hands so that he sees they are empty. That doesnít make me any less dangerous, but he understands the symbolic nature of the gesture.

"Why didnít you just stake me while I was out?" Jim asks warily.

"A lousy way to get answers."

He seems disappointed by my reply. "Iím sorry, Chief, but I donít have any answers. And believe me, Iíve looked."

"Who are you?"

"Jim Ellison. Also known as James, son of Ellis, as well as--"

"James the Defiler," Joel interrupts. "He likes to Ďdineí in holy places, desecrating them with his vile actions."

Jim shrugs. "Violate a few virgins in a cathedral and everyone wants to call you a name. Of course that was way back when virgins still existed. Nowadays you literally have to rob the cradle to find one."

"How dare you!" Simon starts forward and I put out an arm to stop him.

"Why, Jim?"

"Why what, Chief?" he asks as he does a controlled slide back to the floor. He hasnít fully recovered, and probably wonít until he feeds.

"Why did you save me the other night?"

"Because I thought you were cute."

I blush. Thirty years old and I blush. How pathetic. "And why did you warn me about Razzorís Eve?"

"Brownie points. Youíre a slayer. Knew it was going to take finesse to get you in bed."

No blush, just a snort. "So you did all of this just to get in my pants? Why donít I believe you?"

"Maybe you arenít aware of your attractiveness."

Heís a slick one. "Maybe Iím not, but that doesnít mean Iím not aware of the bullshit youíre slinging at the moment. For someone merely wanting sex, you were certainly quick to sacrifice yourself."

"Some people consider suicide auto-erotic."

"And some people just call it suicide. Is that what you were doing, Jim? Committing suicide?" My fingers dig into my palms as I wait for his answer.

He rubs a hand through his short brown hair. "You have to admit it was a hell of a better deal than just waiting for the dawn. A tad more proactive," he adds with a grin.

"You stupid shit! You think this is funny?"

"Funny as hell," he replies angrily. "Either stake me or toss my ass out into the sun. I donít care which. Just get it over with." He raises his hands to his face. "Please."

I move nearer to the cage. "Why, Jim? Why do you want to die?"

"Because it hurts," he murmurs so softly that I barely hear him.

"What hurts?"

"Everything."

The cut on his arm is nearly healed so that canít be it. "I donít understand. Please, help me understand."

"Then youíll kill me?" The hope in his voice breaks my heart.

"I--Iíll think about it. Talk to me."

His eyes dull and lose their focus. "After--After the incident at the cathedral, I had clerics chasing after me with crosses and such, so I decided to leave Scotland and head for America. I rode steerage--sunlight is a rare commodity in the bowels of a ship. I decided to head for California. I heard it was teeming with people, a veritable smorgasbord for the discriminating vampire." His laughter is hollow and I know the bitterness is turned inward.

"A storm blew up just after we rounded the horn. We were no match for the power she held, and the ship went down. How I survived the crash, how I avoided floating to the top of the sea when the sun was shining bright, is a very big mystery. I woke several days later to find myself being carried through the jungle in a poorly made bamboo cage. At least it looked poorly made, but I could not break free. We went deep into the jungle until we reached a village. My cage was placed in the center and I vamped out just to give a scare to the natives who were staring at me. No reaction, except for a childís laughter." He paused and looked at me. "I donít think I have ever been as scared as I was at that moment."

"What happened next?" The story is fascinating and I feel everyone around me lower their guard as they listen to Jimís tale.

"The shaman of the tribe came up to the cage. He put his hands through the bars and placed them on my facial ridges. At his touch, I was able to understand their language, and he said to me, ĎThis is not your true nature. Come forth, Sentinel, and greet the earth as yourself.í"

"Youíre a--" God, I canít even say it. One of those degrees I have is in Anthropology. I know just about everything there is to know about sentinels--which isnít much. I know they have heightened senses, some heightened so much that they are empathic, able to "feel" othersí feelings. There have only been a few known sentinels in the past couple of centuries and none of them were vampires. Itís well-known that vampires have preternatural senses, so what had becoming a sentinel done to Jimís? And how the hell did he not know he was a sentinel? "Sentinels are born, not called into being," I argue.

He visibly flinches. "According to the shaman, Incacha, a childhood trauma caused me to repress my sentinel abilities. We tried, through meditation and spirit walks, to access my memories in order to find the trigger of my repression, but Iím a strong-willed bastard." He gives a wry grin.

"So what does it mean, being a sentinel vampire?"

"It means Iím basically incapable of feeding myself. I feel everything. I cannot bite, not even a rat. The villagers, my tribe, would kill beasts while I was far away, and drain their blood into bowls for me. In return, I became their sentinel for many generations. I warned them of dangers from nature, beasts, and warring tribes. The jungle was so dense that I could move during the day with care and never get touched by a ray of sun. Despite my condition, it was a time of peace for me."

"Why did you leave them?"

"They left me." He turns his head, but not before I see the shimmer of tears in his eyes. "An oil company came. They began to clear the jungle, wiping out our crops, our homes. I tried to defend the tribe, but I was too long away from modern society. I didnít know the way of their guns and explosives. One moment, I was standing with my people, discussing what we should do. The next, I was waking up in a mass grave, my tribeís broken bodies packed in around me."

"Shit," I whisper sympathetically.

"I did the rites to make sure my tribe rested in peace--and then I took my vengeance. Cyclops Oil no longer exists on the South American continent." A sudden gleam in his still-damp eyes gives me a shiver. "Or anywhere else."

I nod my understanding. Cyclops Oil was based in Cascade, but the entire company had been wiped out during the past few weeks. We thought it was related to the hellmouth, but since Cyclops Oil had refused all our inquiries, we tossed up our hands and let them die their unnatural deaths. But it wasnít the hellmouth. Just one sentinel vampire who was hellbent on revenge. A sentinel vampire who had lost everything. "That explains why youíre in Cascade. But why did you help me?"

"I was out looking for a good place to catch the morning sun. I saw the fight, and I was drawn into it, drawn to you. Afterwards, I was curious about the behavior of the vampires, and I used my talents to find out what they were up to."

"And last night?"

"Last night I thought to honor my people by securing the lives of yours."

Damn. Now my eyes are wet. "Why do you want to die?"

"The Chopec taught me to accept the burden of human emotions. I learned to ease their pain to ease my own. I learned to make them happy because it is the lightest of your emotions, the easiest one to bear. I learned how not to scream when they screamed, not to die when they died, not to lose myself in the day-to-day sensual and emotional swamp that is human life. But what I havenít learned, what they forgot to teach me, was how to handle the pain of loneliness. I was accepted, both vampire and sentinel, by the Chopec. They would leave their children in my care, invite me to their feasts and have warm blood waiting for me. I was a blessing at their weddings, a symbol of immortality at their funerals, and everywhere I walked, I was touched and loved and treated as human. They considered me one of their own, and they belonged to me. Now, I am hated and despised and untouched. I can find blood supplies in your city easily enough, but I donít want to eat. I cannot take it anymore." A hand comes up, hesitantly reaching in my direction. "Please, Slayer, free me from this burden."

I nod. Clinical depression in a vampire. Whoíd a thunk it? Probably the same idiot who would have come up with the idea that a slayer would fall for a vamp. Because I have fallen. Hard. I open the cage and he moves to his knees in front of me, his head bowed, waiting for me to strike.

Instead, I lay a hand on his shoulder. "This is not your true nature. Rise, Sentinel."

He does as I command, but confusion clouds his eyes. "You know why I seek death," he says.

I shake my head. "Itís not death you seek, but life." I stroke his cheek. "Let me take you home, Jim."

"I donít have a ho--"

My finger across his lips stops him. "You do now." My lips replace my finger. Thatís when I realize I have come home, too.

"My new tribe of one?" he says when our lips finally part.

"No, your new tribe of--whatís the latest population of Cascade, Joel?"

"570,293."

"Welcome home, Sentinel." The light grows in his eyes, then dims. "What is it, baby?" Amazing, I think a second later. I just called a centuries-old, bad-assed vampire baby, and I still live. Jim nods toward the others.

I look into their eyes and see what he canít--what he wonít allow himself to see. "Use your senses, Jim. Find the truth." He stiffens, then relaxes so suddenly that Iím holding him up. "Letís go home," I repeat. I donít live far. We should be able to make it with minimal sun exposure. Hell, who am I kidding? This is Cascade. We always have minimal sun exposure.

I take his hand and tug him out of the cell. I grab the keys to the van--which is almost windowless--and I grin at Simon. "So, youíre gonna write Chief Warren a memo about this, right?"

He shakes his head. "Think Iíll have H and Rafe deliver the news to him in person." H and Rafe share a high-five.

"And that, Jim, is the face of true evil. Let me take you away from here before they corrupt you further." We head for the elevator.

"Bye, Blair. Bye, Jim. See you tomorrow," Joel calls out. Jim seems startled to be included. Bless Joel.

"Late tomorrow," I stress. "I have to get Jim Ďacclimatedí to his new environment, you know." Their catcalls follow us into the elevator.

I squeeze the cool, broad hand in mine, and receive a tentative squeeze in return. Then a thumb starts rubbing lazy circles on my palm.

A question pops to mind. "You donít have a curse or something against you that will turn you into a bitch if you get a moment of perfect happiness, do you?"

He laughs. "Is that old rumor still around?"

"Yeah, but hey, itís no rumor. It happened to me with my last girlfriend."

"Tell me where she is. Although it causes me great agony to kill these days, I suffer willingly for those I love."

Those he loves. I like the sound of that. And I like the occasional Old World phrasing he lapses into. So gallant. So chivalrous. Hmm. Wonder what happened to that Renaissance dress I wore last HalloweenÖ.

"Thereís devilry in that smile."

I grin. "Devilry" is a good word for what weíll be doing soon--if he doesnít pass out on me. Even the dead shouldnít be as pale as he is. I punch the button for the basement. "We need to stop by the morgue and see if Dr. Dan has some blood we can swipe. Iíll make more permanent arrangements tomorrow. And no, I wonít tell you where Sam is. I donít want you tainted by that bitch. That you made the offer is enough."

"Whatever you command, Chief."

Chief. I hope the nickname isnít because I remind him of a Chopec chief. Unless the chief was hot and sexy and just Jimís type. "Just remember what you said when we get home, Jim." Home. Damn. Thereís a skylight just above my bed. Not exactly the way I plan to burn up the sheets. A burning, poofing into cinders Jim,? No thank you. A hot, burning, yearning Jim? Oh yes!

"How will you take me?" he asks, and I remember heís empathic. Heíll need a fan to read my emotions about him. He continues. "On my knees? On my stomach? On my back, holding myself open for you?"

Damn. Now Iím the one who needs a fan. I kiss him because itís all I can do on a public elevator. He trembles, and I sympathetically pull back. Heís weak in the knees and hungry--and despite my utter fuckable-ness, I know itís not totally due to his need for me. I lick the rapidly fading mark on his arm, giving homage to his earlier sacrifice. So much he has already given. So much I have to give him.

Dr. Dan Wolf is used to odd requests from the SCU, so he hands over the packet of blood without a blink of his dark eyes. Jim is reluctant to eat in front of me, but I know heís running on empty so I urge him to chow down as I steer us toward home. I have plans for him, and I donít want him passing out from starvation. He can pass out for--other--reasons.

As far as the skylight is concerned, I think between the two of us--vampire and vampire slayer--we can move my bed until I can get rid of what I had always considered my window to the world. Because now I have two windows, bluer than the sky, in which I see my futureÖ

And beyond.

The End