Part 2

*****

"Hello?"

"Mr. Giles? Rupert Giles?"

"Yes, who is this?"

"My name is Blair Sandburg. A friend of mine at Rainier University gave me your name, and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions."

"What friend would that be, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Evelyn Carstairs."

"Oh, Evie, yes, of course. How--um--how is she?"

"She's fine, Mr. Giles, I'll tell her you asked."

"Blair Sandburg… Your name sounds familiar to me. Anthropology, isn't it? Might you have published a paper recently?"

"I don't publish anymore, Mr. Giles. I'm a cop now."

"Oh, I see. Well, that's--quite a career change, Mr. Sandburg. Still, nothing wrong with that."

"Mr. Giles, I don't mean to be pushy or anything, but I'm kind of desperate here, and you're the fifth call I've made this morning."

"Oh. Yes. Sorry. Carry on, Mr. Sandburg. What sort of questions exactly did you--um--need to ask?"

"Okay. This is going to be hard to believe, so could I ask you to just please not hang up on me? I swear, I'm completely serious, and I'm not crazy."

"Indeed. Well, that's--good to know, I suppose. So, um, what seems to be your problem?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out. Okay, no matter what I do, this is going to sound nuts, so here goes: Do you know anything about any kind of supernatural being that's all white and has a long, coiled tongue?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Why?"

"Uh--yes."

"Because I've seen it. It killed a woman in Cascade, and we think it killed a man here in Los Angeles and tried to kill another woman, and, um, me."

"I see. Well, then, something must certainly be done. You're in Los Angeles, you say?"

"Yes. My partner and I followed it here from Cascade. And we think there may be two of them."

"Mr. Sandburg, have you or your partner any experience in dealing with supernatural beings?"

"Sort of. There was a ghost once, but she wasn't out to get us or anything. And we had to evoke Oshun to help us solve a case. And, y'know, we have spirit guides, but that's about it."

"You have spirit guides, and traffic with goddesses?"

"Well, yeah. But we don't see them much, and it was only that one time with Oshun. And we've never run into anything--"

"Evil?"

"Yeah. So we're kind of in over our heads here."

"So it appears. Mr. Sandburg, I believe I know someone in Los Angeles who can help you. He specializes in this sort of thing."

"Seriously?"

"Quite seriously. If you've a pencil, I'll give you his name and address. Then I shall need to know everything you can tell me about these, um, beings."

*****

The door had no number, no name. It was just a plain office door in an old building that reminded Blair of a school. Maybe it had been, once. Under better circumstances, he would have asked Jim if he could smell old chalk dust or some other academic remnant, but now was not the time. Jim opened the door and they went inside.

"Clients!"

A beautiful, tanned, long-haired brunette popped up from behind a desk and practically raced around it to meet them. She was wearing a midriff-baring, embroidered and mirrored halter top, a denim wrap skirt, and a plethora of skinny, beaded bracelets. Blair smiled just to see her. And gave himself a swift kick in the conscience. She couldn't be more than nineteen. Out of bounds for an old guy of thirty and an ex-teacher. Even if you weren't a teacher anymore, you just didn't date girls who were young enough to be your students. But that didn't mean you couldn't flirt.

She stuck out her hand. "Hi, I'm Cordelia Chase. Welcome to Angel Investigations. And you are?"

"Blair Sandburg," he said, taking her hand. "Hi."

She gave him a brilliant smile, and turned it just as quickly on Jim. "And who are you?"

Jim took out his badge and showed it to her. Killjoy. "Detective Ellison, Cascade, Washington. My partner, Detective Sandburg, and I are looking for Angel. Is he in?"

"Cops?" Cordelia's smile vanished. In fact, she frowned at him "Oh, come on. Mr. Tall, Buff and Handsome there looks like a cop--all spiffy and shiny--but you?" She brightened. "Oh, I get it, you're doing the scruffy undercover guy thing, aren't you?"

Scruffy? He was not scruffy, he was--Well, he'd never actually thought about it. But he was definitely not scruffy. He glanced at Jim, expecting amusement at his expense, but Jim hadn't even cracked a smile. He was staring at a closed door to their right, his face a carved mask.

"Angel?"

Cordelia glanced at the door. "Angel? Angel who? Is he in some kind of trouble?"

Jim didn't answer, or acknowledge that she had spoken. He was fixated on the door, or something beyond it. His body was tense, ready to spring, his right hand poised near the holster at his back. His mouth was a hard line, his eyes flint--the picture of a tough cop. But he was pale, and tiny beads of sweat had formed on his forehead.

"Jim?"

No answer. This was not good, not good at all.

"Hello?" Cordelia prodded. "Can I get an answer to my question?"

"Sorry. Angel's not in trouble," Blair assured her. At least, he hoped not. "We're working on a case, and we were told he could help us. Rupert Giles sent us."

The smile came back. "You know Giles?" And the frown replaced it. "Giles knows cops? Scruffy cops? From Washington?"

"We've never met. I talked to him on the phone this morning."

"Oh." And the smile. "Okay."

Jim still hadn't moved. God, had he zoned? Jim hadn't zoned out for years.

Cordelia leaned closer to Blair and stage-whispered, "What is he looking at? Does he have some kind of icky door-fetish thing going on?"

"No." Blair laid a tentative hand on Jim's arm, prepared to back off if he needed to move. "Jim? Come on, man, what's going on?" No reaction. Blair turned to Cordelia. "What's in there?"

"That's just--Hey!"

Triggered by something only he could sense, Jim pulled his gun and kicked the door open. He advanced into the room beyond, gun held out before him. Blair drew his own gun and moved in behind Jim, slipped around to his side. They were in another office, with a big old wooden desk, a banker's lamp, and windows covered by shades. Standing in front of the desk, facing Jim, was the gray man. The long coat was gone, but he was still dressed in black, still pale--paler than Jim was right now--and he still had human eyes. Brown eyes. They glanced at Blair, but shifted back to Jim, knowing the real threat. Jim looked like he was going to be sick. Blair didn't know how he felt. Conflicting messages poured into his brain, and he couldn't sort them out. Back Jim up. That's all you have to remember.

"What do you think you're doing?" Cordelia demanded.

"Chief," Jim said, "get her out of here."

"I'm not going anywhere! You can't just come in here and--"

"Cordelia," the gray man said softly. "Go."

"Why?"

"Because I'm your boss and I said so?"

What? What the hell was that? What was he supposed to make of that?

"Oh, please." Cordelia folded her arms. "Angel, I am not leaving you alone with Mr. Trigger Happy Door-Kicking Cop guy."

"Angel?" Blair said. "This is Angel?"

"Of course it's Angel. Who did you think it was?"

"Quiet!" Jim barked. He hadn't taken his eyes off the gray man once. His gun was aimed right at his heart. "What are you?"

The gray man spread his hands. "Just a guy."

Jim's jaw worked. "A guy with no heartbeat. A guy who doesn't breathe. I'll ask you one more time, then I shoot: What are you?"

The gray man started to answer, and sighed. "I'm a vampire. What are you?"

"Angel!" Cordelia sounded--irritated? "What happened to super-secret hush-hush don't tell people your deep dark secrets so they don't come to the castle with the torches?"

Jim never faltered. "Vampires don't exist."

The gray man shrugged. "You're looking at one. You can shoot me if you want. It'll hurt, and ruin my shirt, but it won't kill me."

"I suppose I need a wooden stake for that."

"Yeah, actually. Sunlight'll do it too."

"What are you doing?" Cordelia shrilled.

The gray man ignored her. "Look, Detective Ellison? I know what you think you saw last night, but you're wrong. I didn't attack those people. I was trying to help them. Kate Lockley's a friend. Or, was."

Blair thought Jim would shoot. His finger actually twitched on the trigger. He shook with the effort to restrain himself, and ground out, "She's still alive."

"That's not what I--" For a moment, the gray man looked lost. "I've worked with her, we're in the same line of business. Sort of. I did not hurt her, or that man. But I saw what did."

"You saw it?" The words burst out of him. "Can you describe it?"

"Sandburg--"

"Jim, what can it hurt?" He waited. Jim gave a tiny nod. Blair looked to the gray man, vampire, Angel--whatever he was. "Can you?"

"It looked like a man, but all white, with ragged white clothes. It had some kind of long tongue, like a tube. When I got there, the man was already dead. It had Kate in its arms. Its tongue was down her throat."

White man, kissing a woman who was shadows and dark, pulling away, his tongue pulling out, long, pink, obscene. Blair wanted to close his eyes against the image, but didn't dare. "What happened?"

"When I went after it, it morphed and flew away."

"Morphed?"

"It turned into a moth."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. There were other moths with it."

Wings beating, attacking him, disappearing into the night sky. Blair turned to his partner. "Jim, I think he's telling the truth."

"You're too trusting, Sandburg. He's a monster."

"Angel is not a monster," Cordelia said hotly. "He helps people."

"You work for him. Are we supposed to take your word for that?"

"You think I'd be working for him if he was evil? Well, let me tell you something, mister, I am not that stupid. The minute Angel turns evil, I stake him and head for the Unemployment office."

"Um, thanks," the gray man said. "I think."

"No problem. That's what friends are for."

Blair stared from one to the other. This was too bizarre to be real. Vampires defended by one-step-from-the-Valley girls? Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe the alarm would go off soon, or Jim would roust him out of bed to go to work, and this would all just fade away like any other dream.

"Detective," the gray man said, "I can't prove any of this. You have my word, and Cordelia's, and Giles' recommendation. I can't give you any more than that. So if you're going to shoot me, then shoot me. If not, put the gun down and maybe we can work together to stop these moth things from killing anyone else."

"Chief?" Jim said. "You really believe him?"

This couldn't be real. It couldn't be. But Jim was waiting for him, and Jim looked real, and the gun in his hands felt real. He looked at Angel, at the gray man who had thrown Jim across an alley, who had sad, brown eyes and argued with his secretary but got nowhere because she was more stubborn than he was.

"Yeah, Jim. I don't know why, but I do."

Jim didn't look at him, didn't move. His stare drilled into the gray man, trying to see the truth, but not even a sentinel's eyes could do that. The gray man met his gaze, and waited to see if Jim would kill him. Or try.

"Chief, if I'm wrong…."

Blair didn't answer. Jim knew as well as he did what the consequences could be. He moved closer to Jim, ready to back him up, to do his job--to do all his jobs--no matter the outcome.

Jim lowered his gun.

No one moved.

Blair lowered his gun.

Nothing happened.

"Well," Cordelia said brightly. "Anyone for coffee?"

*****

Angel leaned against Cordelia's desk. "Did Giles tell you anything about these--"

"Mothmen," Blair supplied. "Well, that's what we've been calling them. No, he said he'd do some research, though. Jim and I have been reading a lot, but we haven't found any mention of them."

"We've got some books here. And Cordelia can check her Demon Database."

Blair glanced at Jim, who sat beside him on the couch in the outer office, nursing a cup of coffee. The buttermilk donut Cordelia had offered him had disappeared in about five seconds. Blair was still working on his bagel. Jim was looking better, but he was still tense, and he was letting Blair do almost all the talking. Mention of a database for demons caused barely a ripple in his lack of expression. Blair had no idea what Jim was feeling right now. Unless he was feeling the way Blair was feeling, which was almost completely weirded out.

"So, you deal with this kind of thing a lot?"

Angel nodded. "It's what we do."

"Why? You're a vampire. In all the old sources, vampires are--uh--I mean, shouldn't you be out biting people?"

"Angel doesn't do that anymore," Cordelia said. "He got cursed with a soul, so now he's good. Unless he finds perfect happiness, and then things get really ugly: biting, killing, trips to Hell, that kind of thing."

Angel looked at her.

"What? I thought you were going to be full disclosure guy now."

Blair hid his grin behind the coffee cup. "So, um, you used to bite people?"

Angel nodded.

"Were you born a vampire?"

Pain entered the brown eyes. "No."

"Do you really live forever?"

Angel pushed off the desk, turned his back to them. "I don't live at all."

Blair winced. "Sorry, man. I ask a lot of questions."

"That's what cops do."

Jim stirred. "Blair's not just a cop; he's an anthropologist."

"Really?" Cordelia leaned forward. "So, what do you do, dig up ancient crime scenes?"

Blair smiled. "I used to. Sort of. Now I pretty much stick to current events."

Angel turned toward Jim. "What about you? What else are you, besides a cop?"

Jim spread his hands. "Just a guy."

"A guy who knew what I was. A guy who could hear my heart not beating. I laid my cards on the table, Detective Ellison. I'd like to see yours."

Jim clenched his jaw. Blair raised his eyebrows. "Jim?"

"Go ahead, Chief."

"Jim's a sentinel."

Angela and Cordelia exchanged mystified glances. "And that would be?" she asked.

"His senses are heightened. Sentinels used to serve as watchmen for their tribes: they scouted game, warned of approaching enemies, stuff like that. Jim's the contemporary version."

"So he has, like, x-ray vision?"

"No. He just sees really, really well."

"Where do you come into it?" Angel asked.

"I'm his partner. I watch his back. I was doing my doctoral dissertation on sentinels, so when Jim's senses came back online a few years ago, I was able to give him some guidance in how to use them."

Angel's eyes narrowed. "There's more. You knew something, just like your partner did."

"I didn't know anything, man, I just had a feeling."

"He's a shaman," Jim said.

"Not really."

"Chief, Incacha passed the way of the shaman on to you."

"But I don't know anything, Jim. It's just a title."

"It's what you do. It's what you've always done. You guided me from day one, just like Incacha did in Peru."

"Do you two need some privacy?" Cordelia asked. "Because, we can leave. We can just go into Angel's office, and you can stay out here, and when you get things settled, you can let us know, and we can come back out."

"It's settled," Jim said.

"Jim--"

"It's settled, Sandburg."

Cordelia smiled sweetly. "Good. Now we can go back to figuring out--"

"Someone's coming," Jim announced.

"How do you--? Oh. Right. Super-hearing. Can you tell who it is?"

"He's not psychic," Blair said. He just hears--"

"Really really well. Got it."

The door opened, and a man about Blair's age entered. He was tall, on the thin side, with short dark hair and glasses. "Good mor--Ah. I see we have--clients?" And British, judging by the accent.

"Not exactly," Angel said. "Detectives Ellison and Sandburg, from Cascade PD in Washington."

"Ah," he said again, shaking Blair's outstretched hand. Jim didn't get up. "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. How do you do, Detective--Ellison?"

"Sandburg. Blair."

"Sandburg…Are you by any chance--"

"Not anymore."

"Ah. I see." He frowned, and looked to Angel. "I take it we're assisting the police in their inquiries?"

They explained. They all explained, except Jim, who never said a word. He gave Wyndham-Pryce a few seconds of his attention, sizing him up, then went back to concentrating on Angel, watching his every move, as though he expected the vampire to jump them. Blair didn't blame him; he wasn't exactly comfortable himself. Cordelia and Wesley seemed harmless enough, and they didn't act like they were under someone else's control, which argued for Angel. Not that he'd know how they'd act if they were. But he couldn't believe that anyone was controlling Cordelia's tongue.

"Have we consulted the Demon Database yet?" Wesley asked.

"We're doing that right now," Cordelia said. Her fingers didn't exactly fly over the keyboard, but Blair managed to resist the urge to slide in and do it himself. "Okay, search for white, moths, long pink icky disgusting tube tongue, and…" Her shoulders slumped. "Nothing."

"Not to worry. We still have the books." Wesley selected half a dozen old books from the shelves and brought them back to the desk. "Would you gentlemen care to lend a hand?"

*****

Jim slammed the book closed, pushed his chair back and stood up. "This is getting us nowhere. Come on, Chief."

Blair looked up from his half-lotus on the couch. "Where we going?"

"To talk to Lockley's captain again. See if we can look at her case notes."

Blair blinked, a guileless owl behind oval lenses. "I'd kind of like to stay with this. Why don't you go and come back to pick me up when you're done?"

"No." Orange light glowing through the window shades chilled him. "We both go."

Behind him, he felt the vampire move. He turned, keeping himself between the monster and Blair. The vampire was on its feet, but it moved no closer. Wyndham-Pryce looked from the vampire to him.

"Detective Ellison, I assure you, your friend will be perfectly safe."

The vampire shook its head. "Don't waste your breath, Wesley."

"Jim." Softly, from Blair. "It's okay, man."

"No, it's not, Blair." What was the matter with him? Couldn't he see? Couldn't he feel the wrongness of this thing?

A murmured "Shit." Blair unfolded himself from the couch, touched his arm. "Jim, can I talk to you out in the hall?"

"You're not staying."

"In the hall, Jim."

He allowed Blair to pull him away, through the door. Blair closed it, putting a barrier that meant nothing between them and the monster. He could see through the watery glass; he could hear: two heartbeats. Only two.

"Jim. What's going on?"

He forced himself to look away, to look at Blair. "How can you stand to be near that thing?"

"Jim--he's just a guy. Okay, a super-strong guy who can't stand sunlight, but--"

"It's a monster, Blair, a dead thing that should be rotting in the ground."

"Maybe. But he didn't choose to be what he is, any more than you chose to be a sentinel."

"Don't!" He grabbed Blair's arms, slammed him up against the wall, and God!--He didn't do that, he didn't hurt Blair like that anymore, but this was too much, too much to bear. "Don't compare me to that. Don't ever compare me to that."

Blair didn't scare; Blair looked him in the eye and kept his voice low. "I'm sorry, Jim. Okay? You're right, I shouldn't have made the comparison. But you have got to calm down, and you have got to do it now."

Shit. He let go, turned away. "Sorry, Chief. I don't know why--"

"I think I do."

He turned back. "Let's hear it."

"You're a sentinel, man, a tribal guardian. You're genetically encoded to protect the tribe, wherever and whoever your tribe happens to be. Vampires are predators; their prey is the tribe. In a way, the vampire is the antithesis of the sentinel. It's only natural for you to hate them on sight and want to destroy them. The problem here is, your sentinel instincts can't distinguish between Angel and any other vampire. A vampire with a soul has got to be one of a kind, and you're not genetically equipped to deal with the difference."

"If there is any."

"I think there is, Jim. I--this is weird, but I feel that there is. Part of me is reacting just like you are. I see Angel and this--revulsion--comes over me. But when I look more closely, when I look into his eyes, the revulsion goes away. Jim, you've seen men without what's conventionally called souls, just like I have. You've seen the emptiness in their eyes, the coldness. Angel's not like that. I can see his soul in his eyes, Jim. Maybe it's a shaman thing, I don't know, but--I can see it. I'm asking you to trust me on this, Jim. Don't trust Angel: trust me."

"You want me to leave you here. With i--him."

"I'll be okay, Jim."

"What if you're wrong?"

"Then you stake him and bake him, man."

"That's not funny."

"Good, 'cause I'm not kidding."

"Blair--"

"Trust me, Jim. Override the instincts. You know you can do it."

"You can see it?"

"I can see it."

He sighed. "You'd better not be wrong, Chief."

Cordelia flung the door open, startling them both. "Get back in here."

Jim glanced at Blair. Blair shrugged and rolled his eyes.

"I saw that, mister. Come on, both of you. Now."

Blair grinned and led the way. They took up positions on one side of the room, the vampire and Wyndham-Pryce on the other. Cordelia placed herself in the middle. She graced them with a tolerant smile, and sighed heavily.

"Men are so clueless." She pointed to Blair. "You stay here and read." To Jim. "You go do cop stuff." To the vampire. "You go with him." The smile brightened. "There. Everyone's safe, everyone's happy. Problem solved. Now go." She made shooing motions. "Go."

Go with the vampire? A voice within him approved, whispered that he could kill it, that it would be easy to kill the monster once he was alone with it and the shaman was safe from any harm. He looked to Blair, who saw the soul in its eyes, the soul he couldn't see; Blair, who asked for trust, trust he had too often failed to give, but that Blair had always, always deserved. He shifted his gaze to the vampire, forced the words a man might expect to hear.

"You heard the lady. Let's go."

Blair smiled, and squeezed his arm, and he left the office with the vampire, telling himself he would not kill without cause, that instincts could be and had been wrong, that he trusted no one and nothing more than he trusted Blair Sandburg. Not even himself.

*****

"This is so boring."

Cordelia stood and stretched, giving Blair a fine view of her supple, too-young body. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, blocking her out.

"And yet, so necessary," Wesley said. He didn't so much as look up.

"Other things are necessary. Dates, bubble baths, vegging out in front of the TV with a pint of mint chocolate chip cookie dough."

Blair yawned. "Ice cream should be doable. Shouldn't it?"

Cordelia turned her smile on him. "Ice cream is very doable. In fact, since it's your problem we're working on, you can treat."

"I can do that."

Wesley's gaze left his book. "I don't think--"

"Oh, come on, Wes, man, live a little. We've been at this for ten hours. An ice cream break won't hurt."

"Ice cream does sound good…."

"Great! Let's go."

Twenty minutes later, they were on their way back to the office, Cordelia and Wesley spooning up mint chocolate chip cookie dough and vanilla respectively, while Blair worked on a double scoop of triple fudge cherry chunk in a chocolate-dipped cone and carried a pint of butter pecan for Jim. Angel, apparently, didn't eat, though he did drink coffee. According to Wesley, Angel could eat if he chose, but he derived neither nutrition nor enjoyment from it. Blair couldn't imagine being deprived of the sensual pleasure inherent in food. It would be like Jim living with his sense of taste turned all the way down. It would suck. Which was maybe not the best word-choice where a vampire was concerned, but--

"Oh, God."

A moth hovered in the air ahead of them. A white moth, with a wingspan of at least six inches. As they stared, it grew. Wings lengthened, merged, stretched toward the ground, and the white man faced them, eye sockets filled with liquid darkness, tattered streamers of white trailing from his arms to the ground. He looked from Blair to Cordelia to Wesley, and smiled.

"Mothman," Cordelia announced.

"So it would seem," Wesley added.

The mothman moved toward them. They stood their ground.

"You're the demon experts," Blair said. "What do we do?"

"You're the cop," Cordelia said. "Shoot it."

"That doesn't work. Don't you have some kind of demon-killing thing?"

"It doesn't work like that," Wesley said. "Each specific kind of demon tends to have a specific means by which it may be killed."

"You have got to be kidding."

"Unfortunately, no."

"Okay." Blair looked at his hands, both filled with ice cream. Not much help there. "Okay. I have an idea."

"What?" Cordelia asked.

"Run!"

They turned, stopped. Their way was blocked by two women. White-haired, white-skinned, their clothes white rags, their eyes gleaming darkness. The women laughed without sound. In each open mouth, Blair could see a tongue: long, pink, tightly coiled. He swallowed sickness, swallowed again, and backed away, but the white man waited. White fingers gripped his shoulders, and he couldn't stand, couldn't break free. He tried to turn, to fight, but the fingers pressed him down and he folded to his knees. White hands touched his face, lifted his head. A white woman smiled. She ran a finger along his lips, and his mouth fell open, waiting. He wanted to scream, but he had no breath, no strength. The white woman leaned down. Her mouth opened, and her tongue slithered out: pink, hollow tube of flesh. White lips touched his, and the tongue pushed into his mouth, slid over his tongue and down into his throat. He expected poison, and pain, but the white woman gave him nothing. She kissed him, and her tongue pulsed inside him, and he began to die.

*****

The vampire drove, a big black convertible that cruised through the streets, drawing no attention from the flashier vehicles and their colorful occupants. Jim had made him drive. He sat in the passenger seat and had all he could do not to pull his gun and blow the thing away, even though the vampire said that bullets wouldn't work. He'd be willing to test that.

They'd gotten nowhere with Lockley's notes. What she had was mostly indecipherable. What they could read told them no more than they already knew. Her captain wasn't precisely uncooperative, but he wasn't any help either. The ME's report wasn't in yet. And Lockley was still unconscious.

The vampire was known in the department. Not liked, not greeted or joked with, but recognized. Not arrested, either, though he'd had a faint hope. But they knew him, which meant his story of working with Lockley might be true. He'd said no more than a few words to the vampire, each one pulled grudgingly from his throat. Now, he asked,

"What happened with you and Lockley?"

The vampire glanced at him, seeming surprised. "Her father got involved with vampires. They killed him. I tried to help him, but--he wouldn't let me. Kate blames me."

"She knows?"

"Yeah."

"How many people know what you are?"

"Probably too many."

"You never answered Sandburg's question."

"Which one?"

"You're a vampire. You kill your own kind. Why?"

The vampire stared straight ahead. "I don't know what else to do."

They turned a corner onto a familiar street. The vampire's neighborhood. There was no traffic here, no one walking. Far ahead, a bit of white caught his eye and he focused in on it.

"Oh my God."

"What?"

"Move it! Move it!"

The vampire stomped on the gas pedal, and the car shot forward. He drew his gun, knowing Blair had shot one of these things already, that it hadn't done any good, hadn't hurt it or slowed it down, but he had no other weapon. The brakes screamed, and he jumped out, the vampire right behind him.

Blair knelt on the sidewalk, arms hanging limp at his sides. A woman bent over him, kissing him, her hands holding his face in a gentle caress. She was white--her hair, her skin, her ragged, gauzy clothes. Two others had Cordelia and Wyndham-Pryce, but he barely glanced at them. He didn't warn, didn't give her a chance to give up. He grabbed her arm and yanked her away from Blair, threw her away from him. A long, pink tube whipped out of Blair's mouth. The woman stumbled, but kept her feet. Her tongue retracted, coiling into her mouth. He shot her.

Three times, four, five. He saw the bullets enter her body, saw them blast out of her back. The impact flung her onto her back. Blair hadn't moved. The vampire was fighting with the white man, beating the shit out of him. Cordelia lay on the sidewalk, her eyes closed, but she was breathing. The second white woman dropped Wyndham-Pryce, looked around, and approached the vampire and the white man. He shot her in the back. She arched, turned to look at him, and kept moving.

"Angel!"

was all the warning he could give. The first white woman was on her feet, coming toward him. There were no wounds on her body, no blood. His gun was useless. The white woman came closer, lifted a hand toward him.

"Jim." Blair's voice, so faint that even he could hardly hear. "Don't let her…touch you."

He knocked her arm aside, smashed the gun across her face. Bones snapped. She drew back, dark-filled eyes staring, his own face reflected in them. He moved toward her, fully intending to crush her skull if he could. She flung up her arms, white streaming around her, twisting, folding, shrinking. In the space of a second, a moth fluttered where the woman had been. It climbed into the night sky. He stared after it until Blair's whisper brought him back down.

"Angel."

The other woman had the vampire. Her tongue was in his mouth, and the vampire wasn't resisting. Clutching his side, the white man watched. Jim shouted, ran toward them, but they were in the air before he reached them. Released, the vampire fell to his knees, covered his face with his hands and stayed that way.

Wyndham-Pryce pushed himself up, staggered toward Cordelia, dropped down beside her. "Cordelia."

She stirred, moaned, opened her eyes. Wyndham-Pryce helped her to sit up. She leaned on him, but he wasn't much steadier. "Oh my God. What--?"

"The mothman," Wyndham-Pryce reminded her. "And mothwomen, apparently."

Jim went back to Blair, crouched down, and set a hand on his shoulder. "Chief? You okay?"

Blair nodded. "I'm fine, Jim. Just--really tired. Thanks for coming."

"Think you can stand?"

"Sure, man." Blair got one foot under him and pushed up. He swayed, would have fallen, but Jim caught him, held him up with an arm around his shoulders. "Maybe not."

Cordelia and Wyndham-Pryce were on their feet, supporting each other drunkenly. The vampire hadn't moved.

"Angel," Cordelia said, "are you okay?"

"I'm better than okay." The vampire raised his head. His face had changed, distorted. His forehead was ridged, his eyes glowed yellow. Fangs filled his mouth. "I'm happy." He grinned. "And I'm hungry."

The vampire got to his feet. Jim yanked his gun out again, and the vampire laughed.

"Unless those are wooden bullets, you'd better put that away, Jimmy-boy."

Jim pushed Blair behind him. The vampire laughed again.

"Don't worry, sentinel, I'm not in the mood for shaman, even if it would shut him up for once." He swerved to face Cordelia and Wyndham-Pryce. "I'm not hungry for losers, either. I've got something much better on the menu. Bye, now. I'll be back soon."

Ignoring the gun, ignoring all of them, the vampire ran off.

*****

"Easy, buddy." Jim lowered Blair into a chair. Wyndham-Pryce did the same with Cordelia, then sank into a chair himself. Those two had wanted to headquarter at the office, but Jim had refused to allow it. The hotel was safer. The vampire didn't know where they were staying, and the moth things shouldn't either. The one concession he'd made was to haul a stack of books along.

"We can't stay here," Wyndham-Pryce said. "We must find Angel before he--"

"Kills someone?"

Wyndham-Pryce propped his head on one hand, and nodded.

Blair's eyes were closed, his head back, his voice a soft rasp. "Why didn't he kill one of us?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe he didn't like the odds," Jim said.

"In our present condition, the four of us are no match for Angelus. He chose not to kill us."

Blair's eyes opened wide. "Angelus?"

"His full name, vampirically speaking. He doesn't use it, unless he's--"

"Evil." Cordelia shifted to face him. "Admit it, Wesley. Angel is evil. He's found perfect happiness. Again."

"Jim," Blair croaked, "your dream. Lost Angelus."

"I know, Chief."

But he didn't want to. He didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to think that there might be more to this than find the monsters and kill them. Didn't want gray, only black and white. And to keep the blue in Sandburg's eyes.

"How bad is it?"

"Extremely," Wyndham-Price said. "Angelus is--merciless. He enjoys killing. And torturing his victims."

"You work with this monster?"

"Angelus and Angel are entirely different beings. Angelus is a demon. Angel has a soul. He has dedicated his--life--to helping those in need. He reverts to Angelus only if he finds perfect happiness."

"It's not fair," Cordelia said. "No one finds perfect happiness. This is Angel's third time. "

"The second time doesn't count," Wyndham-Pryce said. "That was chemically induced."

"It counted enough to make him go all fang-y and mean. And that still leaves two. At least he had the whole brooding slayer angsty thing in common with Buffy. Now he finds perfect happiness because a mothwoman sticks her tongue down his throat? Please." She sighed. "Even dead, men are all the same."

Blair mouthed "Buffy?" but didn't say it out loud. He hadn't moved; even his hands lay loose in his lap. Minute tremors shook his body. Every word seemed an effort.

"Sandburg--"

"No hospital, Jim. They couldn't help."

"What did those things do to you?"

"I dunno, man. It felt like my life was being sucked out of me."

"Much like a vampire," Wyndham-Pryce added. "But without the blood. We are experiencing the same enervation one feels after blood loss."

"I'm just tired," Cordelia said. "And cold. And mad. And poor. Really poor. And my evil boss sucked face with a bug and had the nerve to call me a loser. I want a raise. A big one."

"I'd settle for a cup of tea. Or perhaps a brandy."

"A hot shower'd be good," Blair added. "Think you could bring me one, Jim?"

"Go to bed, Sandburg."

"Can't."

"Why not?"

"Can't move."

"We really must find Angel," Wyndham-Pryce began.

"And do what? None of you are in any shape to deal with a vampire." None of you are in any shape to walk. "Get some sleep. We'll figure it out tomorrow."

"I'm going home." Cordelia levered herself from the chair, tottered, and grabbed onto it. "Or I could just faint. Fainting's good."

Jim caught her before she fell. He picked her up and carried her to one of the beds, removed her shoes, and drew the covers over her. Wyndham-Pryce made his own way to the other bed, looked at it, then looked at Jim.

"You can share with Sandburg."

"What about you, Detective?"

"I'm fine."

"Nonsense." He toed his shoes off and dropped onto the first bed. "Cordelia won't mind."

She frowned, but didn't open her eyes. "Cordelia won't mind what?"

"Sharing the bed with me."

"Oh." After a moment, "Fine. Not like anything's going to happen anyway. Not like anything would ever happen. Ever."

"Thank you, Cordelia, I believe you've made your point."

"Good." She burrowed deeper into the covers. "Night."

Jim shook his head, looked to Blair to find him grinning. "Your turn, Chief."

"You are not picking me up, man."

"Do I look like I'm bucking for a hernia? Let's go."

Jim hauled Blair up out of the chair. Blair tried to walk, but couldn't seem to place his feet where they'd do any good, and Jim ended up all but carrying him despite his protests. He lowered Blair to the bed, removed the shoes he'd apparently forgotten he was wearing, covered him, and reached to turn out the light.

"Don't stay up all night, Jim," Blair ordered. "You're no good exhausted, either."

"I had a mother, Sandburg."

"And now you've got me." Blair yawned hugely, and turned onto his side. "Man, are you lucky."

"Yeah, that's me. Other people win lotteries. I get Blair Sandburg."

No answer. Blair was asleep. Jim went to the window and positioned himself for the widest view, both above and below. A small, private smile curved his lips. Lucky.

*****

"Clothes. I need clothes. These are icky and dirty and disgusting."

"Shh."

"Sorry."

That was a girl's voice. A girl he should know. Something from King Lear. Regan? No, that wasn't it, that was the girl whose head spun around. Cordelia. The one who told the truth. The youngest one. What was she doing here? How well did he know her? How well did Jim know her? Where was here, anyway? Not Cascade; this wasn't his futon he was lying on. L.A. Los Angeles. Lost Angelus.

Oh my God. Blair opened his eyes and sat up. Vampires. Moth people. They had to--do something.

"Take it easy, Chief."

Jim sat reading in one of the armchairs. Wesley sat in the other. Cordelia perched on the edge of the other bed, wearing a white terrycloth robe, rubbing her wet hair with a towel.

"What time is it?"

"About eleven," Jim said.

Blair scrubbed his hands over his face. "I feel like I've been asleep for a month."

"You have, Sandburg. It's July now."

"Ellison, you are so full of shit it's coming out your mouth."

"Speaking of shit, I got you an algae shake."

"Thanks, man. I gotta shower first."

"And shave, Grizzly Adams."

"That's funny, Jim. You're a card in the morning."

Twenty minutes later, he emerged from the bathroom shaved, showered and dressed in clean clothes. All he wanted was to crawl back into bed. He spied his algae shake and downed it, but his mind was on caffeine. Thank God, Jim had gotten a half-gallon pot of coffee from room service. He poured a cup, drank it, poured another, and only then reached for a bagel and the cream cheese, discovering at the same moment that he was starving and the bagel wasn't going to be enough.

Jim nodded at a covered dish. "That's yours, Chief."

Blair lifted the cover. A huge cheese omelet steamed on the plate, accompanied by a rare steak smothered in mushrooms. Just the way he liked it. When he ate steak, which wasn't often. "How'd you know?"

"It was to be expected," Wesley replied. "Cordelia and I were ravenous upon awakening as well."

"Are you as tired as I am?"

"I don't think so. Since you were attacked first, you appear to have been more severely drained than we were."

"Right." Cordelia yawned. "I'm wide awake."

Blair looked at her. The robe was gone. She was wearing pink silk drawstring pants and a pink, orange, and yellow tie-dyed top. "You found clothes?"

She smiled. "Right here in the hotel. Angel's paying for them."

"Angel?"

"Whose fault is it that I didn't sleep in my apartment, where my clothes are?"

Don't argue, Blair. Just eat. It's not your money anyway.

"So, do we have any ideas?"

"None whatever, unfortunately. Angel could be anywhere. And we've found nothing on the moth creatures yet."

"It doesn't make any sense. If they drained him the same way they drained us, how could that give him perfect happiness?"

"Nothing about this makes any sense, Chief." Jim handed him a book. "Start reading."

He tried. He flipped pages, skimmed descriptions, and inspected drawings, but his eyes kept wanting to close no matter how much coffee he drank, and eventually, he fell asleep in the chair and dreamed of shrouds and tongues and white, fluttering wings.

"I've got it!"

Blair started awake, grateful for the rescue. Wesley was on his feet, holding a book in the air triumphantly. He set it down on the table, and they all gathered around to look at the entry and its accompanying illustration. That was it, all right. Same white hair, white skin, tattered white clothes. Same tongue. Blair squinted to read the description.

"Akurei ga?"

"It's Japanese," Wesley said. "It means--um--"

"Moth demon," Blair supplied.

"You speak Japanese?"

"No. I know a few words, though."

"Ah. Well, they're normally found only in the Far East, but these seem to have emigrated."

"Why?"

"I've no idea. The akurei ga uses its proboscis--what we see as the tongue--to consume its victim's life force. They're long-lived, but few in number."

"How did they get here? They can't have flown all the way from Japan."

"Maybe someone brought them here," Cordelia said.

"Who would do that?" Blair asked.

Wesley and Cordelia exchanged glances.

"What? You know who it is?"

"Not precisely," Wesley said. "But it could well be--"

"Wolfram and Hart," Cordelia supplied.

"Who are they?"

"Evil lawyers."

"Isn't that redundant?" He winced at his own joke. "Sorry. Why would they do that?"

"What difference does it make?" Jim said. "How do we kill these things?"

Wesley returned to the book. "Hmmm. Sunlight puts them to sleep, but doesn't do them any actual harm, though they are susceptible to severe sunburn, presumably due to their coloring. They seem to be fragile--their bones are easily broken--but they heal with remarkable rapidity. They can't be stabbed or, as we've seen, shot to death. When imprisoned, they cocoon themselves and remain in stasis until released."

"So we know what doesn't work. What does?"

"They're attracted to light, not only physical, but--Good Lord--but also the light of the soul. It's said that the brighter the soul, the more heady they find its consumption. But if they drink too much from someone whose soul is exceptionally bright, they can--burn themselves out, as it were."

"That's the only way?"

"Um, no. Fire also seems to be effective. Physical fire, that is."

"How could they drink Angel's life force?" Cordelia asked. "I mean, hello, vampire: he's dead."

"That would seem to be a deterrent."

"We saw them do it," Jim said.

Blair raked his hair back. "But it doesn't make any--Oh. Shit."

"Chief?"

"What if we didn't see what we thought? What if it was the other way around? What if, instead of taking Angel's life force, they gave him some? He said he had something on the menu that was better than us. Maybe he meant better than blood."

"Dear God," Wesley breathed. "You may be right. An infusion of pure life force might well be enough to give Angel perfect happiness."

"So, this is good," Cordelia said. "It's just like when he was drugged. We wait until it wears off, and Angel's back to his normal, brooding good-guy self. Right?"

"Theoretically," Wesley said. "Assuming that it does wear off, and that Angel isn't given any more life force."

"How long?" Jim asked.

"I have no idea."

"How often do these things feed?"

Wesley consulted the book. "It doesn't say."

"Then they could kill someone else tonight. We have to find them now."

"How?" Cordelia asked.

"Jim, what about scent?" Blair suggested. "Maybe you could--"

"I can't track them across the sky, Chief."

"What about Angel?"

Jim looked at him. "Yeah. Maybe."

"Great. Let's go."

He started toward the door, but Jim caught his arm, holding him back. "I think you should stay here, Chief."

"What? Why?"

"These moth things--"

"Akurei ga."

"Whatever--they've already gone after you twice."

"So your solution is to leave me alone here? No way, Jim, I've seen too many horror movies. When the monsters are after you, you do not split up."

"Sandburg--"

"Jim, I'm your partner, not your observer, remember? And this is still my case. I'm going."

"Blair--"

"Jim." Jim's hand was still on his arm. Blair curled his fingers around Jim's wrist. "It's okay, man. I'm okay. I can do this."

Jim sighed, and let him go. "Okay, partner."

*****

They were getting close. They had to be, Jim was so tense he looked like his bones would snap if he tried to bend. He was hyper-aware of everything around him, head swerving at the slightest sound or flash of movement, seeing, hearing, smelling everything, his face blank, hard, his eyes almost glowing in the shadows. Wesley and Cordelia were looking at him like they didn't know whether to be more afraid of Jim or of the demons they were looking for.

"Relax, Jim," Blair murmured. "Filter all that stuff out. You can do it."

For a few minutes, it worked, just as it had worked the other dozen times Blair had told him. But it didn't last. Jim stiffened up again, and tracked every sight and sound to its origin. He hadn't lost the scent; that seemed foremost in his awareness, but Blair didn't like this ultra-concentrated sentinel. Jim was functioning in a near-zone, and had been for hours. If he went over the edge and zoned out at the wrong time, he could be in serious trouble.

Blair touched his elbow. "Jim--"

Jim jerked away and turned on him, stared as though he didn't know him. "Don't."

"Jim, come on. Dial it down. You can't keep this up."

Jim shook his head. "Can't. It's too faint. I can't lose it."

"Then keep scent up, but dial down the rest."

"No. I have to know."

"Jim, listen to me. I think this is another one of those sentinel-instinct things. You've got all your senses up high. If you zone, I might have a hard time bringing you out of it."

"You're the shaman."

Oh, God. Jim's tone was one of recognition, not acceptance. "Jim, do you know my name?"

Jim stared for a long moment. Blair's panic increased exponentially with every passing second. "Blair."

He could breathe again. "Right. Good, that's good. I'm going to touch your arm, okay, Jim? Can you dial touch down enough so I can do that?"

Jim nodded.

"Okay, good."

Blair laid his hand on Jim's forearm. Jim stiffened, and stared at his hand as though he'd never seen it before. Okay, bad idea. Blair started to withdraw his hand. Jim grabbed him, wrapping his fist tightly around Blair's wrist.

"Ow. Okay, Jim, we can do it this way. But could you loosen your grip a little, man? I'm not going anywhere." Jim's fingers relaxed a little, and blood started to flow again. "Great. Great. Jim, think of me as your anchor, okay? Not holding you back, not stopping you, just keeping you grounded. If you feel yourself start to zone, just--I don't know--squeeze my arm or something. Just not too hard, I'd kind of like to have the use of both my hands when we're done here. Okay, Jim?"

"Yeah. Okay."

"What's the matter with him?" Cordelia whispered.

"Nothing. He's just concentrating a little too hard. He's fine."

"He doesn't look fine. He looks--scary."

"You work for a vampire who kicks demon-butt for a living, and you think Jim looks scary?"

She looked at Jim again. "Yup."

"He's fine." Blair eyed the stake and unlit torch she carried, and grinned. "You, on the other hand, are scary."

Cordelia smiled. "Thanks."

They were armed with an odd assortment of weapons. Jim carried a crossbow and wooden quarrels along with his guns; Wesley had a duffle bag full of who knew what, at least three knives strapped in different places, and another unlit torch; Blair had his own gun--for all the good it would do--and a baseball bat. He fully intended to beat the shit out of anything that tried to get near him. Naomi would be horrified. And then she'd take the bat away from him and smack those things into next week.

Blair glanced over his shoulder at the setting sun. If they didn't find the moth demons soon, they'd lose any advantage daylight might give them. Jim had led them through neighborhoods ranging from upscale to abandoned; right now, they were wandering through empty streets, past boarded-up stores sprayed with graffiti that was too faded to read.

Jim squeezed his wrist, and stopped, looking around. "They're close."

"Figures." Cordelia sighed. "Why can't demons ever have their lairs in the Hilton? Or Neiman's back room?"

Wesley shifted his torch to the other hand, and adjusted his glasses. "Because if they did, everyone would want to be one. Especially you."

"That is not true. I would never want to be a demon. I'd just like to kill them in nicer surroundings. Maybe do a little shopping afterwards."

Jim squeezed harder, and Blair grimaced. Low-voiced, he said, "Do me a favor and be quiet, okay? Jim's trying to listen."

"Sorry," they whispered in chorus.

Jim stopped in front of a store, staring at the plywood-covered door. Sheets hung in the boarded-up display windows, blocking out what light remained. "In here."

The door was locked, naturally. They could smash it in easily enough, but the idea was to sneak up on the monsters, not to advertise their arrival. They prowled around the building, looking for another entrance, found a fire escape, and a window at the top that wasn't locked. Too easy, and they all knew it, but they took it anyway because they could at least be quiet about it. It occurred to Blair that he hadn't asked just how good a vampire's hearing was, but now was not a good time to remedy that omission. He just had to assume that Wesley and Cordelia knew enough to take appropriate precautions. If that were even possible.

Blair crawled through the window behind Jim, and stepped onto a wooden floor that creaked when he put his weight on it. He flinched, and looked around quickly. In the gray light of dusk, it was hard to make out details, but they seemed to be in some kind of storage room. Boxes were piled haphazardly; racks of dusty clothes hung where no one would buy them; an old cash register lurked in one corner.

"Wow," Cordelia whispered. "Retro-heaven. Maybe I will go shopping when we're done."

Jim looked at her, and she pressed her lips together. Jim stood still, listening, scenting, then pointed down. Blair nodded, and followed him to the stairs at the other end of the room, trying to move as quietly as the sentinel. The contents of Wesley's duffle bag clanked softly. Jim winced and shook his head, but there was no sound Blair could hear from below and Jim gave no indication that he could hear anything.

Downstairs were empty racks, a counter, and two curtained doorways that probably led to dressing rooms. There was no sign of moths, demons, or vampires. But they were there. Jim knew. Jim unshipped the crossbow from his shoulder and loaded a quarrel.

The lights went on. Everyone but Jim squinted in the sudden brightness. One of the curtains moved, and Angel sauntered out, grinning. Jim immediately trained the crossbow on the vampire's chest, but Angel was unfazed.

"Well, if it isn't my loyal servants and our new best buddies from Cascade PD. What a surprise."

"I beg your pardon?" Wesley said. "Servants?"

"Wes, you live to serve me, remember? How'd you like to make that a blood-oath?"

"I am not a servant," Cordelia declared. "I am a paid employee."

"And you're so good at what you do." Angel cocked his head. "What exactly is that again? Besides throwing yourself at anyone who looks like he might have money, I mean."

"Hey," Blair said. "Leave her alone."

"What are you defending her for, man? You know it's true. She hasn't looked twice at you, has she? But you've been looking at her. You'd like to get a piece of that, wouldn't you, Blair?"

"No!"

"Well, thank you not," Cordelia sniffed.

"You're too young," Blair said. "I'm too old. Look, can we discuss this later?"

"Whatever."

Angel laughed. "You won't have to worry about later, Blair. Blair. What kind of wussy name is that?"

"It beats Angel."

Angel laughed again. "You've got balls. For a short, Jewish guy with pretensions of shamanism, that is."

Blair scowled. "You can shoot him anytime, Jim."

"Yeah, Jim, shoot me. What are you waiting for? Oh, wait, you're not supposed to kill me, are you? I can still be saved. Tough luck, huh, Jim? Cause I know you really, really want to kill me. Don't you, Mr. Sentinel?"

The other curtain twitched, and the moth demons emerged, in human form, their liquid eyes reflecting the light. Angel glanced at them.

"Dinner's here. And they delivered themselves, just like I said they would. Am I good or what?"

Jim shot him. The bolt slammed into Angel's chest, knocking him back.

"What," Jim said.

Angel didn't die, or crumble, or burst into flames, or whatever vampires did when you got them. He grabbed the quarrel, ripped it out of his chest, and threw it down.

"That…hurt."

"Good."

Jim shot him again, in the stomach this time. The moth demons looked at each other, and moved toward them. Blair readied his bat. Behind him, he heard the flick of a lighter, and the whoosh of Wesley's torch catching. The demons hesitated for a second, then spread out, trying to surround them. Blair faced the white man. Cordelia lit her torch from Wesley's, and turned to keep the closest female demon in front of her.

"See the pretty light? Come on, you bug-slut. Come and get fried. Just like in the zapper at home."

The white man darted away from Blair. His tongue shot out and wrapped around Cordelia's wrist. He wrenched the torch away from her and threw it away. It hit the floor and rolled, extinguishing the flames. The white man drew Cordelia in and fastened his mouth over hers. Shouting, Blair started toward them, hefting the bat.

Something heavy slammed into his back. He fell, twisting, trying to see what it was and get it off him at the same time. Jim lay on top of him, breath driven from his lungs by the impact. Angel bent over them, grabbed the front of Jim's shirt, and flung him across the room. Jim hit the floor hard and didn't get up. The white woman smiled, and drifted toward him.

Blair struggled to his knees. Angel kicked him in the ribs, and he collapsed again. Angel stepped over him and advanced on Wesley, who was menacing the other female demon with his torch. Blair tried to call out a warning, but the vampire was too fast. Angel punched Wesley in the jaw, and he went down, losing the torch.

"Well, that was easy. I'm almost disappointed."

Angel dropped to his knees, grabbed Wesley's hair and jerked his head back. His fangs plunged into Wesley's throat.

Blair crawled to his bat, picked it up, and staggered to his feet. He stumbled toward Angel and Wesley. The vampire was making disgusting sucking sounds, drinking Wesley's blood. Blair wanted to throw up, but there was no time for that, no time to think or feel. He lifted the bat over his shoulder and swung as hard as he could at Angel's head.

The bat cracked into Angel's skull. Angel pitched forward on top of Wesley, and didn't move again. Blair reached down to haul him off of Wesley.

Fingers closed on his shoulder. The bat slipped from his fingers, clattering to the floor. He couldn't move. The white man turned him, wrapped rag-covered arms around him, and pulled him close. White lips pried his apart, and the long tongue thrust into his mouth, snaked down his throat, and began to drink his life.

*****

The demon ran her hands over his chest and arms, and he couldn't summon the strength to throw her off. She leaned toward him, lips parting, and Jim could see the pink tongue coiled inside her mouth, could see himself reflected in her obsidian eyes. He couldn't do anything to stop her, couldn't even keep his mouth closed. She kissed him, and her tongue entered his mouth, tentative at first, then probing, sliding over his teeth and tongue, slowly working its way back to his throat and down. He felt something vital begin to leave him, and knew she was draining his life force.

Her body arched into his. Her fingers scrabbled briefly at his shoulders, and she slumped against him. A hand too small to be Blair's grabbed the demon's arm and yanked her off him, dumping her on the floor. Cordelia gazed down at him, Blair's bat in one hand. She was pale and trembling, but looked okay otherwise.

"You can get up now," she said.

Jim pushed himself to his feet, surprised at how shaky he was. Light flared, and the roar of flames assaulted his ears. Across the room, Wyndham-Pryce had just torched the other female demon. Blair. Where was--?

Oh, God. The male demon had Blair, was holding him, draining him, and Blair hung limp in his arms. Jim snatched the bat away from Cordelia and ran. Cold fire filled him, burned his flesh and mind, froze his heart. He drew the bat back as he ran, swung it one-handed and smashed the back of the demon's head. It dropped Blair, staggered, and he slammed the bat into its ribs, its back, its shoulders, driving it down, hitting it again and again, hearing bones snap and splinter, relishing the sound.

"Detective Ellison! Stop!"

Something touched him. He turned on it, snarling, would have struck it down too, but something sparked recognition and he waited, waited until he could think, until he could see more than rage and the need to kill.

Wyndham-Pryce. He looked around. One demon burned, another lay in a crumpled heap. Cordelia manacled the unconscious vampire. He looked down. The third demon was a steaming mass of bone and rags and tattered flesh. No, not steaming: smoking. As he watched, it burst into flame. Beyond it, Blair lay unmoving. God. God, Blair.

He knelt beside Blair, felt for a pulse, though he knew it was there, he could see it, he could hear Blair's heart beating, too slow, too sluggish. Blair's skin was white, white as wings, white as a shroud. He spoke to him, urged him up, awake, but Blair didn't respond, couldn't respond. Blair was going to die. Blair was going to die, and that couldn't happen, not again, not now, not while he lived.

He lifted his head, fixed his gaze on the demon still living, stood up and stalked to where it lay. He seized it, ignoring the pain he caused it, dragged it back to Blair and shoved it down, pushed it toward him.

"Give him what you gave the vampire."

It looked at him, refusing without sound. He broke its arm, snapped the bones without care or conscience. It shuddered in pain, and he shoved it down again.

"Do it. Now."

The demon pressed its mouth to Blair's. He couldn't see the tongue, couldn't see what the demon did, but he knew that it obeyed him. He could see the life returning to Blair's body, hear the heartbeat growing stronger. Blair shifted uneasily beneath the demon, and he pulled it away, thrust it away from him, his skin crawling in disgust that he had touched it.

"Burn it."

He felt, heard, smelled the flames, but he didn't look. He kept his eyes on Blair. Blair gasped, and opened his eyes.

Still blue.

*****

"So." Cordelia folded her arms. "You're not interested, huh?"

Blair stared at her. She was wearing a dress today. A short dress. Some kind of red print, with little straps that left her shoulders bare. A tiny pendant glittered in the hollow of her throat.

"Like you are?" he shot back. Okay, it was a little slow to be a shot, but at least he got it out.

"One has nothing to do with the other."

"What do you mean--?" Blair closed his eyes briefly. "Okay, fine. Cordelia, it doesn't matter whether I'm interested or not. You're a beautiful young woman, you don't need some thirty year old guy mooning around after you."

"I haven't seen any mooning."

"Trust me," Jim said, grinning. "He's mooning."

Blair gave him a big, false smile. "Thanks a lot, Jim. You're a big help."

She looked skeptical. "You're really mooning?"

There was no good way to answer that question. Blair sighed. "Yeah."

Cordelia smiled. "Good."

Angel came out of his office. It had taken almost the entire night, but the life force the akurei ga had given him had finally worn off and his soul had been restored. The minute they released him from the manacles, he'd taken off. Wesley said he was mortified, and Blair didn't doubt it. He certainly looked embarrassed now. Except for a brief glance, he kept his eyes downcast.

"So," Angel said.

"So," Cordelia echoed.

"We called the hospital," Jim said. "Lockley's awake. She's going to be okay."

"Good." Angel cleared his throat, though Blair was pretty sure vampires didn't have to do that. "I'm sorry about…."

"It's all right." Wesley fingered the band-aid on his neck. "You weren't yourself."

"I wish that were true."

"You were seduced by the dark side of the life force," Blair said. "It wasn't your fault."

Angel's lips twitched. "Maybe. Anyway, sorry. And thanks for--stopping me."

"You're welcome," Cordelia said. "No more make-out sessions with demons, right?"

"It wasn't exactly--"

Blair tried not to laugh, and failed miserably. "Angel, man, how long has Cordelia been working for you?"

"A few months, I guess. Why?"

"You still argue with her?"

He smiled then. "I win sometimes."

Cordelia smiled sweetly. "Of course you do."

"So, do you think the evil lawyers were behind this?"

"Probably," Wesley said. "We'll never know for certain."

"What were they after?"

"Me," Angel said.

"They wanted you to go bad? Why?"

"It's--complicated."

"I've got time."

"No, you don't," Jim said. "We've got a plane to catch. Let's go, Chief."

Blair sighed. "Right. Anyway, it was--uh--nice working with you," Blair said. "All of you. If we ever run into any more demons or anything, we'll know who to call."

He shook hands with all three of them. Jim shook hands with Wesley and Cordelia, but stopped when he got to Angel. Sentinel and vampire looked each other in the eye. Blair watched closely, hoping he wouldn't have to prevent bloodshed. Angel didn't move. This was Jim's call.

Jim stuck out his hand. Angel took it.

"Thanks for your help," Jim said.

"Cordelia and Wesley were the ones who helped here," Angel said. "But you're welcome. Thanks for not killing me when you had the chance."

Jim didn't crack a smile. "You're welcome."

Jim and Blair left the office, Blair with a final wave that earned a smile from Cordelia. As they headed out of the building, Blair glanced covertly at Jim. Nothing on Jim's face or in his stance gave any clue that they'd just been through something weird, or that Jim himself had been at all affected. But it was there. It had to be.

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Chief."

"Y'know, it would be okay if you weren't. I mean, what you did to save my life was--"

"I did what I had to do, Sandburg. I'd do it again."

"I'm grateful, Jim. Really. I'm beyond grateful here. But I want you to know that if it ever--bothers you--at all, we can talk about it."

"There's nothing to talk about, Chief. It's not going to bother me. Those things killed people; they tried to kill us. They almost killed you. They didn't deserve any mercy. I'm not sorry I didn't give it to them. I'm not ever going to be."

"I don't want you to be sorry, Jim. But Cordelia said--she said you went kind of--primal."

"She's right. I did."

"Voluntarily?"

"No. It just happened. But I didn't fight it. I've been in that place before, Blair: in the Army, as a cop. Maybe not quite as--overwhelmingly--but I've been there. It's not a nice place to be. But it lets me do what has to be done without hesitation. It lets me do what's necessary. And saving my partner--saving you--is as necessary as it gets."

"Wow. I don't know what to say, Jim. Except--thanks."

"Any time, Chief." Jim slung an arm around his shoulders. "Let's just try to stick with regular bad guys from now on, okay? Bombers, terrorists, serial killers--you know. Normal, everyday criminals."

Blair laughed. "I am down with that, man."

Together, they emerged into the bright L.A. sun. Blair turned his face up to it. It felt great. But he couldn't wait to get back to the cool Cascade rain.


Note: This story takes place after The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg in the universe of The Sentinel, and before the end of first season in the Angel universe.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Vikster, Sue, Michele, Jean, and Kathy, who gave excellent advice, some of which I actually took. If this story doesn't satisfy, it's not because they didn't try.

 

The End