This story appeared in Merged Worlds, published by Skeeter Press in May
2002. Many thanks to Vikster, Jean, Michele, and anyone else I've forgotten
who betaed for me. Thanks also to Joss Whedon and Pet Fly, for creating Angel
and The Sentinel, respectively.
Susan L. Williams
The stink of fish assaulted him, mixed with salt and rot and machine oil. Except for the slap of waves against metal and wood, it was quiet. Clouds hid the moon and stars; lights were spaced about a hundred yards apart, dim cones amid the shadows. The display on his cell phone glowed green. While it rang, he smoothed his hair and straightened his tie. This was not going to go over well.
"Sir? It's Lindsey. I'm in Cascade. The package isn't here."
Gentle tones on the other end. He was in deep shit.
"No, sir, I have no idea. Yes, sir, I will find th--the package and deliver it. No, sir, it's not a question of non-arrival. The package was definitely on board. Yes, sir. Yes, sir, I will."
He snapped the phone closed, and ran his fingers through his hair. Sweat had gathered under his collar; he loosened his tie and looked to his driver.
"Get rid of this."
He toed the body at his feet. A merchant seaman, probably. Well, not anymore. Oh yeah, the package had definitely arrived. Now he just had to figure out where the hell it had gone.
Hard rain soaked through Blair Sandburg's red jacket in seconds, spreading a patch of damp across his shoulders. Water-weighted curls hung lank and dripping around his face. Clenching his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering, he shoved his hands into his pockets and ran for his car. The Volvo waited under a streetlight, the only car visible as far as he could see, which wasn't very, considering.
Damn. Why couldn't it have held off for another hour? He hated the clammy cling of wet clothes, hated the cold, hated the entire climate of the Pacific Northwet. Nights like this made him ache--literally--for the old days, when he could avoid Cascade's weather by signing up for whatever anthropological expedition happened to be leaving for someplace warm.
The old days. Huh. Listen to you, Sandburg, you sound like somebody's crotchety grandfather. It's only been six months. Six months since you were a grad student writing your dissertation on sentinels. Okay sentinel, no "s," only one guy with all five heightened senses, your one-time Holy Grail a.k.a. Jim Ellison. Six months since the universe let you know in no uncertain terms that you couldn't go on pretending it was possible to base your entire dissertation on Jim and still be his partner/guide/shaman/whatever you want to call it. Six months since the cosmos made you choose: Jim or your career. Not much of a contest. Oh, sure, it hurt. A lot. Maybe more than anything in your life. But it wasn't a choice, really. So, good-bye fame, fortune, reputation, anthropology, Nobel god-damned Prize if you can stand it. And hello Detective Blair Sandburg, o-fficial partner of Detective Lieutenant James Ellison, with a gun, a badge, a paycheck and everything. Who'da thunk it? Who'da guessed? Who'da believed it three and a half years ago when Jim slammed you up against the wall in your office/storage closet? Hell, who'da believed it six months and one week ago? Not you. Not Jim. Not nobody, not nohow.
Whoa. Quoting The Wizard of Oz. Man, I think the water's soaking into your brain. Not to mention through your shoes. At least it's slowing down. Figures, now that you've reached the car. Keys, keys, where are the keys? Ah, here.
An SUV screeched around the corner and roared through a small lake that turned into a tsunami with his name on it. Filthy water smacked his face, thoroughly drenching any part of him that might have been dry before. He shouted after the SUV, spreading his arms to show the damage done in case the jerk was looking in his rearview.
"Thanks a lot, assho--"
A scream cut through his invective. He turned, trying to locate the source, couldn't see anything, but there was an alley almost directly across from the Volvo. Yanking out his cellphone with one hand and his gun with the other, Blair dashed across the street and flattened himself against a wall. He hit the speed dial for dispatch and pitched his voice as low as he could.
"Jennie? This is Blair Sandburg, I've got a possible 040 in an alley off of Spangler between Hatch and Chestnut."
"Got it, Blair. Is Jim with you?"
"No. I'm alone."
Seconds passed in silence. Blair sneaked a look around the wall. The rain had stopped, but the alley was too dark. Wait. Did something move?
A second scream sent ice through his body.
"Blair, Captain Banks says to sit tight, backup's--"
"Can't." He was already moving. "Tell Simon I'm going in."
He dropped the phone into his pocket, heard Simon's faint "Sandburg!" but couldn't stop, not now, he had a job to do, he wasn't an observer anymore. Sticking close to the wall, he crept down the alley as fast as he could, straining to see something--anything--that would give him an idea what was going on. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. He glimpsed something white, high in the air: a bird, or a scrap of paper tossed by the wind. It vanished, and he stopped, confused, until he realized the alley was L-shaped. He flung himself across, to the wall that offered concealment, peered around it. A single bulb mounted on the building's back wall cast a wan smear of light across the alley. It was more than enough. Oh. God.
A man held a woman in his arms, kissing her hungrily. She was shadows and dark, but Blair could see her arms dangling, her hands weakly fluttering. He was white. All white. Hair, skin, clothes--his sleeves ragged streamers twisting and billowing. Bare white feet stood in black puddles. Above and around him, two white shapes fluttered and flew, darted and dipped. Blair couldn't tell what they were. He saw no weapons. He stepped away from the wall, gun held out before him, two-handed grip, one supporting the other, just like he'd been taught in the Academy. Just like Jim.
The white man broke the kiss, jerking his head up, standing straight, and Blair swore, swore he saw the man's tongue slide out of the woman's mouth, long and thin and palely pink, curling up past the white lips into the open mouth. One arm held the woman, held her up, draped across the fluttering sleeve.
"Put her down--easy--and back away."
The white man stared at him. The white shapes--Birds? Butterflies?--fluttered and danced. Blair moved closer, staying out of reach. He couldn't tell if the woman was breathing, couldn't look.
"Now! Do it!"
The white man blinked. Dark eyes gleamed in his pale face. There was something wrong with them, something--no whites. God, what--? Contact lenses. Had to be.
"Put her down!"
The white man dropped his arm, and the woman slid to the ground. Her eyes were open, but she wasn't seeing. Oh, God, don't look at her.
"Back away, and keep your hands where I can see them."
The white man stepped over the woman and walked toward Blair, a slight smile on his lips. Blair went cold. Something in his mind screamed "Kill it!" but he ignored it, had to ignore it. He firmed his grip on the gun. In the distance, he heard a siren.
"Stop right there. Don't make me shoot you, man."
The white man kept coming. The siren wailed, loud now and close. He would not back up. He was not going to let this freak think he was scared.
"Stop, dammit! I will shoot."
Closer. Too close. The pale smile widened. The white man reached for him, opened his mouth, and Blair could see the pink tongue inside, see it coiled and waiting. He wanted to vomit.
The muzzle of his gun touched the white shirt. White fingers touched his shoulder. Weakness flooded through him. His legs shook from the strain of holding him up. Blair jerked back, pulled the trigger. The gun roared. Powder burned the white shirt and the bullet burned through the white skin beneath. The white man staggered, lost his smile, but didn't fall, and there was no blood. No blood. Blair fired again, would have fired a third time, but the white shapes flew at him, streaked toward his eyes, and he flung up a hand to drive them off, seeing them clearly only now. Moths. White moths, with no markings, their wingspans at least six inches across. He didn't want them to touch him, didn't want them near. He batted at them, but they evaded his hand and darted for his face. The white man reached for him again, and there were two blackened holes in the white shirt.
Jim! "Jim! Back here!"
The white man stopped, drew back, raised his arms, ragged sleeves fluttering. Wings flapped in Blair's eyes. A panicked yelp, a frantic hand slapping at white wings, and Blair lost his footing, slipped to his knees. The white man was gone. The white moths fluttered away. He tried to track their flight, but they blurred in his vision until he thought there were three sets of wings, three furred bodies climbing into the cloud-blackened sky.
"Sandburg!" Jim's hand gripped his shoulder. "Are you hurt? Blair!"
He couldn't look away. "Can you see them, Jim?"
"Moths?" Jim shook him a little. "Are you with me here, Chief?"
"Yeah." Reality shuddered through him. "Yeah, I'm here." His gaze fell to the woman crumpled on the ground, her eyes staring, staring. "Jim, we need an ambulance. She's--"
"It's too late, Chief." Jim squeezed his shoulder, and let go. "She's not breathing. There's no heartbeat."
"When you pulled me out of the fountain--"
"That was different."
"No." He started to get up, to go to her, do CPR, something, but Jim grabbed his arm, held him back. He stared up into eyes that were gray in the dim light, and hard to read, always hard to read, no matter how close you were, no matter how well you knew him. He wanted to argue, but the grip on his arm and the set of the jaw, and the gaze fixed not on the body but on him told him that there was no argument to make, no magic word or touch that could make her live.
"She's gone, Chief. We'll do this by the book, but we can't help her. All we can do is find her killer and put him away."
Blair looked at the empty sky. "That might not be so easy, Jim."
"Sandburg, this is not a joke!" Simon Banks roared at his newest, youngest, and currently wettest, detective. "You fired your weapon. I need the real story, not your bullshit."
"That is the real story, Simon. Captain." Blair shoved still-damp hair out of his face. "Look, I know how it sounds, but it's the truth."
Banks looked to Jim, who stood near the office door, to all appearances leaning casually against the wall. Ellison's square-jawed face was expressionless, hooded blue eyes giving no indication of what he thought about all this. He wasn't rushing to the kid's defense; but then, Sandburg could usually hold his own. Simon returned his full attention to the dirty, bedraggled, defiant man before him.
"Sandburg, that can't be the truth. There are no albinos with curled up tongues running around Cascade. And if there were, they wouldn't be able to disappear with a wave of their hands."
"I didn't say he did. I said--"
"That you were attacked by giant moths. What happened, Sandburg, you been watching too many cheap Japanese horror movies?"
"Simon, a woman's dead. The man I saw killed her. What he may or may not be doesn't change that. If you'd just listen to me--"
"I have listened, Sandburg."
"No, you haven't! You stopped listening the minute I said something you didn't want to hear!"
Blair flung the office door open, ready to storm out. Ellison grabbed his arm, holding him back.
"Take it easy, Chief. You've got to admit, all this is pretty hard to believe."
Sandburg looked at his partner. "So are sentinels, Jim."
Simon scowled, to no noticeable effect. He had to stop this now, before it got any weirder. "Sandburg, get back here and sit down. You too, Ellison. And shut that door."
For once, they did as they were told. Simon reached behind him, poured a cup of been-sitting-here-all-day-strong coffee, and handed it to Sandburg. He sipped at it, grimaced, and closed his eyes. Simon settled into his chair.
"Blair, listen to me. You cannot hand in a report that says you shot a man at point blank range because he touched you."
Blue eyes opened wide. "Oh my God." Sandburg began to shake. "That's what I did. That's exactly what I did. Oh, God."
Jim relieved him of the coffee cup before it spilled. "It's okay, Chief. You didn't shoot him."
"I did, Jim. I shot him twice. I saw the powder burns on his shirt."
"Sandburg, there was no blood. The guy walked away. You didn't shoot him."
"Yes I did. He just--he just didn't bleed."
This was beyond ridiculous. "He was wearing a vest," Simon said.
Sandburg shook his head. "I saw his skin."
"You thought you did," Jim countered. "It was dark in that alley, Chief."
"Jim, the guy was so bright he practically glowed. I saw him. I saw his tongue, and I saw his skin when I shot him."
"Did he threaten you, Sandburg?" Simon asked.
"Not with words. He never said anything. He just came at me. I told him to stop, but he wouldn't. He just smiled and kept coming. When he touched me, I--"
"Yeah. He scared the shit out of me, Simon. He would have killed me, just like he killed that woman. I could see it in his face. I could feel it."
"Blair. Son, do you have any idea how that sounds?"
Sandburg heaved a sigh. "I know. I know how it sounds, but it's the truth. I'm not crazy. I'm not hysterical. He was some kind of monster."
"If you put that in your report, do you know what will happen to you?"
Sandburg shrugged. "Suspension. A psychiatric evaluation."
"Blair, you could lose your badge."
"Wouldn't want that, would we? After all you and Jim went through to get it."
Simon exchanged a glance with Ellison. "Sandburg, it's late. You're tired, wet, and probably in shock. Go home and get some sleep."
"It won't change anything."
"Maybe not. But you'll have some time to get yourself together before you complete your report."
Sandburg stared at him. "You want me to lie."
"No. I want you to think about what you're saying and how the review board will interpret it."
"You want me to obfuscate."
"Sandburg, I'm just saying that things may look different in the morning."
"What if they don't?"
"Then I want you to obfuscate." Simon stuck a cigar in his mouth. "Ellison, take your partner home."
"Yes, sir." Jim stood and hauled Sandburg to his feet. "Let's go, Chief."
"I can't believe it." Blair charged through the garage, arms spread, waterlogged shoes squishing with every step. "I can't believe Simon wants me to lie. I could get fired."
Jim unlocked the truck. "Unless you want to get Simon fired, you'd better keep your voice down, Chief."
"Sorry, man." Blair jumped up onto the seat and slammed the passenger door. "I just can't believe it."
Jim ran a hand across his scalp, feeling each individual hair. "Sandburg, which do you think would get you fired: 'The monster was unaffected by my bullets' or 'The perp was wearing a bulletproof vest'?"
"That's what happened."
"That's what you think--" Jim shook his head. There was no use arguing with him now. "Look, Blair. I think you should take Simon's advice and sleep on it."
"I didn't imagine it, Jim."
"I'm not saying you did."
"Yes, you are. You and Simon both. You think I lost it. I'm surprised Simon didn't ask for my badge."
"He wouldn't do that."
"The hell he wouldn't. He's done it to you."
"Only when he had to."
"You think this doesn't qualify? As far as you and Simon are concerned, the best you can say about this situation is that I shot an unarmed man. No, wait, tried to shoot him, because I must have missed, even though he was standing right in front of me. I shouldn't have a gun or a badge. I should be locked up somewhere with nice padded walls, where I can't hurt anyone."
"Nobody thinks you're crazy, Chief."
"Bull. I'm not crazy, Jim. I saw that--whatever it was. It killed that woman. It would have killed me. Why can't you believe me?"
Listen to yourself, Blair. Jim clenched his jaw, stopping the words before they left his mouth. "We'll talk about this in the morning."
"In the morning, Sandburg."
Blair slouched down as far as the seatbelt would let him. "Fine."
"Have it your way."
"I'm not crazy."
"In the morning, Sandburg."
Jim woke at precisely 7:15. Dreams vanished from his mind, forgotten before his feet hit the floor. He padded barefoot down the loft stairs, intending to hit the shower, but didn't make it past the living area.
Blair sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a bank of candles, right where Jim had left him the night before. "I'm too wired, Jim," he'd said, "I've gotta unwind." Right. So there he was. The candles had gone out, but not Sandburg.
"You're up early," Jim lied.
Blair started, and turned a bleak gaze on him. "My God, Jim, what did I do?"
"What you had to, Chief."
Blair shook his head. "What I saw isn't possible. It's just--not. Jim, I tried to kill that guy. And he was--What if he was just a guy? Maybe I am crazy ."
"And maybe you saw exactly what you think you saw."
Hope flared, and extinguished itself just as quickly. "You don't believe that."
Jim sat on the loveseat. Blair leaned his head back against the cushion, closing his eyes.
"Blair, I'm not going to lie to you. I'd prefer a rational explanation: we all would. But after everything we've been through--ghosts, spirit guides, visions, whatever that is where I see things when I touch something--"
"Psychometry," Blair supplied.
"Right, that. Hell, just being a sentinel--after all that, I'm open to pretty much anything. Who was it who said 'You can't just shut this door after it's been opened'?"
"Yeah, well, that Sandburg guy says a lot of things. If you ask me, half of it's b.s."
Blair grinned. "About there, yeah."
"Yeah, well, he's still right most of the time. So maybe you should listen to him."
"I don't know, man." Blair opened his eyes. "I've heard he's nothing but a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk."
"Nah. It's neo-hippie shaman punk now."
"That's the worst kind."
"Tell me about it. Kid thinks he runs my life. The hell of it is, half the time, he does."
The grin widened. "Only half?"
"The other half, he's just a smartass."
Jim lightly cuffed Blair's head, and made his way to the bathroom.
Blair closed the door and faced the three people sitting at the conference table. He only knew one of them. Red-haired Sheila Irwin--Irwin-Roberts now--of Internal Affairs had given Jim a hard time once, when he was suspected of being in collusion with his late partner, Jack Pendergrast. When Jim had cleared himself and Jack, she'd apologized, and they'd worked together once or twice since then. She was okay.
"Hey, Sheila, how ya doin'? How's married life?"
Sheila gave a tight smile. "Fine. Please have a seat, Detective Sandburg."
Uh-oh. Blair slid into the lone chair on his side of the table. The two men flanking Sheila, introduced as Ed Bartlett and Fred Hendricks, fixed identical gimlet gazes on him. Blair tried very hard not to squirm. Or babble. Don't babble, Sandburg, that's all you need. Do what Jim said: keep your answers short and to the point, and don't give them any more information than you have to. And thank God none of them are sentinels, so they can't hear how hard your heart is pounding.
"Detective Sandburg," Sheila began, "Your report states that you found the suspect with the victim--Ms. Sandra Worthy--in his arms, and that she was alive at that time."
"As far as I could tell," Blair said. "I thought I saw her hand moving."
"Yes. You ordered the suspect to put her down, and he dropped her. She showed no signs of life then."
"No. But I wasn't close enough to tell for sure."
"The suspect approached you, despite repeated requests that he stop. He touched your shoulder in a threatening manner, and you shot him. Is that correct?"
Sheila flipped through the pages in front of her. "It doesn't say anything here about the suspect speaking. Did he say anything at all?"
"Detective Sandburg, did it occur to you that the suspect might be deaf, or that he didn't understand English?"
"He reacted to sounds. He heard me call out to Ji--Detective Ellison. And he dropped Ms. Worthy when I told him to put her down."
"Hmmm. Your report also states that you shot the suspect twice, at point blank range, and that he was unaffected by the bullets. Can you explain that?"
"No. He might have been wearing a bulletproof vest. He staggered, but he didn't go down. And I didn't see any blood."
"Detective Sandburg, we have an autopsy report here which states that Ms. Worthy died from cause or causes unknown. Were you aware of that?"
"No. I haven't seen the report yet."
"Ms. Worthy was not shot, stabbed, strangled, or beaten. There were no marks on her body. She did not have a heart attack, or an aneurysm. As far as the coroner can determine, she died for no apparent reason. You state that you observed the suspect holding her in his arms and kissing her. Did you see anything--anything at all--to indicate that he had harmed her?"
"You heard a scream."
"How do you know that Ms. Worthy was the one who screamed?"
"It had to be her. There was no one else around."
"But did you see anything, Detective? You state that the suspect was kissing Ms. Worthy. Couldn't he have been administering CPR?"
"In that position? I don't see how."
"He may not have known the correct position."
Blair shook his head. "You don't stick your tongue down someone's throat when you're doing CPR."
"You saw that?"
"It's in my report."
"Isn't it possible that you're wrong about the suspect? Couldn't he have been someone close to Ms. Worthy, someone who might become hysterical on realizing that she was dead or dying?"
"No. He didn't care about her. He dropped her like she was nothing, like--like she was an ice cream cone after the ice cream's gone. He was--"
"He was what, Detective Sandburg?"
"I don't know how to explain it. I just know that--that he was responsible, somehow, for Sandra Worthy's death. She screamed because of him."
"But you have no proof?"
"I-- No. I don't."
"Could your certainty have anything to do with the fact that the suspect suffers from albinism?"
"Are you sure?"
He laughed. He didn't want to, but he couldn't stop it, even though he could see that Sheila and her cohorts were appalled.
"Is something funny, Detective Sandburg?" Sheila demanded.
"No. God, no. I'm sorry, but are you seriously asking me if I'm prejudiced against albinos? Gimme a break, Sheila, I'm a short Jew with long hair and earrings. I can either laugh or I can get mad, and I don't need the negativity. Besides, I'm not sure he was really an albino. His clothes looked like some kind of costume, and his eyes were--dark."
"Fine. Let's return to your report. You say the suspect escaped, but you don't know how. Would you care to explain that?"
Blair fixed his gaze on the table, taking deep breaths to calm himself and quell the laughter. Tears welled, and he blinked them back. Great. Hysteria, just what you need. "I--I guess I got distracted. He was--I thought he was coming for me again. Jim called my name from the street. I turned my head to answer him, to tell him where I was, and something flew at me. I slipped and fell. When I looked back again, the suspect was gone."
"You didn't pursue him."
"No. The victim--Ms. Worthy--was my first concern. Detective Ellison determined that she was--that she was gone. We called an ambulance and did CPR anyway, but there was nothing ."
"Couldn't you have pursued the suspect while Detective Ellison determined the victim's condition?"
"I should have, I guess. But I didn't see which way he went, and--she was just lying there, with her eyes open."
Sheila's tone became gentle. "Had you ever fired your weapon before, Detective Sandburg?"
"Not--in the line of duty. I had to use guns a couple of times when I was still Detective Ellison's observer, but I never had to shoot at anyone before. I know you're not supposed to let a perp get close enough to touch you, but I--I really didn't want to shoot anyone if I could help it."
"Were you afraid?"
"Yes. I guess--I guess it came down to being more afraid of him than I was of shooting him. His eyes were so dark, and cold. It was like there was nothing behind them--no soul."
"Very poetic," Ed Bartlett drawled.
"I'm serious. I've seen eyes like that before. I worked at Conover for a while as a grad student. I was doing a paper, so they let me interview some of the inmates. I talked to one guy, a sociopath; he'd killed nine women, but it didn't matter to him. They didn't matter. Nothing was real to him but himself. His eyes were just like that. Empty."
"Is that your official diagnosis, Doctor Sandburg?" Ed asked.
That rankled. "I'm telling you what I saw. If you don't believe me, bring me up on charges."
"You think we won't?"
"That's enough, Ed," Sheila snapped. "Detective Sandburg isn't claiming to be a psychologist, but he does have specialized knowledge in the area, which you would know if you had read his file as you were supposed to before this meeting."
The man subsided instantly, and Blair almost grinned. There was no mistaking who was in charge here, and it wasn't Ed. Or Fred, for that matter.
"Thank you, Detective Sandburg," Sheila said. "If we have any more questions, we'll let you know."
"So that's it? I'm still on active duty?"
"Yes. But I think you should make an appointment with the department psychologist." Sheila dropped her official manner and gave him a sympathetic smile. "It really does help to talk to someone, Blair."
"I made an appointment this morning." Blair stood up. "Thanks, Sheila. See ya, Ed, Fred."
Jim heard Blair coming when he stepped off the elevator, but he didn't look up until his partner actually entered the Major Crime bullpen. Blair flashed a quick smile, but he still had that haunted look he'd worn since the alley. Jim had very deliberately not listened in on Blair's session with IA. He'd wanted to, badly, but Blair deserved better than to have his partner eavesdropping on him just because he could.
"How'd it go?"
Blair's head gave a purely Sandburgian combination of a nod and a shake. "Okay, I guess. I still have my badge."
"Sheila give you a rough time?"
"Not really. She asked some tough questions, but that's her job. Man, I need some coffee."
Blair snatched his mug from the desk and took off for the break room. When he returned, he sat staring at his computer screen, the coffee untouched at his left hand. He tapped a key now and then, but Jim was pretty sure he wasn't actually seeing whatever was on the screen. He'd just about resigned himself to having to pry more information out of him when Blair's eyes went wide. He sat up straight and started keyboarding furiously. Jim watched him for a few seconds, then went back to his own work. Whatever Blair had figured out, he'd hear about it sooner or later. Probably sooner.
Okay, so he was wrong. Blair hadn't told him what he was doing. He'd waited, all day, expecting at any moment to hear, "Hey, Jim, I found " or "Hey, Jim, I had an idea about ," but no, nothing, Blair just kept pounding away at that keyboard whenever they were in the station and said never a word about it when they were in the truck, or scoping out the scene of their latest assignment--yet another gang-related killing, this one with ties to the Yakuza and the Russian mob--or eating lunch at Scoletti's, where Blair regaled Nonna Scoletti with stories about the month he'd spent in Rome and Florence when he was fourteen while simultaneously making a plate of sweet potato ravioli disappear, or after his appointment with Dr. Webster, the department shrink, from which he returned looking, if anything, more haunted than he had before. Jim hadn't asked. Maybe Blair wanted him to ask. Maybe the perverse little bastard was waiting until he did ask, which would be a first, since Jim had never known him to keep quiet about anything he was doing before. Well, except for the whole sentinel thing. As far as Jim knew, Blair had never told anyone about that except his dissertation committee, and then only when they demanded proof that he was making some progress. In fact, over the years Blair had cautioned Jim more than a few times about displaying his sentinel abilities where other people could see. That was all moot, now. There was no more dissertation, so no more committee, and no one for Blair to discuss sentinels with except for Jim himself and the rest of the Major Crime unit, who were in on the secret but didn't really want to know the details. And Jesus Christ, he was starting to think the way Sandburg used to talk, all one continuous sentence with no pauses for anything as ordinary as breathing.
Aha. Here we go. "What, Sandburg?"
"Did the coroner's report come up?"
"The one on Sandra Worthy."
Jim unearthed it from the pile on his desk and held it up.
"Have you read it?"
Jim nodded. "They didn't find anything."
"I know. Sheila told me." Blair got up and came to his desk, leaned over so he could speak too quietly for anyone else to hear. "Would you do me a favor, man? Would you take a look at her body?"
"You know: to see if you can find anything the coroner missed."
"How should I know? Needle marks. A trace of something that doesn't belong. Anything. There's got to be something."
"Chief, I'll look. But there's no guarantee I'll find anything. We might never know what killed her."
"I know, Jim, but it's worth a shot, right?"
"Yeah. It's worth a shot." Jim stood. "You coming?"
Blair paled, and swallowed, already anticipating his reaction to the body. He set his jaw, and straightened up. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming."
Jim pushed open the men's room door to find a pasty, sweating Blair mopping his face with a wet paper towel. Most of the smell had been flushed, but enough remained to make Jim feel slightly nauseated himself.
"You okay, Chief?"
"Yeah. Sorry, Jim. I thought I could handle it."
"Don't worry about it."
"But I'm a cop now. I should--"
"Hey." Jim clasped Blair's shoulder, shook him a little. "I said, don't worry about it. Changing jobs doesn't change who you are. And getting used to seeing bodies sliced up for autopsy isn't exactly something to be proud of. You got that?"
"Yeah. I got it. Did you find anything?"
"Nothing. Sorry, Chief."
Blair sighed. "That's okay, man. It was a long shot anyway." He wadded up the paper towel. "We can't even look for this guy, can we?"
"Not unless we can prove murder."
"Dammit!" Blair hurled the paper towel into the trash. "He'll do it again."
"How do you know?"
Blair looked up quickly, checking to see if Jim was making fun of him before he answered. "I can't explain it, Jim. I just know."
"Maybe we should check for similar cases."
"That's what I've been doing all day, man. There's nothing. No killer albinos with extra-long tongues. No albinos, for that matter, except for one guy who got busted in '86 for public indecency."
"How about unexplained deaths?"
"Jim, there are hundreds of those. And the farther back you go, the more there are. Medical science has made a lot of advances in the last few decades."
"So just look at the last ten years."
"That's still an awful lot of reports, Jim. Simon'll ream me out if I spend too much time on this."
Jim shrugged. "We'll do it on our own time."
"We? You mean, you'll help me?"
"I'm your partner, aren't I?"
"Well, yeah, but you don't . Thanks, Jim."
"No problem, Chief." Jim put an arm around Blair's shoulders and steered him out of the men's room. "So, what'd the guy in '86 do?"
"Dressed as a sperm in a Gay Pride parade. All he had on was a tail."
Heat shrouded him, wrapping his body, immobilizing him. It lay heavy on his chest, his limbs, squeezed water from his body, drops running into his hair, his mouth, the corners of his eyes, staining the sheet beneath him, staining the shroud. If he could move, the shroud would fall away. If he could move, there would be cool air streaming. If he could move, he would float, and nothing could weigh him down, nothing could hold him or bind him or order him. If he could move.
His eyes opened, not to expected darkness but to muted light, brightness strained through gauze. The shroud was gauze also, a whisper clinging to his face and to his limbs, nothing to hold him, nothing to keep him. He rose, and the shroud slid away, slid down in whispering white folds that pooled around his feet. He stepped over them, walked away, through doors that opened at his approach, opened because he came. Gauze draped and hung, fluttered wing-like in the breeze of his movement, white ripples trapping light, draining color until all else was pale or dull, insubstantial, suggestions of reality that might vanish when his head was turned.
A second set of doors swung open before him. Cool breeze invited, danced, seduced, and he swayed toward it willingly, passed through the doors to a place of light and air and gauzy wings fanning, caressing his skin with the softest silken touches, lighter than feathers, lighter than breath. Beyond was darkness, so close that he could touch it if he wished, his languid, reaching hand gauze-pale against velvet black, and he thought he should be afraid, but he was not. Gauze cocooned him, shielding him from the darkness, and he gave himself over to the light, and the air, and the freedom of wings.
Jim snapped awake, swiped at cobwebs left over from a dream, and sat up, listening for what was wrong. He heard his own heartbeat; Blair's; many more, faster, probably birds or animals; the humming of the refrigerator; a light breeze blowing through the open balcony doors. Sandburg was out there, and he wondered if he should get up, go down there and make sure his partner was okay, or leave him alone to work things out for himself. Maybe he'd just gone out there to cool off; he'd done it before, they both had, on those rare nights when the heat in Cascade was sticky and stifling.
Undecided, he tuned in to Blair, more a violation of his privacy than joining him on the balcony, but one Blair would never know about. He wasn't talking to himself. Heartbeat and breathing were okay, but there was something something off. What ? Breathing. His breathing was light, shallow. Jim grinned and shook his head. Blair must have fallen asleep out there. Better get him back inside before he found some way to roll himself off.
Jim threw the sheet off and stood up. He paused a moment, nostrils flaring, drawing in a scent that was strange, yet somehow familiar. Sweet, but with an odd, underlying layer of dust, or decay. It wasn't one of Sandburg's incense or candle scents, but he knew it. Where had he ?
Oh Christ. Sandra Worthy's body. He'd dismissed it as the remnants of perfume and the beginnings of decomposition.
Jim flung his pillow aside, grabbed his gun, and ran down the stairs. Sandburg was on the balcony, but there was something else, white, fluttering around him, rippling, and he couldn't tell if there was someone else there, or more than one, or nothing more than flapping sheets. The smell was stronger, the heartbeats louder, too close to Blair, too close. He couldn't shoot, couldn't see clearly anything but the glimpses of Blair when the white dipped or creased or drew apart.
Like some magician's trick, the white leapt into the air, twisted, folded, seemed to shrink, and vanished over Blair's head.
He grabbed Blair, yanked him back inside and twisted out, bringing his gun up where he'd seen it go, but it was gone, there was nothing, only the night sky and the stars. Heartbeats, hundreds of them, insects, birds, animals, but nothing he could distinguish, nothing he could follow or hope to find. He lowered his gun, lowered his head, and met Blair's eyes, blue smothered by black.
"Jim? What's going on? Are you okay?"
He stared, tried to reconcile what he'd seen--what he hadn't--what his senses told him and what his mind said was possible.
"What the hell did you think you were doing, Sandburg?"
"Me? What are you talking about?" He took a step closer. "Jim?"
"Why?" Shakily, "Jim, talk to me, man. What's going on?"
Nothing on the street but parked cars. A red Escort sped by, driven by a young woman glittering in club clothes, her radio tuned to some retro-disco station. A black limo cruised in the other direction, holding two men, driver and passenger, both in dark suits. He came inside, closed the doors, caught no flash of white, heard no footsteps. He rested his forehead against the glass, closed his eyes, wanting to be asleep. "You were out on the balcony."
"I was?" A moment passed. Bare feet padded, and Blair stood beside him. "So, what's with the gun, Jim?"
Don't say it. Don't. "There was something else out there."
"I dunno. It was white, flapping."
Blair's heart jerked into top speed. "A bird, maybe?"
"It was too big."
"Bigger than you. There might have been more than one. I couldn't get a good look. It kept--moving."
"Jim, the guy I saw. His clothes kept flapping."
"I didn't see him. I smelled ."
"What? What did you smell, Jim?"
He shook his head. "Old. Dry. Like--like paper that's so old it's yellow. No. Not like paper like dried flowers. Still sweet, but dead. Crumbling."
"Yeah. I guess. I smelled it on Sandra Worthy. But I didn't notice. I thought it was just the body."
"Can you smell it now?"
"Yeah." He faced Blair. "On you."
Blair paled. "So--so what are you saying, Jim? You think the guy was here? That he was out on the balcony? With me?" Blair's head shook, back and forth, like he was one of those perpetual motion toys. "That's impossible, man. He couldn't get in here without you knowing. And--and even if he could, where'd he go? Did he jump?"
"He didn't go down."
"Then where--" Blair's head jerked up, his eyes searching the ceiling he couldn't see. "Jim, are you telling me the guy's on the roof?"
"No. I don't know. I don't hear him."
"So he has to be gone, then, right? He's gone. Right, Jim?"
He didn't know. "Yeah, Chief. He's gone."
Blair sat on the edge of the yellow armchair, shoved sleep-tumbled hair out of his face. "Okay, so, he's gone. However. We can figure that out tomorrow. It'll be easier in the daylight."
Not for him. But he didn't correct. He didn't want to be the sentinel now. Blair raised his head, found him in the dark, though he couldn't have been much more than shadow.
"How did I get outside?"
"What do you remember?"
Blair shook his head. "Nothing. I think--I think I was dreaming. Something about--flying?"
He refused to think about that, refused to think of what it might mean, willed Blair not to, just this once. "Long day tomorrow, Chief. We should get back to bed."
Blair looked toward his room. The French doors were open. Beyond them, Jim could see the window, open but screened. A cool breeze drifted through.
"It's too hot in my room," Blair said. "I think I'll sack out here on the couch."
"Suit yourself," he said, and didn't mention scared, didn't joke, didn't acknowledge. He started up the stairs to the loft.
Blair called after him. "Good night, Jim."
Blair thought he wouldn't sleep, but he did, eventually, after he pulled the shades down on the balcony doors, and closed the doors to his room. Jim's hand shaking his shoulder started him awake, and he surged up, squinting in bright, early morning sun, wondering what Jim was doing in his room until he remembered where he was, and why.
"Rise and shine, Chief."
"Yeah. Sure." A huge yawn. "Whatever."
They did the morning things, the automatic things, keeping thought and conversation light, usual, normal. Jim pretended not to notice when Blair hesitated before entering his room, and Blair pretended not to notice that Jim kept his distance until after Blair had showered and tossed last night's boxers and tank into the laundry room. It worked just fine until the caffeine kicked in and his brain revved up and laughed at the idea that he could keep his thoughts from going where he didn't want to go, to the balcony, and dreams, and white wings, and Jim's near-panic, and staring eyes: Sandra Worthy's empty of life, and the white guy's empty of soul.
God, the white guy had been here last night. It must have been him. He'd been here, and he'd almost--almost-- And Jim was sitting there like nothing had happened, sitting there reading the sports section and sipping coffee like everything was normal.
"How did he get in?"
Jim put down the paper. "What?"
"How did he get in, Jim? He didn't come through the door; you would have heard him. He didn't come through the fire escape door; I would have heard him. I checked the window in my room; he didn't get through there. So how did he get in?"
"He must have come in through the balcony."
"Without you hearing him?"
"So maybe he had a white noise generator."
"And maybe he was never in here."
Jim got one of those "gonna be patient and explain to the kid" expressions, which wouldn't be quite so irritating if Jim Ellison and patience had ever actually met. "He had to be, Chief. He took you out on the balcony."
"How? How could he do that without waking me up? And how could he not leave any trace behind?"
"Well, what's your explanation, Professor?"
"I think--I think he used some kind of hypnotic suggestion to lure me out there."
Jim snorted. "What is this, 'Dracula'? Your master called you and you had to obey?"
"Jim, I'm just trying to make sense of this. Look, what if-- You said you smelled something on me, right? The same odor you smelled on Sandra Worthy's body."
"So what if it's some kind of drug? What if he--I don't know--blew it through the window at me, then told me to go out to the balcony? What if my dream wasn't really a dream, but some kind of drug-induced hallucination?"
"Sandburg, we're three stories up. How could he get to your window?"
"I don't know, man! The same way he got to the balcony."
"Sandburg, this is crazy."
"It's not, Jim. It's a logical explanation. One you can check out."
Jim pushed his chair back and got to his feet before Blair finished speaking. "There should be traces of the drug."
Jim barreled through the French doors, straight for Blair's bed and the window beyond it. "I can see it. It's on your pillow, the screen, the floor ." Jim faced him. "Let's go, Chief. We've got to get a sample of this stuff and get you to the Emergency Room."
"Jim, I'm fine."
"Sandburg, you were dosed with an unknown drug. We don't know what it does or how long it stays in your system. For all we know, this is what killed Sandra Worthy."
Jim snapped on some gloves, scraped a sample of some stuff Blair still couldn't really see into an envelope, and bundled him out the door in under two minutes.
Blair waited outside the hospital, bouncing on his toes, pacing, bouncing again. Fine. He was fine. Medically. Whatever the drug was, it had worked its way out of his system before they got to the hospital. He'd been stuck in there the whole day, waiting for the results of blood tests before they'd let him go home. At least he'd gotten Jim to go to work instead of hanging around the hospital with him. Which didn't mean that his cell phone hadn't rung every forty-five minutes so Jim could "let him know what was going on." He hadn't minded. The phone calls dragged him away from thoughts he'd rather not have anyway. Jim had made no progress on the gang-related case, but forensics had been to the loft and now they were doing the same testing as the hospital to try to determine exactly what he'd been drugged with. They hadn't found any prints or signs of forced entry. If not for the residue of the drug, there'd be nothing to show that anyone had ever been there last night.
The blue and white Ford pulled up, and Blair bounded in.
"Hey, Jim, I'm starving, man, let's go out to eat, how about DiStefano's?"
Jim smiled. "You on an Italian kick this week, Sandburg?"
"No, well, maybe, but they're close and you know you love their scampi, and I can get the diavolo." He almost clapped a hand over his mouth. Jeez, what was with the motormouth? He was fine, dammit. "Sorry, man. It's been a long, boring day."
"No problem, Chief. DiStefano's is fine."
Once there, they ordered exactly what Blair had predicted, but passed on the wine. Blair hadn't eaten all day; if he drank now, even just wine, the motormouth would only get worse. What Jim's excuse was, he didn't know, but he had his suspicions. Jim always took the seat that gave him the best view of the room, and he always spent a certain amount of time looking around, scoping out possible threats. He was a cop; he was a sentinel; that was what he did. But he seemed to be on extra alert tonight. He'd requested a booth in an obscure corner of the restaurant, his glance skittered around the room every few minutes, and from the position of his head, Blair knew Jim was listening to more than his monologue on the necessity of hospitals considering people's emotional needs when planning the setup and decor of waiting and examination rooms.
Blair waited until the waitress had brought their food--and hey, her phone number, which he carefully slipped into his shirt pocket--before calling Jim on his observations. "What's up, Jim?"
Jim knew when he was bagged. He didn't make any pretense, just looked Blair straight in the eyes. "Simon wants you to go to a safe house."
"No. No way."
"No!" His fork became a pointer. "I'm a cop now, Jim. I never hid while I was your observer, and I'm sure as hell not going to do it now. This is my case; I want to be the one who arrests this guy. Besides, we have no clue who or where he is. If I go to a safe house, I could be there for weeks. I am not leaving you alone out there. It's not an option."
The slightest of smiles creased Jim's face. "I told Simon you'd say that."
"Then why'd you bring it up?"
"I promised Simon. You know, he could make it an order."
Blair speared a piece of lobster. "He tried that once. Didn't work."
"Yeah. But you're a cop now, Chief. When the Captain says jump, you say--"
"Been there, done that, Simon. And he remembers you and me rescuing him and Daryl in Peru, and lets me do what I want."
Jim shook his head, trying not to laugh. "You can't trade on that forever, Sandburg."
"Sure I can, Jim. Once you know how to play him, Simon's easy."
"Better not let him hear you say that."
Blair grinned. "Rule one, Jim."
Dinner went okay after that. They ate a lot, and had a good time, and didn't mention anything else about last night, and Blair managed not to think about it either for at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half, but it was in his head, and he knew it was there, the knowledge that he had to think about it, they had to talk about it, no matter how badly they didn't want to and how much Jim did not want to deal with it. Oh, Jim wanted to protect him, sure, but Jim also desperately wanted this to be just another in their long line of out there perps. But this guy was no David Lash or Lee Brackett or even Alex Barnes, crazy as they'd all been, this guy was worse, this guy was something he couldn't understand or categorize in a nice neat slot like "psycho killer" or "psycho rogue ex-CIA agent" or even "psycho sentinel," this guy was a whole new kind of psycho and he did things that couldn't be done, things that were impossible, like disappearing while a sentinel's eyes and ears were on him, and nobody could do that, nobody, not even another sentinel.
So he kept his mouth shut during the ride home, and while they watched the first few innings of the game, but it boiled and roiled inside him, and he sat on the couch, but he couldn't keep his leg from bouncing, which he knew drove Jim crazy, but Jim didn't say a word, Jim just ignored him and concentrated on the game, and his leg bounced faster and faster, and finally he couldn't stand it anymore and it just burst out of him.
"How'd he get away?"
Jim looked at him and started to say something about the left-fielder, but stopped, because he knew what Blair meant and Blair was in no kind of mood to put up with evasive Ellison crap and was trying really hard to convey that with body language and expression and a look in his eye that he damn well hoped was saying "Just don't start with me, Jim," but it didn't seem to quite get across, because Jim came out with,
"He must have gone over the roof."
"Jim, you would have seen and heard him. What exactly did you see?"
"I told you, Sandburg. Just white. Flapping and twisting. Like sheets, or--"
"You think he flew away, Sandburg? You think we're dealing with a birdman here? No, wait, the mothman, right? He turned into a giant moth and flew away."
Way to be "open to pretty much anything," asshole. "Maybe he did."
"Jim, he got away. He couldn't have gone over the roof, and you said he didn't jump, but you didn't see how he did it. You didn't even see him. You didn't see, Jim. How is that possible?"
"I can't see everything, Sandburg."
"But you should have seen this. You were looking right at him."
"Sandburg, the perp did not fly away. You figured out how he got to you; there's got to be a rational explanation for how he got away."
"Then you tell me what it is, Jim, because I can't think of one."
"What are you, Einstein? If you can't think of it, it doesn't exist?"
"Dammit, Jim, don't do this!"
"Me? You're the one who thinks this guy can fly. Listen to yourself, for Christ's sake, you're grasping at imaginary straws."
"And you're burying your head in the sand!"
"I think you need to go back to the hospital, Sandburg. You're still hallucinating."
Blair stood, trying not to shake, failing. "You bastard, Ellison. You can blind yourself if you want, but you are not going to blame me because I can see."
"You're seeing elves and fairies, Sandburg!"
"I wish I were!"
He went to his room. He almost didn't, almost made himself stay so that Jim wouldn't be driving him out and couldn't accuse him of running away, but he didn't care, he needed distance more, even if it was only twenty feet. He sat on his bed, and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, wanting safe darkness with no disturbing images, wanting none of it to have happened, wanting to check his feelings at the door, or maybe down the block, or in Peru. He shouldn't have blown up at Jim like that. Jim was right, he wasn't being rational. But this was not a rational situation. He wanted it to be. God, he wanted it to be. But what he wanted didn't come into it.
"Chief? You okay?"
Shit. He dropped his hands, looked up. Jim stood in the doorway. Round two. "No, man. And neither are you."
Jim's eyes filled with the cool waters of denial. "I'm fine."
"Fine?" He shot to his feet, had to, because the words he needed to say, had to say, could not come out of a sitting body; and he moved toward Jim because the words would abide no distance. "You're not fine. This is not fine. There is nothing fine about this. Weirdness of the first order is going on around us. It is pulling us in, and we are not fine, Jim, and we can't just ignore it, and we can't pretend that nothing is going on, because if we do--" The words clawed at his chest, tore their way out, "if we do, then the weirdness wins, Jim, and it's not a good weirdness, it's not spirit guides and shamans and warnings from beyond, it's killing people, and it wants to kill more, and I think--I think it wants to kill us, or maybe just me, but either way, we have to do something, and the first thing we have to do is to not pretend that any of this is business as usual, because it's not. Are you getting me here, Jim? Are you hearing me? Because I do not want to do this alone, man, I do not want to be alone out here, I need us to be in the same place. Can you do that, Jim? Can you go with me on this? Can you?"
"Sandburg." Jim gripped his shoulders. Jim was white. He'd never seen Jim go pale before, not once in four years. Jim's fingers dug into his shoulders, and they hurt, but he didn't move, he waited. "Blair, I-- You're not alone. I'm with you. I'm with you."
"Are you sure, Jim? Because I don't know where this is going, but I don't think we're going to like it when we get there."
"I'm sure, buddy. Okay?"
Breathing became something he could do. He grasped Jim's wrist, and squeezed. "Yeah. As long as you don't mean 'with you' in a humor-him-till-the-guys-in-the-white-coats-get-here kind of way."
Jim's grip loosened with his grin. "Chief, if I called 'em, they'd have to take me away too."
Jim sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. The shooter in the street gang-Yakuza-Russian mob case had turned up dead; now they had to find his killer. For the past six days and nights, he and Blair had divided their time between that and the Worthy case, barely stopping to eat or sleep, and Sandburg wouldn't do that if Jim didn't drag him away from his computer. Blair was seriously freaked out by this case. Hell, who was he kidding, they both were. But Blair was driven. He needed to figure out how Sandra Worthy had died, and why. He needed to understand just who and what this white guy was, and he needed to bring the guy in. Jim understood it; the entire unit understood it, or thought they did, and Simon was cutting Blair as much slack as he could, but they were getting nowhere. Forensics couldn't identify the drug they'd found in the loft or tell if it had killed Sandra Worthy, and there'd been no more sign of the perp. Given a choice between giving the white guy another crack at Blair and him vanishing from the face of the earth, or at least Cascade, Jim would take the latter. That was unprofessional: sue him. He wouldn't be happy to see Sandra Worthy's killer get away with it, but he'd be even less happy if Blair got himself killed in pursuit of the guy. He'd never wanted a case to just go away so much in his life. And he was not going to tell Blair that. No matter how weird things got, with Blair or this case, Blair was his partner. Blair had stuck with him through spirit guides, ghosts, and Alex Barnes; the least Jim could do was stick with Blair through the mothman.
And he was doing it. He'd dutifully allowed Blair to use that relaxation/hypnosis/whatever the hell that was thing he did to take him over the memory of that night in the loft in hope of getting a clearer picture of exactly what had been out there on the balcony, with no luck. Whatever it was--mothman or someone's escaped laundry--he hadn't seen more than that rippling white stuff. No face, no head, no body, no means of identification. Blair wanted to try it, but he couldn't hypnotize himself, Jim had no intention of doing it, and this wasn't something they could tell anyone else about, so all he'd been able to do was meditate. After a couple of hours of that, Blair had drawn a picture of what he remembered. He was no artist, but what he'd drawn had been recognizably human. Sort of. To Jim, it looked like one of those glitter rockers from the eighties, without the platform shoes. Not being completely clueless, he hadn't said so to Sandburg.
Blair bolted off the elevator and into the bullpen, carrying a cardboard tray of coffees and assorted mini-mart junk food in both hands, a newspaper folded under one arm. He plunked the tray down on Brown's desk, ignoring Brown's indignation since at least half the stuff on it was for him and Rafe, snatched two of the coffees and Jim's pre-packaged pecan roll--to get which Jim had endured what was probably the shortest Sandburgian lecture on record (a preoccupied Blair had its benefits)--and dumped it all on Jim's desk along with the newspaper. The paper unfolded, and Blair stabbed a finger at the picture on the front page.
"Look at that, man."
Jim looked. He raised his head, met the curious gazes of Brown, Rafe, Connor, and Taggert, then looked down again. He stood, grabbed the paper and his partner, and took them both to the break room, where a single glance was enough to convince the current occupants that it was time to go back to work. Once the last of them had scurried out, he shut the door and faced Blair.
"Sandburg, have you lost your mind?"
"Jim, just look at it."
Jim turned the paper toward Blair. The picture showed a vaguely human-shaped white blob with what might be arms covered by what could be ragged streamers of fabric. The caption below read "Alien Terrorizes L.A."
"Sandburg, this is the Daily Meteor. It's a tabloid."
"I know that, Jim."
"This picture is faked. They're all faked."
"The story says he killed somebody, Jim. Somebody else."
"The story says this is an alien!"
"Alien, mothman, crazy guy in a white suit--what's the difference? He's in Los Angeles, Jim. And he's still killing people."
"Sandburg, I'm telling you this is fake! The story is made up." Jim tossed the paper into the trash. "Look, Chief, I know how bad you want to catch this guy. But this garbage isn't gonna help us."
"It's not garbage, Jim." Blair rescued the tabloid from the trash. Someone had dumped coffee grounds earlier; the paper dripped brown. Blair stared at it for a minute, closed his eyes, and let it drop back into the bin. "Okay, it is garbage. But it's all we've got, man. Can we at least call LAPD, see if there's actually been a murder like ours?"
"Sandburg--" Give him something, Ellison. What can it hurt? "Fine. We can do that."
Blair smiled briefly. "Don't worry, I'll make the call myself. You've got a rep to watch out for."
"So do you, Chief."
"Yeah, but this fits right in with mine."
Jim clapped a hand on Blair's shoulder and guided him out of the break room. "So true."
"Yeah, hi. This is Blair Sandburg with the Cascade PD in Washington? I've been directed to you. I was wondering if I could take a few minutes of your time to compare one of our cases with one of yours and see if anything matches up. I'd really appreciate it."
"Sure. Sandburg, is it?"
"Yeah, Blair, I'm a detective in the Major Crime unit here."
"Okay, Sandburg, what've you got?"
He told her. The woman on the other end of the line was silent for a few seconds.
"This is a joke, right? One of my 'colleagues' here paid you to call me."
"No! Detective Lockley, I am not joking. I was the officer on the scene here. Believe me, there is nothing funny about this. Well, okay, there are a lot of things funny about this, but I am serious."
"No. You're not."
"Look, please, just tell me if you've had a similar unexplained death within the last few days."
"We get a lot of unexplained deaths."
"Yeah, okay. How about one with a body that smelled funny?"
"We get a lot of--"
"Detective Lockley, please. This is a sweet, dry smell. It can be a really fine powder. We think it's a drug of some kind."
"Sorry. Nothing like that."
"Are you sure?" Damn, he'd hoped he wouldn't have to mention this. "Look, this is gonna sound stupid, but hear me out, okay? There was a story in the Daily Meteor today, with a picture. I think it might be our perp."
"The Daily Meteor ."
"Yeah, I know, believe me, I know. This guy's all white: skin, hair, clothes. Has there been a report of anyone like that? Maybe someone who might be connected to one of your unexplained bodies?"
"You hesitated. Come on, Detective Lockley, give me a break here. You've got something, right?"
"All right, yes, there was a report of someone in white. But the witness was unreliable."
"Was there a body?"
"Yes. But we've got no cause of death."
"Do me a favor. Check the body for that powder and get back to me. Please."
"I--" Lockley sighed. "All right, Sandburg, I'll look into it. Give me your number."
"Thanks, Detective Lockley. You have no idea how much I appreciate this. And it's Blair, okay?"
"Kate. And I do have an idea."
White. Surrounding Blair, madly dancing. Blue eyes stared straight ahead, blind, the only color in the dark and the whirling white. He shouted, and reached, but he couldn't get through the white, couldn't get to Blair. His gun was in his hand, black. He fired, and black bullets pierced the white, but the holes healed instantly, had never been.
White closed around Blair, shrouding him, wrapping limbs and body, head and face, leaving only his blue, blind eyes. It rose into the air, lifting Blair, and he tried to catch it, to pull him down, but the white slipped from his grasp like air, like cloud, and there was nothing to touch, nothing to hold. Blair looked down then, looked at him, and the blue was gone from his eyes, leaving only white, and black, and gray despair.
Black. Rotten wood; broken asphalt; night sky without stars. A single, dim light cast shadows, illumined nothing. Screams flashed lightning, and they ran, man and man, black jaguar and gray wolf. Spill of black hair; white face cut by shadow; gray stare.
Gray man: white-faced, black-haired, black-clothed. Brown eyes. Faint, gray whisper. Gray man leaped, charged, black coat spreading like wings, like night. White teeth; blood-red.
He opened his eyes, sat up, shaking. "What the hell was that?"
"Jim?" Blair called up from the couch. "You okay, man?"
He got up, surprised to see blue and yellow bedclothes, red brick, Blair's brown curls and dark blue eyes, the same color as the couch. He'd never noticed before. Color had never seemed so important before. The rug was red, blue, yellow, white. The armchair was yellow. In the kitchen, the walls were green. The lights were red, and the peppers hanging. Blair's yellow boots stood under the silver coat hooks. So much color.
"Are you sure you're okay? Jim?"
"I'm fine. Just thirsty."
He opened the white refrigerator. Brown bottles; tupperware, red and blue. Green apples, orange carrots, purple grapes. He wanted beer, took water, twisted the cap off. Drank, watching crystal prism colors dance in clear water. He wandered around the kitchen island, stared through the French doors, needing no lights to see blanket, pillows, pots and feathers hanging.
"Your room," he observed, "is all red."
"Not all of it." Blair laid a green book aside and came to stand beside him. "It drives Naomi crazy. You know my Mom: Red's not restful, it energizes, all that stuff. I figure, if I'm awake, I should be energized. And if I'm sleeping, the room's dark and I can't see the color anyway." The blue gaze shifted to him. "So, why the color assessment, Jim?"
"No reason." He drank some more water. "Did you know your eyes are the same color as the couch?"
He nodded. "It's a good color."
"It's blue, Jim. You've seen it before." Blair studied him while he drank. "I think you should sit down."
"Because something is going on with you."
"Nothing's going on with me, Chief. I'm just--enjoying the colors."
"That's nice, Jim. But why now?"
"What's wrong with now?"
"It's two o'clock in the morning."
He frowned. "Why aren't you in bed?"
"Jim, you were in bed, remember? You were sleeping, and now you're down here tripping out on all the pretty colors. What the hell is going on?"
"Nothing." He shrugged. "I had a dream."
"A dream? Okay, great, we can deal with dreams." Blair gripped his biceps and led him to the couch. He sat, and Blair perched on its arm. "Tell me about it."
White. Black. Gray. Not-blue eyes. Jaguar, wolf. The gray man, black and white. Whispers. Blair listened, nodding, not interrupting.
"Okay. We know what the white surrounding me is, a combination of what you saw and your fears. The jaguar and wolf are obviously just you and me. The gray man I don't get. Did you recognize him?"
He shook his head. "Maybe he was your perp, Chief."
"I don't know, man. My guy was all white, remember? Hair and everything. What about the whisper? Did you hear what it said?"
He closed his eyes, tried to hear memory. "Lost Lost Angelus."
"Los Angeles? Jim, could it be Los Angeles?"
"I don't think so, Chief."
"It has to be, Jim. It's the only thing that makes sense."
He opened one eye. "Something about this makes sense to you?"
"Jim, I think it was a message. I think your dream was telling us to go to Los Angeles."
"Chief, you're jumping to conclusions, here. Lockley hasn't even called you back."
"She will." Blair leapt to his feet, started pacing. "The white guy's there, I know it. We have to go. I know I'm right, Jim."
Blair stopped in front of him. "Jim, you know that place I need you to be? This is it."
"Your place is Los Angeles?"
"Well, no, that was a metaphor. But we need to go, Jim. The longer we wait, the more people will die."
He ran a hand over his face. He'd been afraid of something like this. He should have kept his mouth shut. Just rolled over and gone back to sleep. "Blair, I'll make you a deal. If LAPD finds the drug on their body, then we'll go check it out. If they don't, we stay here and make Simon a happy captain. Okay?"
"I'm going back to bed."
Blair went back to his books. Manfully suppressing the "Jim 'More-Experienced-Than-You' Ellison's Why a Cop Needs His Sleep" lecture, he climbed the stairs and lay down. A page turned. Another.
"Don't forget to pack your sunblock."
Blair looked up from the book in his lap, a red one this time, and grinned. "So, Jim, did you pack that sunblock?"
Jim thought of whapping him, but settled for a baleful stare. Airline regulations could be tough. "Yes, Sandburg, I packed it."
"Good. Wouldn't want you to get burned in beautiful, sunny Los Angeles."
"This isn't a vacation, Chief."
The grin vanished. "I know that."
Blair turned back to the book. Great, Ellison. Slap the kid down just when he finally manages to think about something other than the case. Jim sipped the bottled water Blair had snatched from the galley for him. He hated this. He hated that Blair had been right, that the mothman apparently was in Los Angeles and killing more people. He hated that Simon had given in and let them go to L.A. when it was out of their jurisdiction and a few phone calls and emails should have ended their involvement. He hated what he knew would be Lockley's reaction to two out-of-town cops claiming to know more about her case than she did, because his own reaction would be exactly the same. And he hated that they might--hell, they probably would because it was just their luck--actually find the god-damned mothman.
Mostly, he hated what this was doing to Blair.
He glanced at the book. "What are you reading?"
"You don't want to know."
"Goes without saying, Sandburg. Tell me anyway."
"It's a book on supernatural beings that have appeared in various myths, stories, or other forms of cultural expression from ancient times to somewhere in the mid-nineteenth century, when this was written."
"So, this is research."
"Have you found anything yet?"
"No. But I've got the names of some other sources I can check, and some experts in the field who I can maybe talk to, if I get up the guts."
"There are experts?"
"Jim, there are experts in practically anything. You'd be amazed."
"I don't think so, Chief. I happen to know the world's only expert on sentinels."
Blair grinned briefly, and kept reading.
"How many books did you bring with you?"
"Hmm? Six or seven."
"Why don't you give me one?"
Blair looked at him. "Are you serious?"
Jim shrugged. "I've got nothing else to do."
"A lot of this is pretty dry, Jim."
"Just give me a book, Sandburg."
"Okay, man." Blair dragged his backpack from under the seat in front of him, rummaged through it, and pulled out a thick brown book with gilt lettering. He handed it to Jim. "Thanks. If you find anything that looks like it might be related, jot it down or mark the page with a scrap of paper, okay?"
"Got it." He opened the book.
"I'll wake you up when we land, Jim."
"You're a comedian, Sandburg."
"Are you sure you know where you're going, Sandburg?"
Blair cast an irritated glance at his passenger. "I don't have a clue where I'm going, Jim." He waved a hand out the car window at the darkened factories and warehouses around them. "I spent a few weeks in L.A. ten years ago. This isn't exactly the part of town I used to hang out in. You know, we could have waited until Kate got back from interviewing the witness."
"No." Jim peered from one side of the street to the other, his sentinel sight piercing shadows and darkness. "We need to be there."
Jim shrugged. "You're the shaman, Chief; you tell me."
"Did you have a vision?"
"No visions. Just a feeling."
"So, this isn't necessarily a sentinel thing. It could be a cop-instinct thing."
The streets were deserted. Keeping one eye on the road, Blair scanned the area. Why, he wasn't sure. He'd never see anything Jim couldn't. He wished Kate had waited for them. He understood why she hadn't, sort of. It was that territorial case-ownership thing. Jim had it. Most of the detectives he knew had it. And he was pretty sure he was starting to get it himself, though he was trying not to. Solving crimes shouldn't be a competition, it should be a cooperative effort. Not that anthropology was a hell of a lot different. In his time as a grad student, he'd seen a lot of cutthroat behavior among students and professors alike. Some people just couldn't share the credit; others, like Jim, tied their pride up in doing the job themselves. The best detectives, like Jim, tended to be mavericks, and mavericks tended not to be team players. There ought to be a way to change that. But that was a problem for behaviorists; he was a cop now, and he had to work with the system the way it was. Fortunately, Jim didn't see him as competition, or as outside interference. He never had. Blair had his own theories about why that was, but it didn't really matter. With a few exceptions he didn't like to remember, Jim trusted him as a partner. Now all he had to do was get Kate Lockley to trust them both.
"Slow down, Chief."
Blair hit the brake. "What is it, Jim? Do you hear something?"
Jim shook his head. "Do you smell that?"
Okay, humor him. Blair took a deep breath, smelled garbage and dirt and things he didn't want to think about, but nothing special. "Smell what, Jim?"
"That scent. The drug. Keep moving, but slow."
The rental car snailed forward. Jim turned his head from side to side, sniffing. Bloodhounds came to mind, but Blair kept his mouth shut. Contrary to popular belief, he could do that, occasionally.
He braked. Jim was out of the car before he put it into Park, running for--what else?--an alley. Dammit, Jim! Blair yanked the keys out of the ignition and took off after him, swearing under his breath. Jim would hear, if he wanted to. Blair just hoped he was listening.
The only light reached in from the street, throwing shadows in front of him. Blair ducked around a dumpster, jumped over something small and skittering that he did not want a closer look at, twisted to avoid stepping on something he just knew would have squished horribly, and nearly ran into Jim's back. Jim had his gun out.
"Police! Back away, now!"
A chain link fence walled the right side of the alley. Two bodies lay near it: one a man in cast-off clothes, the other a woman, blonde, in a white sweater and jeans. Another man bent over her. He straightened up at Jim's shout, faced them. He was pale-skinned, dark-haired, dressed in black with a long black coat. Blair didn't see any weapons, but there was something...something wrong about him. Looking at him sent a bug crawling up Blair's spine.
"Look," the man said, "I--"
"Shut up." Jim's face was white. "Back away, and keep your hands where I can see them."
The man put his hands out to the side, and moved a few steps away from the body. His gaze never shifting, Jim pulled his handcuffs from his back pocket.
"Cover him, Chief."
"Jim, I can--"
Blair drew his gun, trained it on the black-coated man. Jim approached him with unusual caution. The man shifted his gaze from Jim to Blair, met his eyes. His voice was low, quiet, certain.
"You're making a mistake."
The man obeyed. Jim slapped the cuff on his right wrist and reached for his left. The man spun around, left arm swinging, and hit Jim in the chest. The blow lifted Jim off his feet, threw him at least ten feet away. He landed heavily, his head just missing the corner of a building.
"Go!" Jim wheezed.
The man was up and over the chain link fence before he could move. Blair leaped onto the fence, but when he reached the top, the man was nowhere in sight. Cursing himself, he holstered his gun and ran to Jim.
"Jim! Are you okay?"
"Fine." Jim struggled to sit up. "Just knocked the wind out of me. Call an ambulance, Chief."
"For them." Jim nodded at the bodies.
Blair pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. While he talked to the dispatcher, he checked the bodies. The man was dead, his eyes open and staring. The woman had a pulse.
"Jim, she's alive."
Jim nodded, joining him at the woman's side. He pulled a leather wallet from her pocket and flipped it open. "It's Lockley."
Jim stood at the window, staring out at the lights of the city. Unfamiliar lights; unfamiliar city. Not his city, but still he stood sentinel. Pretending to read, Blair watched him.
Kate Lockley was in bad shape. She hadn't regained consciousness, and no one knew what was wrong with her. There wasn't so much as a bruise on her body. He and Jim had talked to her captain, but had gotten nowhere. Whatever Kate knew, she kept to herself, and the why of that was obvious. Kate was a laughing-stock in her department. She got all the weird cases, and she took them seriously. Her arrest record wasn't great, but whenever she investigated, the perps seemed to either just quit or vanish. Either way, the crimes stopped.
They were pretty sure the dead man was her witness. Kate had said he was unreliable, and the body reeked of alcohol. With no witness, and no investigating detective, they had nothing. Just another unexplained body.
Jim had barely spoken two words since they left the hospital. He'd let Blair drive back to the hotel, staring out the car window all the way. And now this. They'd been back in the room for over an hour, and Jim hadn't so much as sat down.
Jim blinked, and turned his head. "What?"
"I let the suspect get away." Again.
"Not your fault, Chief."
"I should have done something."
"I don't know. Something."
Jim shook his head. "Wouldn't have done any good. He was too fast. Too strong."
Jim rounded on him. "Jesus Christ, Chief, he threw me across the alley! What the hell do you think you could have done?"
"I could have shot him."
"Maybe." Jim looked away. "But I don't think it would have done any good."
"What do you mean?" Blair put his book down and stood up. "Jim?"
Jim shook his head. He took a deep breath, and held it. Let it out with, "He didn't have a heartbeat."
"What? Jim, that's not--"
"He didn't have a heartbeat. He didn't breathe."
"Are you sure, Jim? Maybe he had a white noise generator, or--"
"No." Jim faced him again. "He was the gray man."
"From your dream?"
Jim nodded. "He wasn't human, Chief. He's got to be what's killing these people, what came after you."
"I don't think so, Jim. He wasn't the man I saw in Cascade. He wasn't white."
"His skin was white."
"But that was all. And it wasn't the same white. And his eyes were--different. Human. Sad."
"Sad? Sandburg, don't tell me you're feeling sorry for this thing."
"I'm not! And he's not the same thing! I'm telling you, he didn't look anything like the mothman."
"So maybe there are two of them!"
"Two of them? God." Blair rubbed his arms. The air-conditioner in this place was turned up too high. "God, Jim. What are we going to do?"
"Figure out what they are. Find them. Kill them."
"I don't know." Jim grimaced. "Guess we'll find out."
"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?"
"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?"
"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--"
"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."
"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.
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.
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.
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?"
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."
"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?"
"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."
"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.
"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?"
"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.
"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.
"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 Are you by any chance--"
"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."
"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--
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."
"Okay." Blair looked at his hands, both filled with ice cream. Not much help there. "Okay. I have an idea."
"What?" Cordelia asked.
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."
"How many people know what you are?"
"Probably too many."
"You never answered Sandburg's question."
"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."
"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.
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.
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--"
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.
"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."
"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?"
"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."
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."
"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.
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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."
"These moth things--"
"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."
"Jim, I'm your partner, not your observer, remember? And this is still my case. I'm going."
"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?"
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?"
"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?"
"Well, thank you not," Cordelia sniffed.
"You're too young," Blair said. "I'm too old. Look, can we discuss this later?"
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.
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.
He felt, heard, smelled the flames, but he didn't look. He kept his eyes on Blair. Blair gasped, and opened his eyes.
"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?"
"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.
"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."
"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.