Out Of Darkness - Kata Avalon
Notes: Previously titled 'Failure' in another life. The story has been seriously expanded and revised since those days.
He was wandering around town on a drizzly Tuesday night, looking like an extra from the Matrix high on stimulants, trying to find some outlet for the restlessness and dark mood that had gripped him, had hooked its claws into him and would not let go. He walked past the usual pickings: the needy and desperate, those who did not care much about anyone, not even themselves. They could never hold his interest for long and were not enough to lift the heavy mood that had overwhelmed him. Then he walked past a small closed mall and noticed someone lying still on the hard concrete tiles. He paused, considering. There was something unusual about that one, something that sang to him, beckoned him. He walked towards the chosen one on soft feet, feeling something stir in him after a long time of inner stillness.
The ground felt hard and cold as he lay on it. The cold was seeping through his coat and trousers, stealing his warmth. The coloured concrete tiles were wet from the drizzle, but Jim didn’t care, nor about the shivers that occasionally racked through him. Why should he? He had failed. He had failed in the army and as a police officer. Jim bit his lip to keep the whimpers in as the images from that last crime scene surfaced in his mind. The bombed remains of the bus and the people in it strewn around like confetti, the smell of burned rubber, electronics, metal and flesh, all peppered with blood.
“Hi, you sober?” Jim started at the soft voice directed at him.
He sat up and looked at the young man wearing a mid-length dark leather coat standing in front of him. He smelled of expensive aftershave and incense, a weird combination, but not unappealing. The lights from the neon signs highlighted the different colours of red and brown in his short hair. There was something almost ghostly about him, though he was obviously quite corporeal.
Jim shook his head to clear it.
“Yeah, I’m sober, for now. What’s it to you?” Jim didn’t want company or pity. He had thrown Caroline out after one too many ‘oh, Jimmy’s. Simon had not even bothered to check up on him; the police captain was busy trying to cover his and the department’s asses after the bomber fiasco. In a way, Jim understood him, but he had really thought Simon would at least make an effort. Just one more sign of Jim’s failure.
Jim felt uncomfortable as the young man watched him, looking him over, taking in the dirty coat, the jeans that had not been washed for weeks, the sneakers with mud stains all over. Jim had been wandering around aimlessly for days, trying to find some peace. His errant senses were slowly driving him insane and his conscience was nagging at him endlessly, giving him no peace or a moment’s rest. IA had looked the case over and certified him unfit for duty in record time, so he had all the time in the world now for inner searching, and was going to pieces, slowly and surely.
“How about some coffee? I have this really mean espresso machine,” the young man said at last.
Jim thought about it. He should just say no and get the hell out of the plaza, go home and reserve a room for himself in some nice insane asylum, but why bother? What did it matter? Besides, the young man’s voice sounded good and his presence had a calming effect on Jim.
Jim shrugged. Really, what did he have to lose? His honour? The older man chuckled at the thought. “Sure.”
“By the way, name’s Blair,” the young man offered as Jim stood up from the ground.
The doorman of the apartment building merely glanced at Jim as he greeted Blair. The grey-haired man did not even blink an eye as Jim walked past him. Must be used to seeing Blair drag in strays. Jim wondered what that said about the young man’s tastes and then wondered if he even cared. In the end he decided that getting killed in a strange apartment by some guy he had just met would be a fitting end for him.
The apartment itself was softly lit and full, full of books, antique furniture and weird knickknacks. The warm-coloured furniture looked comfortable. However, Jim was wary of sitting on anything; he had no illusions about the state of his jeans, or himself for that matter. He really did not want to inadvertently give Blair a huge cleaning bill.
“The shower’s over there,” Blair said with a slight smile, pointing at the door on the right, opposite a wall with an open kitchen with a bar counter. Jim could see a wicker bowl of exotic fruits and a dark red coffee machine on the counter.
“Right.” Jim headed for the bathroom. At least he would get clean, and maybe the guy would feed him too. Eating had not been very high on his agenda lately and his stomach was about ready to announce an open revolt.
He could hear Blair begin to undress behind him as he entered the warm bathroom. Taking off the well-used clothes was almost a physical relief.
The shower was a haven from the cold world - warm water and a massaging showerhead caressing him sweetly. After several minutes of pure bliss, Jim stepped out on to a soft mat, and saw clean sweats neatly laid on a low bench. He thought for a moment, then shrugged, and put the sweats on, leaving his dirty clothes in the bathroom. That was as close to a washing machine as they had been for some time.
Jim sipped on a glass of red wine. Blair had fed him, and quite well too. The chicken and vegetables had been simple, but delicious, fare. Just what his stomach needed after a too long period of bland snacks or nothing at all.
“So, what next?” Jim asked, mildly curious as to what the other man had in mind.
Blair stood up and took their empty plates to the kitchen. “That depends.”
Blair came back to the chrome and wood dinner table and moved to stand behind Jim. “On you, on your taste.”
“Taste? As in?” Jim asked, looking straight ahead - at a painting of a redheaded woman in a Victorian dress. She resembled Blair; maybe she was his great-grandmother?
“Your taste,” Blair whispered, as he licked at Jim’s neck. It felt kind of good. A feeling of warmth began to spread into his body from the point Blair had licked. “Oh, yes, I was right.”
“Mmm?” Jim felt a strange lethargy grip him. Then sharp teeth bit his neck and a blissful darkness enveloped him.
Blair looked at the sentinel lying on the bed, snoring softly. He had believed that Jim was a sentinel since they’d left the plaza; the sense and aura of a sentinel was clear to someone like him, but the taste of him had confirmed it. The taste of Jim’s blood had been exquisite, the best ever. It was not just because he was a sentinel; it was his unique, personal taste. It had been rich as a full red wine, but with a bite of smoky, well-aged whiskey.
Blair sat down on the bed beside his latest find. Jim would wake up soon and it would be time to taste other kind of pleasures. The attraction had been mild in the beginning, but had flared up when Jim had walked out of the bathroom. Blair could hardly understand how the scruffy scarecrow he had found and brought home had suddenly been turned into a handsome hunk of a man. Or had his unconscious recognised the potential from the beginning?
Blair caressed Jim’s slack features. Something about the sentinel stirred half-forgotten feelings deep inside him. His dark mood had been lifted, but would it return if – or when - Jim left? Was he ready to share his life with someone else? All of it? And just what did he know of his sentinel?
Blair shrugged. He would think about it later. For now, he just wanted to feel. He did not want to lose the spark he had re-found with Jim.
Soft and clean sheets under him, the scent of Blair under him and around him, gently brought him up to the waking world. Jim slowly opened his eyes and saw the young man sitting on the bed beside him. His limbs felt oddly heavy, as if he had just run a marathon.
"Hi, how are you feeling?" Blair asked in a whisper.
"Heavy, tired," Jim answered simply. He massaged his neck slowly, but he could not feel any wounds. Was it a dream? Or a hallucination brought on by my senses? Or just a kink Blair has?
"Good. I was careful, but one never knows with sentinels," Blair said softly as he moved to lie by Jim. Jim noticed that they were both naked. It didn’t bother him, though he thought idly that it should have, for some reason.
"You're a sentinel, someone with heightened senses," Blair explained as he started to caress Jim in earnest, exploring the body lying before him, investigating the bumps and curves. "In olden times, your path would have been clear before you from early childhood and you would have had a guide or a mate to help you manage your gifts."
The touch felt good, soft and soothing. "Gifts?" Jim had not thought of it that way. The senses had felt more like a curse.
"Yep, a gift. There's so much you could do, if you had a guide." Blair straddled him. His hands moved to investigate the flat stomach, while he sat on the muscled thighs. "Have you ever been with another man?"
Jim shook his head. For some weird reason, he was not afraid. He was not indifferent to it, not exactly, but what was happening did not scare him either. He felt as if this was how it was supposed to go, as if he was finally on the right track.
"Then turn around. It will be easier that way."
The sentinel stood underneath the shower. The water cascading over him felt divine, cleansing him, calming him. Blair had been gentle and careful, making sure Jim enjoyed the experience too. The scents of lovemaking and Blair’s touches had felt good, he had never felt so cherished in bed, but still something had been missing. Love? Do you still believe in that rubbish? Jim told his inner voice to stuff it.
He got out of the shower and went over to the sink. The sentinel froze as he saw himself in the oval mirror.
Jim stared at himself. He was clean, clean-shaven and he did not look like something the neighbour’s cat had dragged in a week ago. In short he looked alive, and he actually felt more animated than he had for weeks. Shouldn’t I be freaking out? I just had sex with another man, practically a stranger. Hell, I wouldn’t even know his last name if the doorman hadn’t called him Mr Sandburg. Shouldn’t I be having a major identity crisis right about now? Could it be that because he had been through so much already, something relatively minor like this was insignificant in comparison? Or had he just been repressing this side of himself until now?
Jim shook his head in minor confusion. He turned his head to listen to Blair as the other man dragged himself out of bed. Jim realised that he did not want to leave; he did not want to lose this spark of life he had found with Blair, another man. Who also accidentally seemed to know about what he was.
He shrugged. So, I'm not normal. What else is new?
Blair was preparing his morning coffee as Jim exited the bathroom. He looked at Jim with still bleary eyes as his sentinel, wearing nothing but pyjama bottoms, trod softly across the Persian carpet.
My sentinel? Blair kept his face impassive with the ease of long practice, hiding his excitement and hope. Yes, this one could be the real thing. He could feel the bond between them humming softly, and could feel the protective/nurturing instincts within himself waking up. The sex last night had not been bad, either. Jim had been uncertain and hesitant, but had reacted well to Blair’s nudges and caresses. Blair had not even noticed the bond forming. But what if I’m wrong, again? Can I take him into my life? Or am I just creating problems where there aren’t any? Well, to be honest, he already had taken Jim into his life. Why not see this through? If he was right, he could gain so much.
Jim stood by the other side of the counter, looking at Blair curiously. The sentinel looked mellow, more at peace with himself than last night and absolutely fuckable. Blair grabbed the older man and leaned over to kiss him. The kiss was familiar, yet exciting, arousing and yet reassuring. Just the kind he liked, Blair thought with a grin.
Blair licked his lips as he ended the kiss. “Morning. What would you like for breakfast? To eat, that is.”
Jim actually looked shy. “Um, some breakfast?”
“Okay, breakfast coming up,” Blair chuckled as he turned to forage in the large red refrigerator. There should still be some bacon and eggs in there. His sentinel could use some more meat on those bones.
Jim sipped on his second coffee while Blair put the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.
"So, what comes next?"
Blair turned to look at Jim intently. The older man was standing by the counter, almost at parade rest. The guide caressed the sentinel's arm, and could feel the tense muscles relaxing a bit. "Do you have your own place?"
"Yeah, a loft,” Jim said, looking everywhere but at Blair.
“I haven’t been… feeling so good lately,” Jim said, playing with Blair’s fingers. Somehow Blair’s hand had ended up in his. “I though I was going insane. Couldn’t bring myself to care about anything very much.”
“Do you have a job?” Blair asked softly.
Jim shook his head.
“Okay, how about I take you back to your place. You can change your clothes, and I’ll take you for lunch afterwards?” Blair freed his hand so he could put his arms around Jim. Sounded like the sentinel had been going downhill fast. Blair was thankful he had found Jim before the crash, though no doubt it would have been better if they had met before the downward slide.
“Sounds good, but what about your job?”
“No problem, I don’t have to be at the office until Thursday. I’ve got a few days off.” And if he didn’t, he would have just phoned in and announced he wasn’t coming in. His sentinel needed him and the guide would not fail in his duties, not intentionally, not if there was anything he could do.
Jim opened the door to the loft with hesitation. He had been able to detect the sickly, nauseating smell while still in the elevator. Funny how you noticed things like that when you were aware of your surroundings.
“You weren’t kidding when you said you hadn’t been feeling well,” Blair commented.
The loft was in shambles, a royal mess. It had not been cleaned for weeks; there were dirty clothes strewn around, and the air felt stuffy. The coat of dust looked an inch thick in places. The few plants had died of dehydration weeks before and were nothing but twigs and brown dust.
Jim felt sick at the smells and he had started to sneeze as soon as they entered the loft.
“That’s it, you’re not staying here,” Blair said, squaring his shoulders.
Jim was surprised at the gentleness and caring he could sense in the simple statement. He felt warm inside at the realisation that Blair really cared about him.
“Take only what you absolutely need. I’ll hire a cleaning crew in the meantime. Then we can see about getting you a change of clothes, and have that lunch I promised.”
Jim nodded, and went up to get a few necessities. He was kind of relieved that Blair had offered to get a cleaning crew in here. Jim was feeling better, but cleaning the loft had felt like a truly Herculean task and, left to his own devices, he would have probably put it off. Besides, it was a nice feeling to have someone take care of him. Unusual, but nice. He could get used to it.
Jim sat on a bench in the back of a café and looked around him. There were several shopping bags beside him on the bench, and a steaming cup of cinnamon coffee before him. Such simple pleasures, which earlier in the week would have been totally unthinkable for him to enjoy as his senses would have gone haywire the moment he stepped into any store or coffee house - hell, any kind of establishment with a myriad smells and sounds. Now, it was manageable. He could actually enjoy those small things that everyone else took for granted.
Jim turned his head to look at the one who made it possible. Blair was sitting opposite him, totally immersed in the books he had just bought. The senses had been manageable ever since he had hooked up with Blair, and had found a term for himself. Had found out what he was.
Jim settled more firmly on his bench. They were in no hurry. The cleaning crew would visit his loft on Friday, and they would have to air out the place for some time afterwards. Blair had invited him to stay, indefinitely. Jim was seriously thinking of taking him up on it, for a lot longer than a week. Like maybe for the rest of his life?
Blair watched Jim from the corner of his eye. The tall man looked delicious in the dark jeans and a black dress shirt. When Blair had seen him walk out of the dressing room with the outfit, topped by a short leather jacket, he had felt like taking his sentinel right there. Even the sales clerk had been drooling, but had put his tongue back into his mouth after a glare from Blair.
Blair put the books back into the bag and looked around. There were throngs of people walking, shopping, chatting, but the sentinel seemed calm and collected. His senses are stabilising. We should be able to begin practising actively using his senses soon. Blair was looking forward to the practice sessions, it had been a long time since he had trained a sentinel.
“So, what would you like for lunch?” Blair asked. His stomach was growling.
Jim shrugged. “As long as it’s not too spicy, I’m open for anything.”
“Really?” Blair asked with a leer. Sometimes even he was surprised at what his dirty mind could come up with.
Jim blushed, his whole face turning an attractive shade of red. Blair kind of liked the look.
In the end, they decided on Italian food. The restaurant a block from Blair’s apartment was not too crowded and the food was made of organic vegetables and fruits.
Blair watched Jim’s ass as they walked back to Blair’s apartment after the lunch. It looked real good in those jeans. The way he walks, it really shows up that ass and those thighs.
Blair could feel the first pangs of another kind of hunger. The signs were familiar. He had been going without for too long due to his black mood. I should have just fed instead of being so damn picky. Well, there’s nothing for it. Thankfully sentinels bounce back fast. Still, Blair would have preferred to wait a bit longer, but there was nothing he could do. Delaying his hunger again could result in a feeding frenzy, and Jim would not survive it. Not in his present condition.
Blair started undressing Jim as soon as they got in the front door. Jim liked the attention, and the urgency in the touches. He could feel sharp teeth nipping at his neck. He really has a thing about necks.
They retreated to the bedroom without losing touch with each other. Jim stumbled and fell on to the bed, shirtless and without the jeans. He took off his boxers as Blair watched, with full attention.
“How about you? Blair?” Jim asked tentatively, when it seemed that Blair was happy to just watch. Jim’s libido was finally catching on that something pretty good was happening, and he did not want to risk it falling asleep again. It had not been that reliable lately, or gotten much practice, and he really preferred it when his bed partner was an active participant.
“Uh? Oh, yeah.”
Jim smiled as Blair started to take off his clothes at warp speed. It was really a cute sight.
Blair pounced on him and they tumbled naked on the bed for a while. Jim’s caresses were awkward and a bit hesitant, but gaining in confidence. He was a quick study when something grabbed his interest.
Blair lay on Jim, his legs between the other man’s, and bit his neck. The bite was gentle and slow, but Jim could feel his skin break. Blood started flowing and Blair began to growl softly as he lapped at the bite, and the blood.
“Blair?” Jim did not remember this happening the last time they had had sex.
“Hush, it’s okay. Just need a few licks,” Blair explained in a rough voice. The other man was slowly humping Jim, his hard cock making friends with Jim’s.
After a few moments, Blair raised his head. Jim watched curiously as Blair licked his lips, then dove to kiss Jim. Now this felt familiar. Jim locked his legs around Blair’s hips.
Jim could not take his eyes off a sleeping Blair as they lay on the messed-up bed afterwards. The earlier events had really messed with his post-coital sappy mood. Just what was Blair? Well, he liked blood, and biting.
Jim touched his neck. He couldn’t detect a wound or anything unusual, but the skin had broken. There had been a wound, one that had not bled after Blair stopped licking at it.
“Mmm?” Blair opened sleepy eyes. “I can practically hear your mind whirling.”
“Just thinking, about you,” Jim commented. He really did not know what he wanted to ask. Every question that came to his mind sounded stupid, foolish or out of a b-class movie.
Blair took a deep breath and settled better on the bed. “I need blood,” the younger man stated. “It’s like needing water. You need more than just water to live, but you can’t survive without it. My kind, vampyres, don’t need much blood, but we need it pretty regularly,” Blair explained softly, not touching Jim, but his attention was fixed firmly on the other man, gauging his reaction to what Blair was telling him. “And, no, we don’t need to kill. Though even our kind have the occasional rotten egg, hence the horror tales.”
Jim nodded. It made sense. Well, as much as anything about his life nowadays did. Of course, provided it was true and not some concoction Blair had made up to explain his kinks.
“Are there more of you?”
Blair smiled. “Not that many, but yes, there are more of us. We’ve been keeping a low profile for centuries.”
“Last evening, you made sure I’d fall asleep before you drank.”
Blair nodded. “It’s a trick we learn early on, something about hormones in our saliva.” Blair took a deep breath again. “We’ll hopefully be seeing each other for a long time, and you deserved to know about me.”
“Thank you.” Jim kissed Blair gently. Blair trusted him enough to tell him the truth, and the vampyre wanted him to stay.
The sentinel smiled at Blair before settling on the bed. He fell asleep in under a minute.
Blair actually had a regular, totally legal and normal business to take care of. He owned a publishing house that specialised in fantasy of all things. Jim usually steered clear of such books so he had never heard of Werewolf Publishing, but he had heard Daryl commenting that the company’s authors were real popular and Rafe had bought some of Werewolf’s novels for his niece, so Blair could not be doing too bad. Then again, the younger man had a natural advantage in that field, in a manner of speaking.
Blair gave Jim the keys to his apartment and the front door. He also informed the doorman and security guard that Jim was his guest for the foreseeable future. The information was received with not so much as a single raised eyebrow. In Jim’s building, they would have had to deal with Mrs Ferguson, a sour old woman who had strict views of everyone and everything. She was not afraid to let everyone within five feet know how much she disliked the current state of affairs either. Luckily she had been away when Jim and Blair visited the loft.
“Now, Jim, you’ll be going out without me, so you’ll need to have your senses under control,” Blair commented as he was checking his backpack.
“How?” Jim had been keeping his senses under a tight control, only occasionally using them more actively. It was easiest when he was alone with Blair. He had begun to think of his lover as a touchstone, an anchor for his senses. Out in the world, it was more difficult to direct them. Probably because Blair keeps moving.
“You need to practice with them. Expand them and compress them as needed. That way you won’t be overwhelmed.”
“How?” Jim did not like the helpless undertone of the question.
“You need an image to aid you in the beginning.” Blair thought for a moment. “What are you familiar with? Volume control on a stereo set? Old-fashioned radio?”
Jim nodded. He got the idea. The sentinel closed his eyes.
“One set of controls for each sense,” Blair said softly.
Jim imagined a set of controls in his mind, labelled them and turned them down. After a few missteps – at one point the controls for his sight affected his hearing - he got it right.
“Well?” Blair asked as Jim opened his eyes.
“Everything’s working smoothly.” It had been so easy, in the end.
“Best keep your senses on alert, and expand them now and then,” Blair advised as he put his coat on. A woollen coat this time, not the dark leather coat he had had on that fateful evening. Just two days ago?
“Why?” Jim would prefer to get rid of them. They had brought Blair into his life, but prior to that they had pretty much ruined everything.
Blair sighed. “For one thing, practice. You need to get familiar with your senses and controlling them, or the senses will control you and I doubt you want that to happen again. Second, there are the usual dangers of Cascade: robbers, muggers, car wrecks, etc. And last but not least, not everyone is as blasé or accepting about vampyres as you. There are some who take the legends of vampires seriously. One former lover actually tried to stake me,” Blair commented with a grimace.
Jim felt a sense of outrage that someone would dare attempt to hurt Blair. He was somewhat surprised at the strong reaction.
“You’re with me, so those van Helsing wannabes out there probably think I’ve corrupted you,” Blair commented as he put his backpack on.
Jim snorted. “If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be.”
Blair smiled softly. “I know. But some people take the horror stories and fantasy tales seriously. I blame the money-grabbers in Hollywood.”
Blair’s comments about vampire hunters unnerved Jim. He was not at his best yet, and he was worried he would not be that much help if someone did come after Blair. He hated the feeling of inadequacy. He did not want to fail Blair, too.
He was also getting bored and slightly stir crazy in the apartment. A sure sign the depression is lifting. Before I was content to just lie down and stare at something, or nothing.
Jim decided to go to a gym nearby he had noticed the previous day. The gym was clean and well-maintained, with plenty of free weights and treadmills. Most of the others there were women, though there were a few men too. Jim greeted them carefully. He was not yet sure just how often he would be coming here. His whole life seemed to be on edge, or at a crossroads. He could not go back to how things were, that much he was certain of. The other option was to stay with Blair, though he didn’t know just what that would mean. What would it be like to live with a man, a vampyre? What would he do for a living? At least I’m thinking ahead, trying to plan my life and not just drifting along.
Jim worked at the weights carefully while pondering his choices. His muscles protested the workout.
Jim returned to the apartment after a two-hour workout, exhausted, but feeling like his life was finally moving after a period of deep freeze. It was certainly a different kind of life than what he had planned, but it felt right. At least more so than some of his previous decisions.
Jim had just changed clothes and was planning lunch when the phone on a Chinese cupboard rang. He looked at the caller ID; it was Blair.
“Yes?” he answered simply.
“Hi, handsome. How about lunch together?”
“Sure, sounds good.” A lot better than eating some leftovers on my own.
“Just walk over to the office,” Blair offered in a bright voice.
Blair hung up the phone. He had not felt this excited, worried and hopeful for decades, not since Alex. Blair closed his eyes at the memories that threatened to escape their well-guarded prison.
"Boss? You okay?"
Blair turned and looked at Abhi, a young graphics designer standing by the doorway to his inner sanctum. Worried grey eyes examined him from under a mop of raven-black hair.
"Fine. What have you got there?”
"Some ideas for a cover for Dagwood's new novel and the final design for the cover of Waseem’s kids’ book. Oh, and the guys at the printer have been asking about the paper for that ad poster."
“Okay, come here, sit down and let’s look at them.” It would take Jim about 15 minutes to walk to the office, which gave him plenty of time to wrap up here and meet him down in the lobby. Provided something did not come up at the last minute. It had better not.
Jim halted by the front door to an old renovated factory that housed several small businesses, including the offices of Werewolf Publishing. The renovators had left the outside untouched and the old dark red tiles even smelled old. Jim touched a coarse tile that smelled faintly of fire. Things were better with Blair – he was better. He had found a place and a source of peace for himself. For the first time, he felt wanted for who he was, not what he was or who he was pretending to be. He was accepted. I don't want to lose this. But did Blair feel the same? Would the other man feel the same after living with him for a longer time? Jim had yet to meet a person who would want to stay with him for longer than a year or two, but it felt different with Blair. Still, if Blair did not want him, he would go on. He would not return to the depression. He would continue living.
Jim entered the renovated building. He was with Blair, for now, and would be with him for as long as the other man wanted him.
The two men walked to a nearby French restaurant. The autumn weather was exceptionally warm for Cascade so they sat on the terrace with their salads and soft drinks.
“Blair, just what do you know about sentinels?” Jim asked. He had pretty much accepted what he was, but was not sure what it meant.
Blair thought for a moment, munching on a tomato slice. “The attitudes have changed a lot across time. You’ve been revered and scorned according to the cultural beliefs of the time. Some have thought you’re closer to the spirit world, while others have thought you’re equivalent to the animals in the field. As the rational, scientific mode of thinking advanced, sentinels were pushed aside and all but forgotten. Your kind, and my kind, didn’t fit in that view of the world.”
“Yet you call the senses gifts?” Jim commented as he speared the last bit of chicken left on his plate.
“You’re better with them,” Blair stated.
“Am I?” Jim was not so certain.
“Oh, yes. Just think what you could do with them,” Blair said, sounding energetic and genuinely enthusiastic. “Search and rescue, private detective, hell, even arson inspector. Just think of the possibilities of having acute senses: keen nose, sharp eyes and ears. You could follow any trail, sort out the smallest clues.”
Blair’s eagerness was contagious. Jim could not help thinking that maybe there was a plus side to all of this, that maybe he could do something useful with his life after all. Maybe he was not a total failure.
They were returning to the office when Jim suddenly stopped outside a fruit and vegetable store.
“Jim?” The sentinel was staring at the front door of the renovated factory that housed Blair’s office on the other side of the street.
“Something is wrong.”
“Okay, come here.” Blair led Jim to a newsstand on the corner, where they wouldn’t be in the way - or attract attention. “Go through the info, filter out what’s familiar and concentrate on the unfamiliar or out-of-place.”
Jim shuffled through his senses. It was getting easier to live with them, but fine-tuning them and making them work the way he wanted them to was still an uphill struggle. Which smell, sound or sight should not be there? That one. “Faint smell of explosives… would cause a huge fire, I think.”
“How do you know?”
Jim hesitated for a second. “I used to be a police detective in another life.”
Blair nodded, not questioning further, accepting Jim’s explanation. “We need to make sure before calling the cops. Let’s go.”
The pair found the bomb behind some boxes of printing paper that were stacked at the back of the lobby, waiting to be picked up. The boxes were meant for Werewolf Publishing.
Jim stared at the bomb. The detonation had stopped, with just a couple of minutes to spare. The memories of a previous bomb scene as well as the smell of the explosives turned his stomach. He bolted to the men’s room to throw up as Blair called the police.
“Jim?” Blair called softly from the doorway to the men’s room.
“I’ll be alright.” Even Jim himself would not have believed the weak assurance.
Jim watched the familiar hustle and bustle of an investigation. The Captain of the bomb squad, Joel Taggert, was talking with Simon, going over his findings and discussing about what it all meant.
“Feeling nostalgic?” Blair asked. They were standing by the forensics team’s van, waiting to hear the verdict.
Jim glanced at the throng of onlookers watching the investigations with undisguised interest and curiosity.
“Not really,” Jim said, surprising himself. “I don’t belong there anymore.”
Simon walked over to the pair. “Hi, Jim,” he greeted his former detective awkwardly.
“Hi. Blair Sandburg, meet Simon Banks, captain of Major Crimes.”
The two men shook hands firmly, sizing each other up. “I’m sure it would have been nice to meet you, in other circumstances. What did your men find?”
“Enough explosives to set fire to the whole building, and seriously damage the block. It had been set to go off with a timer, but the starter malfunctioned and caused a short-circuit. Do you have any idea who could be behind this?”
“Well, the only one I know who could be capable of this is one Samantha Blake. She thinks I’m a blood-sucking vampire who should be, well, staked to death,” Blair told the larger man simply.
Simon shook his head. “I take it you’ve had dealings with her before?”
“In L.A she broke into my apartment and sprinkled so much garlic in there, I had to hire a cleaning crew. The neighbours were pissed, let me tell you.”
Simon mumbled something that sounded like ‘Why me?’
“Did you report it?” he asked Blair.
Blair shrugged. “Actually, the neighbours called the police. She was arrested about a week later for threatening someone with a silver dagger, I believe.”
Simon looked like he had a migraine coming on. Jim felt sympathy for his former boss. He would have been developing a headache too, just half a year ago. Then his own life got weird and he became one of those ‘odd others’.
“I’ll put a patrol on your house. Sounds like this Blake woman isn’t someone to give in easily.” Blair nodded his agreement. “Jim, I suppose you can be reached at the loft?”
“Actually, I’m living with Blair nowadays.”
If Simon had had a cigar, it would have been chomped through by now. “Right. Give the address to Lieutenant Bunker. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a vampire hunter to catch.”
Blair and Jim finally arrived at Blair’s place after two hours of questioning and watching the bomb squad and forensics do their work. Blair had given the whole office the rest of the day off, or what was left of it after the interviews and cleaning up. No one would have had any enthusiasm for ordinary work anyway.
“Did you mind?” Jim asked, as the vampyre dropped onto the couch.
“Mind what?” Blair asked with his eyes closed.
“That I told Simon I’m living with you,” Jim clarified, feeling a bit worried. So much had been announced with that one short sentence.
Blair opened his eyes and turned to look straight at his sentinel. “You do live here, unless and until you choose to leave.”
Jim shrugged. “I like it here. I’m planning on staying for some time.”
“Good.” Blair watched his sentinel as Jim walked over to the couch. “Why did you throw up?” the guide asked softly.
Jim could feel his nose twitching as the smells of blood and charred human remains assaulted him again. He tried to draw a clean breath as he felt himself drowning in the recollection again. Strong hands brought him up from the sense memories.
“Come on, Jim. I’m here, you’re safe. It’s safe to come back,” a soft voice reassured him.
Jim gasped as the scent of Blair, coffee and Blair’s houseplants overrode the smells of carnage. Blair helped him to sit up on the couch, careful to keep in physical contact with his sentinel.
“Sorry,” Jim mumbled. He had not lost himself in the memories since before he met Blair.
“What did you zone on?” Blair asked, ignoring the apology.
“Memories. A bomber, the papers called him the Switchman, was loose in Cascade. I was a detective in Major Crimes, under Banks, and we were after him – actually, it turned out to be her. We managed to trace her to a buss full of people. I failed, and she blew up herself and the bus,” Jim told Blair in a lifeless voice.
“Did you zone? As you did just now?”
Jim nodded. “I had had her in my sight before, but I got lost in a sound. Then when she got on the bus, there was this light. I froze, then someone pushed me and I fell on the ground.” Jim shook his head. “I was useless during the chase. I couldn’t concentrate my hearing on anything specific, and I just didn’t know what I was supposed to hear, to do.” He could still taste the panic that had crept in on him then.
“You had no guide,” Blair stated as if that absolved him of any guilt.
Jim snorted. Maybe in Blair’s eyes it did, but for him it was not that simple.
Blair grabbed his stubborn sentinel’s head and stared him in the eyes. “A sentinel is not meant to be alone. You were alone, with no knowledge of what was happening to you or what you were. I’m amazed you were able to function so long without anyone to help you. It was NOT your fault.”
Jim stared at his lover and guide. He wanted to believe him, but could he let go? The guilt and shame had been his constant companions for so long.
“It was not your fault,” Blair repeated softly.
Jim tried to stop the tears, but the dam had been broken.
Blair held his sentinel in a strong embrace as Jim finally let himself grieve.
Detective Brian Rafe looked at the screen of his computer and shook his well-barbered head.
“Let me guess, you’re reading about Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” his less nattily dressed partner, Detective Henri Brown, guessed from where he sat going over the forensics reports.
“She’s nuts, just plain whacko,” Rafe said with awe.
“Won’t get no argument from me,” Henri commented. “You remember the surname of that slayer on TV?” he suddenly asked more seriously.
“Summers,” Rafe asked readily. Henri stared at him suspiciously. “What? My niece happens to have a crush on Xander, you know.”
“If you say so, man.” Henri ignored the glare aimed at him. “One Faith Summers was shopping for explosives at Dalby’s a week ago.”
“Let’s go chat with the owner,” Rafe suggested as he rose from his chair.
“I’ll inform Banks,” Henri volunteered. He was always ready to report on progress. It was much easier on the ears with a boss like Banks.
Jim offered a cup of espresso to Jack Kelso, an old friend of Blair’s and a fellow vampyre. The man had arrived at the door early in the morning. Way too early in Jim’s opinion - 4.30 am should be considered night, not morning. He certainly hoped this was not typical of Blair’s vampyre friends or relatives.
Blair had called Kelso just after he had called the police, to tell him to alert the others. Since then, Kelso had been making his own inquiries into the matter, with the emphasis on the potential threat to the vampyre community in the area.
“The police are following her trail, and closing in on her. I’m just worried she’ll decide to become a martyr to her so-called cause and makes a suicide hit or something,” Kelso warned Blair, nodding his thanks to Jim. The sentinel had similar worries.
“I’m aware of that, but I do believe that she thinks her life’s work isn’t finished yet,” Blair argued. “Not until she’s fulfilled her destiny, or whatever she calls it. Besides, she hasn’t shown any suicidal tendencies yet.”
Kelso nodded, then glanced at Jim who had sat down on an armchair where he could keep an eye on both Blair and Kelso.
“What about him?” the older man asked.
“Jim’s my sentinel,” Blair stated simply.
Kelso looked at Blair in mild surprise. “I thought you wouldn’t want to get involved with another sentinel, not after Alex.”
Jim bit his lip to keep from blurting out a dozen questions. This was not his discussion, he did not know enough to get involved. Blair would tell him the story once they were alone.
“Alex wanted too much, too soon. She overreached and burned her fingers. Jim’s not like that,” Blair said with conviction.
“He’d better not be,” Kelso said softly, looking straight at Jim. Jim just sat calmly and met Kelso‘s stare. He would not fail Blair.
Blair shut the door behind Kelso. The older man had warned others in the area about Sam, so everyone knew to be on their guard. Still, there was little that could stop someone so determined to kill you, especially when that someone was delusional. Such people weren’t logical or predictable.
The young man turned and stopped as he saw Jim standing by the couch with a determined look in his eyes.
“Okay, I kept quiet while he was here, but I want some answers now.”
“I’ll answer them the best I can,” Blair promised. His sentinel deserved to know.
“Why did you call me your sentinel?”
“Every sentinel has a guide, and vice versa. They work in pairs, both protecting and taking care of each other. The guide is usually also a shaman, or someone similar.” Blair took a deep breath. “The two are connected by a bond, a soul connection. I’m sure you’ve felt it humming between us.”
Jim nodded. “I though it was just,” he blushed, ”attraction.”
“That too,” Blair assured him.
“What about Alex?” Jim asked after his cheeks had cooled down some.
Blair moved to sit on the couch. Jim settled down beside him.
“She was a sentinel, but not my sentinel. Still, I tried to help her until she could find her own guide. She wouldn’t accept just any guide.” Blair was quiet for a moment. Jim had rarely seen him so still. Usually Blair was in motion or gave the appearance of having pent-up energy.
“Then she heard about the Temple of the Sentinels. The trip there is a kind of a pilgrimage for sentinels. It was once a haven for abused sentinels and the spirits still guard it closely. She was not a full sentinel, and when she went there, she was thrown out. It was the last straw in her mind and she rebelled against the spirits, against the whole ideal of what a sentinel stands for.” Blair halted his story to snuggle with Jim. The sentinel kept quiet.
“Her senses left her and her spirit guide abandoned her. She became a wreck and tried to take her hatred out on me and Kelso. We had followed her to the temple, you know.” Blair buried his face in Jim’s neck. “I killed her,” he whispered.
Jim caressed his guide’s hair as Blair grieved for a lost sentinel, a lost chance. Blair was his guide, he knew that in his soul, and Blair had announced that Jim was his sentinel. Kelso would no doubt spread the word, just in case something did go wrong. Kelso would not be as ready to trust a sentinel as Blair was. Jim swore never to disappoint or fail his guide.
Blair snuffled into his neck, and then licked his ear. “Did you mind?”
“That you told Kelso I’m your sentinel? No, I didn’t.”
Blair sat up. “How about going to bed? I just want to hold you for awhile.”
“I’d like that.”
“Tomorrow, I want to go visit Banks,” Blair said as they walked to the bedroom.
Jim thought about setting foot inside the PD and hearing all the whispers start again. “I’ll come with you.”
“I’ll have to face them sooner or later, and I’m curious about what they’ve found out about Sam.”
“Samantha Blake has been connected with two murders and three attempted murders, in addition to several breaking-and-enterings, a few acts of vandalism and some thefts. She escaped from prison in June and hasn’t surfaced until now,” Simon read from the papers before him. He looked up at Sandburg and Ellison. “We’ve been gathering evidence and tracing her steps around the Cascade area.”
“But you haven’t been able to catch her yet,” Jim commented. The former detective was standing by Sandburg’s chair, almost guarding his lover. Odd, to think of Jim as having a male lover. Simon shook his head.
“No, but it’s just a matter of time. She doesn’t seem the kind of woman to stay quiet for long.” Simon had to admit Jim looked a lot better than just a couple of months ago. Was it Blair? Or could he have helped Jim? Simon had not felt it had been his place to help, and really, what could he have done? Still, he could not keep the what-ifs from coming up to nag at him. “I believe she’ll try again. As much as I’d like to toot my own horn, I doubt mere surveillance and police presence will be enough to stop her,” Simon admitted.
“And you’ll be there to catch her,” Blair stated, looking calm and collected.
“Yes. If you see her, call me or detectives Brown or Rafe. I’ve given the case over to them,” Banks said, looking at Jim. “Do you still have their cell phone numbers?”
Jim nodded. He had taken his phonebook from the loft when they visited it. Old habits die hard.
Jim walked along the darkening street outside Blair’s apartment building carrying a paper bag with some snacks and a couple of beers. He was still wearing the jeans Blair had bought him. He preferred them to his old ones as they were clean, soft and new. They had also become a kind of symbol of rebirth for him. He was rebuilding his life and himself.
The sentinel suddenly sensed that something was wrong, but forced himself to continue walking. He stopped by a newsstand and bought a Cascade Tribune. There, the scent of gun oil and garlic coming from the bag lady sitting in front of the Jade Elephant. She also smells of shampoo and soap, way too much for someone living on the streets. Jim rifled under the overlying scents to get a sniff of her own scent. He recognised it from the bombsite. It’s Sam.
“Sam’s here,” the sentinel announced as he entered the apartment.
“Where?” Blair asked, looking up from the newspaper he was reading.
“A bag lady by the Thai restaurant,” Jim told as he went to put away the groceries. “She’s armed.”
Blair walked over to where his wallet lay to take out the business card Banks had given him. “Did you see any police out there?”
“No, I have a bad feeling about that.” Jim wished he still had his gun. The sentinel let out his senses as Blair talked with Banks.
“She’s coming up,” he announced. The vampire hunter was walking up the stairs, her heartbeat steady.
“Shit. Banks, Jim says Sam’s coming here… Okay, don’t worry. We’ll get out and wait for you guys.”
“Do you have a gun?” Jim asked. He had not seen any in the apartment so far, but one never knew. Besides, he had been there only for a few days.
Blair closed the phone. “I don’t like guns, but, yes, I do have two of them.” The guide threw a key to his sentinel. “Bedroom, at the back of a cupboard. You get them, while I put my shoes on and warn Kelso.”
The guns were well-maintained and looked pretty new. Jim put full clips into both of them as he walked back to the living room.
“Where is she?” Blair asked as he sent off a text message.
“Fourth floor, southside stairs.”
“Northside stairs, then,” Blair stated as they went to the door. Jim gave him the other gun as they exited.
Rafe and Brown arrived by the apartment building just a few minutes after the call from Banks came. They had been talking with a weapons dealer who had identified Blake as the woman he had sold a couple of assault rifles and various other firearms to. The store was just a few blocks from Sandburg’s apartment.
“How well armed do you thinks she is at the moment?” Brown asked.
“Depends on how much she can carry with her,” Rafe commented.
“You’re not exactly reassuring, bro.”
“Remember the missing patrol? For all we know, she’s killed them,” Rafe pointed out. “Do we wait or go in?”
“We go in,” Brown decided. “The apartment’s on the fifth floor. We take the lift up to sixth and go down.”
“Okay, I’ll let Banks know.” Rafe took out his cell phone as he followed Brown. He really hoped they were in time. Rafe had kind of liked Ellison before his breakdown. The older man reminded him of a cat his aunt used to have - the quiet, self-confident tomcat had been the terror of all rodents in the neighbourhood.
Blair cursed under his voice as the door of 512 opened and old Bunker came out. Usually Blair didn’t mind chatting with the gallery owner, but they could not afford to slow down now, nor risk anyone else.
“Sandburg, just the one I wanted to see,” the grey-haired man started.
“I’m sorry, Mr Bunker, but I really can’t stay and chat today,” Blair said as he paused by the apartment door.
Bunker glanced at Jim. The sentinel was in full ‘protect the guide’ mode and concentrated on the other end of the corridor.
“Should I call the police?”
“Already done,” Blair assured.
“Blair,” Jim warned.
Blair turned to look at the end of the corridor. Jim was tense as a guard dog waiting for the intruder to come in.
“Have to go,” Blair said to the old man as he continued to walk towards the staircase.
“Good luck, son.” Bunker went back to his apartment, probably to call the police.
Blair turned as the pair reached the doorway to the staircase. Someone appeared at the other end of the corridor.
“Sam,” Jim whispered.
Blair opened the door and took the stairs two at a time. He paused at the landing as he heard gunshots. Jim dove after him, grouching and holding his shoulder, where a blood-red stain was spreading.
“Jim?” Blair had rarely felt such terror.
“I’m okay.” The automatic answer was not reassuring.
Blair helped Jim down the stairs to the next landing.
Rafe and Brown got out of the lift at the sixth floor.
“So, which –“ Rafe paused. “Gunshots.”
“Coming that way, and downstairs,” Brown said as he started to run towards the open door to the staircase he could see on the left.
“Sandburg and Ellison took the stairs, and Blake went after them,” Rafe guessed as he took out his gun.
“I’d call that a safe assumption,” Brown commented.
The pair paused as they entered the staircase.
“You first, we go slow.”
Brown nodded. The two went down the stairs to the next level.
Rafe was not really surprised to see Sandburg pointing a gun at him. “Ellison?”
“Down a bit, Blake shot at him,” the publisher answered, lowering the weapon.
Brown glanced into the corridor, and ducked as a shot hit the door just an inch above where his head had been. “Blake’s coming this way.”
“Really?” Rafe asked dryly. “So, do we wait? Or take her out?”
“I shout, then we go out. She didn’t even check to see who she was shooting at,” Brown said with a hard voice.
Rafe nodded. He turned to look down at Sandburg and Ellison. The publisher had gone down to check on Ellison who was sitting on the landing holding a bloody shirt to his shoulder. “You stay here. We’ll handle this.”
“Good luck,” Ellison offered.
“Thanks.” Rafe turned to stand on the other side of the doorway. “On three. One, two, three.”
“Cascade police! Drop your weapon!” Brown commanded as they leaped into the corridor.
The black-haired self-proclaimed vampire hunter carrying an assault rifle did not even pause. She fired at the detectives.
“Jim?” Blair asked, worried that his neighbours would be in danger.
“She fired at Brown and Rafe,” the sentinel said as he listened in on what was happening above.
“Did she hurt them?”
Jim listened for a few seconds. “No, they got her.”
Blair nodded, feeling sad at the loss of life, even hers. “Let’s get downstairs and get you looked at.”
In the lobby, they were met by Captain Banks who was directing the officers and forensics technicians who had just arrived.
“Are you two okay?” Banks asked.
“Blake shot at Jim, but it doesn’t look too bad,” Blair said, watching the bustle around them.
Simon nodded at the medics waiting outside. “Get him to the medics.”
“What about the police patrol?” Jim asked as Blair dragged him towards the medics.
“They were found unconscious in their car just a few minutes ago. The medics are taking care of them. Looks like she hit them with tranquilliser darts.” Banks said as he walked with them to the ambulance. He turned to Sandburg. “I’ll keep a light surveillance on you for a couple of days, just to make sure she didn’t have any followers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go see to my men.”
Blair watched the retreating figure. Banks seemed to be in his element as he reigned over the investigation.
The medics agreed that the wound was a clean in-and-out. The shoulder would be stiff and sore for some time, but it should heal well.
“It was her choice,” Jim whispered to the vampyre as an older medic was expertly bandaging his wound. Blair jerked his head up, then smiled.
“Is that the bond talking, or just your natural intuition?” he whispered.
Jim shrugged. “Both.”
“Yes, she made her choice and I’ll admit I’ll breathe easier with her gone. Still, it’s such a waste. She fought and died for nothing, basically. I’ve seen too many such cases.”
“I’ll bet the forensics team has some coffee with them,” Jim suggested with a small smile. “And I bet you could talk them out of some.”
“You know me well, my sentinel.”
Captain Banks found them by the ambulance, drinking coffee and chatting with Rafe.
“Excuse the interruption,” Simon broke in, looking uncomfortable. “But the officers down the street just informed me that the media’s getting impatient. Do you want to talk to them?”
“No. I’d appreciate it if you kept them out,” Blair said. He did not want to deal with the reporters while bone-tired. “I’ll probably have to give an interview eventually or they’ll camp out at my door, but I’d prefer to do it tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll feed them.” Banks turned to walk to meet the TV cameras, straightening his shoulders as he went.
Jim lay on the bed, with his head on Blair’s chest, looking up at the ceiling. After the police had left, they had taken a shower and gone to bed. Although they were tired, they were both too wound up to sleep and Jim’s shoulder was bothering him.
“You know, it hasn’t even been a week since we met,” Jim commented.
Blair sighed. “I know. Have you though about moving here for good?”
“Yes,” Jim stated. “I’d like that, if you’ll have me.”
“Oh, yes. It already feels like you’re my other half.”
Jim turned and kissed his guide. “Together, forever.”
“Blair?” Jim did not understand Blair’s reaction.
Blair gulped. “We’ll talk about forever later. Okay?”
“What do you mean?” Jim was feeling confused.
Blair put a finger to his sentinel’s lips. “Forever is such a long time. I’d prefer to talk of ‘indefinitely’ or even ‘as long as the fates allow’.”
Jim nodded. It kind of made sense. “Okay. I’ll choose ‘for as long as we have been allowed’.”
Blair smiled gently, and kissed his other half. “How about together, for the unforeseeable future?”
Jim chuckled. “You win, but we’ll talk about this aversion to ‘forever’ later.”
“Later,” Blair agreed. “Let’s just sleep for now, though.”
“A good idea.” Jim settled down beside his guide.
Soon snoring could be heard, in duet, as the sentinel and guide slept in peace.
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Author's Acknowledgements: Huge and heartfelt thanks to my trusty betas Jen and Mary. And thank you to Candygram for the lovely art.