A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation

By Sealie

Rating: minimum PG-15 or R for those of a sensitive disposition

Relevant Information: AU, horror, original characters in supporting roles, bad language, religious conversations, adult issues, things happening off screen with may squick some people and the boys do not spend every second of the day togetherÖ letís see, I canít think of anything elseÖ Oh, British English spelling.

Acknowledgements: Grateful thanks to Olwyn for supplying the Latin translation, her exacting scrutiny and spotting inconsistencies in the plot, in addition to grammar help. Susn for both grammar and American terminology, plus finding those pesky words that I have a tendency to skip over. Becky and Cindy, thanks for help back when this was a skeleton.

Notes: familiarity with the stories: ĎOur Unconquerable Soulí, ĎDeath in the Familyí and ĎTwenty Four Hoursí is recommended (available on the main page) but not necessary. All you really need to know is that the guys are open to the possibilities of supernatural phenomena

Disclaimer: unsurprisingly the guys do not belong to the fans, they belong to other people.

A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation: Chapter I

By Sealie

"What is it with you and these places?" Jim groused.

"Itís a book sale," Blair crowed. Happy as a pig in mud, he rifled through a stack of books discarding them into two separate piles.

Grimacing, Jim went in search of military history books. Blair settled cross-legged on the carpeted floor and continued sorting through the anthropology section of the estateís book sale. They had intended on going fishing in a little known spot north of the Cascade forest, but the grad student had spotted a roadside sign advertising the estate sale. The kid had immediately started wheedling, finally promising to clean and cook the fish they caught if they could justÖ justÖ have half an hour at the estate sale. Jim was willing to indulge him; Blair was only just recovering from meningitis. That was not precisely true, the anthropologist had been out of hospital for a week and had been going mad with cabin fever. A gentle fishing trip to the edge of the Chagook River seemed like a good idea Ė fresh air would do his Guide a world of good.

Even so, theyíd been here an hour. He could only indulge the kid so farÖ

The deceased philanthropist Willim Raymont had owned the estate for nigh on sixty decades. The old guy had turned out to be a book collector, and, while the first editions and rare books had been set aside for an auction at a later date Ė Blair had complained vociferously Ė a large number of other books were up for sale.

The kid was in seventh heaven.

Jim prowled around the stacks looking for something of interest. His tastes ran into the realm of military history and biographies. Blairís tastes were eclectic, anything from gaudy, predictable fantasy novels to dry anthropological texts caught his attention. Although recently, the studentís tastes had turned esoteric.

A whisper of breath touched the back of his neck. Startled, Jim spun around. There was nothing there. Automatically, his senses expanded, scrutinising the library. The windows of the wood panelled room were sealed in against the outside humidity. The state-of-the-art air conditioning was subtle and wouldnít ruffle the feathers of a fledgling. Of course, he was a lot more sensitive than any bird.

A mouse scrabbling behind the walls made him jump a foot in the air. Jim came back to earth with a bump. His heart was beating double time.

"Jim?" Blair was at his elbow, peering up at him concerned.

The Sentinel scanned left and right.

"Tone it down, Big Guy." Blairís eyes slid to the left and then back again. "Whatís the matter?"

Jim followed the studentís line of sight; an elderly woman, warmly wrapped in a tweed coat, was glaring at them with an expression somewhere between one viewing a potential rapist and a special needs group. Blair waggled his fingers in her direction and she beat a hasty retreat.

"Whatís wrong?" Blair persisted, once they were alone.

"I donít know." Absently, he rubbed the back of his neck.

Blair cocked his head to the side. "Senses? Focus on something that youíre familiar withÖ. Hey, why donít you concentrate on my heartbeat?"

Sighing deeply, Jim concentrated on the studentís pulse. The disturbing undertones withdrew as he catalogued every intricacy of Blairís very presence: the sallow skin, the hollowed cheeks and the lacklustre curls.

"Cool?" the student questioned, disturbing his quiet place.

Jim barely had time to blink once before Blair began to direct his senses.

"Hearing is your strongest sense; I want you to listen."

Obediently, reluctantly, Jim extended his hearing, but whatever was bothering him wasnít really impinging on his hearing. It was more like spiders crawling up his spine. Involuntarily, the Sentinel moved backwards. Blairís large hand rested against the small of his back, warmly.

"What is it, Big Guy?" he asked softly.

"There." Jim watched his hand rise and the finger extend, pointing unerringly at a small, black leather bound book. Gilt or gold filigree decorated the edges.

Blair bounced forward, eager, and reached out.

"No!" Jim yelled, reaching out to grab a too thin wrist.

Blair froze. "What is it?"

"Somethingís wrong, I donít know what. But donít touch it."

Blair leaned forward, peering over his glasses at the text on the side. "ĎA Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolationí by Tomas. Cheerful title. Do you know whatís the matter with the book?" Blair turned beseeching eyes up at him.

"Itís squirrelly," Jim said informatively. "Itís not good Ė itís like thatÖ"

"Yes?" Blair prodded.

"Itíslikethatthing-in-the-ground," Jim said in a rush. The demon that had been trapped between the earthly and unearthly plane in a carefully cultivated rectory garden in Cascade.

"Ah." Blairís fingers went in his mouth, a sure sign that he was unnerved. He twisted his head to the side and stared at the book. "Bad? Good?"

Jim shrugged. A haunted book, who could figure? Why was this his life? Once upon a time his life had been simple; perps, criminals and drug pushers. Now as a Sentinel, gifted and cursed with hypersenses, he couldnít ignore the spirit world. Walking in the spirit world with his deceased shaman, Incacha, was one thing -- as he could put that down to dreams -- but when he faced down demons, ghosts and little people in the so called Ďreal worldí it was a lot harder to ignore.

"What are we going to do?" Blair asked suddenly.

"What? Leave it," Jim said patiently, as if talking to a child.

"Jiiiiiiiim," Blair whined. "We canít. We canít just let anyone buy it Ė who knows what might happen. They wonít be able to cope with it."

"How do you know that? It might not do anything. It might just sit there giving offÖ bad vibes," the Sentinel finished reluctantly. "We can phone Philip at the Legacy and tell him to come out and get it."

"Can you risk that? Who knows what will happen in the mean time? What if some kid walks in here Ė all susceptible and innocent?" Blair finished persuasively.

Grinning like a shark, Jim pulled out his cell phone like a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat. Blair settled against the book stack, a tiny pout on his face, as the detective called their friend.

The number for the rectory was permanently fixed on his speed dial; Jim wanted to be able to call on knowledgeable assistance in a heartbeat when they faced the unknown. The tones rang on and on. Evidently the priest was elsewhere although usually the housekeeper would be in. He let it ring a while longer, until, eventually, he had to admit that there was no help in that direction.

"I hate you," Jim snarled and speared Blair with a glare.

Blair shrugged innocently, reading the affection under the words. "Iím right though, arenít I?"

"Grrrr."

The Sentinel glowered at the book. To his hypersensitive eyes it shimmered Ė a vague outline stood out a hairsbreadth from the leather bound cover. The translucent colours flickered every shade of grey imaginable, from not quite white to a dark lowering storm cloud grey.

"And how, Darwin, do we buy it off of the nice little man in the foyer when we canít even touch the damn thing?"

Blair smiled like a cat with a mouthful of cream. "We donít." He dumped his backpack next to the book stack and then, deftly, he hooked the book with a pen. It teetered precariously on the shelf as he manoeuvred it over the backpack.

"Look, itís got a latch on it keeping it shut," Blair observed. Once he had it balanced to his satisfaction, he allowed it to fall into the open bag.

"Sandburg!"

"What?" Blair raised his hands to the ceiling in supplication. "You said it yourself. We canít go up to the man and even begin to explain this."

"Out!" He grabbed the student by the scruff of the neck and propelled him from the room.

Blair hissed and snarled, but Jim was resolute as he dragged the skinny grad student out of the library and into the main hall. The gentleman sitting at a desk beside the exit looked up at them -- alarmed.

"One moment, sir," Jim said politely as he gently planted his recuperating friend out onto the porch.

"Jim?" Blair growled.

"Stay, Iíll deal with you later."

Jim turned back to explain everything to the little man at the desk.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair paced along the porch, scuffing his feet on the marble. How dare Jim treat him like that? What else were they supposed to do? The man was driving him insane. The Sentinel was too over-protective for his own good. Blair candidly admitted that he wasnít one hundred percent but he was on the road to recovery. Even Jim had to admit that, or they wouldnít be on the fishing trip.

He pushed his face up against the window and peered into the hallway. He could see Jim talking to the bespectacled little man. The detective flashed his shield and then leaned forward to press his point. The gnome nodded reluctantly, then accepted a wad of cash that the detective drew from his bill fold.

Somehow, Jim had convinced the wizened man to sell them the book. It was lucky that the man hadnít insisted that he see the book before making the sale. If he had they would have had to get the book out of the backpack. Blair didnít want to touch the book unless he had purified a room with sage, set up some sort of protective circle and then he would only touch it with silk. Living with a sentinel had given him a deep, abiding respect for spirits, not to mention he had been raised by a true believer and had pretty much been indoctrinated to believe in everything and anything as a child.

Grimacing, he sat on a low wall bracketing the foyerís entrance. He was so infernally tired. His doctor had sat him down just before heíd been discharged and informed him quite solemnly that you didnít just bounce back from something like meningococcal meningitis. Blair had expected that in a couple of days after lying around the loft heíd be back to his normal self. But recuperation was taking an inordinate amount of time. Absently, he pulled up his sleeve, he could still see, here and there, the remnants of the pinprick bruises that bespoke of recovery from meningitis and septicaemia.

Jim stomped through the doorway. Blair dodged to the left as the Sentinel grabbed for him. He was too slow and fingers like iron bars gripped his bicep.

"Motherís gonna peel you a new ass," Jim said loudly.

Blair blinked stupidly up at his friend. Perplexed, he allowed Jim to pull him to his feet and frog-march him towards their Ford truck. The gnome was standing inside the door watching them nervously.

"Talk about making yourself unforgettable, man," Blair chided, confused.

"I was more concerned about the video surveillance camera in the corner of the room," Jim snapped back.

"What?" Appalled, Blair stared back at the house.

"Yes, Darwin," Jim drawled, pushing him into the truck. "You were caught stealing that book on candid camera."

Jim threw a video tape into the footwell by Blairís feet.

"How? How? What?"

"Werenít thinking, were you?" Shaking his head, Jim set himself firmly in the driverís seat and slammed the Fordís door shut. "I do not believe that you did that."

"I was going to donate how much the book would have cost to the ĎFood for the Homeless Fund.í I didnít really steal it. IÖ acquired itÖ We had to. You would have. Sometimes you have to break the rules," Blair defended himself.

"That will sound really good when youíre hauled over the coals in front of Simon for stealing from a dead guyís garage sale."

Jim forced the truck into gear and twisted the ignition angrily. He was really annoyed, Blair realised somewhat belatedly. But it had been the right thing to do, how else were they going to get the book out of the building?

"What did you tell the guy at the desk?"

Blair could have sworn that a smile flashed across Jimís chiselled features.

"I told him that you were a kleptomaniac and under treatment. And as retard, they wouldnít be able to prosecute you, any rate. Plus mother would be really disappointed that I hadnít managed to keep you out of trouble, especially since this was the first time youíd been let out of the halfway home in ages."

"You didnít!"

"I did, thief."

"You didnít."

"Go back and check, thief, if you donít believe me. Although remember to drool, youíre supposed to be incompetent," Jim shot back as they pulled away.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

The book was carefully decanted into the tool kit, which was then locked shut.

And there it remained for the rest of the weekend.

And it preyed on Blairís mind.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

When they returned to the loft late on Sunday afternoon, Jim locked the tool kit in the utility room cupboard. Blair stood at his side craning his neck to watch him padlock the cupboard.

"So youíre just going to leave it in there?"

"I donít want it in the loft," Jim said, deliberately misunderstanding.

"We should wrap it in silk or something."

The Sentinel sighed deeply. "I donít have any silk sheets big enough to wrap the tool kit in, do you? You keep harping on about not touching it."

"I just donít want you touching something that has Ďvibes.í" Blair mimed quotation marks in the air with his fingers.

"Hmm," Jim said abstracted. He rested his hand on the utility cupboard. "It doesnít feel as bad. I canít feel the ghost if I canít see it."

Blair scrutinised the older man. Jimís body language screamed conflicting tension, his posture was taut but the expression on his face could be classified as dreamy if you could ever describe Ellison in that manner. The Sentinel was inhabiting some sentinel space. Fascinated, Blair leaned closer, Jim was tuned into the supernatural and that a special kind of magic. He had identified the book as being mystically imbued and now he thought that it contained a ghost.

"Ghost?" Blair asked softly, not wanting to disturb his friendís frame of mind.

Jim snatched his hand away from the door, shaking it as if it tingled. "Ghost, demon Ė whatever. Itís something that we talk to an informed professional about."

"But what about the ghost?" Blair persisted. "A ghost is not necessarily badÖ"

"Youíre one of those people who go into Count Draculaís castle just to make sure that there arenít any vampires." Jim pushed by the grad student and started up the stairs. "And when you find the pile of dust, just to see what happens, you pull the stake out of the desiccated husk."

"Whatís that supposed to mean?" Blair stood at the bottom of the stairs glaring up at him.

"It means that sometimes things are better left alone. Itís contained. We donít know anything about it, so letís leave it alone."

"How can you say that? That poor ghostÖ"

"No." Jim stopped and scowled, uncomfortable with the topic he spoke in short, sharp sentences, "It feels bad. Got it? Negative vibes. It stays in the book until we know more about it. None of this experimenting." Message received and understood, he stalked up to his loft. Blair knew that the Sentinel was hunting beers.

Blair found himself drawn to the cupboard. How could Jim resist the mystery? He rested his hand on the cupboard door. The serious scientist within him raised its cold, logical head. Sighing deeply, he realised that Jim had a point. Before they could do anything they needed some more information.

"ĎA Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation?í By Tomas? I guess itís time to do some research."

The Legacy library at the rectory would be his first port of call.

"Blair?"

Not the casual ĎSandburgí or the nickname ĎChiefí, but his first name, Blair realised. The Sentinel had been calling him by his given name recently rather than any nicknames. It spoke to Blair of the degree of fear that his Sentinel had been subject to when he had been critically ill.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothiní." Grinning, Blair gripped the banister and hauled himself up the stairs after his Sentinel.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Jim pottering in the kitchen woke Blair from the soundest of sleeps. He rolled onto his side and peered short-sightedly at the alarm clock beside his bed. Heíd done it again; heíd slept for twelve hours straight through. Swearing under his breath, he turned onto his back. This was ridiculous; heíd been out of hospital now for over a week -- he should be better. Their camping trip had been the most luxurious camping trip since the creation of camping trips. They stayed in a cabin on the edge of the Chagook River, rose at a reasonable ten oíclock and caught practically no fish. Had a few gentle walks along the hiking trails and companionable evenings toasting marshmallows over the log fire. It had been very nice, relaxing, just what he neededÖ But he wanted to be better. He wanted his energy back.

"Chief? Breakfastís ready."

He was so grateful that it was the summer vacation or he would be so far behind that heíd never catch up on his marking and research.

Blair forced himself out of bed and staggered out to the kitchen table. That was another thing. It was his morning routine to make breakfast. Jim had outdone himself. Cereal, freshly squeezed juice, French toast and gently percolating coffee. The absolute volume of food was enough to turn his stomach. Blair slid onto his seat.

"Morning." A plate of egg fried bread with cinnamon and sugar was pushed in his direction. "Eat up."

Determined to set his friendís mind at rest he dived into the meal. He was rewarded by a fragment of a smile flittering across his stoic Sentinelís face.

"This is really good," he enthused around a mouthful of bread.

"Donít talk with your mouth full," Jim admonished absently.

Blair wasnít lying because it was good. "Whatís on your agenda today?"

"Grocery shopping; crap like that." Jim flipped over the morning paper. "Anything you want me to get?"

"Why donít I do it? And you can have a quiet day in the loft?"

Jim cast a sideways glance in his direction. "Thatís okay. It will only take me a couple of hours."

"Okay. Uhm, I was thinking: I could go over to the library at Rainier and do some research."

"On what?" Jim demanded flatly.

"The book."

Jim carefully set his paper aside. Blair could see him hunting for the least inflammatory words. "The doc said that you had to take it easy for a couple of weeks."

"Iíd just be in the library," Blair wheedled.

Jimís jaw spasmed as he visibly fought his first impulse to state emphatically: ĎNo!í This amenable Jim was rather alarming. The kid glove treatment would have been annoying if Blair didnít know that he would do exactly the same thing under the same circumstances.

"Are you up to that?" he asked through gritted teeth. "You fall asleep all the time, Chief."

Jim had been beyond reasonable in organising the camping trip. The doctor had been pretty specific, he had to indulge himself as a Victorian convalescent: sleep, eat, relax and veg in front of the television. Yes, Blair had to agree, the most disconcerting effect of his convalescence was that he fell asleep at the drop of a hat.

"Okay," the student capitulated. "Iíll surf the web and see what I can find."

Jim smiled widely; content that the world was behaving itself as it should. Guide: well. Guide: safe. Guide: not dying. Blair sighed, eventually heíd have the wherewithal to balk at the Sentinelís parental behaviour. At the moment heíd just as soon as finish his breakfast. He could always e-mail the library staff and ask them if they could ferret out some references.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

"Howís the kid?"

Jim paused, loft key in hand, and craned his head to see his captain clomping down the short corridor towards him. He had been so intent on opening the front door and creeping in the loft without disturbing the sleeping student that heíd missed his superiorís approach.

"Getting there," he replied, neutrally.

Simon just grunted.

Jim crept into the loft, automatically scanning the area. Blair hadnít, as he had expected, crashed on the couch but had retreated to his bedroom. Jim manhandled the bags onto the kitchen counter and then waggled his fingers, drawing Simon into the open-plan room.

The detective held his finger to his lips. "Blairís asleep." He pointed at the doors, ajar.

Simon nodded sagely and crept over to the coffee maker.

Jim slipped into Blairís bedroom. The kid was curled on his side and an open textbook lay beside his lax hand. His head was half pillowed on an embroidered cushion and half on the edge of his balled up quilt. A strand of hair spiralled over his cheek and lips, wafting as he breathed. He was dead to the world; his eyes quiescent, not even dreaming. Exhaustion had side swiped the student, crashing over him as he attempted to study. Curiously, Jim turned over a book Ė it was from the Rainier Library. He scowled; had Blair ventured out? A note was tucked between the pages of another book. Surreptitiously, he eased it out, scanned the contents and was pleased to note that the chief librarian at Rainier was glad that Blair was feeling better and was looking forward to seeing him. Jim sniffed carefully, picking up the heavy aftershave of Murray Harper, one of Blairís fellow grad students. Blair hadnít been out; heíd cajoled a friend into delivering the books to him. Happy now, Jim eased the books off the bed and then drew the collection of blankets over his sleeping friend.

Blair snuggled down into the warmth.

"Fanks, Dim," he mumbled sleepily.

Jim crept out of the room.

Simon nodded at him as he set down a cup of steaming coffee. Jim took a swig, before he started to unpack the groceries.

"Domestic day?" the captain asked.

"Needed to be done."

"Heís asleep?"

"Yeah, flaked out over some dusty old tome." Jim scrutinised a jar of mustard, trying to decide whether or not it needed to go into the refrigerator. He decided on the cupboard. It could go in the fridge after the seal had been broken. Next, he contemplated the dried Shitake mushrooms that he had bought for Blair Ė he wasnít too sure how to store them or the lemongrass in water, come to think.

"Buttermilk?" With an extended finger, Simon pushed a full pint of organic milk across the kitchen counter, distaste evident on his face.

"Blair likes it. Itís full of nutritional goodness. Do you think I should put these in the fridge?" He held up a box of algae and a jar of Echinacea pills.

Simon pursed his lips together and valiantly held in a smile. Jim cocked his head to the side trying to figure out what was so amusing.

Simon coughed. "Iíd put the slimy algae in the fridge but I think that the eccy stuff can go in the cupboard."

Jim scowled at Simon, knowing that he was missing something. Deciding to ignore the man, he concentrated on putting Blairís Chocolate Maryland Cookies away.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

"Yeah, Iíll stay for dinner. Thanks, Jim," Simon said. The captain marvelled at his domesticated detective; it was a whole new side of the covert-ops trained ex-ranger. Jim had bought out the store, purchasing a wagon load of sentinel-friendly cleaning products, organic fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, special breads and a very small selection of expensive colour free and scent free personal products in addition to the bits and pieces he had purchased for Blair. He had made three trips down to his truck.

"Are you always so precise about this stuff?" Simon waved his arm, encompassing the products laid on the kitchen bench as the detective put them each in their place.

Jim lifted an eyebrow. "You mean in the cupboards? Stuff we use regularly is at the front. Itís not anal; itís logical," he finished defensively.

"No." Simon sighed heavily. He picked up a Ďpureí no colourings/no perfume/not tested on animals bodywash. "All this expensiveÖ How can you afford it?"

"Given a choice between hives and eight dollars a bottle, Iíll choose the bottle."

"Itís really that bad?" Simon did some quick math and wondered how Jim could afford his shopping bill.

Jim rolled his eyes heavenward. "How does spaghetti carbonara sound for dinner?"

"Fine."

Efficient as ever, Jim put his purchases away and started on dinner. Simon gamely withheld a grin as the Sentinel donned his apron.

"Can I help?"

"Nah," Jim said absently, concentrating on the roux sauce. "Make yourself comfortable in the lounge."

Recognising a chef who preferred to be left alone, Simon retreated to the sofa. Half way to the couch, he detoured to poke his head into Blairís room. The anthropologist was curled up on his side enveloped in his blankets. Only the tip of his nose peeked out of his cocoon. An unintentional smile crossed the captainís face.

"Whatís the matter?"

Jim was at his shoulder in a flash, nostrils flared as he scanned the room hurriedly.

"Nothing, I was just looking in on the kid." Simonís brow furrowed. "You know thatís kind of strange."

"What?" Jim asked alertly.

"Well, seeing him there. It just brings it home."

"Brings what home?"

"Well, that youíre roommates."

"You knew that already." Hackles up, Jim retreated back to the kitchen area.

"I know." Simon cast a final glance at the slumbering student. "But heís asleep, heís defenceless, you know?"

Jim cast a leery glance at his superior. "No. I have no idea what youíre talking about."

"He doesnít just live here; itís his home."

Jimís expression was becoming more shuttered.

Simon struggled to articulate his thoughts. "He can do his own thing here. Heís not a guest on his best behaviour."

Jim laughed out loud. He slapped his hand over his mouth so as not to disturb his Guide.

"Iím not explaining it very well." Simon chomped down on an unlit cigar.

"No, youíre not." Shaking his head, Jim stirred some flour into the sauce.

"What Iím trying to say isÖ Aw, forget it. Mushy stuff."

Jim glowered at him. "Parmesan or mozzarella?"

"Parmesan." Simon glanced back into Blairís room. The student still slept the sleep of the truly innocent or happily secure. He shuffled slightly, his hand emerging from the blankets to rest loosely on one of his embroidered cushions. One of Jimís shirts was draped over a chair beside his bed. Simon turned on his heel, and scanned the loft. The kidís artefacts had migrated into the loft proper. This wasnít lodger and landlord this wasÖ and it galled him to admit itÖ little brother living with big brother.

ĎShit, theyíre practically married,í he realised. ĎMaybe itís something to do with the Sentinel & Guide thing? What are they going to do when one or the other gets married? Will they get married? Will they split up? Can they even split up? Will I attend the marriage of Blair and Jim at some point in the near future? Shit!í

Simon looked at Jim as if for the first time. The Sentinel stared back at him, his expression defensive.

ĎWhen Colonel Oliver took Jim, Blair was beside himself. When Lash kidnapped Blair, Jim put five bullets into the sad son-of-a-bitch.í

"Do you want to tell me what youíre thinking?" Jim asked pointedly, as he stirred his carbonara sauce with short, sharp movements. "Youíre freaking me out."

"Could you handle your sentinel abilities without Blair?" Simon countered.

Jim raised an eyebrow, he devoted his attention to the sauce for a moment, then he shrugged eloquently.

"Ellison, Iím asking you as your captain."

Jimís jaw worked. "I donít think that it would be a good idea," he eventually answered.

"Itís been nearly three years; surely you have a handle on it, by now?"

"There always seems to be something new to fuck them up and then I need Blair."

"Example?"

"You know that I lost my senses after I shot the security guard?" Jim glared at his superior. "Blair brought them back. Why this? Why now?"

Simon reacted to the uncomfortable tone in his friendís voice. He straightened his colourful vest, at odds with himself.

"Itís just seeing him there." He jerked his thumb into Blairís bedroom "And in the hospital. And I wondered how youíd cope if you werenít together."

"Heís getting better, Simon." Jim said shrewdly. He laughed hollowly. "I think it would take some major shit to separate us and then I donít think that weíd be able to stay away from each other."

"Thatís another concern," Simon muttered reluctantly, he continued before Jim could interrupt. "Youíre adultsÖ you should be...."

Jim raised his eyes heavenwards and sighed. "Blair believes that Sentinels and their-so-called-guides are polygamous by nature."

Simonís jaw dropped open.

"Maybe thatís not the right word?" Jim shook his head as he started to cut up the bacon and onions for his culinary creation. "He says even if Iím swept off my feet by a sex goddess and move out, it will probably only be next door."

"And what do you think?"

"I think heís full of shit. Iím not moving Ė he can go next door."

Laughing, Simon almost inhaled his cigar. He shook his head. Heíd never get them to take his concerns seriously; in fact, theyíd probably talked them through already. Or more likely, Blair had talked at Jim about the subject.

"Is there anything I can do to help? Make the salad?" Simon said by way of apology.

"Knock yourself out. Donít use the spring onions; Blairís off them."

ĎYup, married already.í

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Simon dug deeply into the spaghetti carbonara that his detective had created. Jim had outdone himself, producing a truly rich and edible dinner. A muffled cough interrupted him from his goal of consuming an impossibly large mouthful of spaghetti. Blair dragged himself out of his room, all mussed and sleepy. He waved absently in their direction and then stumbled into the bathroom. Jim automatically stood and set another plate on the table, followed by a glass of buttermilk and a bowl of salad. By the time he had positioned them to his satisfaction Blair had emerged from the bathroom. Still on autopilot, he stumbled to the dining room table and settled on his chair.

"What time zit?" he mumbled.

"After six," Jim said softly, as he pushed a warm buttered roll into Blairís reach.

"Smells nice," Blair said absently, before he stuffed a wedge of bread in his mouth. Jim smiled widely and continued to beam as Blair made decent inroads into the meal set before him.

Simon watched as Blair devoted his entire concentration to eating his meal. He wasnít entirely sure if the student was aware that he was sitting next to the Captain of Major Crime. For an observer, he was being pretty unobservant. It was to be expected; the kid looked like a refugee. He was grey and unshaven, gaunt and too skinny.

Suddenly, Blair started. "Hello, Simon?"

The captain laughed; he couldnít help himself.

"Hello, Blair. How are you feeling?"

"UhmÖ better. Much better, thank you."

"Jim looking after you?" Simon grinned widely.

"Yeah," Blair said slowly, a bit confused.

The Sentinel was bristling.

"Did you have a nice time fishing?"

Blair nodded slowly. "I didnít do much fishing. We were up kind of late. It was nice just sitting on the river bank, watching the world go by."

Simon had an image in his mind of little Huckleberry Blair complete with dungarees, paddling his feet in the edge of the river as Tom Jim fished with his bamboo rod, safety pin hook and worm.

Simon caught Blair firing an inquiring glance at the detective. Jim shrugged, denying any inkling of what was going on in his mad superiorís mind. Shaking his head, Jim stood, returning to the stove to dole out seconds to everyone.

"How are you really feeling, Blair?"

"Fine."

"Uhm. You want to tell me the truth, son?"

Blair darted a glance at his Sentinel. "Iím getting better, Simon, honest. I know I look a bitÖ wellÖ. I just seem to sleep a lot. Itís cool. Look, the bruises are practically gone." He held up his arm displaying the last of the fading petechiae. "I figure Iíll be able to come down to the precinct by the end of the week."

Jim growled.

"Weíll see how you feel, okay?" Simon interjected. "Youíll need the all clear from your doctor first."

"Yeah, and my Sentinel."

The detective grinned wolfishly.

Blair smiled back at him. "Who needs a doctor when theyíve got a sentinel?"

The detective looked as guilty as sin for a heartbeat. Simon remembered how dreadful Jim had felt when Blair had been diagnosed with meningitis since he hadnít correctly picked up on the illness the second that Blair had contracted the disease. He was somewhat prone to taking on the weight of the world. Atlas had nothing on James Joseph Ellison.

"Hey, man, Iíve had enough," Blair suddenly announced. He pushed the plate away.

Jim practically bit his tongue. Simon guessed that the detective would have said something if he hadnít been sitting at the table.

"So, video tonight?" Jim followed through smoothly.

"Excellent. Did you get one from the store while you were out?" Blair grinned toothily. "You want to stay, Simon?"

ĎStay and watch a video with the mother hen from hell and the completely oblivious anthropologist. Yeah, why not?í

"Whatís on offer?"

Jim pulled a plain plastic video box off the kitchen counter. "National Geographic exposť on the Peruvian Temple of Yxilic."

The captainís scream was silent.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

The digitally remastered version of ĎStar Warsí came to its blasting finale. Jim ran his finger around the bottom of the popcorn bucket searching out the last gob of melted butter and salt. Blair was peering at the screen, giving the film the attention that he normally devoted to a dusty old anthropological textbook. Jim guessed that the lights were on but no one was really at home.

"Itís like heís trying to stay up past his bedtime," Simon mouthed.

Jim hid a smile behind his hand.

Simon yawned theatrically. "The good guys win again. So thatís me Ė time to go home. Work tomorrow." He rose to his feet.

Blair blinked sleepily. "Gínight, Simon."

Jim accompanied his superior to the door. "Going to get your eight hours in?"

"And then some." He shucked into his long overcoat. "Thanks for the meal and the video."

"Anytime, Simon."

Simon opened the door and paused on the threshold. "So when are you coming back to work?" he asked with the patience of a friend.

"Another week?"

They turned to look at the object of their conversation. Blair had succumbed and nodded off, his chin tucked against his chest.

"Okay, another week. You wouldnít be much use if you came in, would you? Youíll be at my beck and call for months." Simon cackled gleefully and rubbed his hands together. "Beck and call." Still cackling, he made his way down the short corridor to the elevator. "All mine. All mine."

Jim shook his head and quietly closed the door. Still shaking his head he crossed to his partnerís side. He leaned forward, focussing on the still pallid skin and defined cheekbones. The recuperation was taking far too long for his liking. A pliant, agreeable Blair was a scary thing indeed. He wanted pissy and sassy Blair back.

"Blair?" he cajoled. "Blair."

Sleepy eyes opened and peered blearily up at him. "Whereís Ďimon?"

"Gone home. Itís his bedtime. Filmís finished."

"Oh? Bed? Yeah. I can do that." Blair stumbled back to his bedroom, shedding clothes as he walked. Jim picked up his lumberjack shirt and followed as he fell into bed.

"No, Jim." Blair peered up at him myopically. "I can manage, honest. I donít need help. I like help. I do. But you shouldnít have toÖhelp. OhÖ youíre my friÖ"

He surrendered to the sands of Morpheus, asleep as his head touched the pillow.

Jim smiled. It was only nine oíclock; he could get in ĎThe Empire Strikes Backí and, maybe, ĎReturn of the Jedií before he went to bed.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair emerged from his cocoon some hours later feeling measurably improved. He rolled onto his side and noted with a wide happy smile that it was only half past nine; he hadnít slept for hours and hours.

He dragged his body out of bed and padded into the living area. Enticing summer sunlight shafted through the balcony windows. Like a starving man, he crossed the room and ventured out onto the balcony. Blessed heat warmed his bones - it was a glorious day.

He leaned up against the balustrade and watched the world go by. Today, he decided, he was going to do something. He was going to make it to the park or the library or even the precinct. He wasnít going to stay in like a good little boy.

"Blair?" There was definite consternation in that tone.

ĎWhoops; Blessed Protector mode

"Isnít it glorious!" He waved his arms, encompassing the street.

"Yeah, right. Youíre also half-way to flashing the street." Jim raised an eyebrow, regarding the shorts clad anthropologist. "Come on in, itís cold."

"Oh, please, itís got to be 70 degrees." He protested but dutifully traipsed back into the loft.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Jim asked en route to the corner kitchen.

"Hey, itís my turn."

"I donít mind," Jim said without any hesitation.

Blair pushed by his partner. "Nope, sit down. Eggs good?"

Jim hovered at his elbow as he prepared their breakfast. Watching his every move, flinching as he wielded a sharp knife to slice the bell peppersÖ Blair glanced sideways at his Sentinel. Slowly realising that he had really scared the old guy when he had been ill.

Another thought occurred. "How come youíre not at work?"

"Simon gave me some time off." Jim said nonchalantly and started to set the dining table.

Blair paused and counted on his fingers. "Two weeks? Three weeks? How can you afford the time off?"

Jim shrugged absently. "The guys are taking up the slack. Iíve only had to use a couple of my personal days and I got some sick days."

"WhatÖ?" he demanded. The hissing of the omelette distracted him. As he dealt with the eggs, his mind whirled. Jim: sick days? Jim had been babysitting him for nearly a month. He zoned in his own way on his thoughts.

"Blair, are you all right?" Jim was immediately at his side.

"Yeah." He turned to the table and doled out two portions of the omelette. "Sick days? When have you been sick? Why didnít I notice?"

Jim rubbed his bristly chin. Blair knew with sentinel sureness that the detective hadnít intended on saying that. Jim picked slowly at his food, avoiding answering the question.

"Okay, I know why I didnít notice; Iíve been wandering Ďround half in a daze for weeks. ButÖbutÖ butÖ." He spluttered to a halt.

"Youíve been ill, Blair."

"But so have you!"

"I got a bit over tired Ė thatís really not in the same league as meningitis."

"Over tired?" Blair jumped on the words like a mongoose on a cobra. "You mean exhausted?"

Jim shrugged. He shovelled a forkful of eggs into his mouth. "These are really good."

Blair leaned over and swatted the Sentinelís arm. "What happened?"

"Blair, you were in ICU for six days. I didnít sleep very well."

"Oh." The student sagged back in his chair. His eyes narrowed as he considered his Sentinel. There was a slight flush on Jimís pale cheeks. He refused to look straight at the anthropologist. The detectiveís spine was rigid and defensive.

Coldly calm and analytical, Blair knew that the Sentinel was being cagey.

"Aní thatís all?" Blair asked.

Jim darted a glance at him. "Yes," he said shortly.

No wonder the guy was so crap at poker.

"Tell the truth and shame the devil," Blair said singsong.

Jim started. "I have. I didnít sleep very well."

"Yeah, but youíre not telling me something."

"I donít have to tell you everything, Sandburg." Jim stood, abandoning his breakfast. "I think Iíll finish this later. I need a run."

Before Blair could protest, he had stomped upstairs. The student could hear him banging around his room. Simmering, Blair stood at the bottom of the stairs. Defensive Jim was back. On a lighter note, it was probably a good thing Ė it meant that the Sentinel had noticed that his Guide was getting better.

Jim stomped back down the stairs wearing shorts and a cut off sweatshirt. "Iíll be back in half an hour. Donít go anywhere." With a final wag of his finger, he bolted out of the loft.

No, the big, over-protective Jim Ellison was still in control.

Blair dumped the remains of his breakfast in the bin; heíd lost his appetite. Muttering about uncommunicative ex-rangers he wandered into the shower.

††††† ††††††††††† ^..^

The book called.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

†††††

One hand on the basement wall, Blair picked his way down the staircase. He slowly pushed open the heavy door. The room was as much as theyíd left it. Fishing equipment stacked neatly in its place. Jimís DIY toys and tools were all present and correct.

Chancing a quick peek over his shoulder, he crept towards the cupboard.

It was unlocked.

Heart in his mouth, Blair carefully pulled open the double doors.

The cupboard was empty.

Stunned, Blair simply stood.

The book was gone.

The book was gone.

The book that Jim said was evil.

ĎOh, shit.í

Blair backed away slowly.

Where was it? Who had taken it? Were they still here?

A heavy hand dropped on his shoulder.

Blair jumped sky high. He flailed out, clapping his assailant on the side of the head.

"Jesus, Blair!" Jim swore.

Blair sagged, clasping his chest, trying to hold in his wildly beating heart.

"Shit," he gasped. The adrenaline coursing through his veins seemed to switch off, leaving him enervated.

Jimís arm enveloped his shoulders. The student leaned into the offered warmth.

"Jesus, Blair." The Sentinel blasphemed again; they seemed to be communicating in curses. "Sorry, I didnít mean to give you a scare."

Blair tried to control his breathing.

"God! What did you do that for?" He unclenched his fingers from Jimís sweatshirt.

"I didnít think you hadnít heard me."

"The bookís gone," Blair said urgently, remembering the reason for his shock. "Someone has took it."

"Yeah." Jim began to guide Blair to the basement steps. "I took it to Philipís yesterday."

"What?" Blair froze on the first step. "You moved it and you didnít tell me?"

"When was I supposed to tell you?" Jim asked defensively. "Simon was here when you woke up. And this morningÖ"

"Oh, yeah." Blair frowned at his friend.

The Sentinel shifted uneasily.

"What did Philip say?" Blair finally asked.

"Not much. We stuck it in the lab and he said heíd run some tests. And that heíd get back to us."

The anthropologist allowed Jim to shepherd him up the first couple of steps. "Is that all?"

"Yeah."

"Honest?" Blair paused and scowled up at his Sentinel.

Grimacing sarcastically, Jim drew a little cross over his heart with his finger. "He was preparing a sermon for his congregation; once it was contained that was his priority. He asked how you were getting on."

"And what did you tell him?" Blair asked curiously, interested to know what the Sentinel perceived.

"That you still sleep over twelve hours a day but at least youíve got your appetite back."

Obscurely touched, Blair muttered, "Only when weíre not fighting."

Jim ducked his head in a curt apology. "This isnít the place to have a conversation."

"Okay Ė beers on the balcony and talk about it?"

"Itís only just after ten, Junior, itís too early for beer."

"Algae shake?"

"Blerrgh!" The detective gagged, happily over-exaggerating.

Blair pushed away from his support and stomped up the final set of stairs. "You just wait; I have a great recipe for dessert figs."

Grinning, the detective followed him into the loft. "Look, weíll talk about it. I promise. Iím gonna grab a shower Ė then weíll go down to Gurrís for some breakfast bagels."

"Sounds like a plan."

If they were in a coffee shop they wouldnít be able to discuss whatever was bothering the detective. He was avoiding the subject again, but Jim had promised to talk about it, so they would talk about it. Jim kept his promises.

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Jim played with his salmon and cream cheese bagel, watching Blair dissect his chocolate muffin, pulling out the chocolate chips.

How was he going to talk about this? How could he ever so casually drop into the conversation that he thought that heídÖ

"Why donít you just say it," Blair advised, interrupting his thoughts. "Assuming that you can talk about it here." He nodded at the hubbub of life outside their booth.

Jim concentrated on a lonely coloured sprinkle on the table. He rolled it back and forth under his fingertip. Eventually he looked up to see that Blair had created a pyramid of chocolate drops surrounded by a moat of cake.

"Maybe a chocolate castle would work better?" Blair mused.

"Naomi could probably explain it better than me," Jim blurted.

Blair focussed on him intently. He didnít move, just waited patiently.

"You improved when I was there andÖ faltered when I wasnít."

Blair rocked slightly, but didnít speak; he was quivering with tension.

"I slept all the time. I was exhausted, more than I would be normally." He swallowed audibly. "I think thatÖ."

Blair leaned forward.

"I donít know what happened, Blair. Honest. Itís nothing that I can put into words."

The Guide smiled sadly. "I understand, Jim. Thanks for being there for me. I donít think I would have made it without your support."

Jimís hands clenched and he shredded the bagel in two. The kid was as perceptive as ever. It was borderline cruel of the little goober to put him through this emotional stuff. Although, he reflected, he had to give the kid a few clues before he could make his intuitive jumps.

"You would have," Jim said brusquely. "Youíre strong."

"Yeah, but maybe Iíd be minus a few toes or my hearing."

"Donít say that!" Jim hissed.

"Iíve read the literature, Jim. I had type ĎBí meningococcal meningitis. I presented with both septicaemia and inflammation of the meninges. I haemorrhaged internallyÖ"

"Shut up. Shut up!" Jim slammed his palm on the tabletop. "I was there."

"Sorry." Blair apologised immediately. "You were there. Even when I thought that I was dying, you were there. I understand, Jim. Thanks. I do understand, now."

"Understand what?" He didnít like it; heíd lost track of the conversation.

"I really need some fresh air today. Can we go to the park, Jim?"

Ellison blinked, knowing that heíd lost control of the conversation, but only because he really wanted to.

"Yeah, sure. But only for half an hour or so."

"Cool." Blair bounced in his seat.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair threw the remains of his muffin to the duck on the pond. Jim had somehow given him energy when he was ill; helping him heal. Unsurprisingly, the piss poor-communicative ex-ranger did not want to talk about it.

None of his research into Sentinels & Guides had yielded any information on an innate healing ability being one of a Sentinelís gifts. There had been more than enough opportunities for Jim to display such a gift Ė during the debacle with Quinn when he had been shot or during the numerous times when he had been hit on the head.

Blair sat on the warm grass and picked at the final healing blood blister on the tip of his index finger. Jim had remade the connection when the hallucinogenic drug, Golden, had blinded him. Jim reacted unfavourably to any number of drugs. Jim was a pretty special guy. Jim had a spirit guide and visions. A healing ability wasnít that unusual and in a sentinel who fought, it was probably a good talent for a warrior-guardian. A healing touch manifested itself in many forms.

It wasnít something that he could stick a wire on and measure. ĎHey, Jim, hang on while I go and stab myself in the abdomen and see if you can heal me.í

His team had died in Peru. Jim would never lay on the healing hands with an invocation nor wiggle his fingers and fire blue-green energy. But what he could do was support his friend and partner, keep him fed, keep him warm, make him sleep, and be there during a life threatening illness. Blair knew that his mom would understand.

"Here." Jim passed him a hotdog with all of the trimmings. "We havenít had breakfast yet."

"Third time lucky?"

Jim growled and sat on the grass beside him. "I see you got a new friend." He nodded at the duck.

"Yeah, he likes cake Ė but I donít know if ducks can eat chocolate. You want the chips?" Blair offered.

"Nah, theyíllíve melted." Jim turned up his nose.

Blair tossed the chips into his mouth and then licked his palm.

"So what do you feel like doing today?" Blair asked around a mouthful of hotdog.

Jim viewed him fastidiously. "Well, it hadnít escaped my notice that weíre at the park overlooking Philipís rectory."

"Gee--" Blair batted his eyelashes, "--thatís a coincidence."

"Hey, look!" Jim suddenly pointed at the sky.

"What?" Mouth open, eyes scrunched, Blair peered at the puffy white clouds against the blue expanse. "What?"

"Thereís a flying pig."

Blair swung around and batted his Sentinel on the arm. Jim flashed him a shit-eating grin. Still grinning, he sagged back on the warm grass, folding his hands behind his head.

"Gorgeous day. I could lie here all day."

"Itís kinda nice." He settled beside his Sentinel. The sun was almost at its zenith and the heat baked his bones. He felt almost human.

"Just for half an hour, we donít have any sunscreen."

Blair hid a smile. Once a Blessed Protector, always a Blessed Protector.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

"Blair! How are you?" Philip sang out. As Jim pulled up, he bounced recklessly down the rectory steps. Mirroring his smile, Blair began to open the Ford truckís door, only to find the priest yanking it open.

It was the most animated Blair had ever seen the normally morose priest.

"I came around the hospital a couple of times but you were sleeping." Philip stepped back and scrutinised him from head to toe. "You look good."

Blair stepped out of the truck and resisted the temptation to turn in a circle. "I do that a lot: sleep."

"Come in." Philip guided him gently towards the rectory. "The housekeeper has made a light lunch."

"More food?" Blair said weakly.

Philip wasnít listening. As he helped Blair along, he craned his head to speak to the detective. "Youíre looking brighter, Jim. In fact it looks as if youíve caught the sun."

Jim touched his nose. There was a delicate flush to his pale skin that spoke of freckles in the near future. "Weíve been in the park. I fell asleep on the grass."

"I wish Iíd had my camera," Blair interjected. "He jumps three feet in the air if you drop ice cream on his nose."

"Itís a good job heís recuperating or I would have dumped him in the lake."

With the priest on one side and Jim on the other, the latter supporting him with a warm hand on the small of his back, Blair felt like a prince with an entourage.

"I thought that I would call Mrs. Banks and invite her over."

"Nah, nahÖ Iíd like to see her, but we wonít be able to talk about the book if she comes over. Weíll pop in later."

"Ah, the book."

"Have you done any research?" Blair asked eagerly.

"All I can tell, without opening the thing, is that there is something supernatural associated with it. I donít really want to open it until I know what Iím dealing with."

"You didnít find anything in the library? The author?"

"Nothing," Philip sighed apologetically. "I have my associates in San Francisco and Chicago looking into it."

"Where is it?" Blair looked around the hallway.

"Safe." Philip gently directed him into the sitting room.

Blair gritted his teeth. They werenít going to let him anywhere near it.

"Itís in the lab. In a safe. Look Ė sandwiches." Philip smiled and pointed to the food so decoratively laid out on the coffee table.

Jim darted forward, rubbing his hands together. "I smell beef and mustard."

"Human garbage can." Blair shook his head fondly.

Any more food and he was going to turn into a tub of lard.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

It had been a long day for the student. Jim glanced affectionately at his younger friend. Blair had crashed as soon as they had driven away from Mrs. Banksí house. He leaned into his safety belt, drooling down the fabric.

Beef and mustard on rye bread at the rectory and then cookies and cake at Simonís auntís house. Jim was feeling pretty gluttonous. Checking the immediate road ahead, he chanced undoing the top button of his jeans. The day had started out badly but it had only got better. He fancied something different for dinner, maybe Indian.

Driving with more care and attention than normal, he slowly turned into Prospect Place and parked outside the loft.

"Come on, Chief," he cajoled, "wakey wakey."

"Uh?" Blair lifted his head. Confused, he looked around the Ford cab as if trying to figure out where he was. "Oh, God, not again. This is ridiculous."

"What is?" Jim reached over and popped open Blairís door.

"This napping. I should be better." Irritable, he picked at his shirt as if finding it uncomfortable. "All I do is eat and sleep."

Jim opened his mouth.

"Donít say Iíve been sick. I know Iíve been sick. I want to be better. Iím sick of being sick."

The detective shrugged eloquently.

"I want my energy back." He pushed his hair back from his face. Grumbling, he slunk out of the truck.

Jim watched him walk to their apartment. The late afternoon sun caught him in profile, accentuating the newly defined planes of his cheekbones and broad brow. In that photographic instant, he saw the too baggy clothes enveloping the too skinny frame. Blair paused at the threshold, pushing back a lank lock of hair behind an ear. He nodded at the door, encouraging the detective to leave his truck and join him.

Jim grabbed the heavy grimmoires and tomes that Philip had loaned to the student while he recuperated. At least a few intriguing books would keep him sequestered on the couch. Juggling the books, he locked his sweetheart truck and hurried after his partner.

Blair had the kettle on by the time he had waited for the elevator to descend and made his way to the loft apartment.

"Peppermint tea?" Blair asked.

Jim gagged and helped himself to a beer.

Peppermint tea in hand, Blair set the kitchen table for a serious study session: laptop; modem; books and dictionaries.

"Iím going to see if thereís anything on Willim Raymont, the guy who owned the estate. Since the bookís a mystery maybe Raymontís a starting point."

"Good idea." Intrigued, and against his better judgement, Jim settled next to his partner as he logged on.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Jim flicked through one of the weirder texts that Philip had foisted on the student. He sincerely hoped that his Guide would not dance around Ďsky cladí the next time they went camping. It would be a rare night in Washington when he would be able to go naked. Jim grinned, remembering some of the covers from Blairís fantasy novels displaying scantily clad heroes and heroines, when any one who had ever been camping or in the army knew wholeheartedly that layers were needed and lots of them. And the heroes never moaned about bivouackingÖ

"You know this is really weird." Blair interrupted his meanderings. "According to this, Raymont was 90 and according to the local library he was 120."

"So the library got it wrong."

Jim glanced at the laptop screen. Blair was reading an ID link in the Cascade PD DMV page.

"How did you get on that? Itís password protected."

Blair smiled tremulously, gave up on the pretence and then just grinned evilly. "Simon wanted me to check something out onceÖ. Forget that--" Blair waved his hands, "--ninety is a pretty impressive age to still be driving."

"They hadnít lifted his licence?"

"According to this, his sight and co-ordination were fine."

"It happens. Does it say how he died?"

"Crashed his Mustang."

"Obviously, he didnít see well enough."

Blair continued, ignoring his comments. "Apparently, according to witnesses, he was being pursued by this Ďbig, black carí that bumped him off of the side of a cliff and he was killed in the fireball when the car exploded."

"What? This guy was like 100 years old."

"Just because heís old doesnít mean that he couldnít have enemies."

"The guy should have been in a motorised wheelchair."

"You know whatís really weird."

"More weird than hobs and goblins?"

"According to the local paper, he was a recluse and he only came out after dark."

"So this sad, old philanthropist who hurt nobody was terrorised and driven off a cliff by persons unknown?" Jim felt his hackles rise.

"And he had a book thatís haunted."

"You think theyíre connected?" Jim pondered.

"If Iím reachingÖ If the person who killed him was after the book, I would have assumed that heíd have burgled Raymontís mansion after killing the old guy."

"Maybe he didnít know what he was looking for?"

"I still think weíre reaching."

"You were the one who decided to look into Raymontís background to see if anything suspicious had happened. And look: you found something suspicious."

"Maybe thereíll be some more clues at Raymontís mansion?"

"Well, everythingís been itemised and catalogued for the auction, so I guess any clues would be disturbed," Jim mused. "When did this happen?"

Blair ran his finger down the laptop screen. "Last December, the eighteenth."

"Nine months?" Jim deflated; against his better judgement both the case and the book were intriguing him. He doubted that after nine months he would be able to Ďpick anything upí from Raymontís house. "Thereís absolutely nothing on the identity of the driver of the black car?"

"No. Thereís a report by the local sheriff and she says that there was insufficient information to pursue any lines of inquiry."

"Bastard." Jim leaned his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his hands. "I suppose we could go back to the mansionÖ"

Blair perked up. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." Jim grinned wickedly, his mood changing mercurially. "Donít forget, though, youíre a mentally challenged young adult on a day trip from the half-way home."

Groaning, Blair dropped his head on the table. Evidently, he had forgotten the ruse that his helpful Sentinel had used to Ďacquireí the book.

End of Chapter I

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation: Chapter II

Blair smiled inanely at the wrinkly little man sitting at the desk. Judging by the widening of the doorkeeperís eyes, he recognised them. He opened his mouth to speak.

"Donít worry; Iíll keep an eye on him," Jim butted in.

"But, butÖ" he began to splutter. "What if he steals something?"

"He wonít, will you, Buddy?" Jim gazed paternally at the anthropologist.

Blair kept his mouth shut and nodded, fervently Ė while resisting the temptation to kick the Sentinel on the shin.

"IÖ IÖ donítÖthink itís a good idea," the gnome hissed.

Blair batted his eyelashes as he slipped his hand into Jimís grip. He smiled winsomely as the detective bit his bottom lip.

"Iíll keep an eye on him," Jim gritted out again. He held up their linked hands for all to see. "There was a book that I was interested in purchasing, we will not be going anywhere near the Ming Vase display."

The man continued to splutter.

Ellison leaned forwards. "You know this isnít a very politically correct attitude youíre displaying. Itís not Tarquinís fault that heís challenged. He so enjoys these trips to the country and he gets a lot out of them. Iíd hate to think youíre discriminating against him. By the way, whoís in charge?"

"Mr. George is in conference with the auctioneers. He asked not to be disturbed," the doorkeeper said precisely.

"I donít mind waiting."

"As long as youíre sureÖ If you can assure meÖ" the man struggled to phrase his words correctly. "Yes, you can come in. But youíre responsible for any breakages."

"He wonít break anything, will you, Tarquin?"

Blair allowed the Sentinel to drag him away from the desk. The wizened man watched them with a great deal of trepidation.

As soon as they were out of listening range, Blair grated, "Tarquin?"

Jim shrugged his shoulders. "If you break anything, weíre taking it out of your rent."

"If we break anything youíll be selling the loft to pay for the damages," Blair pointed out. "And what about that guy! What a creep Ė someone should talk to him about his people skills."

Blair pulled his hand away from Jimís grip and stomped heavily in the direction of the library. The detective trailed, lackadaisically, in his wake.

The auction was scheduled for that day at two oíclock in the afternoon. The house was filled with prospective buyers, wandering around viewing the items on sale. Luckily, the books slated for auction were separate from the books that Blair had viewed at the weekend. Few of the buyers were interested in the relatively cheap texts.

A young man, who looked like a student complete with backpack and laptop, was working through a pile of journals on the floor, but otherwise the room was empty. Blair drooped tiredly into a seat beside the oak table dominating the library and began to flip through the catalogue.

"Itís just occurred to me." Blair deliberately lowered his voice. "That if everything has been catalogued, everything will have been touched."

Jim shrugged. "We knew that before we came. Maybe weíll get lucky; maybe we wonít."

The Sentinel began to pad around the stacks, his antennae out. Pensively, Blair flicked through the author listings section in the catalogue. There were no other references relating to Tomas other than the one they had found, although there were a couple relating to Thomas.

Working his way along the stacks, Blair found an uninteresting thesis relating to the study of mosses in the Shrewsbury Meres and a discourse on the heritage of the Timshim Peoples that did sound interesting. He settled cross-legged on the floor to scan through the texts just in case there was something relating to Tomas.

"Iíll go check the books in the auction section," Jim announced. He held out his finger. "Donít break anything."

Blair pulled a face at the absolutely hilarious Sentinel. Left alone, Blair leaned against the stack. Heíd hoped that if Raymont had had one book by Tomas he would have another. There was nothing relevant in the book, just a badly written, poor assessment of the Timshim People. He sighed tiredly.

"Hey, man?" The young man spoke up. Blair raised his head, the other occupant of the room stood over him, a look of wary concern on his pale, spotty face.

Blair blinked, and then struggled to his feet. "Hi?" he ventured.

"Are you all right, man?" The bespectacled student stepped back a pace, covering his unease by rubbing his nose.

"Yeah, fine." Blair sagged back into his seat. "Getting over the flu."

"Yeah, summer flu Ė the worst. Okay, uhm, Iíll just go back to work." He pointed aimlessly over his shoulder and then made a hasty retreat back to the stacks.

"Thanks." Blair was going to let him continue uninterrupted but he couldnít resist asking, "What are you looking for?"

The younger man shuffled, unaccountably blushed and then spoke, "Iím doing some research into cultural mores and the interpretation of gender roles in the late 1900s."

"Sounds fascinating."

"Really?" he said sceptically. "This is usually where peopleís eyes start to glaze over."

"Iím a Ph.D. student studying the myth of the Peruvian Watchmen," Blair volunteered.

"Cool," he nodded understandingly. "You know how it is, I get a bit sick of explaining what Iím doing and seeing the Ė I donít know Ė utter disinterest in other peopleís eyes."

"My favourite one is when they say Ďso whatís the point of your research?í and the tone is Ďyou sponging student, youíve got it so easy Ė I have a wife and nine kids.í"

"Exactly!" Blairís new-found friend laughed. "Cos getting a Ph.D. is a walk in the park, because, of course, every night weíre out clubbing and doing drugs Ė we just do a couple of hours work a week."

"As if our grants could support that!"

They laughed, enjoying the camaraderie. "Hi, Iím Kurt."

"Blair."

"So thereís papers here on Ė what did you call them? Ė Peruvian Watchmen?"

"Possibly. Iím looking for any books authored by a guy called Tomas."

"Thereís nothing in the catalogue?"

Blair flipped through the freshly printed papers. "Just the one Iíve got all ready."

"First name? Last name?"

"Heís just called Tomas."

"You could try the diaries. Theyíre in the back. I found some interesting stuff."

"Excellent," Blair said, perking up.

"Theyíre in that ante-chamber," Kurt said, pointing to a narrow doorway between two stacks. "Theyíre alphabetical."

Hunting in his own inimitable way, knowledge his goal rather than a criminal, Blair arrowed towards the small room. Journals filled the room to the brim. Loosely bound, leather backed books were stuck in every nook and cranny. The musty smell of old books greeted his nose.

Bliss.

Blair turned in a slow circle, wondering at the wealth of experience locked within the bound volumes. There was a kind of order to the mismatched texts. Blair found the ĎTísí and began to work his way along the shelf. Tucked between an encyclopśdia sized black book and the wall were two small paperback sized journals.

In gold ink script was the name Tomas and they were entitled: Journals of the Dead parts I and II.

Without thinking, he picked up and opened the first book. Crabby black writing scrawled across the page, Ďsí was masquerading as Ďfí making it difficult to read. Realising that he would need to sit down and carefully identify each word, Blair flicked through the pages. A lurid woodcut caught his eye. The crude drawing seemed to be of a young woman wielding a crucifix against a gnarled demon.

ĎWell,í Blair reflected, Ďat least weíre on the right track.í

Interleaved between the first page and the dust cover was a price tag, indicating that the journal only cost a few dollars. Blair scanned the shelves looking for any other books of the same size and gold lettering.

"Pity Jim isnít here, maybe heíd be able to find a glowing oneÖ Ah." Blair looked down at the two books he held in his hands. "Shit, heís going to kill me."

He had touched them and he had opened one.

But it was so frustrating, to have a book in his possession that he couldnít read. Philip and Jim had prevented him from reading the book by Tomas. It wasnít frustrating; it was cruel. It was a torment worthy of Tantalus.

Cavalier, since the milk was spilt, he opened the other book. The crabby writing on the first page was blotched as if water damaged. He couldnít make out the writing but perhaps Jim could.

Decision made, he exited the chamber. The library was deserted; Kurt had gone.

Wise to the ways of his Sentinel and not really up to trailing around Raymontís estate looking for the detective, Blair settled by the table. What he really wanted was a large cafť lattť, two spoonfuls of sugar and chocolate shavings on top. Just thinking about it made his stomach grumble. Absently, he dumped the books in his backpack, happy for the moment to sit and ponder on smooth, milky, creamy coffee. It would be easy to finagle Jim in to stopping at a roadside pancake house.

"Hello, pretty."

Startled, Blair jerked to his feet. A lady stood by the fire at the back of the room. She was dressed in a long blood red gown, dripping with black embroidery. He rubbed his eyes; not entirely convinced that he wasnít dreaming. She cupped her chin in her hand, cocking her head to the side as she swayed to a rhythm only she could hear. Long dark hair, pulled primly back, moved backwards and forwards as she danced. She was so very beautiful in a disturbing way. He couldnít put his finger on what bothered him.

She drifted closer, her eyes dreamy. ĎVacuous,í Blair wondered dazedly, Ďno, thatís not the right word. Sheís otherworldly Ė fey.í

"My mummy told me once that Iíd meet a nice young man, then sheíd beat the devil from my bones," she crooned as she took another step closer. "I met a nice young man Ė heís called William."

"Thatís nice." Blair backed up a step, plastering against a book stack. He couldnít remember moving away from the table.

"I met another nice man and he made me bad. So very, very bad."

Inanely, Blair found himself focusing on her accent Ė English? Ė but it wasnít like any other English accent he had ever heard.

"Youíre nice." She smiled, showing perfect white teeth.

Blair felt his nether regions draw up into his body.

It was a visceral reaction.

She laid her narrow white hand tipped with painted black nails on his chest. "I like you."

"Thank you," Blair squeaked, swallowing audibly.

Her lips curled in a vague, faraway smile. "Youíre so pretty. Youíre like a puppy dog, all bouncy and cuddly." She frowned.

A deep voice of instinct was screaming at him. The message reverberated in his bones. Run and run and run. But he was paralysed.

Leaning forward she sniffed, her delicate nostrils flaring. "Nooo. Poor, little petal." She caressed his cheek. "Poor, poorly, little petal. You wonít taste very good."

Blair felt himself slipping elsewhere. Her eyes were drawing him inward, he was irresistibly drawn to the dark fathomless depths.

She wasnít human. The thought shocked Blair out of her spellbinding trance. Her very etherealness screamed Ďbewareí.

Her cold, so cold hands cupped his cheeks. Smiling eyes rolled up in her head.

"I know youÖ Iíve met youÖ. I hear youÖ Special friendÖ Beloved friendÖ. Soul friendÖ."

"No," Blair gasped.

"One unconquerable soul."

"No."

"A Sentinel & Guide. A Warrior & Shaman. A Weardian & Witan. Clan leader & OvateÖ. So very special. A gift for my beloved. Youíll make me strong Ė your blood will make me strong."

Blair struggled against the feeling deadening his mind. Images assailed him. Incacha standing beside another brown skinned warrior. No, it was not Incacha, it was another Shaman, an older wiser Shaman. A wave of shifting nothingness and an image of a small, tousled-haired child leaning on the hip of a wrinkled, old man greeted him. Unconsciously, Blair smiled at the pair.

"Iíll have the Sentinel." The womanís face morphed into a vision of horror.

Galvanised, Blair flailed out. She fell backwards, sprawling on the floor at his feet.

"Jim!"

Blinded by fear, he scrabbled along the side of the book stack half-falling and then struggled to his feet and bolted for the door. He hit something hard and unyielding. His momentum bounced him onto the floor.

"Geez, sorry, Blair."

Large hands brushed his torso searching for damage.

"Run!" Blair screeched. "Run away!"

"What?"

Suddenly, he was pulled into an embrace and clasped against the rough weave of a knitted sweater.

"Sssshh." Hands coasted over his back. "Youíre okay. Youíre okay."

"NO!" He pushed away from the comforting embrace. "Thereís a demon in the library. We have to get away. Trust me!"

He was tucked behind a large back and Jim faced the doorway.

"JimÖ come away." Blair yanked at his jacket sleeve. "You canít face it Ė it knows you."

The willowy woman stepped into the doorway. "Hello."

"Hello," Jim responded politely. "Can we help you?"

Blair saw her through Jimís eyes, a courteous, delicate young woman. And he felt the Sentinelís protective hackles rise.

ĎIdiot. For someone who is so very sensitive, he is also rather dense.í

"Friends. Do you like me Mr. Jim? I like you. Would you like to come with me?"

Jimís posture changed, becoming open and relaxed. He was reacting to the mesmerising cadences of her voice. Blair recognised the tones, knowing the power of a soothing voice.

"You canít have him," Blair growled. He squirmed around Jim, placing himself before his Sentinel. "GO! Youíre not welcome here."

"But, nobody lives here to stop me. I can go where I want to." She drifted forward, her eyes lulling and singing songs that were unspoken. "Come to me. Come to me. Come to me."

She curled her fingers, beckoning.

Jim took a hesitant step forward, running into his back.

Blair planted his feet on the ground, pushing back against the Sentinel as he pushed unerringly forward.

"Come to me. Come to me." Her eyes were soft and dreamy.

"Go away!" Blair ordered.

"I used to like fish and chips with white bread and butter. Now I like different thingsÖ." Her face changed. "And I think that youíd be very nice!"

And she lunged.

Blair went down in a tangle of limbs, the Sentinel at his back and the woman above him. Her teeth were elongated and her face pinched. He fought to keep her away from his throat.

What was she?

But she was in fact trying for Jimís throat.

But the Sentinel thought that the Guide was being threatened. And he acted.

Jim straight-armed her in the face. Her head flipped back with an audible crack. Blair was rolled in a tight little ball and bowled to the side. Jim surged to his feet as the woman rose. Following through with a roundhouse kick, Jim propelled her backwards.

Her strength was unparalleled, unaffected by the blow she retaliated with a claw-like karate chop. Blood welled on the Sentinelís shoulder. Jim was oblivious, jabbing with a closed fist at her throat.

Grabbing the shelf above him, Blair heaved himself to his feet. He couldnít see how to help Jim, who fought with controlled and single-minded intensity. If he tried to help, he might distract Jimís concentration Ė which could be fatal.

ĎFuck!í He felt like the ineffectual, screaming assistant in ĎDr. Whoí episodes.

Another punishing round of blows left blood streaming from Jimís arm and the woman poised for another attack. Breathing heavily, Jim backed up a pace. She smiled silkily, her face resolving back into an unthreatening, dreamy countenance.

Blair started throwing books. Anything he laid his hands on, he hurled at her. Big books, little books, old books, new books, encyclopaedias, almanacs, brochures, manuscripts, hardbacks and softbacks.

She screamed as one hit her raised arm. Pained, she cradled her reddened wrist. Astounded, Blair watched as time slowed, and a Christian Bible fell at her feet.

Jim moved like greased lightning, he picked it up and thrust it in her face.

As if burned, she knocked it away and fled, screaming out into the hallway with Jim at her heels.

Swearing, Blair chased after them.

He erupted through the doorway into the corridor, slipping on the highly polished floor. The tails of Jimís coat disappeared around the corner at the end of the corridor. Half stumbling, half slipping, Blair skidded down the corridor after them.

ĎWhatís he going to do? Beat her to death with a bible?í

The next corridor was empty, as was the one to the left, and the one after that. Wheezing, Blair slid to a halt beside a large oak table. Black spots filled his vision, he gripped the table top with both hands and fought for breath. He had to find Jim. Listening, he tried to find Jim with his poor, undeveloped senses.

He could hear voices. But he couldnít pick out his partnerís, couldnít even tell if one of them was his voice.

Where was he? He was Jimís back-up but he couldnít look after him if he was left lying in the metaphorical dust.

"Damn him," Blair growled.

He followed a pair of voices along another passageway. It was a spooky old house, with Jim chasing a demon it was easy to imagine all sorts of horrors.

"Jim?" he called. "Damn."

Fingers trailing along a wall, he homed in on the voices. They sounded unstressed; it wasnít likely to be Jim and the woman-thing. Blair peered around the edge of the door. There was a couple viewing a portrait in the east gallery. They squinted at him very peculiarly as he looked at them.

"I donít suppose youíve seen my brother?" Blair said rapidly. "Big guy, six foot one, short light brown hair. Heís wearing a blue knitted sweater, dark slacks and a long black coat."

"No, sorry." The man shook his head.

"Are you all right?" the woman asked. "You look pale."

"Fine, thank you." Blair spun away.

Anything could have happened. Jim could have been led into a trap. Supporting himself on the wall, he slogged back along the corridor.

He pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial for Father Philip Callaghan. It rang three times before Philipís pleasant tones filled his ears.

"Hullo, this is Father Callaghan."

"Oh, God, Philip! Itís Blair."

"Blair? Whatís the matter? Are you okay?"

The anthropologist paused at the top of the spiral staircase to the next floor.

"Philip, weíre at Willim Raymontís mansion near Chagook. Itís about three miles south of Chagook off of the main freeway heading north to Vancouver."

Philip repeated the details, obviously writing them down.

"Philip, man, we found aÖ demon in library. It attacked us and the bible burnt it and JimÖ and JimÖ"

"Blair," Philip interrupted, "start at the beginning."

"Jim went after the demon and I canít find him!"

"Jim went after the demon?"

"Yes!"

"Right, Iíll be there as soon as possible. Stay where youíre in sight of other people. Try to stay in sunlight. If you feel uncomfortable find some other people to stay in sunlight with." Philipís voice was distracted, as he paced the length of his room. "Look, Iím going to call a friend whoís out near Witshaw Ė he can be there in a third of the time I can. Heís a Native American, Salish, heís very knowledgeable Ė heís called Long. You can trust him."

"Okay, fine, thanks," Blair said distractedly Ė he had seen something in a deeply recessed alcove a few steps down the staircase which looked like it could be very helpful.

"Blair? Blair? I want to you to go somewhere safe."

"Donít worry, Philip." He clicked the phone shut. He picked his way down the stairs to the alcove. At the back of the niche he could clearly see a gold wrought cross. Stretching, he reached into the hole and curled his fingers around the cold metal. The cross was about a foot high and inlaid with gemstones. Blair guessed since it was on casual display that the jewels were false. He hefted it in his hands; it was reassuringly heavy. In fact, it felt like it weighed a ton.

He continued down the spiral staircase. A glistening drop on the glossy painted stair between the wall and the carpet caught his eye. Crouching down, he guessed that it was Jimís blood; he had been bleeding pretty heavily.

Another drop a few feet along the corridor showed him the way.

A bunch of prospective buyers were clustered in the room adjacent to the corridor, mulling over an oil painting of a hideously ugly man. Blair could have sworn that the man in the painting had amber eyes. But he decided that was his imagination.

"Excuse me." Blair masked the cross from view under his coat. "Iím looking for my brother? Big guy, short light brown hairÖ Probably was running."

As one, they turned. Blair felt the skin on the back of his neck crawl.

"There was an altercation before, a young man ran down the corridor," an elderly man sniffed pointedly.

Blair backed away, he felt as if he had ventured into the staff coffee room at high school.

ĎWhere are you, Jim? Iím gonna kill you when I find you.í

He spotted another bead of blood. Wielding his weapon, backpack on his shoulder, he ventured down the corridor.

The skin was crawling up the back of his neck. He felt exposed on all levels, almost as if he was a babe in arms. A drop of blood beckoned beside a closed door. Determined to go forward and not to hide in a crowd, he opened the door a fraction. The hall within was stocked with items draped in dustsheets. One chair lay on its side, knocked over, no doubt by Jim. Carefully, he crept through the room. The door at the other end was ajar. Inside he could hear a choking gasp. Galvanised, he flung open the door.

Jim was on his knees, his back bowed, as the woman entwined her fingers tightly in his hair. She drooled on his outstretched neck. The demon woman cocked her head to regard Blair as he came to an abrupt halt before them

Still watching him, her tongue darted out to flick against Jimís jugular.

"Let him be!" Holding the heavy cross in both hands, he thrust it in the demonís face.

Her high pitched scream almost forced him to his knees.

She backed away, letting Jim fall, insensible, at her feet. Blair matched her step for step, forcing her further away from his Sentinel. Blair deliberately stepped on the hem of her embroidered dress, tripping her.

"Who are you? What are you?" He stood over her, threatening her with the cross.

Quivering, she masked her eyes with her forearm. "Please, donít hurt me. Iím just a little girl."

"What. Are. You?" he demanded.

"Vampire," she announced, her tone changing. She flailed out, twisting her feet around his shin and knocking him onto the carpet. With a speed belying human reason, she flew to her feet and kicked the cross away.

Disarmed, Blair too kicked out, knocking her down in turn. Then he launched himself on top of her, catching her by the hair and banging her head against the floor. Her strength was amazing, she easily rolled them so Blair was beneath her.

And then her face changed and her teeth elongated.

ĎVampire.í Blairís heart stopped in his throat.

Her talon-like hands encircled his neck and she began to squeeze. Black spots danced in his vision.

"Guide. Witan. Protector. Shield. Armour. Your blood will make me strong. Better yet, I take thee, and make you my own."

She leaned down to savage his neck.

"Get off him, lady." Jim ripped her off him like a band-aid off a scratch and flung her aside. Moving with the ease of a panther, the Sentinel scooped up the cross.

"Get thee hence," the Sentinel declared further. The demon scuttled backwards.

Implacable, he stalked her, herding her toward the door.

Blair blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision. Unconsciousness was threatening to blanket him.

"Jim?" he gasped. "Donít goÖ"

The Sentinel turned and with a gleeful hiss, the vampire scurried through the door.

"Blair," Jim said half-exasperated. He made as if to follow her.

"No." Blair forced himself onto his knees.

"Why?" Jim asked tightly, twisting the cross in his hands. The passion of the hunt gleamed in his eyes Ė he wasnít thinking, he was only reacting.

"Cos thereís more here. Iím sure. They were in the great hall."

"Sheíll warn them."

Blair looked past the Sentinel to the door. A tall, dark haired man stepped into view. He was the elderly man from the hall.

"I think they already know," Blair hissed.

Jim spun on his heel. Reacting with his customary speed, he slammed shut the door and leaned into it.

"Blair!" He pointed with his free hand to a high backed chair.

"Got it." Blair found the energy to grab the chair and push it across to the Sentinel.

The detective jammed it under the doorknob, wedging the door closed. Blair struggled to his feet and joined Jim in barricading the door.

The entire door rocked on its hinges.

"Fuck!" Jim swore.

The door rocked again.

There was another round of blows and the wood began to splinter.

"Blair, check the windows, see if we can get outside."

The anthropologist didnít argue Ė he accepted the cross from Jim and, en route to the windows, grabbed his backpack. The glass doors leading out onto the balcony were locked. Blair smashed the stained glass with the heavy crucifix. He quickly knocked away the jagged edges of the glass until only the frame remained and stepped onto the sunlit balcony with an unconscious sigh of relief.

"Oh, God." They were on the third storey and there was no convenient trellis to climb down. Flummoxed for a second, he contemplated jumping, then he had the presence of mind to look around. The green lawn below looked lush; it might break their fall. But it was quite a jump. There was a drainpipe running down the wall on his left, just out of reach. They would have to leap across, but if it held they would be able to climb down safely.

If it held.

"Jim." He looked back into the suite. "Itís going to be dangerous but it might work."

"Itís better than staying here." The wood panel at the back of his head splintered and Jim dodged a grasping hand.

Blair could have sworn that the Sentinel teleported onto the balcony; he was beside him in a heartbeat. The ex-ranger took immediate stock of the situation.

"Drainpipe," he summarised.

Blair nodded mutely. Before he could stop the Sentinel, Jim darted back into the room and yanked at the curtains. He stepped back onto the balcony holding the heavy braid that decorated the velvet curtains on either side of the window.

Jim began to tie the corded rope around the anthropologistís waist. Clearly hearing the door splintering further, Blair knew that now was not the time to argue with Jimís protective instincts. As Jim double-checked the knots, Blair tossed the cross and his backpack over the stone parapet.

Jim gave a final yank on the cord and then directed Blair to climb up onto the stone rail. Balancing on the balls of his feet, Blair froze Ė he couldnít do this, it was insanity.

The final crack of the door giving way gave him motivation.

He flew.

He clamped onto the drainpipe with a relieved gasp. It creaked ominously, the rivets on either side of the pipe separated a hairsbreadth, but held. Blair climbed down the drainpipe like a greased monkey. A couple of yards from the grass he came to the end of his tether.

Jim let go of the rope.

Knowing that time was of the essence and that Jim would not chance their combined weight on the pipe, Blair jumped. He puddled on the grass at the base of the pipe.

"Come on, Jim!"

Blair watched as Jim climbed up onto the stone balcony. There was a howl and, suddenly, the sentinel was snatched backwards with appalling speed.

"JIM!" Blair scrambled to his feet, trying vainly to see his Sentinel.

An unearthly scream heralded a black mass flying over the balcony. The figure missed Blair by a fraction, thudding to the ground with a bone breaking tingling crack.

The man, if it was a man, clawed at the air, futilely. Horrified, Blair backed away as the flesh began to sear from his bones. Skin gave way to ropes of muscle as his eyeballs boiled in their sockets. Blair gagged. With a final devilish howl, the vampire died. Only a fine spray of dust marked its passage

Stunned, Blair almost forgot about Jim. He looked up in time to see the Sentinel jump. Cat-like, the man twisted in the air. Jim landed on top of the dust, moving smoothly into controlled roll down the grassy incline. Impressively, he ended up in a poised crouch ready to do battle. His expression was devoid of emotion.

Blair simply grabbed his backpack, stuffed the cross in it and then caught Jimís shirtsleeve yanking him upright.

"Come on."

Jim blinked slowly at him, as if seeing him for the first time.

"Come on. Come on. Letís get out of here." He yanked on Jimís sleeve again.

With an almost audible click, the Sentinel was back on track. Blair was no longer pulling on Jim; rather the Sentinel was propelling him across the grass lawn with a firm hand. Blairís feet barely touched the ground. He was bodily dumped in the Fordís cab before he could even protest at Jimís rough handling.

Jim peeled away from the parking lot with a burning screech of rubber. The detective drove with short, jerky motions.

"Are you all right?" Jim asked tightly.

Blair gingerly patted his arms and legs. "All present and correct."

"Good." Jimís lips were pursed.

They screeched round a corner onto the estateís main drive.

"Hey, man, I made large." The student pulled the bejewelled cross from the backpack on his lap.

Jim glanced sideways at it. "Klepto."

Blair shrugged Ė he wasnít going back to return it in this lifetime.

At the end of the road, another car was turning into the estate grounds. Jim did not hesitate, he turned on his sirens and lights forcing the vehicle to the far side of road. Blair glanced at the driver as he gestured at them.

"Stop the truck, Jim," he ordered.

"No."

"Now!"

Glowering, Jim stamped on the brakes as he reflexively threw out an arm to brace his Guide. Blair slid out from under his arm and jumped out of the truck. The other driver was slowly pulling away, but stopped when he saw Blair waving his arms.

The anthropologist ran up to the driverís window and made Ďroll downí motions. The driver viewed him over a hawk-like nose. The man was obviously of Native American descent with thick blue-black hair and medium brown skin. Blair motioned again. The man rolled down the window.

"Philip," Blair said obliquely.

The manís thick eyebrows met as he scowled. "A priest," he offered.

"Hello, Mr. Long. My nameís Blair Sandburg." He held out his hand.

Mr. Long shook it gravely. "Philip sent me."

"Yeah, man." Blair was aware of the Sentinel standing threateningly at his side. "Thereís a whole nest of vampires up there. There are millions of them. We barely got away."

"Letís take this conversation somewhere else," Ellison interrupted flatly.

"But, Jim, what about the people up there? Thereíre some normal people. Theyíll just be fodder."

"We were outnumbered ten to one," the Sentinel pointed out.

"ButÖ." Blairís face scrunched up as thought; they had barely escaped with their lives. Jim had palpably calculated the odds and decided that to return was insane. The student clicked his fingers as inspiration struck. "Fire alarm."

Blair almost laughed as Jimís heavy hand landed on his shoulder, preventing an ill-thought out dash to the mansion. He had no intention of returning to the vampiresí lair, but a phone call to the authorities might bring the fire service to the door. A fire alarm would empty the building. He held out his cell phone.

"They can trace it," Long pointed out. "There is a phone beside the road between here and the town. We can call from there."

"Good idea."

Long nodded, once. He wound up his window and was driving away before Jim could even agree to the plan.

^..^

They stopped on the side of the road to call the fire services. Blair acted his little heart out, half-sobbing down the phone, describing smoke pouring out of the back windows. Jim cut the phone line just after Blair had given the operator the address, ensuring that they would not be able to double check with the people at the mansion that there was indeed a fire. They sat by their cars as a bevy of fire trucks and police vehicles barrelled up the road towards the vampiresí lair. Jim could easily see prospective buyers trailing out of the building like so many ants. They watched until the building had been cleared. The auction had been effectively derailed.

"Thereís nothing that we can do here. Follow me to my place; I will see to your injuries." Long observed.

"Jim!" Blair almost yelled, remembering belatedly the wounds that Jim had acquired at the hands of the vampire.

"Itís okay," Jim said brusquely, batting away his hands. "Letís get out of here. Iím just bleeding a little bit." He shepherded Blair to the passenger door. "Weíll follow you."

Long jerked his head in a curtailed nod. The man evidently hoarded his words carefully.

They followed him to a trailer park in Witshaw. The stoic man headed to a trailer at the back of the wooded park.

Long unlocked his trailer and gestured them inside. It was pleasantly appointed along clean, stark lines. The large vehicle was not soulless merely bereft of cluttering knickknacks. To the trained eye it was obvious that at some point Long had been in military service.

"Beer or soda?" Long bent over his small refrigerator as they scooted onto the padded seat beside a fixed table.

"Heíll have a soda. Iíll have a beer. Thanks," Jim said shortly.

Blair visibly scowled, evidently resisting the temptation to snarl. Jim knew that he was going over the bounds of Blessed Protectorhood, but the kid looked like he had been run over by a truck.

"Two beers," the anthropologist interjected.

"Blair." Jim scowled.

Pursing his lips, Blair glared levelly at the Sentinel. "I deserve a beer."

"BlairÖ" Jim began.

"Jim," he immediately countered. "I know Iíve been ill; but weíve just fought vampires Ė I deserve a beer."

Long was watching their interaction with a blank expression. Jim stopped mid-outburst, something about the man caught his sentinel senses. The man was totally balanced; his breathing was deep, filling every corner of his lungs; his heart beat in an even syncopated rhythm and his blood flowed through his veins with a smoothness that bordered on the uncanny. This man was almost too healthy.

How could someone be so healthy?

Long stared back at him. A vague grin, Jim guessed Ė purely intentional Ė crossed the Native Americanís face. This man had control that Jim could only pretend to understand.

"Ill?" he asked.

"Iím better." Blair scowled. "Can I get your first aid kit?"

"Iíll get it." Long dumped two beers and two sodas on the table -- allowing them to make their own decisions -- before grabbing an impressively large medical kit from over the kitchen sink.

Blair sipped absently on the soda as he set out the supplies: antiseptic; scissors; butterfly tape; pads and gauze.

Jim obediently laid his arm on the table, angling his wrist so Blair could dress the worst wound. It was a nasty slash. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, the wounds were beginning to pinch, soon they would hurt. The cut from the vampireís long nails was a good three inches in length, any deeper and it would have severed an artery. As such, it had made a considerable mess of his shirt and jacket.

Wincing, Blair teased back the edges of Jimís shirt that had stuck to and helped clot the wound.

"I think that this will need stitches."

"Butterfly it and weíll stop at the hospital on the way back."

"Who knows what she had on her nails. What about your shoulder?"

"The wristís worse."

Blair bent his head over the wrist and began to work.

Jim pretended that his arm belonged to someone else. Utilising those meditation techniques that his Guide had drummed into him, he switched his thoughts to assessing any danger to his convalescing Guide and ignored his wrist.

He glared at the Native American as he took a long draft from his beer. Long gazed back at him over his glass of soda. Blair was completely oblivious as he carefully taped the edges of the gaping wound together. Ellison got the distinct impression that they were in some sort of weird etiquette dance. Long wasnít going to start the conversation unless they initiated the discussion and Blair was in Ďsuccour the sentinelí mode. The kid could be such a mother hen at times.

"Iím Jim Ellison, Mr. LongÖ"

"Long."

"Long." Jim noted, nodding his head. "What did Philip tell you?"

"That you had walked into a den of demons Ė now I know that theyíre vampires Ė looking for answers to the mystery of a spirit locked in a book."

Jim sagged back on his wooden seat. That was an astute summary.

"So how did you get out?" he asked curiously.

"Teamwork." Jim said perfunctorily.

"Are you a member of the Legacy?" Blair looked up from his medical ministrations.

Long moved his hand, drawing their attention to the heavy ring on his index finger. A calligraphy wrote ĎLí was embossed into an emerald stone.

"And youíre not," Long noted.

"No, we just get dragged kicking and screaming into these things," the Sentinel muttered waspishly.

A genuine smile flittered across Longís face. "Some people are simply drawn to the supernatural. Usually itís the people who would prefer not to be."

"Yeah." Blair leaned over the table, grabbing the gauze to dress Jimís wound. "I thought that I had an open mind to the unusual, but I was really surprised back when we first met a demon. But Vampires?"

"A source of much concern. They came out the dark forests of Europe originally, and spread through the old cities as if born to them. I think the first vampire came over in the Mayflower. But what concerns us is that they are increasing in numbers."

"Why?" Blair asked breathlessly.

"Belief, I think. The common man can easily believe in the horror hiding in the recesses. If asked to bet on the forces of evil or in the power of good, man will see evil before he sees good."

Jim could have sworn that Blair physically drooped at the manís words. The vivacity, albeit cowed by exhaustion, drained out of the younger man.

"But there are good people out there," Blair protested, and unconsciously glanced at the detective.

"I have never met an angel," Long argued.

"Perhaps you are not looking in the right place," Philipís distinctive voice interrupted them. The priest opened the trailer door. "May I come in?"

His fellow Legacy member waved him into the trailer.

"Philip!" Blair smiled widely; happy to see the priest. The Roman Catholic priest was formally decked out in his black suit and white collar. He held his bible and a cross was prominently displayed on his chest.

"Iím glad youíre safe."

"You found us. Long, did you tell him where weíd be?"

Long nodded gravely. "I didnít want him to go to the mansion."

Blair leaned over Jim and shook the priestís hand Ė hard. "I am so happy to see you, man."

Philip blinked at the effusiveness. "And I you." He slid in beside Long on the bench seat. "What happened?"

"They werenít demons," Blair whispered harshly. He bared his teeth in imitation.

"Vampires?" Philipís mouth fell open. "Youíre lucky to be alive."

"Long was telling us that they are increasing in number."

"There are more people in the world in this modern age so the predators have more prey," Philip said morosely.

"Yuck." Blair pantomimed a shudder.

"Ancient Rome had more vampires per capita thanÖ sayÖ the whole of Africa. Vampires were hit hard by the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages, but I find that I have little sympathy for them." Philip looked a tad mortified at his callousness, even if he were talking of demons.

"Weíre in Bizarro world, Jim."

"You said it, Chief."

Blair shook his head from side to side as he wound a crÍpe bandage around Jimís wrist. Next, he carefully teased Jimís jacket from the shoulder wound. The heavy cotton had stayed the vampireís strike; it appeared less serious.

"This is all very interesting," Jim snapped, irritable as Blair helped him out of his jacket. "But itís not pertinent. How do you kill them and what is the Legacyís plans for the vampires in mansion?"

Philip summarised, counting off on his fingers. "Stake through the heart, direct sunlight and fire incinerates and they donít like crossesÖ"

"Oh? Yeah, I was so glad that I found this." Blair set his antiseptic cream aside and hauled the cross out of his backpack.

"Oh my." Philipís mouth fell open. Blair passed it over to the priest without being asked.

He set the cross on the table, lightly fingering the heavy jewels and gold patina. Jim looked at it properly for the first time. It was a foot high with a solid base. Jim knew from its weight that it was made from gold or some mixed gold alloy. A veritable wealth of birdsí egg emeralds and finger nail sized rubies were encrusted on the cross in heavy settings. At the points, gold filigree gave it a deceptively fragile air. All in all, whoever had made it lacked in taste. And based on the way that Philip gazed at it, it was of immense interest.

"Itís the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch, itís been lost since the 15th Century. My, oh my, oh my."

"Itís real!" Blair grinned at Jim, caught between embarrassment at stealing a valuable object and covetous joy.

"Do you want to tell us about it?" Jim drawled ignoring the student.

"I donít believe you found this. Itís the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch. Legend has it that the Vampire Slayer SulpiciaÖ" Philip turned the cross over in his hands, his expression was rapt.

"The what?" Jim interrupted testily as his suspension of disbelief quotient almost over flowed.

"Unto every generation a young woman is chosen, and given abilities that help her fight vampires. Each Vampire Slayer is taught and helped by a person called a Watcher. This has occurred since the dawn of time."

"Vampire Slayers? Watchers? Really?" Blair was enthusiasm personified.

"The Vampire Slayer Sulpicia stole this cross from the monastery at Lindisfarne to slay the Vampire Lord Hymir Ė the Most Evil of All Vampires."

"And?" Blair said breathlessly, thoroughly engrossed in the story.

"She died and the cross was never seen again."

"Oh," Blairís eyes were impossibly wide. "So wherever the cross wentÖ The Most Evil Vampire Lord Hymir went?"

"Yes," Philip finished succinctly.

"It doesnít matter if it is Darth Vader. Stab him in the heart and he dies. Set fire to him and he dies." Jim peered over his shoulder. "You finished yet?"

"I donít think it will be that simple." Blair placed the final stretch of tape on the wound, securing the flaps of skin, and covered it with a large band-aid. "All set." He patted the Sentinelís shoulder.

"Neither do I," Philip said solemnly.

"So whatís next? Do we burn the mansion to the ground? That will get rid of them."

"No." Blair dragged his backpack onto his lap and extracted a book. "We read this."

"Where the Hell did you get that from?" Jim snatched it from his Guideís hands. "You took a book from the library?"

"It wasnít my fault, I got interrupted before I could buy it. Itís okay, itís a normal book. No weird ghosts or stuff."

"How do you know that?" Ellison sniffed at the book and resisted the temptation to lick it. His fingers were not tingling nor were his other senses tingling. All in all, it simply felt like a normal book; paper, leather and must.

Sighing, Blair pulled out the second book that he had acquired. Jim scowled and held out his hand. Blair slapped it against his palm.

The leather of the book was peeling away from the hard backing. Jim carefully tore off a fragment and rubbed it between his fingertips.

"Leather, normal cow leather," he reported.

"Why, what did you think it might be?" Blairís nose curled up.

"Human skin."

Repulsed, Blair backed away from the books. "Why do we get involved with this stuff? Itís horrible."

The colour drained from his face, half-way to shock, he looked like he might pass out.

"Blair." Philip spoke before Jim could collect his thoughts. "I have no clear cut answer for you. But I have faith that you and Jim will prevail."

Blair slumped on the bench seat, shaking his head from side to side. "You know, itís normally Jim who canít believe that this sort of stuff is happening."

He caught his expressive lip between his teeth censoring any further words.

Jim shifted along the bench seat closer to Blair. The kidís temperature had plummeted, cold sweat beaded on his brow and his heart thundered against his rib cage. All the classic signs of shock. The events of the day had finally caught up with him, adrenaline had propelled the student this far but no further.

"So," Jim began, in light of his Guideís ill health, determined to end their part in the affair. "Youíre the authorities. Thereís a nest of vamps in that mansion and youíve got a haunted book in your safe. I think everything is in your lap and weíll leave it in your capable hands."

It was akin to placing a match against a fireworkís touch paper.

"No!" Blair leaped away from his side. "Youíre theÖoops." He smiled toothily at Long. "The detective in charge of the case."

"What case?" Jim said with a rigid smile. "Nobody has reported anything. Itís certainly not within my jurisdiction."

"Itís about ethical responsibility. We canítÖ" Blair turned on the Sentinel.

"Jim has a point," Philip said gravely. "I spoke to an associate on my way up here. There is a group, which is linked with the Legacy, that deals with vampires."

"We canít leave it hanging. I mean, theyíre vampires. They kill people," Blair said passionately.

"Yes, Blair. They kill people. They could kill you." Philip reached across the table and patted Blairís hand. "To return to the mansion tonight would be suicide. The group that I spoke of will monitor the mansion."

"How many vampires did you see?" Jim asked softly.

Blair rubbed his pale cheeks. "There was a portrait gallery, I think everyone in that room was a vampire. Lots. They just made my skin crawl. There was this really old dude with yellowy eyes who was really scary."

Jimís protective side clamoured for an immediate and terminal solution to the problem. It took little imagination to picture himself slipping through the mansion, dispatching every vampire he found with alacrity. Regardless of the impulse, he knew that it was ill founded. They had barely escaped by the skin of their teeth. They were out numbered ten to one. But the most important factor was that Blair was still recuperating.

"We need more information," Long spoke solemnly. "Information is always the key. Someone will watch the mansion Ė you should read these books."

Jim accepted the leather backed journals. "What will you be doing, Long?"

"Until the group which Philip spoke of gets here, I will watch the mansion."

"Do you need any help?" Ellison offered, he couldnít let the Legacy man go into the lionís den alone, despite his wish to get Blair as far away as possible.

Long simply shook his head, his black hair swaying.

"Jim was a ranger," Blair volunteered. "He knows what heís doing. You couldnít ask for a better partner."

"It is not necessary," Longís body language was so studiously neutral that Jim knew that the man did not want them present. "My brothers will watch with me."

As a dismissal it was fairly unambiguous. Jim always knew when he wasnít wanted.

^..^

They had made it to the loft without any mishap. While in the truck on the way home, Blair had thumbed aimlessly through the journals until he had remembered that Jim had been wounded. They had then spent several hours waiting in the ER until the wound could be stitched. The Sentinel now had a wagon load of antibiotics and a sore butt from the tetanus shot.

He had also had to convince the attending physician that he wasnít suicidal and power tools were to blame.

Blair was curled up on the sofa, picking his way through one of the journals. The television droned in the background. Blair had stuck one of his compilation tapes in the video. They were two hours into some obscure program that Jim did not recognise.

"Are we winning?"

Blair looked up, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "No, itís definitely not pre-Chaucer; itís middle English but itís all thees and thous and Ďsí is masquerading as Ďfí and just to make things difficult the guy who wrote this knows nothing about grammar."

"Tempted to get your red pen out?"

"Oh, yes!" Blair sighed dramatically. "This guy does not know how to compound a verb."

"Sounds painful." Jim pushed away from the kitchen table. "You want half a beer?"

Blair perked up. "Half?"

"The doc said that I was okay on beer with these antibiotics, but Ďnothing to excess.í"

"Beer," Blair intoned as if being offered the Holy Grail. Smart remarks hovered on his tongue, but he didnít dare chance losing a beer.

Ellison knew that Blair was chaffing under his Ďmother hen from hellí mode but his nerves still thrummed in response to Blairís close call with meningitis. The kid was still being surprisingly amenable which meant that he still felt under the weather. Although Blair was indeed well on the way to recovery, as evidenced by his true ingenuity and resourcefulness while at the mansion.

He poured the beer into two glasses.

When he joined Blair on the couch, the student had set aside the book and sprawled along the cushions.

"Iím gonna have to look at it in the morning." The younger man accepted the beer with a grateful smile. "I think Iím tired."

Jim ignored his Guideís yawn, resisting the temptation to point him in the direction of bed.

"Vampires, man, I donít believe it." Blair shook his head.

Jim shrugged and took a large mouthful of his beer. Between his own spirit guide and facing down demons, he was finding that he was becoming inured to the weird and supernatural. It didnít mean that he had to like it though.

"Philip said that they couldnít enter the loft unless invited. So donít invite any unknown guests into the loft."

"What if they vamp Simon or someone?"

"Theyíll still have to ask permission to enter," Jim said coldly.

"Thatís harsh, man."

"Why?" Jim asked confused.

"Shouldnít we warn Simon and the rest of the gang?"

Jim snorted his beer. In between coughs, he blurted out, "I do not wish to end up in Mental Health. Simon has enough problems handling the sentinel stuff without us hanging the supernatural stuff on his shoulders."

"I think youíre doing him a disservice."

"Why? Are you expecting the vampires to come after us? They donít even know who we are."

"You showed that gnome in the foyer your badge. Did you tell him your name?"

"If he was quick he could have read my name." Jim wracked his brain. "I definitely didnít give it to him. They donít know us from Adam."

Sighing deeply, Blair acquiesced. "What about just warning him?"

"Heís a professional. He can handle himself."

Blair slumped sideways onto the cushions. "Iím tired," he said unnecessarily.

"Yeah, itís been a long day."

Still draped over the couch, Blair tagged his backpack with his foot and dragged it along the floor. Once it was in reach, he grabbed it and hauled out the jewelled cross. He rolled onto his back and balanced it on his stomach.

"You think that Philip meant to leave this with us? Shouldnít he have taken it for protection or something?"

"Heís probably got enough crosses back at home," Jim said irreverently.

Blair sniggered. "You know if this thing is real, itís worth a fortune. Kinda weird that it was just sitting in an alcove on a staircase."

"Well, itís not as if the vampires could move it."

"Good point. I still think itís weird, though. Did Philip say he was going to drop by?"

"Yeah, he said heíd phone first."

"Good," Blair yawned mid-syllable, hiding his mouth with his hand.

"Why donít you go to bed?" Jim offered delicately.

Blair glared at him, but the effect was spoilt by another yawn. "Okay, Iíll go have a shower and crash."

End of Chapter II

††††† ^..^

A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation: Chapter III

A soft mutter woke the Sentinel. Jim cracked open an eye and scanned the immediate area. Another mutter brushed by his ear. He flipped onto his stomach and peered over his pillows down into the living room. Blair was sleepwalking. The student stalked purposefully around the coffee, table his hands twitching nervously as he spoke.

"Vampires, yeah, we actually ran into some vampires."

He paused on his fifth turn around the table and then arrowed towards the balcony windows.

"Whoops." Jim cast off his quilt and sprinted down the stairs. He vaulted over the table as Blair fumbled with the locked balcony doors.

"Hey. Hey. Hey. What ya doing, kid?" He slid smoothly along the floor to Blairís side. Not wanting to startle the student, he gently wrapped his fingers around Blairís wrists, preventing him from opening the doors.

Docile, Blair let him handle him like a toddler, turning him away from the doors.

"I couldnít hear the voice properly," Blair muttered, still completely asleep.

"What voice?" Sentinel pupils expanded as Jim scanned the balcony for any trespassers. Nothing moved even to his Sentinel sight. Could the vampires turn into bats? They could do that in cheesy horror movies.

"He wants to know about the vampires, he usually just wants to talk about sentinels." Blair twisted from his hands.

"Nuh uh. Back to bed." Jim directed him back to bed with a firm grip on his shoulders. "A man talks to you?"

"Wanted to know about vampires." Blair yawned, his eyes drooping. With a tired sigh he fell back into his mess of blankets.

Jim crouched at his side. "Tell me about the voice, Blair."

Sleepily, Blair pulled his blankets around his neck and turned over to face the wall.

"Blair?" Jim caught his shoulder and pulled him over so they were nose to nose.

"What?" he grumbled.

"The voice? The vampires?"

wanted to know what happened to Sulpicia." Blair yawned in his face. He took a deep, rib-tickling breath displaying the dangly thing in the back of his throat and then he was deeply asleep.

Jim rocked back on his heels. He rested his elbows on his knees and contemplated... Blairís active imagination dredged up the strangest of things. They had a haunted book, a dead philanthropist Ė whose home had been usurped by a nest of vampires (hard to believe) Ė a valuable cross found in plain sight and a bunch of dry journals.

All because of a malevolently imbued book. The book was safe, locked away Ė why bother about it? Sighing deeply, Jim admitted that it was because he hated a mystery. Frustrated, he stood, pausing a moment to tuck the blankets around his Guide, before moving into the living room.

ĎAnd now Blairís sleepwalking again,í he noted.

On auto-pilot, he placed obstacles in front of the balcony windows. The dead bolts on the main door were set so he jammed a chair under the doorknob. He ducked back into Blairís room and moved the dresser to block the fire exit.

Standing in the centre of the room, he wondered if he should sleep on the floor. No, he was over reacting; he had heard Blair sleeptalking when he was deeply asleep in his own bed. He didnít need to camp out on the floor.

He was going to interrogate the kid in the morning though. He wanted to know more about the voice in his dreams.

†††††

††††† ^..^

Blair was pottering in the kitchen when Jim awoke. He extended his senses, feeling his way in the world. The sun had not risen. A moment later, Jim was padding barefoot down the stairs. Blair was pouring hot water into a mug. He looked up as Jim crossed to his side.

"Chief? Are you awake?"

Blairís brow furrowed, perplexed. "Course I am."

"Why are you up?" Jim sniffed the contents of the mug.

"I had a nightmare." He aimlessly joggled the teabag with its paper tag. "It wasnít about vampires. I think it was about werewolves. They were chasing us and you had a stake but that wasnít going to work. It was stupid. It was like vampires are dangerous but you can kill them with a piece of wood. But if a werewolf is after you, you better have a silver bullet. And who carries around silver bullets? I think Freud would have a field day with that."

"Always look on the bright side?"

"Maybe? Do you want a cup of camomile tea?"

"No, it tastes like piss."

Blair peered at the mug. "How do you know what piss tastes like?"

"Covert ops. If I told you Iíd have to kill you."

"Ugh!" Blairís nose wrinkled.

Jim shook his head from side to side. "Iím going back to bed. Donít stay up too long." He padded back up the stairs, stopping halfway. "Are you all right?"

"Iím fine, Jim." He toasted his friend with his mug. "Iíll just chill for awhile and then go back to bed."

The Sentinel was snuggling under the quilt when Blairís plaintive voice drifted up to the loft. "Whyís there a chair pushed up against the door?"

"You were sleepwalking again. Go back to bed. Weíll talk about it in the morning."

He could hear Blair muttering imprecations under his voice.

"At least you didnít manacle me to the bed."

He thought he had fallen asleep but he could not be sure. The twilight between waking and sleeping cloaked his soul.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

For the third time in the night, Jim cracked open an eye.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

He checked the windows above his head.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

"Yeah, who is it?" Blair said brightly.

"Itís Kurt." Jim heard that clearly.

"Kurt? What are you doing here?"

"I found another book by Tomas. I thought you might be interested."

Jim listened as Blair pulled away the chair.

"Blair?" Jim leaned over the railing.

"Itís okay, Jim, heís a grad student." Blair called out reassuringly as he opened the door. "I met him at the mansion."

ĎFuck!í Jim jumped out of bed. "Blair!"

"Hey." A skinny, pimply student stood just outside the threshold of their home. "Arenít you going to invite me in?" He cocked his head to the side, questioningly.

"Ah." Blair took a slow step backwards. He darted a glance over his shoulder as Jim barrelled down the stairs.

"Blair," Jim growled. He scooped up the jewelled cross on the kitchen table.

"No." Blair backed further away from the door. "I donít think thatís a good idea."

The visitor growled as his face morphed into a nightmare.

"Shit!" Blair swore, blanching sheet-white. The student froze as the vampire threw himself at the entrance to their home. It bounced soundlessly off an unseen barrier. Fingers clawed like talons, it tried again.

Growling, Jim placed himself between Blair and the vampire. He tucked the anthropologist behind his back as he thrust out the cross into the monsterís face. The new-born vampire jerked away, hissing violently.

"We know where you are. Give up the journals. We will succeed; we are eternal."

"Drop dead." Jim slammed the door shut in his face.

"Oh, god. NO!" Blair bolted for the bathroom. Sounds of retching echoed through the loft.

Jim followed his Guide into the bathroom where he was worshipping at the altar of the porcelain goddess. Blair rocked back on his heels, rubbing the last dregs of his supper from his lips. Sighing, Jim handed him a damp facecloth.

"God, they made him a vampire. Shit." Blair accepted the glass of water that Jim passed over, rinsed and spat in the bowl several times.

"How did you know that?" Jim crouched next to his friend and rested a warm hand between his shoulder blades. "He could have always been one."

"Because he wasnít looking for the journals when I first saw him. That demon woman must have, I dunno, changed him."

Jim scrutinised the bathroom, and then made an automatic scan of the loft. His senses catalogued the changes in ambient pressure, somehow knowing that vampires neither breathed nor had heartbeats. There were no unusual displacements of air in the loft. They were alone.

"They know where we live." That was a given, but they had proof that the evil couldnít enter a home without permission. The Sentinel levered his Guide to his feet with a hand under his elbow. "They canít enter my territory. Come."

"What?"

He drew the Guide from the bathroom, deftly manoeuvring him around the furniture to the staircase.

"Jim, what are you doing?

"Securing my territory."

Planting one hand between his Guideís shoulder blades and another braced under his elbow he drew him up to the most defensible point in his home. Big, blue eyes looked up at him, confused. He ignored them as he settled his Guide on the mattress and pushed him down to rest on the pillows.

"Jim, whÖ"

The Sentinel drew the plush quilt over his shivering Guide. "Sleep," he intoned.

"Jim, Iím not a child."

The Sentinel crouched at the end of his bed, paused a moment, his head cocked to the side, and then settled back on his heels, his entire being poised to listen.

^..^

Blair shook his head in resignation. Every time he moved, Jim fixed him with that peerless icy glare until he settled back into the pillows. The guy really took the cake. He was not listening to any logical argument or soft cajoling. He was so deep in Sentinel land that no mere Guide could reach him. The Catch 22 situation was that Jim had gone territory mad because he was protecting his recuperating Guide. As such he wasnít about to come out of his heightened sensory state to listen to his Guide unless he though that the Guide was in danger. And Blair wasnít about to manufacture a crisis just to bring Jim back to him. At least not yet.

"Youíre getting sleepy. Sleepy." He kept his voice low and even. The very triteness of his words made him cringe.

Blair changed his tack. "Captain, your watch is over. It is time for you to take a break."

Jim blinked slowly.

"Stand down, Captain Ellison."

Jimís brow furrowed. With a delicate sniff he curled on his side at the foot of the bed. Blair thudded his head down on the pillows with an exasperated sigh. Whatever he could say about life as Jim Ellisonís Guide, he couldnít say that it was boring.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Jim woke with a yawn. ĎGee, that was weird.í The thought galvanised him; he sat up abruptly almost falling off the bed. ĎWhat had happened?í He remembered the vampire in the hallway.

"Shit!" He had not taken out the vampire, he should have staked the bloodsucker. It could have walked down the street and killed an innocent bystander.

Could he join this crusade? Had he any choice? He was the Sentinel of the Great City; was protecting the denizens against the supernatural now part of his purview?

He answered his own question. "Yes."

Weary beyond belief, he rolled off the bed. Blair had not been disturbed by his ruminations. He was curled loosely on his side, still fast asleep. The blue and yellow quilt was wrapped around his shoulders. A cold foot poked out the bottom of the quilt. Snorting, Jim padded quietly by the side of the bed. He paused at the top of the stairs to reach over and place his palm on Blairís forehead. The anthropologistís temperature was normal. Listening closely, he checked his breathing Ė it was nice and even.

He scooped up his cell phone and slipped onto the balcony. His fingers automatically dialled Father Callaghanís personal number.

"Good morning, how may I help you?"

"Philip, itís Jim."

"Jim, whatís the matter? Are you okay?"

"Iím fine," he said curtly. "Look things areÖ wellÖ afootÖ Blairís sleepwalking again Ė heís talking to some man. The vampires know where we live and theyíre after the journals. I canít remember if the vampire mentioned the book Ė the one youíve got." Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "No, he mentioned the journals but not the book or the cross."

"Are you okay?" Philip demanded.

Jim blinked tiredly at the phone. "Yeah, we didnít invite him in. But we have to take the offensive to them. I donít like them coming around here. We need to go back to the mansion."

Silence reigned at the other end of the line.

"Philip?"

"The house has been cleared," Philip said reluctantly.

Cold, covert ops experience supplied enough information to fuel his imagination.

"All the vampires?"

"The Legacy team observing took a leaf out of your book and burnt it to the ground. Those that tried to flee were intercepted."

"When did this happen?"

"Just before dawn."

"So some left."

"The grounds were observed," Philip protested.

"The vamp that came Ďround here was from the mansion," the detective pointed out.

"Oh," Philip uttered, accepting the statement.

"Yeah," Jim huffed. "We donít have a base of operations for them now, theyíll have gone to ground somewhere else. Your mop-up-crew didnít find this Hymir? Would they recognise the ĎMost Evil of All Vampires?í"

He could hear Philip leafing through a book of some sort. "Itís likely that Hymir, as an ancient vampire Ė in the truest sense of the word Ė will have cloven feet and other obviously demonic characteristics. They didnít see anything like that."

"Great," Jim said eloquently.

"Youíve obviously caught the vampiresí attention. Nothingís going to happen until nightfall. Why donít you and Blair come over for breakfast and weíll go through the library? You said that the vampire wanted the journals Blair took from the mansion?"

"Yeah."

"Bring them over." Distinct footsteps sounded over the cell phone as the priest trooped through the manse. "You like eggs, donít you? Mrs. Dicksee, do we have any eggs? Excellent. Jim, Iíll expect you in an hour."

The phone clicked as Philip closed the connection. Jim was left staring at the silent receiver. Philip certainly took command when the inclination took him.

Jim cocked his head to the side, listening, Blair was still deeply asleep. Deciding to leave him for awhile, the detective treated himself to a leisurely shower as the coffee perked. Blair was still sleeping, but nearer waking by the time he had finished. He mulled over the two journals at the kitchen table as waking noises above his head soothed his ears. The kid was right; the scrawl was difficult to decipher.

"Uhmmm, Sulpicia and Hymir," Blair grumbled sleepily.

"Chief?" Jim called. "Coffeeís on."

"What?" Blair shot upright, peering around. "Bed? Why am I in your bed?" There was a sudden intake of breath, and then Blair twisted onto his stomach and poked his head through the rails.

"Morning," Jim said easily, in the face of a serious case of bed head. Blairís riotous curls looked like he had stuck his finger in an electric socket.

Blair blinked sleepily. "Vampire? You went territory mad?"

Jim cast a dark glare in his direction. "It was the most defensible position in the loft."

"Yeah, right." Blair ducked back between the rails and crawled off the double bed. Yawning mightily, he staggered down the stairs.

"Try not to kill yourself," Jim said waspishly.

Blair glared back at him as he arrowed towards the percolator. "Last nightís like some kind of weird dream. Was I sleepwalking again?"

"Yes. Apparently your night time visitor wants to know about Sulpicia and Hymir."

Blair peered at him over the rim of his coffee mug. "Visitor?" he mumbled.

"Yeah, the guy you talk to."

Blair shook his head, before asking, "There was a vampire as well?"

The anthropologist had evidently decided to shelve the night time visitor for a later date.

"Yeah, he couldnít get in."

"Weird." He sat at the Sentinelís side, shaking his head. "I donít even know where to start, Jim. This is almost impossible to believe."

Jim shrugged. He was pretty phlegmatic; shit happened, spirit guides happened; he faced down the Death Walker in hospital ICU rooms and vampires happened. It didnít mean that he had to like it. If you staked them they died, if you threw them into sunlight they died and they didnít like crucifixes or crosses Ė they were vulnerable.

But so was Blair. He still looked like a scrawny litter runt and he hadnít handled the vampire on their doorstep very well. They were safe in the loft, but that wouldnít stop them from setting fire to their home. Decamping to the manse with its associated protections might be a good idea. He could leave Blair in Philipís capable hands and go and find this Hymir and dispatch the ghoul.

"Philipís expecting us at the manse for breakfast." He consulted his watch. "In about five minutes, so you better go get a shower."

"Five minutes?"

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Jim polished off a significant breakfast. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tummy. Blair pushed his diced fruit to the side; he had managed some toast and cereal. But while Jim stocked up like a bear approaching winter when danger hovered, Blair usually found that his appetite deserted him. A slight sense of hunger focused him; heavy meal always made him feel lethargic. Maybe it was akin to the fast shamans carried out prior to spirit walks? Contrariwise, Jim seemed to thrive on enough food to power an army.

ĎPerhaps he has an increased metabolism?í Blair mused. It seemed logical. In a perfect world Jim would let him carry out proper experiments. For instance were Jimís sensory systems more densely nerved? Or did they carry an increased electrical loading? Was Jimís passion for junk food a craving for the sodium in salt to facilitate neural signalling? What was his source of potassium? Perhaps if he could convince Jim to go on a fast he would be able to see how it would affect his abilities?

"Chief, what are you thinking about?" Jim waved a hand in front of his face.

ĎHmm, the way Jimís eyes dilate is very interesting. Pity I canít get him down to an optometrist. I wonder how many taste buds he has on his tongue?í

"Blair!"

"What?" Blair dropped his toast. "Whatís the matter?"

"Philip asked you about Kurt?"

"Oh." Blair glanced apologetically at the priest. "Sorry, I was miles away. Kurt was researching his Ph.D. topic at the mansion. He directed me into the smaller library. I *know* that he wasnít a vamp then. I never met him before, he was just the clichť Ė the innocent bystander."

The two older men stared at him, obviously trying to come up with some platitude to assuage his sadness.

"Shit happens, Chief."

Blair snorted. ĎYeah, shit happens.í "And weíre the people to stop it?"

"Damn right."

"We better hit the books then."

Determined, they trooped to the library. The student usually liked rummaging around in libraries, especially the Legacy library. There were two storeys stuffed to the gills with books on every mystical subject known to man. Blair caught a glimpse of Jim looking up at the stacks; his expression resigned to a day hunched over a book.

ĎAlthough to give him credit, Jim seems to be handling the presence of vampires better than I am.í

"So you got any info on this Hymir?" Jim said sombrely.

"Yes, yes." Philip rifled through a pile of books on the table that was a focal point for the library. Evidently, he had been researching the subject. He passed over a small hand sized book.

Blair peered around Jimís shoulder as he leafed through the pages to a bookmark.

"Oh, god." The vampire was a meticulously drawn figure. Corded, gnarly, its nose was akin to a batís elongated nostrils which seemed to flare as you looked at them. The illustrator had carefully inked the beastís hair blood red, a colour which matched the drool flowing from its mouth. The eyes were depths of horror.

The food in Blairís stomach curdled. They were supposed to face this thing?

"It could be inaccurate," Philip said apologetically. "Lots of these sorts of things are written on hearsay."

"So it could be worse?" Blair muttered.

"This is the only report of Hymir that I have in the library. In fact, itís a photocopy of a treatise on vampires which all Legacy libraries have. The illustration is from the 12th Century. Thereís nothing else on any database Iíve searched apart from accounts that Sulpicia faced Hymir on the Island of Lindisfarne with the cross in the late 15th Century. The cross is famous."

"A stake through the heart will kill it?"

You could always trust the Sentinel to get straight to the point.

"Indubitably. All vampires are vulnerable to the stake. Unless, of course, they have the Ring of Amara which bestows invulnerability. Hymirís never been linked to the ring, though."

"Oh, cool," Blair said faintly.

Jim pulled a stake from his jacket and set it on the table beside the books.

"Where did you get that from?" Blair leaned over to stare at it. "Where did you get this from? Did you make it? When did you find the time?" The end was tapered to a fine point. Impressively, it was polished to a fine edge. "Did you use wood stain?"

"Mahogany. I had some in the basement from the shelves. You use it to strengthen the wood."

"You stained your stake?"

"Itís waterproof," Jim finished defensively.

Blair laughed and enjoyed every moment. Priceless, Jim had honed a perfectly proportioned, blood proof stake.

"I made you one too." Like a magician pulling a rabbit from a top hat, he pulled out a matching stake.

Blair was touched, more than he could say. Jim had made him a stake. Given the last few days it was the perfect gift.

"Iíll stick with my cross." Philip wielded his rosary, smiling.

"The power of three?" Blair grinned, and nudged Jimís side.

"Power of one," Philip intoned.

"The Most Evil of All Vampires Ė his ass is dust." Jim staked an imaginary vampire.

Blair quite enjoyed the moment of hilarity. But there was work to do, vampires to study and ghosts to free from books.

"So whatís the link between the Ďpresenceí in the book and the vampires in the philanthropistís mansion?" the anthropologist said seriously.

"Why should there be a link?" Jim slumped on a chair beside the table.

"Because the vamps are after the journals I took from the mansion."

"Hmmm, Kurt didnít mention the Ghost Book, just Tomasí Journals of the Dead parts I and II."

"Why canít we just open the fucking book?" Blair snarled suddenly. "I mean, at least weíd have some idea of whatís happening."

"Apart from some demon jumping out it and feasting on your soul, it could be a good idea," Philip said pithily.

"We donít know if itís good or bad. If the presence is good it deserves our help," Blair argued. "Jim thought it might be a ghost, back when we first found it."

Sprawled in his chair, Jim muttered into his chest.

"What?" Blair hissed, spinning to face his sentinel. "What did you say?"

"Itís just bad," he said sullenly. "Donít ask me to explain it. Itís justÖ wrong."

The Sentinelís expression was defiantly surly, daring Blair to pursue the topic. The anthropologist knew that expression very well. Knowing when to back down, Blair, in turn, slumped beside Jim and picked up Journals of the Dead part II. He set his glasses on his nose and got to work; hoping that heíd find the answers to the mystery in Tomasí journals.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

"Okay, Journals of the Dead part I is an account of a person called a Watcher who looked after Sulpicia. Itís their day-to-day stuff, about staking vampires and training sessions." Jim slammed shut the journal with a yawn. "There is no mention of the Ghost Book. But--" he opened the book again and pointed to the penultimate page, "--Tomas was Sulpiciaís Watcher."

Blair looked honestly impressed that Jim had finally managed to wade through Tomasí appalling abuse of the English language. He rubbed eyes reddened from trying to make progress with part II of the Journal of the Dead.

"This is the same thing. But the last pages mention Sulpiciaís final battle."

"Does it mention Hymir?"

"Indirectly. In fact, Tomas is unusually curt. Instead of describing everything and anything that happened with Sulpicia like the other accounts, he simply says that:

"ĎThe most evil of all demon spawn will trouble man no more. My beloved Sulpicia is dead and stands on the cusp after making the ultimate sacrifice.í

"The most evil of all demon spawn has to be Hymir. You knowÖ" Blair turned the journal over in his hands. "I thought that the pages were water damaged. I think theyíre tears."

"Shit," Jim said softly.

"Yeah," Blair said sotto voce.

Philip, halfway down the spiral staircase from the second storey, paused. He sat down with an audible thump.

"That is so very tragic. Those poor people."

Jim pushed away from the table and its veil of tears. His chiselled expression was in place. "We need a break," he said tersely. "Iíll go ask Mrs. Dicksee for a sandwich or something."

"Sheíll be more than happy to make some butties," Philip called down from the staircase.

"Oh, goodyÖ I canít wait to find out what they are." Jim stalked out of the library.

Blair watched him, waiting until he had closed the door before crossing to the stand beneath Philip on the ground floor.

"Philip?"

"Yes, Blair?" Philip leaned over the banister.

"A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation."

"The book title. What of it?"

"Hope in the middle of a desert of blood. Sanguine as in blood, bloody or gory," Blair pondered.

"It also means cheery or optimistic."

"Hope in the middle a hopeful desert? Doesnít really make sense."

"And hope in the middle of a desert of blood, does?" Philip pointed out.

"Given that weíre dealing with vampires that drink the blood of their victims?" Blair held his hands out in supplication.

"So whatís the hope?"

"I dunno. The ghost, maybe?"

"What ghost? You insist on saying ghost but we donít know what is in the book. Jim doesnít know what is contained within the book other than itís Ďbad.í" Philip worried at the mole on his face with his fingers, his consternation obvious to the student.

Blair wasnít deterred. "Jim mentioned a ghost Ė when heíd thought about the book for a while. Ghosts arenít necessarily bad."

"While I know that a ghost and a demon are two different things, does Jim? Perhaps heís just using the word as a generic term for a supernatural being?" Philip said wisely.

"I dunno, I just feel that we should open the damn book," Blair grated out, frustrated. "We havenít touched just in case it was dangerous. But someone put it on the shelf. Maybe we can open it without anything happening?"

"I donít think thatís a good idea," Philip finished, uncharacteristically sharp. "Touching it is one thing. Opening itÖ might be entirely different."

"Damn, and there I was hoping youíd let me open the book."

"Hardly, Jim would kill me. Not to mention if it is a demon, it will probably kill you."

Blair sniffed, disregarding the observation. "We still havenít answered the question of ĎHopeí in the book title." The anthropologist began to pace. Uncharacteristically, his hands were quiescent as he thought out loud. "Fact: we have a philanthropist who has three books written by a Vampire Slayerís watcher. We have vampires living in Willim Raymontís mansion who apparently are after the books. But Raymont died nine months ago so why didnít they take them from the mansion nine months ago?"

"They couldnít get into the mansion."

"Why not? Raymont was dead. You told us that vampires canít enter a house without the inhabitantsí permission. So maybe someone else lived in the house and didnít give the vamps permission? But once the auction was started it would be open house. But the morning the auction began, Jim and I happened by and Jim saw the haunted book. The vampires probably moved in that night Ė killed whoever lived there and started looking."

"So they figured out the book was missing but found the journals?"

"No," Jim said from the doorway, he had returned with a plate of sandwiches. "Kurt the Vampire was after the journals, he didnít ask about the Ghost Book."

Inspiration hit the Guide like a cascade from Niagara Falls. "Theyíre looking for Hymir."

"What?" How do you know?" Philip asked.

"Sulpicia fought Hymir with the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch on the island of Lindisfarne and died. Neither Hymir or Sulpicia have been seen since." Blair snatched up the second Journal of the Dead and turned to the last page. He squinted at the crabby writing. "This is written after Sulpicia died. Tomas survived to write ĎA Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolationí and continue his journals. Willim Raymont has the book, the journals and the cross. The vampires went to Raymontís mansion to find out more about Hymir by looking for the journals of the watcher who guided--" Blair grinned, "--the Vampire Slayer who last saw Hymir."

"You donít know that for sure," Philip said from his perch on the spiral staircase.

"PleaseÖ" Blair drawled. He continued his hypothesising, "Iíve looked at Raymontís auction catalogue ĎHopeí is listed. We took the book from the mansion, we left a book sized hole on the shelf between Ďtií and Ďtr.í It wouldnít be that difficult to figure out another book written by Tomas had been lifted."

"So get to the point," Jim growled. "Quit lecturing."

"They found the journals but thereís little or no information in them. But they hoped whoever has the book would probably come back for the journals. It was their only lead. We walked into the trap. That really creepy vampire lady was waiting for us or more accurately for someone who was also interested in Tomas."

"How do you know it isnít Hymir looking for the book?" Philip added his two cents worth.

"Since Sulpicia fought Hymir he hasnít been seen. Surely there would have been some reports of the Most Evil Vampire since the 15th Century? Tomas said Ďthe demon spawn would trouble man no more.í Sulpicia took the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch to fight Hymir. Tomas survived Sulpicia and he got his hands on the cross and he had the time to write ĎA Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation.í Hymir wasnít around to stop him taking the cross. Sulpicia defeated Hymir but died in the process."

"Hymirís trapped in the Ghost Book." Jim placed the icing firmly on the cake. "Tomas must had written it before, not after, he wrote the journals. Somehow Tomas stuck the vampire in the book."

"Of course." Blairís eyes widened. "Youíre a genius."

"That makes two of us, then." Jim had a proud grin on his face.

Blair made a little dance of glee on the spot, his heels rapping on the hardwood floor. "So what do we do now?"

"Well, assuming that your hypothesis is correct and that thereís a vampire trapped in the book," Philip said, his logic quashing their enthusiasm, "exorcism to banish the evil from the book." The priest finally reached the bottom step. Solemn and serious, he clasped his rosary to his chest.

"How?" Blair asked intrigued, ignoring Philipís typical negativity.

"Iíll have to make preparations. It will take some time."

"Why donít we just throw it in an incinerator? You said fire kills these suckers." Jim looked down his fine nose at him.

"It might also release the vampire," Blair mused.

"I need to make some phone calls," Philip said seriously. "I have to speak to some colleagues in the local synod about details and the such." Evidently deep in thought, he drifted to the hallway. "Make yourselves at home; this will take time."

Jim looked at Blair and pulled a face. "So what do we do now? Sit around here? Doing nothing?"

"What do you want to do? Go back to the mansion?"

"The Legacy guys burnt it down."

"What?"

"Yeah, I thought that that was pretty stupid too. The vampires could be anywhere. At least before we knew their lair."

Blair wandered over to the windows. "How did the vamps find us?"

"Obviously they followed us." Jim sat at the main table and fingered a sandwich, aimlessly shredding the lettuce.

"They canít come out during daylight."

"No." He rocked back on his chair. "Theyíre allergic to sunlight, if they stayed in a van with tinted windows theyíd probably be okay."

"And you didnít notice that we were being followed?" Blair said sarcastically.

"No." Jim shrugged. "I didnít hear any tracking devices on the truck either."

"Maybe theyíre out there watching us." Blair rested his hand on the glass. A warm hand in turn rested on his shoulder. Jimís reassurance was palpable.

Somewhere on the opposite side of the manse a doorbell chimed. The hand on Blairís shoulder clenched. The student craned his head to regard the Sentinel. Jim had that abstracted expression on his face that meant he was listening, mouth open and head canted to the side.

Suddenly, Jimís eyes widened, horrified. "I donít believe it; Mrs. Dicksee has invited someone in."

"What?"

Jim was already halfway across the library, running pell-mell to the door.

"Itís daylight!"

"Stupid, idioÖ." Blair crouched beside his backpack and pulled out the jewel encrusted cross. The Sentinel had once again run into the fray without a momentís thought. How the hell was he going to fight vampires? And they had done so well last time.

Cross clutched to his chest, Blair hared after the Sentinel. The manse was a veritable warren. Philip had actually joked that the architect had obviously overdosed on chocolate while he had drawn up the plans.

His mind immediately supplied two courses of action, follow Jim to the door or warn Philip in his office. There really wasnít any contest. Jim was running straight into danger.

Hauling the cross, he ran in the Sentinelís wake. The door was the obvious place. He cut through the conservatory on the southern facing wall paralleling the main hall. The conservatory was sunlit. The anthropologist slid to a halt beside the double doors leading to the hall. He peered through the glass door panels.

ĎShit!í There were bikers in the hall, decked in black leather, faces hidden by helmets with mirrored visors. The housekeeper was dead, her head twisted to the side, her neck broken. She was propped up against the umbrella holder in the lobby.

Jim was most definitely alive. Two enormous thugs held him suspended between them as a smaller, lithe figure paced before him. Blair knew with heart stopping surety that it was the black widow from Raymontís mansion.

Jim watched her sinuous pacing with flinty eyes. Evidently enjoying herself she sent two of her followers with a casual wave to start drawing the curtains, shrouding the hallway in darkness.

Unconsciously, Blairís fingers ended up in his mouth. He counted six vampires plus the woman. How could he fight them? The lady vampire had merely shied away from the cross; it hadnít turned her into dust.

They would probably keep away from the conservatory, even if they wore protective clothing.

ĎPhilip!í Blair remembered. He wanted to throw himself into the foyer and rescue Jim, but how? They outnumbered him seven to one.

The hall was finally shrouded in darkness. Two of the vampires left to check the rest of the rectory. Blair held himself ready, still in a quandary of whether to protect Jim or warn Philip. The she-vampire pulled off her helmet, shaking out her black curls.

"Hello, pretty. Youíre the nicest looking man Iíve seen in a long time. You got away from me before. That was very bad of you."

Jim simply glared. The hefty vampires hanging on to his arms pulled him straight for her delectation.

"Look at those divine muscles. Flex them! Flex them for me." She jiggled up and down in anticipation.

"Get a life, lady."

"Okay. Iíll have yours." Her face distorted into the vampire cast.

"NO!" Blair slammed through the doors brandishing the cross. "Get away from him."

He hit the lady vampire in the middle of her back, pushing her into the bigger of the two thugs holding Jim. Both fell to the floor. Blair followed through, smacking the second thug across the face with the crucifix. A flaming welt rose on the vampireís cheek.

"Stay back!" He turned on the other two vampires holding the cross at eye level. They balked. "Jim? Jim, are you all right?"

He didnít hear Jimís response as he was thrown to the ground. His head bounced off the floor and the cross fell from his nerveless hand. The womanís strength was amazing.

"Oh, itís the poorly little puppy." She dragged him to his feet. "Well, this is interesting. Youíve got that nasty crossy thingy as well."

"Leave him alone," Ellison grated.

"Why?" she cocked her head to the side, questioning. "I donít want to. But answers would be nice."

Carding her fingers in Blairís long curls, she twisted his head around so they could see each other eye to eye. Her eyes were dark and mesmerising; strangely, they seemed to expand drawing him in.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He sat up on his camp bed, knuckling his eyes. Mommyís bed in the middle of the room was empty. Blair struggled free of his blankets, grabbed Mr. Rabbit and toddled through their studio apartment. Mommy was nowhere to be found. That was weird, mommy didnít leave him alone.

The door opened and a really pretty lady sauntered into their home. She was the skinniest lady he had ever seen.

"Whereís mommy?"

"This is different." Touching mommyís plants and her lantern with the floating ball of wax, she drifted through the room. "We were in that horrible churchy place."

She crouched, her dark red dress cascading across the floor.

"Youíre a little boy. Why did you become a little boy when I looked in your eyes?"

"I want my mommy."

"Tell me about the books, Little Blair."

"I got lots a books Ďcos I can read." Still clutching Mr. Rabbit to his chest, he toddled over to his cardboard toy box.

"This is very annoying. You should be my thrall, not a little boy. You should be telling me about Hymir. Itís always worked before." She stood and stamped her foot petulantly.

"Is mommy hiding from daddy?"

"Hymir, you nasty little brat. Where is the Lord Hymir? The time is almost upon us. We have to find him if weíre to bring about Armageddon."

Naomi burst into the room, her long red hair tumbled around her distraught face.

"Darling!" She ran straight through the imaginary woman.

Blair experienced the weirdest sensation as his mother picked him up. He was an adult; his mother shouldnít be able to pick him up. The dichotomy was mind-blowing. He was a child and an adult in the same body.

"Stuartís found us again. We have to move again. Itís an adventure, sweetie." Naomi swung him onto her hip, and Blair watched his fat, chubby hand clutch her blouse. One handed, she started tossing items into a large backpack. Still holding him, she pulled out his toy box and dragged it to the centre of the tiny apartment.

"Whereís your bedtime book, darling?"

Blair looked at the vampire; she seemed to be hanging on his motherís words. He could picture the book his mother wanted in his mindís eye: a childhood favourite: ĎHow Far Do I Love You?í Naomi had read it to him every night for years.

"Book, mommy?" He clapped a hand over his mouth as the compulsion to say Ďthe safeí burbled in the back of his throat.

"We have to move. If we donít find the book weíll have to leave it. Whereís the book?"

He looked at the vampire whom his mother couldnít see. Belatedly, he realised that this was some kind of hallucination. The witchy woman was trying to find Hymir, which meant she needed to find the book. His subconscious must have dragged him here to a place where someone else had been looking for a book.

"Alastair, if we donít find your book weíll have to leave it. Dair, we need your book."

"Alastair?" Blair echoed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shocked by the implications, Blairís illusion shattered. The vampire staggered back, thrown by the abrupt cessation of the dream. The dream made no sense; had the vampire created it? Blair didnít know. His mother had even called him by another name. Regardless of the implications, now was not the time to dwell on the illusion. Half to distract himself, Blair made an abortive lunge at the woman. The thugs intercepted him before he had hardly moved.

The woman staggered from side to side, moaning under her breath. "It hurts. It hurts." She clenched her head between her hands. Between one moan and the next she stopped. She brought her head up jerkily. "Weíre looking for a book. Thatís why we went to that place with yourÖ mother. Weíre looking for a book."

Jim had schooled his expression into a blank mask. Blair knew it well, the Sentinel was ready to erupt like Mount Vesuvius at the appropriate moment.

"A book," the vampire said introspectively. "Where would you keep a book? And does a book contain Hymir?"

She seemed to pluck answers from the very ether.

"A safe place." She laughed. "I need to find a safe place. So Iíll find a safe. Bring them," she ordered imperiously.

Blair struggled half-heartedly, the heavyweights on either side dragged him easily. Jim simply marched between them, firing his laser glare Ė with no effect Ė at the vampires.

The woman coasted through the mansion. She moved with eerie mannerisms, stopping every few steps to listen to unheard voices. She was guided, with unerring accuracy, to the wall hiding the Legacy laboratory.

"Here?" She ran her fingers over the holographic illusion of a wood panelled wall. Following some inner voice, she placed her hand on an innocuous panel. She bowed her head in concentration, and then a door retracted into the wall. They were indeed going to find the book, Blair realised.

The student flailed against the vampires holding him.

"Blair, relax," Ellison ordered.

Astounded, the anthropologistís jaw dropped. "What? Jim?"

The detective shook his head. Blair could only hope that he had some plan in mind, otherwise the lady vampire Ė he wished he knew her name Ė would lay her hands on Hymir. They were marched into the technical lab, and with a happy squeal verging on the obscene, the vampire arrowed straight to the safe in the wall.

Jim reacted while she was distracted. He wrenched free of his captors and plunged his fist into one thugís abdomen forcing the vampire backwards. He didnít attack with his fists again but jerked the fire extinguisher off the wall and flung it round in a circle. While stakes were the prescribed deterrent to vampires, they didnít deal with being smashed over the head with a fifteen pound stainless steel fire extinguisher very well, either.

Blair moved with the Sentinel, twisting out of his jacket. It was a trick that had worked with bullies in high school. He puddled at their feet and promptly punched the taller of the two in the back of his knees. He dropped to the ground. Blair scrabbled in his jacket for his polished stake. A wave of dust washed over him as Jim staked a vampire.

"I win!" A gleeful voice stopped them dead.

The lady vampire held the book, smoke rose from her hands.

"No!" Jim howled as she opened it.

An elemental force whirled around them, tasting them with a foetid tongue. Blair felt it lick along his face leaving a sick, ravaged feeling. He hated himself in that instance. It shook him to the core. It was disgusting. But it left him. He Ė and the thought shocked him Ė he wasnít worthy. It latched on to Jim with a howl that was akin to joy but an abhorrence removed. Sentinel and Demon fought for ascendancy. Then Jamesí nostrils flared, but not as a sentinel seeking sensation but as a vampire setting his mark upon the man.

"At last," it screamed. "Hymir lives."

The woman shrieked with orgasmic delight.

James Joseph Ellison was a vampire.

"Oh, God," Blair whispered.

The shiver of pure terror walked up his spine. Jim turned his head upon his neck and smiled. "Blair."

"No." Blair backed away from the demon.

It looked like Jim but it wasnít. The form before him exuded feral evil, insane as the day was long. Walking sinuously, it slinked towards him.

"Blair."

"Stop saying my name like that, you donít mean anything. Let him go."

It threw back its arms and exulted. "Never."

"Leave him be," Blair implored

"A sentinel. A sentinel. Never in a thousand aeons would I have imagined the potency. And I will have the blood of the Guide to fuel my ascension."

Teeth elongated in a human mouth.

"No." Blair was frozen like a fly in amber. "Heís a good man."

"Steeped in mysticism."

Breath touched his neck. The faintest of nips broke the skin just above his jugular.

"Jim, please."

The tongue licking at the faint dribble on his neck ceased moving.

Within that yellow, demon gaze he saw humanity. Jim lived, the Sentinel lived, his friend lived.

"Fight it, Jim. Fight it. Youíre better than it."

The roar echoed between his ears. Belatedly, he realised that Hymir had clouted him across the face. He was sprawled in a heap on the floor. Jimís hand gripped the front of his jersey and pulled him upright.

"Jim, itís me, Blair. You can do this I have faith in you. Fight him."

"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by His power, we cast you out!" Philip threw open the door.

All turned to stare at the priest. Blair was amazed at the presence of mind of the man; the Catholic priest had taken the time to put on a long, loose vestment over his formal clothes. In one hand he held a cross and in the other a vessel of water.

"Every unclean spirit, every devilish power, every assault of the infernal adversary, every legion, every diabolical group and sect; begone and stay far from the Church of God, from all who are made in the image of God and redeemed by the precious Blood of the divine Lamb." The priest punctuated his words by flinging the water into the room. The vampires scattered in the wake of the water. Philip took a measured step into the room.

"Never again dare, you cunning serpent, to deceive the human race, to persecute the Church of God, nor to strike the chosen of GodÖ"

"Priest," Hymir snarled as he retreated allowing Blair to fall to the floor. "Pathetic priest. You cannot make me leave this vessel."

"For it is the Most High God who commands you, He to whom you heretofore in your great pride considered yourself equal; He who desires that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. God the Father commands you."

Blair wiped his palm in the holy water drenching the floor. The vampires, bar Hymir, had backed as far away from the priest as possible, ranging along the walls of the lab. The woman swayed from side to side, her fists clenching unconsciously, prepared to rend and ream the priest if he ventured further into the room. Blair knew with an instant insight, that they were ready to flank the priest. Hymir stood alone, facing the priest, almost gloating.

Hymir growled deep in his throat. "Pah! You cannot hold me." With a click of his fingers, he gestured to the largest vampires to attack.

As the vampires moved forward, Blair erupted from his curled position. He slapped a vampire across the face. It screamed, smoke rising immediately from its face.

"Blair, to me!" Philip blurted.

Caught between helping Jim or escaping, Blair froze.

"Blair," Philip beseeched.

With a heartfelt moan, he scurried to the protection of the priest. Hating himself, he slipped behind Philip. They were caught in a stalemate.

"I command thee to release James Joseph Ellison, in the name of God." Perspiration was beading on Philipís forehead. "Therefore, accursed dragon and every diabolical legion, we adjure you by the living God, by the true God, by the holy God, by the God who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have life everlasting; cease yourÖ"

"Never!" The Most Evil of All Vampires snarled. He wrenched a microscope from its moorings and flung it at them. It hit Philip square in the chest, flinging him backwards. He glanced off Blair before falling to the floor.

"Shit!" Stumbling, Blair managed to stay upright. As one, the vampires surged towards the doorway. Blair blindly slapped the hidden door controls. The door slammed shut, blocking the vampires within the room.

"Philip? Philip, how do I lock this door?" He could hear the vampires inside scrabbling for other controls.

The priest was coughing and wheezing as he clutched at his chest. He pointed vaguely to the side of the wooden panels. Frantically, Blair scrutinised the seemingly innocuous wall.

"What? What?" Then he found it, another recessed panel. As he touched it, the cover retracted revealing a single lever. Without hesitating, Blair wrenched it downwards. The sound of metal clanging was obvious to all.

"Itís reinforced steel," Philip whispered. "The more esotericÖ" He lapsed into coughing.

Blair squatted at his side. "Weíve got to call for help."

Philip propped himself on one elbow as he rubbed his chest. "Itís a physical barrier, thereís no mystical protections on the lab other than the saltÖ and holy water."

"So they can get out?" Blair asked. "Can you stand?" He reached to help the priest up.

"Yes," he wheezed. "Yes, my dalmatic is heavy wool; it absorbed some of the blow."

"What?" Blair couldnít help but ask as he drew Philip to his feet.

Philip fingered his heavy white vestment. "It didnít work, though. My faith wasnítÖ strong enough. I couldnít exorcise the demon."

"Crap," Blair said rudely, then he blushed. "Rubbish," he said, moderately polite. "You gave Hymir a bad moment."

The door separating them from the vampires suddenly buckled.

"Getting the Hell out of here seems like a good idea." His cheeks coloured. "Hell? Oh, boy. Gotta be more careful about my language."

He dragged Philipís arm over his shoulders and started to pull him away from the door. The holographic image of panelling flickered and collapsed as the metal door was warped out of all recognition.

Philip picked up speed.

They practically fell down the staircase to the lower lobby. Philip only kept his footing by clinging to Blair.

"I think Iíve broken some ribs," he whispered; his skin around his lips was pallid white.

"Oh, God," Blair blasphemed. Regardless of the priestís injuries, they couldnít stop; they had to escape from the rectory. He pulled open the porch door and dragged Philip out into the daylight.

He propped the priest on the porch steps and darted back into the building.

"Blair!" Philip hissed.

Frenetically, Blair scanned the hall. Jimís jacket hung on the ornate coat hanger in the corner. He grabbed the coat, checking the pockets for the Fordís keys. They rattled comfortingly. Halfway to the door, a bright gleam caught Blairís eye. The Cross of Kinloch Rannoch lay beneath a Chippendale dresser.

A howl of exultation echoed through the building; the vampires had freed themselves.

"Shit!" Blair grabbed the cross and bolted.

Philip had dragged his way over to his car and was fumbling with the lock.

"Jimís truck," Blair ordered. He held the keys high.

Philip nodded, carefully making his way over as Blair unlocked the passenger door and pulled it open. His head bobbing between looking at the rectory and the truck, Blair manhandled the priest into the seat. He slammed the door shut on the ailing man and darted to the other side. The vampires still hadnít appeared when he fired up the engine.

The truck lurched down the drive, Blair mishandling the gears, as Jim burst from the porch. The new born vampire howled, screaming at the heavens above as he saw his prey drive away.

"Did you see that?" Blair craned his head over his shoulder. The truck swerved widely down the drive.

"Blair!" Philip reached for the steering wheel.

Blair dragged his gaze away from the Sentinel and concentrated on driving. "Jimís alive. He didnít incinerate in sunlight. Jimís alive."

"Thank God." The priest drew the cross on his breast.

"Jimís possessed by the vampire."

"I saw." Philip slumped down on the plain seat. "I sawÖ on the closed circuit link into the lab. Sometimes," he coughed, turning whiter, "it is best to observe things in the lab rather than being close to them."

"I can imagine," Blair said through gritted teeth as they screeched out of the rectory grounds with tires squealing. "Jimís alive," he whispered.

"We need help," Philip gasped.

"We need a hospital," Blair contradicted.

"Iíve just broken some ribs. All the hospital will do is give me some painkillers. They donít even strap up your chest nowadays."

"Yeah?" Blair said sarcastically. "What happens if one of your broken ribs slices open your lung?"

Philip winced as he tried to move.

"Jim would make you go." Blair said mutinously, ending the discussion.

††††† ^..^

A lonely figure sitting on an uncomfortable ER chair, Blair cradled his head in his hands. Philip had been with the ER physician for what seemed like a lifetime. They had argued in the Ford about going to the hospital, but it was obvious that Philip was in more pain than a simple broken or cracked rib.

"Blair?"

The student started. Simon Banks stood over him, looking angrily paternal. His face was a tight as a clenched fist.

"Are you okay?" He gestured at the butterfly stitches on Blairís eyebrow.

"Yes, just a bit bruised." Blair gingerly touched the skin where Hymir had hit him.

"Whereís Jim? Is he here?" the captain demanded.

"How did you know I was here?"

Simon jerked his thumb at the police officer standing in the corner on duty. Blair noticed the man for the first time.

"Whereís Jim?"

"Oh, shit." Blair cradled his head back in his hands.

"Blair?" Simon said worriedly.

Abruptly, the anthropologist stood. "We have to talk somewhere privately." He grabbed the cross, which was folded in Jimís jacket, and then catching the captain by his cashmere coat he tugged him to an empty cubicle.

Inside he began to pace, backwards and forwards, mind awhirl as he tried to figure out how to convince the down-to-earth captain. Simon Banks was a practical man, firmly rooted in reality. Learning about Jimís sentinel abilities had been a hard biscuit for him to swallow. The question was whether or not he should lie to the captain?

Blair exhaled noisily. "You know that Jimís a sentinel, so you canÖ uhmÖ accept the unusual."

"Jimís gone and had some sort of weird allergic reaction and thatís why heís here?" Simon hazarded.

"Oh, no, sorry," Blair apologised profusely. "Jimís not in the ER. A friend of ours, Philip Callaghan is. He broke his ribs."

"So whereís Jim?" Simon looked around confused, also as if he expected Jim to appear out of mid-air. "He let you alone long enough to get into trouble?"

Blair dropped his chin against his chest, whining unconsciously.

"Sandburg?"

The student lifted his head. "Do you believe in God?"

"Yes," Simon said without hesitation.

Impressed by the surety in his tone, Blair continued. "Do you believe in evil?"

"Iím a policeman, Blair, I see it everyday. Are you going to get to the point this week?"

"OkayÖ would you accept that thereís a mystical side to Jimís sentinel abilities?" Blair said, desperately trying to project his sincerity onto the taller man.

"What do you mean Ďmystical side Are you trying to spoon feed me some wild tale to explain why, I suspect, Jim attacked Father Callaghan?"

"OohÖ NoÖ I mean mystical as in Jim has a spirit guide. And throughout my travels," he said in a rush, "Iíve experienced some things which have defied conventional twentieth century science. Iím talking aboutÖ uhmÖ bad things," Blair blurted in the face of Simonís sceptical expression.

"Bad things?" Simon drawled.

"You promise not to commit me to the psychiatric ward if I tell you this?" Blair asked.

Simon was gnawing on the end of his unlit cigar. "Iím not going to like it, am I? This is going to give me an ulcer?"

"Do you promise not to commit me to the psychiatric ward?" he persisted.

"Yes," Simon growled.

"Jimís been possessed by a demon vampire."

Simon spat out his cigar.

"What! A vampire?"

"Shush," Blair shook his hands in Simonís face. "Theyíre going to think weíre insane."

"We?" the captain said with tight preciseness.

"Look," Blair said levelly. "Over the last few years, Jim and I have met and fought demons and other mythical beings. Two and a half years ago you asked us to help your Aunt ZoŽ who had heard screams? Well, that was a demon. A year later, Cassie was killed by what is commonly called an elf, she had a massive allergic reaction to an Ďelf shot.í"

"Jim said he had shot the kidnapper who had killed Cassie in the mining tunnels under Cascade."

"He did. He just didnít say that the kidnapper was called Nidar and he was the leader of the Hidden People or elvesÖ you can call them the Sidhe, if you want."

"Who?" Simonís mouth closed with an audible snap.

Sidheí itís Gaelic for elf Ė sort of." Blair shook his head emphatically, his curls splaying over his face. "But what weíre dealing with here are vampires not elves."

"Blair," Simon began.

"No, donít ĎBlairí me. Iím not sick or confused, SimonÖ sir. Iíve met vampires. One called Hymir has taken over Jim."

"You have to admit this is hard to believe, Blair."

"Simon, have you ever known me to lie?" Blair blushed. "Okay, forget that. Do you trust me, Simon?"

"Yes," the captain said grudgingly.

"Well, damn me with faint praise. Vampires exist. Jim has been taken over by one."

"So now what?" Simonís body language screamed disbelief. "Do stakes work?"

"Yes, but Jimís not dead, heíd been possessed. The situation is different for him. We have to figure out how to get the Most Evil of All Vampires out of him."

"Most Evil of All Vampires?" Simon echoed, an involuntary smile on his face.

"Look if you donít believe me, do you believe this?" Blair pulled his collar away from his neck showing two puncture wounds.

"Who did that to you?"

"Hymir," Blair snapped, "the Most Evil of All Vampires."

"Jim bit you?" he asked incredulously.

"Hymir Ė possessing Jim Ė bit me. Youíre not going to believe me, are you? Okay, Simon, I tried. Just remember if you see Jim, it isnít Jim. Donít invite him into your house and if he comes around the precinct watch him very carefully. If you meet this really lithe woman with an English accent and long dark curls and mesmerising eyes Ė run away. Sheís as nutty as a fruitcake and she is a vampire."

Blair turned away, scooping up the jacket and the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch. He shrugged off Simonís hand. Disappointed, he left the cubicle. He had hoped that Simon might have been able to suspend disbelief.

The doctor that had been treating Philip was hunting through the foyer looking for him.

"Doctor Stephens?" Blair caught up with the man.

"Ah, Mr. Sandburg, your friendís gone up for surgery."

"What?"

"Heís cracked his sternum." Stephens drew his finger down the centre of his own chest. "Itís very unstable. We need to staple his sternum together so his rib cage doesnít separate. Itís a relatively simple procedure Ė baring complications, heíll only need to be here a day or so. "

Blair worried at his lip, concerned both that Philip required surgery and that the vampires might attack the priest in the hospital.

"Your friend will be fine."

"Is there a church associated with the hospital?"

"The chaplain, Father Melbourne Ė will be either in the hospital chapel or his office which is by the chapel."

"When will Philip wake up? When can I see him?"

"Not for several hours, Mr. Sandburg, when heís out of recovery and situated in a room."

"Okay," Blair said distractedly. "Thank you. Thank you for your help. I appreciate it."

Plainly confused by his patientís friendís distracted manner, the physician accepted a preoccupied handshake. He was more flummoxed when Blair abruptly turned away.

Blair was in an absolute quandary. The only person he knew who would believe him was his mother, Naomi, and he had no idea where she was or how much use she would be.

Head bowed, Blair walked straight into Simon. He stepped back and looked up at the taller man.

"Iíll help." Simon grunted. "God knows, it doesnít make sense. But I do believe you."

End of Chapter III

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation: Chapter IV

They ended up sitting in the cafeteria after Blair had requested that the hospital chaplain sit with Father Philip Callaghan upon his removal to a ward.

Blair picked aimlessly at the sandwich Simon had bought for him.

"Blair, how are you? How did you hurt your head?"

Startled for the second time in as many hours, he looked up. He didnít recognise the linebacker towering over him. The giant was twice as broad as Simon, and he was dressed in hospital scrubs that looked as if they had enough material to create a sail on a Tall Ship.

"Hello?" Blair said politely, he thought that he would remember such an impressive man.

"Shaun." Simon stood and extended his hand. "Iím pleased to meet you again."

On auto-pilot, Blair stood. "Iím sorry, I donítÖ"

"Shaun is a nurse in the critical care unit here at the hospital."

Blair shook his head, failing to make the connection.

"I was one of your nurses, Blair, while you were sick."

"Oh?" Blair thrust out his hand. "Thank you. Iím sorry, but thatís a week that I really donít remember."

"Not surprising. I should have thought before I wandered on up to you. Youíre here for a check up? Whereís Jim?"

"Er." Blair plastered a false smile on his face.

"Is Jim in the hospital?" Shaun asked shrewdly.

"No." Blair shook his head.

"Whatís the matter? You look as if you have the world, and a big, dark one at that, a-weighing on your shoulders."

"A friendís here with a flail chest. At least I think thatís what you call it."

"Nasty, but whereís Jim?" Shaun turned his massive head to the left and to the right. "The catís here."

"Excuse me?" Blair leaned forwards.

Disconcerted, Shaun pulled off his bandanna freeing his black dreadlocks. "The big, black pussy cat beside you? Its tailís a-twitching. The spirit guideÖ?"

"What?" Blair blurted, surprised, caught completely off guard by both the question and this strange manís casual familiarity. "Spirit guide? Uhm, I donít know what youÖ"

"Tis beside you, it belongs to your Jim. I saw it curled up on the bottom of your hospital bed, when Jim read you a story or two in ICU."

"Jimís spirit guide? Who are you? What are you?" He looked at Simon for reassurance, that this man was indeed a friend.

"Spirit guide?" Simon snapped.

"I met Jim when you were ill." Shaun shrugged apologetically. "I saw that he was special: spirits walk in his wake. I thought youíd know?" The nurse squinted at the smaller student. "You donít know? But you too are blessed by the lwa."

Blair simply stood speechless, mouth open, flummoxed by both the manís nonchalant acceptance of spirits and that they were having this conversation in a hospital cafeteria of all places. His day had gone beyond surreal.

Shaun raised a bushy black eyebrow in question, and waited silently for Blair to speak.

But before Blair could begin to even question the strange nurse towering over him, he felt a chill walk up his spine and the hairs rose on the back of his neck. "Oh, shit." He turned, unerringly looking to the entrance of the cafeteria. Hymir, with arms crossed, leaned against the doorjamb exuding casual insolence.

"Jim?" Simon made a step towards the detective and then paused, evidently confused.

"Thatís not Jim," Blair said hollowly.

"Baka," Shaun hissed. "Mon petit frŤre, we best be going."

"What?" Blair asked confused, bereft and lost.

"Your friendís gwo bÚnanj has stepped aside aní another lwa has taken its place," Shaun spoke lowly, deep in this throat for the student alone.

Jimís icy blue eyes flashed; evidently hearing the words. But regardless of the apparent vulnerability of his prey, he remained still.

"You can see that?" Blair whispered.

"Yup," the nurseís meaty hand encircled his bicep. "This isnít a good place to be. We have to go."

"But PhilipÖ" Blair began.

"You can do him no good if youíre dead."

"Will someone tell me what happening?" the captain asked plaintively.

"Later, Simon. Weíve got to go."

"Now," Shaunís bass voice reverberated.

Spurred, Blair and Simon along with their new friend backed away, heading to the far exit. As they moved, Jim took a step forwards. For every step they took, the mortal vampire matched their movements. The surety in Hymirís steps sent shivers up Blairís spine. A child in a motherís arms cried as he passed. When they left the cafeteria, Blair saw Jim move faster. But once he broke through the double doors into the corridor he resumed his stalking pace.

"We have to keep our eyes open for bikers covered from head to toe in black leather. Theyíre vampires."

"Vampires, man?" Shaun blinked at him incredulously. "Jim is a vampire?"

"Sort of; Iíll explain later."

Jim twitched and they all scuttled backwards.

The elevator doors on the north wall chimed and opened. A porter pushed out a gurney with a covered corpse. It separated them from the vampire.

"Run." Blair bolted with his companions on his heels.

The dead body fell to the floor as the porter failed to move it out of an angry manís way. Unable to stop himself, Blair looked over his shoulder to see Jim casually slam the porter into the wall. The poor man dropped to the floor.

"This way." Shaun directed them to a fire exit at the far end of the corridor. He slammed his immense weight against the emergency exit bar forcing the door open. Blair was grasped by the scruff of his neck and thrust through.

"The dumpster Ė get me a long piece of wood or something." Shaun leaned his great weight against the doors. Simon joined the nurse as the door shuddered.

Blair dropped the cross and Jimís jacket at their feet and ran to the dumpster. The refuse bin was filled with carpentry cast-offs but there was a metal rod propped against the side. Adrenaline fuelled his actions as he dragged the heavy rod to his larger friends. Shaun nodded to Simon to lever the rod between the door and the locking mechanism to keep the vampire inside.

They held their breaths as the door rocked and the makeshift barrier held.

"Letís get out of here. Simon, whereís your car?"

The captain took a moment to get his bearings. "The visitorsí parking lot. That way." He pointed.

"Letís go." Blair grabbed the cross and ran.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Luckily Simonís car was large enough to comfortably seat both Shaun and Simon. Blair was squished in the back, hugging Jimís jacket and, incidentally, the cross to his chest. The nurse was talking on Simonís cell phone, manufacturing some family crisis to explain why he couldnít finish his shift.

"That looked like Jim, but it wasnít Jim." Simon shook his head from side to side in disbelief. Regardless of his disbelief, he drove with his customary care and attention along the freeway.

"We have to figure out how to free Jim first and protect Philip," Blair said callously ignoring Simonís distress.

"Iíll get Rafe and Henri to watch out for your friend, when Shaunís off the cell phone."

The nurse clicked it shut and handed it across. "Be my guest."

"Thanks." Simon hit the speed dial with one finger.

"Shaun," Blair began. "UhmÖ you can see Jimís spirit guide? Are you a shaman?"

"No, my petit frŤre, am just a man with an open mind. I see the lwa and they speak through me. I saw the bakaÖ"

"Baka?"

"Evil spirit possessing your friend."

"Do you know how to get rid of it?"

"Iím trying to make a phone call and I canít with you two jabbering on about evil spirits," Simon hissed.

"Fine." Blair slumped back in his seat. He unwrapped the cross and glowered at it, almost as if he hoped to find answers in its crystals. The most important fact that he held close to his heart was that Jim was not dead but possessed. The rules in every vampire fantasy book that he had read implied that a vampire rose from the dead. If the Most Evil of All Vampires revelled in the fact that sunlight no longer burnt him would he keep Jim alive? What other benefits would being Ďaliveí afford the vampire? Would they be enough to keep Jim safe until they could rescue him?

"Thatís an impressive cross," Shaun offered.

"Yeah." Blair moved it to catch the light. "Itís the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch. The Vampire Slayer who trapped the Most Evil of All Vampires Hymir in the book used it."

Simon glared over his shoulder for an instant. "Do you want to start at the beginning?"

"Okay, Readers Digest version: Jim found a book that he thought was haunted. It turned out that it was. A bunch of vampires led by this really scary lady vampire was trying to find a really oldÖ in fact ancientÖ vampire called Hymir..."

"Blair, wait until we get to my place. I donít want the condensed version; I want the whole thing, with footnotes."

"Okay, SimonÖ sir."

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair stalked around his university office, too hyper to sit down. Shaun had picked up a book on Haitian voodoo culture and was grinning at it. Blair resisted the temptation to pry too closely; he didnít want to offend their new friend or whatever spirits guided him. He might not be able to see spirit guides but he had a very healthy respect for spirits.

"Blair, your attentionís wandering, do you want to continue the story?" Simon asked waspishly. The older man was sitting on the roomís sagging couch, hands cradled around a fragrant cup of coffee.

"Whoops." He shook his head, he was up to the point where the lady vampire had opened the book. "It thenÖ tasted Ė for lack of a better word Ė me. Hymir didnít find me suitable; I wasnít worthy. I lacked something it needed. It latched onto Jim like a leach. He fought it. He didÖ but it possessed him. But Jim was there, I saw Jim in its eyes. Jimís not dead. The vampire didnít kill Jim. I know that Ďcos he can wander around in sunlight without turning into dust. We have to figure out how to get the vampire out of Jim." Vibrating with tension, he clenched his fists looking for someone to punch.

"Son, sit down."

Blair stopped pacing. "Sorry, itís all just too strange."

"You can say that again." Simon pointed to a ratty armchair tucked in the corner of the room, and, reluctantly, Blair sat. "So Father Callaghan was hurt when you escaped from the rectory?"

"Yeah, Hymir was kinda freaked by Philipís exorcism. So JimÖ Hymir threw a microscope at him."

"The exorcism that your Father performed had an effect?" Shaun asked.

"The vampires were scared of Philip or more accurately, theyíre wary of him. But Hymir didnít leave Jim."

"Father Callaghanís out of commission and I canít see my local minister believing me."

"The way I understand it as well," Blair offered, "not every priestís able to do exorcisms. You have to get special dispensation or instructions from a bishop or something."

"Weíve got the cross that banished Hymir first time around," Shaun said, thinking out loud. "Maybe the book will help?"

"The bookís in the lab in the rectory."

"So was this Raymont guy a vampire too?" Simon asked.

Flopping back on the chair, Blair considered his words. "Maybe, he was really old and, most important, he only came out after dark. I donít know."

"Aní why didnít he release Hymir from the cursed book? Raymont might have hunted vampires? Itís likely heís interested in the Damned."

"Another good point, Shaun. Will we ever know? You said that the mansion had been burned down, Blair?"

The anthropologist nodded, his expression creased by deep thought.

Simon continued postulating, "I would guess the answer to freeing Jim is in the book and the journals Ė we have to go back to the rectory." The captain tried to hide his unease behind a gulp of coffee.

"And three guesses where the vampires are hanging," Blair pointed out.

Shaun lurched to his feet. "More coffee?" He grabbed Blairís kettle and ducked out of the office.

Blair noted that his sudden need to leave was a bit strange and fired a questioning glance at Simon.

"Maybe he needs a moment alone or something, to think?" Simon stood and moved over to the plate glass window in the door. He peered between gaps in the etched image on the glass. "Heís gone into the caretakerís office."

Blair shrugged. "We have to go back," he decided. "Just think Ė this evil vampire whoís supposed to, according to that mad woman, bring about Armageddon has the Sentinel of the Great City. Oops." Blair looked abashed, but luckily Shaun had left the room.

"And how are we supposed to get back into the rectory?"

"Lots of crosses, lots of holy water and lots of stakes."

"Great plan." Simon lit his cigar. "Does this Hymir have Jimís memories?"

"Hymir knew my name," Blair answered.

"So Hymir knows weÖ you wonít give up on Jim."

"Yeah, but he wonít understand what drives us," Blair spat. He jerked his body out of the armchair. "Weíve got to save Jim. I donít believe that Jim would kill me. We have to go back to the rectory."

"No."

Blair spun on the taller man. He bounced right into his personal space.

"What I mean is that we have to think this through," Simon said evenly. "Weíll go to my auntís next door and watch the rectory to see if the vampires are there."

"Of course, your Aunt ZoŽ. Iíd feel a lot better if I knew she was safe." Blair spun away.

"Son. Blair, sit down for two minutes and meditate or something. You have to calm down; be objective."

"You donít understand. Jimís been taken over byÖ"

"Blair, youíre going to burst a blood vessel or something."

Blair dropped back onto the chair, the student folded his arms and planted them across his chest. He was going to reach into Jimís body and haul Hymir out kicking and screaming. That he vowed.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Simon Banksí Aunt ZoŽ greeted them with open arms. She put the fact that theyíd climbed over the garden wall and snuck in the back door with good grace, putting it down to youthful antics. While Simon occupied his elderly aunt, Blair and Shaun battened down the hatches. They had stopped at a few churches en route and found one christening font with Holy Water. The vicar had caught them, but Blair had charmed the bottles from the older woman. Simon had obtained a few crucifixes from his church.

"I gotta ask, Shaun, why havenít you run away screaming?" Blair wondered as they trooped upstairs to the attic from where they could observe the rectory. Lucifer, ZoŽís big, ginger, tomcat, padded after them.

"Ah, mon petit frŤre, Iís a man, whoís seen some strange things. And most of them at the hospital. My maman said when I was a petit garÁon that the lwa would speak through me. Sheís aright, but I didnít want to be a hougan, I wanted to be a nurse. I knew that being a nurse in a hospital was the right thing for me. I help people Ė I speak to their spirits when they move on and sometimes cajole them to stay."

Blair paused on the stair. "Did you--?"

"Speak to you? No, your big friend was there for you."

"Youíre a practitioner of voodoo?"

"No, I donít practice." Shaun grinned, his white teeth flashed. There was an undercurrent to his tone which warned the anthropologist off the subject.

"Do you know how to help Jim?"

"His gwo bÚnjani has been pushed aside and the big pussy cat walks with us. But I saw his mŤt tŤt, it hasnít left him. You saw his eyes, Blair Sandburg, your friend was there, safe but trapped. Maybe we get his pussy cat to jump back in him and they both cast out the baka?"

"Can you speak with the black jaguar?"

"Perhaps. I think, though, he listens to us and knows what we plan."

Defeatedly, Blair sat on the stair and Lucifer immediately jumped onto the offered lap. Dispiritedly, he realised that they had no real plan Ė just a basketful of hope. Crucifixes, ancient crosses, holy water, guidance from one who recognised spirits, a belief that they would work. It had to work. The mad woman had spoken of Hymir bringing about Armageddon. Blair snorted; in all honesty he was more concerned with freeing Jim. How could they get Hymir out of Jim?

"The jaguarís here?"

"Yes, heís beside you and his tailís a-twitching." Shaun pointed to the place beside Blair on the stair. "He is very angry. He lost the battle but he looks like heís determined to win the war."

Amazed, Blair looked to his side. He could see nothing. The spirit guide had been cast out of the Sentinel, leaving him possessed. Or, perhaps, more accurately that the jaguar had been banished from the Sentinelís side. Blair had seen Jimís haunted expression behind Hymirís control; his soul remained intact. Footsteps jerked Blair out of his contemplations; he wanted to move before Aunt ZoŽ saw him and started mothering. Shaun held his hand out. Blair gripped it and was hauled to his feet in one easy motion. Unseated, Lucifer dropped to the stair and wandered off in a huff.

Blair continued up the stairs as he fingered the portable white noise generator in his jacket pocket. Simon hadnít seen him taking the device from his office at the University. Jim was an accomplished sentinel when he wasnít over-stressed or emotionally distraught but Hymir was an alien in a sentinel body. Blair was gambling that the vampire wouldnít be handling the sentinel senses very well, but he had no wish to give Hymir any advantage.

Shaun, his vague avoidance not withstanding, seemed to be a spiritual man. He had seen Jimís spirit guide and implied that the beast was aware of what was happening. ĎPerhaps it will help us,í Blair mused. He wished that he did indeed wield the talents of a shaman or he too would be able to see the jaguar.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Shaun asked.

"What? No just thinking," Blair said absently.

The cross would probably be useful. Hymir, even in his mortal form, feared the cross. He wished that Philip wasnít hurt; the priestís presence would have been reassuring.

Blair threaded through the accumulated memorabilia of Aunt ZoŽís life to the garret window that overlooked the rectory garden. The plot of land looked innocent. There were no obvious vampires creeping their way back and forth. Blair snorted at his fancy, it was still daylight; even if the vampires were decked in protective black leather, he doubted that they would favour wandering around in direct sunlight.

He squinted at the house. All the drapes and curtains were drawn, including the upstairs windows. When they had been in the house, the vampires had only closed the lower storey. The vampires had not decamped. Grumbling, he examined the outside of the house looking for an entry point. This covert shit was James Ellisonís purview; he was a mere anthropology student.

He stared out the window, without looking, working on his plan. The laboratory was on the upper floor, how on earth was he going to get in there and get the book?

He jerked when his cell phone buzzed. Gingerly, he opened it, half-expecting Hymir to be on the end of the line, mocking him.

"Blair?"

"Philip? Are you okay?" Blairís voice rose, unconsciously. "Stupid question, man. Sorry I couldnít stay. Is another priest with you?"

The priest coughed very gently, he sounded as if he was in a great deal of pain. "Yes, Father Melbourne."

"Excellent, you canít let him leave. Is there anyone you can call from the Legacy?"

"Iíve called a colleague, heís on his way. Where are you?"

"Opposite the rectory, in Aunt ZoŽís house."

"Derekís flying in. You remember Derek? You met him once. Heíll probably bring some friends, wait there until he joins you. He can help you."

"When? Today?"

"Late this evening or early morning." Philip coughed again. "Donít do anything until then."

"We donít know how long Jim has. Hymir might decide he wants a dead Jim. Look, Philip, do you know any other priest who might be open minded enough to Ďhandleí this?"

"What are you planing on doing?"

"Pretty simple, man. Iím going to go in with every religious bullet I can lay my hands on primed and ready."

"BlairÖ"

"Philip," he countered. "The exorcism had an effect. There has to be a way of getting Hymir out of Jim, there has to be."

"Maybe there is a clue in Tomasí book?" Philip sighed.

"Maybe," Blair echoed disconsolately. "Philip, the lady vampire said she wanted to bring back Hymir to start Armageddon. How the Hell am I supposed to stop that?"

"I have faith in you," Philip said automatically. "Contain Hymir and her plans are thwarted."

"So we come back to ĎA Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation?í" Blair shuffled further into the window alcove and lowered his voice. "Is there a sneaky way into the rectory?"

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair gnawed on his fingernails. When push came to shove, he distrusted the convenience of Shaun, he didnít even know the manís surname. He seemed to join them so very easily. Jim always joked that he, Blair, had a mind as open as a Boeing 747 aeroplane hanger, but Blair knew that would not have wandered along with practical strangers into the lionís den. Well, Blair finally admitted to himself, not unless he was really needed. Perhaps that explained Shaun?

Shaun was speaking in low tones to Simon Banks. They seemed to get on very well. Jim had said that the captain had been concerned when he had been ill and had visited the hospital more than once. Simon must have spoken with Shaun on several occasions. Aunt ZoŽís youngest cat was curled up on the nurseís lap, which was a plus point on the blackboard of Shaunís trustworthiness.

He hated to feel so distrustful, but he was listening to his head rather than his heart. In all honesty, he distrusted the coincidence. Philip was out of commission and another soul, knowledgeable in religion and who was open-minded, was supplied, adroitly.

They had discussed things until plans were falling out of their ears. Simon was willing to wait until reinforcements arrived. Shaun was being circumspect. But Blair couldnít help but think that time was of the essence. They didnít even know if the vampires were still in the rectory. And they needed the book.

Blair picked up the cross and crept out of the attic room.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair scaled the high rectory wall and dropped behind an overgrown rhododendron. He watched the windows waiting to see a curtain twitch. Nothing moved. His breath held in his throat, Blair darted across the garden. He didnít breathe until he reached the south wall, out of view of any window. Philip had told him that if he crawled on top of the kitchen porch he would then be able to jump onto the kitchen roof. Apparently the bathroom window on the second storey had never locked properly.

Blair climbed on top of the water butt and then shinned up the drainpipe. The white noise generator in his pocket throbbed against his hip, reassuring him that it was still on. Still, as quietly as possible, he crawled across the porch and kitchen roof.

Girding himself, he peered through the bathroom window. It was empty; Blair guessed that vampires really did not have much use for the facilities. Heart in his mouth, he carefully lifted up the sash window, inch by inch. At about a foot and a half the frame stuck. Blair didnít dare force the window. He could easily imagine an almighty screech.

Untying the cross hanging from his belt, he leaned through the window and set it on top of the toilet cistern. He wriggled through after it, slithering onto the floor. Once inside, he scuttled over to the door and listened. But would he be able to hear if he wore the generator? He certainly thought that he could hear. Chancing that there was no one in the corridor beyond he opened the door.

It was empty.

Perspiration beading on his brow, he crept down the corridor. He paused at the stairwell, nothing moved. He could hear nothing. Placing each foot carefully, he picked his way up the stairs. One stair squeaked and he froze.

Still nothing moved.

On the third level, skirting the wall, he made his way towards the laboratory. The metal door hung half off its hinges, mute testimony to the unnatural strength of the vampires.

He chanced a glimpse into the room, but nothing moved. It was empty.

The book lay discarded on the floor face down.

Almost convinced he was going to be jumped on as soon as he entered the room, he ran inside. In one easy motion, he grabbed the book and ducked behind the lab table dominating the room. Carefully, he closed the book and set the latch in place. He deliberately avoided looking at it; knowing that he would be ensnared by the chance of rescuing Jim. His nerves thrumming, he scuttled along its length and then peeked out to look back through the wrecked door to the corridor beyond.

Still nothing moved.

Biting his lip, Blair took the chance. He barely paused at the threshold, simply running quietly into the corridor to the stairs.

"Thereís someone here," the womanís voice came petulantly.

"I hear nothing," Jimís distinctive tones rose upwards.

ĎShit!í They were coming up the stairs. Looking to the left and the right, Blair chose the open door on his right. It opened on a spare bedroom, utilitarian and functional; Jim would approve. Another door led off from the room. Blair ducked into the en suite bathroom, determined to put as much space between him and the vampires as possible. The book in his hands sang to him. Despite his precarious position, he wanted to sit down and leaf through the pages.

"There is someone?"

Blair froze. They were moving around the room. Blair held the cross and the book. If Jim opened the door he was going to thrust both in his face.

"I donít hear anything, wench."

"Wench?" she shrieked.

Wincing at the loud slap, Blair slowly dropped down to his knees to peek through the keyhole. Despite the white noise generator, he was surprised that they could not hear his hammering heart. Jim slithered around the room; he no longer personified a jaguar but a snake. He had cast off his slacks and jersey for an expensively cut suit. Hymir stepped out of Blairís field of view and the lady vampire took his place. She really made the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

"I brought you back; you owe me. Me! Only me!"

"You lust after this body."

Blairís eyes widened at the implications. How would Jim handle that experience?

"Well, itís so nice." Her hand reached out to stroke Jimís chest. She swayed from side to side, enticingly.

"Later." Hymir pushed her aside. "Yes, later."

Pouting playfully, she pursued him.

Blair breathed a side of relief, sagging back on his heels. He lost track of how long he sat there, crouched in a ball, imagining all sorts of horrors. He had to get the book out of the house, so he could read it through and figure out how it could help Jim.

Slowly, he opened the door. They had gone. He shuffled through into the room, poised to bolt. He felt as if he was sweating buckets.

The corridor was clear. Holding his breath, he crept another yard then another. Step by step, he picked his way back down the stairs. He reached the second floor without being caught.

The bathroom at the end of the corridor looked as if it were on the opposite side of Cascade. The fates would probably let him get to the bathroom window before a vampire spotted him.

Surely the vampires would hear his heart beating like a drum?

As silently as possible he ran the last mad dash. He closed the door and twisted the key in the lock, sure now that the vampires were on his heels. Planting his palms on the kitchen roof, he wiggled through the open window leaving skin behind.

He didnít even look behind as he ran to the porch roof and jumped down onto the water butt. Blair hit the ground running. Flight or fight; Blair was running as if the hounds of hell were on his heels. He still had the presence of mind to clamber over another adjacent garden wall and drop into an unknown neighbourís garden. He didnít want the vampires following him back into Aunt ZoŽís house. A dog in a conservatory barked as he cut through the garden, and vaulted into another neighbourís yard.

He felt like a kid playing a dare in old Mrs. Danbushís back yard. He scrambled over a fence into the garden backing on to Aunt ZoŽís home. Finally, feeling the energy leach from his bones, he ran through Aunt ZoŽís roses and up to the back door.

"Where have you been?" Simon reached out and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, hauling him into the house. Blair found himself planted just inside the kitchen as the detective scanned the garden with a practised eye.

"SimÖ"

"Jim, will--" Simon punctuated his words with a shake, "--fucking kill me."

"Language, young man." Aunt ZoŽ reached up and slapped her nephew around the head. "I brought you up better than this."

"Sorry, Aunt ZoŽ." The captain rubbed his ear.

Blair futilely tried to unpeel Simonís fingers gripping his shirt. The police captain had a grip like iron. "I had to go. I got the book." He flicked Simonís broad fingers and shot him a patently chastising look.

"Whatís happening here, Simon?" Aunt ZoŽ snapped, sounding very schoolmarm-like.

"Blair," Simon growled. Blair met his glare evenly and then glanced, speakingly, at Simonís hand.

The police captain realised that he had the student almost by the scruff of his neck and released him immediately.

"Look, Iíve got it." Blair shuffled away from Simon, setting his shirt to rights. With great deliberation, he placed the book on the kitchen table dominating the room.

Anticipation curdling in his guts, he sat down, released the ornate catch and opened the bookís leather cover. The first page told a story.

"Itís a false cover. Tomas covered another book with a faÁade," he said breathlessly. The text was printed in two columns per page in large type. It was a Christian Bible or Ė and Blair flipped through to the back Ė to find that only the Old Testament was contained within the pages. Based on its thinness, he doubted that it contained all the Books of the Old Testament. Perplexed, he turned back to the front page. In the bottom corner of the first page in small print, were the words that stated that the book had been printed in ĎYear of our Lord Ė 1452í by Gutenberg.

"Oh, my, God," Blair proclaimed.

"What?" Simon demanded.

Blair backed away from the book; he had been touching history. This artefact should be examined under controlled conditions, not in a kitchen.

"Son?" Aunt ZoŽ curled an arm around his shoulders. "Whatís the matter?"

"Iím surprised that it hasnít whispered away into nothing. Yet, itís survived everything weíve put it through," said Blair, with his voice filled with awe, and he pointed at the text on the facing page.

Aunt ZoŽ leaned over to follow his unwavering finger to the inscribed words.

"Oh, my," she echoed.

"Will someone tell me whatís going on?" Simon snarled.

Aunt ZoŽ, the retired librarian, answered, "The Gutenberg Bible, also known as the Mazarin Bible, is reputed to be the first book printed in Europe in 1456."

"This was printed in 1452." Blair gently brushed the pages. "I donít think this is a bible, I think that itís more likely to be a collection of parables."

"Itís priceless, not just simply in terms of monetary value but alsoÖ"

"Yeah, I know." But Blair was obscurely disappointed, he had hoped to find answers to rescue Jim.

"What are you boys doing with this?" Aunt ZoŽ demanded. "What on earth are you up to?"

"Er." Blair thought fast, and babbled, "We, Jim and me, found this book in an old mansion in a sale. We took it to Philipís library, before I got the chance to look at it. We were followed by some bad guys; they wanted the book. They broke into the mansion."

"Really?" An elegant eyebrow rose.

"Yeah," Blair could say in all honesty. "TheyíveÖ caught Jim. Uhm, and theyíre holed up in the manse."

"Your Jimís a prisoner?" ZoŽ speared her nephew with a hawk-like gaze. "And youíre both sitting around here? Where are the FBI? The wailing sirens? I watch television. I know what happens."

"Weíre trying to keep a low profile." Simon chortled artificially.

"I changed your diapers, young man." ZoŽ countered.

"Aunt ZoŽ," the captain began, sounding suspiciously close to whining. "Weíre trying to stop Jim being killed. Thatís the Godís honest own truth."

"Donít you take the Lordís Name in vain."

"Please, I canít tell you everything. Itís for your own safety," he implored. "Aunt ZoŽ, can you do me a favour?"

"Youíre going to ask me to leave my own home, arenít you?"

Blair winced and ducked his shoulders. He wasnít going to place any odds on who was going to win this fight. With the utmost care he began to examine the book, turning each flimsy page delicately. It became almost immediately apparent that it was going to take many hours to decipher the book. He absently sipped on the cup of coffee that magically appeared at his elbow.

Lilith, Jacob, Joseph, the names jumped up from the fragile pages. Absently, Blair looked up from his reading realising that the sun was close to setting. Another name at the beginning of fifth chapter caught his eye Ė Moses and what looked like many commandments. It did seem to be a collection of stories similar to those found in the Old Testament.

"Perhaps theyíre lost books?" he mused. The value to scholars could be incalculable. Tomas had used the first book ever printed in Europe, filled with stories potentially missing from the Old Testament, to bind the Most Evil of All Vampires.

"Sandwich?" Shaun placed a snack by his elbow.

"What?" Blair was shocked to realise that it was now dark. He viewed the sandwich like a mongoose judging a snake. He wasnít hungry; he had things to do.

"You need to eat, Blair; youíre not one hundred percent."

"I suppose so," he said ungraciously. Carefully closing the book and setting it well out of the way of any crumbs, he ensured that it wouldnít become damaged.

"Anything in your book that will help?" Shaun reached out to touch it.

"Nah," Blair responded around a mouthful of lettuce and cheese.

A long shudder wracked Shaunís meaty frame.

"Are you all right?"

Shaunís eyes narrowed as if he were fighting an almighty headache. Concerned, Blair leaned across the table as Shaun bowed his head. His chin touched his chest. The man was muttering under his breath, disjointed words that made no sense. He was shivering so severely, Blair thought that he might convulse.

"Simon!" Blair hollered.

Abruptly, Shaunís features went slack. He lifted his head and anotherís soul shone out of his eyes.

Blair backed into the kitchen cabinets hardly aware that he had left his chair. "Hymir?" he hazarded.

"No," he spat, but the voice was higher pitched and the lilt was feminine.

Simon barrelled into the kitchen with his weapon drawn.

"Donít." Blair held out his hand, as Shaun rose to his feet, evidently confused.

"Who are you?" Blair asked breathlessly, he had his suspicions.

"Sulpicia, daughter of Gudrud." She moved aimlessly around the room, touching the tabletop, a porcelain mug, ZoŽís tea pot.

Blair waited patiently for the young woman, shrouded in Shaun, to find her place. She glanced sideways at the student and looked furtively away. Then taking a deep breath she stared at him.

"Are you Tomas?"

"Tomas?" Blair questioned breathlessly. "Sulpicia, itís been over five hundred years."

"Of course, I do know that. I just hoped that he might beÖ In some other way. That he had returned." Her face bleached a pasty grey. "Tomas is dead. Oh, my Tomas."

"Iím sorry." Responding to her misery, Blair stepped towards her, his arms held out as if to hug. "Iím so sorry."

"You? You then are only Blair?" Tense, she peered at the student.

"The one and only," Blair said with a fractured smile. "How do you know my name? Were you in the book with Hymir, listening or something?"

She shivered to her core. "Nah, I stood outside, preventing the demonís escape until the vampire wench opened the book. I can listen to what happens in a small way, Ďtis very confusing Ė some things come through more clearly. I heard a voice filled with strength and bravery say your name more than once."

Blairís mind whirled. His mouth dropped open, questions writhed but only one was important. "Hymirís taken over my best friend, how do I free him?"

"So many years." Sulpicia shook her head tiredly. Shaunís dreadlocks slapped around his face.

"Hymirís free," Blair reiterated.

"I hear, young watcher. I listened and I saw. I do not know what to do. Tomas, God rest his soul, cast the enchantment that bound Hymir in the scriptures when I slew him. Hymir is the most ancient of vampires with special talents. His dark soul moved from person to person when Slayers afore me tried and failed to kill him. "

"And you died?"

"Aye, I died, but Hymir lay trapped for nigh on six hundred years."

Blair leaned forwards. "How did Tomas trap the vampire?"

"I staked him through the heart and when his evil spirit rose, Tomas caught him between the pages of the book. Hymir had skewered me." Shaunís hands checked his stomach. "I died and the enchantment caught me. I chose to guard the evil one. I felt the spell but I didnít quite hear it. I do not know the words. They were Latin. But Tomas always wrote everything down; he was very diligent."

"The journals! I bet Tomas wrote the enchantment in the journals. Theyíre in the rectory."

"You are not going back in there," Simon growled.

Blair almost quivered in frustration. "The scriptures?" he looked to the book on the kitchen table.

"Tomas would not deface a book of scriptures." Sulpiciaís brow creased in consternation. "The false cover Ė where I reside Ė look upon it, it is most likely that the binding spell was wrote into the book. Mayhap it was part of the enchantment which trapped Hymir and allowed me to stay?"

Gingerly, Blair turned over the fragile pages. Inside the front cover in carefully wrought calligraphy was a neat version of Tomasí spidery scrawl.

"It looks like Latin," Blair said tentatively.

"Can you read it?" Simon asked.

Blair shook his head. "I think that word--" he pointed, "--means love or loving."

Simon leaned over Blairís shoulder to look at the facing page. He read the words out loud in his resonant voice:

"Nectemus te anima invicta nostro
Nectemus te animae amantibus nostris

Anmchara."

"They sound familiar," Sulpicia said tentatively. "NoÖ That is what Tomas said. It was the last thing that I heard while in a mortal body."

"Did you understand that, Simon? You read it, like you knew it?"

"No." Simon stiffened and his eyes flashed quellingly. "I just read the words as I saw them."

ĎTypical,í Blair thought waspishly. But he realised that he now had the beginnings of a plan. Sulpicia had supplied, hopefully, the means to trap the Most Evil of All Vampires. But how could they get Hymir out of Jim? He was not going to let anyone drive a stake through Jimís heart.

Simon and Sulpicia were waiting Ė amazingly patiently Ė for him as he cogitated.

"So," Blair began and then gnawed on his thumb in concentration. "If we get Hymir to leave Jimís body we catch him in the book?"

"Yes," said Simon pithily, "and how do we do that?"

The captain was shaking his head from side to side. He was having a great deal of trouble accepting the whole vampire scenario. He had those pinched lines around his eyes which spoke of a headache.

"The jaguarís going to force Hymir out of Jim," Blair said, brooking no argument. "Weíre going to help it by using the cross and the holy water."

"And then what?" Simon asked, getting into his roll as resident sceptic. "I donít think weíll be catching him like a fly." He slapped his palms together, mimicking catching an insect between the pages of a book. "I donít believe that this is happening."

"Simon." Blair caught his sleeve, jerking him back as he started to walk away. "Look at Shaun. Is that Shaun? Look!"

The manís entire demeanour had changed. Despite the outward mask of his physical being, a large man of Creole or Haitian descent, anyone with the eyes to see could perceive a wisp-thin woman, wrapped in complicated misery before them.

Shaun, or more accurately Sulpicia, stared back at them with defensive confidence. Blair was inexplicably reminded of himself as a young undergraduate, intelligent Ė occasionally showing sweeping gusts of brilliance Ė but fitting into the university life with all the skill of a square peg in a round hole.

"Oh," Shaun coughed, and cast off the shade of Sulpicia like an old coat.

Blair caught him as he wobbled. His meagre weight did little to shore up the manís bulk. Simon loaned a hand, guiding the nurse to a chair.

"Are you okay?" Blair darted a glimpse at Shaunís eyes. Dark chocolate eyes Ė no longer with the hint of blue Ė gazed at him, glassily.

"Yes." Shaun shook his fingers as if they had pins and needles. "Pauvre, tragic petite fille."

"Yes," Blair echoed, empathising.

"What on Earth happened there?" Simon demanded. "Was that like the vampire thatís taken over Jim?"

"Iís a man with a skill that lets the lwa speak through me," Shaun began.

"Lwa?" Simon questioned.

"A bit like spirits," Blair whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

"She needed to speak with you. To tell you what happened." Shaun breathed deeply, he was evidently still trying to centre himself after the experience. "I listen to my gwo bÚnjani, not like Jim Ė he helps me."

"You used that word before Ďgwo bÚnjanií, what do you mean?" Simon inserted carefully with a detectiveís precision, obviously hoping that the man in his disorientation would explain.

"Me." Shaun patted his chest. "My angel, my guardian."

"Gee, well, that makes sense," Simon muttered under his breath.

Blair fired a quelling glare at the older man. "You said that Jimís gwo bÚnjani was the black jaguar and Hymir had cast him aside but his mŤt tŤt was still there? Whatís mŤt tŤt?"

Shaun gazed back at him, once more in control. "Youís an anthropologist, you should know."

"Well, sorry," Blair said caustically. "I havenít studied every culture known to man. Are you going to help or be enigmatic?" he finished, still uncharacteristically sharp.

"MŤt tŤt," Shaun struggled for the words. "The master of my head."

"So," Simon was trying to follow the conversation. "Youíve got all these spirits in you? Guiding you? And they help you. And they sometimes let other ones in?"

Shaun nodded, a fragment of a smile on his round face. "Sulpicia knocked at the door," he said speaking metaphorically. "She wanted to help. She hovers around the book."

Blair automatically looked to the book on the kitchen table almost expecting to see the young woman sitting there.

"Five hundred years, and if we put Hymir back in the book, will she spend another six hundred years guarding him?" Blair said sorrowfully.

"We donít know how to get him in the book," Simon pointed out.

"Oh, Simon, quit being so defeatist. You have that spell that poor young woman gave you." Aunt ZoŽ sailed into the kitchen. She planted a metal box in the centre of the table. "This is my old safe Ė I keep things in the bank now. It was made during the Civil War. Our ancestor Zedekiah Banks kept all his worldly belonging in this box. Itís made out of iron and, last I heard, ghosts donít like iron. Get this evil demon out of Jim, catch him in the book and then toss it in the box." She held up the padlock and key.

"I thought you were upstairs packing before going to my place to look after Daryl," Simon snapped.

"No, you thought that was a good idea. Iíve also cancelled the cab." Aunt ZoŽ raised her chin. "So do we now have a plan to trap this Hymir character?"

"Have you been eavesdropping?" the police captain continued appalled.

The retired librarian simply rolled her eyes heavenward.

Blair squelched a grin. Aunt ZoŽ hardly came up to Simonís waist but you could tell who was in control. The plan was nicely laid out in his head. Confront Hymir. Scare the vampire with the cross and holy water. Get the jaguar to jump into him. Hopefully, the spirit jaguar would then keep Hymir from repossessing the Sentinel. When Hymir vacated, use the Anmchara spell to bindÖ trap him in the book and then toss it in Auntie ZoŽís box so no one could touch the book.

Somewhere, distantly, he could hear a cheeky little voice muttering on about the best laid plansÖ.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Blair found out that Simon was worse than Jim. The captain had actually sent him to bed and Aunt ZoŽ had backed up the manís presumptuousness. Apparently, Blair was looking a bit pale and was still recuperating. The anthropologist had sulked off to bed before Shaun could put in his two cents worth.

He couldnít sleep. After twisting the blankets into a suffocating shroud, he gave up and clambered out of bed. Fumbling short-sightedly in the unfamiliar bedroom he moved to the window. He rested his elbows on the windowsill and stared out towards the rectory. Simon was in the attic somewhere above, keeping watch. The captain had counselled watching Philipís home since the vampires would eventually leave. Then they would have the resources of the Legacy library. Furthermore, the captain had observed, members of Philipís organisation who were well versed in handling these matters were on their way.

All good, well thought out plans, Blair knew. But he wanted action now. Every minute they had Jim was a minute too long. Simon was insistent that they had professional help. Candidly, Blair wondered what kind of professional help Simon would need by the time they freed Jim.

"Even so," Blair muttered to himself alone. "The sooner the better."

The decision was quite simple and ill thought out. Juggling the cross and the book, which he had kept safe under the bed, he realised that executing the plan was fraught with problems. He needed four hands.

"Hello."

Blair jumped sky high.

Hymir stepped out of the dark shadows to loom over him. "Silly little guide. Do you think that you could outwit me?"

"Jim." But no one had invited the vampire in, how had he entered ZoŽís home? Apparently, Hymir did indeed have all the advantages of a mortal body.

"Hardly Jim: I am Hymir. You knew that, though, didnít you." Elegant and deadly, he reached out and stroked his long fingers down Blairís cheek. "Young, vibrant, empathicÖ James screams within me. It makes a musical counterpoint to my words. He doesnít like my plans for you."

"Why?" Blair spat.

A furrow formed between Jimís eyebrows, questioning.

Blair explained, "Why arenít you out there bringing about Armageddon? Instead of coming after me?"

"That is Drusillaís fancy. I want nothing of Armageddon Ė what would I feed upon? What joy would there be?"

"Joy? You donít know the meaning of the word."

"On the contrary, I understand pleasure very well." Hymir caught one of Blairís ringlets in his fingers. "Such a sensual pleasure to be in this man. All is so bright and vibrant Ė yet he fears his heritage, and the lack of control so he has none. Thus I come to you."

"What am I to you?"

"It pains my host." The caressing fingers latched around Blairís throat. "It brings me pleasure."

Hymir wrenched back Blairís neck.

"Youíre important to him. I know that, even if he hardly dares admit it to himself. I think I want youÖ as a minion. Youíll be at his side for eternity, but as a vampire. Still serving him. Serving me."

"I donít serve; I stand by his side." Blair responded, smacking Tomasí book in Hymirís face. The vampireís scream echoed through both of them and, shockingly, smoke rose from underneath the pages. Appalled, Blair pulled back the book. Writing was scrolled across Jimís face. Instead of ink, flames burnt their words.

"Jim?"

"Run, Blair, run," Jim grated as his muscles trembled uncontrollably. "Go."

"No." He held the book. It had worked; Jim was before him. But the vampiric cast still coloured his essence.

"Theyíre setting fire to the house! Go!"

"No." Hating himself, he opened the book and planted it face down on Jimís chest. And he began the chant:

"Nectemus te anima invicta nostro
Nectemus te animae amantibus nostris

Anmchara."

Writhing, Hymir fell to the floor, froth slavered between his gritted teeth. Blair fell with him, keeping the book planted over his heart.

"Fight him, Jim. Fight him. Call on your spirit guide!" he implored.

Jim was convulsing almost hard enough to throw him off. Blair straddled his sentinel, using his weight to keep the book in place.

"Nectemus te anima invicta nostro
Nectemus te animae amantibus nostris

Anmchara."

Hymir wrapped his hands around Blairís throat, censoring his words.

"Fight him, Jim." Blair croaked, somehow knowing that his words were the vehicle of their salvation.

Jimís back arched, almost throwing him off. Foul words erupted from his mouth Ė base, evil incantations and the hair rose on the back of Blairís neck. Smoke billowed around Jimís form and Blair felt dark fingers claw at his soul.

"Canít have me," Blair said huskily.

Jimís eyes shot open and latched on Blairís, sensing the threat.

"Donít you dare take him back," Blair ordered. The grip around his throat loosened and trailed down his arms to rest on his hands on top of the book.

"Together," Jim grated. "Say the words."

"Nectemus te anima invicta nostro
Nectemus te animae amantibus nostris."

 

Spirits howled around them, circling and concentrating on the book. A cry that sounded like a jaguarís challenge shook the room. Then, with a snap that shocked them to the core, the focus turned abruptly to the book. The book jerked. And Blair, with Jimís hands upon his, clapped it shut.

"Anmchara," they whispered together.

Boneless, he slumped over Jim, the book held between them.

"What happens if we let go?" Jim eventually uttered.

Blair sniggered.

Jim had enough energy to glare at him. Blair responded with a beaming smile. He couldnít resist the temptation to drop a tiny kiss on the end of Jimís nose.

"Sandburg!" Jim coughed.

"We did it, man," he whispered.

Still holding the book, Jim sat up and Blair shifted to sit facing him.

"Thanks, Chief," the Sentinel said quietly.

Blair smiled away the tears in his eyes. They had caught Hymir. They had defeated him. He almost couldnít believe it. But Jim faced him rather than an evil revenant. Jim cocked his head to the side in question.

"Aunt ZoŽís got an iron box downstairs. We need to take the book to it."

"Do we both need to hold it?" Jim asked, thinking about the logistics.

"I think," Blair said slowly, "we have to do this together."

Jim nodded perfunctorily. Shifting to the side, he untangled their legs and got his feet under him.

"On three?" Jim asked.

Blair nodded. And at the end of the count, they both rose to their feet. Blair stumbled a fraction, but Jimís hands clasping over his, steadied him.

"Down the stairs? One step at a time," Jim directed.

"Works for me, man. The sooner the better."

Step by step, they traversed the clutter in ZoŽís spare room. Blair paused at the top of the stairs as Jim froze. The Sentinel canted his head to the side in his listening position. His mouth dropped open and his nostrils flared.

"What is it?"

"Fire," he said monosyllabically.

Automatically, the Sentinel moved to protect the inhabitants of the house.

"Jim," Blairís soft voice brought him up short. "Hymir will get free."

"You donít know that for sure." Jim tried to wrench the book away.

Blair hung on tightly. "I do."

Grimacing, Jim accepted his words. "Whereís Simon?"

Blair took the straightforward approach. "Simon! Simon! Fire!"

Jim winced at the volume.

A clatter heralded a dishevelled Simon appearing at the bottom of the attic stairs. Instinct operating, the older man held his police issue weapon trained on them.

"A stake would be more use, Simon," the anthropologist observed sardonically.

"What the Ö" he snapped. "Jim, are youÖ?"

"Jimís no longer the vampire--" Blair gestured with his chin at the book that he and the Sentinel held, "--Hymirís back in the book."

"Simon, get your aunt, the vampires have set the house on fire. Theyíre waiting for us to leave so they can get us. We canít get out until the fire services arrive and frighten them off."

"Jim? Are you all right?" Simonís eyes held an uncharacteristic wildness.

"I will be. Your aunt," the Sentinel reminded the captain sharply.

"Right. Phone," he spoke to himself as he holstered his weapon, "in ZoŽís room."

"Go," Jim ordered.

Simon went, shaking his head all the while.

"I see weíve pegged Simonís weird meter on this one, Chief," Jim observed.

"Yup." Blair tugged Jim down the stairs. "Although to be honest, the whole thing is pretty weird. He doesnít want to believe but heís willing to trust us."

Jim nodded shortly, accepting the wisdom of Blairís words and how they described Simonís role in their life.

"Faster, Chief. I can smell the smoke Ė itís getting stronger. And the smoke will kill us long before the flames do."

"Can we run?"

"Weíll fall."

"Okay, move faster."

The book held between them they picked up the pace. Jim kept up a running commentary as they moved along the landing to the stairs leading to the hall entrance. Blair was dutifully informed when Simon called the police and the fire services, woke his aunt and then dragged Shaun out of bed.

"Can you hear the vamps?" Blair asked breathlessly.

"Only if I stop and concentrate," Jim answered.

"Right." The smell of the smoke was strong enough for Blair to start coughing. From the stairs they could see flames licking over the carpet in the front room. Two of Aunt ZoŽís cats screeched by them, focussed on escaping the fire. A broken glass bottle lay in the centre of the conflagration. Another blaze gutted the front porch, but was contained by the closed doors.

"Try to breathe lightly, Chief."

Blair simply nodded, his eyes already tearing. Crouched low, they skirted the wall, putting as much space between them and the heat as possible. Jim reached out with his foot and pulled the sitting room door shut they passed.

"Not much further, Chief," he said encouragingly.

Tiny flames licked at the back door and another shattered Molotov cocktail lay on the floor. Smoke wreathed the roomís ceiling. The metal box sat on the table, its lid open.

"On three?" Blair asked as they paused at the doorway.

The detective nodded. "We keep the book closed at all times."

"It goes without saying."

"Three."

As one, they ran across the room. Moving with a synchrony that bordered on the uncanny, they thrust the book into the box. Simultaneously, they released it. Barely a heartbeat, later they slammed the lid shut. Caught in the moment they froze, waiting for Hymir to make his next move.

"Did he get free?"

"I dunno, do you feel anything?" Blair whispered.

The Sentinel shook his head.

"Okay," Blair let go of the lid, and clamped the padlock through the catch.

Jim caught the box by the handles and lifted.

"Leave it here," Blair directed.

"Hardly, Iím not letting this thing out of my sight."

"Jim?" Simon appeared before them, he held his aunt clasped against his side, wrapped in an enfolding blanket. Shaun hovered behind them. All were coughing.

"We canít stay here much longer, Simon, or weíll suffocate."

"But the vampires are outside. Theyíll just take the book back."

"If we stay here, weíll die."

Shaun moved into the room, picked up a wooden chair and threw it against the wall. The chair splintered into a mess of stakes. He ducked down and picked up one long one with a jagged edge.

"Iím ready."

Blair ducked down and grabbed another shard of wood.

"Whereís the cross?" Simon asked.

"I dropped it in the bedroom." Blair shrugged, he had had other things on his mind at the time.

"Thereís not enough time to get up there and get back," Jim pointed out as Simon moved as if to return upstairs.

"What the plan?" Blair nervously glanced out of the window, half expecting to see a leering face.

"Take the box." Reluctantly, Jim passed over Hymirís resting place and removed the stake from Blairís lax hand. "Iíll take point, you, Shaun, take our six."

The nurse nodded as he handed a stake to the captain.

"Youíre in the middle, Simon, with your aunt. Blair, youíre between me and Simon."

Advancing like a bevy of Roman legionaries, they moved to the back door. The smoke was becoming cloying. Blair coughed, feeling it bite at his lungs. Jimís face was bright red and tears trickled from his eyes.

"Turn it down," Blair directed.

The other members of the party were faring no better. Jim halted briefly at the door, bracing himself, and then kicked it off its hinges.

Stake poised, he stepped out. He beckoned with his fingers for the rest of the party to follow. Blair barely had time to form a warning as a vampire launched itself from the bushes. Jim pivoted on one foot and met it halfway, spearing it through the chest with his stake. It erupted into a gust of ashes, smothering them, before they to whispered away to nothing.

"My God, itís a vampire," Simon said incredulously.

Blair threw a filthy glare at the police captain.

Another vampire appeared, this one more wary, and behind him stood Drusilla, her eyes flashing venomous fire.

"You took my new love."

Blair clutched the box to his chest; he wasnít letting her get the book again. "Weíre going to burn it to ashes. Youíll never raise Hymir again."

She stamped her foot, childishly. "I will have him. You hear me. I will have him."

Wailing sirens interrupted them. Blue and red lights flashed illuminating the gardens. Hissing angrily, Drusilla stepped back into the shadows that spawned her. Her white face glared at them from the dark leaves, then, with a swish of her blood red dress she disappeared.

Firemen decked in protective clothes boiled over the lawn, hauling their equipment behind them. A cacophony of mundane, almost heart-warming noise washed over them. Voices, chaos, orders all coming from men intent on saving life and property.

The vampires had gone.

Hymir was contained.

It was over.

Blair breathed a sigh of relief, feeling strangely disconnected as the action moved around him. Simon glared at the detective and the observer and then gently steered his elderly aunt to the approaching paramedics. The emergency staff immediately took Simon and ZoŽ to the back of an ambulance to administer oxygen. Shaun went with them. Blair watched as the firemen kicked down ZoŽís front door and dragged hoses into the house. Henri and Rafe appeared on the scene, responding to the call from their captainís cell phone.

It was well-choreographed madness.

"Hey, Chief." Jim threw a gentle arm over his shoulders. "Letís get you to the paramedics to check you out."

"You too," Blair said automatically. Jimís face was blackened with smoke and Blair could hear him wheezing.

"Okay," the detective said easily. Together they moved to the ambulance.

End of Chapter IV

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

A Hope Amidst Sanguine Desolation: Chapter V

Jim filtered the smell of the plastic mask wrapped over his mouth and nose out and concentrated on the sweet refreshing non-smell of oxygen. His wheezing had not diminished and he had been carted off to emergency to be assessed by the doctors. They had put him on oxygen. Blair had left his side long enough to grab a shower from an accommodating nurse. He now sat half dozing beside Jimís gurney, draped in a hospital smock with a towel wrapped around his head.

Jim craved a shower but until his breathing eased, he was on oxygen. Rafe and Henri had the keys to the loft and had promised to return with some clean clothes.

Blair yawned and his head bobbed against his chest. Startled, he sat up. "Simon said that theyíre keeping Aunt ZoŽ overnight Ė but sheís going to be all right."

Jim nodded, Blair had updated him a mere ten minutes ago on the elderly ladyís condition. The kid was losing track of his conversations. Blair rubbed his nose and yawned, tiredly.

"Why donít you go home?"

"Yeah, right." Blair toed the box containing Hymir that sat at his feet. "No, man, we stay together."

"What are we going to do with it?"

"I figure give it to Philip," Blair said, looking impossibly miserable.

"Whatís the matter? Itís sort of Philipís job, heís got the training."

"I think Sulpicia might be there with him. She doesnít deserve that."

"The woman who fought Hymir the first time?" Jim whispered.

"Yeah. ShaunÖ you remember Shaun?"

"Yes, I met him during a rather unforgettable time," he pointed out. He was hardly going to forget the mysterious nurse, who had helped him when Blair had been ill with meningitis. Belatedly, he remembered that Shaun had been with them in ZoŽís home. "How did he end up getting involved?"

"I think heís a voodoo hougan. He says that heís not, so Iíll give him the benefit of the doubt, but he can speak with the lwa Ė thatís spirits to the uninitiated Ė I think they told him to help us and Sulpicia spoke through him, to give us sufficient clues so I could free you of Hymir."

That was a lot of information in a typical Blair-extra-long-sentence for him to process.

"Jim," Blair said quietly, "are you okay?"

"Yeah sure," Jim said tightly.

"I mean, you werenít disorientated when we got Hymir out of you, so I suppose you were aware of what was happening."

Jim had been pushed to the back of his mind when the vampire had invaded him. He had railed against the imprisonment to no avail. Hymir had been a force to be reckoned with. The vampire had trawled through his mind, no part of him had been left unturned. Hymir had absorbed him, taking what had been of use and discarding the rest.

"Iím fine."

"Sure you are," Blair said almost derisively. His sapphire blue eyes judged him by his expression rather than his words.

Shocky, Jim knew that Blair understood exactly what had happened. The Sentinel packed up the experience in a tiny little ball and rammed it in the back of his mind.

"Everythingís fine, Chief," he emphasised. A rich laugh echoed through him, chilling his bones. The Sentinel slammed the metaphorical door on Hymirís presence and mentally padlocked it shut.

"I just think itís unfair to leave Sulpicia in the book; she deserves better."

"How are you doing, Detective Ellison?" A doctor glided into the room, head burrowed in a file. "Got lots of documentation on you. Dr. Doyle says youíve got some pretty severe allergies. Did you get them checked out as he recommended?"

Jim barely had time to form a negative before the ginger headed doctor had whipped out his stethoscope and directed him to lean forwards so he could listen to Jimís lungs.

"Iím Doctor Stevens by the way. Cough."

Blair was listening closely. The Sentinel might not have consulted a doctor but he had consulted a grad student who was Ďall but dissertationí so he was almost a doctor.

"Okay, youíre still wheezing a bit. Iím going to put you on a nebulizer with salbutamol for a while to clear that up."

Blair followed the doctor out of the room, to check that there was nothing else in the medication to affect the Sentinel.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Jim locked the metal box in the tool cupboard. Then he stripped out of the Armani suit and shirt that Hymir had favoured and threw them in the garbage chute. Rafe had brought him clean clothes to the hospital, but it seemed pointless to change into them when his skin and hair reeked of smoke. Barefoot, decked only in shorts, he padded back up to the loft. On the way to the shower, he dumped the shorts in the garbage disposal and shredded them into the next world.

Blair, who had obviously crashed on the sofa as soon as he entered the loft, sat up and peered at him myopically.

"Are you naked?" he asked blearily.

"No." Jim ducked into the shower and began to lather up. He showered three times, scrubbing at his bruises and cuts until they bled, before he felt clean.

On complete autopilot, he shrugged on his terry cloth robe. Blair was unconscious, sprawled bonelessly across the couch. His chest barely rose, he was so deeply asleep. His Guide had outdone himself; he had dragged his sorry-assed Sentinel back from the abyss.

Jim saluted him before bending over to shake him gently.

"What?" Blair grumbled drowsily.

"Bedtime." He caught Blairís arms and pulled him upright. The kidís legs almost gave in, but Jim clasped him against his chest and bodily dragged him to his tiny bedroom.

"Not tired."

"Youíve had a long day," Jim said as he rolled him into bed. The blankets were half on the floor, so Jim could dump him straight on the rumpled sheets.

"You gonna sleep?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, sure," Jim said absently.

Blair glared up at him, plainly disbelieving his words. The student toed off his sneakers and kicked them off the bed and onto the floor.

Fastidiously, Jim viewed their placement. Evidently, the kid had also decided to sleep in his jeans and hooded sweatshirt.

"Are you sleeping in your clothes?" Jim asked.

"Am not gonna sleep; am going to have nightmares." Belying his words, Blair turned on his side, already slumbering.

Jim snorted and pulled the blankets up over his shoulders. "Yeah, Chief, you call and Iíll hear you."

He quietly closed the doors leaving them ajar and then he switched on the lamp beside the television. Deliberately, Jim moved through the loft double checking the locks, just in case Blair decided to wander around while sleepwalking. At least, that was what James Joseph Ellison kept telling himself. Simon was staying with his Aunt ZoŽ, so they were safe. Everything seemed to be fine. Extending his senses like antennae, he scanned the loft and the immediate area. There was a cat padding softly across the roof. He didnít sense any moving figures that neither breathed nor had heartbeats. Reluctantly, he reined his senses back to normality.

Sniffing, the Sentinel could still smell acrid smoke from the fire. The smell seemed to cling to him, so he ducked back into the shower. When he re-emerged, red skinned, there was nothing else he could do except check the doors and go to bed.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

The phone ringing woke Blair. Yawning mightily, he staggered out of bed, honing in on the phone. Half asleep, he answered.

"Blair Sandburg speaking."

"Blair, itís Simon," the voice said unnecessarily. "Is Jim there?"

"Heís asleep, if the phone didnít wake him up, he needs the sleep."

"Thereís a guy called Derek Rayne here at the hospital. He says that heís an associate of Father Callaghan. He also says that heís met you before?"

"Grey wavy hair?"

"Yes. He wants the book. Where have you put it?"

"Iíd prefer to give it to Philip. Heís a priest. I donít know what Mr. Rayne is."

"Do you want to keep it in the loft until Father Callaghanís on his feet?"

"Good point," Blair grumbled. "Send them round or better yet tell them to meet us at the rectory. Howís your aunt?"

Simonís voice smiled. "Theyíre releasing her today, but Iím going to take her back to my place. The arson investigator says that thereís only damage to the first floor, but itís going to need drying out and redecorating. It will be nice to have her around."

"Well, you know if you donít want her to stay with you, she can stay in my room."

"Yeah, right, Iíve seen the dump that you call a bedroom."

"It canít be worse than Darylís."

"Hah hah." Jim said without humour. He snatched the phone from Blairís hand. "Simon. Jim. Tell Rayne to meet us at the rectory in half an hour."

Blair snorted as Jim set the phone down.

"I want the book out of our home, Sandburg."

Blair held his hands up defensively. "I agree completely. As long as weíve got it, Drusilla might come and get it. Sheís got some major psychic thing going on, she can probably home in on it like a radar."

"Thanks for the reassurance. Get dressed."

"Get dressed," Blair echoed mockingly. "Get dressed."

Blair didnít bother taking a shower; he just wrestled on a fresh jersey, messing his hair further, and pulled on his oldest pair of jeans.

Jim raised an eyebrow as he shuffled out of his room, fastening his buttons. "Come on, Orphan Annie."

"Itís not my fault; the nurse didnít have any conditioner. Iím not even trying to get a hairpick through it until Iíve washed and conditioned it again."

Ten minutes later, he was sitting in the Ford truck, with the metal box balanced on his lap. Jim was in hyper-sentinel alert, scanning the immediate area in case the woman was watching. Each and every dark truck that passed them was scrutinised. Blair half expected any black leather clad motorcyclist passing them to explode into flames in response to Jimís glare.

"You want to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?"

"Why youíre so angry?"

"Iím not angry."

"Just remember youíre angry at Hymir; youíre not angry at yourself."

Jim glanced at him sideways and nodded once, a short, sharp nod.

"And when you want to talk about it, Iím here."

They had driven several blocks before Jim grudgingly said, "Later."

"Okay." Blair nodded, accepting that as a major step forward.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Philipís colleagues were waiting outside the rectory. The grey haired older man, known as Derek Rayne, stood behind his younger associate, the ex-soldier, Nick Boyle. Their postures were defensive and arrogant. ĎWe know something you donít knowí they seemed to say. Jim growled deep in his chest.

"Stay in the truck, Sandburg."

"Yeah, right." He manhandled the box out of the truck and kicked the door shut behind him.

"Hi, Mr. Rayne."

"Is that the box?"

"Hi, Blair, nice you see you again, how are you?" the student parroted sarcastically.

Rayne nodded his head in apology. "Philip told me that you had been ill."

"Iím better now. Itís amazing how good adrenaline is at washing away that lingering fatigue."

Jim stood at Blairís shoulder and nodded once at Boyle.

"The box?"

Blair handed across the metal box. "The book that contains Hymir is the first book that was printed in Europe back in 1452. I could hardly read it, but it seems that theyíre scriptures that arenít normally in the Old Testament. Perhaps similar to the Apocrypha?"

"Unfortunately, we wonít be opening the box or the book any time soon."

"Thereís also a girl caught up in there. Sheís been there for over five hundred years."

"Iím sure that she will understand our decision to leave Hymir in the book."

"Thatís callous."

A warm hand rested on Blairís shoulder. The anthropologist leaned into the offered reassurance.

"What about this Drusilla woman?" Jim asked. "Any information?"

"Mad as a March Hare," Rayne said succinctly. "Sheís usually associated with a vampire called Spike but she seemed to be operating alone this time. Since she left Ms Banksí last night thereís been no sign of her. Hopefully, sheíll realise that the book is no longer accessible and leave."

"Very reassuring," Jim said dryly.

Boyle nodded. "Drusilla is dangerous and unpredictable. But sheís fickle enough to move on to other things that grab her attention."

Jim knew that their assessment of the woman was correct and her attention span could be measured in milliseconds if she became bored. He could attest to that fact.

"What are you going to do with the book?" Blair asked.

"Try to neutralise it. Philip said that his exorcism had an effect. More than likely, weíll put it in the bottom of a deep vault and pour cement on top of it. Quite often there is no satisfactory ending to these situations. We simply try to contain the forces of evil."

"That stinks," Blair muttered.

"Welcome to the world of fighting the supernatural." Boyle shifted his shoulders in a half-hearted shrug.

"We donít always get a prosecution," Jim pointed out.

"What about Sulpicia?" Blair demanded. He glared at them all, tension crackled about him. The Sentinel almost bowed in the face of the thunderstorm of his being.

"Sometimes we donít always save the victim either." Jim was the soul of dispassionate objectivity.

Blair swore under his breath, the lightning in his eyes abruptly ebbed. "That sucks."

He stomped back to the truck.

"Itís been a stressful month and Blair likes a happy ending." Jim felt that he had to offer an explanation in Blairís place. If he had been the one to stalk off, Blair would have made excuses.

The anthropologist was slumped in the passenger seat, his head resting against the window, when Jim returned to the truck. The detective could only offer platitudes so he didnít.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Epilogue

ZoŽ Banksí house buzzed. Raucous music emanated through the windows and delicious scents swirled through the air from the barbecue at the back of the building. Blair was going for every house decorating clichť decked in baggy dungarees and a white t-shirt plus he even wore a tool belt. The gang of Major Crime had all come together to redecorate ZoŽís living room and hall. Jim was playing happily in the kitchen with his power tools, hanging a new door. Philip had the difficult job of sitting at the kitchen table and directing Jim on the finer arts of how-to-hang-a-door-straight. The cats had vacated the kitchen grange and set up in the bathroom closet. Rafe and Henri, under Aunt ZoŽís eagle eye, were repairing the damage to the flowerbeds caused by the firemen. Charleton and Hakon were laying the new carpet in the hall. Dan Wolfe was smudging the house with Williamsí assistance. Aunt ZoŽís poker club was preparing sandwiches and Simon was cooking on the barbecue.

Daryl danced through the hallway, wielding his brush in time to the music. "This is so cool, everyoneís here."

Blair grinned back at the teenager. "Itís indicative of the nuclear family that is Major Crimes."

"You just string words together, donít you, Blair? And they sound good, so people just nod."

"Sometimes." Blair laughed. "Itís the art of a Ph.D."

The younger man sauntered out of the room laughing. Blair grinned at his partner in crime, Sam. They saluted each other with their paintbrushes and returned to painting the window frame. Officer Vismith and his partner were hanging wallpaper.

They worked throughout the day as different shifts came and went and jobs were swapped back and forth. Shaun appeared after five, with a massive pot of homemade soup for the workers.

Blair put the final touches to the baseboard and then rocked back on his heels. Aunt ZoŽís house was as good as new and the old woman was having a blast with her visitors. Most had gravitated to the back garden and the delightful smells, but Blair had noticed an unpainted corner along the baseboard. He had bent down to touch it up and ended up redoing the entire board. The anthropologist yawned tiredly.

"Hey, Chief, nearly finished?"

"Hi, Jim. Yeah, all done. You wouldnít know that weíd been here. Vampires, demons, ghosts and books."

Jim stuffed his hands in his pockets, a sure sign for Blair to change the subject.

"Are you ever going to talk about what Hymir did to you?"

Jim growled. "Nowís not the place, Chief." He glanced over his shoulder.

Blair nodded his head, setting the topic to the side for an appropriate moment. Jim had, typically, internalised the affair. Even more frightening, it was possible that he had deliberately forgotten most of the experience. It took little imagination on Blairís part to see the shade of Hymir hanging over the Sentinel. Jim would deal with it in his own way, and, Blair realised, he would deal with the fallout.

"Iím fine, Chief," Jim said tightly. "Iíve been trained to handle torture."

Blair silently encouraged him to continue.

"Iím not discussing it further." Jim smiled wolfishly, reading his Guideís mind. "I am fine, Blair. Believe me."

Blair shook his head a bare fraction.

"I will be fine," Jim clarified.

Blair simply nodded.

"Come on, Chief." Jim held out his hand. "Simonís steaks are ready."

Going along with the blatant subject change, Blair gripped the offered hand and was hauled to his feet. "So are they cooked properly or charred to a crisp?"

"Simon cheated Ė he stuck them under the grill before finishing them on the barbecue."

"It might be cheating, but I prefer it over food poisoning."

"There is that," Jim said conversationally. "Come on, Guppy. Shaunís soup smells absolutely amazing."

"Is it proper gumbo?"

"No, I think itís minestrone."

Blair laughed. "There I go stereotyping." Changing the subject, he asked, "Did you get the door hung?"

"Yeah, who made Philip keep an eye on me? The guy knows nothing about carpentry. Hey, did you know that one of ZoŽís cats is called Naomi?"

"Youíre kidding."

"Nah, the little ginger one. Has ZoŽ met your mom?"

Blair came to an abrupt halt. "I completely forgotÖ"

"Forgot what?" Jim automatically paused, waiting on the student to finish his thought.

"I sort of," Blair hedged, "had this dream. Naomi called me Alastair. I was a little baby."

"And?" Jim asked curiously.

"It was a weird dream. More like a memory. I donít remember being called Alastair, though."

"That sounds like you were called other names?"

"Oh, yeah," Blair said conversationally, as he belatedly remembered that they were heading for food and started walking again. "When I was nine Ė I think Ė she called me ĎFree.í I was ĎBearí a lot, but that was because I had this lisp thing going. Iíve got two birth certificates. One says Blair and the otherÖ." Blair blushed.

"Yes?"

"Obviously, itís false," Blair said to the premier detective of Major Crime. "Itís a joke birth certificate."

"As an officer of the Law; I should see this fake," Jim said piously.

Blair muttered something under his breath.

"I didnít get that, Chief."

"Iím never going to tell you. Youíll never let me forget it."

"Iíll tickle you," Jim threatened.

Blair rolled his eyes heavenward. "Summer Blossom Sandburg. And if you tell anyone, Iíll have to kill you," he finished, deadly serious.

Jimís lips twitched as he held back the laugh valiantly. His face crinkled. "Little Summer Blossom Sandburg," he slapped his thigh. "I can see why you went with Blair."

Blair bared his teeth in a growl, but he sort of liked the hilarity in his depressed Sentinel. "Blairís a name I had to grow into," he admitted. "It wasÖ cumbersome when I was little. But itís cool now. Anything was better than Summer Blossom."

Jim nodded sagely. "Come on, food, Blossom."

"Jim," he said warningly.

Mock-scowling, Blair trooped after the grinning detective. The party was in full swing. Rafe had organised a game of dodge football as Simon fulfilled his chef duties. Cans of beers filled a Cascade P.D. cooler. Jim arrowed towards them; Blair had lost the toss and was driving home. He cracked open a can of soda. The detective drifted towards the game, joining the side that was losing.

Feeling devilish, Blair snatched a steak sandwich and loaded up the salad and condiments. He could afford to splurge; he needed to put on a few pounds. The anthropologist joined Philip and Aunt ZoŽ reclining on sun chairs in the conservatory attached to the back of the house.

"Good afternoon, Blair," Philip said politely. "Youíve got paint in your hair."

"One of the perks of painting and decorating. The sitting roomís painted and the wallpaperís up. Tomorrow, we can move the furniture back into the rooms. It will only take a couple of hours."

Blair settled back on the lounger beside Philip and ZoŽ, he pulled a ringlet before his eyes and leaned back trying to tease the paint flecks from his hair.

††††††††††††††††† ^..^

Hot, sweaty and happily relaxed, the game of dodge football came to a tumbling finish. Jim had brought his team to victory. Shaunís presence on the team had helped; the man was a walking wall. When he had first met the nurse, his thoughts had dwelt on other matters and he hadnít properly studied him with a detectiveís eye. The nurse was a study in contradictions. His accent for one thing, his heavy patois came and went, but was particularly evident when he was talking to Blair, almost as if he was deliberately teasing the anthropologist. Yet Shaun wasnít that petty. The Sentinel mused on the intriguing supposition that in Shaun you talked to several people at once, and depending on the circumstances, one personality took upper hand.

"Nah," Jim shook his head at his thoughts.

"Jim?" Simon asked.

"Just thinking out loud." Jim paused and stretched. "That was fun. We should burn down your auntís house more often."

Simon snorted at him. "How do you sleep at nights?"

Jim was momentarily thrown by the non sequitur. "You mean theÖ?"

Simon bared his teeth.

"Same way I sleep after a day on the job, Simon."

"Yeah, right." Simon shook his head.

Jim caught his captainís arm and drew him down the side of the Victorian house, away from the maddening crowd. Simon went with him willingly.

"First time it happened to me and Blair, we both freaked." Looking to the left and right, Jim scanned the immediate vicinity. "Blair talked at me a lot. You should talk to Blair."

Simon automatically snorted.

"Yeah, I know," Jim said, following Simonís thoughts with ease. "But heís a good kid, and you know it. If youíre not comfortable talking to Blair, talk with Philip."

"The priest?"

Jim craned his head, engaged his sentinel vision and looked at Philip, who was talking quietly with Aunt ZoŽ. Blair was dozing on the other recliner, his curls splayed over his face. "Your aunt likes him, so that must mean something."

"Father Callaghan? Why?"

"Cos heís fought his own demons."

"Real demons?"

"Yes," Jim couldnít help but think, Ďand personal demons.í

"Perhaps." Simon shook his head. "Nothing will be the same now. That slither in the dark could be a vampire instead of a cat."

"You should talk to Philip."

"As I said, perhaps." The captain stalked off towards the barbecue, which heíd left in Henriís capable hands. He was already gnawing angrily on the end of a cigar. In deference to the recuperating observer, the crew of Major Crime had dragged their chairs and beers over to the barbecue in the far corner of the large garden. Or they had positioned themselves closer to the food.

ĎPoor Simon.í Jim knew how it felt to have your worldview totally shifted. He padded over to where his Guide was curled up like a cat in the late afternoon sun light. Slipping through the open conservatory doors, he nodded in absent greeting to ZoŽ and Philip. Jim regarded the peaceful figure, cataloguing Blairís heart rate and even breathing. Blair thought he was better, but he still had a tendency to nap.

ZoŽ Banks smiled maternally at the student and then sweetly at the detective.

"Hello, Jim. Thank you for helping with the house."

"Itís our pleasure. And we seem to have made a party of it."

"I may sound like an old woman, and I probably do because I am. But itís nice to hear the sound of young voices."

"Aunt ZoŽ. Aunt ZoŽ!" Daryl came running from the house holding the Cross of Kinloch Rannoch. "Can I take this to school? Weíre doing Joan of Arc; it would be a great prop." The young man came to a screeching halt at the bottom of his Auntís recliner.

Jim grimaced; he had completely forgotten about the damned cross. It had probably been lying in ZoŽ guestroom since they had defeated Hymir.

Disturbed, Blair coughed and woke.

"Man, look at this, Blair," Daryl continued, completely oblivious to the fact that he had woken the anthropologist.

Visibly more asleep than awake, Blair squinted blearily at the teenager. "The Cross," he intoned.

"Isnít it tacky."

Jim automatically gripped Blairís elbow as the student struggled to his feet. "Give." The anthropologist held out his hand.

Surprised at his uncharacteristic curtness, Daryl handed across the religious icon. Blair held it as if he expected it to speak to him. He hefted the cross over in his hands, completely absorbed.

"We need Shaun," Blair muttered.

Despite the fact that the rest of the clean-up crew were far on the opposite side of the garden, Jim could see that the nurse was gazing in their direction. The nurse absently set his burger on the side of the barbecue and strolled across the lawn.

"Heís coming over, Chief. Good timing, donít you think?" Jim said his tone coloured with scepticism.

"Perhaps," Blair uttered, he moved to meet the nurse at the conservatory entrance.

"What is it, Blair?" Shaun bent his head to look at the significantly shorter student in the eyes.

"The cross goes with the book."

"And?" he asked quietly.

"Sulpicia," Blair said simply and pushed it into Shaunís unresisting hands.

Electrified, Shaun straightened. Then, akin to a switch, he slumped, his chin thudding against his chest. A long shiver moved through his body.

"The master of my head," he intoned. And then a young woman looked out of Shaunís eyes.

"Sulpicia?"

"Greetings, Blair." Her hand came up to cup the anthropologistís cheek. "Thank you. Your bravery--" and her gaze encompassed them all, "--freed me. The box of your ancestors was a most wonderful solution for containing the Most Evil One. I no longer had to guard him. I sought the cross in which to reside, as we both have travelled for so long together."

"Hymir is definitely contained?" Blair asked urgently. "I didnít even know it was going to work. It was just pure luck."

"Hardly." She smiled, her gamine grin engaging.

"Shaun? No, I know you." Jim moved closer, effectively excluding a very interested Daryl from the conversation. He rubbed the side of his head, almost painfully. "Hymir thought of you. You fought him on the shores of Lindisfarne. He killed you. He thought that he killed you."

"That he did. But I chose to stay by the scriptures Ė my focus the false cover that Tomas prepared so carefully Ė preventing all from absently opening the book and freeing the Most Evil One. Then you, my Sentinel, recognised the evil and you were so wise and careful."

Only Blair heard the embarrassed growl from the Sentinel.

"And you, young Blair, strove to find all the answers."

"Gee, wellÖ" Blair blushed. "I kinda figured it on the fly. Luckily the jaguar was there to help. It was just lucky that when we pushed Hymir out of Jim, he didnít take over someone else before we got him in the book."

"Two loving souls working together can accomplish anything. Hymir stood no chance."

"Sulpicia," Philipís soft lilt lent an added accent to her name.

"Yes, priest?" she bowed her head respectfully.

"Tomas is waiting for you."

Her mouth opened in a soundless exclamation. Fragile tears rose in her eyes.

"Go." Philip sketched the sign of the cross over her breast.

Between one blink and the next, she moved on from mortal ken.

Shaun weaved to the side. Jim caught him as he lurched.

"I hate it when they leave so fast," he growled.

"Whatís happening?" Daryl asked plaintively. The teenager rocked from side to side, trying to see around Jim.

"Daryl." ZoŽ reached up and caught her nephew by the ear. "Will you go and get my wrap from my bedroom?"

"You just want me out of the way." Daryl meekly submitted to her grip.

"Young manÖ." She released him with a light slap.

"Yeah, right." Sighing deeply, he mooched off, dragging his feet.

Jim helped Shaun over to Blairís chair. He was shocky, lending a pasty grey tint to his brown skin. Evidently, he was a bit disorientated by Sulpiciaís rapid departure. Jim took the manís pulse with easy professionalism. It was a little rapid but not dangerous. Philip handed the nurse his own glass of cola.

"Drink," Jim insisted. "The sugar will help."

"Yeah." Shaun rubbed the back of his neck, tiredly. "Did you get the answers you need?"

The student held the cross reverently. "Yes, I think we did." He smiled his pure, happy smile. "Philip, you were so cool, telling her about Tomas."

The priest shrugged. "So what are you going to do with the cross? It is quite the souvenir."

"Whoa." Blair hefted the cross in his hands. The wealth of jewels and gold made it a very valuable souvenir. "I guess I pay off my student loans."

"Blair," Aunt ZoŽ snapped.

Blair grinned. "I dunno. What do you think, Jim? Keep it in the loft for when the next demon comes knocking?" He sounded more than half serious.

The Sentinel patted Shaun on the arm, before crossing to his Guideís side. He looped a casual arm around Blairís shoulders and deftly lifted the cross from his grip.

"I donít know. I really should arrest you for stealing it from the mansion. But there were extenuating circumstances. You deserve to be punished, though."

Blair, still under his arm in a sort of semi-affectionate headlock, poked him in the side. "I choose to believe that Sulpicia told me to take it."

"Iím thinking that you should maybe clean the loft from head to bottom, especially the fridge."

"No, not the fridge, man. Iím still recuperating."

"I thought you said you were better?"

"NoÖ" Blair leaned into him weakly. "I needÖ pampering."

"Pampering? Pampering, is it? Is that the same as tickling?"

"No." Blair struggled, futilely trying to get away. But Jim was bigger, stronger and knew martial arts.

^..^

Finis

^..^

Translation of the enchantment:

our unconquerable soul
shall bind you
our two loving souls
shall bind you