Gotterdammerung by Djinn

A misty wind blew across the fields, fanning the fires of a hundred torches and bonfires. Christine stood on the side of the hill looking down at the horde of vampires and demons that waited. Behind her stretched an army of slayers, brandishing swords and stakes, wicked daggers and sturdy clubs.

"It is time," she heard one of them say. "Why does she not move aside if she will not fight?"

"You must act, Christine," Spock said in her ear. "You are the Slayer."

"We are all the Slayer," the multitude around her seemed to say. "We must fight. We must fight unto death."

Christine felt paralyzed. This was not what she wanted. She was tired of fighting. Tired of being caught in the middle of this never-ending battle between good and evil.

A dark-skinned, angry-looking slayer pushed her way to the front. She faced Christine. "You will not fight with us?"

Christine shook her head.

"Then move aside." The dark slayer shoved her hard; only Spock's arms kept Christine from tumbling down the hill. "We go!" the slayer yelled and led the others down to the waiting vampires.

Spock made as if to follow.

"No. Don't go." Christine had to use all her strength to keep him back.

"If you will not fight, I must," he said, his face suddenly morphing into Roger Korby's. "You cannot just quit, Christine."

She pulled away from him. "I have to. It's not fair, Roger. They need to let me go."

"You fight until death, it is the way it is." Roger reached for her, then his face morphed into that of the vampire Drusilla. She smiled insanely. "There is only one way for creatures like us, ducks."

"No! We find another way."

Suddenly, Spock stood in front of her again. "Too late. All is lost."

"No," Christine said, as she pointed to the sky. "The dawn breaks."

She looked down on the field and saw the slayers falling, as a huge vampire stood on a large stone altar and held aloft a golden orb. With a roar, the dark slayer that had led the charge jumped up to face him.

"She cannot win," Spock whispered.

The dark slayer traded blows with the vampire, reaching desperately for the orb. At first they seemed evenly matched, then suddenly she weakened and the vampire had her in a death grip, was forcing her down to her knees.

"No!" Christine screamed, as the vampire looked up at her in triumph.

Then he bent down, his teeth tearing viciously into the dark slayer's neck. She crumpled at his feet. The orb began to glow and a deafening roar went up from the assembled vampires. They cheered as the orb pulled the light from the dawn, then from the torches and the bonfires, leaving behind only blackness.

When all the light had been stolen, the orb let out a high-pitched wail, then went silent.

The darkness was total.

"You could have stopped this," a new voice said. Christine whirled to see a woman, glowing in the darkness like a torch. She seemed about to cry. "But you would not."

A vampire rose up in front of the woman and kissed her. "You talk too much," he said, as he stabbed her with her own dagger. As she fell back against him, he placed his hands on either side of her head, casually breaking her neck.

Christine backed away in horror.

"You could have stopped this," the vampire said as his face returned to normal, to that of Jim Kirk's. "But you would not."

"You would not," Spock echoed behind her.

As Kirk reached for her, Christine screamed.

*Christine, wake up!* Spock's mind call barely pushed the dream away from her. *It is only a nightmare. Wake up!*

She fought her way out of the dream, trying to wake up but feeling her strength failing.

*Let me help,* his voice was gentle, surrounding her with tenderness and concern. *Let go of the images, or the dream will not release you.*

She tried to let go and the dream's grip loosened somewhat. *Spock?*

She felt his hands on her face.

His voice was suddenly much stronger. *I am here. Shhh.*

She let his voice lead her to him, opened her eyes and sobbed in relief.

"They are getting worse," he said, as he held her tightly, stroking her sweat-dampened hair.

She nodded, her face buried in his chest.

"The dreams are not immutable, you know that. We have proven over and over that together, with Jim and the others, we can fight whatever evil is waiting."

She remembered the hordes of vampires that had stood on the field, tried not to shudder. "This isn't ordinary evil, Spock. This isn't just a fight."

"Then whatever it is, we will meet it together." He kissed her. *I will never let you fight alone, you know that?*

She smiled softly; pulled his face back to hers, let him push her down onto their bed. She did know that. He would never leave her, would be there to the end.

She just hoped that the end wasn't waiting around the next corner.

----------------------

In a bed far away, another slayer tossed. In her dream, the orb let out a high-pitched wail, then went silent.

The darkness was total.

And she watched from the ground, her lifeblood slowly draining out of her, she turned her head; somehow saw through the inky blackness to the hillside where the blonde slayer stood watching. "Help me," she said, reaching out. "Help me!" she screamed and felt strong hands shaking her awake.

"It's just a dream, Laura. Stop screaming." LaVelle's voice held her customary scorn for weakness. She never screamed. No matter how bad the dreams got.

But she was older, Laura told herself. One of the oldest slayers that Laura had ever seen. Although no one could compare to Rosa in that regard. Laura wished their leader had been the one to wake her up. Rosa might have given her a hug, brushed the tears away.

"Was it the field?" LaVelle's voice was tight and all business as it broke into her thoughts.

Laura nodded.

"Was she there?"

Laura didn't have to ask who the dark slayer meant. She just nodded.

"She never fights. Why does she never fight?" LaVelle stood, started to pace.

"She will fight when she joins us. Marion said it would be soon."

LaVelle's expression became even tighter. Marion's visions always came true. She was their window into the real world and the future. She told them where to go, who would die. And this had been her latest vision. But the mention of the other slayer only seemed to upset LaVelle. "Yes...soon."

"Do you even want her here, Velle?" Laura sat up, began to braid her long red hair into the plait that would keep it off of her face for the day. No point in trying to go back to sleep now. "She's older than you."

"I know." LaVelle stared out the window. "But she got that way by running and hiding."

"While you kept fighting. Until you died."

The dark slayer's shoulders seemed to sag at the mention of her death. "I was so tired. She has no idea what it's like to be that tired." She turned back to look at Laura. "Neither do you."

Laura knew there was no point in arguing. Sometimes she got tired of being the youngest slayer in Kirsu. It wasn't her fault she'd fallen at fifteen. She was just glad Rosa and LaVelle had been there to wait with her as she'd died. Once she was gone and had called the slayer that would replace her, they'd brought her here, to Kirsu. Where they had resuscitated her, given her a chance to rest. To live. With the other slayers they had stolen from death's grip. In Kirsu, a slayer could live out the life that the Powers and the Watchers had stolen from her when she'd been called.

Not that it was a completely peaceful life, Laura thought, as her hand brushed the angry scar that was her latest trophy of the fight with Anacost and his minions. Too often now they fought. She'd actually never known the life that Rosa and LaVelle were fighting for. Since they'd brought her here a year ago, there had been nothing but battles. Anacost seemed determined to bring Rosa and her slayers down. And he wasn't the only evil thing that was out there. Slayers on the outside were dying faster than ever, felled by demons and vampires that had never heard of Kirsu.

But with each new slayer that fell on the outside, the Kirsu slayers built their forces up. They became stronger, forging an army that had been growing ever since the founder, Helene, had stumbled on the ancient ring that opened the portal, brought them here to a world where it was never dark, where vampires simply could not live.

Kirsu. Their haven. Laura wished that they never had to leave it, never had to put themselves at risk. She was tired. They were all tired. But they had a duty to their doomed sisters. They could give them back their lives. Could bring them back from the dead. Into life. Into the sunshine.

And soon they'd have another.

Laura looked up at LaVelle. The other slayer grinned at her as she walked over and ruffled her hair in a rare gesture of affection. "Come on. It's time to train."

-----------------------

Alma burned. In her dream, her orb burned too, letting out a high-pitched wail, then going silent.

And then there was only darkness. Total darkness.

Alma screamed in anguish. She had guarded the Orb for five hundred years. To fail now was inconceivable. Yet, it had happened.

In the darkness, she was the only light. Her body glowed and flickered and she looked down at the man at her feet. He was no longer writhing in pain, in need. Instead he stared up at her with hatred. His hazel eyes glowed obscenely yellow as his face transformed into that of a vampire.

"You have failed," he said, as he pushed himself easily to his feet.

Who are you? she thought, as he reached for her. She couldn't place him, yet he seemed so familiar. His touch, as he reached for her, seemed a well- known pleasure. Yet, she did not remember his name, could not recall where they had met.

But if she did not know him, why did she feel such loss?

"Good-bye, lover," he said, kissing her, then pulling her dagger from the scabbard around her waist and stabbing her with it. As the magic blade slid into her, she felt her body solidify, become heavy. He reached up, tenderly taking her face in his hands, and twisted, snapping her neck instantly.

Alma woke in a burst of flames, screaming "No!" as she came to full consciousness.

She looked over at the Orb. It shone with its normal fire. She sensed nothing unusual from it, could feel nothing around that would harm her or try to take it.

But that didn't mean she wouldn't take precautions. She began to walk around the cave, muttering the incantations she'd learned as soon as she could talk, had perfected when she'd been chosen centuries later. Each pass strengthening the wards that guarded her and the Orb.

But no matter how many spells she did, she could not shake the dread that the dream had left. Or the memory of the man's face.

-----------------------

I hate this, Christine thought bitterly, as she followed the demon through the dank underbrush. She could not hear Spock behind her. He was probably still back with McCoy trying to help this Kraccyk demon's latest victim. So I fight alone. I did it for years. I can do it again.

Why did every world they stopped on lately have indigenous monster life that she had to take down? This demon had been preying on children in the Eastern lowlands for several months. Christine wasn't sure how the woman that had approached her had known she could help. It was as if she was wearing an ID badge that everybody could see but her, she thought. 'Slayer Exterminations: Call now for free estimate.' She smiled grimly at her own humor. Seemed like humor was the only weapon left, and one she wielded less and less often.

She was so dammed tired of this. Had been five years ago and was even more so now. If it hadn't been for the captain's insistence that they help where she was needed, that they go to the worlds where the rumors and whispers said a slayer would come in handy, she would have gratefully retreated back into retirement. But he had given her a strange look when she had told him what she wanted to do.

"Not help, Chris? When you can? When it's what you were made to do?"

"I'm tired, Captain."

"Jim," he had corrected her, not for the first time. She wasn't used to being on such easy terms with him. "And I'm sure you are tired. But is it better to run away and hide?"

"At least I'd get some sleep. You don't know what it's like. The horrible dreams. The constant surge of adrenaline making it nearly impossible to ever completely relax. The memories."

"Spock can help you with that."

"Make me forget? Does that make sense if I'm not going to be allowed to give this up again? I need the memories. I need the nightmares. They may be the only thing that keeps me alive."

He had nodded somberly. "And I do want you to stay that way."

"You and me both," she had quipped, trying for a grin and barely making a smile.

She was just so tired.

Sensing something up ahead, she slowed and carefully eased through the bushes into a clearing. The demon stood waiting for her.

"Ssssslayer." The thing had the face of a snake. His forked tongue flicked in and out as he stared her down.

She sighed. "Can we just forget the rhetoric? The part where you tell me how your children will wear my skin as boots or that you've feasted on the blood of a million slayers. Because I've heard it all before. Let's just skip ahead to the part where we actually fight."

"That is ssssatissssfactory."

Hope Spock was right about you not being poisonous, she thought, as she pulled out a dagger. Go for the back of its neck, she reminded herself. Or hit it in the torso, where a human spleen would be. A strike anywhere else would barely hurt the creature.

It hissed again and began to circle her. She moved, keeping it always ahead of her. For long minutes, he circled her repeatedly. She focused on the creature's tongue, its rhythmic movement. So soothing in a strange way. So easy to forget everything. Her eyes began to droop. She was jarred back to awareness when the demon launched itself at her with a squeal.

Spock hadn't mentioned the damn thing could hypnotize. She had let her hand drop to her side and now fought to whip the knife into position before the creature struck her. She got it halfway there and then the impact of the demon sent it crashing toward her. As the blade slid between her ribs and down her body, it tore into soft flesh and vital organs. She screamed in anguish.

*Christine!* she heard Spock's mental voice as she fell to the ground.

"Ssssstupid ssssslayer," the demon said, failing to notice a portal materializing behind it as it reached for the dagger, burying it deeper inside her with a vicious thrust. It never saw the two women emerge from the portal. One of them, tall and dark, raised a short sword and sank it calmly into the back of the demon's neck. It died instantly, leaving the dagger inside Christine.

She tried to pull it out. The other woman, barely more than a girl, ran to Christine and pulled her hands off the dagger. "Shhh, you'll only make it hurt worse. It'll be over soon."

"Who are you?" Christine asked, as the next wave of pain took her.

"My name is Laura. I'm here to take you home." The girl's red hair shone in the moonlight and Christine was reminded of blood.

Her blood. Blood that was now choking her. "Help me?" Christine barely managed to say, the world already starting to go dark.

*Christine, hold on!* Spock's mind voice was as frantic as she'd ever heard it.

The dark woman was cleaning off her sword as she looked down at Christine. "You have to die first. To call another slayer. We can't interfere with that. Then we'll help you."

Christine couldn't breathe; she coughed and spit up blood. "Spock," she whispered.

"Shhh. It will be over soon," Laura said. "We all went through it. It only hurts for a little while."

The other woman looked up. "Someone's coming."

Christine could feel Spock getting nearer. *Spock,* she tried to send him.

"Coming this way. Let's go."

"We can't leave her here, Velle," Laura said as the other woman pulled her away from Christine.

"We don't have a choice. You know that." The older one touched something on her hand and the portal reopened. She looked at Christine. "I'm sorry. We intended to save you." She jumped through the portal.

With a last look at Christine, Laura followed the other woman.

Christine tried to shift and moaned in pain. It was too much effort to keep her eyes open so she let them close. She tried to take a breath, but no air reached her lungs.

*Christine, hold on.*

*I love you, Spock,* she thought sadly. She had just enough strength left to regret that she only ever seemed to say it when she was dying.

The last thing she heard was his voice saying, "Spock to Enterprise. Medical emergency. Two to beam up."

Too late, she thought, as everything went dark.

-------------------------------

"She's not breathing," Spock said to the medics as they rushed into the transporter room with a gurney.

They moved Christine off the pad and one began CPR as the other took out a respirator and placed it over her face. As they worked, Spock continued to hold the piece of fabric he had torn from his uniform tightly against the deep wound, trying to stop the flow of blood.

McCoy beamed up a few moments later. He glanced at Spock as he hurried to Christine's side. "What happened?"

"The demon stabbed her." Spock moved aside slightly to give him room.

"She's lost a lot of blood," McCoy said, indicating Spock could let up on the pressure. As he pulled away, McCoy took a pressure pad from one of the medics and held it against Christine's skin until it adhered on its own. Satisfied that it would hold, he placed a respirator on her, then said, "Let's move."

As they hurried out of the room and to sickbay, Spock noticed that the oxygen mask did not seem to be helping. She was still not breathing.

"She is dead, Doctor?"

McCoy made a face. "Technically. But that doesn't mean she has to stay that way."

They entered sickbay and the medics took Christine to the trauma room, settling her quickly on the biobed. Spock watched as the monitors slowly lit up but showed no movement. Her vitals were all at zero.

"She has not been dead long," Spock said, not sure why he felt compelled to tell McCoy that.

"It's okay, Spock. I'm going to get her back." McCoy set to work, raising the bed's arch over Christine's chest and letting it stimulate the heart and pulmonary system.

Spock took a step forward, trying to see the least flicker of life in her face. He reached out for her with his mind. *Christine?* Nothing.

There was a long moment where the only sound in the room was the beep of the arch as it worked. Then suddenly Christine began to cough. A nurse was there to wipe away the blood and move her face to the side so she wouldn't choke. McCoy gave Spock a smile of sheer satisfaction before moving the arch up to gain access to the wound. He let the nurse set up a sterile field and disinfect his hands, then he began the surgery, carefully removing the dagger and repairing the damage it had done.

Spock stood where he was, watching Christine's face. Her eyes flickered for a moment and she groaned. He felt a surge of relief as he sensed just the slightest brush of presence when he called to her again with his thoughts.

Then he looked over at the knife in puzzlement. The demon had left it in Christine when it had stabbed her. Yet the demon had been dead when Spock got to her, killed with a blow to the back of the neck. Spock had noticed the thing's blackish blood congealing on the ground even as he had called for beam-up. But who or what had stabbed the demon? Christine could not have, not with her knife buried in her own body. And there had been no one else there. Or had there? Logic dictated that there must have been.

It was a mystery. One he intended to solve. But later, he thought, as he looked down at Christine.

McCoy handed the nurse the laser scalpel. "Let's close," he said, relief clear in his voice. "She'll need blood. And some pain meds. And give her some immunoenhancers just to be on the safe side. I don't want this wound to get infected. Not when we've spent all this effort fixing her up."

"She will be all right?" Spock asked.

McCoy nodded. "Good as new. Eventually." He frowned. "You got there just in time, Spock. A few more minutes and it would have been too late."

Spock nodded as he stared down at her.

Her eyes slowly opened and she said softly, "Spock?"

"I am here."

McCoy smiled. "I'll leave you two alone for a while."

*You live,* Spock sent her, letting her feel his relief.

"I hurt," she corrected, too tired to try to speak to him with her mind.

"The nurse is bringing some pain medicine. Along with blood." He took her hand. "You need blood."

"Just like a vampire." She smiled faintly.

"Except you are alive."

"Now. But I was dead, wasn't I?" She looked away. "I think I called someone else."

"Another slayer?" At her mournful nod, he said. "If it is her destiny, who are we to argue?"

"It's not fair, Spock. Not fair to her." She looked up at him intently. "Especially not when I still live."

"I am glad that you live," he said as he brushed the hair off her face. He had to resist the urge to take her in his arms, crush her to him. Feeling her fade from his mind had been the most terrifying thing he'd ever experienced.

"I'm okay. You didn't lose me," she said, sensing the direction his thoughts were taking.

He nodded and felt her hand tighten in his.

"It's nice to know I'd be missed."

He touched her face gently. *You would be more than missed, Christine. You know that.*

As the nurse came in, Spock moved away from Christine. He saw her close her eyes and rest. Then her eyes flew open and she looked at him in shock.

"What is it?"

"There were two of them. I think they were slayers."

He could sense her confusion. Slayers should not be so far from Earth. But it made sense, given the dead demon. "You've seen them before?"

She shook her head. "Laura," she said softly as the pain medicine started to work, causing her words to slur a bit. "The little one's name was Laura."

"What did they want?"

She frowned slightly and he thought she was not going to answer. But just before she fell asleep, she said, "I think they wanted to save me."

Spock watched her sleep for a long time before he moved to the computer terminal in the nurse's office and began to call up any data he could find on slayers operating offworld. There was nothing. He tried calling their contact in the Watcher's Council, Peter Wyndham-Pryce, but he was at some event called the Watcher's Retreat and would not be back for some time.

Spock wished that Uhura were aboard. The communications officer had proven to be quite adept at research, and at tracking vampires and other unnatural things. But she was on administrative leave at a conference on Earth.

I will solve this mystery alone then, he resolved, as he moved back to Christine's side. She was resting easily, her breathing already much stronger than it had been. He suspected the healing abilities that she had told him all slayers enjoyed had begun to work.

He reached over and touched her cheek, relishing the feel of her skin under his hand, refusing to dwell on the fact that he had almost lost that feeling forever.

------------***--------------------

Alma stared into the scrying mirror. The dream had involved vampires. Where there were vampires, there were slayers. So she watched the slayers. And they were busy, busier than she'd ever seen them. And there were more of them than she'd ever imagined. She watched in fascination. She could still remember when there had only been one slayer. Then the Summers girl had come along and suddenly there were two. Things must have grown exponentially after that, if the current crop of young women was any indication.

She saw a dark shadow cross the surface of the mirror. She concentrated hard, forcing it to stop and come into focus. The woman was a slayer but she was no girl. Probably in her late twenties, dark and battlescarred. Old for a slayer. Alma felt a sense of dread as she looked at her.

Had she seen her before? She tried to think back, but her encounters with the slayers were few. This woman was a stranger. Why then was she so familiar?

The Orb suddenly glowed brightly. Alma nearly dropped the mirror as she turned to it. "You see something."

It didn't answer. It never did. But something had touched it. The woman's destiny was linked with its somehow.

Another slayer came into focus, about the same age as the dark one but physically a pale blonde counterpoint. She was wounded, lying in a bed somewhere. Wounded badly but recovering. Her breathing was deep and even, and Alma could sense her strength growing even from her vantage point. The Orb flared even brighter.

Alma frowned. Who were these women? Slayers had never mattered to the Orb before. Its destiny had never been part of their cycle of birth, destruction, and death. Alma had never been part of that. Nor her sisters before her.

Why now? She reached out, touching the mirror and laying her finger on the blonde's image. Why you?

She turned to look at the Orb again. It did not react, did not flare into life again.

Perhaps I imagined it, Alma tried to tell herself. But as she looked back at the wounded slayer, she knew that she hadn't.

She picked up the Orb, held it gently in both hands and closed her eyes. Slowly, her consciousness opened to the vibrations that the Orb was sending out. She smiled as she felt a sense of hope, a feeling of inspiration sweep over her. There was no darkness here. There was nothing to fear.

She set the Orb back on its pedestal. Gently pulled her mind from it, let it resume its healing on the troubled world they had made their current project. War-torn and primitive, the planet had been headed for destruction. Until Alma had taken up residence in the cave, and the Orb had begun to send out its unique message of peace. Of hope. Of promise. It had taken decades, but the planet had turned away from the constant warfare, was heading down a more creative, more inspired path.

That was the power of the Orb.

Alma frowned. That was one of the powers of the Orb. There were others, less positive. It was her duty to ensure that the darkness that lurked beneath the inspiration did not get out. She sighed. Maybe it was time to see for herself what was going on? She couldn't leave the Orb alone, but to take it away from the safety of the cave would be madness.

She closed her eyes, thought of the one that had come before. The one who had served the Orb while Alma grew up and played and lived the life of the unchosen. The one who had been freed from a thousand years of service when Alma was chosen to be the next guardian of the Orb. As she concentrated on her predecessor, a thought projection of the demon materialized in front of her.

Calyx was not happy to be disturbed. "Alma, do you know what time it is here?"

Alma shook her head. She wasn't even sure which planet Calyx was living on these days. The freedom, after so long tied to the Orb, seemed to have gone to the other demon's head.

"Alma? You called me. What do you want?"

"There is a threat to the Orb. I need to investigate. Offworld."

"And you expect me to stay and watch it?" Calyx's color grew stronger, the light flickering across her skin. "I had a thousand years of that. Why would I want to do more?"

"It's important. I won't be gone long. I just need to see what some slayers are up to."

"Slayers?" Calyx frowned. "What have we to do with slayers?"

Alma shrugged. "That's what I have to find out."

"Just this once?" Calyx looked at her suspiciously.

Alma didn't want to promise that. She knew Calyx would hold her to it. "Well, I may have to go offworld again to continue my investigations."

Calyx shot her a resigned look. It was ever the duty of the one that had gone before to return when needed. Alma asking was just her way of being polite, and they both knew it. "I've got a date, Alma. Now I'll have to break it."

A date, Alma marveled, feeling herself warm at the thought. It had been five hundred years since she'd had one of those. "It's for a good cause, Calyx."

"It always is." Calyx glared at Alma. When it had no effect, she sighed. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Thank you," Alma said, as the image of her predecessor faded.

-------------------------------

Christine sat next to Spock in the crowded bar and tried to pay attention to what their informant was telling them. But the story he was giving them had nothing to do with a group of resurrected slayers and everything to do with earning enough credits through creative storytelling to buy drinks for the week. As he added more embellishments to the tale, Christine grew impatient. Her mood wasn't helped by the sensation that they were being watched. Pushing her chair back abruptly, she got up and said to the startled demon, "Excuse me for a moment." She headed for the back of the restaurant. Walking through the kitchen and ignoring the questions of the workers, she went out the rear door into an alley.

She pulled out a stake and waited.

She didn't have to wait long. A dark woman followed her out, grinning dangerously. Christine recognized her as the woman that had killed the Kraccyk demon. Laura appeared, her red hair a beacon as she walked down the alley to the left of Christine. A sweet-faced blonde cut off any escape to the right. Christine began to back up, then whirled, realizing that a fourth women was standing in the shadows of the doorway just behind her.

"So you live after all," the dark one said. "We were surprised to hear that you were back among the breathing."

"No thanks to you."

"We tried. If your boyfriend hadn't come crashing in..." The dark one shrugged, then gestured toward the bar. "You don't really expect to get any information out of a Benioth demon do you? They're notorious liars."

"He's our best lead so far. Since we couldn't find you."

"Well, now we've found you," Laura said with a mischievous grin.

"Put your stake away, we just want to talk," the one in the shadows said.

"Talk? What are you? Watchers?"

The dark one laughed. "Hardly."

"Then what?"

"You know what we are." The woman behind her stepped forward. She was very old, hair gone white and face deeply wrinkled. But her voice was strong as she said, "We are slayers."

"If you're slayers, shouldn't you be on Earth?" Christine looked at the old woman in disbelief.

"Our time there was over. We died, just like you did not so many days ago." The woman looked at the stake. "You can put that away. We're not going to hurt you."

Christine looked at her and shook her head.

The dark one stepped forward. "I can make you put it away."

"LaVelle," the old one said warningly.

The blonde stepped forward, her expression open and friendly. "My name is Marion. And you know Laura, right?"

"I don't know any of you," Christine said.

"We are all slayers here. That is all you need to know," the old one said, as she took a step toward Christine. "I am Rosa."

Christine felt her rib twinge as she moved back quickly. She was in no shape to fight one slayer, much less four. Even if one of them was impossibly old for one of her kind. "I don't want to fight."

"Who said we do?" LaVelle asked.

"Then what do you want?"

"Wanted to see if you'd try to find us. And you did." LaVelle almost smiled. "That's good. It means you were meant to be a part of this."

Laura stepped forward. "And we wanted to know who you were. You live when you should be dead without our help. You're still in this world, when you should have been in ours."

Christine made a face. "Right. Because I want to hang out with a bunch of dead slayers?"

Marion shook her head. "Not dead. Retired."

Christine laughed mockingly. "Don't get too comfortable with that. Retirement can end really fast."

"Not for us," Rosa said.

"Why are you so special?"

"We have Kirsu," LaVelle said.

"Kirsu who?"

"Not who," Laura said with a grin. "Where."

"I'm not following."

"Yes, my dear. That's what started this whole mess. You were supposed to follow Laura and Velle into the portal." Rosa gave her a look full of fond exasperation.

"I wasn't in much shape to follow anyone."

"We could have carried you," Laura clarified.

"But instead that Vulcan took you back to your ship." LaVelle scowled. "Where the Watchers know you are alive, don't they?"

Christine shrugged. "They don't care about me."

"Oh, you might be surprised just how much they do care about you. You are the only slayer out here in deepest space, as far as they know," Rosa said.

"You're here."

"But they don't know that." LaVelle smiled grimly. "They think we're dead. And that's what we want them to think."

"So you don't fight?"

"We fight when we have to. But for the most part we live peacefully." Rose frowned. "But something has changed."

Marion nodded. "And the dreams are getting worse. You're having them too, aren't you, Christine?"

Christine stared at her, wondering if she should share any information about the nightmares that were plaguing her.

"The darkness? The war?" Laura said, her expression making it clear that she'd had them too.

"Oh, those dreams," Christine said, trying to repress a shudder at the thought of the one that had woken her in the middle of the night.

"It's coming," Rosa said.

Marion stepped forward. "The day is approaching."

"And legion will die," LaVelle finished.

"Even to the littlest one," Laura finished.

Christine started to back away, spooked and irritated at the same time. "Look, I don't know what day you all think is coming, but I'm pretty sure my schedule is booked."

"Gotterdammerung," Rosa said quietly.

Christine froze as the word caused the hair on the back of her neck to rise.

"It gives you the chills, doesn't it?" Laura moved closer, reached out and touched the back of Christine's neck. "Right here."

"Well, I know what the word means. It's a scary word."

"But it's just a story," LaVelle countered. "Just a myth, right?"

Marion was staring at Christine sympathetically. "Gotterdammerung. 'The Twilight of the Gods.' But it's not _the_ final battle between good and evil, as we were taught in school, it's just one of many final battles between slayers and vampires. And this time it is our turn to fight. Some of us will never again see Kirsu."

"So much for being retired. When does it take place?"

"It already has," Rosa said. "Gotterdammerung is happening right now. It's happened before, myriad times. And it's coming soon."

"Great. Cryptic slayers. My favorites. Okay, so when does your Gotterdammerung happen?"

Laura, who had dropped her hand but hadn't moved away, touched Christine's arm. "It's now. Or nearly so. And it's not _our_ Gotterdammerung. You're a part of this, too."

Christine laughed softly. "How do you figure that?"

"Because you were meant to come to Kirsu. We were led to you." Marion gave her a sad smile.

"And you're having the dreams. I bet most of the slayers on Earth aren't." Laura looked at LaVelle.

"I'm sure they're not. We're going to have to fight. Many will die." LaVelle looked at the others. "We need you on our side. When it's time. To hunt. To fight."

"To die?"

"Possibly." LaVelle's eyes locked with hers. "Wouldn't it be a relief in some ways?"

Christine saw something in the woman's eyes. Something she often saw in her own. LaVelle was tired. Tired enough to want to die.

"Stop it. We're not going to die," Laura said. She turned to Christine. "We're not."

It suddenly hit home for Christine that the young girl already had died. All these women had. Even she had. They had all cheated death. Could they do it again? She looked at Laura's pleading face and nodded firmly, not precisely sure when she had gone from observer to participant. "We're not going to die."

Rosa seemed about to speak, when LaVelle said urgently. "He comes. Her Vulcan lover."

"We will talk again soon," Laura said, as she touched the clear stone in a ring she wore. A portal opened and the others quickly walked through.

"That's it?"

"We'll be back. Maybe you can come to Kirsu for a visit," Laura said with a wink as she stepped through the portal. It snapped shut behind her, leaving no evidence that it had ever existed.

"Christine?" Spock walked out the back door. "What are you doing?"

"I found the slayers."

"In this alley?" he asked, looking into the shadows.

She nodded. "They seem to be shy around outsiders."

He touched her head, "You are sure you saw them?"

She smiled. "I'm not going crazy." She frowned. "There's a war coming, Spock."

"So the bartender indicated, after I had finally convinced the Benioth demon that I was not going to pay him any additional credits no matter how many fanciful accompaniments he added to his story." Spock looked around. "Where did the slayers go?"

"Kirsu," she said softly, the word somehow soothing her. "Some other dimension, I think. There was a portal. They said they'd be back."

"Fascinating."

She turned to smile at him. "Let's get back to the ship."

He nodded agreement and pulled out his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise. Two to beam up."

As the transporter took them, Christine thought she saw a flicker of fire at the far end of the alley. Then it was gone. You're imagining things, she told herself, as she materialized on the platform. Nothing could have snuck up on five slayers.

------------------------------------

"Hi again." Laura tried to suppress a giggle as Christine whirled in her chair.

"How did you get in my quarters?"

Laura grinned. "The portal knows no boundaries, Christine." She tried to switch to a serious expression but was having a hard time not laughing. "Don't be mad."

"I'm not mad. I just think a little warning might be nice." Christine gave Laura a stern look but couldn't keep it from turning into a smile. "What if Spock had been in here?"

"Is he in here a lot?"

"That's none of your business."

Laura laughed. "Which can only mean yes. I guess I'm lucky I didn't interrupt you two." She giggled again as she began to walk around Christine's quarters, touching a knick-knack, studying a picture. There was one that showed Christine and her parents when the older slayer had been about the same age as Laura. "You've had a long life."

"For a slayer, you mean?"

Laura nodded absently, then looked up at her. "Velle says you ran away. Is it true?"

Christine's face tightened. "I retired."

"Which means you ran away? Hid?"

"That's one way to look at it, I guess. I suppose it's how LaVelle looks at it."

"She can be kind of tough," Laura agreed as she sat down on Christine's bed. "Are you feeling better?"

Christine nodded. "We heal fast."

"You heal really fast. Rosa took a lot longer to heal after Anacost--" Laura realized she was probably saying too much.

"A vampire? You have enemies? I thought Kirsu was Nirvana."

Laura shook her head. "It will be. After Gotterdammerung. Then we'll quit fighting for good."

"Quit fighting Anacost?" Christine prodded.

"It may not be him. We don't know yet who will amass the army."

"But you know there'll be an army?"

Laura felt a surge of frustration. "There's always an army, Christine. Wouldn't be Gotterdammerung without it."

"No, I guess it wouldn't."

Christine's comm panel chimed. "Spock to Chapel."

Christine motioned for Laura to move out of view of the comm screen. "Chapel here."

Laura watched as the older slayer's expression softened. She wondered if Christine was even aware that just talking to the Vulcan put her at ease. When Christine broke the connection and turned back to her, Laura asked softly, "What's it like?"

"What's what like?"

"Being in love?" She walked slowly back to the bed. "I've never been. Hardly even had any friends before Kirsu."

"How do you know I'm in love?"

Laura smiled. "Your face, when you talked to him just now. It got all soft."

"I'll have to watch that." Christine grinned back.

"So what's it like? Love."

"It's great."

"Great how?"

Christine considered the question. "It makes you more than just yourself. Suddenly you're two. It's nice."

Laura smiled. "And the touching? Is that nice too?"

Christine smiled. "That's very nice."

Laura threw herself back onto the bed. "When this is all over, I'm going to fall in love. Or maybe go to the beach or climb a mountain. I can't decide."

Christine laughed. "I bet you can do all three."

"That would be fun," the young slayer agreed. Then she sat up suddenly. She'd almost forgotten why she was really here. "Oh, Velle wanted you to know you're going to be needed. They'll be by for you."

"They will?"

Laura nodded. "We have this contact. He usually has information for them."

"You keep saying 'they'. You're not going?"

Laura shook her head, trying not to feel left out. "It'll be just you and Velle and Marion."

"When are they coming?"

Laura shrugged. "It all depends on Tolvar. He can be kind of hard to find. They'll be here once they figure out where he's gone."

"Who's Tolvar?"

"Our contact." Laura wasn't sure how much she was supposed to say.

Christine rolled her eyes, but didn't press. "And they'll just come popping into my cabin like you did?"

Laura laughed, imagining the things they might interrupt. "I'll tell them to peek first. Wouldn't want to interrupt you and your lover."

Christine scowled at her. "That word coming out of your mouth sounds just wrong. What are you? Fourteen?"

"Lover, lover, lover," Laura teased her, again throwing herself back on the bed. She looked over at Christine. Saw that the older woman was watching her with a fond look. Laura smiled at her. "I'm sixteen, I just look young."

Christine looked down.

"I was fifteen when I died. Had just been called. Wasn't a very good slayer, I guess. But now I'm better. Velle trains with me. She'll keep me alive." Laura shifted "But who cares about me. I want to know about you. I want to hear your story."

Christine shook her head. "No, you don't. LaVelle's right. I ran and hid."

"Not at first. And not now. I heard you took out Drusilla, is that right? Velle was not happy having to admit that. A master vamp...that is so cool."

Christine's face tightened. "I don't want to talk about Drusilla."

Laura wondered what had happened to make her react that way. "What about Spike? I heard he was there too?"

"He wasn't there."

"No?"

Christine shook her head firmly. "Spike died a long time ago. Learn your history, Laura."

Laura watched her closely. It had been her experience that people turned and attacked for no reason like Christine had just done only when they were trying to hide something. "Fine, we won't talk about them."

"Fine." Christine turned back to her monitor.

"Can you tell me what it's like then to have a normal life?" Laura sat up and wrapped her arms around her legs, pulling them in close to her chest. "I'd like to have something to look forward to."

Christine turned around and nodded. "What do you want to know?"

Laura grinned. "How'd you keep it a secret for so long?"

Christine shook her head. "It wasn't easy." She began to tell her story.

Laura was so engrossed in the tale that she lost all track of time. "I have to go," she said suddenly, jumping off the bed with a start. She reached for the stone on her ring that would call the portal but then impulsively turned and gave Christine a quick hug. "I'm glad you didn't die," she whispered. Then she called the portal and jumped through it back to her home.

----------------

"You are distracted tonight," Spock noted from the chair where he was studying a padd. "Has something happened?"

She looked over at him guiltily. "One of the slayers dropped in on me yesterday."

His eyebrow slowly rose. "And you are just now telling me?"

She got up and walked over to him. "I don't know why I didn't tell you earlier." She moved his padd aside, sat down in his lap and wrapped her arms around him.

"If you are trying to distract me, it will not work. I am concerned that you kept this from me."

She tapped him on the forehead. "Why couldn't you just sense it?"

He frowned. "That is an evasion. Distract, evade, next you will attack."

She smiled. "You know me too well." She leaned in and kissed him.

"That is not precisely the attack I expected."

"No?" She kissed him again. "You'd prefer I get mad at you?"

He pulled her closer. "Truthfully, no. But the question remains. What did she want?"

Christine pulled away, considered the question. "I think she just wanted to talk mostly. She told me that two of the other slayers would need my help soon. But then she just wanted to know what it was like?"

"It?"

"Having a real life. Love. That sort of thing."

"Ah." He studied her, tried to read her. Ever since her death, she seemed to be pulling away from him. Slowly, almost imperceptibly. But there was definitely a distance between them that had not been there before. "What did you tell her of love?"

She raised an eyebrow at him, mimicking his look perfectly. "Why that is was a very good thing, of course."

He ran his hands down her arms, felt the familiar heat of her as she shifted closer to him. "Is it, Christine?"

She looked at him quizzically. "Of course it has. Wouldn't you agree with that assessment?"

He gave her a small smile, even as he wondered at her ability to dance around the subject. At times, she reminded him of a Vulcan in her reticence, when it came to discussing her deepest emotions. "You know that I agree. I am merely trying to ascertain why you are pulling away from me."

She frowned. "I'm not pulling away." She leaned in and kissed him. "I'm right here," she said huskily.

He gently touched his fingers to the psi points on her face but did not initiate the meld. He felt her tense under his touch. "You do not want this?"

"I didn't say that."

"That is not a resounding yes, Christine." He moved his fingers from the meld position, and stroked her cheek instead. "What is wrong?"

She leaned in. "Nothing. Nothing is wrong."

Holding her close, he strove for a casual tone as he said softly, "I have heard that it is common for humans to tire of a relationship. And that it can be difficult to tell a partner that this is so. If that is the case here, Christine..."

She sat up and stared at him. "You think I'm tired of you?"

He shrugged, a gesture he normally avoided but one that in this instance seemed appropriate.

Her face fell. "Oh, Spock. God, no. No, that's not it at all."

He felt a profound sense of relief. She had come to mean so much to him. And since she had died, since he'd had to deal with losing her, losing the feel of her in his mind, he'd been struggling with his own emotions.

She looked down. "It's just...so much is going on right now. These slayers. And the dreams..."

"And the dreams." It was the one place he couldn't follow her, couldn't protect her. And she took the dreams as gospel. Set in stone. He thought that after all their time together she would learn that destiny was mutable. But she seemed to cling to the idea of her fate being already written. And she would not tell him what this dream had been about. But whatever it dealt with, it had her afraid. Afraid and ready to run.

"Christine, we will fight whatever this is together. I lo--" He broke off as a portal formed in the middle of the room.

A dark face peeked out, saw them and instantly scowled. As the slayer stepped fully into the portal, she gestured impatiently at Christine, ignoring Spock completely. "We need you."

As Christine climbed off his lap, Spock said evenly, "I don't believe we have been introduced."

"You're right. We haven't." The other slayer turned to Christine. "Get your gear and let's go."

A blonde woman appeared at the portal. She smiled at Spock and said, "Don't mind LaVelle. She has issues." She dodged the jab the first slayer tried to aim at her ribs. "My name is Marion. And we'll take good care of Christine."

Christine approached the portal. Spock noticed that she had several knives strapped to her body, as well as a good supply of stakes. She saw him inspecting her and grinned. "I'll be careful."

"See that you are."

"Come on," LaVelle said, pulling her into the portal. In a flash, it was gone, leaving Spock alone in Christine's quarters.

Do not worry about her, he ordered himself as he picked up the padd. It took him several seconds to realize he was holding it upside down.

-----------***-------------------------

"Do you ever miss it?" Christine asked as they walked down the dusty street.

"What? All of this?" LaVelle shook her head. "What's to miss?"

"The people. I mean other people."

"Normal people?" Marion grinned at her as she scanned the alleyway they were passing.

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to." LaVelle scowled. "You think just because you live in the world that you're really a part of it?"

Christine shot her a look.

"I'm serious. You think serving on that fancy ship and sleeping with the Vulcan makes you normal? Makes you one of them?"

Marion rolled her eyes. "Here we go. Why don't you give us your pet theory on romance, Velle?"

"It's not _my_ theory and you know it. The Watcher's Council would be the first to agree with me."

"Oh, well, that makes it immediately convincing," Christine scoffed.

"Sure, the watchers are jerks. And they use us. But they aren't always wrong. Especially not about this. Relationships get in the way. They make us weak. They make us dead."

"I'm still breathing because of the relationship I'm in. Spock saved me."

"And someday when the nasty monster comes for him? Who'll be there to save him? You?" LaVelle frowned. "I've heard about Anticles. He killed your lover. You'd risk that again? Put everyone you care about at risk?"

Christine tried not to remember how Anticles and his sire Dru had turned her lover Marcus into the vicious vampire Markosius. How she had been forced to strike Marcus down, how she had almost not found the strength to do so. Again it had been Spock that had saved her, brought her back to herself. Given her the strength to act. "So what's your answer? Live apart? Live alone?"

"Oh, I'm not saying a few nights of passion here and there won't clear your head. But love? A lasting relationship? I'll pass."

"You don't know what you're missing," Christine said.

LaVelle didn't respond and Christine didn't push it.

"It's down here," Marion said as they turned onto a quiet business street. The businesses were closed for the night except for one small store at the end of the street.

"What's the story on this Tolvar?" Christine asked.

"Andorian fortune-teller. Happens to like slayers. He moves around a lot. Always seems to be where there's a hotspot though."

"Andorian?" Christine asked with a frown.

"You know him?" Marion asked as she pushed the door open.

The old Andorian smiled at them. "Ah, the energy that comes in with a pack of slayers. Truly exhilarating. And you've added a new member. Hello again, Slayer."

Christine recognized him. He had been in the market on Andus IV, when she and Spock had been searching for a vampire that had been targeting victims with copper-based blood. "You get around," she said with a nod.

"I do. I like to be where the slayers are. Such wonderful excitement." His smile faded. "And how many times does Gotterdammerung happen?"

"Probably more often than any of us would like to admit," LaVelle said as she plopped down in the chair across from him. "What have you found out for us, Tolvar?"

"The vampires are being drawn to the fields of Sekanik. On Vega Hydra."

"Why there?"

Tolvar shrugged. "Some prophecy or other, no doubt. About the Orb."

"The orb of what?" Christine asked.

Tolvar smiled grimly. "Just the Orb. The first orb. Ever. Very powerful. Very destructive. It's what they want. It's what they'll fight for." He turned to a small display case, pulled out an ancient book. "If they kill enough of you and perform the right spell, they'll bring on endless night."

"That's impossible," Christine said even as she sensed that what he said was true. It explained the dreams.

"You know that it's not," Marion corrected gently. "We've all seen it. When we sleep."

LaVelle nodded, as Tolvar passed the book to her. She studied the picture. "For something that's gonna ruin our lives, it's awfully pretty."

"Beauty is sometimes deadly," the Andorian agreed.

Christine moved closer to take a look. The orb was indeed pretty. Carved seemingly from one piece of gold, it changed hue as if it was on fire. It was crusted with gems and intricately carved pieces of other metals. She read the caption: 'Once kept in the open and revered as a sacred object for its ability to provide hope and inspiration, after its dangerous power to confer darkness upon a world became apparent, the Orb was imbued with mystical protection by its maker and given over to a demon, who guarded it for a thousand years before passing the duty on to a successor.'

"Nice," Christine said. "Why hasn't anyone just destroyed it?"

Tolvar shook his head. "Its negative potential is far outweighed by the good it has done. For countless millennia, it has provided inspiration and hope, as its maker intended it to."

"Who was its maker?" Marion asked as she crowded in to look at it.

"Legend says it was one of the old ones. In the guise they wore during your planet's golden age."

"One of the gods?" Christine looked up. "You can't be serious."

Tolvar smiled, his antenna moving as he shrugged. "Who can say if the old myths are true? Certainly enough of them bear the same details, speak of the same occurrences. In any case, it is of mystical origin."

"Mystical," Christine murmured. "I'm so sick of mystical."

LaVelle stood up. "Where do we find it?"

Tolvar made a face.

"What?" Marion handed him the book. "They don't have it yet. I'd know it, if they did."

"They do not have it. No one knows where it is kept. But they are looking. They are looking very hard. You must follow the vampires, if you wish to find the Orb."

"Wouldn't it be easier just to look for the Orb?" Christine turned to stare at him. "Surely someone must know where it is? What about this demon guardian? Do we know what kind of demon? That might narrow it down."

Tolvar shook his head.

"You don't know or you won't say?" Christine pressed.

LaVelle watched him. "Tolvar, you've always been a friend to us. Do you want to give us a reason now to think you're not?"

"It's not safe," he whispered. "For you, for her, for the Orb." He looked directly at Christine. "You may have to destroy the Orb. And whoever does that will pay a tremendous price."

"Death?"

He shook his head. "Worse."

Marion sighed. "Why is it always worse?"

"We can't let the vampires have it," LaVelle said firmly. "We'll worry about the price if it comes to that." She gave Tolvar a hard look. "How do we find it?"

"Follow those who desire it most."

"We can't just chase a bunch of vampires around. We don't even know which vampires to follow," Christine pointed out.

He smiled apologetically. "Did I leave that out? It's Anacost."

Marion blanched.

"Sorry, my dear," the Andorian said.

"Anacost killed Helene, the slayer that discovered Kirsu and founded our sanctuary," LaVelle explained. "He's killed six of her successors, nearly killed Rosa too a few years ago. We've all got scars from fighting him." She turned back to Tolvar. "It's always personal isn't it? Gotterdammerung?"

He nodded, glanced over to Christine. "Those with no stake stand to lose the most," he said.

"A slayer always has a stake," she quipped.

"You cheated fate more than once, Slayer. Be careful she does not look you up specially this time."

As the Andorian turned away from her, Christine felt her skin crawl. It's just another fight, she told herself firmly. Nothing to worry about.

But as LaVelle opened a portal to take her back to the ship, she found it suddenly very hard to believe that.

--------------------------------------

Laura felt her nerves bunch as LaVelle handed her a supply of stakes. They were going after Anacost. Taking the fight to him. And making sure he didn't get the Orb that Tolvar had told her friends was the key to Gotterdammerung.

She knew that the Enterprise was also speeding on its way to the planet where the Orb was safeguarded. Laura had been sent to tell them as soon as Rosa had determined where their old enemy was heading. Anacost had not even tried to cover his tracks.

Perhaps it was a trap?

"He cannot kill us now," Marion said, reading her thoughts as she sometimes did. "He needs a great many of us to die in the battle if he wants to bring on endless night."

"Not very comforting," Laura smiled.

"Enough chit chat," LaVelle said with irritation. "It's time."

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Rosa walked in. She handed LaVelle the stake she had carved and infused with magic. "Take care. All of you. I don't have to tell you how dangerous he is."

"Or how dangerous the demon will be, if she realizes we want to destroy the Orb." LaVelle looked grim.

"How do we destroy it?" Laura asked.

Rosa shook her head. "That's not clear. If all else fails, try using the demon's dagger on it."

"Maybe the phasers Christine was telling me about..." Laura suggested.

"No. That's just more fire. You need to find something that doesn't complement its natural element." Rosa walked down the line. "You three are my chosen. You know that? You will lead the rest of us to victory."

Laura saw a rare look of tenderness cross LaVelle's face. "No, Rosa. _You_ will lead us there. We are just the instruments of your hand."

Rosa's hand lingered on LaVelle's face. "Good hunting."

Marion called the portal and they crossed through, found themselves in front of the entrance to a large cave. A few moments later, Christine beamed down with her Vulcan and a man that Laura had not seen before.

"This is my captain, James T. Kirk," Christine explained. "And you know Spock." She ruffled Laura's bangs. "Well, some of you do. Spock, this is Laura."

He nodded graciously. "Christine has spoken fondly of you."

"She's said some nice things about you too," Laura said with a laugh. Then she turned to LaVelle. "We're all here, Velle."

"Yes, we are," the dark slayer said, as a tall slender vampire stepped out of the shadows. A horde of other vampires followed him. "Anacost," she said defiantly.

"Kirsu scum," he said with a mocking smile. "And who is this? Newcomers to our little game?" He turned to Christine. "You are an old one too, I see."

"Not as old as you."

"No. I imagine you've never seen anything like me."

Christine rolled her eyes. "I've fought beside Drusilla. I think I know from old."

Laura wondered why Christine had chosen to put it that way. She'd heard that the older slayer had fought against Drusilla. She glanced a LaVelle, who was staring at Christine in surprise and a smattering of suspicion.

Anacost burst into laughter. "I like you. You have spirit."

"Funny, I don't like you."

"And you bring two mortals with you? How quaint." Dismissing her, Anacost turned and yelled into the cavern. "You know what we come for, demon! Come out and deliver it."

Laura tensed as a woman slowly walked into view. She appeared to be mostly human, but her eyes glowed and flickered as if on fire.

"This is no place for your kind, vampire." In front of her, the wards sealing the cave entrance shimmered.

Anacost smiled. "I'll be the judge of that."

"Somehow I think not," LaVelle said mockingly, as she hefted the stake Rosa had given her.

He turned to the dozen or so vampires flanking him. "Kill them all."

"That's our cue," LaVelle said, moving forward. "Remember first we stop them, then we get the Orb."

Laura had the feeling the demon wasn't going to give it up to them any easier than she was to Anacost and his vampires, but she pulled out a stake. Turning to Christine and the two men, she asked, "Are you all set?"

Christine nodded, and with a whispered, "Stay back," to Spock and her captain, pulled out her own stake and joined Laura.

"Let's do it." Laura grinned, as she headed for the nearest vampire. She made short work of him and moved on to the next one. He too fell under her stake quickly. She looked over at Christine.

"Something's wrong. This is too easy." Christine looked around.

"They're freshly turned," Marion cried out, as she drove her stake into the heart of a female vampire that barely raised her hands in self defense. "Where are his usual followers?"

Laura looked back and saw Spock and Kirk holding their own against more of the fledglings. "Christine, over there" she said, pointing behind LaVelle, where a mob of other vampires was quickly approaching.

As they ran back toward the new vampires, Laura caught a view of Anacost striding toward the woods. Another group of vampires were clustered there, standing around a second demon whose eyes flickered and burned much like the Orb's guardian. She was chanting.

"Christine, wait," Laura called, and the other slayer turned back to her. "Look," she said, pointing at the cave.

"No!" the guardian of the Orb screamed, as the wards fell.

The vampires parted and the other demon fell to her knees. She was bound by some strange containment belt. "I'm sorry, Alma," she said to the guardian.

Alma stared at her. "Calyx, why?"

"I didn't know what he was until it was too late." She looked at Anacost who walked over to her and kissed her harshly.

"He was your date?" Alma asked in horror.

As Calyx nodded, her face full of shame, Anacost reached up and hit a button on the belt. A forcefield of some kind emerged and surrounded her. Calyx began to scream, finally bursting into flame, which was quickly sucked out as the forcefield pulled all the air from the space inside.

"Pity. I did so love playing with fire." Anacost turned to Alma. "Your wards are gone and Calyx's spell will leave you stuck in your current form for at least the next few hours. It will be as easy for me to kill you, as it was to kill her. Now, give me the Orb."

"No."

"I said--"

LaVelle stepped forward. "Who cares what you said. She said, 'No'."

Anacost sneered at her. "Has that collarbone healed since the last time we met?"

"Good as new," LaVelle spat back.

"Is it?" Christine mouthed to Laura.

Laura shook her head tightly.

"In that case, I look forward to crushing it again." Anacost began to move, even as the rest of his vampires rushed the others.

Laura found herself in a real fight. These were no fledglings. She struck and countered and worked hard for each opportunity to drive her stake home. Again and again. One of the vampires grabbed her from behind and she felt his teeth sink into her neck. Then he exploded into dust. She turned to see Christine's Spock standing there. "Thanks."

He nodded and moved into the crowd to join Christine. The other slayer seemed to be lost in the bloodlust of the fight. She didn't notice as one of the vampires grabbed Spock and spun him around.

"No!" Laura screamed as she hurried to help but it was too late. The vampire had Spock's stake in his hand. He slammed it into the Vulcan's chest. Spock fell like a stone.

Christine suddenly staggered and turned. "Spock!" she screamed, distracted enough that the vampire she was fighting was able to get in a vicious kick that sent her flying toward the Orb's demon. They both went sprawling. The demon did not get up, but Christine struggled to her feet.

LaVelle and Anacost separated and three other vampires came up to take her on. Anacost moved behind them, then ran into the cave. When he came out, he carried a golden sphere.

LaVelle tried to fight her way to him, but there were too many vampires blocking the way.

Anacost laughed and held the Orb aloft. "Be glad you are to die later, slayers. It is the only reason you will survive tonight." He tapped a pin on his shirt. "Beam us up."

The pin lit up. A beacon, Laura realized. To let his ship find him, since he had no life signs to lock onto. Beacons on the shirts of the other vampires glowed and they too disappeared.

Laura turned to the fallen Spock. Kirk was already with him, staunching the flow of blood, even though it would be useless. A direct hit to the heart was almost certainly fatal.

Laura heard Christine cry out, watched as she ran to Spock. "I'm sorry," Laura said softly, trying to send the other slayer strength.

She saw Christine react to Spock's wound, then smile in relief. Laura frowned. As she approached and looked down at the green drenched shirt, Kirk, who also seemed to be smiling in relief, looked over at her.

He seemed to understand her confusion. "Vulcan hearts are quite a bit lower than ours. It's a bad hit, but not life threatening. We should leave these two alone. Let's go help her," he said, nodding at the guardian and holding his hand out to guide Laura toward her. Then he pulled it back, seemed to realize it was covered with his friend's blood. "Sorry."

"I'm used to blood."

"Not green though."

Laura smiled. "You'd be surprised the color some things bleed."

"You're far too young to know that," he said.

"I hear that a lot," she agreed.

As they reached the demon, Alma groaned. Kirk dropped to his knees. "Lie still. We'll get you up to sickbay."

She pushed herself into a sitting position. "I don't need sickbay...whatever that is. I need to go after the Orb."

"You and me both. I have a slayer that seems to think it's crucial." He wiped his hands on his pants, then helped her up.

"It is." Alma seemed to get a good look at him and a look of surprised recognition crossed her face. "Have we met?"

"I think I'd remember if we had." Kirk's smile was charming.

"A dream..." For a moment Alma's face looked frightened, then she seemed to shake it off. "You have a ship?"

He smiled. "I have a big ship. Very fast."

"We need to find the Orb."

"Where do you suggest we look?" he asked gently.

"The fields of Sekanik. On Vega Hydra," Marion announced ominously, and they all jumped.

Laura hated it when she did that. She saw Kirk's face and explained, "Marion's psychic. She's hardly ever wrong. Well, plus our informant told us." She turned to see Christine and Spock disappear, transported up to their ship.

"Vega Hydra it is then," Kirk said, turning to Marion. "Do you need a ride too?"

She shook her head and motioned for Laura to join her. "We have our own way back. There is much to do in the meantime."

"Say goodbye to Christine for me," Laura told the captain, as she stepped through the portal. As the light of Kirsu welcomed her home, she felt the accumulated aches and pains from the fight catch up with her. She saw LaVelle's portal open a few feet away from them. The older slayer stepped through carefully, holding her collarbone.

"You're hurt," Laura said, but Rosa appeared at the door and rushed forward. "You didn't stop them," she said as she eased LaVelle out the door.

"We tried," the dark slayer gasped. "I'm sorry, Rosa."

"We will try again," their leader said firmly. "When you are all rested."

------------------------------------

Christine helped Spock to sickbay. McCoy took one look at him and gestured to the nearest biobed.

"I hope you two aren't going to make a habit of this."

"It was not my intention to become injured, Doctor," Spock said with a grimace, as McCoy began to clean out the wound.

"Nothing vital hit.'' He turned to Christine. "He's going to be okay, Christine. You can relax now."

She looked up at him slowly, nodded even though there was no way she could relax. She felt tight and pent up from the fight.

Spock reached out for her. "Christine. I am fine."

She nodded again.

McCoy closed the wound and handed her the regenerator. "Two more passes. You know the drill." He shot a look at Spock before walking away.

Christine waited a few minutes then slowly ran the machine over the wound. Each pass would strengthen the tissue, heal it. "I almost lost you," she whispered.

"Yes, now we are even."

"Don't even joke about that." She pulled the regenerator away, glared at him. "Do you think this is funny? Is this all just a game to you?"

He tried to pull her close but she stepped back.

"You are overreacting, Christine."

"Well, you're underreacting."

"I do not believe there is such a word."

She ran the machine over his wound again. "I don't care," she muttered as she worked.

"Christine, I am concerned about you."

"Don't be." She turned the machine off and set it on the counter near the bed.

"I cannot help it," he said, his voice sounding a bit unsure as to how to deal with her.

She turned to stare at him. Took in the green blood that had drenched his uniform.

He reached out for her. "I love you, Christine."

She stared at him, felt tears prickling at her eyes and dashed them away angrily.

It was the first time he'd ever said that to her. She closed her eyes, feeling suddenly dizzy.

"Christine, did you hear me? I love you."

The world tilted again and she felt sick to her stomach. "Well, don't do that either." She spun on her heel and ran out of sickbay. Hurrying down the corridor, she ignored the voice in her head that told her to go back to him, that urged her to let him hold her, let him try to make it all right.

It wasn't going to be all right. It was never going to be all right.

He loved her.

She heard his voice behind her and put on extra speed.

He loved her.

And she loved him. God help her, she loved him more than she'd ever loved anyone.

She hurried down the corridor. She didn't know exactly where she was headed. Just away from Spock. Away from his concern...and his love. Away from caring this much about someone. Maybe LaVelle was right. Maybe there really wasn't room in a slayer's life for romance, for anything more enduring than a night or two of passion.

*Christine,* she heard him call, concern strong in his mind voice.

She didn't answer. Tried to block her own emotions. She turned into the rec room and found it too crowded for her taste. As she turned to go, she ran right into Alma. She put a hand out to steady the woman, pulled it back quickly when saw the woman's eyes narrow.

"Are you all right, slayer?" the demon asked softly.

"I'm fine."

Alma reached out, her hand hot as it came to rest on Christine's arm. "You need someone to talk to."

Christine shook off her hand and moved around her. "I have someone to talk to," she said bitterly.

"Then why aren't you with him?" Alma called after her.

Christine didn't answer as she hurried away. Maybe the gym, she thought, as she turned down that corridor. It, too, was full of off-duty crewmen. Damn it, she thought. Think. Where can I find some privacy? Where won't he expect to find me?

She turned and headed back to the lift, riding it down several decks and heading for the chapel. It was dark tonight, no services being held and she gratefully sank into a seat near the wall. Her eyes adjusted to the lack of light almost immediately and she realized that someone was sitting on the other side of the room.

"Do you want me to go?" Spock asked quietly.

She stared at him. "How?"

"You were trying too hard not to think about it. You need to work on that."

She looked down.

He sighed, "Christine, why is your first instinct always to run from me?"

"You could have died tonight."

"But I did not. In fact, Doctor McCoy declared me fit for duty." He touched his chest. "The wound was not that bad. It just bled a lot."

She ignored his attempts to make her feel better. "I'm putting you in danger. I was so lost in the fight; I didn't know where you were. Didn't realize you were in danger until it was too late."

"I know." He rose slowly, walked over to her. "That can change." He reached out, took her hand in his.

She let him pull her to her feet.

"Come back to your quarters. We need to speak in private."

They walked in silence to the lift; she met his eyes as they rode to her floor. He stared back, his expression even, unconcerned. Yet through the link that she had stopped trying to block, she could feel his frustration. And something stronger. Fear.

*Yes, Christine. I am afraid. Afraid I am losing you. Afraid you will give this up without a fight.*

She didn't answer as she led him down the hall and into her quarters. Didn't put his mind at ease as she sat down on the sofa, watched him strip off his ruined shirt and clean the blood off his chest. Pulling on another shirt, he sat down next to her.

*Give me your thoughts, your emotions. I cannot read you.*

She looked away.

He switched to words. "I can feel your love for me, Christine. It colors everything, even if you will not admit you feel it. Just as my love colored everything for you, even though I could not speak of it to you."

She closed her eyes.

He continued softly, "If I thought you had lost that feeling, I would go away. I would not force you to confront something you are so obviously unwilling to face. But I do feel your love. It is illogical for you to run from me." He touched her hair gently.

"I can't lose you," she whispered.

"So to keep from losing me, you would leave me? Where is the logic in that?" He turned her face gently. His fingers rested on the meld points, and she felt his mind hovering at the edges of her consciousness. *We have shared our thoughts enough for you to know how strong the connection is. And the love that neither of us has wanted to admit to has bonded us, Christine. But this bond is preliminary at best, very far from complete. It can be made stronger. More encompassing. If you wish it? If you love me enough.* He waited.

She looked up at him helplessly. It was such a relief to let the words out, to finally tell him, *I do love you.*

A flood of emotion erupted from him. Relief, happiness, desire. He pulled her closer. *Then invite me in.*

For a second, she tensed. Then she realized he had used the phrase deliberately. He knew the vampire lore. He knew what he was asking her to do. It would be like letting the vampire in, giving in to him, to herself. Admitting that what was between them could endure. Admitting it, even though she had given up many years ago on ever having anything but a lonely and gray existence.

*I can't come in unless you invite me, Christine.* His other hand reached around and rubbed her neck.

*Words, use words. This is too much. Too intimate.* She tried to pull away.

*No. This way there will be no misunderstanding. If you run from this, if I feel that you do not want this, I will go away. I will not force this on you.*

*If I say no, then you will leave me alone?*

He seemed to sigh through the meld. *If that is what you wish.*

She wavered.

And he dropped the guard he normally kept around his feelings, the control that had kept his emotions in check in the past, had kept him from letting go. He dropped it and laid his heart bare.

She forgot how to breathe. The almost too intense sensation of being loved by him battered at her in a way that was both frightening and pleasurable. In that moment, she knew all. Saw that he would never leave her voluntarily. Saw that he loved her passionately and without reservation, in a way that surprised him as much as it did her. That scared him as much as it scared her. Saw that for her, he had given in to the emotions, was willing to open up to them and stop fighting.

She saw his fear that she never would. That she would run from him forever. That she would never love him, not the way she should. Not the way they both needed.

*It's too much,* she said. * I am not worth this, Spock.*

And then, in the midst of all the love, he sent her a different picture. Not of Christine the woman he loved, but of Christine the Slayer. She felt the certainty within him that she was worthy. That she would prevail in any fight, that she would protect them all. That she would survive to love him. That she could love him. That she would go on loving him.

*Even though I died three weeks ago?*

*You are not dead now.*

*Only because of you.*

Spock's mind voice was full of gentle amusement. *A strong argument for my position then.*

*You never lose faith in me.*

*You are the slayer,* he said simply. *You will triumph.*

She felt his hands pulling her close, his lips on hers. *Spock.*

*I love you. Now, let me know what you feel. You guard yourself better than a Vulcan would. Let me in, Christine.*

*I don't know,* she answered helplessly.

And she felt him begin to close down, felt him pull away. A vast feeling of sadness filled her and she realized it was coming from him. *If you truly do not wish it.*

*Don't,* she called after him.

He stopped pulling away. *Don't what?*

She drew him to her, kissed him softly. *Don't leave me.*

*Don't leave you tonight? Or don't leave you ever?* There was no teasing in his tone. He was deadly serious.

She buried her face in his chest. *I love you, Spock.*

*Then show me how much, Christine. I have not forced this but it is time to make a choice. You cannot do this halfway any longer. Neither of us can.*

He was right. She had to choose. She felt the barriers she'd built up over the years crumble as she reached out for him. *I love you. I love you so much I feel as if I'm drowning.*

She felt him react to her surrender. Expected him to pull back in the face of such raw emotion but he did not. He met her, held her. Loved her.

She felt a slow burning begin, a flame running along the link between them.

*Do you want this, Christine?*

*I do.*

*It will be forever. There is no going back.* His hand caressed her even as he waited. *You will never be alone again, my love. Neither of us will.*

She felt the flame growing hotter and stronger. He wanted her, wanted her so much it would have been overwhelming if she hadn't wanted him in exactly the same way.

*Finish it, Spock.*

*You are sure?*

*Finish it. I love you. I want you. Forever.*

He kissed her even as the fire roared into the link; burning the space between them as it forged a bond so strong and powerful it left her gasping.

*Parted from thee and never parted,* she whispered, unsure how she knew the words.

*Never and always touching and touched,* he finished.

Pure raw desire rose within her as the bond flared again at their words. She felt Spock responding as he pushed her back onto the couch, pulled her clothes off roughly.

*Hurry,* she sent, desperate to feel him. As he touched her, she felt the resonance of what he felt. She pulled his lips to hers and felt both of their pleasure.

*My love,* he said through the bond, and she felt the words as they expanded and filled her.

*My love,* she replied, opening herself to him even as she ripped his uniform from him.

*Yes,* he urged her.

And then she proceeded to love him-- the way she always should have but hadn't allowed herself to--for the rest of the night.

----------***-----------------

Alma stared out at the stars from the viewscreen in her cabin, then she turned to make her way to the rec room. As she walked the busy corridors, she realized that Kirk had not exaggerated. This was a big ship. And it appeared to be going very fast. She could feel the force of the engines filling her. Could read the energy of the crew. There was power all around her. From the group of professionals he had assembled, to the mighty weapons that would defend them.

He had assigned her quarters in the VIP section. Had escorted her there himself and, seeing how adrift she was as she walked through the cabin, had offered to meet her for a drink once they got underway. Only if she wanted, of course. She had looked at him and again felt a frisson of fear, of dread. But also had felt something else. A strange sense of loss and of affection.

Who is this Jim Kirk? she wondered to herself, as she tried to get her bearings. Why do I feel as though I know him? Helpful crewmembers corrected her course each time she got lost, until finally she arrived at the rec room doors. She took a deep breath, and stepped forward, moving right into the path of the slayer. Alma was knocked off balance and the woman reached out to steady her. At her touch, Alma felt turmoil rush through her and something more...something darker. How dark, she wasn't sure.

The woman...Christine...jerked her hand away.

Alma tried to pitch her voice as low as she could, "Are you all right, slayer?"

"I'm fine."

Alma reached out, felt her skin heat up as it touched the slayer's. There was definitely something wrong here. "You need someone to talk to." As she said it, she got a strong picture of the Vulcan that had fought beside Kirk. Had a sense of Christine's great love for him. A love she was unwilling to truly acknowledge. Alma saw him being left behind.

Christine shook off her hand and moved around her. "I have someone to talk to," she said bitterly.

"Then why aren't you with him?" Alma called after her. The slayer just hurried away. Alma shook her head and made her way through the doors, finding a comfortable chair that would let her watch the streaming stars.

She put her head back and stared out into space. The captain needed to be warned.

She heard the doors open again, didn't need to check to see if it was Kirk or not. She knew it was. She recognized the vital essence of him, the energy that went ahead of him. It sang to her as surely as that of her own kind would have. Most strange, she thought.

"You're early," he said as he sat down.

"You're late," she smiled softly.

"I was hoping you wouldn't notice." He grinned. "You're not drinking?"

She smiled.

"You do drink, don't you?"

"I can, Captain. I don't often do it. But if it is a special occasion..."

"Call me Jim. And when was the last special occasion?"

"About three hundred years ago."

His laughter was infectious and boyish. She found herself grinning back.

His eyes narrowed. "_Have_ we met before?"

"I asked you that earlier, or don't you remember?" She smiled gently.

"I remember. But just then...when you smiled, it was so..."

"...Familiar," she finished for him. "I know."

"Do you know why?"

She shook her head.

He stared at her for a long time. Leaning back in the chair, he asked, "So you're really a demon?"

She nodded.

"You look very human right now. Is it difficult for you to maintain that form?"

"Not at all," she said as she looked around the room. "And I thought it would be easier on your crew."

"Considerate of you."

"Oh, I'm a very nice demon." Alma smiled again. How long had it been since she enjoyed a human, or anyone, for that matter, this much? She'd been alone for so long. Immersed in her duty. Protecting the Orb was the only thing she had known for five hundred years. Now...with it gone...

"We'll get it back," he said, as if reading her mind.

"I'm not so sure we will. I've been 'reading' your ship while I've waited. I can sense disharmony, pain. There's one major locus of it. Two players within that. One calm but desperate. One nearly frantic with fear...and she's a key player in all this, I think."

"You mean Christine?"

"The slayer, yes." Alma nodded.

"She saw Spock go down in battle, had no idea the wound wasn't serious. And she died recently herself but was resuscitated. I think it's normal for her to be a bit thrown.

"A bit thrown? Your slayer's on the edge, Jim. And teetering."

"She'll be okay." He leaned back. "Spock'll make sure of that."

"I can sense that he loves her. I hope she's strong enough."

"Why wouldn't she be?"

Alma stared at him, her mind reaching deep inside him for a measure of his soul. She found it, judged him to be brave, resourceful, good. He could be trusted. "She is fundamentally damaged, Jim."

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not sure yet. I just know it's not good."

"I've seen her fight. She's overcome some pretty tight odds."

"This isn't about fighting, Jim. This is about something much bigger. I'm not sure she's capable of giving what will be asked of her."

"I'm sure she is." He didn't smile this time.

"But you don't really know, do you? And I'll tell you the truth. It's not just her. It's all the slayers. They are tragic figures. Grim, short lives, filled with violence and fighting. Love is a foreign thing to most of them. From what I can tell, she's lived long enough to taste normal life, long enough to know love. Maybe that will save her."

"She does love him."

"Yes, she does. I just hope she loves him more than she fears losing him."

There was a long silence, then he said, "You seem to know so much. What are you really, Alma?"

She sensed that his question held more than simple curiosity, that he needed to know on a very basic level what he was dealing with. "I can show you. Somewhere private?"

He stood up. "My quarters are private," he said softly.

She nodded, followed him out and to the lift. The pulse of the ship filled her as she leaned against the lift wall. "Your ship is healthy," she said with a smile. She reached out with her mind, felt the emotions of the crew. "Your crew is happy. You are a good captain."

"I try to be." The answer would have sounded flip, if she hadn't seen the spark of emotion that filled his eyes before he turned to lead her out of the lift.

This was a man that understood duty.

He opened the door for her and she walked into his quarters, feeling herself truly relax for the first time in hours. She walked slowly around the room, felt the shields he had unconsciously built into the walls, the door--wards that protected him, made this a safe space for him. A refuge.

"My sanctuary," he said, again reading her mind.

"Yes," she replied simply. She had sensed no magic within him earlier. Yet he had warded his rooms well enough to allow even a demon such as she to actually relax. Such power, she mused, wondering what he'd be capable of if he were properly trained.

"You said you would show me," he said, his voice very near her ear.

She could sense that he found her human form alluring. Had sensed the same interest from him when he had rescued her. She stepped back. "I am a demon."

He nodded. "So you said. That's not necessarily a bad thing, is it?"

Alma laughed again, delighted at his open mind. "In my case it isn't. I fight for good. As do the rest of my kind. But we are not what you think."

"No?"

"No. We are elemental. Older than time. The first of my kind were forged by Hephaestus to protect his treasure."

"Forged?"

She nodded. "Out of the elements."

"What was his treasure?"

"Precious metals melded with magic and worked into amazing form. Fire and molten silver to mold into talismans, copper and cold water to temper into magic chalices. And of course the Orb. A sphere of perfect beauty, perfect fiery darkness." She laughed. "See how poetic I become when I speak of my origins."

His eyes widened. "Not yours personally?"

"No, not mine personally. But it was that of my great-great-great-great grandparents." She grinned. "I am only a thousand years old."

"Only." He gulped then reached out and touched her arm. Let his hand travel down the rough sleeve until he touched skin. "You are warm."

"I am hot," she corrected, as she allowed herself to transform to her true shape.

She gave him credit; he did not take a step back, barely flinched as the flames that were her arms reached for him.

"You are hot," he said, as he let her pull him in. "But you do not burn."

"Oh, I can. But I don't have to." She let the flames settle into her true shape, the undulating pattern of the fire outlining her strong rounded body.

"Elemental," he said, understanding dawning as he relaxed against her.

She felt a surge of something powerful lance between them. Desire, certainly. But something else. Something more. Something old and--

"--Familiar," he whispered, as if in a trance. "So familiar."

She let him go, and he looked up at her, his eyes clearing. She felt a strange emptiness as he slipped from her arms. "Don't--" she bit back the words she wanted to say.

Then he stepped closer, murmured her name. "Don't do this?"

"God, so familiar," she whispered, as his hands again ran down her arms, moved to caress her back, her neck. His touch was so welcome. She had to stifle a moan. It had been so long since anyone had moved her this way. Always her duty had come first. The Orb had been everything.

"Alma means soul, did you know that?"

She nodded. She decided not to tell him that in her language it meant sorrow.

"It's beautiful. You're beautiful."

"Even like this?"

"Especially like this." He leaned in, his kiss at first tentative then growing more sure when her heat did not harm him.

She stopped him. "Jim. You move me. I want..." She looked away.

"You want what?"

"You. I want you."

"And you see that as a problem?" His grin again caused her to laugh.

The sound rippled out of her like musical notes. It surprised her and she wondered how long it had been since she had found something funny. But deep down she knew. She had not laughed since she had become the guardian of the Orb.

"I have my duty to the Orb."

He pulled her toward his bed. "And I have my duty to the ship. Fortunately my ship is making best speed to your Orb. So I think it's okay to dispense with duty for a little while. If you want to?"

She laughed again softly. "You are wonderful, do you know that?"

"You're not so bad yourself." He looked at the bedspread.

"What?"

"Will it burn? Will we be sleeping on ashes?"

"Don't knock it till you've tried it," she replied with a grin.

"I'll try anything once."

"Anything?"

"Well, I can think of a few things that don't appeal." He kissed her. "Fortunately you aren't one of them."

"You're playing with fire."

"Literally," he agreed.

She pushed him down on the bed. "Don't worry. I'll be gentle." As he pulled her to him, she whispered in his ear, "But that doesn't mean you have to be."

With a chuckle, he rolled her onto her back, touching her everywhere. She heard him say her name again, and it sounded sweet and new. The sensation of his hands on her body astonished her; the contrast of his cool skin against her fire was a revelation. She lost herself in him and for the first time in five hundred years she didn't think about the Orb at all.

----------------------------------

As the Enterprise carried them to Vega Hydra, Christine was nearly helpless in the overwhelming sensation of her new bond with Spock. As he woke her after the raging night they had spent, the fiery path of the bond still stung slightly in her--or was it his--head. She had trouble separating where she ended and he began.

*It is normal, it will pass,* rang in her head and she could not tell if he thought it or if she did.

*But not just yet,* one of them said, as he surrendered to her passionate kiss. They made love, letting ecstasy fill them, never sure which of them was actually experiencing it.

Later, she lay with her head on his chest, their hands entwined, as the essence of his mind ran through her thoughts and she explored his feelings.

*We must eat,* he told her. But neither could bear to leave the other's side. She found some nutrition supplements and they forced them down with water from the bathroom faucet.

She laughed at the way his mind ignored the bland consistency of the food. He was intent only on eating enough of it to keep his strength up. He raised an eyebrow at the distaste she felt with each bite. But she made herself finish it all.

Then they fell on each other again.

Training was out of the question.

Finally, hours or days later, Christine wasn't sure which, she felt Spock push away from her, his body leaving her side at the same time that his mind started to disengage from hers. With a supreme effort, he began to reclaim his own identity and she heard him whisper apology.

*Don't leave me,* she cried, and as she did, she realized that she would willingly surrender the slayer and all that she was to live in this bliss forever. She did not want to go back to that Christine. She did not want to fight anymore.

*You must fight. And I must help you. We cannot do that if we are so completely one.* His mind voice was loving and gentle even as he continued to pull away from her.

She closed her eyes tightly, unwilling to look at him. *Don't leave me,* she said again, this time more softly.

*I will never leave you, my love.* His presence rushed over her, only this time from a greater distance. *Have you forgotten already? Parted from me and never parted.*

She felt his love caress her, urging her to pull back from him as well, to seek to repossess her true self.

*It was never meant to be permanent. Life cannot be lived so completely as one, Christine. There must always come a moment when we pull away from each other, when we reenter the world.* He got out of bed slowly.

She felt each step as he moved away from her. The distance carved itself on her heart, on her soul. She moaned.

*Christine, please do not make this so hard.* His voice was troubled, his concern evident. *You must come back. You must let me come back. We have our duty.*

Duty. The word was like a crop, stinging her flesh. She realized he had chosen it deliberately. Knew it would goad her back into her own identity. Knew it would hurt her.

She opened her eyes and stared at him. Angrily she tried to rip her mind away from his.

He gasped in pain.

"Duty hurts," she chose to say in words, mocking him as she rolled off the bed. Then she fell to her knees as the intense pain she had just caused him came crashing back on her. She tried to fight it, then gave up and began to cry. *Oh, god, Spock. I'm sorry.*

He was there immediately, his arms around her, pulling her to her feet. *Shhh, this too is normal. The separation is a test of character. The transition from two to one is bliss. The journey back is not so pleasant. It has always been that way.* He kissed her gently. *Feel me. Feel my presence within you, Christine. As I can feel you. Never and always touching and touched.*

She reached out for him and he blocked her.

*Not in me. Feel it within yourself. Find the stillness within you and know that I am there. That I will always be there.*

As he pulled her close, stroked her back, she relaxed against him, let her mind find a center, a place where there was peace. And as she found it, she found him waiting for her there. She smiled against his chest. *You are here.*

He kissed her hair. *I will never leave you. You will never be alone.*

She let him lead her back to the bed. As he eased them both down, he pulled her close. *Let me show you the ways to shield yourself from me. We must have boundaries. Otherwise we will be a danger to each other. Especially in a fight.*

He helped her draw the borders that would block him. Then he taught her the many ways to reach out to him from a distance, or from nearer by. His lips found hers often, and she realized that he was also having trouble bearing this separation.

*I, too, was lonely,* he told her. *I, too, would like to hold this moment forever. But we must not. It is not right. And for us, for you as the slayer, it is too dangerous.*

Love for him filled her. *You always think of me, of our duty. You are stronger than I am in that respect, Spock.*

*It is ultimately a selfish act. If something happened to you because I did not want to lose this closeness...I would not be able to live with myself.*

She kissed him. *Nothing will happen to me. Nothing will happen to you.*

He pulled her closer, his arms roaming her body. *No, for I know you will protect me...protect us all. Just as I will protect you.*

As they made love, the sensation was different than before. Less overwhelming, more personal. Their pleasure still overlapped, but she had no doubt this time which was his and which her own.

As they lay together when it was over, she felt his mind pulling away from her and she withdrew too, sighing softly as she did.

*It is the right thing to do,* he said resolutely.

But she noticed that his arms tightened around her even as he spoke.

She smiled. "The words of the ceremony. Parted from me and never parted." She chose to speak in words. "I think that they're an anchor."

"What do you mean?"

"They're the promise that if you pull away, you will always be able to find the way back to each other." She smiled and kissed him. "Say what you will about logic and science, but Vulcans are an impossibly romantic people, Spock."

He gave her a small smile. "I trust you will not share that insight with Doctor McCoy."

-----------------------------

In the darkness lit only by the flickering glow of her own body, Alma watched Jim as he slept. He looked innocent and pure. But inside him was a source of power she had not expected. She felt it each time they touched. She sensed it when she felt the wards in his room, and the more subtle protections that filled the ship he loved so. And he had done it all without conscious intent.

This one would have made a formidable sorcerer, she thought with a smile.

He moaned in his sleep and reached out for her. She smiled as she felt his strong arms pull her to him. It had been so long since anyone had touched her this way.

And if she were honest, she would admit that no one had ever touched her this way.

It was impossible to fall in love in two days.

And yet she had. Had fallen in love with this stranger who was not a stranger. Could never be a stranger. Not when the very touch of him felt like coming home.

She relaxed against him. She didn't want to sleep. Didn't want to dream of the darkness that would come. That would show him suffering, making her suffer. She had not slept much since the dream first plagued her. The dream was too strong. Too real. She did not want to see it again.

Yet she could not forget it. But already, it didn't seem quite right anymore. In her dream, Christine had not been willing to fight. And Alma thought perhaps that had changed. That everything had changed for the slayer. She searched for Christine's essence and smiled when she realized that she could finally sense her fully again. It had taken her some time to figure out why the slayer had suddenly seemed both diminished and enhanced. She had taken a surreptitious look at the Federation databanks; easily breaking through safeguards never intended to resist magic to find the real truth.

The Slayer had bonded with the Vulcan.

Alma felt a shiver at the words. Bonded. Just as Hephaestus used to bond metal to metal. And Vulcan. Was it coincidence that Alma was here? She was a child of Hephaestus. Her body a miracle of the art her maker had perfected on her ancestors, bonding fire and flesh in one enduring package. Her maker...Vulcan by another name. And now the slayer was the bondmate of one from a race who bore the same name.

Alma didn't believe in coincidences.

But she had not been able to determine what it might mean if it were not pure chance. It probably amused the gods to see her try.

At any rate, Christine Chapel was back and whole. And training, if the energy Alma sensed was any indication. Training with her lover. Alma felt a change in the energy. She smiled. Training and doing other things. She hoped they had locked the door.

She reached out farther. The vampires were massing. She could feel their dark energy centered around a brighter spot of energy. The Orb. It called to her, its strident cry streaking along the sky. She could see it in her mind's eye. *Guard me,* it ordered her. *Protect me.*

But at the same time, it called to the vampires. Called to them in a deeper voice, promising night that would last forever. It was a promise that the Orb was fully capable of keeping.

Duality was the most dangerous of things. To be beautiful and deadly. To be inspiring and catastrophic. All the things most sought after were like that. Power, wealth, love.

Alma laughed softly at her philosophic mood. She reached out farther with her mind and could feel the other slayers nearby. In the place that was Kirsu, fixed not in space in this dimension but in need, in soul. She could call to them if she chose. They were ready to fight.

She thought of Christine and her Vulcan. Looked down at Kirk.

She remained silent, did not call those from Kirsu forth. The fight could wait a little longer. The Orb would need the blood of many slayers to bring on the darkness that the vampires craved. If the slayers stayed away, then the Orb could not hurt anyone.

Alma thought even the Vulcan might admire her logic. She wondered if there was a way to keep those from Kirsu from breaking through. She began to weave a spell. Slowly drawing a web over the veil between their dimensions.

The web shattered. She sighed. There would be no denying destiny. She would be lucky to delay it for a bit. Please let it wait a little while more, she prayed to gods she was not sure she even believed in anymore.

Calyx had believed in them. But Calyx was dead; she had died a pawn and a fool. After a thousand years of duty.

Duty.

Alma leaned in and nuzzled Jim's neck, teasing him awake. As he called out her name, she closed her mind to what was out there waiting for them. She'd had enough of duty to last a lifetime. She knew that soon she would have to put aside Alma, would have to take up once again the mantle of the Guardian of the Orb. But that could wait, she thought, as Jim reached for her. She would be Alma for one more night.

-----------------------------

Laura sat with the others as they sharpened their weapons or whittled stakes. They would work though the hours to come. They would prepare their weapons of death, and they would train, and they would enjoy a last meal. And while they did so, LaVelle and Rosa would meet with Christine and her friends and plan their strategy. But Laura and the rest...they would prepare. Prepare for the end to come. The end of Anacost and his fiends. Or the end of their own lives.

Laura touched the tip of the stake she was working on, found it sharp enough. She did not intend to die.

She looked over at Marion. The woman had stopped what she was doing and was sitting quietly, her eyes tightly shut. When she finally opened them, Laura leaned in so her voice would not carry. "Did you have a vision?"

Marion looked at her, her look stricken. "Yes."

"Which of us was it?" Laura said quietly.

After a moment, Marion whispered "Rosa and..."

"And?"

Marion ignored the question, clutched at Laura's arm. "We have to keep her back. She must not go to this meeting. We have to keep her here."

"Not go to the meeting?" Laura realized her voice had gone up and she lowered it as she said, "She'll never stay back, Marion. You know that."

"She has to." Marion rose suddenly, pulling Laura to her feet as well. "Come on."

They pushed through the ranks of slayers and hurried down the hall to Rosa's study. The old slayer sat back in her chair, studying a map of Vega Hydra. She looked up at them, smiled tenderly.

"Rosa." Marion let go of Laura and fell to her knees in front of their leader. "Rosa, I've had a vision."

Rosa smiled gently at her. "Have you seen my death, child? And do you think that surprises me?"

Marion stared at her in horror for a moment. "You would simply embrace it?"

"If it is my destiny, yes."

"What of her?" Marion grabbed Laura, pulled her down to kneel next to her. "What of the little ones like her who will come later? Who will need you?"

"LaVelle will lead when I am gone."

"LaVelle is not you."

Rosa smiled as if something was funny. "I wasn't like this either when I was LaVelle's age, when I was second-in-command. We are what we are, until fate demands we be something else...something more. It is the way of things."

"I'll tell LaVelle," Laura said, rising. "She'll make you stay."

Rosa reached out and snagged Laura's arm, her grip tight as she forced her back onto her knees. "That would be a very stupid thing to do, Laura. You will only put LaVelle in danger, put us all in danger. I am incidental to the plan. She and Christine are the ones that will lead you."

"No," Marion moaned. "Rosa, you are our mother."

Rosa sighed. "And mothers leave their children sometimes." She pulled them close to her, allowed them to rest their heads on her knees. "You know I love you best. You two and LaVelle. But there are many more slayers than that here that I must think of. I cannot stay away. I will help make plans. I will come back or not as the powers will it."

Laura wrapped her arms around Rosa's legs. "You can't go." When Rosa did not answer, Laura pulled away and thought she saw Marion and Rosa exchange an odd look. "What?"

Marion shook her head. "Only that we must say nothing of this to anyone. Do you understand?"

Laura nodded solemnly.

"Good," Rosa said gently. "Now, I must study this before the meeting. You two go back to your tasks."

Marion stood first and leaned down to kiss Rosa tenderly on the cheek. "My visions don't always come true."

Rosa laughed. "In the six years you've been here, how many haven't?"

Marion's face crumpled and she turned quickly away and walked out.

Laura stared up at Rosa, saw a peculiar look of sadness cross Rosa's face and thought that it had to do with her somehow. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, little one. You were taken so young and have been such a blessing to us." Rosa ran her hand down Laura's hair. "My little one."

Laura pushed herself to her feet. "Don't go, Rosa."

"I have to. You know that, Laura." She pulled Laura in for a hug, squeezing her tightly. "Would you forego the fight if someone told you that you would die?"

"We all might die, but we will fight. I will fight," Laura said defiantly.

"So you see how it is for me. Go back and help the others now." Rosa let her go and turned back to her map.

Laura had no option but to leave as she'd been ordered. But she couldn't resist a last glimpse back.

Rosa was staring at her, unshed tears bright in her eyes. "I love you, Laura."

"I love you too." Laura blinked hard. "Thank you for saving me, Rosa. For giving me my life back." She turned quickly and hurried from the room.

------------***-----------------

They met in the sunlight, or what was left of it. An unlikely company of generals, Spock thought. Three slayers, a demon, a Vulcan, and a human. All ready to plan the fight against the vampires. All ready to die.

And none wanting to.

Raising an eyebrow at his own poetic whimsy in the face of mortal danger, Spock felt Christine's bleak amusement at his mood. He was not trying to block her, wanted to give her the support she needed. His hand rested on the small of her back, he could feel her energy.

She was tense. Fidgety and coiled like a snake.

*Nice image,* she said and he smiled slightly.

*Snakes are quite powerful, Christine.*

*Yes, I know. One killed me, didn't it?* Her mood plummeted again. He knew that it would only get worse as night fell.

It was likely they would all die.

He was not sure which one of them was thinking that. And it was dangerous to be that close. He began to pull away from her. He felt her resignation as he did it.

He let his hand drop, as they followed Alma and Jim onto the field to meet the two slayers. Then he saw Christine reach out for him. He took her questing hand, their fingers twining together briefly.

*I love you,* she sent him. Then he felt her begin to raise her own shields, the ones he had taught her. He sent approval back.

"We have little time, already it grows dark," said a much older woman waiting with LaVelle.

"Rosa," Christine said softly.

"I presumed as much." He frowned. "Why did we wait until almost dark?"

"Rosa won't want to fight them until it's close to dawn. This way she teases them, perhaps into giving away something. We'll be safe here in the fields. They can't risk killing us."

"Why not? Without you three, the others would have only inexperienced leaders. The fight might end more quickly."

"They need our blood, Spock. For the ritual to feed the Orb. And our blood, because it's older is also much richer to them. The three of us alone are worth a score of younger women." She saw his worried look. "But killing just us won't be enough for them. Almost, but not quite."

He was not sure he felt better knowing that her blood was so valuable to a vampire.

Rosa continued, "There is much to do before we bring the fight to them. We have preliminary battle plans."

"And we have flame throwers," Kirk offered.

Alma looked up, clearly startled.

"I wanted to surprise you," he said with a grin.

She smiled but shook her head. "The Orb will protect the vampires while they are in control of it. Fire is its element. It will simply absorb the flames. Or worse yet, turn them back on us."

"You are sure?" LaVelle asked, disappointment showing.

Alma nodded. " I know fire. It is my element too. If it makes you feel better, they'll have lots of fire around to feed the Orb. Torches, bonfires. That sort of thing. You won't have to fight in the dark, at least."

Rosa sighed. "We have swords and we have stakes then. We do this the old way. The way Gotterdammerung has always been fought."

"What if they, having fire on their side, choose to utilize its power?" Spock asked. "They may have phasers, or even flamethrowers of their own."

"They can't burn us," Christine said. "Not if they want our blood."

Alma nodded. "The blood has to soak the land. Once enough slayers die, the Orb will act."

"And bring on endless night," Rosa said simply.

"Endless night," Alma repeated in a whisper.

"But just here, right?" Christine looked around. "If we fail--"

LaVelle stopped her, said furiously. "We will not fail."

"But if we do," Spock said in a milder tone. "Will the darkness spread?"

Alma nodded. "Little by little, as they move out, it will follow them, follow the blood as they destroy more slayers."

"There are no more slayers out here," Christine pointed out.

Rosa smiled at her sadly. "Do you doubt that they would come from Earth if they had to?"

Christine looked down.

"You see why we cannot fail," LaVelle said.

Kirk held up a hand. "Let's see the battle plans."

Rosa smiled at him. "You are experienced in this, are you not?"

"I have some familiarity with conflict."

Spock raised an eyebrow at the understatement and Kirk looked at him innocently.

Rosa pointed to a hillside. "We will launch our attack from there, I think."

They followed her up the hill. Kirk and Rosa stood surveying the field that lay before them. Spock stood back slightly.

"Are you afraid?" Alma said softly.

He turned to look at her. "Fear is an emotion."

"And you are Vulcan so you have none of those, is that it?"

He nodded, watching as Rosa handed LaVelle and Christine some small crystals and pointed back down the hillside. The two slayers began to walk the fields of Sekanik, stopping sometimes to drop down and bury a crystal in the soil. The planted several around a large stone altar the vampires had built near the edge of the field.

"Salting the earth?" he asked, remembering the strange saying.

Rosa turned to look at him. "The vampires have already done that. Consider these countermeasures."

Spock nodded, watching Christine intently as she continued her task.

"You worry," Alma said. "You are far from unfeeling, Spock."

He met her gaze. "Perhaps that is so," he conceded. "But I am half human."

"I am very fond of humans."

"A recent state, I believe," he said, nodding at Kirk. "He has that effect." As she smiled, he continued, "I think he is now very fond of demons. Or of one in particular, at any rate."

Her smile grew broader. Then it faded. "If we get the Orb back, I will have to leave him."

He took a deep breath. "If the alternative were not so grim, I would almost wish that we do not get it back then."

"Never let it be said that Vulcans can't be charming."

"Or that demons cannot be good," he countered.

Christine and LaVelle were at the far end of the field. They both suddenly looked up, staring back at the others.

"What is it?" Kirk asked.

"It's dark," Alma said softly. "Or nearly so." Her voice held a strange note of resignation.

Spock sensed rather than saw the vampires in the trees behind them. There was a strange pop, then a hiss as something traveled past his ear, moving directly toward Rosa. She moved impossibly fast out of the way, reaching after the projectile...and catching it.

"Crossbow," she said as she pushed Alma toward the fields. "Limited range. Get down the hill."

"I thought they would not hurt you?" Spock said to Rosa, resisting her push.

"They won't hurt LaVelle and Christine," Rosa said with a strange smile. "I, on the other hand, am a totally different animal."

"Rosa, how wonderful to see you again." Anacost stepped out from the shadows of the trees. He dragged a woman behind him.

"Please help me," she begged as she looked directly at Rosa.

The slayer began to move. Spock looked back, saw LaVelle and Christine tearing across the field, crystals abandoned. Then he saw Kirk following Rosa.

"Jim, no!" He tried to reach out, sensed Alma coming up behind him.

"Jim!" Her cry echoed Spock's fear.

Rosa was on Anacost, tearing the woman from his grasp almost too easily while Jim launched himself at the vampire, who swatted him away casually. As Rosa jumped to safety, the woman clung frantically to her, forcing her down to the ground.

Then the woman's face transformed into pure evil. "I can't believe someone as old as you fell for that old trick," the vampire said as she leaned down to bite.

"Then don't believe it." Rosa's punch broke her jaw. Her foot came up and pushed the woman off her, sending her flying into a jagged tree branch. She exploded into dust.

Rosa turned quickly, intent on Anacost. And was brought up short. The vampire had Kirk, was drinking from him.

"No," Christine said, as she and LaVelle came up the hill.

"Let him go." Rosa walked toward the vampire. "It's me you want."

Anacost raised his head. "Actually it's not. I like this one. He knows so much. Has access to things I can only dream of. A mighty ship. And such power. I can taste it in his blood, feel it in his soul."

Alma stepped forward. "Let him go...please." Her voice was pleading, her tone hypnotic.

"That won't work on me, my dear." The vampire grinned as he bit into his own arm, then held it to Kirk's mouth. "But since you ask so nicely, I just might give him back to you." He forced Kirk's mouth open, let the blood fall into his mouth. "After he's dead, of course."

"No!" Rosa roared. Her speed was blinding as she flew at the vampire. He dropped Kirk and moved forward to meet her.

Alma looked at Spock. "Help me." He followed her past Rosa and Anacost, toward the vampires that were now guarding Kirk.

"He will rise," one of them said as he rushed Alma.

"No," Alma said as she caught the vampire up and held him close. "He will not." She began to transform, her flesh turning into living flame. The vampire collapsed into dust. She turned to the others, fire raging along the contours of her body. "Who's next?"

They backed away. One of them said, "You can't stop it. He's ours now."

"You weren't listening to me. He's not yours," she said, as she pulled Kirk up with one hand and nestled him against her. "We must keep him alive," she said to Spock.

As they retreated back toward the hillside, Spock pulled out his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise. Medical emergency. Beam the captain and our guest up immediately. And call Doctor McCoy." He looked at Alma. "If he dies?"

"He will not."

"But if he does?"

As she began to shimmer in the transporter effect, she said, "Then I will be the one to slay him."

He turned back; saw Christine and LaVelle fighting the few vampires that remained. The rest had slipped back into the woods. He watched Rosa and Anacost spar, and waited for a chance to help. LaVelle finished off the vampire she fought, then sighed in frustration as she realized she could not risk breaking Rosa's concentration by rushing in to assist her.

Christine staked her vampire with a savage thrust. Spock saw her tear the stake down his body after it had struck the heart causing the vampire to scream in pain before he exploded into dust, taking the stake with him. Another vampire attacked her and she threw him away from her, following him down and pinning him to the ground with a knee in his back. Her expression was savage as she reached down and snapped his neck. She rose and brushed the dust off her as she stalked over to Spock. Taking in Rosa as she spoke, she asked him tightly, "Jim?"

Spock shook his head.

"If he rises," she said, her voice even tighter.

He knew she was thinking of her duty. She would have to kill their captain, their friend. He shook his head again. "Alma will do it. But she will not let him die if there is a way to prevent it."

Christine stared at him; her expression changing to a more haunted one. Then she nodded and turned back to watch Rosa and Anacost fight. LaVelle still circled, waiting for a chance to intervene, but Anacost kept Rosa between them.

As the moments ticked by, it seemed that he and the old slayer were dancing more than battling. Her kick sent him flying, but he rose easily to meet her next volley of punches. His blow dropped her to the ground, but she rolled gracefully and used her momentum to kick his legs out from under him. It was a familiar and intricate dance between the two of them, and it was clear they were both enjoying it.

Then Spock saw her stumble.

LaVelle saw it too. "No!" she screamed, as Anacost caught Rosa with an upward blow that whipped her head back, leaving her stunned. A second blow landed directly on her neck and Spock heard a horrible cracking sound. Rosa fell to the ground and did not move.

"No!" LaVelle screamed again, flying at Anacost, only to have him disappear as she reached him. "Come back, you bastard!" she screamed to the night air.

"He used the transporter," Christine said, as she walked to the other slayer. "He's gone." When LaVelle finally turned to look at her, Christine said in a hard voice that Spock had never heard her use, "You'll get him later. I'll make sure of that."

LaVelle grabbed Christine by the neck and jerked her close. "If you lie...if you refuse to fight."

Christine shook her head. Her expression was feral, full of hate. "We'll make him pay for this. And for Jim." She suddenly punched LaVelle, knocking her away. "And don't ever do that again." She looked over at Rosa, her expression softening only somewhat. "Do you need some help with her?"

LaVelle shook her head. She walked over to Rosa and picked her up gently, then touched the stone on her ring.

Spock said, "Rosa never told us her battle plan."

LaVelle looked down at the woman she cradled in her arms. For a moment, she seemed lost. Then she looked at Christine, and something she saw in the other woman's eyes made her stand up straighter. "We have a new plan now."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "We do?"

Christine answered for her. "We fight. They die."

LaVelle lips curled slightly in approval. "An hour before dawn, Christine."

Christine merely nodded.

LaVelle disappeared into the portal

"Get us out of here, Spock," Christine said as she scanned the woods.

He called the ship for beam out. They had barely materialized on the pad when she was moving, jumping off the platform and rushing out the door, leaving the transporter operator open-mouthed.

Spock ignored him and hurried after her. "Christine," he called to her back.

She did not slow. But she yelled back to him, "I've got to see how Jim is."

Her forbidding tone made him uneasy.

She entered the turbolift and he had to run to get inside before the doors shut.

"Deck five," she ordered.

"Hold lift," he countermanded and the lift slowed to a stop.

"Belay that." The lift started to move again.

"Stop lift. Authorization Spock Gamma Five Five Four." The turbolift jerked to a halt, throwing them both against the far wall.

"Damn it, Spock. What are you doing? I have to get to sickbay." The hard look was still in her eyes, and now there was something more. Anger. Frustration.

"To slay him too?"

She glared at him. "If I have to."

Spock reached for her. "Alma said--"

"--I don't care what she said." She pushed his hand away. "Start the damn lift."

"You could not have prevented what happened to Jim. I was closer to him than you were. Blame me if you have to blame someone."

"You're not a slayer." She seemed to wince.

"Slayers fail too. Rosa failed."

She looked away.

"She is dead, Christine. Nothing is going to change that."

"This conversation is pointless, Spock. I'm going to sickbay. The hard way if I have to." She suddenly leapt for the top of the lift, pushing the ceiling panel up as she did so.

He grabbed her legs and yanked her down. Kicking out at him as she fell, she forced him into the doors and followed him, grabbing him by the collar and throwing him against the far wall with such force that he felt the wind rush out of him. As she moved in again, he caught her hands and kicked her leg out from under her, forcing her back against the side wall. He pressed in close, using his body to keep her from inflicting more damage on him.

"Damn you," she yelled, as she tried to force him off.

He reached for the meld points almost desperately. *Christine!* He did not try to modulate his mind voice. Knew that his shout would travel to the most distant reaches of her mind. Knew it would hurt.

He felt her hesitate in her attempt to push him off.

*Christine...Love, stop this.* As she stared at him wild eyed, he deepened the meld, dropped the barriers he'd erected to keep her focused. *Let me in, Christine.*

He felt her body sag and gathered her to him.

*He's going to die, Spock. He's going to die and become one of them. And I should have been there. I should have been there for him, and for Rosa.*

She was weeping and he held her tightly, kissing her face as he let her feel his love, his acceptance that she had done all that she could.

*I failed him.*

*You failed no one.*

*I did. He's going to die.*

*That is not certain,* he told her gently, as he kissed her again. *Let go of this pain. Release this anger. It will not help you in the fight.*

It was the wrong thing to say. He felt her anger flare again.

*You don't think so? Wake the hell up, Spock. This is what a slayer is. This pain and anger. This is sometimes all a slayer is, all that I am.*

He felt her anger buffet him and did not flinch from it.

Her mind voice was nearly a whisper when she asked, *Haven't you ever wondered why I quit? Why I ran away?*

*You were hurting...when Marcus died.*

*Yes. And this is what I became. What you see now. Only worse. More dangerous. I almost lost myself.*

*But you did not. Not then. And not now.* He deepened the meld even more, trying to comfort her, to soothe her. *I trust that you will not lose yourself tonight either. You will use whatever you have to in order to prevail. And then you will come back to me.*

*How can you have such faith in me?* She searched his face frantically.

*I love you.*

He felt the barriers she had erected crash. She pushed him against the wall, kissing him feverishly. *I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.*

He matched her passion for a few moments, then pulled away slowly. She looked down as he stroked her hair. Finally he lifted her chin, made her meet his eyes. The hard look was gone, but he was not sure the broken- hearted expression that had taken its place was an improvement. *My love, it was her time.*

*And Jim? Will it be his time too, Spock?*

He closed his eyes. She knew that Jim would be different. He felt her hand brush his cheek.

*I love you, Spock. I'm sorry for how I acted...what I became. I didn't know I was still capable of being that person.* She leaned in, kissed him softly. *I'm just so afraid. I'm afraid that I'll lose everything I love best.* She paused. When she continued, it was in words. "I'm afraid I'll lose you."

He allowed her to pull away, put some mental distance between them. "I will never leave you, Christine. And you can't frighten me away. I will fight for you. You must believe in that."

She stared at him for a long time, then she finally said, "I believe in you."

That would have to be enough, he decided. They shared a bittersweet kiss before he instructed the lift to resume.

---------------------------------

Alma stood back as Doctor McCoy worked feverishly, trying to keep Jim alive long enough to repair the damage the vampire had done. "More blood," he yelled to the nurse.

Jim moaned. Other than the sound, he lay still on the biobed. Almost too still.

She stepped forward, took his hand. "Jim, you must fight this. I know Anacost's blood is strong within you. That it calls to you. But you must fight this."

He seemed to be listening to her.

"Fight for me, Jim."

"Just keep talking to him," McCoy urged as he went back to work. "You're doing more good than I seem to be." He put down his medical instrument in disgust. "This won't knit together."

She nodded, had been afraid of that. "It's because they are magic."

"So a vampire's bite never heals?"

"He was meant to die. By all odds he should be dead and beginning the transformation into one of them. When he woke next, as a vampire, the wounds would be healed as if they had never been there." She touched Kirk's neck, feeling the mangled flesh. "He is caught between them and us." She slowly let her fingers heat up, let them build to a greater heat than she would ever have used normally when she was with a human. The tips of her fingers glowed red hot.

McCoy was watching them. "What are you?"

"A demon, Doctor. A demon in love." With her other hand she gently pieced the wounds together. Then she placed her burning fingers on them, cauterizing them.

Kirk screamed and the smell of charred flesh filled the room. But when she pulled away, the skin did not break apart.

"Magic heals magic." She let her fingers cool down before taking Kirk's hand in hers again.

McCoy examined the bites. He finally nodded in satisfaction. "I think this will hold."

Pulling a burn dressing from a drawer, he asked her with a lift of his eyebrows if it was all right to use it. She nodded, glad that he could relieve at least a little of Jim's pain. As McCoy laid it gently over the scorched skin, Kirk moaned again.

"I wish I could do more for him," McCoy whispered. "Isn't there something else we can do? Holy water or something?"

"It won't do any good yet. He's not theirs yet. Not ours either though." She smiled sadly. "Do you even have holy water?"

McCoy nodded as he checked Kirk's pupils. "Stocked up the last time I was on Earth. When Jim and Ny...another crewmember...were taken." He looked up at her. "I'm getting real sick of vampires, you know?"

She nodded. "You aren't the only one, Doctor."

He straightened up. "My name is Leonard. Or Len, if you prefer. I can only guess you're the reason I haven't seen much of Jim lately?"

She nodded. Held out her hand. "Alma."

He took her hand, looked down at it in surprise. "After seeing you become a soldering iron, I kind of expected your skin to be hotter."

She shrugged.

The sickbay doors opened and Christine and Spock rushed in. Alma studied the slayer. She reeked of rage and violence. On the edge, Alma thought. Dangerously so.

But as Alma reached deeper with her senses, she felt the undercurrent of the bond the slayer shared with Spock. It anchored her, stabilizing the dangerous emotions. Alma let out breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.

This could still go their way. Nothing was written in stone. She glanced back at Jim. Despite how much things might seem to be tracking the dreams she'd been having.

Christine stared down at Kirk. She laid her hand on his forehead and he winced. Alma pulled her hand away, and the slayer turned on her.

"It's begun."

"He didn't die."

"He might as well have. He's more vampire than human at this point."

Alma stepped protectively between Christine and the bed. "If you think that, then you know precious little about how things work."

"Then explain it to me," Christine said in a low voice, moving closer.

Spock reached out and, taking her shoulders, gently pulled her back a few steps. Alma watched as the slayer seemed to tense, about to attack him for his action. Some sort of silent communication seemed to go on between them. Then Christine relaxed.

"Explain it to me," she said again, but in a milder voice.

"As long as he's alive, he's not theirs completely." Alma looked down at Jim. He was coming around, and he stirred restively. "We can get the human back, but only if you kill the vampire that did this. If his sire's blood ceases to call to him, then he will recover."

"Kill Anacost?" Christine smiled grimly. "Already part of the plan."

"He is a deadly enemy, Christine. This will not be easy."

"No, I don't suppose it will be. But he's dust. I promise you that." She leaned down to whisper in Kirk's ear. "I promise you that too."

He woke with a roar, hands reaching to rip and tear.

Christine fended him off easily. As she held him down, she looked at McCoy, who stood frozen, as if in shock. "Don't think of him as the man you knew. Not until he's really back. For now, he's just another vampire. Only not quite as strong as the rest of them."

McCoy nodded slowly.

"Ten cc's of naprozine should settle him down," she said calmly.

McCoy hurried to load a hypo. He didn't look at his friend's face as he held it to Kirk's neck. Jim slowly fell back, and Christine let him go.

"Slayer," he said, his voice little more than a croak but still mocking.

She turned away.

"Slayer of what? You'll fail tonight. You'll all fail." Kirk squinted. "The lights are too bright. Turn them down."

"They're fine," McCoy said.

"Bones." Kirk's voice was soft, pleading for reason. "Bones, what are you doing?"

McCoy looked away.

"Spock? It's me."

Spock nodded. "And yet, it is not."

Kirk groaned in frustration. "Let me go, you fools. I need to get down there. I need to get down to the planet."

Alma leaned down. "Soon, my love."

He pulled back. "Fire demon." Then he hissed at her.

"Charming," Christine said. "His vitals are still off," she said to McCoy.

Alma looked at her in surprise, and Spock stepped closer and said, "When she is not killing things, she is a nurse."

She smiled at him. "Humor, Mr. Spock?"

One eyebrow rose slightly. "Gallows at best."

She nodded in understanding.

"He still needs blood," McCoy said.

"In more ways than one," Christine said as she watched Kirk writhe under the restraints. Her voice was very nearly a taunt as she said, "I'd say he's starting to get hungry."

"That attitude's not helping," Alma snapped at her.

Christine turned to her in surprise, actually looked contrite. "You're right. I'm sorry."

McCoy brought the blood, and Kirk watched it avidly as it filtered into his bloodstream. Suddenly he reached out and grabbed McCoy by the throat. Christine grabbed his hand and tried to get him to let go, but he wouldn't budge.

"He's getting stronger," she said.

"Let me," Alma said, moving in when Christine pulled away, and laying her hand on top of Jim's. McCoy gestured for them to hurry. "Yes, Doctor. Just a few seconds." She let the fire of her true self come out.

Kirk let go, shying away from the flames with the instincts of any other vampire. Alma felt her heart sink. Was there so little of him left?

Spock seemed to read her thoughts. "He cannot remain on the ship."

McCoy looked over at him. Rubbing his throat gingerly, he said, "Are you crazy? You can't take him down there. He'll get killed."

Alma shook her head. "No. He won't. I'll be with him." She looked at Christine. "That means I'm out of the fight."

"We'll manage. Just keep him safe until we kill Anacost." Christine frowned. "I know how to take out a vampire. But how do we stop the Orb?"

"You cannot stop it, not without great cost."

"So I've been told. Tell me."

Alma undid the scabbard from around her waist. She handed it to Christine. "This dagger is forged from the same material as the Orb. It is the only thing that can destroy it. But you must strike hard. One blow is all that is allowed."

"Or what?"

"Or the Orb will destroy you before you can even think about a second."

"Right. One blow it is then." Christine turned to Spock. "We have a few hours. I'm going to train. Do you want to stay here?"

Alma saw Spock look over at Kirk. The naked concern in his eyes would have laid waste to his claim of having no emotions if she hadn't already figured out it was a complete lie. She could see that he was torn between his need to watch over his closest friend and his desire to spend the last hours with his bondmate. Alma cleared her throat. "Maybe you should go with her, Spock. I'd like some time alone with Jim."

He looked at his captain again before nodding and following Christine out. She felt McCoy come up behind her. "If you're going to wait, you might as well be comfortable," he said as he set down a chair.

"Thank you."

He nodded and with a last look at Kirk, went into his office.

Alma sat down and stared at Jim.

"Let me go," he asked softly.

"Never." She didn't take her eyes off him. "You don't belong with them, Jim. You have to fight."

For a moment, his brow furrowed and in a weak, strained voice, he said, "I'm trying, Alma. But it's so hard." Then his expression cleared and he laughed meanly. "You think I'd want to stick around for you, maybe?"

"I know the real Jim Kirk would. I have no idea what you want."

"Come on, baby. One demon to another. Let me go. Let me become what I'm meant to be."

She ignored him.

"Alma," he purred, his voice low, the way it sounded when he made love to her. "Alma, let me go. We can be together then."

She ignored him.

He promised her love. He promised to get the Orb back for her. He promised to show her the galaxy from the bridge of his ship.

"I'll spare the rest of them," he said. "We'll let them off on some nearby planet. Then we'll be free."

Alma ignored him. But she suddenly understood what Odysseus had gone through with the sirens.

She was glad when the hours had finally passed, and the slayer returned. Alma could sense that she and Spock had done more than train. But she couldn't find it in her heart to blame them. None of them might be alive when this was over. Wasn't it fitting to celebrate life, to celebrate love, while they could?

Christine met her gaze, and Alma asked, "Is it time?"

"It is."

McCoy walked out. Without being asked, he loaded another hypo and shot Kirk full. "Won't keep him quiet for long," he said quietly. "I'll be here when it's over." He started to pack a med kit with extra supplies.

Christine nodded. "There will be need of you then. This will not be easily won."

"Just stay alive," he said almost angrily. "All of you. Stay the hell alive, you hear me?"

Christine nodded.

Alma pulled Jim up, holding him tightly. "Let's go, while there's still time."

They hurried to the transporter room, keeping Kirk safely between them. Spock told the ensign on duty the coordinates and they all stepped on the pad. A moment later, they materialized on the planet.

A misty wind blew across the fields, fanning the fires of a hundred torches and bonfires. They stood on the side of the hill looking down at the horde of vampires and demons that waited. Behind them stretched an army of slayers, brandishing swords and stakes, wicked daggers and sturdy clubs.

"Right on time," LaVelle smiled ferally, as she moved to the front. She spared a glance for Kirk. "He's a vampire?"

"Not yet," Alma said firmly. "Not at all, if I can help it."

Christine frowned. "How will you keep him safe?"

Alma dragged Kirk, who had started to fight to get down to the army of vampires, back from the edge. She forced him down, then knelt beside him. She concentrated for a moment and fire began to spread from her body, creating a perfect slender ring around them.

She looked up at Christine, at all the slayers. "Good hunting."

LaVelle and Christine both nodded grimly.

With a small effort of will, Alma caused the fire to flare up more wildly. Kirk hid his face as the flames rose higher and wider, surrounding them.

Alma forced herself to settle and keep watch on Jim. He was eyeing her as if trying to decide the best way to overcome her.

"I am the fire, Jim. It becomes a wildfire if you harm my concentration. You will perish, do you understand?" Her voice was harsh as she saw his eyes narrow as he took in her threat. Then he settled back to wait. She stifled a sigh of relief that he had not called her bluff.

Alma watched the slayers and Spock set out down the hillside. "May the gods protect you," she whispered, as she whipped the flames even higher and the vampires, the slayers, and the field disappeared from her sight.

She and Jim were safe for the moment. But Alma knew that if the slayers lost, she would have to turn the fire on herself. She could burn to death if she willed it deeply enough. It wouldn't be easy. But she could do it.

And she would not go alone. Jim would be with her. They would burn together. The vampires would never have him.

Never.

-----***----------

The vampires met them halfway in a fearsome charge. Metal clanged as swords met. And all along the line, vampires and slayers traded blows.

But Spock did not see Anacost among them.

"Where is he?" he heard LaVelle say, as she thrust her sword through the chest of the vampire that she fought. She yanked the sword out and swung it up and over hard, slicing the vampire's head off. Before it could hit the ground, the vampire was dust.

Spock followed Christine, noticed that the young redhead also stayed close to her. Laura saw him watching her and grinned as she dusted the vampire that stood in her way.

"Look out," someone shouted behind him and he turned quickly, narrowly missing being skewered by the sword of an attacking vampire. He brought his own weapon up, parried the next blow and the next. Suddenly the vampire exploded, and Spock saw Christine grin briefly as she yanked her stake out before it could disappear with the vampire. Then she searched the melee, as if looking for someone. Apparently finding her, she rushed into the fray, staking several vampires until she stood next to Marion. Spock followed her in.

"We can't find him, Marion. Where is Anacost?"

Marion shook her head. "I'm not getting any visions, if that's what you're asking." She parried a punch from a much taller vampire. "But I'm a little busy here."

A slayer behind them hurled the vampire she was fighting into the back of Marion's opponent. They crashed down together, nearly taking Spock and the two slayers with them. Christine recovered first, following them down and dusting the first one with a savage thrust. The second one kicked her off and rolled away from them. Jumping to his feet, he attacked Marion, his mighty blows met and parried easily by her.

"Go find Anacost," she told Christine. "Go get the Orb before it's too late."

Christine nodded at Spock, and they fought their way back to where LaVelle and Laura were fighting. Their path was littered by the bodies of slayers that had already fallen. One was being fed on by a vampire. Christine staked the creature as she walked past.

"Where is he?" she muttered, as she studied the fields in front of them. Then another vampire attacked and she was forced to concentrate on the fight.

Spock found himself fighting side by side with Laura as three powerful vampires took them on. The little slayer moved so quickly that Spock had trouble keeping out of the way of her kicks. He backed off slightly, drawing one of the vampires with him. He was brought up short when massive arms coiled around his neck.

"Kill him," the vampire that held him said to the other.

Spock kicked up hard at the one that had moved in to bite him. There was a sickening crunch and the vampire's jaw crumbled. Another kick to the head snapped the vampire's neck. He was dust.

"You'll pay for that," the one holding him said. He felt teeth on his neck and tried to jerk away but the vampire was too strong.

"Here," Laura said, as she pulled a damp rag out of her pocket and threw it to him. "On the face," she yelled, as she turned back to her vampires.

Spock whipped the cloth back, felt it connect with the vampire's face. The creature screamed and let him go. Spock turned and saw that the vampire's face was burnt. Holy water, he realized, as he swung his stake home.

A short scream startled him and he turned to see one of Laura's opponents hit her in the stomach with a wicked mace. The spikes tore through her skin and she tried to kick out at the vampire that wielded it but missed. He swung again, in the same place, this time hitting her harder.

Spock tried to get to her but another vampire moved to block his way. He had no choice but to fight, even as he saw Laura fall.

The vampire with the mace joined the one that attacked Spock. "You will die," he said with a sneer.

There was a hiss and a crossbow bolt buried itself in the vampire's chest. He dropped the mace and tried to pull the bolt out even as he disintegrated into dust. The other vampire reached for the weapon, but Spock kicked him hard, sending him reeling, then following up with a flurry of powerful jabs. His stake hit home next, and the vampire exploded.

To his side, Spock heard a slayer scream, turned and saw the vampire that killed her throwing her to the ground as it moved on to the next slayer.

How many have died? Spock wondered. Enough to start the Orb on its deadly course?

As if in answer, an ear-splitting wail broke the air. Spock turned, as did many of the others, slayer and vampire alike.

Anacost stood on the altar. "My children, you see how the Orb awakens. Your bravery strengthens it; the blood of the slayers feed it. Keep fighting. Keep fighting and know that eternal darkness will reign. That you helped bring it about."

He held the Orb aloft. "Behold, our time is at hand. Our time will never end."

In the distance, Spock could see that the sky was lightening somewhat. Dawn breaks, he thought. We must hold him.

LaVelle obviously agreed with him, jumping up on the altar to face the vampire. She traded blows with the vampire, reaching desperately for the orb. He seemed at a disadvantage at first, intent on keeping the Orb from her. Then he hit her hard in the collarbone. She stumbled. He hit her there again and again. She kicked out at him, but the punishment was too much. A few moments later, he had her in a death grip, was forcing her down to her knees.

"Any last words, slayer?" his voice mocked her as he bared his teeth and bent down to taste her.

"I've got some," Christine yelled, rushing the altar. She screamed viciously as she launched herself into the air.

Anacost let go of LaVelle and turned to meet Christine's jump with a powerful punch that nearly knocked her off the altar. He held the orb up, taunting her.

Christine pointed to the horizon. "The dawn breaks."

"I don't think so," he said, as the Orb began to draw in the brightness from the lightening sky.

Christine pulled out Alma's dagger. She seemed to gather herself for a split second, her face tight with determination as she struck hard, somehow managing to stab the orb hard enough to send the blade through it and into Anacost's flesh. The vampire reacted to the pain in his hand with a powerful kick that sent her flying off the side of the altar. She hit the ground hard and pulled herself up slowly, her face a mask of shock and despair. Then she looked up, shook herself off and nodded slowly, a wolfish grin crossing her face.

Anacost realized his mistake too late. LaVelle's stake slammed home before he could turn around.

"That was for Rosa," the dark slayer said, as the vampire disappeared in a shower of dust, the Orb vanishing with him.

The dawn was suddenly much brighter.

The vampires didn't seem to care, almost seemed to go insane as the light grew. They fought more ferociously than ever and more slayers screamed and died. Spock saw three of them attack Christine, moved to help her when he suddenly felt something rip through his chest.

The pain was unimaginable.

He saw Christine stumble, turn to look at him, barely parrying the dagger that one of the vampire's aimed at her heart.

*I am fine,* Spock sent her, as he slammed a wall down between them.

He saw her glance over then return to the fight.

He tried to turn, to fight back, when another thrust of the dagger ripped through him. He gasped in pain but twisted, his stake coming up and impaling itself in the vampire's chest just as the knife slashed in for a third time. The vampire exploded.

Spock fell to his hands and knees, green blood spilling on the earth beneath him. He forced his head up, sought her out. As his strength gave out, he saw her battling side by side with LaVelle. Good, he thought as he watched her fight, she did not realize. His pain would not endanger her again.

-------------------------------------

Christine looked around her. The field had been transformed. It was a scene of complete carnage. Blood everywhere. And dust blowing in the light wind. Dust that had been evil death. The full force of the sun had killed them all. No vampires got away.

She tried to feel some joy at that thought. Tried to muster up one ounce of triumph but all she felt inside was hopelessness. She looked at her hand, where she had held the dagger. It had burned when she'd stuck it through the Orb. It burned still.

"Christine."

Christine whirled, looking for the source of the voice amidst all the bodies. She saw bright red hair and swallowed hard. "No."

She hurried to Laura's side; saw that a good part of her abdomen had been torn out. She was bleeding to death, slowly but inevitably. Christine took her hand, didn't wince at the crushing grip the young slayer held her in.

"You're hurt."

Christine realized she was bleeding in several places. "Not so bad."

Laura smiled in relief. "You did it. You and Velle. I knew you could if you worked together. You're the strongest slayers ever." The young slayer's eyes shone with pride. "You're what we all could be...if we got the chance."

Christine looked around for LaVelle. She was too far away. There was no time to call her.

"I guess I won't get to know what love feels like," Laura said, her eyes resigned. "Or get to climb a mountain. Or go to the beach."

Christine couldn't bring herself to say anything. She swallowed hard.

"Do you think another slayer gets called? When we die more than once?" Laura asked.

"I don't know," Christine answered honestly. But she suspected, given the large number of slayers running around compared to the old days, that another one would be called.

"I hope not." Laura said with a pained smile. "I don't want to condemn another girl to this life."

"I know," Christine whispered.

"I'm not afraid," Laura said firmly. But her grip on Christine's hand tightened. "I can't remember what it felt like to die, Christine. The first time I was killed, I was knocked out. I never felt it when the vampire got me with my own stake."

Christine grimaced at the thought.

"I wonder if we feel it when we go? Does whatever it is that came into us when we were called, the thing that makes us stronger and tougher than we were before...does that leave us? And do we know the moment when it does?"

"I don't know."

Laura moaned and her eyes closed but her grip did not relax, so Christine waited, not speaking. Finally, Laura opened her eyes.

"I don't remember either," Christine said gently. "I just remember the dark. And the quiet."

"Was it scary?"

Christine shook her head. "No, it was peaceful. No one wanted to hurt me anymore."

"That sounds good." Laura tensed. Her eyes became unfocused. "I hope there are beaches."

"I'm sure there will be," Christine said, biting back a sob.

"Don't forget me, Christine," Laura whispered.

"I won't. I never will, little one," Christine replied even as she felt Laura's hand relax and fall away. "No," she said brokenly as she gently closed the slayer's eyes and leaned down to kiss her forehead. "May you find many mountains to climb," she whispered, as she rocked the girl tightly in her arms.

"Christine?" It was Alma.

Christine looked up at her. Jim, she realized. She had forgotten about Jim. "You saved him?"

Alma shook her head. "No. You did. You and the others."

"The Orb is gone."

Alma nodded.

"What will you do?"

Alma looked anxiously behind her. "That is not important now. You need to come with me."

"Why?" Christine saw the demon gulp and suddenly was gripped with panic. "Spock?" she asked frantically, even as she told herself that if he'd been hurt, she'd have known it. Their bond was too strong for her not to know it.

"We must hurry," Alma urged.

Christine followed her, then broke into a run when she saw Kirk kneeling by a fallen Spock. She dropped to her knees beside him, staring down at Spock. He was bleeding badly from several serious wounds. His breathing was shallow and his face tight as he fought obvious agony. She should have felt this, she realized. She should feel it now. She reached out for him.

He opened his eyes at her touch. "You are undamaged?" he asked her in an odd voice.

"Can't you tell?" She reached for him with her mind, realized that the resonance between them was missing; something was blocking the bond they had forged. In the heat of the battle, in the tragedy that had come after, she had not noticed.

He reached up for her. "I cannot." The familiar mental tingle was missing when he touched her.

"What have you done, Spock?"

"I blocked you when I was injured, so that I would not distract you. I could not let you feel my pain." He shifted, tried to get comfortable. "I had to do it, Christine. You would have left the fight for me."

"The fight is over. Unblock me."

"Why?" he asked gently. "So that you can follow me into death?"

"You're not dying." She realized she was breathing hard and too fast. "I can't feel you. I can't tell how badly you're hurt. Let me in, Spock."

He shook his head sadly. "I know how badly I am hurt, Christine. Do not grieve for me too long."

She looked at Kirk.

He shook his head helplessly even as he said, "McCoy's on his way. It won't be long now."

She realized his words were for Spock's benefit only. To keep him from giving up too soon. Kirk didn't believe them. Didn't intend for her to either. He meant something else entirely when he said it wouldn't be long.

Alma knelt down on the other side of Kirk. "He comes," she said softly.

Christine looked up and saw McCoy hurrying toward them. "Hold on," she ordered as she looked at Spock.

He stared back at her, love very strong in his eyes. For a moment, she felt the resonance between them as he quit blocking the bond. *I love you, Christine. Never forget that.*

She held on to the feel of his mind in hers. Followed him back as he started to weaken.

*You will not follow me on this journey, Christine. Your life is the only thing I have left to give you.*

*No, Spock. No!* She had almost reached him when suddenly the bond was severed. Unbearable pain flared in Christine's mind.

"I am sorry, my love," Spock said, his expression a clear indication that he felt the agony as well. "You must live."

"No!" She laid her fingers on his face, trying to find a way into his mind, even though she didn't know how.

"Chris," Kirk pulled her hands away gently. "He's gone."

She looked down at where Spock lay, unnaturally still. "No!" she moaned as she began emergency measures, pumping his heart, breathing for him. "Please, live."

He did not.

"Move aside, Chris," McCoy said gently as he reached her and requested emergency beam out.

She would not move and, in the end, Alma and Kirk had to pry her from him.

"McCoy can still save him," Kirk said brokenly, after the doctor had beamed up with Spock.

"You don't believe that."

"I do." Alma stared at her. "It isn't his time."

Christine stared back at her. "What if he dies anyway?"

Alma shook her head firmly. "It isn't his time, Christine. You must believe that." She turned to Kirk. "There are others that need help, Jim."

He nodded and let her lead him away.

"It isn't his time to die," Christine repeated to herself. She walked through the field to where LaVelle and Marion waited for her.

"I'm sorry," Marion said softly.

LaVelle didn't try to comfort her, but her hands were gentle as she led Christine to the pyre that was being constructed. "For our dead. None will rise tonight."

Christine nodded her understanding. She helped the other two carry the fallen slayers. So many of them had died. Most from wounds earned from weapons, but some had bite marks on their necks. They saved Laura's body for last.

Marion sobbed. "I saw this. I saw her death. Hers and Rosa's."

LaVelle stared hard at her.

"Rosa told me to say nothing."

"That sounds like something she would do." LaVelle's expression turned even grimmer. "I'll have to learn how to do that now too."

"You already know how," Christine corrected gently. "You led us all today. Just like Laura knew you would."

"Little sister," LaVelle said, her voice catching, as she stroked Laura's red braid. Then she pulled the ring that called the portal off Laura's finger.

Christine saw that tears were running freely down the other slayer's face. "She was proud of us," Christine said. "She loved us. She loved you especially."

LaVelle met her gaze for a long moment. Then she closed her eyes and when she opened them, there was a new resolve in them. She was the leader. She would lead. She nodded at Christine, repeated firmly, "None will rise," as she touched the flame to the pyre.

They watched in silence as their sisters burned.

Finally, Marion turned to Christine. "What will you do now?"

Christine closed her eyes, fighting the overwhelming pain that was filling her. She was alone now. She should never have involved Spock in this. Never have involved any of the crew.

"It wasn't his time," she muttered.

LaVelle touched her ring and a portal appeared. "You are welcome in Kirsu."

Christine shook her head.

Marion hugged her sadly, understanding her motive. "Don't look for death. Come with us. We will recover together. Kirsu heals."

Christine pulled away. "I don't deserve healing."

"Yes, you do. We all do. But you have to realize that for yourself," LaVelle said, sounding very much like Rosa, as she handed Laura's ring to Christine. "In case you ever want to come home." Then she stepped through the portal.

Marion turned to follow her. "I'm sorry, Christine. I know you loved him. Please be careful."

Christine nodded. Careful. What did that mean anymore?

"And don't turn away from help if it's offered. Even from unlikely sources." Marion looked at her helplessly then stepped into the portal. It collapsed behind her.

Christine felt tears fill her eyes; she blinked slowly and let them spill down her cheeks. Nothing would ever be right again. Spock was dead. And she was utterly alone. In a way that she had never been alone before.

She slipped Laura's ring onto her little finger and watched the last of the pyre burn. She was so lost in her pain that she didn't hear the first chirp of her communicator. The second chirp managed to get through her grief.

Then she heard McCoy's voice, "McCoy to Chapel."

She pulled out her communicator. "Chapel here."

"He's alive, Chris. Barely but he's going to be all right in time."

She stared at the communicator in shock. He was alive and she felt nothing from him. The bond was truly gone.

"Did you hear what I said? Spock's alive!"

"I heard you, Len." She tried to put some of the relief she felt into her voice. "That's wonderful. I'll be up soon. I have some things to do here first."

"Well, don't take too long."

"I wont," she said, as she closed the communicator, severing the connection.

"It wasn't his time to die," she whispered to herself. She looked at what was left of the funeral pyre. Thought of how still Spock had been. Remembered what it had been like seeing Kirk with his throat torn and bloody. Now, against all odds, they both lived.

"Can't endanger then again," she said. She saw Alma and Kirk in the distance. He held his arm out to help her up. He would be all right, Christine thought. They both would. She thought of Spock, even now recovering in sickbay. He would be all right too. If she left. If she left him alone and free of the nightmare that was a slayer's life...that was her life.

And she could do that. Without the bond, if she went far enough, he could never find her.

Perhaps he wouldn't even try.

She dropped the communicator on the ground and looked up at the night sky. "Goodbye, Spock. I'll always love you."

Then she turned and vanished into the night.

--------------

Spock woke slowly.

"Take it easy," McCoy said gently. "You'll be in some pain."

The doctor was right. Spock was having difficulty finding anyplace on his body that didn't hurt. How had he come to be here?

Then he remembered.

"Christine?" Spock croaked.

"She's gone," McCoy answered, unable to meet Spock's eyes.

"Gone," Spock repeated dully. He reached out for her with his mind, trying to follow the paths of the bond to her. But the bond was not there. How could this be?

Then he remembered how sure he'd been that he was dying. How he'd feared that Christine would follow him into death if he didn't do something to prevent that.

He had severed the bond.

And now there was nothing left of it. He could no longer feel her.

She was truly gone.

"Christine," he called out loudly, thrashing somewhat, feeling skin tear and bones so recently knitted start to pull apart again.

McCoy reached for the hypo, laid it against his neck. "You'll undo all my fine work, Spock," he said, his voice lacking any of the normal rancor.

Spock looked up, realized his friend was crying. "She's never coming back?"

"I don't think she is, Spock."

"Christine, don't do this," Spock muttered to himself as the drugs started to work. His mind sought to resist the medicine, tried to determine where she would have gone, what she would do. As he lost the fight to sleep, his last thought was that he would find her. Wherever she had gone, he would find her.

---------

EPILOGUE

The bar was full of demons, all ready to party or to fight. Didn't much matter to them, Spike knew. As long as there was some kind of action, they'd be happy. He'd been coming here for four days now. Waiting. Waiting for her.

Waiting to see if the rumors were true.

When she walked in, pushing roughly past the demons blocking the door, he knew they were. She'd come to fight.

More importantly, she'd come to die.

He leaned back. From what he understood, she'd tried this on quite a few other worlds. The worst bars, the busiest nights. Any moment now, she'd insult the biggest, meanest demon in the place.

Right on schedule, he heard her say, "Anyone ever tell you that you're an argument for sterilization?"

As insults went, Spike rated that pretty low. Certainly couldn't compare to what Buffy would have come up with. He glanced over at Christine. She was taller than Buffy, much taller. And bigger. Bigger than Spike was actually. He grinned, allowing himself the luxury of imagining what she'd feel like in his arms.

Then he took a good look at her face. She did look like Buffy. Her expression anyway. She had the same look the other slayer had worn just before she'd died. The second time, on Glory's tower, and then later...the final time. Lost. Tired.

Defeated.

Spike got up, walked over to where the Slingvit demon had lunged at Christine with a large knife, just missing her. Spike came up behind the demon and twisted his neck viciously. The huge creature fell dead at his feet. "Your taunts need work, Slayer."

She looked at him numbly.

"Remember me, Christine?" He studied her, realized she was covered with cuts and bruises that he hadn't noticed when she first walked in. "It wasn't so long ago."

"I remember you." Her gaze was unfocused, her voice scratchy as if she hadn't really spoken to anyone for a long time.

"Heard about the fight...the latest Gotterdammerung." He watched her expression become wary. "Heard about the carnage."

She nodded.

"Lot of slayers died." When she didn't answer, he continued, "Lots of vampires too."

"None so much as legion, none so little as my friend," she said cryptically as she turned away.

"Been taking lessons from Dru, have you?" Spike ignored the stab of regret and guilt the thought of his former lover and sire gave him.

"She had it right. Madness is a comforting place to be," Christine replied, as she stepped over to take on a large vampire that was seated at a card game. "Get up!" she said harshly to him. "Get up and die."

Spike grabbed her from behind and threw her against the bar. "Shove off," he told the vampire, who fled after one look at how angry Christine was as she pulled herself to her feet.

"Everyone out," Spike ordered and was pleased to see that they obeyed. Even the bartender ran for cover.

"Your chip's not working."

"Sure it is." He moved back as she advanced on him. "It knew that I was just trying to protect you. That I didn't mean to hurt you. It's gotten smarter that way."

She pulled out a stake. "I don't believe you."

He wondered if the chip would let him fight her now. He'd be doing it to protect her. He decided not to chance it. It probably wasn't that smart. "How's Spock?"

She stopped mid-motion.

"Heard he got hurt. Got hurt bad. Heard you left him all alone. I was worried about him. It's why I came to find you."

She looked down.

"Did you at least stick around long enough to make sure he was going to recover?"

She nodded.

"Did you say goodbye?"

He saw her face crumple. She dropped the stake on the floor.

"Didn't, huh?"

"I couldn't." She sat down heavily in the nearest chair. "The bond. It was so strong." She looked up at him. "Stronger than when you were with us. Stronger than anything. And now it's gone. I can't feel him."

"But he's alive?"

She nodded. "He severed it."

"He loved you. He'd only do that if he thought it was the best way to protect you." Spike went to the bar and grabbed a bottle and two glasses. Setting them down on the table, he picked up her stake and handed it back to her. "You may still need this tonight."

"To use on you?"

"I'd prefer you didn't. But the night is young." He poured the local alcohol into the glasses. "This stuff's strong. Go easy."

She picked up the glass and threw it all back.

"Or not." He poured out another glass. "It's been what? Eight weeks since you left him?"

"Nine."

"Nine weeks and you're still alive. Demonkind slipping or what?"

"They'll let anybody into the union," she quipped as she drained her glass again.

"Nine weeks times seven nights, times let's say three for the number of bars you could hit in an evening. That's a lot of brawls, Christine." He touched a particularly livid bruise on her arm. "A lot of damage. You really want to die that much?"

She didn't answer as she reached for the bottle.

"I think you don't. I think you'd be dead by now if you did. Slayers that want to be dead usually end up that way."

"You oughta know, Spike. How many did you kill?"

"Two."

She looked at him. "Not more?"

"Just the two. After Buffy..." He trailed off, unwilling to continue. He grabbed his drink and drank it quickly.

"After Buffy what?"

He shook his head. "Didn't Spock tell you about my soul?"

"Vampires don't have a soul."

"This vampire does."

"You have a chip not a soul."

"A chip _and_ a soul. I wasn't content with having one pain in my ass. I went and got the soul to make my misery complete." He leaned back, studied her.

"Misery." She met his eyes. "Pain."

He nodded.

"I want to die."

"I know that, pet. But if you aren't dead yet, it's just not going to happen right now." Spike stood up. "Come on."

She looked up at him.

"Your carriage awaits, my lady." He smiled sadly. "My ship can take you wherever you want to go." He leaned in, suggested gently, "Maybe back to Spock?"

She shook her head violently.

"All right, then somewhere else."

"To Zenon Six. I've heard it has a lot of indigenous demon species. Maybe the next bar will be different."

"And maybe it won't." He wouldn't let her keep doing this. Had to stop her.

"Why do you care?"

"Because I do."

"Why?"

"Do you remember when Dru died?"

"When I killed her, you mean?"

"She didn't give you much choice in that. She really did want to die." He tried to block out the memory of Dru pushing herself against Christine's stake. "Do you remember afterward?" he asked gently.

She looked at him blankly.

"You held me. You didn't even like me, and you held me."

She looked away. "It didn't mean anything."

"It did to me. I don't forget things like that. Kindness is rare."

"There's no kindness left in me."

He leaned down, scenting her. She smelled of sadness and despair. And also of power. Slayer power. "Maybe not. But there's other things inside you." He said, laying his lips against her neck. He could feel her tense. Knew when she reached for the stake. He pulled away slightly. "I can help you."

"No one can help me."

He felt her arm pull back and ignored the danger he was in. Leaning in, he kissed her slowly then pulled away. "I can help you," he repeated as he glanced back at her arm, frozen and trembling, the stake held in a death grip by fingers gone white from the pressure. "Let me help," he said, reaching up to lay his hand over hers.

Her fingers seemed to open of their own accord, dropping the stake. It clattered on the table, the only noise as he turned to stare at her. Their fingers entwined as he used his other hand to pull her to him. He felt her free hand on his neck, running through his hair.

"Help me," he heard her whisper.

He knew she meant it. Knew she also meant, 'help me forget.' He'd been in this situation before. Helping a slayer forget her pain. And he'd failed utterly that time, had been too in love with her to see when it was time to let go. But this time. This time he could do it. He could make it up to Buffy. He could help this slayer, for whom he had always felt a strange affinity. Help her and keep her safe for a man he thought of as his friend.

Hope he understands, Spike thought, as Christine let go of his hand and pushed him onto the table. She climbed on top of him, kissed him fiercely. Whispering a silent apology to Spock, Spike lost himself in the desperate passion that he was so addicted to. The kind that could only be found with a slayer.

FIN