The Lost Years: Reckless

Kirk stood at the back entrance to Starfleet Command, staring out at the park-like compound. Shadows lined the twisting network of paths that wended their way through the trees. Only the lights spaced along the paths and the full moon overhead gave any relief. He took a deep breath, tried to relax after another long day at his desk. He massaged the knots that never seemed to leave his neck anymore.

It was late, he should get home. But his apartment was empty. Empty and less welcoming each day. He turned away from the path that would take him to his street, walked in the opposite direction. He'd take the long way home. Maybe pick up some food on the way. Or grab a drink.

Anything but be alone.

The night air felt good after being cooped up all day. It was warm, and just humid enough to feel as if someone had settled a warm blanket around his shoulders. He looked up, stared at the golden moon that seemed to hang so low in the sky.

The moon. He shuddered involuntarily. The moon seemed to always bring back memories of Drusilla. She'd tortured him, meant to kill him, possibly turn him. But she hadn't done it. Christine and Spock had rescued him, kept him alive.

They hadn't been able to keep him safe from everything though. Anacost had bit him, drained him. Kirk remembered every moment. He could still feel the vampire's arms around him holding him in place as he'd bit down on Kirk's neck. The pain of that bite, and then the strange pleasure that had filled him, even as he'd felt his life being drained away. And then the blood--Anacost's blood, dripping into Kirk's mouth. Hot and sweet and sticky.

He'd felt his own heartbeat slow, knew he was dying. And he hadn't cared. His whole world had been the blood the vampire had fed him, the blood Kirk would have given anything to keep drinking. He would have died eagerly for it. If McCoy and Alma hadn't fought for him, he would have died. Would have become a vampire, one of the things Christine hunted.

She hunts tonight. The thought came out of nowhere. But he knew it was true. He closed his eyes and swiveled his head slowly, trying to get a feel for where she was. It wasn't possible to feel her, and yet he did. There, just below him, in the darkness of the heavy trees. She kicked and punched and stabbed. He opened his eyes, started walking down the grass, ignoring the path that would have taken him to town. He didn't know how he knew that she was just ahead, near the memorial, but he felt it in his gut.

But was he feeling her or the vampires? He wasn't sure. And how could he feel any of it? What was happening to him? What was it Alma had said just before she left him? That he had his own magic? What had she meant?

He could hear the familiar sounds of a struggle up ahead. He put on a burst of speed and saw Christine fighting three vampires. Before he could think better of it, he waded into the fight, swung a vicious punch and kicked out, knocking one of the vampires away.

Christine looked over, a startled look on her face.

"Hi," he said, feeling something wild coming alive in him. "Thought you could use my help."

"Are you crazy?" She tossed him a stake, dug another one out of her pocket.

"Probably." He'd fought vampires once before, the night they'd tried to stop Anacost from taking the Orb. He'd been scared out of his wits, but also riding an adrenaline high that stayed with him for hours afterwards.

The vampire he'd kicked came roaring back at him, knocking Kirk across the grass. He turned it into a roll and was up on his feet, punching quickly then dodging away. He let the creature get close, then feinted left. When he saw the vampire follow, he ducked back, pulling the stake in close then slamming it into the chest of the vampire. He yanked the stake back out before it could disappear into dust.

In the time that he had taken to kill the vampire, Christine had put down the other two and was watching him. She clapped.

"Guess you didn't need my help?"

"I didn't. But it was sweet of you. In a lunatic sort of way."

He pointed up. "Lunatic fits."

"Yeah, it's beautiful tonight, isn't it?" She walked over to him, dusted off his shoulder. "Occupational hazard."

"Thanks."

She gave him a hard look. "You that bored with being alive that you have to rush in where even fools should fear to tread?"

"Maybe."

As she turned to walk away, he reached out and stopped her. "You've got some too." He brushed off her jacket. "Didn't mean to ruin a good slay." He grinned at her.

She shrugged. "That's the great thing about vampires. They make more." Her smile was grim.

There was an awkward silence, then she held her hand out for the stake. When he put it in her hand, she said, "Well, good night."

He watched her walk away. As she was just about to disappear into the darkness, he called out, "Are you hungry? I was just going to grab some dinner."

She turned around, seemed to be studying him.

"I know a great steak place," he said. "Do you eat meat?"

She nodded. "One more reason my relationship with Spock was doomed." Her tone was a long way from light.

He decided to let the comment go. "Then join me."

"I shouldn't."

"You're not hungry?"

She smiled, for real this time. "I'm always hungry after I patrol. I just mean...I shouldn't." But she walked back to him.

"My treat. To celebrate my promotion."

"You didn't celebrate? That was announced weeks ago."

"Nogura threw me a little party. The other admirals came."

She frowned. "But no friends?"

He smiled; he could feel how forced the expression was. "My friends seem to be..." He couldn't finish.

"Anywhere but here?"

He nodded. She nodded too, understanding showing in her eyes. Then she looked uncomfortable. What was it he'd told her that day she'd stopped by his apartment? That he didn't want her pity.

He forced another smile. "You're busy. Spike's probably waiting for you."

Her voice was gentle. "Spike's gone."

"You left him?"

She laughed. "No, he left me. But not like that. It was the right thing to do, for both of us." Her expression was wistful. "I miss him though."

"I know. I miss Alma still." He shook his head, as if the motion could clear away the sadness. "Come on. There's a filet with your name on it." One for him too. Nice and rare. Although he used to prefer his meat cooked to medium. One more remnant of his almost being turned. He liked his meat bloodier these days.

Christine was staring at him. He wondered what she was thinking. Decided not to ask.

"Come on." He put his hand on the small of her back, pushed her gently toward the path.

"I'm not exactly dressed for a nice restaurant."

"It's not fancy. Just a great place for steaks. Besides, I think you look great."

She shot him a glance, and he smiled at her. A real smile, he could feel his lips turning up in a way that used to be familiar. She smiled back.

"You sure this is a good idea?"

"I'm not sure of anything anymore, Chris. Except that I'm hungry." He picked up his pace. "And so are you."

They walked in silence for a moment. Then she said, "You're pretty handy with that stake."

He grinned.

"It was a stupid thing to do, Jim."

"You'll get no argument from me."

"And you enjoyed every minute of it, didn't you?" At his look, she just shook her head in mock disapproval. Then her eyes narrowed. "What were you doing in that part of the compound?"

"What were vampires doing in that part of the compound?"

"Ordering takeout." She put a hand out, stopped him. "I'm serious. Why were you there?"

He wasn't sure how much he should tell her. She might think he was crazy. On the other hand, he felt like he'd go crazy if he didn't talk to someone about this. Who better than a slayer?

"Jim?"

"I sensed you. I knew you were fighting. I came running." He looked away, unwilling to see what might show in her eyes. "When I came back...from almost being turned, things were different. Some of my senses were different, sharper somehow." He peeked a look at her, was relieved to see she wasn't reaching for a stake.

"The darkness?"

He shook his head. "Not this time. At least, I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I felt you not them. I certainly know whose side I wanted to be fighting on." He grabbed her hand, pulled her down the path again. "Can we discuss this later? I'm starving."

She pulled her hand away. But she did keep walking. And when he asked her how classes were going, she didn't object to his attempt to change the subject.

But he could tell she was concerned about him by the look in her eyes. If he hadn't been equally worried, he might have enjoyed her concern. It felt damned good to have someone care enough about him to worry.

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

Christine looked around the silent classroom. Her classmates seemed nowhere near done on the final exam, and she'd already checked her answers twice. Fighting a surge of self-doubt, she carried the padd up to the instructor, then walked back to the lab table, grabbing her things. The professor was standing by the door and with a nod of his head indicated that she should precede him into the hallway.

"Sir?"

"Just wanted to congratulate you on an excellent term. I'm sure your exam will be as well-done as the rest of your work."

She felt a surge of pleasure. It had been a long time since she'd been in school. Working in sickbay, it had been easy to forget that she held one doctorate already. "Thank you, sir."

"I have some research fellowships available if you need an assignment for the summer?"

She shook her head. "I'm planning to take the accelerated anatomy program."

He grimaced. "That's a bear, Chapel. But I'm sure you'll do well." He held out his hand. "Best of luck to you."

She smiled, took his hand. "Thank you, sir."

He went back into the classroom, and she headed home to her apartment. There was a lot of studying to do. She still had three more tests to go before this term would be over and she would have a week to herself. Then the accelerated term would begin. She'd heard the anatomy class was tough but she was counting on her practical experience helping her out. It had in all of her other classes so far. She'd had no idea when she was working in sickbay with McCoy just how much knowledge she was absorbing from him and the procedures they'd done. If she had realized it, she might have run off to med school much sooner.

She rounded the corner to her apartment, saw the door open and Mrs. Rhatigan come out. Her landlady spotted her and waited.

"Damn," Christine said, under her breath. Spike had liked the old bat; Christine had never warmed up to her. "Edna," she said as she passed her.

"Miss Chapel." By the tone, the woman was put out with her. Again. She'd been less pleasant ever since Spike left. "You've been coming in at all hours. I really can't have that."

"There's no curfew written into the lease. And I try to be quiet."

Mrs. Rhatigan's mouth tightened. "It'll be in the next lease, you can be sure. Which is up for renewal very soon."

Christine could imagine how long the lease would be, and that the rent would suddenly go up substantially. It wasn't like she had much to move, if and when her landlady tried to make it unpleasant enough for her to leave.

"Have a nice day, dear."

There was nothing in Mrs. Rhatigan's tone that supported those words so Christine ignored her, stepping up to the retina scan and popping in through the door before the old woman could say anything else to her. She checked her chrono as she opened the apartment door. She could study for four hours before it would be time to travel across town and dust the vampire she expected to rise. She could feel her heartbeat speed up as she planned her evening. She could not remember ever enjoying the hunt as much as she did now. She wondered if that was because she just didn't care anymore. Whatever the reason, no one could say that she wasn't an extremely effective slayer.

Spike had told her once that she was at a critical point, poised somewhere between the slayers that turned to the darkness and the slayers that just gave up and let the vampires win. He'd been frustrated with her the day he'd told her that. Angry at her for taking taken too many chances with a particularly nasty vampire. She'd ended up with a nasty gash on her shoulder, one that had just missed her carotid artery. He'd yelled at her. Told her to stop the thrill seeking. She'd seen how afraid he'd been for her, had been contrite. From then on she'd tried to be a little less reckless, to care a little bit more.

But she still wasn't there. She was better, she knew that. The despair that had washed over her and nearly drowned her when she'd destroyed the Orb was receding. But she was still dangerous--to herself, and to every vampire that crossed her path.

Her comm unit message light was flashing and she played the message.

"Chapel? Kevin Silver here. I assume you're aware that there's been a substantial upswing of vampiric activity in your area?"

She rolled her eyes. She watched the news, avidly. Even had Uhura checking the special access channels. All to stay one step ahead of this idiot who ran the Council of Watchers. He blathered on a bit more about her having to stay vigilant, then signed off.

Christine resented having to watch the news reports, but she resented even more the increasingly more frequent communiqués from Silver ordering her to stop this or that evil. She hated having Silver one up on her, and he hated admitting that the Council needed her. She had no use for the Watchers, trusted exactly one of them, but Peter Wyndam-Pryce had been transferred to Mombassa to take over the training of a potential slayer. She was happy for Peter--and for the slayer who was fortunate enough to end up with him and not some other, less human, watcher--but she didn't like dealing with Kevin Silver. Not that she had much choice in that matter. The head watcher seemed intent on keeping her away from anyone else. Probably afraid she'd corrupt them. Christine knew she didn't enjoy much of a reputation in the Watchers' Council. Or perhaps she had too much of a reputation. Either way, she was kept at arms length. Which was fine with her. She wished they'd stay even farther back.

Her intercom buzzed and she frowned. "Yes."

"I come bringing post-final food." Uhura laughed as she waited to be buzzed in.

Christine hit the buzzer that would open the door, then opened the door and watched her friend come up the stairs carrying two big bags. "My god, Ny. How much food did you get?"

Uhura grinned. "Well, not everything here is food." She thrust one of the bags at Christine and took the other into the small kitchen.

Christine opened the bag and began to laugh. "This is so sweet. You brought me stakes."

"They were having a sale down at the garden shop near Len's place. He said he got them there last time." Uhura grinned. "Figured what with studying for finals and all you wouldn't have time to whittle."

"Thank you." Christine set the sack down and peeked into the kitchen.

As she'd expected, Uhura was staring into her refrigerator.

"You'll let all the cold air out."

"You truly have the most bizarre chiller I've ever seen." She pulled out a blood pack. "Leftover from your little fling?"

Christine shrugged. "I keep meaning to throw it out."

"Uh huh." Uhura checked the date on it. "It's good for another six months or so." She stuck it back into the chiller. "He could come back, right?"

"Yeah. If he needed my help he might."

"Or if you needed his?"

"That too." Christine took a deep breath. Something smelled good. "You didn't have to do this, you know."

"I know." Uhura smiled at her, her manner light years away from the tentative overtures when they'd set out to rebuild their friendship. "You need to take better care of yourself. Keeping a little food around wouldn't kill you, you know."

Christine leaned back against the counter. "I know. And I mean to do it. But then I get to studying or patrolling, and I forget all about it until I get home."

Uhura shook her head as she reached into the heating unit, pulling out two packages of food and quickly splitting the portions between two plates. She handed one to Christine.

"We're doing Chinese tonight. I had a hankering."

"God, you sound like Len." Christine followed Uhura out to the living room. "How is he?"

"He's good. Still worried about you. You need to come to Savannah with me one of these days. Prove to him that you're doing all right without Spock." Uhura frowned. "Although I think he's more worried about the admiral."

"I saw him the other night. He wandered in on my patrol. If you can wander in at full speed." At Uhura's look, Christine shrugged. "Vampires at Starfleet Command. I mean we knew some of the brass were monsters, but this is ridiculous."

Uhura chuckled. "What were they doing there?"

"Lost, I guess. Weird place for them to be. They don't tend to hunt there. Especially since they know there's a slayer that frequents the Starfleet side of town more than any other neighborhood." She frowned. What had the vampires been up to?

"Maybe they were cadets? Could they have run into some vamps while in town and been turned? Maybe came back to the familiar?"

Christine nodded, they had seemed young. "It's possible."

Uhura's mouth set in a grim line. "I'll check it out tomorrow. Let you know if I find any unexplained disappearances in the cadet ranks."

They tucked into their food for a bit, then Uhura said, "How is he?"

"Jim?" At her nod, Christine smiled. He'd been at his most entertaining during dinner. And trying very hard to keep it light. "I think he's lonely."

"I'm sure he is. Who does he have left?"

Christine shook her head. "The admirals?"

Uhura made a rude noise.

"Yeah, I know." Christine shrugged. "I guess no one. Not close like Len and Spock were, anyway.

Uhura looked thoughtful. "It's not good to be alone like that. To be that isolated. He needs a friend." She fell silent for a moment, then she smiled. "Why not you?"

"Me?" Christine raised an eyebrow. "I'm not exactly stability central. And I have a lot to do between school and the slaying."

"What? You can't fit in a dinner after class now and then? Or do something with him on the weekends?"

"Ny. He's Spock's best friend." She shook her head. "Was his best friend."

Uhura rolled her eyes. "For God's sake, Christine, I'm not telling you to jump his bones." She grinned wickedly. "Although if you do, I want all the sordid details."

Christine laughed.

"Just be his friend. How hard is that?" Uhura nodded and looked very satisfied, as if she had just solved everyone's problems. "You can drag him with you when you come to Savannah."

Christine didn't bother to argue, just went back to eating. "This is really good. Thanks."

"You're welcome." Uhura looked around the apartment. "You need to make this homier, Christine. It's so..."

"Barren?" Christine thought of Kirk's apartment, the warmth of the furnishings, the care he'd obviously put into hanging his collection of weapons. She had nothing on her walls, and barely any furniture. It was cold, impersonal. Temporary. Possibly more temporary than she knew if Old Bat Rhatigan had her way. "I keep meaning to decorate," she said weakly, thinking of her empty fridge. "I keep meaning to do a lot of things."

Uhura nodded, looked away and said quietly, "Any word from Spock?"

"No." Christine felt her mouth tighten. She couldn't help the guilt she felt. He had left because of her, because she had rejected him when he'd wanted things back the way they'd been. He couldn't understand how she could do that to him. Not when she'd said that she loved him. And she did love him, more than anything. But she hadn't been ready to be with him. She wasn't sure why, could find no rational way of explaining it other than to say she needed to be on her own for a while. Find out what she was made of.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought him up."

"I think he's really gone, Ny. I don't think he'll ever come back." Or if he did, he wouldn't be the Spock she had loved. The Spock she might someday give anything to have a future with. She'd read up on Gol and the Kolinahr disciplines. He would purge his emotions on the hot Vulcan sands. The man she'd loved would be gone. Might already be gone.

She looked at her friend. "You're happy with Len?" When Uhura nodded, she said softly, "I was happy with Spock. But everything was so confusing. My life, the slaying. All of it. I miss him. I miss him terribly. But things are sort of..."

"Peaceful without him?"

Christine nodded. "Which sounds like a very strange way to describe a slayer's life." She set her plate down on the floor, leaned back in her chair. "I'm finally doing things for me, you know? I'm on a path that I chose, for once."

Uhura nodded. "And knocking them dead at Starfleet Medical." She smiled. "So can you take some time off from studying tonight? Or do you have to get back to it?"

Christine shook her head. "I've got another test tomorrow."

Uhura rose, grabbed Christine's plate and carried it into the kitchen with her own. "I'll let you get to it then."

Christine waited for her at the door, gave her a long hug. "Thank you."

"Cut it out. We're friends. That's what friends do."

"I'll bring some for you soon."

Uhura winked at her. "Take some to the admiral. He needs it more."

"You never stop." Christine smiled at her. "Have I ever told you how glad I am that you forgave me?"

"Only every time I bring you food. I think I see a pattern." Uhura walked over to the bag of stakes, pulled one out and stuck it in her pocket. "Just in case."

"You're not a slayer."

"They don't know that." Her friend grinned. "I have my cross too." She pulled out a very large, ornate silver cross. "Had it blessed by the Bishop the last time he was in town."

Christine smiled. "That doesn't make it work any better."

"Made me feel better, though." Uhura grinned. "I couldn't figure out how to get holy water out of there without him seeing, though." She shrugged. "I'll keep working on that one."

"You do that." Christine walked her friend down to the main door. "You want me to go with you?"

Uhura shook her head. "It's not even dark yet."

"It will be soon. Go straight home, okay?"

"You having a premonition?"

"No. It's just generally good advice." She touched Uhura on the hand. "You know what kind of evil prowls the darkness. No reason not to be careful."

Uhura nodded. "Yeah, I know." She rested her hand on the pocket that held the stake. "And I don't plan to be a victim again. At least not a helpless one."

Christine nodded. She didn't envy any vampire that took Uhura on.

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

Kirk stood at his window, watching as the sun went down, lighting the sky up with pink and golden light. He took a sip of his cognac and stared at his reflection, trying to imagine what it would be like to not have one, to just fade away. He felt as if he were doing that already. Interminable staff meetings, unnecessary management junkets, they were all eating at him. Destroying him.

He missed space. He missed the Enterprise. He missed his life.

And his friends. God, how he missed McCoy and Spock. He knew that he could make up with McCoy if he just would admit that his friend had been right. But he'd be damned if he'd do that. He couldn't admit it, not to anyone else. Because then he would be more than just bored and lonely. He'd be pathetic and he'd know it. And so would his friends.

He was James T. Kirk. He triumphed. Always. He couldn't stand the idea of anyone looking at him with pity. He supposed some would look at him with enjoyment. There'd always been a few rivals who had said he'd get his eventually. That a rise as meteoric as his would be accompanied with a slide just as steep.

But he was an admiral now, dammit. That was not a slide. Very few would ever get this high. As high as he'd made it. In record time. While he was still young enough to enjoy the power, the prestige.

And he'd give it all up in a second to get the Enterprise back.

He turned away from the fading sunset. He had work he could do, or there was always the tri-vid. But he was tired of doing the same thing every night. He turned back to the glass, laid his face against the cool surface. Shutting his eyes, he tried to turn off his regular senses, tried to call up some deeper ability and feel what was out in the night.

All he felt was the window against his cheek.

He tried again, standing motionless as he attempted to still his mind. Then he felt it, a tug at his awareness. He tried to follow the sensation, tried to give it form in his mind, to determine what it was he was feeling. He backed away from the window. Whatever it was he was sensing, he didn't understand it.

But it made the hair on the back of this neck stand up. He walked to the wall, took down the sword that he'd kept with him on the Enterprise. He held it lightly, then swung it once, twice, testing the balance, the feel of the blade. He set it down on the table, went into his bedroom and changed into warmer clothes and sturdy boots. He dug around in the recesses of the closet until he found the scabbard. He tightened it around his waist, walked back to the front room to retrieve the sword, and sheathed it.

He left the apartment before he could ask himself where he thought he was going. He didn't even know if it was legal to walk around with a non- ornamental sword, hoped if security saw him, they'd assume it was for decoration.

The sunset was holding on, a few last rays of rose and orange licking at the western horizon. He could almost feel the darkness taking over.

So where was he supposed to go now? He turned slowly on the street in front of his apartment, trying to get a feel for which direction to head. The doorman--a new one who Kirk didn't recognize--looked at him with raised eyebrows.

Kirk smiled. "Nice night."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk put his hand on the sword hilt, and turned away from the doorman. He set off down the street, not following anything at first, just trying to get away from his front door and people who knew who he was. He walked for some time, then he felt it again. An awareness that was nothing more than a slight tingle, as if he had been standing near a power source. He felt the hair on his arms stand up, and increased his pace. Whatever it was he was heading for was just ahead.

In the cemetery.

He didn't even pause at the gates to consider what he was doing, just began to trot down a path that was no different than the other four paths that radiated from the entrance. He was not sure he could have stopped if he wanted to, so he let the feeling continue to drive him on.

He was needed. He didn't know for what, or by whom, but he knew that someone or something needed him. He broke into a run.

The night seemed less dark than it should have. He ran without straining his eyes, without ever tripping on the low gravestones. He was halfway to a large mausoleum when he broke from the path, turning into the trees that ringed this side of the cemetery and slowing his pace. It was just ahead.

What was just ahead?

He walked silently, the needle-strewn ground muffling his footsteps. And then he heard the voices. Laughing, dangerous voices, coming from the mausoleum. He peeked around a tree, watched as two vampires stood silhouetted in the doorway of the crypt. Then they moved aside, and a third walked out, her movements uncertain at first, but becoming more assured with each new step she took.

A fledgling. Looking for her first kill, her first blood. Kirk reached down for the sword, and as he did so, a strong arm came around his chest pulling him back as another hand clamped down over his mouth.

"This is becoming a habit," Chris said softly, her breath warm on his ear. She didn't sound like she thought it was a good habit.

He relaxed, and she let go of him.

"What are you doing here?" he whispered.

She pointed at the newly-risen vampire. "I'm going to spoil her birthday."

"Can I help?"

She shook her head. "No, but you can watch." She glanced down at his sword. "Interesting ensemble. Or are you on your way to a costume party?"

"Oh, go slay something." He backed up, let her slip past him and onto the grass.

She pulled the crossbow he hadn't realized she was carrying off her shoulder, freeing the strap and taking aim at the biggest vampire. The bolt hit perfectly, driving deep into the vampire's chest. He looked down in surprise, then exploded into dust.

"Get down," the other vampire said to the fledgling, pushing her behind a gravestone. He strode up to Chris and she let loose another bolt. He moved, more quickly than Kirk's eye could track him. The bolt missed him.

"I'm hungry," the young vampire cried out as she rose from behind the gravestone.

"I said get down!" the other vampire yelled. Then he turned, ran at Chris, making no attempt to hide from her crossbow.

But she was ignoring him for some reason and going after the new vampire instead. Christine fired and the bolt caught the vampire square in the chest. She screamed for longer than he expected before she disappeared in a shower of dust.

Chris scrambled to get another bolt loaded but the last vampire barreled into her, knocking the crossbow in one direction, her in another. Her head hit hard on a gravestone and she seemed stunned. The vampire ignored the weapon, followed her down. His hands wrapped around her throat and with a sharp guttural cry of triumph he began to choke her. She kicked out hard, but she couldn't shake him loose. She hit him again, and again, but he did not let go.

Kirk ran out of the trees, pulling the sword out of the scabbard. The vampire looked up just as Kirk reached him. He looked startled, then another expression took over. As Kirk raised the sword, swung it around on a tight and fearsome arc, the vampire smiled and said, "Master?"

He said nothing else as the sword slid through his neck. He blew into dust as his head tumbled to the ground.

Kirk turned to Chris. "You sure I can't help?" he said as he sheathed the sword and knelt down.

"Okay, just this once." She touched the back of her head gingerly, her fingers came back red. "Damn."

"Let me see," he pushed her head forward gently. "It's a big gash. You hit hard. You might have a concussion."

"Great. Just what I need right before a test." She pushed herself up slowly, reached down for the crossbow and groaned.

He held a hand out and she waved him off. "I'm fine." She took a few unsteady steps.

"You may be fine, but I feel pretty shaky," he said, as he hurried over to her, put one hand under her arm, the other around her back, and eased her toward the entrance.

"Liar." She tried to push him away.

"Chris. Don't be so damn stubborn. You need my help."

"Fine." She relaxed. "Could you at least change sides? That sword keeps bumping me."

He moved to her other side. "Sorry. Forgot I had it."

"Damn good thing you had it." She shook her head, then groaned. "Spike would be lecturing me on taking too many risks."

He looked at her startled. "You mean how you didn't take the shot on the male vampire when you had the chance?"

She shrugged. "She seemed like the better target."

"She was a newborn. He was much more dangerous."

"I didn't say I was right." She stopped with a moan and he tightened his arm on her arm.

"Need to sit down?"

"No, I need to throw up. But it's going to hurt too much." She took a deep breath and started walking again.

"Did you hear what the vampire said to me?"

She turned her head slowly to look at him, grimacing as she did so. "I thought he called you 'Master.' But why?"

Kirk shook his head. "He smiled when he saw me."

"These vampires just keep getting weirder."

She led them out of the cemetery and back to the main drag. After a few minutes, they came to an old building. She engaged the scanner and when he heard the click he pulled the door open for her and tried to get his arm around her but she pushed him away.

"I feel better." She climbed the stairs as if it were true.

"Well, let me clean out that gash for you." He grinned. "My revenge for all those antiseptics you used on me back on the Enterprise."

She laughed, then cried out in pain as the motion jarred her head.

A door opened on the main floor and an older woman stared up at them, an irritated look on her face. "Ms. Chapel, could you possibly hold it down?" The woman looked at Kirk and scowled. "You're what she replaced young William with?" She sniffed, turned back to Christine. "At least, you're dating someone your own age now." Her face twisted, as if she had caught a whiff of a bad smell. "You're on borrowed time." Then she turned and walked into her apartment.

"Young William was four hundred years older than me," Christine said as she palmed open her door.

"Who was that?"

"Landlady from hell."

"Literally?"

She shot him a look.

"Well, with you, who knows?" He followed her into the apartment. It was dark inside, and as she turned on the lights, he went to the window to check out her view. It was of a brick wall of the apartment building next door, if he ducked down and looked up, he could just see the moon. He turned to watch her move around the apartment. The place was sparsely furnished; padds covered an old dining room table. More padds spilled into the living room, covering a ragged chair. The chair across from it was empty and she sank down into it.

"I'm so tired." She looked over at the padds. "I have hours of studying to go"

He walked over to her and pushed her head forward gently so he could examine the wound. It was deeper than it had looked in the dark. "Where do you keep your supplies?"

"In the kitchen." She started to rise.

He pushed her back down. "I'll get them. Just tell me where."

"In the drawer, to the right of the chiller."

He rummaged in the drawer, found some antiseptic and sterile gel. He wet a towel with the antiseptic and walked back over to her. The wound had stopped bleeding. He remembered her saying that slayers healed fast. "This is going to sting."

She hissed in pain, but didn't cry out. He smiled. So tough.

He laid the gel down on the wound, spread it evenly into a thin layer and watched as it dried into a clear and flexible bandage. He finger combed her hair back over the gash.

"You have a gentle touch," she said softly, when he was done. "You'd make a good nurse."

"It would certainly be more rewarding than what I'm doing now." He looked down. He had not meant to say that.

She reached out, touched his arm. "Is it bad?"

He liked that. No 'I told you so.' Just concern. "Yes. It is." He moved away from her. "But I'll get used to it. It's just a hard adjustment, having no ship of my own anymore."

She nodded but didn't look convinced. "I need to study." She reached over for a padd on the table and yawned. "Or sleep would be good." She yawned again, then pushed herself to her feet. "I'll walk you home."

"You're in no shape to be walking me anywhere." He turned her toward what he assumed was the bedroom. "Go to sleep."

"What about you?"

"I'll sleep on the couch."

She turned slowly. "There is no couch." She held her hand out. "Come on. You'll have to wake me every two hours anyway to make sure there's no concussion."

He took her hand. "How did you explain this lifestyle away to Marcus?"

"He thought I was clumsy." She saw his look and held up her hand. "He trusted me. And it was easier to think that than something more dire. Nobody says, 'Oh, the woman I love must be out till all hours fighting vampires.' People retreat to what's familiar."

"I guess so. But how lonely for you." He undid his scabbard, set it down on the dresser than pulled his shoes off. "Keeping secrets, fighting alone. So much of your life must be lonely?"

"Whose isn't at some point?" She walked over to him, handed him a chrono. "I set it for two hours. You'll have to reset it. My exam is at nine. I have to be up by seven thirty."

He nodded. "Do you have a headache?"

"No worse than you'd expect from a bang like that. I'm fine, Jim. I don't have a concussion." She slid under the covers, and he followed her. "Good night. I'm sorry you have to do this."

He wasn't sorry. The sound of her even breathing as she slipped into sleep lulled him. She flinched suddenly and he wondered if she had been falling in her sleep. He hated that, the jerking jolt that accompanied the falling sensation always set him on edge, made it difficult to relax enough to fall back to sleep.

When she quieted, he closed his eyes and drifted off. The alarm went off only minutes later, or so it seemed. He turned on the light and reset the timer.

Christine had rolled over, was facing him. She looked very peaceful and he said, "I'm sorry for disturbing you, Chris. But wake up."

She opened her eyes slowly as he shook her arm. "Not yet," she mumbled. "Jut a little more sleep."

"What's your name?" He couldn't remember if he needed to make her walk.

"Rip Van Winkle."" She rolled over. "My sparkling wit is intact. I'm fine." She sounded very cross.

"What's my name?"

"Mud, if you don't shut up."

He leaned closer. "Does your head hurt?"

She didn't answer right away, and he thought she'd fallen back to sleep. But then she said, "A little," and he realized she had been analyzing how she felt.

"Do you want to get up and walk?"

"No. Do you want to be kicked out of this bed?"

That was an easy one to answer. He settled back down in the covers, listened as her breathing slowed again. It felt good to be with someone. Even like this. He smiled, resigned himself to irritating her even more when he woke her in two more hours.

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

Uhura followed her temporary section chief out of the staff meeting. Her butt hurt and her head ached. Onboard the Enterprise, they hadn't had the luxury of three-hour megameetings, nor did she think that Kirk could have sat still through one. She wondered how he was managing now. She knew that the admirals were known for their ability to go on and on. She'd have to ask Christine. Maybe he'd said something about whether he was enjoying the new job at the dinner Christine had mentioned.

Not that Uhura really needed to ask. The few times she'd seen the admiral in the hall, he'd looked tense and unhappy, at least to her, though others might not notice the telltale signs. After five years on the bridge with him, it was second nature for her to read his mood by the set of his jaw, or by whether he was relaxed in his chair or not, or by the way the back of his neck turned red when he was angry. The back of his neck had been very red the last time she'd seen him.

Uhura pulled up the private personnel databases. All of the officers in the main comms unit had access to these, but very few ever put them to the use Uhura was going to. She checked her chrono. Christine should be out of class soon, maybe was already free from her second final. It didn't surprise Uhura in the least that Christine was blowing through her classes, even if her friend never seemed confident that her own abilities would get her to her goal.

Uhura pulled up the files that detailed transitions among the ranks, began to check all Starfleet personnel for disappearances or deaths in the last week. The list was more extensive than she expected. She limited it to those stationed on Earth only and the list dropped considerably. It had been easy to forget while she was on the ship how dangerous being in space still was. The long list of names she'd just seen brought that home.

"Hey." Christine's soft voice sounded far too tired for just one final.

Uhura looked up, and gasped. A bright line of bruises ringed Christine's neck, and her hair looked a little strange, as if her something in her scalp was pushing it up. "You got hurt last night?"

Christine sat down quickly. "I'm telling anyone that asks that it happened in self-defense class." She looked away.

Uhura frowned. "I don't remember you ever having bruises this bad on the ship?" She reached out, touched one gently and watched as her friend flinched. "You hit your head too?"

Christine nodded. "My hair looks like crap, doesn't it?" She grimaced. "Damn vampires."

She held her hand up to her neck, as if protecting it. Uhura wondered if she even knew she was doing it.

"I thought you healed fast?" The bruises looked very new, the angry reddish-purple standing out against Christine's pale skin.

"I do. You should have seen them this morning."

"God." She met Christine's eyes. "You could have died."

Christine looked away and Uhura could tell she was about to lie.

"Don't." She touched Christine's hand. "Don't lie to me."

Christine slowly turned back to meet her eyes, and Uhura could see how hard it was for her to whisper, "I would have died. Jim was there."

"You took him slaying with you?"

Christine rolled her eyes. The tension of the moment seemed to roll off her as she shook her head. "No. He just showed up." She frowned. "Again." She was silent for a moment as if trying to work something out.

"He saved you?"

Christine nodded. "Took care of me too. It was sort of strange. He and I have never been that close but..."

"But what?"

Christine shook her head. "It's stupid, but it just seemed right. For him to be helping me. Like...like he understands me. He isn't judging me."

Uhura thought back to his expression the last time she'd seen him. She didn't think he was in any position to judge Christine. "You sound like you're uncomfortable with the idea?"

"I am." She leaned forward. "There's something about him. Something that calls to a part deep inside me."

Uhura laughed. "Yeah. It's called charisma, magnetism, good looks, personality."

Christine didn't smile. "No. I mean something dark."

"Oh." Uhura could feel her smile fading. "That's not good. But that's not the only reason he's around you, is it?"

Christine shrugged. "I don't know." She looked at the screen. "Did you find anything?"

Uhura shook her head. "No cadets have gone missing or been murdered in the last year, let alone this week." She pointed to a name in the list. "This is the only person who disappeared from the regular Starfleet ranks."

Christine peered at it. "Ben Johansson. Is there a visual?"

Uhura called up the picture. Handsome, sandy brown hair, fit. A captain, due to retire soon. Starfleet had launched an investigation, which was still ongoing. Uhura could tell by the way Christine was shaking her head that he hadn't been one of the vampires. Then her friend leaned in to get a better look.

"Does he remind you of anyone?"

"Now that you mention it, he looks a bit like Admiral Kirk." Uhura looked at the list, then went back to the original group of names.

"What are you looking for?"

Uhura shook her head. "I don't know. But I have a feeling it's here if I just knew how to see it." She stared at the names, then shook her head. "It's not going to just come to me, that's for sure. I'm going to have to look at some of these disappearances. See if I can find a common thread." She heard her friend yawn. "You need some rest."

"I didn't get much last night. With Jim waking me up every two hours."

Uhura shot her a look. "You sort of left that part out."

"Oh." Christine looked sheepish. "I didn't mean to."

"Liar."

Christine grinned. "It was a medical relief effort, Ny. He was only sharing the bed--"

"Okay, back up and start at the beginning. You two were in bed?"

Christine shook her head. "Fully clothed. Nothing like that. God, Ny, I'm his best friend's lover--former lover--whatever. That alone would keep him from touching me."

Uhura nodded. Kirk wasn't the kind of man to go poaching on a friend's territory. On the other hand, his friend had pretty much ceded this territory when he went to purge his emotions. Uhura could only assume that purging would include any love Spock felt for Christine.

She studied Christine, tried to see what lay behind the carefully bland expression. "And what keeps you from touching him?"

Christine's eyebrows went up. "He's not exactly my type."

"Uh huh." In Uhura's opinion, he was everybody's type.

"He's Spock's best friend, he's on the rebound from Alma, he's as screwed up in his own way as I am. I could go on."

"You don't have to." She smiled gently. "You guys can still be friends. And if he's going to be making a habit of saving your life, then I think he should be your very best friend."

"Better than you?"

Uhura didn't smile when she said, "I couldn't have saved you. And you need someone watching out for you." She saw Christine yawn again. "Go home, get some sleep, then study. Only two more tests to go and you'll be done."

Christine nodded. "Thanks, Ny."

"I'll keep working here."

As Uhura watched Christine walk away, she realized that this had been the first time Christine had sought her out. Before, it had been Uhura who had made the overtures by bringing Christine food or dragging her out in the evening to a club or a concert. It felt good to have her friend come see her.

Even if it had been partly for business.

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

Christine stifled another yawn as she walked through the busy path on the way home. In a few hours, it would be dark and these paths would be far less crowded. Vampires tended to avoid this area. Considering how extensive the grounds were and how easy the pickings, that was a bit surprising. According to Spike, the undead had avoided the military ever since Buffy's time, when a small unit of soldiers called the Initiative had declared war on all manner of demonkind. When the Initiative had failed due to internal corruption, some of the soldiers were transferred to other units. They'd carried on the fight from within the normal ranks. Spike said that since it was never clear which units harbored demon fighters, the monsters felt it safer to just avoid the military altogether.

So why break now with three hundred years of tradition? She shook her head. Who could tell why vampires did anything?

She decided to take a shortcut through the memorial. She hurried down the shallow granite steps, walking through the rose garden and heading for the building that held the memorial for all those lost in space, their bodies never recovered but their spirits honored forever. The door opened silently, the cool, somewhat musty air wrapping itself around her as she stopped briefly in front of the white marble monument to pay her respects. It was a superstition, but she never cut through the building without greeting the dead on her way. It seemed the least she could do if she was using their space as a convenience. Her heels clicked on the hard floor as she moved on.

A whisper of sound stopped her in her tracks. She turned and saw a movement in the corridor that led to the restrooms.

"Who's there?"

If it was a tourist, or another fleeter taking a shortcut, they should answer. No one did.

Christine slipped her pack off, dug into the front pocket for the stake she always carried. She stepped into the sunlight that poured through the stained glass windows, the colored beams distorting the image of a starship and the planets surrounding it. "Who's there?" she repeated.

A man stepped out of the hallway. He was in a uniform, captain's stripes on his sleeve. His face was hidden in shadows.

She hid the stake behind her back. "Sir, I'm sorry, but you startled me. I thought I was alone here."

He didn't answer as he took another step, bringing his face into the light. He stared at her with an odd look of longing.

"Oh, shit," she said under her breath.

It was the man that Uhura had pulled up the file for. The missing man. Captain Johansson. He moved toward her. Stopped just shy of the sunlight.

"Do you know who you are?"

He nodded. "Ben Johansson." He frowned, took a deep breath. His face changed into the monstrous features of a vampire. "You smell good."

She knew he wasn't referring to her perfume. Gripping the stake tighter, she asked, "How did you get here?"

He looked confused, seemed to frown. "I was just walking home. And they stopped me."

"Who?"

"Two men. They thought I was someone else. They wanted him, not me." He looked around suddenly. "Did you hear that?"

"What did they look like?"

"The men? They had bumpy faces." He didn't seem to realize that he sported the same features. He was confused--it happened sometimes, especially when the sires didn't show up. The newborn vamps rose with all the powers and instincts of their kind but no knowledge, and just enough of their old selves to be disoriented. They almost invariably returned to the places they knew. Like Johansson had returned to the Starfleet grounds.

"Who were they looking for?"

He reached out for her, and she ducked back into the sunshine.

"They said they sought the master. That they wanted the sorcerer. I didn't know what they meant. I tried to get away. Then they attacked me." He shook his head. "My people will be worried about me. I don't know how long I've been gone. They'll be looking for me." He snarled, seemed surprised at the sound. "I'm hungry."

"I know." She pointed behind him. "Look, is that one of your people?"

With a smile, he turned to look. She stepped out of the sunshine and slammed the stake home. He was dust before he could turn around.

"That was merciful of you."

Christine whirled. A woman, thick bodied and dressed in tweed stood in the hallway that led to the entrance Christine had come in by.

"Taking pity on vampires, are you?" Her voice was lightly accented. Scottish, but different than how Scotty sounded.

Christine put the stake back in her pack. "You can only be a watcher. Silver send you?"

"That's right."

Christine slung the bag back over one shoulder. "Why?"

The woman smiled. It wasn't a particularly friendly expression. "Surely, at your age, you know how this works, my dear. You're a slayer, and I'm a watcher. Your watcher, to be more specific."

"You've got to be kidding."

"I'm afraid not." She held her hand out, the gesture all business. "Emma Drake. And you're Christine Chapel. I've studied your files." She grimaced. "Colorful reading, I must say."

"I don't need a watcher."

"Oh, but you do."

Christine turned and walked away from the woman. "I don't want a watcher. How's that?"

The woman hurried to catch up with her. "You don't understand. You don't have a choice."

She grabbed Christine's arm, her grip tighter than Christine expected. Christine turned, slamming the watcher up against the marble wall. "Let me repeat myself," she said as she held the watcher in place. "I don't work for you."

"And let me repeat myself," Drake said. "I'm your new watcher." She pushed Christine hard, causing her to fly back and hit the other wall. "What part of that are you having trouble understanding?"

Christine stared up at her, then shrugged out of her pack, digging quickly for her stake. "This is some kind of sick joke." She held up the stake.

The woman rolled her eyes. "You are thick, aren't you?" She walked out of the doors into the sunshine.

Christine followed her. "You're not a vampire. But how..."

"Put that stake away. A low profile begins with you, Christine." Drake walked over to the fountain. She sat down, letting her fingers drag through the water. "I come from Maritus IV. The New Glasgow mining settlement. You know it?"

Christine nodded. "A heavy gravity world." She should have realized that from the woman's solid physique.

"Now, you're getting it." Drake smiled, the expression still conveyed little that was warm. "Kevin thought you'd respond best to someone you couldn't push around."

Christine smiled tightly. "You can't be too high on his list if he assigned you me. He considers me slightly lower than pond scum."

"Well, there was that incident with the bolus demon."

"I've heard they're very nice. When they aren't molting." Which was about once every five years. But they were known for being on the side of the watchers for the right price. "Killed one of Kevin's informants, huh?"

Drake nodded. "No one told me they weren't evil." She stood up. "They looked like the cantavian devils on Maritus IV. And those aren't at all nice."

"An honest mistake." Christine smiled, tried to make it real. "I suggest you tell Kevin exactly that the next time you see him. When you also tell him that I was too much for you." She turned.

"Ms. Chapel. I don't plan to leave. I will carry out my assignment." She pointed back toward the mausoleum. "Do you have any idea what he was talking about?"

Christine shrugged noncommittally.

Drake walked over to her. Moved close, too close. She stared up at Christine, her nose practically touching hers. She didn't look like a person who was going to give up easily. "Christine. You have to trust me."

Christine backed up quickly. "I don't have to do anything." She turned and hurried away.

"You're ours till you die," Drake said.

"I already died. Or didn't you get that memo?" Christine broke into a run. The woman might be strong, but there was no way she could keep up with her. Christine ran until she was almost to her apartment, then allowed herself to slow down.

What had Johansson said? That the vampires had been looking for the sorcerer...for the master? What the hell did that mean?

She had a sinking feeling that whatever it meant, it had something to do with Jim. She hurried into her apartment, managing to avoid Rhatigan this time. She looked longingly at her bed for a moment, then commed Jim.

"Chris? This is a pleasant surprise."

She shook her head and he frowned.

She didn't waste time. "Remember those guys we saw on the compound the other night?"

He nodded.

"They weren't looking for takeout." She had his full attention. "I think they were looking for you."

His frown deepened. "Why?"

"I don't know. But I know someone that might. When can you leave?"

"I'm done now."

She looked at the chrono. About an hour of daylight left. "Get here quick."

"I'll leave right now."

"Hurry."

She signed off and dumped out her pack. She stuck the stake back in, pushed the padds aside, and went to the weapons chest that Spike had insisted it was traditional she have. She filled the pack with a variety of crosses and holy water, then threw in more stakes from the bag Uhura had brought her. She checked the crossbow, then set it with the pack on a chair. As she waited for Jim to arrive, she fought down a feeling of panic that things were rapidly spinning out of her control. Again.

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

Kirk changed into the off duty clothes that he kept at the office and picked up a padded carrying tube, hitching it over his shoulder. The fit was good, snug against his back, and much less conspicuous than a scabbard. He wasn't exactly sure why he'd felt compelled to bring it, and the sword that was hidden inside, to work, but he'd learned over the years to trust his instincts. Especially if, as Alma had said, his instincts were actually some type of magic. He was learning that magic was real and things did go bump in the night--and those things usually had sharp teeth and wicked claws.

He hurried out of the Command building. Chris had sounded just short of panicked, and that worried him. A lot. She'd said the vampires had been looking for him. Why?

He hurried down the paths, barely noticing his progress as he tried to come up with reasons why the undead would be interested in him.

Unless it was something to do with Alma, it all came back to Anacost. He had a feeling Chris had figured that out too. The only other vampire who might care about him was dust, and Kirk didn't think resurrection was something that vampires were known for. He could safely count Drusilla out of the picture.

The path ahead was congested, and Kirk wove his way through the crowd, slowing to avoid crashing into anyone. In the sea of Starfleet uniforms, a civilian dressed in tweed stood out. She also seemed to be a bit lost. On a better day, he'd have stopped to help her. But Chris needed him quick, so he passed the woman with nothing more than a murmured, "Pardon me."

She reached out and stopped him, her grip on his arm surprisingly strong. "Excuse me, but how do I get to the piers?" she asked, her words softly accented in a way that reminded him of Scotty.

He smiled. "Follow this path to the main drag, then head downhill. When you hit the water--"

"--I'll know I'm there. Thank you."

He nodded, hurried off. The walk to Christine's apartment was short and he rang the chime.

"Jim?"

"It's me. Can I come in?"

There was a dead silence.

"Chris?"

"Do you need me to invite you in?"

"No I need you to buzz me in." He suddenly realized what she meant. "It's broad daylight, Chris. At least for another forty-five minutes. I'm human. Mortal. Not a vampire. Just let me in."

"Oh, sorry." Her voice sounded more distracted than sheepish. "I'll be down. Just hold on."

A moment later, the door opened and she hurried out. She handed him the backpack, then did a double take at the carrying tube. "What's that?"

"Sword." He grinned at her. "You may not mind carrying a crossbow around with you, but I wanted to keep a lower profile."

"That's the second time I've heard that term today." She scowled at him. "Come on, let's get going."

"Where?"

"To see a friend." She seemed to stumble over the word.

"Anyone I know?"

She shook her head.

They hurried down the hill and he was surprised when she led them to the piers.

"Uhura called while I was waiting for you."

He waited, knew she would have a point.

"We were trying to figure out who the vampires were that you and I met up with the other night." She looked over at him. "Looks like you had some stowaways from Vega Hydra."

"On the Enterprise?"

She nodded.

"But that's impossible. They didn't feed. There were no reports of trouble."

"They must have laid low. They can do that. She said the disappearances started at Starbase Seven, after the Enterprise had been there. She was able to track their path back to Earth through the body count." Christine shook her head. "We don't know how many vampires there were. Or what they want."

"They want me. You said it yourself."

She looked over at him, seemed to take his measure. "Okay, then. They want you. But we don't know why." She nodded to an empty booth. "And the person we need should be sitting right there. Damn it."

"Christine?"

Kirk jumped, the voice behind him seemed to come from out of nowhere. He turned, saw an old Andorian smiling at them.

"What were you doing in the alley?" Christine asked.

His antenna fell forward, in a strange reverse twist on Spock's eyebrow lift. "I was walking from the other street. Is that allowed? Should I get permission?" His amused smile took any sting out of the words. "Even a fortuneteller as dedicated as I am has to visit the facilities every once in a while."

"More than I wanted to know." She followed the Andorian to the booth, pushed Kirk into the chair at the table, crouched down next to him. 'Tolvar, this is Jim Kirk. Jim, Tolvar. He's a friend. I think."

"I am a friend." Tolvar shook his head as if disappointed in her.

"Whatever. Okay, Tolvar. Prove you're the all knowing. My friend's in trouble. Tell me what from."

"Other than being skewered by that sword?" Tolvar leaned forward. "You're going to need to reinforce the end of that unless you relish being a pincushion."

Kirk nodded. He'd thought that too.

Christine pushed herself up in one graceful movement, her expression exasperated. "Try again."

"Anacost's blood flows in his veins. Do I have your attention now, slayer?" Tolvar leaned back in his chair. He looked at Kirk in what appeared to be admiration. "You survived the unsurvivable. I know you had the fire demon to help you, but you fought off a master vampire's influence. You live, when you should be undead."

Kirk looked away from the startlingly piercing eyes of the Andorian. "I didn't fight. I would have turned."

Tolvar looked at Christine. "How many people have you seen survive being drained and having drunk?"

She took a deep breath, looked over at Kirk. "None."

"None." Tolvar took Kirk's hand, turned it over. "You have power. Hidden, untrained, but very strong. They want that. They want the power of Anacost and the power you already possessed within you. They want you as one of them...as their leader."

Christine made a disparaging sound. "It's not going to happen. I'm going to stop it."

Tolvar shot her a bland look. "Of course you are."

Kirk didn't think he looked convinced.

"Do you know where they are?"

Tolvar nodded. "Where you first found them."

Christine got up. "You stay here," she said to Kirk.

"No, Chris."

He got up but Tolvar held his hand fast. "Let her go. This must play out as it will."

"No!" Kirk pushed him away savagely.

"If you go, you only give them what they want. Let her fight them alone."

"No. Not alone." He ran after her.

She had quite a head start on him; he could see her jogging up the hills back to Starfleet Command. Then she hit the paths and disappeared into the trees.

"Chris, no." He put on a burst of speed, sure with every instinct inside him that she was in terrible danger.

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

Christine ran up the paths, toward the spot she'd first fought the vampires. She heard a noise from the woods behind her and stopped. Dragging the crossbow off her shoulder and over her head, she pulled it back, set a bolt in it.

"Slayer," a vampire stepped out of the shadows. He held up his hands. "I die, so that Anacost might live again."

She shot him and he exploded into dust.

"Chris?" Kirk rushed into the clearing.

A vampire stepped behind him. She loaded another bolt, shot it frantically. The bolt whizzed by Kirk's arm, hitting the vampire dead center.

"That's two," a deep voice said in her ear. A heavy hand cuffed her to the ground

She lost her grip on the crossbow as she hit.

"That's all the shots you will get with your little toy." He stepped in front of her and stomped on the crossbow, shattering it.

Two new vampires came out of the shadows, one knocking Kirk to his knees as the first vampire dragged Christine to her feet. She kicked out and he cuffed her again, then put his hand around her throat, his fingers finding the bruises that the other vampire had made. Her vision began to blur. She kicked out again and again but he hit her again, this time hard enough to leave her dazed.

"Chris!" She could hear Kirk struggling.

"Don't worry, young one. I'll not kill her." The vampire tossed her to one of the guards, who tied her hands behind her, then looped the rope around a tree.

The first vampire walked over to Kirk. "My name is Nacellus. I was Anacost's second-in-command. I will be yours too, when you rise and take on his power. We have followed you here, to offer our lives to you."

Kirk pulled the carry tube off his back. Before he could yank the top off, Nacellus batted it from his hands.

"No, Kirk. That is not the way this will go." He grabbed Kirk's collar, pulled him towards Christine. "You will taste a slayer's blood tonight."

Nacellus thrust Kirk's face into Christine's neck. "Can you not smell her? Feel the life within her beating under your lips? Her blood will feed you. She will be your first kill and then, if you wish, she will be the first of many vampires made by your will and your blood. Such powerful blood."

Nacellus stroked Christine's face. "I hope he turns you, slayer. I would like to see what a creature like you becomes when your darkness is fully unleashed."

"No." Kirk struggled. "Let me go."

"Soon." Nacellus stroked Kirk's hair, as if soothing a small child. "This will only hurt for a moment."

Christine struggled, tried to get free. Nacellus glanced over at her, grinned as he bent to Kirk's neck. Kirk groaned as Nacellus bit down and began to drink.

"That will be quite enough of that." A figure in tweed strode into the clearing.

Christine forced herself to look away from Kirk. Drake had added a walking stick to her starchy ensemble. Unfortunately, the end wasn't sharpened.

Nacellus dropped Kirk. He turned to look at the intruder, then he laughed. Loudly. He motioned for the guards to come around to flank her as he too moved forward.

Kirk crawled away from the vampire, began to work on the ropes that held Christine. "Who the hell is that?"

She watched as the vampires converged on the woman. "My new--soon to be dead--watcher."

One of the guard vampires reached Drake first and hit her with a solid blow to the chin. It didn't seem to phase her as she punched him hard. He fell back, then launched himself at her again. She caught him, spun quickly, and threw him into a tree branch. He exploded as the branch thrust out his back. The other guard leapt at her but she caught him too and used his momentum to propel him into a headstone. As he lay stunned, she leaned down and casually twisted his head. Off.

Christine was impressed. "Did I mention that she's from a heavy-gravity world?"

"You left that out." He said as he worked at the ropes.

Drake parried a blow from Nacellus with her walking stick.

"And she's really starting to grow on me," Christine said as the ropes fell free. "But this is my gig." She charged into the fight.

"About time you worked yourself free. Very bad form, depending on a weakened sorcerer to get you out of your mess. We have our work cut out for us." Drake kicked Nacellus toward Christine.

"You are not"--Christine dodged his kick and jabbed out, catching him under the jaw and knocking him back to Drake--"my watcher."

"Well, if I'm not, then I'm wasting my time here." Drake twisted the vampire around, pulling the walking stick up and under his neck, holding him against her. "I presume you have a stake?"

"Chris!" Kirk tossed her one.

"Extremely bad form," Drake said with a shake of her head, as Christine drove the stake home. Drake ignored the dust, just lowered her walking stick and turned to the woods. "All right, Tolvar. You can come out now."

The Andorian walked out of the woods. He waved at Christine.

"You got him to actually do something? Not just sit around and make predictions?"

Drake grinned. She looked about ten years younger, and Christine suddenly wondered exactly how old the woman was.

"Oh, Tolvar and I go way back."

"There's a lot of that going around." Christine began to smile, the expression growing almost against her will. "The bolus demons that Silver's so annoyed about? You didn't just kill one, did you?"

Drake shrugged. "I killed them all. It was quite unfortunate really. I told Kevin that one positively needs a scorecard on this planet to tell who's evil and who's not. And even then things change so rapidly." She strode over to Kirk, began to examine his neck.

"I know you." He winced as she pushed a handkerchief against his neck.

"Yes, thank you for the directions." She pulled the handkerchief away, seemed satisfied. "Apply pressure. You'll need blood."

"I'll survive."

She studied him. "Yes, I suppose you've gone through worse if what that vampire said was true." She nodded to where Tolvar was standing. "We heard everything. I wasn't precisely sure what he was talking about though."

Christine frowned. "I thought you read the files on me?"

"I did. But there was nothing in them about this one. Someone must have expunged the record." She shrugged. "Or they were too caught up in searching for you to put together a proper report. That is, in my experience, the more likely reason. Human failing." She looked back at Kirk. "Or Vulcan."

He looked away.

She held out her hand to him. "Christine won't introduce us. I'm Emma Drake."

"Kirk. James T."

"Oh, I know who you are, Admiral." She picked up his carry tube, turning to Christine and said, "Now this is understated. You could take a lesson from him." She handed it back to him, then eyed the shattered crossbow with distaste. "You know that they make collapsible models? Very much the thing."

"Please tell me you already have a place to stay?" Christine said.

"Of course, I do. I'll send you the address. And I expect you to be there tomorrow after your exam for training."

"You're delusional." Christine turned away. "I have exams all week. I need to study."

"Then when your tests are over."

Kirk took pity on Christine, shaking his head. "We're celebrating the end of another successful term." He turned, winked at Christine.

Drake crossed her arms over her chest. "The next day then. I'll expect you bright and early." She straightened, dropped her arms to her side, the walking stick held firmly. "We have a great deal of work ahead of us, Christine." She marched away. "Come along, Tolvar. We've a lot of catching up to do."

The Andorian followed her with a strange smile. Christine decided she didn't want to know what their definition of 'catching up' was.

"Did I say she was growing on me?"

Kirk nodded.

"Like a Lotellian fungus. I may never get her off."

He laughed, then grimaced. "Ow?"

She checked the wound; the bleeding had stopped. She gently peeled the handkerchief away. "You probably do need blood."

His expression tightened. "I'm okay. He didn't drink that much."

"Then let me get you bandaged up? I don't want that to get infected."

He nodded.

She picked up the crossbow. "Collapsible, huh?" She looped the thing over her shoulder. "How handy are you?"

He just grinned.

"With a--" She saw his face, broke off what she'd been about to say. "I can see that there is no way I can end up anywhere safe with this conversation, is there?"

He grinned again. They walked in silence, then he said softly, "Would you have staked me that night. After Anacost bit me?"

She looked at him in surprise. She couldn't imagine that Spock would have told him how close he had come to dying at her hand. Perhaps Alma had?

"Chris? Would you have?"

She nodded.

He nodded back, seemed to accept her answer. "Maybe it would have been for the best."

She shook her head. "No. It wouldn't have been." She took his hand and squeezed it quickly, then let go.

"It's inside me. He's inside me. The vampires know it."

"Well, then they know it. But they also know not to mess with me. Or with the watcher from hell." She grinned at him. "You're not a vampire, Jim. Whatever reason you're alive right now, it's because of what has always been inside you. Not because of some vampire's blood." She saw his expression lighten somewhat. "So are we really going to celebrate after finals?"

He nodded. "Anywhere you want."

She laughed. "Well, there is this great little café in Nice."

"Sure."

"That's Nice as in France. I don't have that many transporter credits saved up."

He grinned. "I do. Comes with being an admiral. Rank should have its privileges, shouldn't it?"

She grinned back, already thinking of the pate and steamed mussels. She began to recite what she could remember of the menu to him. He groaned, as if starving and she laughed. For all she knew, the place might be closed. It had been years since she'd been to Nice.

When they reached her apartment, she walked up to the security device to scan in, then stopped. She turned to look at him. "There may come a day when you need to get in here quick."

"The old lady won't like it."

She smiled. A very big, and she suspected evil smile. "I know."

"It's not like I'll have to help you move furniture, if she kicks you out. Or much of anything else." He moved in front of the scanner.

She keyed in her override security code, set it to record his pattern. "Just for the record, this does not constitute an invitation to come in if you ever are turned."

He laughed. "Gotcha." He stepped away from the scanner, then looked back into it. The door unlocked.

"So would you have turned me?" she asked. "Or just fed?"

He shrugged, gave her a cavalier grin, the one she hadn't seen him use for some time. The one that always charmed her.

"You're not going to tell me, are you?"

He shook his head, held the door for her. He followed her up the stairs. His voice was very serious as he said, "I expect you to kill me, Chris. If I ever am turned. Don't hesitate. Not for a minute."

She shot him a look. "I guess that means I'd have just been dinner, huh?"

He didn't look away. "No. It means you wouldn't have been. I'd have turned you."

There was a long strained silence. He looked away first.

She rummaged through the first aid drawer, found what she needed, and began to wash out the bites. "Well, technically, either way I'd be dinner. It's just a question of whether I'd be dinner with a future or not."

He smiled, seemed to appreciate her willingness to try to lighten the moment. "I'd prefer you weren't dinner at all."

"Me too." She bandaged his neck, then pulled away. She could still feel the ropes on her wrists, could still see Nacellus biting into Kirk's neck, hear the sound of him feeding. "She saved us. You know that?"

He nodded. "She was pretty amazing out there. You're sure she's just a watcher?"

"Pretty sure."

He smiled, rose and headed for the door. "Well I'm glad she's on our side."

"Our?"

He turned. Didn't say anything, just smiled. Then he was gone.

Christine grabbed a stake out of her bag, hurried to the door. He was still on the stairway and he looked up at her.

"You might need this." She tossed it to him.

He caught it, shoved it in his pocket. "Thanks. Good luck on your tests. Not that you'll need it."

She nodded. "Good night."

She waited on the landing, listened to him walk down the stairs. A door opened, and she heard Mrs. Rhatigan, say, "Oh, it's you again."

"You know, I don't believe I got your first name. I'm Jim Kirk. Admiral Kirk. It's a pleasure to meet you." His voice was at its silky best.

"Oh, well. My, my. I didn't realize you were an admiral. I'm Edna. Edna Rhatigan. I own this place."

"It's a lovely place."

Christine could imagine him leaning in, giving her landlady that golden boy smile.

"Chris is very happy here, and I know that's because of your management." The front door opened. "Good night, Edna."

"Oh, good night, Jim. I can call you Jim?"

"Please." The door closed.

Christine smiled. Maybe her rent wouldn't skyrocket after all.

FIN