The Lost Years: Bystanders by Djinn

The cemetery loomed ahead of her. Christine sighed, stuck her hand in her jacket pocket, feeling for the stakes she'd put there earlier. Their smooth surface and sharp points were comfortably reassuring. As she stepped off the sidewalk and through the gates of the cemetery, she slid one of the stakes out and flipped it absently in her hand. She was not in the mood to patrol tonight, had a lot of studying to do. The final for the accelerated anatomy class was next week, and then her last term would begin.

She smiled, already anticipating being done with classes and moving on to her residency program. Starfleet Medical had allowed her to test out of a number of subjects and had waived the internship requirement based on her previous degrees and practical experience on the Enterprise, and the fact that she'd impressed the hell out of her professors. Professor Darnell, the head of the immunology department, had been particularly supportive. She suspected it was his recommendation that had convinced the board to agree to her skipping the internship. Darnell had made it clear that he wanted her working in his department once her residency was over, but she wasn't sure that she wanted to get back into research. She was looking forward to her time as a resident in emergency medicine at Starfleet Medical to help her decide if she wanted to follow the clinical route or go back to research.

She smiled. She knew what Len thought she should do. He'd lectured her the other day on the coldness of research compared to the good she could do in a hospital or on a starship. She'd told him of Jim's idea that she think about the Enterprise. He'd nodded, had also thought it was a sound idea. Funny how he and Jim could see eye to eye when they weren't in the same room.

"Evening, ma'am," another fleeter said as he passed her, hurrying down the cemetery path.

A civilian in the line of fire--just what she needed. She hastily slid the stake up her sleeve and called down the path. "Ensign?"

He turned. She thought he looked a bit old to be an ensign.

He smiled. "Can I help you, ma'am?"

She was still getting used to her promotion to lieutenant. Being a level higher on the chain was a bit of a shock.

The man walked back down the path to her. His walk was a bit uncertain; the smile he shot her was awkward. He met her eyes, then immediately looked away. She thought he looked like the kind of guy who was immediately overlooked, who could disappear into a crowd and no one would remember him ever being there. He looked at her again, his smile wavering. She expected him to blush at any moment.

"New around here?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am." He smiled, pointed to a small insignia on his uniform. "OCS."

Officer Candidate School. That explained it. He was coming up the same way Janice had. Jumping out of the enlisted ranks through extreme competence, landing smack dab into a group of younger, and in his case more aggressive, cadets. She almost felt sorry for him, except she knew he had to be awfully good at something to get into the program in the first place.

She pointed back down the path. "Look Ensign"--she glanced at his nametag-- "Thompson. It's a bad idea to cut through the cemetery. Disrespectful of the dead." She'd tell him it was dangerous too, but who would believe her? Earth was a safe place, if you didn't know how busy the undead were. Especially this late at night.

"You're cutting through it."

"No, no, I'm not. I'm going to visit my grandmother's grave." She hoped he wouldn't ask why she was doing that at midnight.

He looked immediately chagrined. "Oh, jeez. I'm sorry. I didn't know, to--"

"It's okay, Thompson. Just don't cut through the cemeteries." Those were words to live by and, if he wanted to survive, he'd stay out of them at night from here on out.

She waited until he'd made it to the gate before she turned and headed into the main part of the cemetery. Her patrol took her past the crypt that had reminded Spike of where he'd lived in Sunnydale. She got a pang as she thought of him, hoped he was doing okay. She hadn't heard from him, but then she hadn't expected to.

She made a sweep of the far side of the cemetery. She didn't expect to find anything tonight, but most vampires were creatures of limited imagination when it came to picking a feeding ground. And there seemed to be so many fledglings around. She'd expected their number to drop when Anacost's followers had been destroyed, but if anything, there seemed to more of them.

Whoever was making the vampires wasn't coming back for them, because she was killing them off almost as quickly as they were rising. She sighed. It was a mystery now, but she'd figure it out eventually. If it was a master vampire, Tolvar would hear about it through his network, or Emma would find something out from Silver. If it were just a hungry garden- variety vampire, eventually he or she would make a mistake, and Christine would be there to make him or her very, very sorry.

She just hated to think about so many people dying in the meantime. It was easy to lose sight of the fact that the newly-risen vampires that she staked and beheaded with abandon had been human once. Not that it mattered. Once they were turned, they were hers to put down. She could be sorry for them, but she couldn't afford to feel any remorse. They were vampires, she was the slayer. Everyone knew the story. Everyone undead anyway.

"No! Get away from me--" The last word turned into a scream then was abruptly cut off.

Christine took off in the direction of the crypt. Maybe this was one human she could save. She put on a burst of speed, rounded the corner and saw two vampires threatening a man on the ground. A man in a Starfleet uniform.

"Thompson?" she yelled, irritated beyond belief. "I told you not to cut through the damn cemetery."

"Well, these guys seemed to be following you. And they didn't look nice. But now they really don't look nice."

Thompson tried to scoot away from them crab-fashion, but one of the vampires reached down and pulled him up.

"You can't leave," the vampire said. "You're dinner."

Christine coughed dramatically until the vampires looked over at her. She held up her stake. "Hate to spoil your dining plans, but I'm not going to let you hurt him."

"You're too old to be a slayer, lady." The vampire dropped Thompson. "Don't you know better than to play with sharp objects?"

"Gosh, you're right. Here, you take it." She threw the stake at him. It landed hard, dead center, and bored in deep but not as deep as Emma could get them to go. Christine made a sound of disappointment as the vampire exploded into dust.

"Oh, jeez!" Thompson backed away fast from the settling dust cloud.

The other vampire began to advance on Christine.

"Just a hint: no comments about my age." She met him halfway, kicked him hard.

His eyes widened. He obviously hadn't expected her to be as strong as she was. Who the hell was making these vampires and then leaving them so ignorant? There shouldn't be a vampire in San Francisco that didn't know that the local slayer was way past puberty. And they weren't completely in the dark, the other vampire had known about slayers. She supposed that they might be talking among themselves, sharing information, no matter how limited. And information was bound to get garbled with the group constantly changing as someone kept increasing the ranks and she kept cutting them back.

It was almost indecently easy to get past the vampire's defenses and stake him. She pulled the stake back out, was moving over to Thompson before the vampire exploded into dust.

"Are you hurt?"

He looked at her in stunned amazement. "How'd you do that?"

She ignored his question, moved closer to check his neck for bite wounds. He pulled away at her touch as if embarrassed.

She reached for him again but he scuttled away.

"I just want to see if you're hurt." She'd saved plenty of people who hadn't known they'd been bitten until they passed out from lack of blood.

"I'm okay. Really." He ran his hand around his neck, pulled it out. No blood. The rest of his uniform was grass stained but not torn. He appeared to be scared silly but unharmed.

She stuck the stake back into her pocket, took his arm and hauled him up, then walked him back to the main gates. He was shaky at first, but by the time she dumped him onto the sidewalk he seemed to have recovered.

"What were they?"


He shot her a look. "They were vampires, weren't they? My uncle used to tell me stories about them. The undead, right?"

She rolled her eyes.

"No, really. That's what they were. And that was a stake you used on them. What about silver bullets, do you have silver bullets? And a really old gun. Oh wait, silver was for werewolves, right. It was fire and beheadings and..." He saw the look on her face and gulped. "I won't say anything."

She'd played this game a few times. "No, you won't. Because if you do, Starfleet will have you into the psychologist's office faster than you can say 'straightjacket.' Talk about this to anyone and kiss any chance for a commission goodbye."

His face fell. "But they were vampires, right?"

She pointed down the street. "Go home. Don't come into this cemetery again. That's an order. You got it?" Her tone was far from friendly.

He nodded quickly, hurried away.

She stood and watched him till he was out of sight, then turned back and continued her patrol.


Uhura dug into her salad, waiting for the new captain of the Enterprise to get to the point. He'd been making small talk for the past few minutes, but she suspected he had more on his mind than discovering how she was finding shore duty.

She studied him as they talked. He seemed steady. That was important. He had an open and willing smile, but he didn't use it all the time. She liked that too. He didn't have Kirk's unqualified aura of command, but Decker felt solid, as if he was already looking out for her and the rest of his new crew.

"The external refits will be done in four months. Then we can get up there and start on the internal ones. I'm excited about this opportunity. We're all going to get the chance to know this ship from the bare floorboards up."

He smiled, his enthusiasm was infectious, and Uhura couldn't resist it. She grinned too.

He leaned back, seemed to be studying her now. She smiled easily at him and went back to her salad.

"You served on the Enterprise a long time, didn't you, Commander? Knew most of her crew?"

Her promotion to lieutenant commander was still fresh enough for her to fill a thrill every time someone addressed her by her new rank. "I'd say so, sir."

"What do you know of Lieutenant Christine Chapel?"

"What do you want to know?" She'd learned caution in the time since she'd first found out Christine was the slayer. She no longer took anything at face value when someone showed an interest in her friend.

"Admiral Kirk is recommending her as an addition to the sickbay roster. She's awfully new as a doctor, in my opinion."

Uhura relaxed slightly. "She's new but she's not green. She's done more as head nurse on the Enterprise than most doctors ever do on a smaller ship. She has a PhD in biochemistry and had all but finished her M.D. when she shipped out on the Enterprise. Believe me, you won't regret having her on your team." Uhura smiled. "But you should know, sir, that she's a good friend of mine. I'm not exactly objective."

He smiled. "That's okay. I value personal loyalty. And from what I've seen of you, you don't let your feelings get in the way of your judgment." He dipped a vegetable into a bowl of hot sauce. "We can add her to the roster, if she wants to be added." He grinned. "I probably should find that out, shouldn't I?"

Uhura nodded. "That's the preferred way."

He laughed. "We shouldn't just make her decisions for her?"

Uhura shook her head quickly, then worried that she was giving the wrong impression. "She has other offers already, sir. I know the immunology department head is interested in her for a research position."

Decker looked more interested. "I like that. Means she's well thought of. Can't ask for a better rec."

"No, sir."

"I know you were being courted by several other commanders. Why'd you decide to stay on the Enterprise?"

She smiled. "It is the flagship."

"You don't strike me as a person impressed by that sort of thing."

She thought about her decision. "I think it's what you said, sir. The opportunity to get in on the ground level. I've actually had a hand in the design of the communications section and systems. I'm getting the chance to sit down with the engineers and go over my pet peeves and give them my wish list. It's exciting when they come back and ask for further details or want my opinion on what they've got. They're listening to me. I'm making a difference."

"Hell of a feeling," he said with a nod. "I feel the same way. In fact, I've been walking on air since they announced my selection."

She liked that he wasn't afraid to show his excitement. Some new captains would think they should be blase about such an honor.

"Are you nervous?" It was a personal question, and if he didn't have that disarming openness she doubted that she'd have been brave enough to ask him.

"Me? Nervous?" He laughed. "As hell, commander. As hell."

She laughed. "Don't be. You'll be great."

He seemed genuinely pleased that she thought so. "But are you a good judge of character?"

She thought of the strong group of friends she had, how she could count on all of them. "The best, sir." She smiled again.

"Well, we'll find out, won't we?" He pretended to shudder. "The first time I completely screw up." He laughed easily, openly.

She laughed too. Starfleet had made a great choice. She thought she would enjoy working for this man.


"So where do you want to go to dinner?" Christine asked as they cut through the cemetery.

"I was thinking Venice," Kirk said with a laugh, waiting for the playful punch he knew she'd give him.

She didn't disappoint him. "Cut that out."

"Okay, then maybe Rio?"

She shook her head sternly.

"Well, we've already done New Orleans, Chris."

"I think New Orleans did us." She smiled.

Before he could answer, the air in front of him began to shimmer, then whirl. Chris pulled him back a few paces as the dark slayer he hadn't seen since that terrible night of Gotterdammerung stepped out. Kirk thought she looked about ten years older.

"Slayer," she said to Christine, who only rolled her eyes.

"LaVelle." Christine gestured to Kirk. "You remember Admiral Kirk."

The dark slayer tensed when she saw Kirk. "I thought you'd recovered."

He frowned. "From Anacost? I did."

LaVelle turned to Christine. "Marion said you were involved with a vampire."

"I was. It didn't work out."

"You slayed him?"

"No, he moved away."

Kirk couldn't help himself. He chuckled. Christine smiled but the other slayer glared at him. Lavelle walked over to him, leaned in close. She sniffed twice, then pulled away as if disgusted.

"I can still smell Anacost's blood in you."

Christine was suddenly in front of him, pushing LaVelle away from him. "Knock it off," she said to the other slayer.

"What is it with you and vampires?"

"He's not a vampire."

"Well, he almost was."

Kirk stepped between them before the conversation degenerated further. "Ladies. Aren't we all on the same side?"

LaVelle stepped back with a sour look for both of them. "Sometimes, I wonder."

"Are you here for a reason," Christine asked, "or did you just miss criticizing my choice in men?"

Kirk shot Chris a look as he moved back to her side. Antagonizing the other slayer wasn't the answer, although he couldn't help but feel pleased at how she had phrased the question.

"Marion said there was evil coming. And that I needed to find you."

"Marion's gotten vaguer since Gotterdammerung."

LaVelle glared.

"Oh, fine. Silver's been asking about Kirsu."

LaVelle's lip twitched at the name of the head watcher. "Why?"

"I don't know. But he had a team on Vega Hydra. Trying to figure out what really happened. He asked me where all the slayers came from."

"Did you tell him about Kirsu?"

"Yeah. And gave him directions. He'll be by any day now." Christine rolled her eyes. "No, I didn't tell him anything."

"I don't like this."

"Me either. But I thought you should know he's been nosing around. Keep your head down right now."

LaVelle frowned. It seemed to be a fairly constant expression with her. She caught Kirk studying her and the frown grew deeper. She took a step toward him and Chris moved quicker, blocking her again.

"What is your problem with him?"

"He bothers me."

Kirk decided he wasn't fond of being discussed in the third person. "Why?"

LaVelle shook her head. "You stink of magic."

Kirk smiled tightly. "I thought you said I stank of vampire blood. Can't do both, can I?"

LaVelle conceded with a shrug, but he noticed a small smile beginning. "You realize," she said, "that I could crush you like a bug?"

He gave her the mocking smile he loved to combine with a huge bluff. "Depends on how much of that stinky magic I really have, now doesn't it?"

Christine sighed. "This is getting us nowhere. If I find anything else out, I'll let you know."

"You do that." LaVelle did not take her eyes off Kirk.

He was getting tired of their little stare down, but he refused to blink.

"Oh, for god's sake." Christine pushed them both hard, causing them to stagger back. And blink. "There, you both lose."

Lavelle touched a ring on her left hand. Behind her, the portal reformed. "Don't bring him with you, if you come to Kirsu." She jumped into the portal and it closed behind her.

Kirk smiled at Christine. "I love getting together with your old friends."

She shook her head. "You two are like oil and water."

"Oh and you and she are like water and water?" He shook his head. "She has a chip on her shoulder a parsec wide."

Christine nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, she does. But it's not her fault. She didn't get to hide like I did. She's been fighting her whole life. And now she's in charge. You of all people should know how wearing that can be."

He looked away. She was right. On the other hand, LaVelle had appeared to enjoy their little pissing contest as much as he had. He grinned.

"There's no redeeming you." She took his hand, pulling him out of cemetery.

"Who wants to be redeemed?" He grinned at her. "Now, what do you think? Dinner in Venice or Rio?"

"Down the street at the diner." Her tone was very stern.

"You"--he tapped her on the nose--"are no fun."

"And that is just the way we want to keep it."

He felt her hand tighten on his, as if to take any sting out of he words. He nodded, as if conceding defeat. "All right, the diner down the street it is."

As they walked, he held up his free hand, sniffed it.

"What are you doing?"

"Seeing if I really stink of magic."

Chris laughed. "If she thinks it's bad now, she should have been in New Orleans with us." Her grin was pure evil.

He laughed, tucking her hand in under his arm and enjoying the feeling of her walking close to him. "Two slayers? I don't think so. I'm adventurous, but I'm not suicidal."


Christine turned around, sure that someone was watching her. The area between her shoulder blades kept itching and she reached up again to try to scratch the spot.

"What is wrong with you, Christine?" Drake looked over at her as they made another pass through the cemetery.

"Nothing." Christine tried to roll out the tension she felt in her neck. "I thought you said something was going to rise?"

"Something is." Drake did not sound pleased. "My source said it would be near the crypt."

"We've been through this section twice. There aren't any new graves, Emma."

"Well, then, my source must have been wrong."

From the sound of Drake's voice, Christine figured that the last thing she'd want to be was that source.

They walked through the deserted cemetery another time, ending up near the front gates.

"I don't like this." Drake set down her bag, scanned the area around them silently.

Christine waited. She felt the itch again. "Someone's out there," she whispered.

"I think so too. But who?"

Something moved in the bushes.

Christine pulled out her stake. "I don't know. Let's go find out." She charged off into the bushes, heard Drake yell at her to stop, then her watcher followed her in.

There was nothing in the bushes.

"Dammit, Christine. That was utter foolishness." Drake bent down. "Hello. What's this?" She pushed back through the bushes into the light.

It was a pendant on a chain. There was a symbol etched into the silver. Drake seemed to blanch as she looked at it.


Her watcher stuck the chain in her pocket. "I'll have to research this. I think I've seen it before. May be a cult emblem. Would explain all the new vampires." She looked around nervously.

"What's wrong, Emma?"

"I'm sure it's nothing, Christine." Drake gathered up her things. "You'll finish up here?" She walked away quickly.

Christine pursed her lips thoughtfully. Something was wrong. She somehow knew that her watcher had just lied to her.

Was it to protect Christine? Or to protect the Watchers? Christine sighed. Just when she was ready to trust Emma...


Christine whirled, nearly staking Ensign Thompson as he bounded up to her.

His eyes widened and he jumped back. "Oh. Right. I wasn't supposed to come in here. But I saw you and figured it would be okay if you were here." He smiled nervously.

She sighed loudly. "Look, Ensign--"

"--Bob. My name is Bob."

"Bob." She realized she still had her stake out and shoved it into her pocket. "Why are you here?"

She sat down on a nearby bench, scanning the area. The itch between her shoulder blades had stopped. She relaxed.

"I owe you a big thank you. I've been waiting every night since you saved my life for a chance to say it properly. I knew if I waited long enough, I'd find you again." He grinned, it was almost an engaging expression. "Just sit right there, okay? Don't move."

"Thompson, wait..."

But he was already running down the path, his ungainly gait carrying him to the right as he ran. Christine shook her head. She waited.

And waited.

And waited. She was just about to leave when he came around the corner, carrying two cups carefully and very slowly. When he got to her, he handed her one of the cups.

She looked down. "Hot chocolate?"

He nodded. "It's the best for a cold night. Warm you right up."

"It's not that cold, Ensign." She saw his look. "I mean Bob."

"Seems cold to me." He shrugged. "Oh well, hot chocolate is good any time." He took a sip, then grimaced. "Hot," he said. He took a smaller sip. When he looked up at her, he had a dollop of frothy chocolate on his nose.

"You've got..." She gestured at his nose.

"What?" He reached up, laughed nervously as he wiped his nose off with the back of his hand. "Oh, thanks."

Christine blew on the steaming liquid. It did smell good. How long had it been since she'd had hot chocolate? She took a tentative sip.

"You like it?"

She nodded. "Now we're even."

He shook his head. "Oh no. This in no way makes up for my life and you saving it." He moved jerkily and some of the hot liquid spilled out on his uniform. "Oh, jeez. I forgot to get napkins." He fished into his jacket pocket, pulled out some kind of rag, began to mop at his uniform.

Christine watched him, thinking that she should be at home studying. Or killing something.

He looked up, grinned nervously, then looked away. "I'm sorry."

She frowned. "For what?"

He shrugged. "You probably have a lot of other places you could be right now. More interesting people you could be with."

She thought of Jim, decided not to tell poor Bob that he was right. "It's okay. I'm out here anyway." She smiled gently at him.

He nodded, didn't meet her eyes.

"Don't you have anyone else you could be with?" she asked.

He shrugged.

"Not getting along with the classmates?"

He made a disparaging sound. "They're all so young. And they talk so fast." He sighed. "I don't make friends all that easy, I guess."

She didn't know what to say, so she settled for nodding.

Thompson turned to her. "Those were vampires that attacked me, right?"

She sighed.

"Okay, you can't tell me. I understand. But what you did. I mean, wap, you threw your stake and BAM"--his yell made Christine jump--"that vampire just exploded. It was so amazing."

"Bob, I don't think the people in the next city heard you."

He looked aghast. "Oh, oh jeez. I'm sorry. Because it's a secret, isn't it? That there are vampires and things?"

Christine took a long swallow of her chocolate. The man was wearing her out.

"And then when you kicked that guy," Thompson continued in a quieter voice. "And then he tried to slug you, but you ducked and slammed that stake into his chest." He looked thoughtful. "Do they always go up in that big dust explosion?"

She finished her drink and handed the cup to him. "Bob, thank you. But I have to go."

He got up, spilling more chocolate on himself. "Okay. Maybe I'll see you around."

Christine repressed a shudder. "You can't wait for me here. It's dangerous. Don't you understand that?"

"I don't feel afraid when I'm with you." He smiled, and this time the expression was rather sweet.

Christine analyzed Thompson. He could have been attractive. His dark hair was thick, his eyes a clear blue. But he so rarely made sustained eye contact that he probably never gave anyone a chance to admire the color. He stood up and she realized he was taller than she was, but his terrible posture made it impossible to tell. He began to walk off, waving awkwardly as he did. "Okay, see you around."

She nodded, lips pressed tightly together so that she wouldn't laugh at him when he bore too far right and nearly tripped over a headstone.

She looked past him and saw Kirk watching her with a grin from the front gate. As Thompson passed him, he shot Kirk a startled look.

"Ensign," Kirk said.

"Admiral, sir. It's an honor." Thompson looked like he was going to press a handshake on Kirk but then realized he still held the cups.

"Carry on, ensign," Kirk said as he walked past Thompson and up the path to her. "You have an admirer?" he asked quietly.

"God, I hope not."

He laughed at the expression on her face. "Now, now. I thought a woman could never have too many suitors?"

"He's not my suitor. He's just lonely. And incredibly gawky. I bet he's never been with a woman."

"Let's not have you be his first."

She looked at him startled. He was smiling, but there was something darker in his eyes.


His eyes narrowed. "Not at all. You're a free agent." He didn't smile this time.

Their eyes locked and she found herself unable to look away. "You're just looking out for Spock's interests, right?"

His friend's name broke the spell. "Of course." Kirk sighed and looked away.

She frowned. "What are you doing here?"

"Don't laugh. I was on my way home and I thought you were in danger. I ended up here."

"You thought I was in danger?" She laughed, remembering Thompson's clumsiness. "Maybe from being burned by hot chocolate, but other than that..."

He shrugged. "Probably some other slayer who needed me then."

She laughed. "Must be." She touched his hand. "I like that you were worried about me."

"I like worrying about you." He looked away, sighed. "I didn't really have any right to barge in, though. If you do find someone, it won't be any of my business."

"It's not like I'm looking."

"I know. But that's usually when someone comes along." He touched her cheek, then pulled his hand back. "I better go."

"Yeah. Me too."

"Studying to do?" he asked.


"Not for much longer though." He grinned. "We have to celebrate."

"Definitely." She took his hand, comforted by the warmth of his touch, the slight pressure as he squeezed gently.

"Good night."

She nodded, watched him walk away. Then she shook her head, forcing her thoughts back to the anatomy final she had the next morning.


Kirk carried his tray through the cafeteria intent on getting back to his office. He nodded to an Academy classmate he hadn't seen in years when suddenly the hairs on the back of his neck went into high alert. As the other man walked off, Kirk looked around casually, trying to determine what was bothering him. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

He was almost out the door when a shiver ran down his spine and he stopped walking, turning to scan the far side of the room.

Lori sat grinning in the corner booth. She gestured to the seat across from her.

He shook his head slightly.

She stood up and walked over to him. "Jim. I need to talk to you. Please?"

"Lori, now isn't the time."

Her eyes narrowed, and he realized that there was nothing coy in her expression. She gestured to the booth, her eyes boring into his as if trying to send him some secret message.

"Please?" She pulled him gently, pasting a smile on her face as she turned.

As soon as he began to follow her, she dropped his hand. He waited for her to sit down, then slid into the seat across from her. "Well?"

"Hold on." She stared at him, her eyes darkening from honey brown to deep brown to black. She slowly moved her hand, as if pulling shut a sliding door. Murmuring something that sounded like Latin, she closed her eyes and shuddered slightly, then took a deep breath.

He felt as if he was in a negative pressure room, his ears tried to adjust as the air became suddenly heavy and close. "What did you do?"

She opened her eyes. They were brown again. "Gave us a safe place to talk."


"Because he won't expect me to do it here."

"He? He who?"

She seemed to struggle, then spit out one word. "Nogura."

"What about Nogura."

She was clutching at her throat. "Don't say his name again while we're in here." She breathed deeply, almost hyperventilating.

"Lori?" He started to get up but she waved him back down.

Her breathing finally slowed. And she closed her eyes as if in relief. "I have to talk around it, Jim."

"Why? Is someone listening in?" He looked around the room.

Her hand on his arm brought his attention back to her. "No. And that's the problem. I can say anything I want as long as it's within earshot of him. And he hears very well over very long distances. I just hope he's not listening right now, or this much silence from us is bound to get his attention. We'll have to hurry."

She hunched her shoulders, moaned slightly as she rolled her head around. "Feels so good. Real privacy." She let her shoulders drop. "Can't stay long though." She leaned forward. "I need to talk to the Slayer. Can you arrange it?"

"I suppose so. What's going on, Lori?"

"I thought you were just another of the mundanes, one more admiral for me to seduce for him. Until I saw you with her. And I realized that you're different."

He nodded. "I help her sometimes."

Lori smirked. "Yes, I'm sure you do. Slayers have the most amazing energy, don't they?"

He wasn't sure what she meant, was almost certain he didn't want to know.

Lori ran her finger over his arm, never touching the skin but following the curve of his elbow. He shuddered, saw her eyes dilate, then she shivered too.

"You're brimming with energy, too. Do you even know how to use it?" She seemed to be sniffing the air, as if she was some kind of animal catching a scent on the wind. "Wasted on you, all these years." She threw her head back. "He has no idea what you are. We have to keep it that way."

"Nog...that person you mentioned."

She nodded. "Can you set up a meeting with the Slayer? It has to look accidental."

"I think so." He frowned. "What do I tell her this is about?"

Lori smiled. "Everything that matters."

"That's a bit vague."

"Slayer heaven. And my hell."

He frowned. Slayer heaven? Kirsu?

Lori suddenly stiffened, "Careful," she warned him. "He's coming." She leaned in, touched his hand. "Try to look uncomfortable. He doesn't expect me to succeed with you. But he knows I'll keep trying." She whispered something Kirk couldn't catch, brought her hand down in a sharp cutting motion.

Kirk felt his ears pop hard, as if the pressure had changed much too fast. He resisted the urge to shake his head. She wanted him to look uncomfortable? Between the pain in his ears and the way his skin crawled where she was touching his hand, he didn't have to try very hard.

He saw Nogura walk into the cafeteria. The admiral stopped at several tables before he got to theirs.

Kirk pulled his hand away abruptly and stood up, giving Lori a tight smile. "I've got to be getting back. It was nice seeing you again." He made sure his tone did not agree with his words.

Lori looked irritated. Kirk had a hard time determining if that emotion was real or feigned, but he thought it was for Nogura's benefit.

"Sir." He nodded pleasantly to his boss.

"See you at staff meeting, Jim."

"Yes, sir." He hurried away, not slowing until he hit his corridor. As he got to his office, he heard the door across the hall open up.

"Jim?" Richter leaned out. "Can you come in here?"

Kirk saw the older admiral seem to lose his balance and hurried to his side. "Carl?"

"Don't feel so good, Jim." Richter staggered to his chair, sat down hard. "I have to talk to someone about this. I can't talk to Admiral Blowhard, he's already told me to quit asking questions and just follow my orders."

"What's going on?"

Richter handed him a padd. "We're supposed to be on a diplomatic mission. But my science team keeps making these damn sweeps everywhere we go. And Jim, we go everywhere, our diplomatic access makes sure of that."


Richter seemed to be struggling for breath. "I don't think so. It's like we're looking inside subspace itself for something."

"For what?"

"I don't know. The science department, they're new, most of them. I think they're Nogura's men. I heard one of them say they'd find a portal sooner or later." Richter rubbed his head. "I just don't know what he meant. A portal to what? Or where?" He rubbed his head harder. "Damned headache."

"Let's get you checked out at Medical, Carl. You don't look good."

Richter seemed to be getting paler by the minute. He shook his head, pushed the padd at Kirk. "Keep that safe, first. I put some other things on it. Things I took from the science files. They looked odd, not sure why, they just don't seem right to me. You look at them. Tell me if I'm crazy?"

"Carl, later, we've got to get you to--"

"--No, now, Jim. Get it out of here. Put it somewhere they won't find it."

Kirk decided arguing would do his friend more harm than the short wait while he put the padd in his office. He was about to lock it in his desk, when he saw the carrying tube holding his sword hanging on the coatrack. He walked over, dropped the padd into the tube.

He sealed the container. Then, feeling slightly foolish but also driven to do it, he held his hands over the sealed end of the tube, closed his eyes, concentrated, and whispered, "Protect."

He felt a small buzz seem to go through his hands and into the tube. He let go of it, hurried across the hall to get Richter.

"Come on, let's go, my friend." He hefted the other admiral out of the chair, supported him as they walked down the hall.

Richter sighed. "I don't trust him, Jim," he whispered, as he seemed to put all his concentration into walking. Or her. Not one bit."

"Walk, don't waste your breath," Kirk said. But he knew exactly who his friend meant. And he agreed completely.

The trip to Medical seemed very long. As Kirk helped Richter through the door, he called to the attendant on duty, "My friend needs help."

The attendant settled Richter in a wheelchair and said to Kirk, "That's fine, sir. I'll take it from here." When Kirk didn't move, he said, "No reason for you to stay, sir." He smiled; it seemed a kind, open smile.

Kirk left. As he walked back to his office, he felt the hairs on his neck once again standing up. "Lori?" he called as he walked into his office.

She was standing at his window. He had the idea that she'd just moved to that spot. Glancing at his desk, he saw that several things were not where he'd left them. He did not look over at the coat rack, or at the carrying tube he somehow knew she had overlooked.

"Something wrong with Carl? Captain Sorrel saw you helping him down the corridor."

"He's not feeling well. I took him to Medical."

"Oh." She walked away, no expression in her face. It was as if their little talk at lunch had never happened.

He sat down at his desk, ignored her as the door opened and she stepped out.

"See you at staff meeting."

"Sure," he said distractedly, as he reached for a padd.

He didn't breathe until the door closed behind her. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the carrying tube, which seemed to shimmer slightly as he looked at it.

What the hell was going on around here?


"So, how are classes going?" Drake asked as she swung a quarterstaff at Christine's knees.

Christine jumped over the staff easily, bringing her own around to connect hard with her watcher's shoulder, knocking the other woman backwards a few steps before she recovered.

"Classes are fine," she answered.

Drake frowned. "And patrol the past few nights? You haven't given me much of a report." She blocked Christine's staff as it hit her low, then brought her weapon up and to the other side as Christine came at her hard, alternating hits and gaining the advantage.

"Patrol was fine." Christine kept her face expressionless as she pressed the attack.

Drake finally pushed Christine off her, then backed up a few steps and set her staff upright, leaning on it slightly. Christine eased off, relaxing her hold on the staff but not setting it down. She waited.

"What's wrong with you?"

Christine shrugged. "I'm fine."

"Right." Drake turned and put the quarterstaff away. "If I've done something to irritate you, you better tell me what it is, Christine. Because I'm in the dark here."

Christine laughed, knew the sound wasn't a happy one. "Like I'm in the dark about that pendant you found."

Drake's look became guarded. "It was a cult symbol, just as I thought. Very old."

Christine tossed her staff at Drake hard, turned on her heel. "If you're going to lie to me, Emma, I'm not going to stick around." She grabbed up her pack and headed for the door.

"Christine, wait."

She didn't slow down.

"This doesn't concern you, I swear it."

Christine turned around. "Doesn't concern me? Whoever left that there was in the cemetery, probably that night. How does that not concern me?"

Drake's face tightened up again, and Christine realized she was going to lie.

"Emma, just don't. If you have to make something up, just don't say anything." She turned again.

"It's David."

Christine stopped. "What?"

"The watcher I told you about? The one who was turned?"

Christine turned and stared at Drake. "I remember who David is. He's here?"

"So it would appear." Drake sat down on the bench, rubbed her eyes hard. "He used to leave a necklace like that behind when he killed one of us. It was his calling card."

"You weren't going to tell me?" Christine stalked over to her. "My god, Emma, you left me alone out there with him. A vampire that gutted you like a fish is running around this city, and you didn't even bother to tell me he might be in the neighborhood much less hiding in the damn bushes?"

Drake closed her eyes. "You were never in any danger."

Christine laughed, then saw the look her watcher turned on her. Frightened. Emma was frightened. Christine dropped her pack, sat down on the bench.

"Tell me, Emma. Trust me."

"He would never have hurt you, Christine."

"But you said he was hunting us?"

"Watchers. I meant he hunts watchers. He's never hurt a slayer. In fact, if the stories are true, he's protects them."

Christine frowned. "Why?" The idea of a vampire--one without a soul or a handy chip to make him behave--protecting a slayer seemed ludicrous to her.

"He blames us. For what happened to Laura. He was obsessed with that, pathological in his grief. Sure that he should have done more to keep her safe. Just as sure that we should have let her go, ignored that she was called, because she was so unsuited. He was turned in that frame of mind and he didn't lose his hatred and guilt. He wants to kill us all, end the watchers' hold on slayers." She shook her head. "They say a demon takes over, but I don't believe it. When I saw David after he'd been turned, that was no demon facing me. It was David."

Christine thought of Drusilla. Spike had said she'd been mad when Angelus turned her and she'd stayed mad. She'd certainly been insane when Christine had met up with her. It was increasingly unclear to Christine if there was any demon at all in the vampires, or just the blackness that lived in the hearts and minds of most people, the blackness that was normally pushed down, kept away.

"So he's out there? Looking for you?"

Drake's expression tightened. "He's obviously found me. Now he's playing with me. He'll take his time before he forces a confrontation."

"He's done this before?"

Emma nodded. "Oh, yes. It's what made him such a good assassin. He can wait forever. And he could be anywhere. He can fade into a crowd like a cat."

Christine nodded. She'd seen vampires with that kind of preternatural grace. "What does he look like?"

Drake laughed. "Like the boy next door, like anyone, everyone. He's a master of disguise, Christine. He won't be found until he's ready." Drake let out a long shuddering breath.

"He's got you spooked. You're already acting like he's won."

Drake ran her hand down her body, following the route of the scar she'd shown Christine. She seemed unaware that she was doing it.


Her watcher seemed to shake herself out of the fog she was in. "I'm all right, Christine. It's just a shock. We hurt him so badly; I thought we'd bought more time." She took a deep breath. "Come upstairs and I'll make tea." Her voice was hearty, but there was no invitation in her eyes, just a kind of dark brooding.

Christine shook her head. "I have studying to do." She wished there was something she could do for the other woman. "Unless you want me to stay here with you."

"Oh, no, dear. He can't come in here, after all. And I won't be inviting him in."


Drake pulled herself up, smiled gamely. "You run along, dear."

Christine felt as if she was six years old. Or would have if Emma's tone had been at all convincing.

"I won't let him hurt you."

Drake turned to look at her. "You'll stay out of this, Christine. Do you hear me?" Her tone was harsher than Christine expected.


"--No! You stay out. His quarrel isn't with you."

"He's a vampire. And I slay vampires. Remember?"

Drake took her hand, held it tightly, almost too tightly. "No. This is my problem. Mine and Kevin's and the rest of the watcher's. You keep clear of this." She practically pushed Christine up the stairs and out the door. "Now, go study."

When Christine hesitated, she said heatedly. "Christine, just once, do what I say." Then she closed the door, rather hard.

Christine sighed, looked around the street. It was dark; David could be out there, watching the house.

She wouldn't let him hurt Emma. But how to stop him? She mused on ways to smoke him out of hiding as she walked.

As she got closer to the cemetery, she found herself more skittish than normal. Any stray sound caused her to turn quickly, sure that she would find the vampire.

She passed the cemetery gates and looked in, then stopped as she saw someone with black hair sitting on the bench. The man was asking to be killed.

Christine stomped down the path.

Thompson turned and gave her his slightly tremulous smile. "Hi. I was hoping you'd show up."

"What are you doing here?"

He smiled again. "Waiting for you?"

She sighed loudly. "How many times do I have to tell you that it's dangerous out here?"

He reached down his jacket sleeve, pulled a stake out halfway, then pushed it back in. "I'm ready for trouble." He moved his arm and the stake fell out, clattering on the path.

"Oh, yeah. You're ready all right."

"You don't look so good." He studied her. "Why don't you sit down?"

She didn't want to sit. She wanted to walk, or even run. She felt a pent up energy that was screaming to get out. Wharton was out in the night somewhere. She didn't have time to waste.

"I don't even know your name."

"And that's how I'd like to keep it."

"Oh. Okay." His smiled faded, and everything about him seemed to sink inward. "Sorry I bothered you." He stood, picked up the stake and walked away, into the depths of the cemetery.

She sighed again. Just her luck he'd get killed by Wharton and she'd have that on her conscience the rest of her life. "Bob. I'm sorry." She ran after him. "Come back."

He turned around. "You know, I don't need you to be mean to me. I get that every day in class and at lunch and at drill." He wrapped his arms around his body. "I hate it here."

She gently steered him back toward the gates. "I know it's hard. But you'll get used to it."

"You did?"

She shook her head. "I'm medical. Didn't have to go through the Academy."

"You're lucky." He studied her. "So, you're a doctor?"

She smiled. "I was a nurse. But I'll be a doctor very soon."

His smile was openly admiring. "So you save people all the time. By day, as a healer, and by night, in the cemetery with those pointy wooden things I'm not supposed to talk about." He frowned. "That doesn't give you much time for life, does it? For play?"

She shook her head. "I'm a little old for play. And I know where I want to be. It's hard work going to school, but I'll get there."

"You must have studying to do. Why do you come out here at night? Are you moonlighting?"

She laughed.

"They pay you well, right? For putting your life on the line?"

She laughed even harder. "It's a hobby." She stopped when they reached the gates. "Bob, I want you to listen to me carefully, all right? There is a very dangerous"--she leaned in--"vampire in the city." At his look, she nodded solemnly. "Yes, you were right."

"Are you going to fight him?"

She didn't answer.

"I don't want you to get hurt, uh..." he trailed off, clearly searching for what to call her.

"My name's Christine."

He smiled gratefully. "That's a pretty name."

"Thanks. Now, go home. All right?" She shook her head. "And get yourself a cross to go with that stake. It's a lot easier to use."

He nodded. "I knew I forgot something." He gave her a long intense look. "I don't want anything to happen to you."

"Go home, Bob."

He nodded. Turned and walked away.

She waited until he was a safe distance from the cemetery before heading back in for a quick sweep. Wharton had been here once, he might show up again. And this time she'd be ready.


Kirk eyed the seedy lodging with distaste. The small motel--rat trap was more like it--was situated about three blocks from the main part of town. Judging from the couples that were coming in and going out, sex was a popular pastime here in one of San Francisco's seediest parts.

He'd never known San Francisco had such seedy parts until he'd started to hang around with Chris. He might have been happier not knowing, living his life like the rest of the residents who went blithely about their business, sure that they lived in a civilized--and therefore safe--world.

He took a deep breath. This had to be the place. Tolvar had been quite clear about the directions. He'd said that this was where Kirk could find the best possible person to teach him about the power he had inside him. Power he had no idea how to use, even though he was trying to--trying to wing it. Tolvar had guessed that Kirk had been experimenting. But he hadn't specifically mentioned Kirk's attempt to protect the carrying tube the other day, and Kirk didn't fill him in. The less people who knew about what was inside the tube, the better. Better for him, but more importantly better for Carl.

His friend still hadn't been released. In fact, the infirmary had transferred him to another part of Starfleet Medical. Kirk had gone to see him in the private room that Nogura had insisted he have. Lori had been there when he'd arrived. She'd looked up from where she was sitting with a padd, the bulky chair pulled up close to Carl's bed. She smiled, got up to leave them alone, and Kirk had the irrational thought that she was there more in a jailor capacity than as devoted colleague.

"Lori," he said, his nod tight.

"Jim. I'll be right outside." She brushed against him.

A wave of revulsion ran over him. He tried to hide it, nodded cordially when all he wanted to do was knock her away from him.

"Jim?" Richter's voice was broken.

Kirk turned, ignoring Lori as he walked over to his friend. "I'm here, Carl," he said, as he took Richter's hand in his. He schooled his expression into something normal, didn't want Carl to see how shocked he was at the way his friend had wasted away in the few days since he'd last seen him.

He turned to Lori, but she was gone. He eyed her chair, decided he didn't want to sit in it, had no rational reason to distrust it, but everything in him told him to keep away from it.

"Jim, did you--" Richter was overcome with a fit of coughing.

"Shhh. Lie still." Kirk leaned in. "It's safe, Carl. I've kept it safe." He'd kept it safe but he kept forgetting to look at it. He might have overdone that protection spell--he seemed to forget about the case the minute he walked into his office.

Richter seemed to relax. "Good. So tired, Jim."

"Sleep, old friend." Kirk let go of his hand, silently watched him as he fell asleep.

Kirk suddenly felt that he needed to protect Richter. He'd done it for the carrying case, why not his friend? He put his hands on either side of Richter's face, closed his eyes and concentrated. Then he whispered, "Protect."

This time the energy going out of his hand was much more focused. It trailed out his fingers and got no farther, buzzing around him, like mosquitoes trying to get through a forcefield. He closed his eyes and concentrated harder, building the power into something more forceful than a bug. He pictured a photon torpedo and filled it with his energy, with protection and safety and health. In his mind, he sealed it then visualized a torpedo launch bay and a big red launch button. He hit the button as he said, "Protect."

The power flew out of him, hit whatever kind of barrier that was covering Carl and came ricocheting back at him. The impact left Kirk gasping; he pulled his hands away, put them to his own head, trying to shake the pain away.

The door opened and Lori came barreling in. "Is everything all right?"

He forced himself to ignore the pain in his head, dropped his hands and met her gaze unflinchingly. "Why wouldn't it be?"

Her eyes narrowed; her nostrils flared. A long silence stretched between them.

"He's not getting better," he finally said.


He wanted to ask her if that was her fault. He might not know much about magic, but he knew that Richter was surrounded with strong magic--and she was the strongest magician he knew.

Granted, he didn't know any others. He turned away from her to look at Richter. His friend looked worse. He touched his face, felt a lingering trace of something. Something dark and evil and twisted.

Was it possible to poison someone with magic?

He had turned on his heel then and left the room without another word to Lori, had headed straight to the piers, searching for the Andorian who Chris seemed to trust, who her watcher had told him would be able to suggest a teacher.

And Tolvar had sent him here. To this disgusting no-tell motel. To find someone named Weasel. Kirk opened the door.

A tall, thin man looked up from a padd. His hair was shaved close to his head, the color ranged from dark red to white. His arms were covered with tattoos of symbols that Kirk didn't recognize--the colors were faded, as if the tattoos were very old. He had stubble on his face, and his clothes looked like it had been some months since they'd seen the inside of a refresher. Kirk inhaled gingerly but the room didn't smell sour or rank. In fact, it smelled a lot like the Enterprise had: slightly stuffy, but clean.

"You forget something, Mac?" He put down the padd. "Like your better half?"

Kirk could see the man had been working on a crossword puzzle. "I'm looking for Weasel."

"Yeah? Well, imagine that." The man looked down at his padd. "What's a four letter word for oaf? Ends with 't'"

"Lout," Kirk answered quickly.

"Yeah. That's it." The man bent back down to the puzzle. "So what do you want Weasel for?"

"That's between Weasel and me."

The man looked up, his eyes were deep gray, seemed to penetrate straight to Kirk's core. Then he looked away. "Lots of power you got there, Mac. Too bad you don't have a clue how to use it."

"You're Weasel then?" When the man just stared at him, Kirk said, "Tolvar told me you could train me."

"You're a little old to begin an apprenticeship." Weasel smiled; it did nothing to make him look friendlier. "Tolvar, huh?"

Kirk nodded.

"Give me your hand."

Kirk just stared at him.

"I don't want to go steady, Mac. I need to read you."

Kirk held his hand out. He felt a shock as Weasel took it. Power, he realized. Weasel was filled with enormous power. He felt something inside him resisting the power.

Weasel looked up at him in surprise. "Shields down." At Kirk's look of confusion, he said, "You're blocking me. You shouldn't be able to do that; I'm one hell of a powerful sorcerer. This intrigues me, which is good for the odds that I'll say yes to teaching you. Now, drop your damn shields."

Kirk tried to relax, could tell by Weasel's expression that he wasn't succeeding. He remembered how a meld felt, tried to relinquish control the same way so that Weasel could read him.

"Good. Hold that thought." Weasel's eyes became unfocused for a moment, then he dropped Kirk's hand. "Impressive. And scary that you're trying to use this with no training. You're lucky you haven't hurt anyone."

"So you'll train me?"

"I didn't say that, Mac."

Kirk felt a rush of frustration. The next time he saw Tolvar, they were going to have words. "I have a name."

"No. You don't. You're Mac and I'm Weasel, and that will be safer for both of us." He handed Kirk a keycard. "I work nights. You, I imagine, work days. Early morning is the only time we can do this if you're so dead set on learning?"

"I am."

Weasel shrugged. "I used the term 'dead set' on purpose." He smiled mockingly. "Though maybe I should have said 'undead set'? Fits you better."

Kirk didn't look away, felt it was important that he not let Weasel see that his comment bothered him. "A little vampire blood never hurt anyone. I'm still human."

"Yeah, you still are." Weasel nodded slowly. "Okay then. It's your funeral, Mac. I get off at five am. Can you be here then?"

Kirk nodded. He'd begun to wake up at four every morning anyway, his thoughts spinning so badly that he couldn't get back to sleep.

He gestured at the key card. "Then I'll see you in room thirty-eight."

"Thirty-eight," Kirk said, wondering if there was some magical significance to the number.

"But not tomorrow. I have something else to do. The next day, you can come the next day."

Kirk nodded, wondering if the man really had something to do or if it was just his way of keeping control.

"Now get out of here. You're scaring off my regulars." Weasel turned back to his puzzle.

Kirk turned and hurried out of the office. He headed back to his part of town, back to the safe part. He saw the officer's club and decided to go in, suddenly desperately in need of a taste of his old, sane world.


Christine saw Kirk in the distance, walking a bit carefully as if he'd been in a fight. She hurried to catch up with him. "Jim?"

He turned and smiled brightly. "Chris. I was just thinking about you."

She caught a whiff of scotch--single malt no doubt. "And drinking too. Aren't I the lucky girl?" She took his arm, steering him in the direction of his apartment.

"I'm not drunk."

"Did I say you were?" she said, trying to assess just how much he'd had to drink. His speech wasn't slurred and he wasn't unsteady as much as held too tight. As if he'd gone somewhere to relax with a few drinks and came out even more stressed. "What happened?"

"Why does something have to have happened? Can't I just go out and enjoy a drink?"

"Or five?" She checked to see if he understood that she was teasing.

He did. "Four and a half." He grinned at her. "Actually only two. But I was well on my way to a good drunk until I thought better of it."

She turned him into his building. The doorman nodded at them both, murmured good evening, and hit the button to open the door for them.

Once they were in the elevator, she said softly, "And again I ask. What happened?"

He sighed. "I signed up for sorcerer classes. Guy named Weasel. Real prince."

She laughed. "You're going to learn magic from someone named Weasel?"

"You don't have room to criticize; you slept with a guy named Spike."

"Well, there's a reason he's called that."

"And I'm sure Mister Weasel has his name for a very good reason." He frowned. "He never asked me for payment."

She smiled as they walked down the hall and into his apartment. "Give him time." She moved to his bar, picked up the scotch. "Mind if I have some? It's been a long night."

"Help yourself." His voice was right behind her. "You know you don't have to ask."

She turned. He was standing very close. "Jim?"

He moved around her, poured himself a glass of tonic water. "Spike. And Spock." He chuckled. "Funny that the names are so alike."

"But the men are so different. It was easy to keep them straight."

From the look in his eyes, she thought he was going to say something kind of dirty, but then all the life seemed to go out of him and he turned away.

"Jim, what's wrong?"

He shook his head, walked over to the couch and sank down onto it. She followed him, was going to sit across from him but he motioned to the place next to him. When she hesitated, he dropped his hand and looked away. Smiling softly, she sat down in the place he'd indicated.

"Tell me?" She leaned up against him, knowing it was unfair to use the connection he seemed to be craving to force the truth but willing to do it. If only to get to the bottom of whatever was wrong. "Is it the Weasel thing? Because as names go, it's not that bad. I mean he could have been stinkball or spells-go-wrong."

He laughed, turning to look at her and finally dropping his arm around her, pulling her close. "I'm in over my head, Chris."

"How so?" She took a sip of her scotch, then put the glass on the table and let her head rest on his chest. Gods, she was tired. She'd been spending too much time in cemeteries looking for Emma's boogeyman. Too much time with nothing at all to show for it.

He put his drink down on the side table and wrapped his other arm around her, rubbing her upper back gently, the touch creating a sensation of total comfort. "Bad night, you said?"

"Yes, I did. Now, answer my question. How are you in over your head?"

"Something is going on at Command. Something magical--black magic, if there is such a thing."

"There's dark magic. Never doubt that, Jim." She frowned. "Why do you think it's magic being used at Command?"

"Remember I told you that Carl was ill?"

She nodded.

"I saw him today. He looks like he's dying. Lori was with him. It was endearing until it seemed like she was keeping him there somehow. She left me alone with him and I tried to help him--magically, I mean, as much as I could anyway--but ran up against something that wouldn't let me in. Something magical, with one hell of a recoil." He rubbed at his temples. "The doctors don't seem willing to talk to me about him. Friends don't rate as high as next of kin, I guess."

She frowned. "Do you want me to see what I can find out?"

"Would you?" He let go of her and reached for his drink.

"I'll go tomorrow. After my final."

"That's right. Last one, Chris." He smiled, then his eyes narrowed. "Why are you sitting here trying to make me feel better? You have studying to do, don't you?"

She nodded, then looked up at him. He was watching her, a tender look on his face.

"I like it here," she whispered.

He smiled. "And I like having you here. But I don't want to have to listen to how it was my fault you didn't ace this exam." He pushed her off the couch. "Besides, I'll see you tomorrow night, right? Celebration dinner in Shanghai?"

She nodded. It was awfully nice that he had such cushy transporter privileges.

"Go on," he said. "I'll be fine."

"I'll see you tomorrow." She turned and headed for the door, turning around just before she got there to say, "If there is something going on at Command. We'll figure it out."

He nodded, took another drink of his scotch. She could tell he wasn't convinced.

"Jim, I mean it."

"Uh huh. And how close are you to finding that watcher turned vampire?"

"You don't normally get mean when you drink."

He motioned her out. "I'm sorry. Just go, go study." When she didn't move, he stood up and walked over to her.

She stared up at him, deliberately made her lower lip tremble as if she was going to cry.

"Chris?" he said in a worried tone, then his face lightened. "Faker. You are a great actress." He touched her lips, which were both trembling now from trying not to laugh. "Pretty lips," he said so softly she barely made out the words.

He slid his finger across her lower lip then pulled away slowly. "Go." His eyes were soft, calm.

She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and left before she could say anything else that would get her into trouble.


"How long will you be gone?" Uhura sipped at her water as she watched McCoy pack.

"A few weeks this time. Then I may sign on for longer tours." He held up one of his t-shirts. "How many of these do you think I need?"

"They don't have refreshers on this world you're going to?"

"We'll be lucky if they have potable water." He shook his head, his expression grim. "Four decades of war, Nyota. Forty years of non-stop conflict. They finally made peace and when the dust settled, they realized that there was nothing left of their infrastructure. People sick and dying and no hospital system left to support them, just a handful of doctors trying to do their best with little in the way of medicine or supplies. They need our help. They need my help."

"Len, I applaud what you're doing. I didn't mean to be flip." She looked down. "It's just that I'm going to miss you. I've gotten spoiled having you within reach."

He walked over and kissed her. "Just consider it practice for when you're back on the Enterprise and I'm down here."

She smiled sadly. "I don't have to do this. It's not too late to ask for planet duty."

"Yes, you do have to do this. The same way I have to take part in this relief mission. When M'Benga told me they were in desperate need of volunteers for the medical section, I jumped at the chance to make a difference again."

She hugged him close. "You make a difference to me."

"Oh, darlin', I know that. But you aren't here all the time. A man can only sit daydreaming in the sun for so long. Even if the locale is as glorious as Savannah.

"You're pulling away."

His hold on her tightened. "No, I'm not. I love you. I plan to keep on loving you. You've become a large part of my world. And that's why I have to make sure that when you leave, I'm not stuck with a Nyota-sized hole in my life. I need to know that I'll be busy, not just sitting here missing you."

She looked up at him, touched at his words. "You're so sweet."

He gave her a pleased grin. "That was good, wasn't it?"

She nodded.

"I do love you."

She kissed him. "I know you do." She let him go. "Finish up and I'll walk with you to the transporter station."

She sat down on the window seat, only partially paying attention to Len. She had several meetings scheduled the next day with the engineers who were refitting the Enterprise. She couldn't wait to see the latest configuration of the comm station. It would be her design. Something she could look at every time she sat at her station and know that she had a hand in making it work and work well.

She wondered when Decker planned to approach Christine. Hoped he wasn't going to take too much longer. Christine was in demand other places, and Uhura wasn't sure which offer she would choose at this point. "What do you think Christine should do when she gets done with her residency?"

McCoy didn't hesitate. "Nothing better than being on a ship. Lots of variety. You know you make a difference. And you never have to attend long, boring meetings."

She laughed.

"Why? You think she is going to choose research? Or accept a position at Starfleet Medical?"

"I don't know. Decker is thinking about her for sickbay."

"Well, tell the damn fool not to take too long. Once Christine's made her mind up, there's no changing it."

Uhura nodded, knew they were both thinking about Spock.

"I wonder how he is," McCoy said softy.

Emotionless, she wanted to say. That was what Christine had said he would become. But Uhura couldn't believe the Spock she knew could leave behind all his emotions. She'd seen them come to the surface too many times, knew he had a depth of feeling that most people didn't realize. To purge them, wouldn't he have to destroy everything that made him special?

"Christine all right about that?" McCoy closed up his bag.

"She doesn't talk about him much anymore."

"Why not? Spike coming around again?"

Uhura shook her head.

"Pity. I liked the kid."

"The kid is over 400 years old."

McCoy laughed. "I know. Vampires...who can figure out that lifestyle?"

"She's hanging around Jim a lot."

He turned to her as he swung his bag over his shoulder. "Do you mean...?"

"You are such an old biddy, Len." She walked with him to the door. "Would it be a bad thing if it did mean that?"

"I'm not sure." McCoy locked up his place and waved at his neighbor as they set off down the street. "They've both been to some dark places lately. That can bond people."

She waited.

"It can also make them fall back into those places faster."

"She seems to be happier. Not so dark." It was true, not just something she was saying to mollify Len. Christine did seem much happier lately. Uhura thought it was as much due to Christine's new watcher and their therapy sessions as the fun her friend seemed to be having with Kirk.

"But what about Spock? I can't see Jim poaching." He shook his head.

"Maybe you'd have a better feeling for that if you'd talk to him instead of just talking about him..." She saw his face and stopped talking.

A moment later, she couldn't stand it and tried again. "He was your best friend, Len. He and Spock. Spock is gone, out of reach. But Jim is still accessible, if you'd just reach out."

"No sense in reaching out if no one is reaching back."

She shot him an annoyed look but he didn't waver. Knowing she was fighting a losing battle, she changed the subject. "Call me while you're gone?"

He stopped just short of the transporter station. "Of course, I'm gonna call you. You'll get sick of how often I call you."

She nodded, kissed him, it was a sweet kiss. "I'll miss you."

"And I'll miss you. Every single day." He pulled away, looked at the station. "I guess it's time."

She nodded and followed him into the station, surprised at how bereft she felt at the idea of him leaving for just a few weeks. How much worse was it going to be when he was gone longer or when she shipped out for good?


"Will Decker came to see me today." Christine busied herself with her chopsticks, not wanting to see Kirk's face. Afraid to see his expression.

"He wants you." His voice was glum, but matter of fact, as if he'd never doubted that Decker would follow-up on his recommendation.

She sneaked a glance at him. His face was tight, nearly as expressionless as Spock's on a bad day. "Yes, he wants me for a position in sickbay."

"You should accept his offer." He took a deep breath, then dug into this food. He didn't look up at her for a long time.

She sighed. Why couldn't she have waited to tell him this? They were in Shanghai, for cripe's sake. She had to tell him now?

"I'm sorry, Chris." He put his hand down, reached across the table.

She reached back, felt his fingers clasp hers tightly. "I could have found a better way to say that."

"And I could have found a better way to hear it. It's good news. Another thing to celebrate." He lifted his beer. "To you. To success and a new life."

She clinked her glass softly against his.

He smiled, but the expression didn't quite make it to his eyes. He looked so sad, even as he tried to be happy for her. Tried to be supportive.

"I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do."

He just nodded.

"I don't really even know this Decker."

She could see that he wasn't going to let her get out of it that easily. "Will's a good man. I recommended him for that posting."

"He told me that."

Kirk sighed.

"Jim, I'm sorry. I--"

"Chris. Please. There's nothing for you to be sorry about. If you want to be on the Enterprise, then accept. It will be great for your career." He smiled ruefully. "When I told Decker about you months ago, I had no idea what it would mean for me if he took you away." He looked away, then back at her. "You realize you're my closest friend now?"

"I feel sorry for you then." Her attempt at humor fell flat. She squeezed his hand. Too hard. Saw him wince. "Sorry."

They sat in an odd silence. One that seemed to hover on the edge of disaster...or of discovery.

"You're my closest friend too." She saw his look and tried again. "You and Uhura and Emma." She made a face at the idea of her watcher being her friend, but it was true. "But you and I have come the farthest, don't you think? We never really had much to do with each other, except as far as ship's business went. But I think about you. All the time." It was a dangerous admission. Did he understand what she was saying?

He seemed to, his hand tightened in hers. "I think about you too." He took another sip of beer, then pulled his hand away gently. "I shouldn't though."

She waited for him to continue but he didn't, just stared at her, his expression half wistful, half resigned.

Then he seemed to shake off whatever he was feeling. "I have my first class with Weasel this morning at oh-dark-hundred."

"Are you a morning person?"

"I seem to wake up early these days. Can't get back to sleep."

"That's stress, Jim."

He laughed. "What have I got to be stressed about? Cushy desk job, nice standard of living. Women at my beck and call." He shot her a look at the last part. It was full of things unsaid.

Again the silence stretched between them.

Desperate to break it, Christine said, "I told Emma who you were going to be training with. She said not to sign anything in blood."

Again the joke fell flat. Although Emma really had said that.

"Sometimes, I wish I didn't know what lurked under the bed." He looked away. "Sometimes, I wish it could all go back the way it was, that we were never called to Alpha Nu-M."

She nodded, felt a sting at his words. Sometimes he must wish he'd never met her, not as the slayer anyway. "I'm sorry."

He nodded, put down his chopsticks. "I'm not very hungry."

"Me neither." She tried to swallow the last bite she'd taken, found it had stuck in her throat. She chased it down with beer. "Jim, please don't shut down on me."

"I may have to, Chris. This is hurting. And that's...unexpected." He looked away for a moment. "It shouldn't hurt. You're Spock's girl."

"I'm not his girl anymore. And you know it. We both know it."

"I'm not sure he knows it." He finished his beer in one long draught. "You ready?"

She nodded miserably. Her celebration was ruined, and she had only herself to blame. "I'm sorry."

"Quit saying that, Chris."

She followed him out of the restaurant, wondering if she had ruined more than just her little party.


Waking in pitch blackness, Kirk turned to look at the chrono. Four o'clock. Of course. At least this time, he had somewhere to be in an hour. He pushed himself out of bed, making some coffee and eating breakfast before heading for the shower.

The hot water felt good, and he tried to lose himself in its soothing sensation. Tried not to think about how he had ruined Chris's celebration dinner by sulking. He should have been more supportive. He should have hidden his own disappointment.

He shouldn't have been thinking about pulling her into his arms and kissing her until she promised not to go...not to leave him.

He closed his eyes and let the water run over his head, washing away the shampoo but not doing anything for the morose thoughts that plagued him.

He wanted her. He couldn't have her. Maybe her leaving was the best thing? Maybe in the long run, it would hurt less?

He got dressed quickly, heading out the door. The sun wasn't up, wouldn't be up for some time, and he touched the stake he'd jammed into his jacket pocket, the stake he now carried with him everywhere he could.

He hadn't been lying to Chris when he'd said that sometimes he wished he'd never found about this seamy underbelly of life. He'd been happier not knowing.

Although that was probably unfair. He'd been happier on the Enterprise--it was unfair to blame Chris and the underworld she'd brought to him for the pain he felt at losing his ship. That was just the normal progression of a Starfleet career. She and her demons and vampires hadn't had anything to do with that.

But it would be easier to blame her, than to accept that he had brought himself to this dismal state of affairs. Easier to say his life had become hell, not that he'd chosen it for himself.

He turned off the main drag, heading for the motel. It wasn't a long walk, but it was a dangerous one. He saw several men eying him from an alley, knew somehow that they were vampires. One of them started to walk toward him and he drew his stake. The other vampire pulled his buddy back.

"Magic," Kirk thought he heard him whisper.

The two vampires faded into the shadows.

Kirk jammed the stake back into his pocket as he walked a little faster, adrenaline already flowing. He'd been looking forward to a fight. Needed it.

He pulled out his key card. Thirty-eight. The number of his destiny. He walked past the entrance to the room, opened it and was met with a surge of energy as he tried to walk over the threshold.

Weasel came up behind him. "It's called a Caverimics shield. Go ahead and try to break through it."

Kirk pushed at the energy, and it surged back at him in equal measure. He touched it lightly, and it flitted back at him. "I take it I don't want to punch it?"

"Not unless you're into pain."

Kirk nodded. "How do you get past it?"

"Consider that an extra credit problem, Mac." Weasel muttered a few words and the buzz of energy faded. "Easy for me, since I created it. It's supposed to be impermeable to the average person. But you aren't the average person."

"So in time, I'll be able to get past it?"

"If you're any good, you will be." Weasel motioned him into the room. "If you're not any good, I won't be training you." He closed the door, turned on the light. "This part, Mac, it's not training; it's testing. To see if you're worthy of my time."

"Worthy of a guy named Weasel?"

"You think it's a stupid name? One that doesn't command respect? Well, good." He moved past the bed, opened the closet and said a few words in what Kirk thought was Greek. The closet disappeared, was replaced by a set of stairs leading underground.

"Come into my parlor," Kirk muttered as he followed Weasel down.

"You have any idea what it's like to be a master sorcerer, Mac? Every young buck with an ounce of magic wants to take you on. You go through life with a name like "The Great Xalliostro" and you're sure to be challenged--most often to the death. It gets old."

"Old facing death?"

Weasel snapped his fingers, and torches flared down the stairs and along the corridor that led off from them. "Old getting rid of the bodies. I'm a very good sorcerer, my friend. I don't lose."

He opened a door with another set of murmured words. Torches were already burning in the large, sparsely furnished room. "Welcome to my workroom."

Kirk looked at the herbs and potions carefully lined up on the worktable, at the old-fashioned books that lined the wall--and the more modern terminal at a small desk, padds surrounding it. He saw a large wand with a huge sparkling blue stone. It looked like the transmuter that Sylvia and Korob had used to make their illusions come to life. Had there been any magic behind their parlor tricks? Or only technology amplifying simple will? Sylvia had told Kirk that he was different. Had she meant because of the magic inside him?

"Pick it up if you want. Just don't break it."

"It's your source of power?"

"No, it's just pretty. That's a real sapphire in it. You have any idea what it costs to facet one that big?"

"No, I don't. But I'm sure you'll tell me." Kirk picked it up.

Weasel lit a long rod of incense and the essence of patchouli and some deeper, more heady scent began to fill the room. "The wand is a way to focus power, but it's not the source of my power. That comes from in here." He tapped his head, then moved his hand down to lay on his chest. "And in here."

"I don't hold with mumbo-jumbo." It seemed a stupid thing to say but Kirk didn't try to take it back.

"Hey, neither do I. Who needs to make things all complicated? If you ask me, the ritual is just there to make it look harder to outsiders. Or to give the insiders something to share. But you don't need it." He took the wand from Kirk. "Hold your hands out."

Kirk did as he said.

Weasel suddenly began incanting in a strange language, his voice going up and down in a series of tones that seemed designed to appear random when they were anything but. He made a low bow in four directions, then held his hands up high, as if drawing down energy before snapping the wand at Kirk. An apple appeared in Kirk's hand. Weasel set the wand down on the table. "Pretty impressive, wasn't that? Lots more than if I'd just done this--" He snapped his fingers and said, "Apple," and an apple appeared in Kirk's other hand.

"More impressive, yes. But..."


"But a waste of energy."

Weasel smiled. "Right. First test passed. No disappointment at loss of mumbo-jumbo." He pretended to check something off a list. "Now let's see what you've got, shall we?"

He led Kirk to the side of the room. "Sit down." He began to rummage through a box next to the door, pulled something out and tossed it to Kirk.

Kirk caught it. It seemed to be a plain rubber ball.


"Hmmm?" Kirk said. "Is that a good hmmm or a bad one?"

"Just hmmm. It's a plain ball. You'd be surprised how many people try to act as if they feel something from it though."

Kirk tossed the ball to him, and Weasel put it back in the box. Then he turned away, seemed to be doing something but with his back to Kirk, the result was impossible to see. Then he turned and tossed another ball at Kirk. This one glowed the way Alma had when she was on the verge of anger.

Kirk tried to catch it, felt it make contact with his hands, then it exploded into a shower of sparks that fell harmlessly against him, not burning him.

"Well, fire likes you. Not surprising, I guess. I did some checking. Tolvar said you were involved with a fire demon?"

Kirk nodded tightly.

"Don't like to talk about her, eh? Fine by me." Weasel held his hands out, said, "Let's try water," as a ball of water seemed to form in his hands. He tossed it to Kirk.

The ball broke up into a thousand drops, all of them hitting Kirk's hands and beading off, leaving him dry.

"That's damned odd." Weasel walked over, checked Kirk's clothes. "Dry. That makes no sense if you gravitate toward fire. You ever had your chart cast?"

Kirk shot him a look. "My what what?"

"Have Tolvar do it the next time you see him. Tell him I need it."

"My chart?"

"Your natal chart, yeah. Tell him I want the full read. He doesn't need to dumb it down for the tourists." At Kirk's blank look he shook his head. "Your horoscope, Mac. I want that chart."

"Okay." Kirk tried not to roll his eyes. If you asked him, astrology seemed to fit into the mumbo-jumbo category. Of course, Weasel wasn't asking him, he was telling him. "I'll get the chart."

Weasel took Kirk's hand, laid it on his arm. "Tell me what you feel as I work on this one."

Kirk waited, then felt something forming, an energy that somehow reminded him of his boyhood on the farm, rich deep soil being turned by his uncle's hoe, the smell of growing things, alive, fecund. Earth.

He didn't realize he'd said it out loud until Weasel said, "Right, earth." Weasel shook his hands out. "I didn't even get to the manifesting part and you knew. You're a very interesting man, Mac."

"I guess that leaves air?" Kirk was glad he'd paid attention to Alma when she'd talked about the elements.

"Let's do something different." Weasel moved his hands around Kirk's hand. "Close your eyes and think of air. How would you build it if you had to?"

Kirk closed his eyes, imagining the wind on the coast, the feel of it blowing through his hair, whipping up the waves and the sand and the flames of his bonfire.

"Just air, Mac. Leave the others out of it."

Kirk thought he heard some kind of admiration in Weasel's voice. The man must not have expected him to try to work with all of them. Kirk wasn't even sure why he had visualized that. Except that it was hard to visualize air except by seeing its impact on other things.

"Try to focus on the air. You can use the others, but don't give them the same weight. See the effect on them if you will, but let air be primary." Weasel's voice was calm. "And save the whys for later."

Kirk considered the wind again, felt it blow against him. He thought of the sound of the breeze blowing through the dead corn in the autumn fields, or how it whipped through the palm trees in the California deserts when the Mexican monsoons roared up the interior. The corn sounded like waves crashing, the palm trees like spears rattling.

"Yesssss," Weasel said. "Keep going."

He saw himself leaping off the side of El Capitan, a wing harness secured on his back. He fell until he caught an updraft, then he flew, safe and free and alive. He heard hawks cry as they soared above him, saw a falcon diving down, down, down.

"Yes. More."

He heard the roar of decompression, thought of the airlocks, the hiss as oxygen flooded the compartment. The way the shuttles shook as they went from vacuum to atmosphere, the sound as the door opened and the pressure stabilized.

"Open your eyes--slowly." Weasel's voice was very soft.

Kirk did, tried not to react to the orb that hovered above their clasped hands. It was clear and inside air swirled and rushed and created eddies, wonderful, controlled shifts and bends. "I made that?"

"Yes. You did." Weasel let go of his hands and the ball started to shiver.

"Hold it."

The ball shivered more, the air rushing around, the movements no longer calm, not longer so pretty.

"Focus on it."

But the orb disintegrated. Wind whipped Kirk, then all was quiet. "Sorry."

Weasel shrugged. "You got too excited. It's to be expected. First time and all." He nodded, smiled and for the first time it seemed an open expression. A welcoming one.

"You'll teach me then?"

Weasel smiled. "Oh, yes. I'll teach you."

"And the payment?"

"I haven't decided yet."

"I need to know up front. And I won't sign in blood." Emma's warning had sounded more dire to him than he'd wanted to let on to Chris.

"It won't be that bad, Mac. I don't need credits, or anything really. But I might someday need a ship, or your help. Promise me that you'll help me if and when the time comes."

"If I can, I'll help you."

"That's not quite what I asked."

"If I'm under orders to be somewhere else, somewhere halfway across the galaxy, I won't be able to help you no matter how much I might want to. If it's in my power to help you--and not evil--I will. That's the best I can do."

Weasel finally nodded. "It'll do." He began to rummage in the chest again. "And we don't need prying eyes, or any other senses, knowing you are doing this. So the first thing I'm going to teach you is to shield completely--not that you aren't damned good at it already."

Kirk smiled.

"Oh, don't get cocky. You've been lucky so far, using the magic by instinct instead of training. And I can't promise that I can teach you as much now as I could if you were young. Some magics, once they become ingrained in instinct, become out of reach."

"I don't understand."

"Picture you're an archery fanatic," Weasel said. "Been shooting bows and arrows all your life. And you're quite good at it. But your form is all wrong. How hard would it be to correct that? The better you are, the more resistant you'll be to change. Magic is like that. You've woven protection spells and never even realized you were doing it. I'm not sure I can undo what you know, enough to teach you how to do it right. I can enhance some things though. And it will be a challenge to see how far we can go with this." He smiled again. "Tolvar knows I love a challenge."

"Sitting at the desk of this fleabag motel isn't your idea of a challenge?"

"Hey, I own this fleabag. It provides very good cover. And anyone can come here--even an admiral in Starfleet--and not raise a lot of comment."

"So you do know who I am."

Weasel shrugged.

Kirk smiled. "So about these shields?"

Weasel first began to show him exactly how he was already protecting himself, then moved on to building up that protection, making it more intentional, less instinctive.

As Kirk worked, he realized he was enjoying himself. Truly enjoying himself. And other than when he was with Chris, he couldn't say that about most of his life.

Maybe things were looking up?