The Lost Years: Sins of the Past

by Djinn

Kirk watched as the light spilling into his bedroom lit up Chris's hair, the dark brown turning copper. The light moved slowly, crawling toward him, illuminating the bandage on her neck. He imagined the wound underneath was already healing.

She moaned, burrowing into him, and he smiled. If it was wrong to enjoy this, then he didn't care. Not for the little bit of time he had left before she woke, before she opened her eyes and they both had to dial back and be friends again. Friends who didn't run from each other. Friends who could pretend they didn't want more...so much more.

She moved again, and her hair fell over her face. He resisted the urge to brush it back. Not just because he might wake her and bring this sweetness to a premature end, but because he wasn't sure he could stop if he started to touch her. It was hard enough feeling her stretched along the length of him, her arm curled around his waist, her head resting on his arm--an arm that had long ago fallen asleep. He didn't try to move it; the tingling pain somehow seemed a small price to pay for this closeness.

He let his eyes close, resting them. He'd slept longer than he'd thought he would, wasn't surprised that she was sleeping even longer. She'd been patrolling too much. He'd known it, but he hadn't tried to stop her. And neither had Emma, as far as he knew. What had they been thinking?

But Chris had been obsessed with finding Wharton. Searched for him everywhere she could think to look, never knowing that some of the time she'd had her quarry hunting at her side. Kirk still was troubled at that. What did Wharton want from her that he had gone to such elaborate trouble just to get to know her?

Not that she wasn't worth going to elaborate lengths for.

She moaned, eased off his arm and looked around blearily.

"Good morning," he said, allowing himself to brush the hair away so she could see.

She smiled, then grimaced. Her hand reached for her neck. "Oh, yeah." She closed her eyes, pressed against him again, as if she could forget the previous night if she just got close enough to him.

"Does it hurt?"

She nodded. "And I'm so thirsty."

He tried to move but she was holding him tightly. "If you let me go, I'll get you some water."

She looked up at him. "If I let you go, then this will be over. And I like this."

He sighed. Her eyes were sleepy, alluring. Her gaze so calm, especially when compared to the frantic woman who had been at his door. The hurt woman who had been brave enough to come to his door after everything that had happened. She smiled softly, as if asking forgiveness for admitting that she enjoyed being close to him.

He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to pull her to him and take her clothes off and...

She moaned. Didn't move but moaned, as if she could feel what he was thinking. Or maybe she was just thinking the same thing?

The moment stretched on and on.

"It doesn't make it any easier when you look at me like that," he said. "Or when you make that sound."

She looked down, backing off a little so she wasn't touching him.

He suddenly felt very cold. "You don't understand why we can't, do you?"

"Not really. But I know you feel strongly about this." She put her head down on the pillow, watching him.

"You wouldn't say no if I touched you, would you? If I kissed you? Made love to you?"

She shook her head. "But I won't make the first move either. I almost lost you altogether. I don't want that to happen again." She reached out, her fingers soft in his hair. "I need you, Jim. However you can be in my life is fine."

He closed his eyes, let himself enjoy her touch for a moment. Then he pulled away.

She let her hand drop; it came to rest on the sheet between them. "I'm starving too," she said with a grin.

He realized she was giving him a graceful way out and loved her for it. "I'll make you eggs."

"Scrambled?"

"You haven't lived until you've had my scrambled eggs."

She smiled. "Do you have a shirt I could wear?" She fingered the torn and blood-stained one she'd slept in.

He slid out of bed, rummaged through his closet and tossed her one of his sweatshirts. "Use the shower if you want. There are extra towels in the hamper."

"Is that a hint?"

"Not at all." He winked at her, then left her to go fix breakfast. He heard the sound of the water, tried to force his thoughts away from her in his shower--naked. Tried and failed.

She came out, looking better in his shirt than he ever had. He handed her a cup of coffee and went back to the eggs. He added dill, his special ingredient, then threw some garlic in for good measure. Maybe it would keep Wharton away from her.

"So you and Lori seemed pretty tight last night? How'd you get away from her?" Chris's voice was light, but falsely so.

He could tell his answer was important to her. "She had something to do with Carl's death. The second I figured that out, it was as if some spell had been broken."

"His dea--oh, god, Jim. I didn't know. I should have checked..."

"Nothing you could have done. It was magic and we didn't know it until it was too late."

"And you think Lori did it."

"She was involved, maybe even the weapon that took him out, but someone else fired it."

"Who?"

"I don't know. But I'm going to find out." He split the eggs between two plates, added some toast and pushed the plates over, sitting down next to her.

"Be careful, Jim. Lori's dangerous enough on her own. If she's working with someone else..." She dug into her eggs.

He nodded tersely. "What is she exactly?"

She looked up at him. "You mean you don't know?"

"I'm not a native in your world, Chris, remember?"

"She's a werewolf." She took another bite of her eggs. "These are really good, by the way."

"A werewolf?"

She nodded, spreading some jam on her toast. "Oh, yeah. But I've never met one who could control the change that way. She should have been a ravening beast when we saw her, not coming on to the two of us." She frowned. "Which is sort of a ravening beast, just of a different sort." She grinned. "Not that I'd have admitted it last night, but I was drawn to her too. My guess is that she was shooting out pheromones like nobody's business."

"That's why I was suddenly attracted?"

She nodded. "I think so. Could be something to do with suppressing the change. I'll ask Emma if she's ever heard of this." She sighed.

"What?"

"I've got to go see Emma next."

He nodded.

"I don't want to. I feel so stupid."

He reached over, took her hand. "You got away. You're not stupid."

She nodded. "Can you keep saying that till I believe you?"

"Yes, I can. And I will." He grinned at her, saw her expression lighten.

"Thanks." Her easy smile, a mix of gratitude and affection warmed him.

They were going to be okay.

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

Christine spent the walk to Emma's townhouse looking behind her. She knew it was irrational to think that Wharton could be sneaking up on her in broad daylight, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being followed.

She doubled back a few times, slipping down alleys and back around until the twitchy feeling between her shoulder blades died down somewhat.

She walked up the stairs, stood a moment to compose herself, then rang Emma's door.

It took her watcher a long time to open it. She blinked at the sunlight, backing away, then coming back out as she grabbed Christine's shoulder, pulling her in close. Her hand touched the bandage on Christine's neck.

"Good lord. What happened?"

"I found David." She let Emma pull her inside.

"And he bit you? I don't understand? Did you fight him after I specifically told you not to? How hard would it have been for you to just once do what I say?"

"He fought with me...against other vampires. The stories of him helping slayers are probably true."

"So it was one of these other vampires that bit you?"

"No, it was David. And I let him bite me."

Emma sank down onto the couch, staring at Christine as if she was speaking Klingon. "You let him bite you?"

Christine nodded. "He was going to turn me." She didn't look away from Emma's gaze, could see the confusion turn to worry in her watcher's eyes. "And I wanted him to."

Emma patted the couch next to her. "Why? You've come so far." She frowned. "It's Admiral Kirk, isn't it?"

"It was. That's all fixed now." She laughed as she sat down. It was all fixed if you called sticking your head in the sand fixing it. But she'd live with that. As long as she could still call Jim her friend, she'd pretend she didn't want so much more from him.

Emma let out her breath, as if she'd been holding it. "He rescued you then?"

Christine smiled. "No. I rescued me." She took Emma's hand in hers. "I wanted oblivion, and as I was getting it, I realized oblivion was just another word for running away. And I'm through doing that."

Emma's hand tightened on hers.

"It felt good though, Emma. It felt so damn good. I finally understand why people pay vampires to bite them. It was heaven." She smiled again, a crooked, wry gesture. "But heaven is for dead people. And I want to live."

Emma's smile grew brighter as Christine finished. She patted Christine's hand awkwardly, then pulled her into a fierce hug. "Yes. That's good. That's very good."

Christine laughed. "Emma? You're squeezing really hard."

Her watcher let her go. "Oh, my. I am sorry. It's just..." She looked down. "I don't want anything to happen to you, my dear."

"I know. I don't want anything to happen to you either. And now that I know what he looks like..." She glared at Emma. "Would it have killed you to say black hair and blue eyes when I asked you what he looked like?"

"He had blonde hair when I knew him. Blue eyes though." Emma frowned. "Back up a bit. How exactly did he end up helping you?"

"Remember that civilian I told you about? The one who had the little crush?"

"Oh, good lord."

"Yep. My puppy dog turned out to be a hellhound." She shook her head. "I had the opportunity to stake him. And I didn't."

"Was that before or after he tried to turn you?"

"Both."

"Well, let's take our victories where we can. You didn't let him kill you."

"Nope. That I didn't." Christine looked round the living room. All the shades were pulled, making the room very dark. "Emma, this isn't healthy. He can't hurt you in the daytime. You need to stop locking the world away-- at least while the sun is out." She walked over to the blinds, reached for the pull and saw Emma wince. Dropping her hand, she asked, "What's wrong?"

"I've got a headache. The light hurts."

"You've had a lot of those lately."

"Yes, well, that's how I manifest stress. You let vampires bite you, I get a migraine."

Christine sat down. "Touche." She walked back to the couch, stared down at her watcher. "I won't let him hurt you. I said that once, and I meant it."

"Christine, now more than ever it is imperative that you stay out of this."

"He's made me a part of this, Emma."

"No. He's just fascinated by you. You're so much older than the slayers he was used to."

Christine rolled her eyes.

"I'm serious. He was used to a slayer being barely more than a child. But you. You're a woman. An attractive, vital, and..."

"Slightly disturbed one?

"Well, not all sunshine and light certainly." Emma smiled, trying to make it better. "He probably thought that you had some common ground."

"We were like two peas in a pod." Christine shook her head. He'd played her so well. Probably still was playing her. "And when we didn't see eye to eye, he just screwed my mind over until we did."

"Yes. He's good at that." Emma looked down. "Kevin's bringing a team over from London. We'll deal with David. We'll take him out this time."

"Yes. _We_ will."

"No. I've told you before. Stay out of this."

"You've been letting me patrol all this time looking for him. That wasn't staying out of it."

Emma shot her a rueful grin. "I never supposed you'd actually find him." She touched Christine on the arm. "Please. Leave him to us?"

Christine couldn't bring herself to lie to her watcher, so she didn't say anything.

"You are so stubborn." Emma rose, walked to the kitchen. "Tea or coffee?"

"Whatever you want."

"Tea then."

As Emma bustled in the kitchen, Christine got up and popped up one of the blinds, looking at the houses across from Emma's. Wharton could be in one of them, watching the house. Or maybe he lived closer to the cemetery? He had said he lived nearby. Had that been some kind of clue?

The flowers. He probably bought them somewhere close to wherever he stayed during the day, or on the way to campus.

"You're too quiet. It's scaring me."

Christine smiled. Emma probably didn't need to know about the flowers, or that Christine planned to track down every single merchant in the area who sold lilies and white roses. She should have recognized the flowers for what they were--a funeral bouquet.

"Christine?"

She decided to take pity on her watcher. "What do you know about werewolves?"

"The usual lore. How to kill them, when they change, what to feed one if you keep it as a pet." She laughed.

Christine could hear the clink of the pot. She walked into the kitchen. '"Have you ever heard of one being able to control the change? To not transform when the moon is full?"

Emma nodded. "The Osbourne line is known for that ability. They're quite respectable members of the community."

"How do they do it? Through magic?"

"Through self-discipline, meditation, and some herbs." Emma poured out two cups of tea.

"Could magic do it too?"

Emma thought about it. "Yes. But the effect would be unpredictable. The preferred technique is to master the beast. Not just chain it up. Magic is like putting a matchstick corral around a raging elephant. Unless one is very powerful, the beast will break through."

"What if the werewolf used sex as a safety valve?"

Emma took a deep breath. "Well, that would relieve it for a while. But not forever. Why are you asking this? Did you run into a werewolf?"

"A friend did." Christine smiled, knew it was a mysterious smile. "I'm just looking out for him."

Emma nodded. "Werewolves are a bit misunderstood, you know? Most of them don't want to change. They'd rather stay human."

"When they have changed, they're mindless, right? Not the kind of thing you'd use for a job requiring finesse?"

"Oh, heavens, no. They're strictly brute killers."

"That's what I thought," Christine said, as she sipped her tea. Then she put her cup down on the counter and turned Emma's face toward her. "Now, about these headaches. Have you ever had them checked out? We're quite advanced, you know? Here across the pond." She smiled at Emma's expression.

"I'm fine, Christine. Migraines are an occupational hazard for a watcher, I'm afraid. Didn't you know that?"

"I didn't." She laughed. "Humor the new doctor. This is still fun for me." At Emma's look, she let go of her. "Oh, all right. Just get some rest." She finished her tea. "I've got to go out."

"You promise me that you'll stay out of this. I don't--"

Christine let the door close on whatever Emma was going to say next.

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

Uhura wandered in the fresh air, enjoying the early morning sunshine despite feeling a bit adrift. Normally she spent Saturday mornings with Len. Either at their favorite little restaurant in Savannah, or just down the street from her apartment at the neighborhood bakery. She missed Len. Missed him more than she had expected. They'd talked several times since he'd gone, but it wasn't the same as having him nearby, didn't make Saturday mornings alone easier to adjust to.

She squared her shoulders. This was ridiculous. She'd lived most of her life without Len in it. She was perfectly capable of getting a nice breakfast on her own. She was close to Kirk's apartment, and there was a good coffeehouse across the street. She'd go there.

The walk was pleasant and she took her time, finally arriving and ordering a cappuccino and a croissant, which she took outside to eat at one of the tables in the sun. She looked around at the other solo diners, all either reading padds or doing some kind of work. Smiling, she leaned back and enjoyed her coffee. She didn't need to read to be comfortable alone, she could sip the foamy mix and just watch the people go by.

Like Christine. Coming out of Kirk's building by herself and walking quickly down the street.

Uhura smiled. Christine better have a damn good story the next time she saw her. Or Uhura was going to give her the business for all she was worth.

Christine crossed the street and Uhura thought her friend had seen her. She was about to lift her hand in greeting and call out, when she realized Christine hadn't noticed her. Then she saw the bandage on her friend's neck.

She put her coffee down, watched as Christine got farther and farther away. If she'd wanted to see Christine, she should have said something. Following her now would be an odd thing to do. Wouldn't be right.

Uhura got up and set off down the street, the way Christine had gone. She saw her turn the corner, in the direction of Emma's townhouse. Uhura hurried to the cross street, looked down it, then ducked back when Christine suddenly turned around.

Why didn't she just call out to her friend? Uhura couldn't say what motivated her to follow in silence, but it was that instinct in her gut that had never let her down in the past. The Uhura women had the sight, her grandmother used to tell her. Uhura wasn't so sure about that, but there were times she had strong feelings about something.

And this was definitely one of those times.

She saw Christine cut through an alley, then to her surprise, saw a man she hadn't noticed before, turn down the same alley, stopping at the edge to peek around the corner.

Uhura stepped into the bushes. What the hell was going on?

Christine eventually appeared out the other end of the alley, behind where the man had stood, but he had ducked down an apartment entrance, was hidden as she walked by. Christine turned again, as if some slayer radar was telling her that she wasn't alone. Once she'd gotten a safe distance away, the man came out again, resumed following her down the street.

And Uhura followed him.

Christine doubled back several more times, and they played it out again-- the man following Christine until he was sure she was doubling back then hiding. Uhura slipping into the shadows much farther back until both of them moved on.

Christine finally seemed to relax, headed straight for Emma's house. The man stopped at the cross street, stood watching her.

Uhura came up behind him. "Excuse me?"

The man spun, his hand going to his belt. Then he seemed to relax.

"I'm looking for the Embarcadero. Is this the way?" She gave him her best 'I'm lost' smile and prayed that he wasn't up on who Christine's friends were and what they looked like.

He didn't seem to be. His smile seemed genuine, was actually kind of attractive. "I'm sorry. I'm new in town. But I think you want to head downtown." His accent was British.

"Okay. Thanks." She turned around and walked down the street, stopping to ask a woman for directions in case the man was watching her. From the way the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up, she thought he was.

She turned the corner onto the street that the woman had said to follow, then doubled back. The man was still standing there, watching Emma's house. He pulled something from his jacket pocket; it looked like a communicator of some sort. He held it to his ear for a moment, then turned and walked away from the house, coming directly toward where Uhura was standing.

She hurried the short block to the main drag, practically threw herself into a crowded bakery and waited for the man to go by. He was walking slowly when he finally came past, and she let him have a good head start before leaving the bakery and following him down the street. She trailed him for several blocks. Fortunately, he was heading in the general direction of the Embarcadero--in case he noticed her, her route made sense. Then he turned into an alley behind a row of businesses and she hesitated.

Long moments passed. She stood undecided. Suddenly, it was as if every nerve in her abdomen screamed, so she ducked into another shop, peeking out behind the displays in the window.

She saw the man come back out of the alley, this time with three other people--a man and two women.

All in tweed. Didn't these people know that tweed was hopelessly out of date? And a dead giveaway as to their profession?

Uhura watched as they walked past her, heading into a small restaurant down the street. She waited a moment to make sure they were staying put, then hurried out of the shop and back toward Starfleet Command. Christine might be interested in knowing about these watchers and where Uhura had seen them. Especially since one of them had been following her. And it would help if Uhura could pin down which building they might be working out of. Leases and deeds were on file in the central database, and Uhura had access to everything in this job.

She smiled. She loved being able to help Christine once in a while.

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

The scent of flowers hit Christine as soon as she walked into the corner florist shop. It was the first place she'd thought of. Wharton would have noticed it since it was located across from the cemetery where he had so often contrived to meet her. There was no one at the desk.

"Hello?"

A young woman came out from the back, laughing, smoothing down her skirt. "Hi."

A young man followed her a second later. He seemed to also be adjusting his clothes.

Christine grinned. More power to them. "I was hoping you could help me. Someone sent me flowers last night for graduation, but the card was lost. I want to tell whoever bought them thank you, but..." She smiled helplessly.

"What kind of flowers?" the young man asked. "I was working last night."

"An assortment of lilies and white roses."

He shot her a look. "That was for your graduation? He said it was for a funeral."

"He must have an odd sense of humor." She could tell the kid agreed with her. "Any idea who he is?"

"He was a walk in. We don't keep records unless you order them ahead. I kind of remember him though." The kid looked at the young woman. "The guy who wore the uniform some of the time, remember?"

The girl nodded. "It was weird. Sometimes he went out in normal clothes, and then he looked different. He even walked different." She moved to a side window, pointing to a building down the side street. "He lives there, I think."

Christine frowned. This was far too easy. If Wharton was so damned stealthy, why did these two kids know where he lived?

"It's on the third floor, I think." The girl squirmed under her boyfriend's gaze. "Well, he's kind of cute. And he never closed his curtains at night." She looked at Christine. "He was always alone, just staring out at the cemetery. It was really sad."

"Sad." She nodded. "I think I know who it was. Thanks." She saw them exchange looks. "Don't worry. I won't tell him how I found out."

He no doubt wanted her to find out. Wanted her to beard him in his den. Why?

She walked down the alley first, checking the back entrance. It led straight to the street. No escape for him, at least not in the daytime. She walked back to the front, was prepared to make up a story for the super when the door opened.

"Come up," Wharton's voice sounded tinny over the intercom.

She took a deep breath, and walked up the stairs to the third floor. The door was unlocked.

"Took you longer than I thought it would." Wharton was sprawled on a couch in the living room, within easy reach of the bright sunshine if Christine chose to open the drapes. From the look on his face, this was deliberate.

Another test. Another mindf-- She took a deep breath. She couldn't get annoyed, needed to stay calm. "Why are you still here if you knew I'd come?"

"I love the time we spend together." He smiled. "Besides, I'll be gone soon. Now that you know abut this place, I'll have to find a new place to lay low."

She nodded at the windows. "In case you haven't noticed, it's broad daylight."

He laughed. "In case you haven't noticed, the hallways in this building have no windows, and the basement has sewer access."

Sewers. She hated sewers.

"You never go down in the sewers, do you, Christine?"

She shrugged. "I kill enough of you up here on the surface."

"Hardly a reason. Your heart's not in it or you'd be down there, sniffing out nests--if you can sniff out anything over the smell. I always want a good shower after being down there." He studied her. "You look great, by the way. Nearly being turned agrees with you."

She almost snapped that it was sleeping next to Jim that had agreed with her but managed to bite the words back at the last moment. Wharton might not know she and Jim had made up. That could be to their advantage. "Amazing what a good shower can do. For humans or for vampires."

"Sit down. We haven't had much of a chance to talk since--"

"--Since you tried to kill me." She moved closer to the windows.

He smiled, it was seductive and smooth. It was clear he was not afraid of her. At all. "Since you _let_ me bite you, Christine. A very important distinction, and one that isn't lost on you. Or on Emma, I imagine. You did tell her?"

"Of course. And here's an even more important point." She pulled out her stake. "I stopped you."

"I was surprised at that. You surprised me. Very few people are capable of that." He patted the space next to him on the couch. "Be a love and come sit down."

"Not likely." She played with the curtain cord. One good pull and she'd get to see just how fast he was. It was tempting.

He laughed. "There is true darkness in you."

"Or maybe it's just my wacky sense of humor." She sighed. "What do you have to gain by all this, David? What will you win if you kill Emma?"

"Or if I kill you?" His smile was no longer quite so seductive. It had taken on a more predatory look, more professional. The face of one of the best killers who had ever worked for the Council. "And I will kill you if you get in my way."

She did not react to the threat in his eyes, the cold smile that seemed to grow colder as she watched. She let her own eyes grow dark--let him see the face of the woman who had risked everything to take out Anacost, and that damned orb.

He thought she was dark? He had no idea.

He stood up, began to move toward her. She yanked the curtains open, stood in the pooling light. He stopped.

"You were saying?" She sat down on the window ledge. "Mmm, nice warm sunshine."

"You're stuck there. And the sun will eventually desert you."

She smiled. "Then we'll fight." She touched her stake lovingly. "And this time I won't let you talk me to death." She rested the stake on her knee, kept her grip on it sure. "I'm sitting here for your protection, not mine."

He frowned then. Something in her eyes, she thought. He was finally understanding that maybe he didn't know her as well as he thought. He backed off, not afraid, more to regroup it seemed.

He sat down on a chair, the sunlit couch no longer a suitable choice. He leaned forward. "It's barbaric, Christine."

"What is?"

"Slayers."

"Yes, I imagine from your perspective it is." She smiled sarcastically at him.

"I don't mean that. In this day and age, what possible sense does it make to arm a young girl with a wooden stake and send her out against creatures of nightmare? Think of the resources at the disposal of the Federation, of Starfleet. If the Council would just come clean, would just ask for help..." He shook his head, his mouth set in an angry line.

"You want me to believe that you are an advocate for the more efficient eradication of your species? A species that no one believes in?"

He leaned back with a bitter laugh. "You've seen far worse things on your journeys through space, surely? Would a Klingon not be a fantastic monster if you tried to describe one? What about a Horta with its acidic touch? Does a Vulcan not look like the devil himself?" He shook his head. "It's all just tradition. Tradition and control that the watchers don't want to give up. What does it matter to them that girls must die so that the Council can maintain its hold on the process." He took a deep breath. "The girls have no one to speak for them...no one to fight for them. We could. Together."

"Vampire to vampire."

He nodded. "The power you would have would be amazing. Slayer strength and cunning coupled with the attributes of the undead. You would be unstoppable."

"Thanks. I'll pass." She smiled again, made it mocking this time. "I'd miss my reflection. How would I put on my makeup?" Or see yet another cut or bruise or scrape from fighting. She looked down.

"There's a thriving underground market in ensorcelled metal. How do you think any vampire puts on makeup?"

"Really?" She'd always wondered. He smiled, and she glared at him. "Don't delude yourself that we're connecting here."

"Of course not." He crossed his arms behind his head. "Besides, I know that's not a very strong selling point for my lifestyle."

"There aren't any selling points."

He smiled. A silence fell between them. He watched her with a knowing look, as if he thought she'd say something just to break the uncomfortable stillness in the room.

She waited him out.

He finally sighed and said, "I followed you to his place, you know. That foolish admiral you like so much."

She forced herself to not react.

"You didn't come out again, not by the time dawn threatened. I take it you two made up?" He did not look happy about that fact. Then his expression lightened. "But not all the way. Not the way you want." He smirked at her. "Honor is a bitch, isn't it?"

She shrugged.

He smiled, then seemed to shake off whatever emotion he was feeling. "No matter. You have no doubt been ordered by Emma to stay out of this."

"You know I won't do that."

"And so does she. I imagine she is panicking now. Can you imagine how worried she must be about what would happen if a Slayer as damaged as you are were to be turned?" He saw her slight reaction and smiled. "Oh, she'll couch it in terms of caring about you, keeping you safe and out of all this. But in the long run, she will only be concerned with protecting her own kind. Watchers."

"You're wrong." Christine winced; she had just sounded like a hurt child. "You're wrong," she said again, this time in a firmer tone.

"Am I? I imagine Silver's on his way even now with a team of my former colleagues." He grinned at her, the look taunting. "Why haven't they asked for your help? You're the slayer, Christine. The one who survived a Gotterdammerung, and all those foolish to-the-death challenges you engaged in before Spike rescued you from yourself. Oh yes, news like that does travel."

She started to answer but he cut her off. "The watchers don't trust you. They don't think you can handle this. They don't think you're strong enough to take me down. Or stable enough." He stood up, began to move to the door. "They're wrong. And their lack of faith in you will be their undoing."

"David, I can't let you go."

He smiled as if she had just declared her undying love. "I know that. You know that. Why don't they know that? Ask yourself that, my dear." He blew her a kiss and turned for the door.

She let the stake fly, a sharp overhand throw, headed straight for his back. It was a perfect throw, but instead of impaling him, it bounced off and fell to the floor.

He clucked his tongue at her as he turned. "Body armor, Christine. Unlike you, I believe in modern technology." He kicked the stake away from them both, toward the bedroom. "I've left you a little present. One of the advance guard. I bet you didn't even know they were here, did you? This one was following you. Until I ran into him last night on my way home. Eating him lifted my spirits considerably after you rejected me and ran off to another man." He grinned at her, his tone still light-hearted, almost teasing.

She walked over to pick up the stake. Then looked into the bedroom. A man lay on the bed, drained, his eyes still open, staring wildly. It didn't look as if the bite had felt good to him.

"Surely, you sensed him following you?" Wharton's breath blew past her ear. Cool, like Spike's had been.

She'd had to get used to that.

"You would have felt it here. An itchy feeling." His hand touched her between the shoulder blades.

She whirled, aimed the stake for his neck, but he'd already jumped back. He kicked at her, and she met the blow, following the movement instead of trying to stop him. It gave her an opening to kick out at him. She made contact, kicked him out of the bedroom. He hit the floor, turned the impact into a backward roll and was back on his feet.

They circled; she watched his eyes, trying to read what he would do. His hand came up and she ignored it, met the real threat which was a vicious flying kick that would have caught her in the spine if she'd tried to dodge his feint. Instead, she grabbed his leg, twisting, using his momentum to help her throw him down, her stake slashing, hitting his neck, but only enough to graze him, not to stab deep. He rolled before she could try again with the stake, throwing her off him and coming up.

This time with a weapon in this hand.

"It's much like your phaser, my dear. It's set to stun. If you want me to turn you now, attack me again."

She froze.

He shook his head. "You see how quickly our little dance was stopped? With this? Just one piece of an amazing arsenal the Council could use if they wanted to. Instead they'd rather carve stakes." He backed away. "They'd rather you and your kind die than admit they are obsolete. That their methods are laughable."

"David, maybe you're right. But killing them isn't the way to make them listen."

"What makes you think I want them to listen?"

She frowned.

"I don't plan to kill a few of them; I plan to kill all of them and take over the Council. I'll bring it up to the twenty-third century. And you could help me. Think about it." He started to walk away and saw her tense. "So help me, Christine. Make a move and I will turn you."

She forced herself to relax.

"Good. I'd rather have you want it." He gave her an oddly-tender smile then turned and walked out of the apartment. She could hear his footsteps echoing down the hallway, unhurried, confident.

All that was missing was mocking laughter.

She walked back into the bedroom, rifled through the dead man's clothing, trying to find anything that might tell her what the Council was up to. He was carrying a small personal data padd. It had a picture of her on it, information on her usual haunts, the places she tended to patrol, her friends and associates.

He had been following her. Had Emma known? Had she provided the information?

Christine put the padd in her pocket. Let them think David had stolen it. Then she commed Silver. He no doubt had a clean-up team with him in addition to his hired killers. Let them deal with it. She got the usual run around, left the message and hung up.

They wanted her out? They could think again. She locked the door behind her when she left, knowing it would only slow them down for a moment. But breaking in would still be an annoyance.

Sometimes you had to make your own fun.

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

Uhura sat back with a sigh. Something wasn't adding up. Again. It seemed that whenever vampires or watchers were involved, something never added up. She accessed another database, began to cross reference the deeds she'd dug up in the central property registration. "This doesn't make sense," she muttered.

"You wanted to see me?" Kirk poked his head into her office. "It is Saturday, Nyota. Or are you trying to impress the new boss."

She laughed. "The new boss is probably out sailing right now. I'm working on a personal project." She pointed at her chair. "Sit."

His eyebrows went up at her tone but he did what she said. "Do you mind telling me what am I doing here?"

She smiled. "Waiting for Christine. I don't want to have to tell this twice."

"Tell what twice?"

"Uh-uh. You aren't getting a preview."

Footsteps sounded down the hall, unusually hard and fast.

"Somebody is not in a good mood," Kirk said softly.

Uhura nodded, resisted telling him that Christine had seemed in a fine mood when she'd left his place earlier.

Christine strode in, her posture rigid, her face set. She saw Kirk and seemed to relax just a bit.

He stood up. "What happened? Emma give you a hard time?"

"Oh no. Emma was a sweetheart. David gave me a hard time."

"You found him?" Uhura asked. She'd sure missed a lot in the few hours since graduation.

"He found her a long time ago." Kirk pushed an edge of her bandage that was peeling up back into place. "Found her, nearly turned her."

He and Christine shared a long look.

"So just a normal day?" Uhura said, hoping to ease the tension that was building again.

Christine smiled, "Yep. Just a normal day." She moved past Kirk, took the other chair. "On top of dealing with him, I found out that the watchers have people following me."

Uhura nodded. "I know. I followed one today who was trailing you. When you went to Emma's."

Christine turned a surprised look on here. "You followed me?"

"Well, technically, most of the time I was following the man who was following you." Uhura frowned. "When he stopped at the corner, I sort of pretended I was lost." At their joint looks of consternation, she said, "Well, I never get to help. He didn't know who I was. And he was British and dressed in lots of tweed. Pretty much screamed watcher. I left him there and doubled back. Then he walked away while you were at Emma's, went back toward downtown and met up with three other watchers."

"Then what?" Kirk asked.

"Then they went into a restaurant. I guess for breakfast?" Uhura shook her head. "I've been checking the leases and deeds on the businesses off the alley where they met up. But I'm not seeing anything out of the ordinary. No offshore ownership, unless you count the Tachikawa-Nogura corporation as its own country." She laughed, realized neither of her friends seemed amused.

"Nogura?" Kirk asked.

Uhura nodded. "The company owns the whole block and hasn't leased to anybody new in over a year. I checked some other blocks in the area; business seems stable in that part of town."

Christine sat back. "You say this person following me only went as far as Emma's? And that he was dressed like the quintessential watcher?"

Uhura nodded. "And the people he met up with. Tweed central."

Christine shook her head. "The watchers did have someone following me. Wharton killed him, left him for me as a present." She saw Kirk begin to comment and held up a hand. "He had information about me and about all of you. He was either following me or just a very big fan. He was also special ops--watcher special ops. They don't wear tweed. They blend."

"These guys didn't blend."

"Silver's en route still. I can't believe these are his people." Christine pulled out a small personal data padd, called something up and held it out to them. All of Christine's friends and colleagues were listed. Christine clicked on Uhura's name. A picture came up. "I took this off the dead guy. They know who you are, Ny."

"But this watcher didn't," Kirk said.

"Or he did." Christine frowned. "Maybe he wasn't following me. Maybe he just wanted Ny to think he was and report back to me. To make me trust the watchers even less." She sighed. "I think this could be David. He could have hired some actors. He's trying to make me doubt the watchers."

"You've never been much of a fan," Uhura said quietly.

"No. I never have."

Kirk leaned back, shaking his head as he said, "I still don't like the Nogura connection."

"His family is richer than god, Jim," Christine said, "and the family corporation owns a lot of property. I think it's just coincidence."

He didn't look convinced. "Can you take me there?" he asked Uhura.

"Sure. But..." She looked at Christine.

"We'll all go. Maybe they're still there." Christine made a face. "I knew someone was behind me today. I knew it but I kept shrugging it off as nerves."

"You doubled back enough times. The guy was good at hiding." He had been good. Maybe too good? "He was better than I'd expect an actor to be. He seemed to always know where you'd be."

"Let's go check it out." Kirk stood up, the picture of command.

Christine nodded, tried to move past him but he stopped her.

"One question," he said. "Did you fight him?"

She nodded.

"And he ran off?"

"That's two questions."

He touched her arm. The gesture struck Uhura as very possessive.

"Humor me," he said, his face deadly serious.

"He walked off. I was in over my head. From the very first minute I set out after him. I went by the watcher book and by all rights, I should be dead now." She looked down. "I can't fight him the old way. Not with stakes or swords. That's what he keeps telling me is wrong with the system. And I think it's time I listened to him."

She pushed past Kirk. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

Uhura glanced at Kirk, who just shook his head then followed Christine out. Uhura closed down her search screens, erased all history of what she'd been looking for, then hurried out after them.

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

Kirk watched Christine as she hurried ahead of him. She clearly was angry, and more than a little shaken. He walked faster, caught up with her and said, "So what happened?"

"I told you. I found David."

He didn't like how easily she was using the vampire's first name. "And...?"

She closed her eyes for a second, then let out a long sigh of air.

"Chris. You said he was right. Just tell me what happened." He touched her arm again, letting his fingers rest against her shirt--his shirt. He smiled. He wondered if David had been able to tell it wasn't hers. He hoped so.

She put her hand over his, her skin was cold--not vampire cold but chilled, as if she'd had a shock. "I figured out where he was hiding...actually, he wanted me to figure it out. I went in alone. The way a slayer does. Armed with my pointy little stick."

He waited.

"He makes so much sense, Jim. About the watchers, about how things are with the slayers, with how wrong the system is."

"So you talked and then you let him go?"

She shook her head; her hand tightened over his. "I didn't. I told him I couldn't let him hurt Emma. He was not impressed with my threats. When he turned away from me, I threw my stake at him, right into his back. And it was the most beautiful throw, Jim. It was hard and it was dead on target." She laughed, an odd bark of hoarse laughter. "He was wearing body armor. And do you know I felt like he was cheating?" She turned to look at him. "That's idiotic. He was just being smart."

"So then he got away?"

"Oh, no. We fought some. Kicks and blows and more of me trying to poke him with the pointy stick. Until he pulled out a phaser--or a version of one anyway. Shut me right down."

He swallowed hard. "Why didn't he...?"

"Turn me?" She laughed, the sound even darker, more bitter than before. "He's not done with me yet. And he wants me to want it."

"Do you?"

She looked at him, and he saw surprise in her eyes. "No. Jim, no, I don't."

"But you sound like you agree with him."

"I find his methods abhorrent. But his message? I can't say he's wrong. Do you remember when we went after Marcus? We used flamethrowers. Why don't we use those routinely? Why don't we have even better weapons. Small things, easy to patrol with, lethal. We should be studying vampires, finding out how to track them, how to kill them more efficiently--like Spike said the Initiative used to do."

"The Initiative?"

"Soldiers. Back in Buffy's time--late twentieth century. Turned out their leaders were actually trying to make human-demon hybrid soldiers, which was a completely bad idea. But they made some headway in less stupid areas, spread the expertise. It was all lost during the wars, I guess. Or the watchers didn't want anything to do with it. But the Initiative had machines that could track the pheromones that certain demons give off. We have nothing like that. We have swords and crossbows and holy water."

"And that's all you had on Gotterdammerung. All those slayers--"

"That was different. The Orb would have turned fire against us. But if it hadn't, we could have leveled them with a phaser canon. Or at least done some damage."

He nodded. "And we would have. We would have done all those things. Anything you wanted, I would have ordered up for you, you know that?"

She smiled, a soft smile that he liked to think was only for him. "I know you would have. But the watchers, they wouldn't have done it. They don't do it even for the youngest slayers. They cling to the old ways. Have ever since they reconstituted the council after Buffy died. Spike said that Giles just gave up then. Packed it in and took Dawn with him and went to live by the sea. Never went near another slayer."

He wasn't completely sure what she was talking about, but he let her go on. It was better to have her working it out, even if he didn't understand it all.

"Giles might have changed things." She shook her head. "We have to think of another way to stop David." She touched her leg.

He saw that she'd jammed a stake in her pants pocket. "How?"

"That's what we have to figure out." She smiled at him gently. "How fast can you learn to throw lightning bolts?"

He smiled. "I may like to compare myself to a Greek god, but I'm not quite there yet."

She laughed. Her expression lightened. "Well, then we just have to find some weapons that will help."

He nodded. Christine turned to look back at Uhura, who had been trailing them in silence. "Much farther?"

"About two blocks," Uhura said.

Kirk slowed until she caught up with him. Christine walked on ahead, her step no longer so heavy, so angry. Uhura smiled at him. He thought he saw approval in her eyes.

"Not that I don't like being included in the Slayer fan club, but why did you invite me today?"

Uhura's expression grew grim. "Because I saw her neck. And how you weren't with us at graduation...and how she felt about that."

He looked down. "That's over now. We--"

She touched his arm, shook her head. "I don't need to know. All I want to know is that nothing bad is going to happen to her."

"We won't let anything bad happen to her."

Uhura shot him a look. "No, _we_ won't." Then her expression grew lighter, teasing. "But I think you carry a bit more weight with her these days than I do."

He smiled. "I'm her Captain."

"Oh, is that what it is?" She laughed.

"You...approve?" He was surprised at how much her opinion mattered to him. Surprised and disappointed in himself a little. It didn't matter if Nyota approved or not. He couldn't have Chris, even with her friend's blessing.

But he still wanted to hear what she'd say.

"She's my friend. I want her to be happy. You make her happy."

He smiled.

"And she makes you happy too, doesn't she?" Uhura looked at him softly. "It's nice."

It was nice. It could be nicer if--

"She does." He tried for his lightest grin. "She's my friend."

He thought Uhura looked disappointed in him.

"My friend," he said again, firmly. As if daring her to argue with him.

She looked down. "Len was your friend, too."

He felt a pang. "How is he?"

"He's fine. He's working with a medical relief team. Won't be back for weeks." She shook her head. "You shouldn't have to ask me how he is. You should be able to ask him."

He could feel his mouth tighten. He knew she was right. But it hurt. McCoy could ask him too. It wouldn't kill him...

He stopped that thought. Death was all too prevalent in this brave new world of slayers and magic.

Chris turned around, looked at them. "Everything okay?"

Uhura nodded, left him behind and went to join Christine. "It's just up ahead."

He followed them, trying to do as Weasel had shown him--open himself to the energy around him without dropping his guards. Tried to taste the air, feel the energy, the dynamics, the personalities, the evil and the good. Weasel had told him that every event, every person, every word said in anger or love or hurt left a flavor, a tang that colored and scented the energy left behind. He had to find a way to read it, to find the four people Uhura had seen and--

The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly went into high alert. He looked around. "Chris."

She was by his side instantly. "Ny said this was the alley the man disappeared into, before he came out with the others."

He nodded. "Lori."

"Where?" She sounded like she'd be all too happy to use the old-fashioned methods on her.

"No. Not her. Like her." He tried to feel the snap on snap feeling, but it wasn't there. Just the strange rising of his hackles. "Her kind, maybe?"

"Her kind?" Uhura looked back and forth. "And Lori who?"

"Admiral Ciani. She's a werewolf." Chris waved off her next question. "I'll explain later." She turned back to Kirk. "It would explain why he was so good at following me." She frowned. "But why stop to eat. That makes no sense."

"I left right away. They might have just walked through, gone out the back?" Uhura looked down. "I wasn't being very smart."

"No, you were fine." Chris shook her head. "Why are there suddenly so many werewolves interested in what we're doing?" She pursed her lips. "Or...is it not us? Is it the watchers they are worried about?" She looked at Kirk. "Do you feel anything else?"

They both stared at him as he tried to concentrate. "I feel incredibly self-conscious." He shook his head. "Nothing. Let's go."

Christine was staring off into space.

"Chris?"

She nodded slightly, as if she were working out something. "I have to go see someone."

"Not Wharton again?"

She shook her head. "Lori said slayer heaven, right?"

He nodded.

Chris smiled. It was a deadly smile. "I think it's time she and I had that little talk."

"Chris."

"No. It's time I found out what she wants. And why she cares about that."

Uhura shot her another lost look. When Chris smiled, she said, "I know, I know, you'll tell me later, right?"

"You shouldn't have missed the big battle, Ny. Catch up's a bitch." Chris smiled. Touched her friend's hand. "Dinner tonight?"

Kirk felt a pang of jealousy but pushed it away. He'd had her the night before. Well, not had her exactly.

Uhura nodded, then turned to include him. "You like Italian?"

He shook his head.

"You do too like Italian," Chris said.

"No, I mean, you two go, have fun."

Chris shook her head, looked over at Uhura with a knowing smile. "You'll convince him to come with us while you walk him home?"

Uhura nodded, took his arm and prodded him out of the alley.

He turned, and looked at Chris. "How are you going to find her?"

She shrugged, shot him a breezy smile.

He gave her the look. The one that said, "That's not good enough, Lieutenant."

She smiled. Not very intimidated by his stern admiral gig. "Maybe she'll find me?" She shot him one last smile then turned and headed away from him, down the alley.

He watched her till she was out of sight.

"Ready?" Uhura asked softly.

He nodded, held his arm out to her and tried not to think of what might happen if Lori did find Chris.

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

Christine waited until she was sure that Jim and Ny were gone, then headed back into the alley, walking slowly, carefully. Waiting.

A door opened; Lori stepped out.

They stared at each other.

"Jim didn't know you were here."

Lori shrugged. "He's new at this, and he was looking for the energy of those who were here this morning, not for me. He wouldn't have found me anyway. These buildings are shielded." She moved closer.

"But I knew you were here." Christine smiled. "Let me guess. You wanted me to know."

"Something like that." Lori smiled, the look managed to be both mocking and lascivious. "You wanted me?"

"Let's walk," Christine said, ignoring the come on and heading for the street.

Lori laughed. "Neutral ground? Fine." She fell into step beside Christine. "You're not still upset about last night, are you?"

Christine didn't answer.

"It's too bad you didn't want to join in our fun. Jim might not have run from me if you'd been there."

Christine shot Lori a surprised look. She'd expected her to lie, to try to make her jealous.

Lori smiled and for once, it seemed an honest expression. "I'm trying to win your trust, Slayer. Lying to you would hardly be the way to start, now would it?"

"Never stopped you from antagonizing me before." Christine took a deep breath. "Or maybe you need something from me that you didn't before? You...or your boss?"

Lori nodded. "It's possible." She touched Christine's hand.

A tingle ran up Christine's spine as Lori ran her fingers over the top of her hand.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Lori asked, her voice a soft purr. "You're awfully pent up. It's been a while for you, hasn't it?"

Christine realized with a start that Lori had moved her into a doorway, was pressed up against her. Lori ran her hand up Christine's arm, the tingling sensation moving higher. And lower.

"I can help you with that. He won't, you know? You can't ever have him." Lori leaned in, fingers on either side of Christine's head, moving through her hair, her lips close, so close.

Magic. Just magic. And sheer animal magnetism. Christine brought her hands up sharply, pushed Lori away from her, then caught and turned her so she fell not out toward the street but deeper into the doorway.

Now it was Christine's turn to press against the other woman, to hold her as she first squirmed playfully then struggled.

"You like to play games, Lori?" Christine pulled Lori's face up to hers, kissed her hard. As soon as Lori stopped struggling, began to return the kiss, Christine pushed her back. "I don't like to play them. You tell your boss that." She turned away.

Lori laughed. When Christine didn't stop, she rushed up behind her, fell back into step with her. "Gods, you're exciting. You know that? We could be good together." She reached out to touch Christine's arm again, but dropped her hand when she saw the expression on the slayer's face.

"Or not." Christine walked in silence, ignoring Lori's soft laughter.

"Where are we going?" Lori asked. "Not that I mind the exercise, but I thought you wanted to talk."

"Where I pick. Not where you pick."

Lori rolled her eyes and followed her in silence as Christine led them down to the piers. Finally, Christine walked to the end of one of the less commercial piers and sat down on a bench overlooking the water. Several fishermen leaned against the railing, not talking to each other as they watched their lines.

Lori sat down on the other end of the bench. "I'd sit closer, but I am supposed to get some work done here, Lieutenant."

Christine remembered that the woman she'd just manhandled outranked her and then some--no doubt exactly as Lori intended she do. Fleet habits died hard. "Yes, Admiral, do explain why you and yours are following my friends?"

"Are the watchers your friends now, Christine? We were under the impression you were an independent?" Lori sat back, her expression suddenly all business. "Or at least until your own special watcher showed up. Emily is it?"

"Something like that. What do you care if I'm a watcher fan or not?"

Lori seemed to consider her answer. "Normally, one slayer here or there doesn't impact our life much. We ignore them, they ignore us. It works. But it is not lost on Admiral Nogura or myself that we owe you a great debt for Gotterdammerung. And you're one of us, Christine. You're Starfleet. Just like Nogura. Just like me."

"I'm nothing like you."

Lori laughed. "Could have fooled me. That was some kiss."

She patted Christine's leg. It was a motherly movement, little of sex about it to Christine's surprise. She hadn't realized Lori could turn it off that easily.

"Maybe you're just horny? Your vampire boy toy left town." Lori leaned in, touched Christine's neck gently. "Although it seems you lined up a new one? A chip-free one this time?"

Christine looked away.

"Your story. I don't need to know."

"Are we ever going to get to the point?" Christine said, pushing Lori's hand away from her throat.

"This is the point. We are on the same team. You, Nogura, Jim, and I. We're on the Starfleet team. You haven't lost sight of that, have you, Lieutenant?"

"Again the rank. It loses its impact after the first time, Lori."

Lori's mouth tightened. "Then let's talk about something we haven't brought up yet. Kirsu."

Christine remembered what she'd said to Silver when he wanted to talk about Kirsu. "New sushi dish?"

Lori's face didn't change expression.

Christine met her gaze, kept her own face bland.

"Kirsu."

"You said that. What is it?"

Lori smiled grudgingly. "You say you don't like to play games, yet you play this one so well."

Christine shrugged.

"Slayer heaven." Lori leaned forward, her voice much softer, pitched so only Christine could hear. "Another dimension. Land of eternal sunlight, eternal daytime. And not precisely fixed in location."

Christine could feel her eyebrows going up. The last bit was news. She'd thought the portals moved and Kirsu stayed put.

"It shifts to wherever the portal forms. There are ways to use it to go wherever you want to in a heartbeat. You don't need a ship, don't have to waste valuable time traveling from point to point. Just pick a place, and you're there." Lori laughed softly. "Well, it's probably harder than that. But not much harder if a few girls can do it."

Christine inhaled softly.

"You're listening anyway. That's an improvement." Lori looked around them. "We tried to do this on our own. It's a family legacy, after all, for the Admiral. His family helped create the magic that calls Kirsu down. It's only right they get that magic back." She looked down. "We had what we needed in our grasp. Or my cousin did--until he was killed. We don't know by whom, or if they even knew what they had."

Christine forced herself not to react. They were after the amulet? Did they really not know it had been Spike who had killed Lori's wolfy relation? Or were they playing more games? Did they expect Christine to run straight to where she was keeping the thing? Would they follow her?

Lori leaned in, took her hand. The tingling was more subtle this time; Christine could almost feel the woman trying to push at her will. She pulled her hand away.

"This goes beyond vampires and werewolves. Transcends monsters, Lieutenant Chapel. There are enemies out there, a gathering storm. More than one gathering storm."

Christine looked at her, understanding dawning. "You want to use this Kirsu"--she made herself stumble over the name--"as a platform?"

"They'd never see us coming. We could take as much or as little force as was needed. Stop them in their tracks."

"Them? The Klingons?"

Lori nodded. "And others perhaps more frightening."

"The Romulans," Christine guessed.

"They are our prime worry." Lori nodded. "There are others you've never heard of. We're just now getting the reports in and they are unsettling to say the least." She smiled again. "Imagine that. Something that can unsettle a werewolf, Christine."

She didn't like to imagine that. And Lori didn't sound as if she was exaggerating. Christine rubbed between her eyes, where a headache was starting.

"Here, let me." Lori gently moved Christine's hands away, then laid her palm on her forehead, the other coming around to rest on the back of her head.

The pain receded.

"You've been so good at not even acknowledging Kirsu exists," Lori murmured as she kept working on the spot. "We respect that kind of loyalty. And you need to know that we won't harm the slayers. We have no quarrel with them. And there's plenty of room there. For all of us."

"One big happy family?" Christine tried to pull away from Lori's hands, but the woman's grip on her tightened.

Lori moved closer, her eyes darkened, turned black.

Somewhere deep in Christine's mind, she heard, "Help me. Please." Christine stopped struggling, saw something in Lori's expression change. The woman, for just a moment, looked helpless. And very frightened.

Then she seemed to pull on the mask of Admiral Ciani again. And over that the mask of the lascivious werewolf. She kissed Christine, her lips pressing softly, her mouth opening. Christine didn't try to fight, was still trying to figure out if what she had seen on Lori's face had been truth or just another ruse. She let Lori kiss her until the woman let her go and pushed away from the bench, rising in a fluid movement.

Their eyes met, Lori's shook her head slightly, some sort of silent message that Christine wasn't sure she was receiving fully.

"The Federation needs Kirsu. Starfleet needs Kirsu. We can work together. On many of our mutual problems. Our resources are immense. We need people like you...and like Jim." Lori's mouth set in a firm line. "Think about it."

Christine watched her walk away. Hadn't this been what she'd told Jim the slayers needed? A more advanced solution to the old ways of killing? And had Lori just offered her a way to make that happen?

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

Kirk kept looking over his shoulder as he and Uhura walked back toward his apartment.

"She'll be fine." Uhura shook her head. "She's stronger than a werewolf, right? At least in the daytime?" She looked confused for a moment. "It was simpler before, wasn't it?"

He nodded. It had indeed been simpler before. He sighed.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"

"--It's all right. Things change, people change. This is our life now." Or his anyway. Uhura's and Chris's would be changing as soon as they reported to the Enterprise.

"This is where I turn off." She pointed to the street that would take her to her building. "You will come to dinner with us tonight."

He noticed she wasn't making it a question and laughed. "Is it worth my time to try to argue with you?"

She folded her arms. "I've got all day. Have you?"

"I'll be there." At her nod of satisfaction, he said, "Where shall I meet you?"

"We'll come by your place. Say around seven?"

"That's fine," he said, waving her off. He waited until she was well down the street before turning and heading for Weasel's motel. The walk was more pleasant during the daytime. No one hustled him; no vampires threatened him from the shadows. He headed into the lobby, didn't see his teacher at the desk and called out into the small back room, "Weasel?"

Wharton walked out. "Weasel's not here."

"You son of a bitch." Kirk backed into the sunlight.

Wharton rolled his eyes. "I don't mean he's no longer on this mortal coil. He just took a guest down to her room. He'll be back in two shakes, I'm sure." Wharton leaned against the counter, sipping at a cup of coffee. At Kirk's look, he smiled. "A myth, Admiral. That we can't enjoy anything but blood. Good coffee is good coffee. Or is it that you think Englishmen only drink tea?"

"How the hell did you get in here?" Had Wharton tricked Weasel into inviting him?

"A motel is part of the hospitality industry. 'Strangers welcome' being an underlying theme of the business." He looked at Kirk as if he was slightly stupid.

Kirk backed closer to the window, deeper into the early afternoon sun. "How'd you get here in the daylight?"

"Sewers. They go just about everywhere." Wharton smiled. "That's right. Christine's probably never taken you down there, has she?"

Kirk could feel himself bristle at the familiar way Wharton said Chris's name. The vampire smiled, as if knowing exactly what reaction he would prompt with his words.

"She doesn't like sewers," Wharton said, as if it was a great secret.

Kirk studied the vampire. He'd only seen him once when he'd been masquerading as Thompson, had only noticed the ensign because it was clear he had feelings for Chris. Everything about Thompson had seemed to fade into the scenery. But now it was impossible not to notice Wharton.

"Like what you see?" Wharton's smile was mocking.

"Just analyzing how you do it. Posture, attitude--I never realized we could be so misled by things we take for granted as signs of character."

Wharton nodded. "It's a simple thing. You are what you appear, or so most people seem to think. You're not quite what you appear though. It's why I was so startled by you that night in the cemetery." He laughed at Kirk's expression. "You thought it was hero worship for the great Kirk from a lowly ensign, perhaps? I hate to break it to you, but I don't care about that. However, a man filled with so much magic and who has vampire blood-- a master vampire's blood, on top of that--coursing through his veins? Now that I find...fascinating."

Kirk tried not to wince. Wharton seemed to know a lot about Chris, he might know just as much about him too. Might know exactly who that word would conjure up.

"A turn of phrase that you don't seem to like. Sorry." Wharton smiled. "You don't need to hide in the sunshine. I'm not going to hurt you."

"Right. You'd never want to get rid of a rival for Christine."

Wharton lifted his eyebrows. "Are you daft? If I hurt you, she wouldn't rest until she'd hunted me down and killed me." He smiled. "If I do win her, it will be from you, not by default."

"You love her?"

"Not at all." Wharton laughed. "Not like you do. Not like she loves you."

Kirk tried to hide the satisfaction he felt at those words.

"But it must be troublesome. She loves you. But she loved Spock. She might have loved Spike. And she can't seem to kill me. Just how many people does she love?"

Kirk shook his head. "She doesn't love you."

"Perhaps not. But I'd certainly be a good match for her--and for that awesome slayer strength. I imagine your Vulcan friend was a match for her as well. And Spike would only have found her passion exhilarating not fearsome. Superhuman to superhuman. I've never known a slayer that way--I find the idea quite arousing. But to be a mere human and face that? I can see why you won't let yourself give in to your love. I'd be afraid too."

"I'm not afraid."

"Of course not." Wharton's voice was the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head.

"If you don't love her, then why pursue her?"

"I need her help. Together we can change the system."

"Yes, you can." Kirk saw Wharton's surprise and took advantage of the moment. "She believes you're right. Your goals, your plans to free the slayers of the traditions--traditions that only serve to get them killed-- they are noble. I believe in them too. We'll both help you. And we'll find others who will help. But you don't need to kill the other watchers to do it. You don't need to kill anyone." He wondered at that last part. Wharton was a vampire--wasn't killing people an intrinsic part of the deal?

"Such passion. You could charm a Fyarl demon, Admiral." Wharton lifted his cup to him. "It's part of your magic. That eloquence, that charisma." He smiled fondly at Kirk. "But you don't know what you're talking about. You don't know the watchers."

"I know Emma." It was a bit of a lie. He didn't know Emma very well. But Chris had said that Wharton and Emma had been close once.

"I know Emma too. She's one of them. She'll go the way of the Council. Even if this time she has her own slayer. Even if this time she'll find out what it feels like to lose--"

"--That's why you want Chris? To make Emma pay?"

Wharton looked surprised at what he'd been saying. He shot Kirk an annoyed look. "Of course not."

"Your own pain was that bad? You have to share it with her? You have to hurt Chris, the way that little girl was hurt, that little girl you couldn't protect?" That little girl that Kirk had fought with the night he'd met Alma. That little girl that Wharton didn't know had died again for real on the fields of Sekanik.

Wharton didn't know anything about Kirsu, as far as Kirk knew. Wharton didn't know about Laura's life after he'd lost her, that she'd gone on. Maybe they could use that somehow?

Wharton slammed down his mug, the heavy pottery took the beating, didn't crack, but the small bit of coffee that was left went all over the counter.

"Some trouble here?" Weasel asked from the doorway. He walked toward the counter.

"He's a vampire," Kirk said quickly, grabbing his arm as he passed.

Weasel looked at him as if he were retarded. "Yeah, Mac. That's evident from the pasty whiteness. Although that could just be an English thing." He pulled free from Kirk's grasp, shooed Wharton out from behind the counter. "Glad you like the coffee, Bub. Now I told you, I'm outta rooms."

"You have plenty." Wharton smiled. "But I don't want to stay here now anyway." He shot a look at Kirk. "Too many do-gooders running around."

"He doesn't want a room. He just came to spin my head, didn't you, David?" He saw the vampire's eye narrow at Kirk's use of his first name. "I can help you. I have enormous resources at my disposal. And I have friends who have even more reach. We can all help you. Give up your little scheme and let's come up with a real plan."

"My little scheme?"

Kirk shrugged, made his smile mocking. "Well, as plans go, I'm not sure of the strategic quality of 'kill them all.' It lacks vision, I think."

Weasel poured himself a cup of coffee, then sipped at it, watching them both with a smile, as if he was enjoying a particularly hard-fought tennis match.

"You want vision?"

Kirk smiled again. "It would be nice. Show me how your plan is better than mine? How killing Emma and the rest of the watchers will get you the slayers? You want to help them--that's good. I want that also because I'm inordinately fond of one of them, as you've pointed out. But killing the people they look to for guidance"--he held up a hand as Wharton started to protest--"for right or wrong, but the people they turn to. How will that win them over? How will that help?" He smiled gently, this time tried to make the expression one of sympathy not of mockery. "How will that make you any different than the watchers? You'll be just another killer who wants to run their lives. To help them, to free them, you'll need to be different. You'll need to be better."

Wharton looked into Kirk's eyes, his expression one of respect. "I wish I'd met you when I was eighteen, Admiral Kirk." He laughed. "Of course then you'd have been about the same age, and probably not full of such sincere wisdom." Wharton stepped toward him. "Do you know what I was doing at eighteen? My uncle gave me over to the worst of his kind--the assassins of the Watcher's Council--and they taught me to kill."

He reached into the sunshine, seemed to ignore how his hand was sizzling as he grabbed Kirk and pulled him out of the sun, held him close.

The smell of burning flesh filled Kirk's head. He tried to pull away from Wharton and didn't get very far, then he felt an energy kick between them, pushing the vampire away from him. Wharton grabbed at his head as he stepped back.

"Non-violence spell," Weasel said. Kirk noticed he hadn't moved from the counter. But his eyes shone a strange green. "No fighting, Bub," he said to Wharton. "Scares away the paying customers."

The vampire shrugged. He turned back to Kirk. "Do you know how Christine celebrated her eighteenth birthday?" His expression darkened. "The eighteenth birthday is a time of testing for the few slayers who live that long. It's an old tradition, one of the oldest. They say it's to test the slayer. But that's a lie. They use it to cull the herd. Not of the old and sick, but of the old and strong. They get rid of the slayers who will eventually be a problem. And of course it's a solution for all those old potential slayers who'll never be called. At least the ones who the Council has deemed most likely to be called. The ones who they've trained and who, once it is clear won't be chosen, are left with no destiny and knowing far too much. A few of them show aptitude to become watchers, but the rest--the rest are put through the test. And the potentials never survive the test. Never. And the moment they die, there is one less liability in the world."

"That's barbaric. I don't believe--"

"--Believe it!" Wharton spat the words at him, seemed to lose all of his charm, all of his control. Kirk could almost see a frightened and horrified young man behind the vampire's ageless features.

His control reasserted itself almost immediately. "I was there for Christine's test you see. I'd been training for a few years, training well and this was a reward of sorts for all my hard work. I came with my handlers to stand by Silver as we watched Christine's Cruciamentum. That's what it's called. This test. It means--"

"--I know what it means. Torment."

"Yes. Or torture." Wharton shook his head. "We watched from a remote distance. Perfectly safe, of course. While Christine was given drugs to make her helpless and locked in a sewer with a vampire. Torture indeed."

Kirk could feel his hands clench.

"Korby did that to her. Her watcher. The man she loved like a father." Wharton's lips curled. "The man who loved her in ways a father never should. He drugged her and told her it was the flu, and then sent her in against the vampire. She was trapped in there. No escape unless she killed the vampire. Is it any wonder she doesn't like the sewers?" He looked down. "She nearly died. She probably should have died. But she had something, something inside her that refused to give up. She killed the vampire. And never realized that her physical weakness was anything but the flu. She never knew that when she'd tried to get out of the sewers and into the sunlight and had found the entrances all locked that Korby and the other watchers had done that to her. They used to tell the Slayer the truth once the test was over, used to even congratulate her for surviving. But after Buffy's time, it went underground. And so few of the slayers make it to eighteen--especially during the wars--and then even fewer make it through the Cruciamentum."

"That was years ago. Surely."

Wharton shook his head. "It still goes on. And it's illogical in the extreme. If they want to kill a slayer who is giving them trouble, then why don't they just kill her? But they let Christine resume her life after winning, even though the watchers would have liked nothing better than to see her die so that they could get a new, more easily handled slayer in return. That is the idiocy of their tradition. She passed the test, so she must live. While scores more who would never have questioned the watchers are destined to die in this cursed test. And why? Because that's how it has always been done."

"Tradition," Kirk said softly.

"Tradition. They will never listen to me, or to you." Wharton smiled grimly. "Keep Christine out of this, and I will let her live. I will leave her alone." His smile grew even grimmer. "But we both know that you won't be able to do that. Emma has charmed her, as she once charmed me."'

"Emma still loves you," Kirk said softly. He had no idea if it was true. But Wharton seemed to be a surprisingly sentimental creature. It might help her for him to think Christine's watcher loved him still.

"Emma can't love. If you think she can, then she's fooled you, too." Wharton headed for the entrance. He turned back, shot Kirk a pitying look. "Take Christine away for a while. If you love her. If you want her to survive this."

Kirk swallowed hard. "It's her decision to make. If she wants to fight you, I won't stop her."

Wharton shook his head. "No, you'll help her. You're both fools." He nodded to Weasel. "Nice establishment you have here."

"Thanks. Some folks consider it a rat trap, but I like it." He didn't look at Kirk until Wharton was out the door and had ducked down the sewer entrance that was conveniently located in a shady overhang.

Kirk had never noticed that before. "Nice class of clientele, Weasel."

His teacher shrugged. "Not everyday you get someone like him in. You better watch your step."

Kirk leaned against the counter. "I was hoping you could show me some new tricks."

"Tricks?" Weasel shot him a look. "You don't need tricks. You need serious firepower. And a gross of crosses."

"That I can handle. But how are you at resurrecting the dead? Or at least their image?"

Weasel looked intrigued as he leaned in. "Tell me what you have in mind, Mac."

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

Christine sat quietly and watched the fishermen as they moved down the pier, trying to find the best spot. She knew she should get up, leave the bench and go do something useful like trying to find out where David was hiding, but it was so pleasant in the sun. Besides, she knew where David had moved, or at least how he was getting around. He'd thrown her a large clue earlier when he'd brought up the sewers.

She tried to repress a shudder, failed utterly. She hated the sewers. He could use them all he wanted; she still would bet money he was living above ground somewhere. Human habits died hard, and David was a youngster when it came to being undead. If he hadn't already been lethal, been trained to kill by the watchers, he'd be no more a threat to her than any other young vampire.

But he had been trained, molded into a killing machine. And he was a threat. A big threat. But not her only one. Jim had said that Lori had been the focus of whatever dark magic had killed Admiral Richter. Was Nogura using her against her will, making her kill for him? Channeling her power and using it in ways Lori wouldn't have done on her own?

Christine felt another shudder go through her. But this time it wasn't the revulsion she'd felt at the thought of the sewers. Lori left her feeling unsettled in an entirely different way. And not in the way she had probably planned. Christine felt less aroused than cautious and confused. Lori's mental cry for help had seemed heartfelt, even desperate. But could she be trusted? Could anyone be trusted?

Christine smiled. Jim and Ny could be. She could trust them. But Emma...could she trust her watcher? She cared for her. Didn't want to see her hurt. But she didn't know if she could trust her.

She heard footsteps coming up behind her. Hard, firm. No-nonsense. She turned.

Emma smiled at her. She had on dark glasses, but seemed less frail, less the woman who'd seemed to be hiding in her own house. "Is this seat taken?" She waited, as if her slayer might tell her to go away.

"Yes, by you." Christine smiled. "Migraine's still bad?"

Emma was staring out at the water. She nodded distractedly as she sat down. Then she looked over at Christine. "Although maybe I should have had your friend help me too?" She tried to hide a grin, then started to laugh.

"Oh. You saw that?"

"Quite the little show. I've been here the whole time, over there." She cocked a thumb back toward the other side of the pier, opposite where Christine and Lori had walked down and where Lori had walked back. "I was on my way home after seeing Tolvar. Sometimes he gets me offworld medicines--made for heavy grav'ers. They help my headaches more than the stuff I get here."

Christine nodded. She often had to use double doses of meds on patients from heavy gravity worlds. Then she realized that Emma was saying that she had been following her. Christine shook her head--she was really slipping. At the rate she was going, she could be tailed by Godzilla and not realize it.

"She seems to be a very good friend..."

Christine laughed out loud. She looked over at Emma. "You think?" She shook her head. "I've never been so popular, Emma. All the fiends are putting in their bids."

"Maybe once word about Spike got out?" Emma teased.

Christine nodded. She hated that Spike's cover had been blown, but had known that the Watchers would figure out he wasn't dead once he'd moved in with her on Earth. That kind of thing didn't escape the notice of someone like Silver. And Spike and Christine had patrolled together so many times-- had taken so little care not to be seen. "They won't hurt him, will they?"

Emma looked at her. "Hurt Spike, you mean?"

Christine nodded. "The Council, they won't hurt him?"

"No, dear. They won't hurt him." Emma took her hand. "You care so deeply about your friends. Have I told you how much I admire that trait in you?" She turned back to studying the water, but didn't let go of Christine's hand.

"Are you all right?"

Emma nodded.

They sat in silence for long time. Then Emma said softly, "Kevin wants me to try to get information out of you. I feel that doing so would be a breach of our trust."

Christine squeezed her hand. "Just ask me what you need to ask."

"Do you know about Kirsu?"

Christine closed her eyes, felt as if she was going to cry. She'd wanted to trust Emma.

Emma's hand tightened painfully on hers. "Just say no, and I'll tell him that you know nothing."

Christine didn't answer her.

"Lie to me, Christine. Please."

Christine turned to her. "No. I don't know about Kirsu. What is it?"

Emma seemed to sigh in relief. "I don't know either."

Christine looked away. She hadn't asked Emma to lie to her. But she just had. They'd both just lied. When would the lies stop?

They sat in silence again. Then Emma pulled her hand away. "Kevin expects me for a meeting. I have to go."

As she stood up, Christine said softly, "I found David."

Emma froze, then turned and studied Christine. She seemed to be especially interested in her neck.

"I didn't let him bite me.'

Emma let out breath that Christine hadn't realized she'd been holding.

"Do you have so little faith in me?"

Emma shook her head. "He let you go once. I'm just surprised he'd do it again."

"He killed a special ops watcher. One who was following me. Did you know about that?'"

Emma suddenly looked angry. "Following you?" She sat back down on the bench.

Christine leaned toward her. "Silver set him on me, Emma. Had him following me as if I was the enemy. You want me to trust you, and I do want to. But this makes it hard."

Emma slipped her dark glasses off, let Christine see her eyes, see how troubled her expression was. "I didn't know about this. I swear it." She sighed. "Damn him. He promised me he'd leave this to me." She touched Christine's hand. "Leave you to me, I mean. That he'd stay out of it."

"Well, he hasn't. And it all comes down to this Kirsu thing he's so interested in."

Emma slipped her glasses back on. She nodded slowly.

Christine decided to show Emma that she trusted her. "He's not the only one who's interested in it. That woman you just saw. She and her boss Admiral Nog--"

"--Nogura, yes I know. She works for him."

"How do you know that?"

Emma sighed again. Then she sat back, turned to the water again. She spoke very softly. "I'm going to tell you a story. Don't look at me and don't react to anything I say. If anyone is watching us, they'll see only two friends sitting quietly, enjoying this magnificent day."

Christine said just as softly, "All right."

"A long time ago, there was a watcher named Kano Tachikawa." She seemed to realize Christine had reacted to the name. "Not all watchers are British, you know?"

"I know," Christine said, letting her tone become defensive, glad her watcher had assumed she was just ill informed on her watcher history. Christine thought of the amulet Spike had given her. Tachikawa had also been inscribed on the back, just under the Nogura name. She'd noticed it when she'd had a chance to study the translation.

"Tachikawa was also a powerful sorcerer. Watchers have so little to do when not actively training a slayer or a potential that the Council has always encouraged us to find other skills, other ways to make a difference-- and a living-- if we aren't close enough to London to be involved in the Council itself. Tachikawa and his friend Kazuo Nogura didn't need to make a living. They both came from wealthy families. But they fought evil together, long before their descendants joined forces to create the company that has made the current heirs even more wealthy."

So magic ran in the Nogura family? Christine decided to just ask. "And is Admiral Nogura a sorcerer?"

"We think so."

"Think? Can't the Council do better than that?"

"His estate is shielded. By mages and modern technical means as well. He's powerfully shielded too. We've never known, and frankly until Kirsu came up on our sensors we've never had cause to quarrel with him or worry about it overmuch."

Christine realized Emma was being extraordinarily honest with her. "Thank you for trusting me."

"I'm sick of lies and deception and hiding. Where has it gotten us?" She reached out, touched Christine's fingers with her own. "I could lose you if I keep hiding things from you. And I don't want that. Not now when we've made so much progress." She pulled her hand away slowly. She fell silent, as if she'd lost track of where she'd been.

Christine prompted her softly, "So these two magicians...?"

"Yes, these two were quite busy. Then a potential was identified. It was Kazuo's sister, Sachiko Nogura." Emma sighed. "Do you understand what a nightmare that is for any watcher?"

Christine remembered Silver's confession that he'd hoped his own daughters would be passed by, could imagine Tachikawa had ached for his friend. "Yes, I understand."

"They trained her, as was required. But they never left her alone. You see, Kano was in love with her. They hoped to marry. Kazuo supported the union. They kept her as safe as they could."

"But?"

"But a slayer died in Russia and Sachiko was called. She embraced her duty. Despite how much her brother and fiance had tried to shelter her, she was willing to fulfill her destiny. Unfortunately, she was not particularly skilled as a slayer--not every girl called has the same aptitude for fighting. In fact, Kano and Kazuo had always assumed she'd be passed by because she was so clearly not suited. After she was called, they broke with tradition and fought at her side. They kept her alive.

"Until?" There was always an until, a last fight, for any slayer. Christine knew that eventually there would be one for her too. Or another one, since she'd technically died once already.

"One night the girl was out, not fighting, just walking home from a friend's house. She never made it home. Her brother found her floating in the river, barely alive, throat ripped nearly out.

"He took her home, called Kano. They nursed her back to health. And vowed that Sachiko would never have to fight again. The Council knew nothing of their plans at the time. They worked in secret, using old magic--magic lost to us now as so much was lost during the wars. They discovered Kirsu, a dimension where it was always day, never night. Where a vampire could never survive. Where Kano and Sachiko could live out their lives in peace."

"Where the council could never find them?"

"Exactly. Nogura forged an amulet that would hold the magic in place, make the link with Kirsu stable. Then they created five rings, one for each of them, and a spare for both the house in Kirsu that they'd built for Kano and Sachiko to live in, and for the Nogura stronghold here on Earth. The Noguras have always been practical. Mystical rings have a way of going missing, or getting knocked hard enough to break. They had planned for everything. As soon as the girl was well enough to be moved, they would send her to Kirsu."

"They were all set then?"

"So it seemed. The Council was in the dark. Tachikawa sent in status reports on the girl's condition. Since she was recuperating nicely, the Council did not worry. They expected her to make a full recovery. The lucky survivor of a vampire attack." Emma chuckled softly. "There was just one problem."

"What?"

"It hadn't been a vampire. Sachiko had been attacked much farther away from where they'd eventually found her. She'd jumped into the river, which at that spot was quite fast moving, to get away from the beast that was too strong for her to fight. She'd nearly bled to death as she'd floated downstream; the blood had drained away into the water. By the time they'd found her, it had looked like a vampire attack."

Christine suddenly understood. "But it was a werewolf?"

"Precisely." Emma stopped talking for a moment, then she said softly. "She never told them. Kano thought afterwards, that she didn't tell anyone because she didn't know what the creature had been--that they had kept her too sheltered. But it's possible she did know and was just afraid. At any rate, her voice was nearly gone after the attack. Talking was difficult. By the time Sachiko had regained her speech, she'd chosen not to mention that her foe had not been a vampire. But they all found out soon enough. The moon was full before they could send her to Kirsu with Kano."

"My god." Christine could imagine the damage a werewolf would do to an unsuspecting household.

"Nogura was out with Tachikawa fighting some local vampires when Sachiko transformed for the first time. She killed nearly everyone in the Nogura stronghold and then ran off."

"Did they catch her?"

"Yes." Emma sighed. "And killed her; a new slayer was called soon after. Tachikawa told the Council what had happened. He even told them what they had planned for his fiancee and him."

"He told them about Kirsu?"

"Yes. It was lost by then. One of the few servants who survived that night ran off with the amulet and the rings. By the time he was found, he'd pawned the jewelry. The Tachikawas and the Noguras have been looking for it ever since."

"And it was never found?"

Emma shook her head. "There've been rumors though. The most recent was about the amulet, just a few days ago. But the watcher who Kevin sent to get it was killed." Emma sighed. "Landon was a good man. I worked with him when his slayer died."

"I'm sorry."

Emma shrugged. "As with Starfleet, it is the nature of our business to sustain loss, is it not?" She leaned forward, rubbing at her temples. "There have been rumors for years now about Kirsu. Ever since Helene Donleavy disappeared, decades ago. Disappeared, some said, to a slayer heaven. Where the slayers aren't quite dead. But dead long enough to have called their successors. If she did find the rings...even just one of them...?"

Christine didn't answer. She owed LaVelle and Marion and the others as much if not more than she owed Emma.

"You amassed an army for your Gotterdammerung, Christine. They had to come from somewhere. Kevin knows you're hiding something. And he suspects it's Kirsu."

"What do you think?"

"I don't think about it. I'm here to be your watcher and your therapist. And I've told him that."

"Why does he want it so badly?"

"To move the Council there. To train the girls in safety. No vampires. Ever."

"Sure. And the older slayers could retire there. If there are no vampires. Ever."

Emma did not reply.

"Guess that wasn't part of his plan, huh?" Christine shook her head, then remembered she wasn't supposed to react. "God, don't you see, Emma? It's just his way to get better control of us. To keep his hold firm on the Council, on all of this: the slayers and our stupid traditions and even stupider methods."

"Kevin's not the enemy."

"If he's not, I don't know who is." Christine closed her eyes. She could hear David's words coming out of her mouth. But was he wrong?

"That's David talking. Not you."

"Maybe he makes more sense than you want to admit, Emma."

"He's brilliant at screwing with a mind, Christine. He always has been."

"I know that. But aren't you brilliant at that too? Isn't helping me just a different kind of screwing around with a mind? Why is okay when you do it?"

"Don't be absurd. I'm trying to help you."

"Strangely enough, so is he."

Emma sighed. "Join him then. If he makes so much sense." Christine had never heard her watcher sound so angry with her.

"I don't want to join him. Because he plans to hurt you. And I'll never let him do that. You're one of my friends now too, you know."

Emma slowly sat back against the bench. "If he hadn't threatened me, would you care about stopping him?"

"I'm not sure anymore. If he left you alone..." And left Peter alone. But Emma didn't need to know that Wyndam-Pryce had been helping Christine and her friends. Not when he was far away and out of it now.

"God, Christine. He's gotten to you." Then Emma touched her hand again. "But I actually understand that."

"Because he got to you too?"

"No. Because you have. If it had been anyone other than you, I wouldn't have told the story of Kirsu. And I've defied Kevin for you, refused to get the information he wants from you."

Christine turned her hand over, twined her fingers with Emma's. "Quite a pair, aren't we?"

"Yes, we are."

"What do we do?"

Emma didn't answer. Christine didn't know if that was because she didn't know or didn't want to say.

They sat there for a long time. In silence. Watching the water. Just two women enjoying the lovely view.

FIN