(Disclaimer: This is fan fiction just for fun. I have no claims.)

11-4-08/Tuesday, 2:00 a.m.

Grace Girardi approaches Arcadia in her astral projection form. It has been a long time since Grace has used this method of travel for personal reasons, but her absence from her husband has made her wistful for Luke even though they talk and text every day. When Luke returned to Boston for the fall semester, Grace volunteered to stay behind to help the Girardi household during this very busy time. Helen was in frantic mode due to her numerous portrait painting commissions and having to make as many campaign stops as possible to help Will get elected mayor. Grace saw the need and stepped in to help run the house and care for her 17 month old sister-in-law, E.T. Unable to stand not seeing Luke during these two long months, Grace has made a brief visit to Boston to watch Luke and hear his faint snoring, which use to annoy her but now she finds it difficult to sleep without that sound.

As Grace descends toward Euclid Avenue, she pauses as she notices two identical dark vans parked across the street. A group of men in black outfits and carrying silenced weapons exit the vans. Alarmed, Grace lowers to where the men are gathering, confident that she can not be heard or seen. The obvious leader of this group of…eight men holds up a photograph and adresses his soldiers.

"Once last look, this is our target. I remind you, she is to be taken alive or we don't get paid."

("Holy crap, that's Joan!") Grace loudly exclaims, her words unheard by all.

The leader continues, "That's her bedroom, the one on the second floor, left corner of the house."

One of the other men asks, "What kind of opposition can we expect?"

"Hopefully we will be able to do this undetected, but there are three other adults inside and two small kids. The man is an ex-cop and probably armed. If things go bad, you are authorized to kill the other adults. Anyone who shoots a kid will answer to me, got it?"

The other men solemnly nod their agreement.

"What about the phones, Number Five?"

Another man replies, "The landline has been cut and the jammer is on. No cell phone in a two block radius will work."

"Alright, let's do this. Number Four, keep watch with the vans."

As the seven other men begin to slowly, stealthily approach the Girardi house, Grace flys toward her bedroom. She must reconnect with her body and warn the others. Suddenly, just as Grace reaches the house, she is startled to see her path is blocked by another person in astral form. He is young, probably around 16, and his appearance is vastly different from Grace's. Whereas Grace always travels in a flowing white gown that masks all but her face and hands, this kid is gowned in a tattered outfit of charcoal grey. He has the look of a lunatic, but there is something about him that is far more evil than mere craziness…

"Surprised? Did you think your side was the only one who has this ability?" he laughs.

"Get out of my way."

The teen laughs again. "Make me!"

Grace only hesitates a moment. They are in an unsolid spiritual state, unable to interact physically with anything. Grace moves forward rapidly, intending to go through this weird guy, but to her surprise, he throws a punch at her midsection and Grace crumples over in pain.

The kid smiles at the sight of her discomfort. "Oh yeah, we can touch each other in this state. Back off blondie, I'm not going to let you interfere with this little raid."

Grace grimaces before glaring at the guy with an anger she has rarely known. "You're between me and my kid!"

With a scream of rage, Grace charges…

Two minutes later, Grace enters her room, sees that Annie is sleeping peacefully, and then returns to her body. The fight with the unknown kid was quick and animalistic. Grace tore into the teen with teeth, clawing fingernails, punches and kicks. When last seen, the dark astral form of her opponent was fleeing eastward, howling with pain and fear. As Grace's body awakens, she assumes the pain will be gone, but she is wrong. With a moan of agony, Grace struggles to her feet and manages to stagger from her bedroom (Kevin's old room) to Joan's room. She does remember not to put on any lights. Without knocking, Grace quietly enters…

"Joan…" Grace begins to whisper, but Grace sees that Joan is already awake and has slipped on a set of black jogging clothes. She is removing from an open strongbox a stun gun.

"Grace, are you okay?" Joan whispers back, seeing her best friend limp into the room.

"Yeah, I…fell out of bed. Joan, there are armed men out there!"

"I know. I…heard them."

"We have to warn your dad. He still has his old revolver…"

"No. If those commandos realize anyone is awake, they could rush in and kill everyone. They're only after me. I'll lead them away and everyone else will be safe. Grace, no lights and no sounds. Don't awaken anyone else or you could get the whole family killed."

Joan opens the window to her bedroom and grabs the drainage pipe that is next to it.

"Will this hold me?"

"It always held me, and I weigh more than you do."

Joan nods and is quickly gone from view. Unable to stand any more, the pain wracked Grace sags onto the bed. She notices the open strongbox and the first item on top: a government i.d. badge that identifies Joan A. Girardi as a consultant for Homeland Security. Beneath that is a presidential citation thanking Joan for her service to her country, signed by George W. Bush.

"Oh my God, Joan is a spy?"

Reaching the ground by way of the drainpipe, Joan sees she has landed only a few feet away from one of the men who are about to invade her home. Angellicaly trained in both stealth and hand-to-hand combat, it takes Joan only a moment to deliver a devastating knockout blow to the man's brain stem. He will be out for at least an hour, and unable to move for several hours more. Joan retrieves from the fallen man a 9mm pistol and a submachine gun, both with large silencers attached.

Moving with far greater stealth than her opponents are capable of, Joan slips from shadow to shadow until she manages to cross the street to where the two vans are parked. Using the pistol, Joan shoots out a tire on each of the vans. The guard with the vans emerges only to receive a blow from the butt of the submachine gun that shatters his jaw, followed by a kick to the leg that snaps his kneecap. Joan is in no mood to be merciful to these men who are a danger to her family. Two down.

The gunshots were silenced, but the two popping tires made a lot of noise. The six remaining men turn toward the sound and recognize their 'target'…giving them the finger. Joan flees, heading for midtown park, three blocks away. She needs to get away from any inhabited area to prevent civilian casulaties, and that far from her house, her cell phone should work again. Her pursuers are fast, but not as fast as a 20 year old in the best shape of her life, who trains regularly with an angel who has a drill instructor's approach to conditioning.

Joan reaches the park and takes shelter amongst the trees. She waits for her rapidly approaching foes, trying to pick them out in the darkness. Too bad the demons that normally influence these men have fled in the face of an instrument of God. It is how Joan knew of their approach even in her sleep, and it would make targeting her enemies a lot easier in the dark. Joan checks her phone, but it still won't work. She should be out of range of their jammer by now, unless someone is carrying a close range, personal jammer nearby… Joan detects movement as the six men have reached the park and are beginning their cautious approach. Given basic instruction in automatic weapons by Homeland Security, Joan rises up and fires a half clip of bullets at the enemy…but she can not stop herself from firing high into the trees. As much danger as she is in, Joan can't bring herself to kill.

Joan ducks back as the six men drop to the ground, a few return rounds smacking the tree she is behind. Slowly, professionally, they move from tree to tree, closing in on Joan's position. Joan switches the gun to semiautomatic fire and waits, knowing that this time she will have to kill or be killed. Can she do it? Suddenly, Joan hears a brief struggle followed by a scream of terror that is quickly cut off. Voices begin to shout in the darkness about what is happening, but each of those voices is silenced in moments. Although she cannot see what is happening, Joan is very aware of the spiritual situation. The evil reek of bloody death is unmistakeable. Vampire!

When the last of the commandos is dead, the vampire confidently approaches Joan. He looks to be in his mid thirties, but from the evil exhuding from his body, Joan would estimate the 'man' to be about ten times that age. Joan has met some vampires who have retained a lot of their humanity, but not this one. He revels in the fact that he is a powerful, blood-sucking monster. The vampire is dressed much like the deceased commandos, but he is 'vamped' out with fangs exposed and his eyes all white. As the vampire licks blood from his lips, Joan notices that he has no weapons but for some curious reason he is carrying a long aluminum pole...

"I'm guessing you're not my rescuer?" Joan asks as she stands.

The vampire chuckles. "Hardly. That group of mercenaries was hired to capture you for a high price, but they were a little careless with loose talk about their assignment. The mercenary world is a small one and I soon heard about the easy money they were going to earn. So, I followed them with the intention of snatching away their prize. You put up a surprisingly good fight but tsk-tsk, turned chicken when you had the chance to pull the trigger on someone..."

As if on cue, Joan raises the submachine gun to fire into the vampire. No bullet can kill his kind, but if she can get one in his brain, he will be out cold for 20 or 30 minutes. Before Joan can pull the trigger, the vampire uses the long pole to knock the gun from her hand. As fast as she can, Joan pulls the pistol from her pocket, but with the same results. Still moving fast, Joan rushes toward the vampire - all she has to do is touch him once and he will be on the ground screaming in agony.

As fast and as well trained as Joan is, no one can match the speed of a vampire. He lowers the pole toward her and too late Joan realizes there is a snare at the end of it. It is a capture stick, the kind used by conservation officers to control dangerous animals. The snare tightens around Joan's neck, and instantly Joan is being choked by the thick plastic rope, the more she struggles the tighter it gets. Joan forces herself to calm down and stop struggling. The vampire gives her a tiny bit of slack and she can breathe again.

"Smart girl. I'd hate to loose that reward because I had to choke you to death."

"Who...who is going to so much fuss to capture someone like me?"

"There is a certain council of 13 who want to have a word with you, accompanied by a lot of torture I imagine, followed by your ritual sacrifice to their Master."

"A satanic cult? But I thought the government had wiped them out earlier in the year."

"They did. Dozens of world governments turned their forces upon the many cults that were scattered about the globe, capturing or killing nearly everyone of them. For most of the year, it was quite the topic of gossip in the dark circles I travel in. But these cults have existed for thousands of years, and this is not the first time they have endured persecution and near extinction. They are always prepared to go into hiding, changing identities and countries until the survivors can reunite. When necessary, they can always recruit more members. It's odd amongst you humans how easily you leap into the extremes of your religious wars."

"Look, you don't have to do this. We can make a deal."

"I'm listening."

"I can get you money, about half a million dollars, and I could be your...freshie. You could dine on my blood and I'd be willing to perform...other services too." Joan pleads, feeling revolted by the words coming out of her mouth.

The vampire smiles. "A tempting offer, but I doubt your sincerity. I have no doubt you are willing to touch me any way you can, but I was warned about your kind. One touch and I go down screaming in pain from what awaits me in hell. I'm not sure I believe it, but I'm not taking any chances. We are going to walk to my car where you will be locked away in the trunk. Give me any trouble...well, I have a bullwhip in my car and I won't hesitate to inflict a hell of a lot of pain on you. I only have to deliver you alive. I'm sure the satanic brothers of the cult won't mind if you are damaged goods."

"I won't give you any trouble." Joan says as she calculates her next move. Clipped to the back of her jogging pants is her stun gun - a particularly heavy duty model. The noose around her neck is a non-conductor but the aluminum pole will easily carry an electrical charge. All she has to do is zap the pole and that should at least stun the vampire for a few seconds - all the time she needs to touch her enemy and end this. Problem is, he is so quick, she must find a moment when he is distracted to make her move. Otherwise, the vampire will tighten the rope so hard, her head will be severed from her body.

"That way."

Like a dog on a tight leash, Joan is guided through the park and back toward the street. They pass the bodies of the mercenaries, their corpses twisted and torn apart by the ferocity of the vampire's attack. Joan shudders but tries to remain calm.

"We haven't been introduced. I'm Joan, and you are...?"

"No talking."

"An odd name. You know it's true, about what awaits you in hell. Not even vampires live forever and you will spend all of eternity in anguish. I have it personally from God that your kind are precondemned to burn..."

The noose tightens. "Shut up."

Barely able to breathe, Joan obeys. Besides, a new factor is at play in this little scenario. Just up ahead Joan can sense the spiritual signature of a man that is familiar to her... From his hiding place, the man fires a round from a silenced pistol. The sound of the vampire's body crashing to the ground is followed by Joan realizing she is free from the noose. Joan slips it away from her neck and tosses the capture stick to the side. She turns and sees her captor is now unconscious with a bullet wound in his skull. The other man walks by Joan, strikes a road flare and casually tosses the flame onto the body of the vampire. The fire is quick and intense and within a minute, the vampire is reduced to a pile of ashes and tiny bone chips.

Although relieved to be free of the vampire, Joan once again realizes she is not facing a rescuer. A year and a half ago Joan first met this man while being held prisoner in an L.A. warehouse. In those days he commanded a small army of militia type domestic terrorists ('freedom fighters' is how they would style themselves), a group called the Brotherhood of American Blood. This man was their leader, with the self-appointed title of 'General'. With a sigh and with a close eye on the gun in the man's hand, Joan nods a reluctant greeting...

"Hobart Smith."

To Be Continued. Please review.