DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Twentieth Century Fox, Mutant Enemy, Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.

The Lost Years:  Release

by Djinn




Kirk walked into his office pleasantly tired from his latest lesson with Weasel.  Despite the mental drain--he'd never concentrated so hard or long in his life--he felt good, felt strong.  It wasn't that he'd made all that much progress since that first meeting when he'd been tested.  But it felt as if he was finally doing something positive with his life.  Finally doing something that might make a difference to someone someday.


"Sir?"  His assistant stood at the door.  He had to reach for the name.  Lieutenant Commander Hall.  His assistants seemed to change with alarming frequency.  Just when he'd begun to get comfortable with the current one, he or she would be shipped out.  Kirk had a feeling that the timing was not coincidental.  Someone--Nogura, he suspected now--wanted to keep him isolated.  "Yes, Commander?"


"This came for you, sir."  He handed Kirk a small package.  "I need a signature for receipt." 


He held out a padd and Kirk laid his thumb against it.  "Where did this come from?"


"I'm not sure, sir."


"Okay.  That'll be all, Commander."


"Yes, sir."


Once the door closed, Kirk tore the package open, wondering if he would find more data modules like the one he was still hiding for Carl.  But the box held two padds. 


He picked up the top one and turned it on.  A video started on the small screen.  "Admiral Kirk."  He paused the recording.  His heart started to beat impossibly fast.  It was Spock on the small screen.  Just a recording, but still Spock.  The first glimpse he'd had of his friend in months. 


"Spock," he whispered as he resumed play.


"In the box you have received are two padds.  The one you are watching now is for you.  There is a second recording after this one concludes.  The other padd is for Christine.  I am unsure if she is still at the address at which I last found her.  You, on the other hand, seem to always be aware of where she is."


Kirk closed his eyes.  Spock's words stung.  He gave up any hope that this was a message of reconciliation and forgiveness.


"I ask you to give her the padd.  It is the last thing I shall ever ask you to do.  I hope you will honor it as you would any other last request.  I know that in human terms, such a thing is important."


"You're not dead, Spock," Kirk muttered, his lips tightening.


The Vulcan could still read his mind, or at least anticipate his reaction.  "While I might not, strictly speaking, be dead, I will be changed.  Totally and irrevocably changed when I master the Kohlinar discipline.  So this is, indeed, a last request from the Spock that you knew.  Please see that Christine receives the padd in a timely manner."


Kirk grinned sourly.  Spock knew how to word it too.  Kirk had been considering not giving it to Christine until later...much later.  He wasn't sure he even wanted to listen to his own message, could only imagine what a message to Christine might say.


"You are, of course, free to watch her recording if you wish."


Kirk shook his head.  Spock was pulling out all the stops.  Every word seemed designed to demonstrate both how well he knew Kirk and how little he trusted him anymore. 


The recording ended.  No goodbyes.  Just ended.  Kirk took a deep breath and began to play the second recording.




The word was said so formally, so tightly.  No hint that this man had ever called him anything else, that he had ever called him Jim.


"As you know I am beginning my study of the Kohlinar discipline and this will take me to a path of pure logic, a place where emotions are purged.  Truly purged, not just controlled.  I believe I will finally find peace.  I have tried, in the past, to live my own way, but it did not, in the long run, set me free the way I thought it should.  In fact, it made me a prisoner of emotions that I would rather not experience ever again."


Kirk sighed.  He knew it was only going to get worse.  He could feel himself getting angry, angry that his friend couldn't have called, couldn't have let this be a dialogue rather than a monologue.  Couldn't have let Kirk have his chance to say how guilty he still felt, how sorry he was that he'd hurt Spock.


But not how sorry he was that he'd kept Chris's location from him.  And that was the crux of their problem.  He regretted hurting his friend, but he'd made a promise to Chris.  He wasn't sorry he hadn't broken it, and Spock would never forgive him for that.


Spock continued, "The hardest emotion I find is this anger inside me for you and for Christine.  This immense sense of betrayal.  Soon, that feeling will be gone, but for now it consumes me.  And so, according to the instructions of the priestess, I must prepare for the purging by reaching some form of closure.  It is not forgiveness, nor will I forget.  To be more clear, the Spock who I am right now will not forget.  To the Spock who I will become, this anger will be beyond irrelevant.  But for now, I must give it the attention it deserves.  I must tell you how you have hurt me, acknowledge the great pain I feel."  Spock actually swallowed hard.  He obviously did feel a great deal. 


"Don't lose that, Spock," Kirk said softly.  Would his friend anticipate those words?


"I am filled with betrayal, and it poisons me.  This love inside me for you, for Christine, it is not a good thing.  It is not healthy or life affirming.  It weighs me down, makes my logic questionable, makes my behavior erratic.  There is nothing good in this love.  And I do not know if it is because I do not know how to love, or because I chose to love two people who were completely undeserving of my affection.  I shall not try to answer that question.  But perhaps you already know--you who are such a master of emotions."


"Damn you, Spock."  Kirk looked over at Chris' padd, tempted to smash it to bits, to spare her this.


"Christine was my bondmate, Jim."  Spock's voice cracked, his use of Kirk's first name seemed accidental, driven by emotion.  "You knew what that meant and still you kept her from me?  Why?  Did you not want me to be happy?  Did you believe my love for her was not real?  Did you think I would hurt her?  You did not even give me the chance to try with her.  And when I finally found her, it was far too late.  Did you know that?  That she was lost to me when you finally admitted the truth?"


"I was just protecting her, Spock." 


"I will never understand your actions, Admiral.  Nor hers.  But soon, I will not have to try to understand those actions.  They will be beneath my notice.  The Spock you knew, the one you called friend, will be dead, and a new Spock will arise."  Spock's expression was wry.  "Not unlike Christine's vampires.  Ironic."  His expression faded to the neutral, stoic face that Kirk was coming to hate.  "Spock out."


The screen went dead.  Kirk could feel his lips trembling in anger.  He threw the padd across the room.


"Sir?"  Hall came running at the sound.  "Is everything all right?"


"Yes."  He picked up Christine's padd then he walked over to the other padd, picking it up and dropping it in the recycler.  He never wanted to watch that message again.  "I have to go out for a while."


"Yes, sir." 


He walked down the halls of Command, going faster than was normal, noticed that people were getting out of his way, moving to the other side of the hallway as he barreled down the corridor.  He turned, then turned again, weaving through interior hallways that would link up with Starfleet Medical.  Finally, he was in the main reception.  The nurse on duty looked up, probably thinking from the way he was hurrying that he had an emergency. 


"Where can I find Doctor Chapel?" he asked.


She checked her roster.  "She's doing rounds on the fourth floor."  Kirk started to turn for the elevator.  "Sir, I can page her."


He nodded.  Yes.  Yes, that would be better.


He walked over to the waiting area, perched on one of the chairs, turning her padd over and over in his hand as he waited for what seemed like forever.


"Jim?  Is everything all right?"


She looked so good to him.  He wanted to pull her down, to hold her and hide the padd and not let Spock hurt her the way Kirk knew that he would.  "Chris."  He sounded lost and old and defeated.


She sat down next to him.  "Jim, what is it?  Is it Carl?"  She'd checked on his friend for him, hadn't been able to determine a cause for his rapid decline.  But she'd told him that the attending physician had prescribed some additional supportive measures, and Carl had seemed to rally a bit for a few days.  But when Kirk had visited him earlier in the day, he'd looked weaker.


"No.  Not Carl."  He pressed the padd into her hands.  "I don't want to give this to you.  But he said I had to."


"Who said that?"


He shook his head.  "Don't look at it until you get home.  Promise me you won't look at it until you get home?"


"I promise."  She touched his hand. 


Her fingers on his skin were so soothing.  He could sit this way forever and be happy with just her touching him, never moving, never having to hear that he was a bad friend, that he'd chased his best friend into hell.  And that he'd kept his woman--his wife--from him. 


What would Spock say to what was happening between them now?  How would he feel knowing Kirk wanted to do worse than just keep them apart?  He wanted her.  Wanted Spock's wife.  


He snatched his hand back, afraid to accept even such simple comfort from her.  Afraid of what it could mean.  Of how much he longed for it.


To want her was wrong. 




He stood up, looked down at her.  Almost against his will, he touched her face, let his hand cradle her cheek for a long moment.  "I'm sorry."


Then he fled.




Christine finished one last circuit through the cemetery closest to Emma's house.  She'd staked five vamps already.  None of them had appeared to have had a clue how to fight, or even where or what they were.  Wharton had to be behind this.  Killing random strangers, making these ignorant monsters to stand between her and him.  Cannon fodder.  Slayer fodder.


And a waste of her time.  She killed fledgling vampires while he did god only knew what.  But whatever it was, it would be about Emma and it wouldn't be good.


She'd stopped at Emma's when she'd begun her patrol, but her watcher had begged off on training or even just a bit of company, pleading a headache.  She'd looked paler than normal.  Pale and afraid.  She wouldn't admit that she'd received any messages from Wharton, but Christine suspected that she had and just wasn't telling her.


Or maybe not receiving anything from him but knowing he was out there was worse. 


Christine heard a noise, saw another vamp rising, grave dirt spilling up as the creature fought its way free.  This one hadn't been on Christine's list of suspicious kills.  It was a homeless person possibly, one of the lost ones that the Federation liked to pretend no longer existed.  Christine knew better.  So did the vamps.  They loved to prey on the lost ones.  Wharton had probably killed this one and stuffed her in the nearest grave to rise when she was ready.


Rise alone.  All alone.  Christine stalked over to where the vampire had pulled herself halfway out the ground.  She staked her before the woman could even look up. 


No one should have to be that alone.  To wake up in a shallow grave, to panic, to claw and scratch and scream only to have dirt fall into your open mouth. 


Spike had told her that when Buffy had been brought back to life, her friends had at first thought they had failed, had left her alive in her grave.  She'd had to claw her way out. 


It was Christine's worst nightmare.


It was probably every slayer's worst nightmare.  To be turned.  To wake up in that box and be one of them.  One of the things that slayers hunted. 


There were scores of slayers who had been turned.  They made the most vicious vampires.  The most cunning, the most deadly.  They didn't go down easy; they often took their executioners with them.


Christine sighed.  Her hunt was going nowhere and she was just depressing herself with thoughts of being turned and shallow graves.


She turned for home, the walk more pleasant than she expected.  The stars were out in force, the beautiful balls of fire that looked so cold from here.  Did she want to be back out there?  Freed from patrol, from the daily grind of killing and hunting and doing things that normal people didn't even know took place in their safe, civilized cities. 


She could be with Uhura.  With Sulu and Chekov and Rand again.  All the people who were uncomplicatedly her friends.  Not her boss, or the first officer she had loved and bonded with, or the captain she was falling in lov--  She clamped down on that thought.  Like digging out of her grave, it was a thought that was not helpful, not productive.


Her apartment felt stuffy and cold to her.  She sat down at her table with a cup of coffee.  It still felt odd to not have homework to do, to be free of classes.  Even odder to be called Doctor now.  But she loved it.  She'd finally made it.


She dug out the padd Jim had brought by.  He'd looked so lost.  Who could it be from? 


She hit play.  Felt her heart skip a beat as Spock appeared on the screen. 


This could not be good. 


"Christine."  Spock's voice held no warmth.  "I have recorded a similar message for Admiral Kirk."  His voice sounded even colder as he said Jim's name.  Now she understood why Jim had looked so crushed.  Had he really thought Spock would forgive him--forgive them?


"I believe you know that I am at Gol.  Here, I will undertake a discipline known as Kohlinar.  I will purge all of my emotions.  Or, to put it in terms that you will relate to, I plan to slay them."  The look he shot her was an odd one.  It seemed laced with irony, and just a hint of cruelty.  "I will do that because I think they were, if not evil, then at least wrong for me to hold, to carry.  I have been in a dark place since you left me.  You betrayed me when you ran, Christine.  I know I did not consult you when I severed our bond, but that action was not the crime that running, that letting me hunt for you has been.  Could you not have met with me face to face?"  He stopped, swallowed hard.


"Like you're doing here, Spock?"  She could feel herself shutting down.  Did not want to hear anymore.  She hit stop.


She took a deep breath.  Why should she listen to this?


Some masochistic tendency made her hit play again. 


"I did everything I could to be the man you wanted me to be.  I loved you as I have never loved anyone.  I gave you everything I had.  And still you ran.  We both know my actions at our last meeting were dishonorable.  I am ashamed of what my love for you made me do.  I am ashamed, in fact, of that love.  Soon, I will not feel anything, not for you, not for Admiral Kirk, not for anyone.  I will be a creature of pure logic.  And I welcome that."


He stopped.  Stared at her.  His voice was very soft, his expression one of controlled misery, when he said, "What did I do wrong?  That is the only thing I wish I knew."  He seemed to shake himself.  "That will soon be irrelevant.  I wonder if Spike will please you any longer than I did?"  The screen went blank.


She could feel her mouth twisting, knew her expression was ugly.  "Go to hell, Spock."


But she knew that he was already in Hell.  And she'd put him there.  She and Jim.


Jim.  He'd gotten a message too.


She ran out the door and down the stairs, realizing only when she was halfway to his building that she'd left her stakes behind.  She laughed and it was an awful sound.  She pitied any vamp that tried to take her on tonight. 


She slowed to a walk as she came up to Kirk's street.  The doorman saw her, opened the door for her.  She forgot to thank him, yelled it from the elevator, unsure if he heard her, not really caring.  The ride up seemed to take forever, she ran down the hall, her boots making too much noise in the quiet hallway, but she didn't care.  She hit his chime, hit it again and again.


He opened the door, stared at her.


"Let me in, Jim."


He shook his head.  When she tried to move around him, he blocked her way. 


"We both know you could get by me easily.  But you won't try, will you, Chris?  Don't try that."


"Jim, please?"  She didn't move, didn't try to push him.


"If you come in, we both know what will happen."  He closed his eyes.  "We're hurt, and we're mad.  And we want to hurt him."


"No.  That's not it.  Not for me anyway."  She looked around his hallway.  "Jim, do we have to do this here?"


He nodded.  "Yes, we do.  Out here is safe.  In there"--he looked into the darkness of his apartment--"isn't safe at all."  He swallowed hard.  "See, I'm in love with you.  I want you.  Want you so much.  And I can't ever have you."


"Why not?"  She reached for him but he shied back.  "I love you too.  I want you too."


She moved closer, touched his neck, her hand falling on the scars from Anacost's bite.  He shuddered.  Then he pulled her to him, his lips desperate on hers, his hands roaming frantically down her body.  She tried to ease him back, get them safely into his apartment, but he pushed her away with a strangled, "No!"


She reached out for him, breathing hard, trying to get back the moment, if she could just get back into his arms they'd be okay.


He drew away even more, said, "No.  We can't do this.  Not ever."


She swallowed, her throat was too tight.  "Jim, I need you."


"Not like this.  I can't."


"I know you feel guilty.  But he's gone.  Spock's gone, Jim."


"I don't feel like he is.  All I know is that I hurt my friend.  And I won't do it again."


They stared at each other helplessly. 


Finally, she whispered, "You're my friend too.  I depend on you."


"Well, don't."  He laughed--if she'd thought her laughter had been awful, his sent chills down her spine.  "I shouldn't have destroyed my padd.  Should have let you listen to what a great friend I am.  How you can depend on me."  His expression was twisted, as if he was fighting pain back with sheer will.  "Release.  That's what he wanted.  Release."


She shook her head.  "No.  He wanted revenge.  Can't you see that?"


"Well, he's getting it."  Kirk looked down.  "Go away, Chris.  I can't do this anymore.  None of it."




He stepped back.  The door closed between them.


She rang the chime again, but he didn't open the door.  She held the chime down, knew he must have disengaged the sound.  She was tempted to use her medical override but knew that he'd never forgive the trespass.


She beat softly against the door.  "Jim," she whispered.  "Jim, please let me in."


Finally she left. 


She didn't realize she was taking the wrong way home until she saw that she was on Emma's street.  She looked up at her watcher's townhouse; all the lights were off.  Emma had probably gone to bed, trying to sleep off her headache.  She didn't need some lovelorn slayer bothering her. 


Christine walked on home.  Alone.




Kirk sat on the floor by his door.  Chris had finally gone away.  He'd turned off the audio to the chime, but had left on the intercom.  He'd heard her perfectly.  It had been so hard, so very hard, to sit and not open the door to her.  If she'd started to cry...he'd have been lost. 


But she hadn't cried.  And he hadn't opened the door.


And now she was gone.  Forever.  She was gone forever. 


He wanted to run after her.  Stop her.  Bring her back and love her and take care of her and let her take care of him and never, ever be alone again.


But he couldn't.  Not now, not after seeing himself through Spock's eyes.  He knew intellectually that Spock had a biased view--his own view.  But it had hurt, hurt more than Kirk would ever have imagined to listen to his best friend take him to task.  Maybe, if he still had McCoy, Spock's words wouldn't have hurt as much? 


But McCoy was gone, angry at Kirk for yet another bad decision--the one that had tied him to his desk, to this cold, lonely apartment.  The apartment he wouldn't let Chris into anymore, that he'd never tell her only seemed welcoming when she was in it with him.


He sighed, pushed himself up.  It took too much energy, and he felt as if he were ancient.  He checked the chrono; it was late.  Chris had stood at his door forever.  She hadn't been willing to give up.  Not easily anyway.  But even a slayer knew when to quit. 


He grabbed his coat, opened the door, found himself hoping that she would still be there, waiting silently for him.


The hallway was empty.  She was gone.


He didn't want to sleep, didn't want to lie in his empty bed and stare at the ceiling.  Better to go check on Carl.  He'd looked so much worse this morning. 


This morning seemed a million hours ago.


He was a block from Starfleet Headquarters when he heard a noise behind him.  He looked in the blackened store window he was passing.  Nothing was behind him.  Again the noise came.  Closer this time.


He turned slowly, pulled the stake out.  "It's a bad night to do this."


The vampire just smiled.


"See, I'm in love with this woman.  She loves me too.  She told me that tonight.  Normally this would be a cause for celebration--"


The vampire rushed him, ran right into his stake and blew into dust.  Kirk looked around, hoping for more.  There weren't any more.


He shoved the stake away, brushed the dust off his shoulders. 


Even a vampire didn't want to listen to his side of the story.


The rest of his walk to Starfleet Medical was uneventful.  He nodded to the night nurse on duty, made his way to the intensive care ward. 


Carl's bed was empty.  He stood staring at it stupidly.


"Sir?  Can I help you?"  The nurse's voice told him everything.


"He left, right?  Felt better and got up and walked out.  He'll be at staff meeting tomorrow.  Cracking jokes.  I've missed that."


"Sir, Admiral Richter passed away this even--"


"--No."  He turned, walked out quickly.  "No."


His last friend.  His last friend was dead.


And someone had killed him. 


That someone would pay. 


He headed for the motel, for Weasel.  Weasel would know what to do.  He just had to get to Weasel.


Women and men propositioned him as he walked.  He didn't even answer them.  Just hurried past them.  One of them tried to stop him, took one look at his face and backed away slowly. 


He didn't look at her, just kept walking. 


Weasel.  He had to get to Weasel.


A couple waited in the lobby of the motel, Weasel was handing them a key.  He saw Kirk standing outside, looking at him through the window.  He held up a finger, finished his business, then walked outside. 


"You're a lot of hours early, Mac."  He glared at Kirk.  "And projecting pain for all you're worth."


Kirk didn't answer, unsure why he'd thought this man he hardly knew would be the one to help him.


"And you've got vampire dust in your hair.  That's very bad for business."


Kirk looked at him stupidly.  "You rent to vampires."


"Hey, they need a room too."


"Do you take care of the disposal afterwards?"  Kirk shook his head.  Did nothing in his world make sense anymore?


"No.  They don't kill here.  I run a nice, safe place.  Transactions happen; blood and money change hands.  But nobody dies."  He turned back to the lobby.  "Now shake your hair out and then come in.  I've got fresh coffee brewing."


Kirk shook his head, brushing at his hair, then followed Weasel in.


The sorcerer looked up from the coffee pot.  "You like it black, Mac?" 


"My name is Jim."


Weasel seemed about to launch into the same lecture he'd given Kirk the day they met, then he closed his mouth, staring at Kirk hard.  "Okay, Jim.  What the hell happened to you today?"


"Friend died.  Friend hates me.  Friend left me."


"Is this all the same friend?"


"No."  Kirk thought of what he'd felt when he'd tried to protect Carl with magic.  "Can you poison someone?  Supernaturally, I mean?"


Weasel nodded.  "It takes more than just a spell though.  You need constant reinforcement of it."


"Like a witch nearby, all the time?"


"A witch without a conscience, but yeah, that would do it.  Any kind of focus would, as long as it was something near the victim that the person casting the spell could project into."  He fell silent for a moment, then he asked, "You think your friend was killed with magic?"


"He got sick," Kirk said, taking too big a sip of coffee and scalding his tongue. It didn't seem to hurt any worse than his heart did.  "For no reason.  He wasn't sick.  Not at all."


"Where is he?"


"He's dead, I told you."


"His body, Jim.  Where's his body?"


"I don't know."


"Can you find out by five o'clock?"


Kirk looked at him, not understanding.


"Be discreet and find out where they've taken the body.  If we do it soon, there'll be some residue.  If it was magical."


"You'd do that for me?"


"Color me curious, Mac."  Weasel shot him a small grin that dared him to challenge the name.


Kirk just nodded.


"What about those other two friends?"


Kirk shook his head.  "Not magical.  My fault."


Weasel waited.  When Kirk didn't say anything more.  "One of them has to be a woman."


Kirk nodded.


Weasel stood up and refilled his mug.  "You know, you're not exactly Mister Forthcoming here."


"I love her.  I can't have her.  I sent her away."


"I thought you said she left you.  Or is this the one who hates you?  Cuz what with all the lack of details, I'm getting mixed up."


"The one who hates me was her husband."


"Ah.  The light dawns."  Weasel put his feet up on the counter.  "My friend, don't you know not to mess in a friend's nest?"


"Yes.  Yes, I do. And I didn't."  Kirk stood up, his coffee splashed him.  He registered that it was hot, but didn't react otherwise.


"Okay, sit down."  Weasel sighed.  "So, you didn't do anything with her?"


Kirk shook his head.  "Not while they were together.  But now...we're friends and I like her.   And there's more than like--I love her."  He was rambling like a teenager.  He shut up.


"Can I ask you a question?"


"Yeah."  He finished his coffee, put the mug on the counter.


"Why can't you still be her friend?"


"What?"  Kirk took a deep breath.  "Weren't you listening?  I love her."


"Mac, the essence of magic is self-control.  If you don't have enough to keep your paws off a woman you value as a friend, then you don't have enough to master what I'm going to teach you."  He waited for Kirk to think about that.  "You really think you can't be her friend?"


Kirk shrugged.


"Go find out where your other friend's body is.  We'll check it out instead of working downstairs today.  Your personal issues can wait till you can think straight again."


Kirk nodded, walked to the door. 


"Hey, Mac.  Why'd you come to me?"


He turned around.  Stared hard at Weasel.  "I just knew you'd help me."




Kirk frowned.  There was a correct answer to this question.  What was it?  "Because you're my teacher."


It must have been the right answer because Weasel nodded.  "Get out of here.  I'll see you at five."




Christine stalked through the cemetery.  She'd just been trying to get home and have a good cry and Thompson had found her.  Since he wouldn't let her be, she'd decided to patrol.  She'd even borrowed his stake.


"I just don't see why I can't help you?"  Thompson was practically running to keep up with her.  "You're always alone.  These people that make you do this, don't they ever send any back-up with you?"


She turned around, saw that he was breathing heavily and took pity on him.  "Nobody 'makes' me come out here, Bob."  She sighed, stuck his stake back in her jacket.  If Wharton had been here, which Christine doubted, Thompson's yelling would have scared him away.


She sat down on a nearby bench. 


Thompson sat down tentatively beside her.  "Now I've ticked you off."


"I've had a really bad day.  And you spoiled my hunt."


He frowned.  "Is that what this is?  A hunt?"


She sighed.  "I'm trying to find someone very dangerous.  You being here is not helping.  Come on, I'll walk you back to the entrance."


"I want to help you.  You're always alone."


He had no idea.  Jim had just made it clear he couldn't be her friend--or whatever it was he thought he was to her--anymore.  Uhura was working overtime lately with the engineers on the final plans for the comm system on the Enterprise.  Emma was preoccupied with the search for Wharton--she and Christine barely even trained together right now.  Thompson might be a bit of a stalker, but he was company.


"I'm always alone because I have no friends here," he said softly.  "Why are you alone, Christine?"


She shrugged.  "Job specification, I guess."  She suddenly pulled out the stake and in frustration threw it overhand like a knife, pretending that Spock had been turned into a vampire and stood in front of her.  The stake buried itself deep into a tree trunk, right where his heart would have been.


Damn Spock anyway.


"Maybe if you talked about it?  I'm here if you nee--"


Thompson's offer was cut off by a jaunty, ""Nice shot, pet.  Good to see you haven't lost your touch with the pointy sticks." 


She looked up, a huge grin on her face.  Spike was walking down the path, black leather coat billowing behind him.  He looked quite the proper bad boy.  She grinned and stood up, as he yanked the stake out of the tree.


"You've got company, I better go."  Thompson was up and halfway down the path before she could respond, his ungainly walk seemed the very picture of unhappiness.


"Got a new partner in my absence?"  Spock handed her the stake, then pulled her in for a kiss.  It was a sweet kiss, full of affection and a hint that if things had been different it would be much, much more.  "I've missed you, Christine."


She pulled him tight, for once not having to worry that she'd hurt the person she held. 


"Hey."  He pulled away, studied her.  "You don't look good.  I mean, you look smashing, don't worry about that.  But you've had some kind of day, haven't you?  What's wrong?" 


She shook her head.


He kissed her again, the way he'd done when they lived together and he was trying to worm something out of her.  Soft little kisses along her neckline that tickled and made her giggle.  She didn't giggle this time.




"I'm fine.  Really."


"No, you're not.  Is it Spock?"


"When isn't it?"  She shook her head.  "Even from another planet he can interfere in my life.  It's amazing." 


Jim loved her.  She was still processing that.  Jim loved her.


Spike looked down the path, the way Thompson had gone.  "Don't think your boy likes this much, our standing so close, my kissing you." 


At first she thought he was talking about Jim, then realized he meant Thompson.  "Oh, him."


"I take it he's an admirer of yours?  Of the geek kind."


"He's a nice guy.  Lonely.  Sort of a puppy dog type."


He nodded, stared hard at Thompson.  She turned to look, saw that Thompson was looking back at them.  Then he turned, moving quickly down the sidewalk, back to town hopefully.  She was relieved to see him go.  She didn't need to be worrying about him when she had a watcher turned vampire to find and kill.


"What are you doing here?  Do you need a place to sleep?"  She almost hoped he'd say yes.  Knew what would happen if he did.  And didn't care.  Just wanted to forget for a night that she hurt.


He shook his head.  "I'm on my way up to Sunnydale."


"Sunnydale?"  Would he never get over his Buffy obsession?


"Got wind of some demons that are going to try to reopen the Hellmouth there.  Angel doesn't think it can be done, but I'm meeting him and his latest team of do-gooders there, just in case.


"Angel's alive?  You never told me that Angel was alive."


"Well, no.  I'm frankly sick of everyone I like preferring him over me.  If I didn't know it was over between us, I'd have never brought him up."  He lit a cigarette; the smoke curling up between them was soothingly familiar.  "So other than your groupie, you seeing anyone?  And is that what Spock ruined and got you so upset?"


The problem with Spike was that he was so damned perceptive.  "I know you didn't stop here just to find out if my love life is going all right."


"Well, no.  I have another reason for being here.  But it's not half so interesting as hearing what you've been up to."


She tried not to think of Jim.  "I've been good.  No impulsive affairs since..."


"Me?  Or that last time with Spock?"


She nodded.


"That's good, I guess."  He seemed to read something in her expression.  "Come on, tell Uncle Spike what's really going on?"


She laughed.  "If you're my uncle then we have a very odd relationship." 


He didn't reply, just took a deep drag off the cigarette, clearly waiting for her to spill the beans.


"I've been spending time with someone.  I really like him.  He's become a great friend.  But..." 


"But he doesn't feel the same way about you?"


"No, he does." 


"Are you both stupid then?  Just tell him you want him, that you'll die if you can't have him.  Then shag him till all he can think of is you."  He shrugged.  "Works like a charm."


"Your world's such a simple place at times, Spike."


"It is, love.  And that's how I like it."  He stubbed out his cigarette. 


"There are things...other people"--at his look she started over--"Spock is in the way.  I don't think this man will ever let himself think of me that way.  But I seem to be losing him as a friend too and I don't know how to stop that."


"That's a harder one.  Honesty works most of the time.  Sometimes it's the only thing that works.  Have you tried it?"


She laughed.  She was getting relationship tips from a vampire who'd started dating during the Victorian Age.  And he was probably right on target.  She was too tired now to think about whether she'd been honest about how much she needed Jim, she had been so sure--as usual--that reaching out with her gonads would solve everything.  "You said you had something for me?"


"Oh, yeah."  He dug into his pocket and pulled out an amulet.  "Got this off a dead watcher."  At her look, he said, "Hey, I didn't kill him.  A werewolf did.  I killed the werewolf.  And he was a pretty bloody focused one, if you want to get technical.  They're usually all grrrr and rip your body apart.  I've never seen one stop to rifle through someone's belongings before chowing down."


"Neither have I."  She studied the amulet.  It had a light stone that reminded her of Laura's portal ring.  The metal was dull, but had probably once been silver. 


He moved next to her.  "And I think the watcher lifted it from a private collector.  I heard rumors of their being a break-in of the supernatural kind in the vicinity."


"Why give it to me?"


"Turn it over."


She saw an inscription in some sort of kanji symbols.  "Spike, I can't read this--is it Chinese?"


"Japanese."  He handed her a slip of paper.  "There's a great sushi shop I go where the owner's daughter's a bit sweet on me.  I had her translate."  He pointed to one word.  "This was what made me think of you."


"Kirsu" jumped out at her.  She shot Spike a look that she tried to keep confused rather than suspicious.


"You talk in your sleep, love.  You used to call out names--this was one of them.  I don't know what it means, but I thought you might." 


She stared down at the translation.


"Look, I have to get going if I want to reach the meeting place before daylight."  He reached for the amulet.  "If you don't want this, I can always pawn it for walking around money."


She closed her fingers over the amulet.  "No.  I want it."  She shoved it in her pocket next to the stake, then she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.  "Thank you, Spike."


"So the name does mean something to you?" 


She nodded. 


She didn't tell him that another name had jumped out at her too. 




"And probably best for you to not talk about it?" she said, letting her expression turn deadly serious.


"Mum's the word."  Spike reached out, touched her cheek very gently, then he smiled sadly.  "Sometimes I wish..."


She let him pull her closer.  "I know.  I do too.  Life would be a lot simpler if you were still here."


"Simpler but not real.  I'm not your destiny, love.  I was just a rest stop along the way."  He smiled.  "If you hold with that whole destiny crap." 


She laughed, squeezed him again, then let him go.  "Have a good trip.  Say hello to Angel for me."


"I will not.  You've been known to go for the tall, dark, and broody type before."  He walked back the way he came, into the interior of the cemetery.  He turned around, walking backwards as he yelled out, "If you ever need me, try Angel Investigations in Los Angeles.  Think I might settle down there for a while.  Fight the good fight again with my grandsire and all that."


"Maybe I'll pop down," she yelled back.


"Don't you dare.  He has a weakness for slayers.  The acorn never falls very far from the tree, eh?"  He lifted a hand, then turned and strode away. 


She watched him disappear into the night, then walked to the entrance, sticking her hand in her pocket to hold the amulet.  She had the feeling she'd just been given something lethal.  But lethal for whom?


"Is that your boyfriend?"


She saw Thompson sitting on a bench just out of sight of where she and Spike had been standing.  "Used to be."  Her answer was terse.  She didn't feel like talking anymore.


"Kind of young for you, isn't he?"


She could feel her eyes widen.  "Well, that was nasty, Bob.  But given my night, not unexpected.  You could take lessons from a Vulcan I know, though.  Compared to him, you're strictly an amateur."  She started to walk away.


"I'm sorry.  I didn't mean that."  He hurried to catch up with her.  "I guess I just wanted to think you were alone.  More like me."


She turned to look at him, saw that he was looking at her intently, his blue eyes clearer and more focused than she could remember seeing them.  She blinked and the old Bob was back, the one who could barely meet her eyes. 


"It's been a bad night, Bob.  I'm very tired."


"I don't doubt it.  You spend all your time at work, or here.  When do you sleep?"


"I don't need much sleep."  It was true, but she was keeping hours that were excessive, even for her.  She felt like she could lie down on the cold pavement and sleep for a year.  "But I'm just so tired right now," she said again.


"I'm sorry."  His voice was very gentle.  "Have you ever thought of quitting?  This nighttime thing you do?  You seem to light up when you talk about medicine, but this always makes you sad and sort of grumpy."


She laughed bitterly.  "I did quit once, Bob.  But it didn't last."


"Was it nice?  While it lasted, I mean?"


"I don't know anymore.  It wasn't me.  I had to hide so much to be that woman who didn't have the nighttime thing." She smiled, included him in the look.


He smiled back. The expression lit up his face.  She was struck again by how attractive he could be, if he were altogether different than who he was.  And that was the problem, wasn't it?  Sometimes the change was too much.  Sometimes you just had to be who you were.


"Do you believe in darkness, Bob?"


"You mean darkness like evil?"


She nodded.  "But inside.  You think some people are just darker inside than others?"


"I'm not sure I've ever thought about it."  He touched her arm, his fingers just barely landing on her jacket sleeve before he drew them back.  "I think you need sleep.  I think you're tired.  And you seem sad."  He looked down.  "I know sad.  I'm good at that."


"You need to go home now, Bob.  It's really dangerous out here right now.  Someone is making vampires, lots of them.  Just random people, as far as I can tell.  If you don't take more care, the next one could be you."


"Would that make you sad?  If it were me?"


She realized she would miss him in some odd way.  "Yes.  It would make me sad."


He smiled, a softer smile but one that still made the gawkiness disappear for a moment.  "Thanks, Christine.  That's nice of you to say.  I'll be okay, I live nearby."


She tried to hand him his stake. 


He waved it away.  "You keep it."


She watched him walk down his street, before forcing her weary feet to head for home.




"Hey there, Ms. Graduate."  Uhura smiled at Christine.  "Or is it Doctor Graduate?"


"Doctor," Christine said distractedly.


Uhura frowned.  She'd expected her friend to be more excited.  Maybe it was hard to get keyed up for graduation when she'd already started her residency?  If she'd had to intern, she'd still be on break like the other graduates.


"I was thinking of a small party..."  She didn't mean to make the suggestion so tentative but the expression on Christine's face didn't bode well for a celebration.


"I'm really tired, Ny."  Christine walked away, then turned around.  "But I appreciate the offer."


"Christine."  Uhura walked, said softly, "What's the matter?"


For a moment, she thought Christine's face was going to crumple, could almost see the force of will that kept her expression neutral, as she said, "I've got a nasty--maybe the nastiest--vampire out there who's gunning for Emma.  I really can't let go and enjoy a party right now."


"Okay."  Uhura hadn't ever seen Christine nearly cry over a vampire.


"Ny, I do appreciate it.  Maybe when my residency's done we can do something?"


"I'll be on the Enterprise by then.  Maybe you will be too?"


Christine nodded, her expression seemed haunted.  "I'm thinking about it."


"Really?  That's great!  Why didn't you tell me?"


"It's sort of sudden.  I'm just thinking about it."  Christine turned away.  "I've got to do rounds.  See you tonight?"


"Yeah.  See you."  Uhura frowned.  She turned and headed back to Command.  She was about to turn into a side corridor when she saw Kirk walking toward her.  She waited for him.  "Hello, sir."


Kirk looked even worse than Christine.  What the hell was up with these two? 


"Hello, Nyota."  His smile for her was warm but not as brilliant as usual, like someone had put a shade over the sun. 


"You're going to Chris's graduation tonight?  I'll save you a seat?"


"I'm not sure that I'll be able to make it.  Nogura's called a late meeting.  I'll just sit in the back if I come."


He was lying.  She didn't know how she knew that, but she knew it.


"Sir, are you all right?"  She reached out, touched his arm.  In the past, it had often been enough to provoke a small confidence.


"A friend of mine died last night."  He looked down at her hand.


She let go of him.  "I'm sorry."


He nodded.  "I've got to go.  Maybe I'll see you tonight."


She blurted out as he passed her. "Christine's not doing very well, and I don't know what's wrong with her.  Do you?"


He paused for an infinitesimal moment, but it was enough to tell her she was right.  The Kirk she'd watched on the bridge for all those years did not hesitate.  "She's trying to find Wharton.  She's spending too much time in the cemeteries, and not enough time sleeping."  He turned around.  "And she'll keep doing it.  Because if she doesn't, her watcher may die."  He shrugged.  "What else do you need to know, Commander?"


Uhura winced at the use of her title.  She'd pushed him too far.  "Nothing else, sir."


He turned and strode away. 


Something was definitely going on.


Uhura walked into the sunlight gardens behind the cafeteria.  She'd never appreciated daylight until she learned what it kept away.  Now she loved it with a fierce passion.  She'd be giving that up for the Enterprise.  But a good UV light could be worth its weight in gold.  She'd already ordered one, and Len had promised to keep her well supplied with stakes.  She just hoped the couriers didn't ever ask her what she was doing with them.


A woman walked past her, dressed in tweed, blinking a bit in the bright sunshine.  She looked lost. 


Uhura smiled at her.  "Can I help you?"


"I'm looking for Starfleet Medical." 


"Well, you found half of it.  This is Starfleet Command."  She walked to the door.  "Come on, I'll walk you there."  Maybe she'd try again with Christine, now that she was reasonably certain that something had happened with Kirk.


"Thank you.  I seem to make a habit of getting lost in this city."  She had a charming accent.  Like Scotty's, only softer, more lilting.


"You're from Scotland?"


The woman smiled.  "The New Glasgow mining colony.  On Maritus IV."


Uhura knew of it.  It was a heavy gravity world.  That certainly explained the woman's build.  "You're here on business?"




Uhura waited for more to come, but nothing did.  "I mean here at Starfleet."


"I'm visiting a friend."  As they turned into a sunlit corridor, a cross around the woman's neck caught the light, bursting into radiance. 


Uhura frowned.  She thought she heard the unmistakable clink of wood against wood.  "Stakes?" she said very quietly.


"What?"  The woman stopped dead in her tracks. 


"Are those stakes in your pocket?"  Uhura held out her hand.  "I'm Nyota Uhura.  A friend of Christine's."


The woman smiled in relief.  "I'm Ms. Drake, Em--"


"--Emma.  Yes, she's spoken of you."


Drake rolled her eyes. 


"No.  Most of it was good."  Uhura grinned at her.  She pointed ahead.  "There's the entrance.  Just ask at the front desk for Christine."


"Thank you.  You are going to her graduation?"


Uhura nodded.   "I just wish it wasn't at night." 


Drake nodded grimly.  "Yes.  So do I."


"Well, I'll see you tonight."


"Thank you.  Perhaps you could save me a seat?  In case I get lost again?" 


Finally someone who needed her help.  "I'd be happy to."


Before Uhura could turn away, Drake grabbed her arm.  "Is Christine all right?  She came 'round last night and I was suffering with a headache."  At Uhura's look of sympathy, she waved her off. "Migraines, that's all.  Anyway, I talked to Christine earlier today and she seemed..."


"Not quite herself?"  Uhura sighed.  "Or more like her older self?"


"Yes.  Quite so."


Uhura almost told her about Kirk, but some loyalty to both of them stopped her from confiding in someone who until a few minutes ago had been a complete stranger.  "I think she's just tired."


"Yes.  Of course that's it.  She's been looking for someone."


Uhura could tell Drake was testing her.  Didn't know if she was supposed to know about Wharton or not, but couldn't see a reason to lie.  "Yes, I know."  She shrugged.  "She told me why she's so obsessed with patrol.  I'm her friend."


Drake suddenly looked rather sad.  "And that's good.  She needs friends.  I don't like to think of her isolated again."


"No.  She won't be.  I won't let her be."  Uhura smiled to take some of the bite out of her words.  She'd sounded fierce even to her own ears.  Probably because she wasn't completely sure she could stop Christine from withdrawing if she really wanted to.


Drake patted her hand.  "I'll see you tonight, Nyota."  Then she turned and walked to the reception desk.


Uhura watched her for a moment, then turned and made the walk back to Command.  Again.




Kirk stood in the back of the auditorium, behind a pillar where Uhura wouldn't see him.  He nodded to the other officers he knew, trying to stifle the yawns that seemed to be coming nonstop.


He'd gotten no sleep between trying to discreetly locate Carl's body and then going back to the morgue with Weasel.  At least they'd confirmed that it had been magic. 


"Poison's a good analogy," Weasel had said, as he'd laid his hand on Carl's forehead.  "Someone powerful did this.  Very powerful."


"Do you know who?"


"You tell me."  Weasel pulled Kirk's hand over, laid it on Carl's forehead and pulled his own away.  "Tell me what you sense?"


Kirk closed his eyes.  An oily blackness seemed to float in front of him.  Black shot through with a sickly yellowish brown.  He described it to Weasel.


"Good.  Remember that color.  For you, that's the color of something toxic.  For me, it's something different."  He pushed Kirk's hand down, kept his own over it.  "Now go deeper."


Kirk tried to push the blackness aside with his mind.  He felt a snapping feeling, like a surge of electrical current, or the slap of rubber cording.  The hair on the back of his neck began to stand up.  He described it too.


"Yes.  That's from the focus.  You feel it too.  Maybe your witch, maybe some object that was near your friend?  But it doesn't help us pin down whoever did this."


Kirk shook his head.  But then he said, "Wait.  There is something else."  He held his breath, trying to capture what seemed like a scent that was forming nowhere near his nose.  "Flowers.  Fragrant"


"What kind?"


"I don't know.  The scent is subtle, it keeps changing."


"What about color?"


"Blue, but I can't pin it down.  Blue though."  He got a flash of another color.  "No.  White.  Blue or white..."  He trailed off in frustration as he got a flash of yellow.


"Okay, try to remember the impression not the actual colors and scents.  If you're near the person, you might get a sensation of it again."  Weasel pulled his hand away.


Kirk turned to him.  "You're supposed to be a powerful sorcerer and this is the best we can do?  Some vague scent I can't even identify and an indeterminate shade of blue or white or maybe yellow?"


"What exactly did you expect?  A photo I.D.?"  Weasel smiled.  "Whoever did this is good.  Covered his or her tracks perfectly.  Or nearly so.  The flower is a clue.  One that may help you."


"Why didn't you get the flower?"


Weasel shook his head.  "Odds are you've smelled or seen it before.  You just don't remember where or when."


"Or who I was with when I did?" Kirk had said.


"Exactly," Weasel had said as he'd followed Kirk out of the bowels of Starfleet Medical.  "The symbols are personal.  What works for you will be things you resonate with, things you've experienced."


Kirk had seen Weasel out and then gone to the gym and then straight to his office, changing into the uniform he kept there.  He'd had no sleep and very little to eat.  Now all he wanted to do was sit down.  But he was afraid if he did, he'd fall asleep.




He smiled at the soft brogue.  "Emma."


"Come sit with us.  Nyota's saved me a place.  I'm sure there's room for you too."


"I can't."


She didn't reply, just stood waiting for him to explain why.


He decided to wait her out, just smiled pleasantly.


She finally sighed.  "You've seemed quite fond of Christine in the past.  Why not come down and enjoy her graduation with the rest of her friends?"


Maybe because he wasn't her friend anymore?  "I'm expecting to be called away.  I don't want to make a scene by trying to leave in the middle of the ceremony.  I can exit much more gracefully from up here."


She stared at him, finally nodding.  But she didn't go away.  "How are your classes going?'


"Fine.  Thank you."


Her face tightened.  "I will figure out what's going on, Admiral.  With you and with Christine."  She strode away, irritation evident in her stride.


He exhaled in relief.  The woman reminded him of a teacher he'd had in fourth grade.


He relaxed, found himself yawning again.  He had a few minutes before the ceremony would begin. He walked out of the room, pacing a bit in the foyer to keep awake.  A group of graduates filed past, on the way to the staging area.  One lagged behind.  Chris.


She turned to him, a helpless and lost expression on her face.  He knew he was wearing the same expression.


She lifted her hand but when he didn't respond, let it drop.  She shook her head slightly, turned away.


Once she was out of sight, he raised his hand.




He whirled. 


Lori smiled.  "You were so caught up in your precious slayer, you didn't even 'feel' me coming, did you?"  She moved against him, as if she was an animal leaving her scent on him.


He moved away.


"I'm still waiting for that meeting with her, you know?  Looks like I'm going to have to set it up for myself since you two are all broken up."  She laughed, the sound sent shivers down his spine.  In both good ways and bad.


"Do you really want to stay for this?"  She rubbed against him again.


He turned to look at her.  Her luminous brown eyes seemed to turn black as she stared at him.  He felt his resistance to her dropping.  Why hadn't he been interested in her?  She was beautiful.  So sexy.


She rubbed against him again.  "We could go."


He took the hand she held out, let her pull him toward the doors.


He heard footsteps, turned to see Chris coming back, walking toward him with a determined stride.  She stopped dead when she saw his hand in Lori's.  Her face tightened when Lori rubbed against him again.


They stood frozen, until Lori let go of him, walked up to Chris.  "I need to talk to you."


"He told me already.  I'm not that interested.  Less and less by the minute, in fact."  She turned a hurt look on Kirk.


Lori looked back at him also.  He shrugged.  He wasn't sure which of them he was trying to appease.


"Even if it's important?"  Lori said.  "For more than just us.  Many more."  She moved her head, stretching her neck as if she had a cramp.  The movement came off as surprisingly savage.


Suddenly Chris walked forward, moved in so close she was nearly in Lori's face.  The look on Chris's face one of sudden recognition.  "I know what you are."


Kirk stepped forward, again not sure which of them he was trying to protect, which to hold back.  "She's a witch.  Or something."


Christine nodded.  "She's more than that, Jim.  It's not safe to be around her right now." She pointed up.  "The moon's full."  She pretended to howl at it.


Lori smiled, it was a strangely seductive expression.  "We're not all slaves to the moon.  Some of us have learned to control the change.  It can make for a very passionate experience.  Maybe you'd like to skip the ceremony and join us?"  She moved closer to Chris.  "I'd like that."


"I'll pass."  Chris turned to Kirk, angrier than he'd seen her.  "Just don't let your dream girl bite you."  She turned on her heel, and walked away.


"Her loss."  Lori rubbed her hand along his neck and he felt the hairs stand up.  He felt a snapping sensation, like electric current or rubber tubing.  He forced himself not to react, tried to read her.  There was no smell or color--no flower.  Or maybe there was and he couldn't go that far without Weasel there to guide him?


But she had been involved in Carl's death.  He pulled away from her.  Had he really been going to leave with her?  "What are you?"


"You mean you don't know?"  She shook her head.  "Such a babe in the woods.  I think your slayer was almost tempted by my offer."


"I think you're wrong."  He backed away from her.  "I'm going in.  I have a graduation to watch."


"Suit yourself.  I'll see you around.  Hopefully in a better mood."  Her smile was feral.


He didn't turn his back on her until she was safely out the door.  Then he hurried into the now darkened auditorium, ignoring the glares from the other latecomers as he pushed past them, deeper into the shadows, where Chris wouldn't see him.


He left as soon as the ceremony was done and he'd seen Chris safely graduated.  There was a reception, but it would be too hard seeing her.


It would always be too hard seeing her.




Christine blinked back tears, determined she would not screw up her makeup and look like a lovesick fool.  If Jim wanted to go off with a damned werewolf, that was his business. 


It had taken every ounce of control she had not to try to kill Lori. 


Well, not every ounce.  Some small part of her wouldn't have minded taking her up on her offer.  Pheromones.  Like the woman was in heat.  That was the power of her attraction.  And being a witch, or a sorceress, or whatever it was in vogue to call a woman like her didn't hurt the allure either.


Christine almost missed her name being called, was brought to herself by a classmate gently pushing her and saying softly, "It's your turn."


The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur.  It was over and Uhura had her in a tight hug.  Emma was beaming approval.  Christine let a few tears fall, but they were to be expected, she didn't have to explain them. 


"I saw Admiral Kirk," Emma said tentatively.


"So did I," Christine said in her most final tone.


Mercifully, both women took the hint.


"Do you want to grab some dinner?" Uhura asked finally.


"I'm not very hungry."  She turned to Emma.  "I thought I'd patrol.  I'll walk you home though."


She turned to Uhura, hugged her again.  "It means a lot that you came.  It means the world."  She saw the concern in her friend's eyes and pulled away quickly.  "Why don't you walk with us?"


Uhura laughed.  "Look at this crowd. A lot of them are skipping the reception, I bet.  We'll all be walking together.  We'll be fine.  You look really tired.  Why don't you go straight home?"


Emma nodded.  "We'll be with a crowd.  And I have stakes."


"I have to patrol first.  Just a few passes."  She handed Emma her cap and gown.  "Could you take these back to your place?"


"Of course, dear.  Are you sure you don't want to come back with me?  You really do seem all in?"  Her gaze was penetrating, as if she knew what was wrong but was waiting for Christine to tell her.


"Just a short patrol.  I'm fine."  Christine stood up straight.  "Really."  She was glad she'd dressed in patrol-worthy clothes.  She needed to escape.  And to kill something.  She had two stakes in her jacket.  Enough to do plenty of damage with.




She turned to see Will Decker coming up. 


Uhura whispered, 'That's our cue."  She winked at Christine as she hurried Emma out.


"Hello.  I hope you didn't come to this for me?" 


He shook his head.  "A friend of the family was graduating.  But I thought I'd come over. Say hello.  And pester you about my offer."  He winked at her.


"Oh.  Wow."  She felt off balance.


He smiled.  An open, easy, no-pressure smile.  "I'm a hard to man to resist when I want something."


She felt herself relaxing, smiled.  "That's a trait they look for in Enterprise captains."


He laughed.  "I'll take that as a compliment, since you were recommended by the most famous one of all."


She forced herself not to look away. 


"Have you thought about it?  Enterprise sickbay is a posting that many people are vying over.  I'm giving you a vie-free pass."


She laughed.  He was charming.  And Uhura liked him.  And her friends would be there.  And there weren't any vampires or werewolves or witches or--


She realized Decker had asked her something.  She hoped that "Yes, I accept the offer" was the right answer.


By his smile, she assumed it was.


"Great.  Welcome to the team.  I'll be in touch."  He gave her one last happy smile and walked away.


She felt a lump in her throat.  She' be so far from Jim.


She was already miles away from him, even when she was in the same room.  What she'd just seen had proven that. 


How could he?  Whatever happened to being revolted by Lori?


"Happy Graduation?" a quiet voice said behind her.


She turned.  Thompson stood looking nervous, something behind his back. 




"I knew it was your big day.  I wanted to surprise you."  He pulled a bouquet of white flowers out, presented them with what he must have thought was a courtly bow, but looked more like a wobble to her.


She was still touched.  "Thank you." 


"Maybe we could go out and get a drink?  To celebrate?"  He saw her look and held up a hand.  "You were about to hit the cemeteries, weren't you?"


She nodded, touched his hand to soften the rejection.  "You're cold."


"Yeah, it was freezing in the back.  I could really use some coffee.  How about you?"  He began to walk up the stairs and she followed him.  The flowers smelled good.  Lilies mainly.  Some white roses.


As they walked toward the door she forgot how to breathe.  She was the only one reflected in the glass.


Thompson grabbed her arm, his voice was suddenly silky, a dulcet upperclass British instead of whatever heartland dialect he'd been doing before.  He pushed the door open with his foot.  "Don't make a scene and no one here will get hurt."


She tensed.  "You're Wharton?  All this time?  You've been playing with me."


"I like to think of it as getting to know you."


"Semantics," she hissed.


Wharton was hustling them pass the people who were still talking in small groups outside the auditorium, nodding pleasantly as if nothing was wrong.  "Think about it, Christine.  If I wanted to kill you, how many opportunities have I had in the past?  I came here to watch you graduate.  And to be there for you at the end of the ceremony, when you walked away all alone, like you always do."


She reached for her stake. 


"Christine.  Why are you doing that?  Do you believe the stories your watcher told you?  Do you know how many slayers I've saved from overeager vampires and from cold-hearted watchers?"  He put his arm around her waist, pressing her free hand down against her hip so she could not reach her stake.  "Have I given you any reason to be afraid of me?"


She tensed again. 


He guided her down the hill, toward a grove on the way back to town.  "Stop acting on instinct and use the brain that the watchers would rather you didn't exercise.  How have I ever hurt you?"


"Not me.  But those others.  The people you've been putting in my way."


"I think we've got more important things to worry about at the moment."  He pointed down the path.


Six vampires stood waiting.  Old vampires.  Not fledglings.  These monsters had been around the block a few times.


The biggest one stepped forward.  "A Slayer.  And her boyfriend.  Out for a walk.  How romantic."


Wharton shuffled forward.  Once again he was Bob Thompson.  Ungainly.  Wimpy. 


Deadly, she imagined.


"We don't want any trouble." 


"Well, trouble wants you," the biggest one said.


The other five laughed.


Wharton's face changed.  "With lines like that, you'll give us all a bad name."  He charged into the group.


It took Christine a moment to react, then she pulled her stake out and went for the biggest vampire.  Her first blow barely moved him. 


Then she remembered the way Lori had rubbed against Jim. 


Her next kick knocked the vampire halfway across the grove into the outthrust limb of a tree.  He was dust.


Wharton glanced back at her.  "A stake would be nice."


"Sorry.  Fresh out."


"Fine."  He grabbed the vampire nearest him, twisted her neck until the head came off.  The vampire exploded into dust.  "Stake?" he said again, as if to a slow child.  "I bought you hot chocolate.  I don't even like hot chocolate."


Against her better judgment, she tossed him her spare stake.  It had been his to begin with, the loaner from the night before.  She ignored him, taking on the next biggest vampire who charged her with a roar.  His punch caught her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her for a moment.  She slid across the grass, managed to turn the movement into a controlled roll and was up again as he reached for her.  She slammed the stake home and he was dust.


Wharton had taken out two more.  They both converged on the last vampire.  The woman looked frightened.  She turned to Wharton.  "You're one of us."


He shrugged.


Christine slammed the stake into her back, too hard.  She tried to pull it out before the vamp exploded, but it was too late.  Her stake disappeared along with the vampire.


She turned to face Wharton.  He smiled at her, turned his stake around and handed it to her.


She took it slowly, expecting a trick.  He moved closer to her, reaching out and guiding her hand to bring the stake up to his chest.  "I'm a vampire.  You're a slayer.  Slay me."


She pushed, and he closed his eyes.  Waiting.


She pulled the stake back.  "Why?  Why this masquerade?  Why the games?"


"If I'd walked up and said, 'Hello, my dear, my name is David Wharton,' would you have invited me to tea perhaps?"  He began to circle her.  "You're all alone.  Except for me.  No watcher.  No friends.  No handsome admiral stupid enough to leave you.  No rather infamous vampire kissing you."


She turned to look at him.  "That's why you ran from Spike.  He'd have known what you were."


"In a second."  He grinned; it was an attractive expression on him.  He was very attractive, just as she'd suspected Bob could be if he were an entirely different person.


"Seeing you with Spike," he said, coming up behind her.  "It changed things for me." 


"I will stake you."


"And then what?  Go back to your cold apartment.  Report to an even colder ship?"  His lips touched down on her neck.  "You're unhappy.  As unhappy as any slayer I've ever seen."


She shivered at his touch.  "You killed those people.  I know that was you."


"Yes, all right, I did.  To keep you busy.  It's true.  But they weren't random.  They weren't innocents.  In their own way, they were more evil than I could ever be.  I just did the world a favor."


"You're not judge, jury, and executioner."


"But that's exactly what you get to be.  And for whom?  Silver?  That pompous ass.  You do this for him?"


"Emma's not like him."


"Oh, but she is.  She has you fooled now.  She's a master at it.  But in the long run, she'll stick with the watchers.  The same way she did that night when she left you alone here with me."  He slowly reached around and took her stake.  "I could have killed you that night.  I didn't." 


She wasn't sure what to say, how to answer. 


"You asked me about darkness.  Did I believe some people were darker inside than others?  The answer is yes.  I believe the watchers are.  I believe they prey on young girls.  And I believe I can stop them."  His lips touched her shoulder again, then her neck. 


"I believe we can stop them.  I offer you release, Christine.  No more pain.  No more darkness to fight.  You'll embrace it and become like me.  And together, we'll save the slayers who have no one to fight for them."


"No," she said, but made no move to stop him.  What was the point?


"The admiral was a fool to walk away from you.  I could tell he loved you.  And I know that you loved him.  And he just walked away with that fiend."


She swallowed hard.


"He's probably with her right now.  Touching her." Wharton's arms went around her.  "Kissing her."  He moved her hair aside, kissed the back of her neck.  "Tasting her."  He moved closer to her ear, his teeth resting, pushing enough so she could feel the pressure. 


He pulled back.  "Let go, Christine.  I can make all this pain stop.  I'll never hurt you." 


She felt his teeth again touch down.  This time it wasn't like Marcus.  This was no spell, no enchantment or hypnosis.  This was just one broken soul calling to another.  She heard him, something inside of her heard him...and was responding.  "No more pain," she whispered, the words a prayer, a supplication.


He bit down, his teeth puncturing the skin.  Pain roared in her head, then she felt his mouth settle around the wound, his tongue lapping even as he sucked at her.  She moaned.  It hurt.  Then she moaned again.  It didn't hurt.  It felt good.


His arms tightened around her, the stake still in his hand.  It bumped against her arm.


It felt wonderful.  Oblivion, release.  Utterly wonderful.


And just another way of running away.


She grabbed the stake, stabbed him as best she could in the leg with it.


He released her and roared in pain.  She pulled back, ripping away from his teeth, then kicking him away from her.


"No.  No oblivion.  Not for me."  She held her hand up against her neck trying to stop the bleeding. 


Pressure, the doctor in her said.  A rag and pressure.   She ripped her shirt, wadded it up and held it against the wound. 


"If you want to try again, then go ahead.  But I won't be your willing victim."  She held the stake up even though her hand was trembling badly.


"Christine.  I won't hurt you.  I want to help you."


"So you said."


He smiled as if he was proud of her.  "But it felt good didn't it?  Like sex, only better?"


"It felt good.  But that's not all there is to life."  She backed away from him.  "You leave Emma alone, David.  Just walk away now and I'll never even tell them you were here."


"I can't walk away.  Although I'll let you walk away tonight.  But you'll be back."


She shook her head.  "If you don't go, it'll be war between us."


"We'll see.  You're really quite remarkable, you know."  He blew her a kiss, disappearing into the shadows, like the phantom he seemed to be.


She started to shake, nearly falling down in shock.  She hadn't lost that much blood; she'd be fine if she could get the bleeding to stop.  If she could get to the hospital. 


It was several blocks later that she realized she was heading for Jim's apartment, not the hospital.




Kirk heard a strange sound at his door, as if someone had bumped into it.  Then the chime went off.


He hurried to it, opened the door, barely caught Chris as she almost fell into his apartment. 


"Jim?  I know we're not...but...I let him bite me and then I couldn't and I fought him but he left and then..."  She pulled her hand from her neck and he saw that she was bleeding.  She started to cry.  "I'm sorry.  I know I shouldn't have come."


"It's okay.  It's okay, Chris."  He helped her into the living room. 


She suddenly pulled back. "Is she here?  Because if she is, I don't want to be."


"She's not here.  I didn't leave with her.  I was there, in the back.  Watching you."  He smiled softly as he checked the wounds.  "Why did you come here if you thought she was here?"


"I don't know.  Because I need you."


"You also need blood."


She shook her head.  "He didn't take very much.  I stopped him."


"Did you know him?"


She nodded, looked miserable.  "I finally found Wharton."


"And you let him bite you?"


She started to cry again.  "It's worse.  I let him buy me hot chocolate."


He laughed softly.  When she sobbed, he stroked her hair back.  "I'm not laughing at you.  You're just not making any sense."  Unless...  She had said hot chocolate?  "That ensign was Wharton?"


She nodded.  "He wanted to turn me.  I almost let him."


He walked into his bathroom, found the medical supplies and brought them out to the living room.  As he began to work on the wounds, he said softly, "You didn't let him.  Almost turned means you weren't turned.  It's like almost dead or almost pregnant."


"I know."  She winced when he put the antiseptic on the bites.  "I'm sorry."


"Don't be sorry.  You got away."


He finished with the bandage, then sat down next to her, sighing as he pulled her into his arms.  She curled around him, her head on his chest.


"I can't do this without you, Jim." 


He started to reply but her words came out in a rush, as if she was afraid she'd have no other chance to speak if she didn't get it out now.  "We can just forget what we said, and how we feel, and just be friends, because I need that and I think you need that too. And I'm the only one in this whole damn city that needs you, so you can't walk away from me.  Not like this.  Because that's what cowards do.  Like me when I ran away, or like Spock when he went off to Gol, but you're not like us.  You're not a coward.  You don't run.  You stay.  Please stay.  Be my friend."


"Are you done?"


She nodded solemnly.  Then as he started to speak, she said, "Oh god, I accepted Decker's offer tonight."  She began to cry in earnest.


"Chris, shhh.  It's all right.  It'll be all right."


"No, I can tell him I changed my mind.  I'll do that right now.  I'll send him a message." She started to get up.


He pulled her back down gently.  "You'll do no such thing.  This is killing you, don't you see that?  Being the slayer again.  Being here again.  It's killing you.  Putting you right back where you were.  And I'm not helping."  He pulled her close.  Kissed her forehead gently, putting thoughts of all the other places he wanted to kiss out of his mind.  "The Enterprise is the best place for you.  Don't call Decker.  Don't back out."


He realized she was shivering violently.  "Are you sure I shouldn't take you to the hospital?"


"No.  Please.  I'm just so cold."  She burrowed against him.


He moved her off him gently, stood up and drew her up after him.  "Come on.  At least I won't have to wake you every two hours this time." 


They could sleep in; he was off tomorrow, from work and lessons with Weasel.  It wasn't much, but given how much else he couldn't have from her, he wasn't going to complain.


"Come on," he said gently.


She stopped, held onto his hand and looked at him plaintively.  "I need you, as my friend.  You'll be that?"


He nodded.  Self-control, Weasel had said?  Well, he thought they were both showing remarkable amounts. 


"Don't leave me," she said softly.  "Don't push me away."


He pulled her into the bedroom.  "I won't leave you.  I won't push you away."


"You promise?"  She took his other hand.  Held it tightly.  "For the long haul.  We'll be there for each other?  You promise?"


"I promise."  Pulling her hands to his lips, he kissed them.


He pushed the covers back and she kicked off her boots, then crawled in.  He followed her in, tried to ignore how good it felt to hold her against him. 


How much it hurt to hear her murmured "I love you, Jim," as she shifted half-asleep against him.  She moved closer, her arm snaking around his chest.  In her sleep, she rubbed against him the same way Lori had.  It felt tons better than when Lori had done it.


"I love you, Chris," he said softly, knew it might be the last time he ever said it to her.  But he'd give that up just to have her back in his life.  All the things she'd said, he'd have said them too if he hadn't been so dammed stubborn. 


He probably owed that bastard Wharton a huge debt of gratitude. 


But he'd still stake him if he got the chance.  He'd tried to turn the woman Kirk loved into a vampire.  Not that he could blame the man.  But still.


He smiled, knew it was a grim smile. 


She was safe.  She was all right.  She hadn't been turned.


It was up to him to make sure she didn't ever again get to the place where she wanted to let go like that.  He had to keep her alive.  Alive and well and ready to escape on the Enterprise when it shipped out.


Even if letting her go would be the hardest thing he ever had to do.


To keep her safe, to keep her alive and happy, he'd do it.  He'd lied to Spock for the same reason.  Hurt his best friend.  It seemed only fair that he pay for her happiness, for her release with the same currency.


His heart.


Exhausted beyond memory, he closed his eyes and fell instantly to sleep.