Of Shadows and Demons
Mackie - www.idol-pursuits.tv

Disclaimer: The Sentinel and all its trimmings belong to Pet Fly 
Productions and Paramount. I'm just out playing with the boys.

Disclaimer: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is owned neither by me nor 
Pet Fly Productions, et al. It's Warner Brothers and Joss Whedon. 
If you're a Buffy fan, this story follows What's My Line? and 
precedes Surprise. If you're not a fan of the show, it's not 
important to understand where the story falls in the Buffy time-

Of Shadows and Demons 
by Linda S. Maclaren

"Life is stranger than fiction, but not so popular." -- Anonymous

Part One

Jim Ellison thought he had never been so grateful to be home. The 
loft was uncommonly cold and quiet, but it was such a relief 
after thirty-six hours of a non-stop assault to his heightened 
senses, he didn't care if he spent the night in a freezer as long 
as there was blissful silence. First, he'd escorted a small-time 
embezzler back to New York City for trial, and the man had talked 
the entire flight, blaming everyone and everything, even El Niño, 
for his predicament. The New York cops had been glad to have 
their fugitive returned, and a couple of them had taken Jim out 
for a night in the "big city", a night which included enough 
sights, noise, smells and booze to keep a sentinel on sensory 
overload for a year. Still, he'd managed without embarrassing 
himself too badly, although the cops kept laughing at him for 
jumping every time a taxi horn sounded - man, New York was a 
cacophony of blaring car horns!

On the flight home, he'd been unable to get his preferred aisle 
seat, and had found himself sandwiched between two feuding 
teenage sisters who'd traded insults for the entire trip. He'd 
tried nice, he'd tried stern, he'd even tried authority by 
enlisting the help of a flight attendant; but in the end, they'd 
defeated him, and he'd been forced to sit and endure, there being 
no empty seats on the plane. Teenagers! 

Also, he was certain he could still hear the constant, monotonous 
roar of jet engines inside his skull, an annoying susurrus 
punctuated occasionally by what sounded suspiciously like a taxi 

Finally, he was home - and where the hell was Sandburg?

Jim dropped his flight bag on the floor and glanced around the 
deserted loft. He saw the note on the table immediately and 
picked it up. Blair's handwriting started out neatly enough, 
probably as a courtesy, but as his thoughts overran his pen, his 
words turned into his more familiar scrawl:

Jim, welcome home. I made lasagna, it's in the fridge, and if you 
get back before Thursday, it should be OK. An archaeologist 
friend, Dana Gentry, asked me to come down to her dig outside of 
Sunnydale, in northern Calif. I don't know much about Pacific or 
Northwest tribes, but she insisted, and you know me - when a 
pretty woman calls...Be back by the weekend. I took the bus so I 
could do some reading, so my car should be in its usual spot. 
Stay out of trouble. Me.

Beside the note sat Blair's laptop and cellular phone, 
indications he was in the mood to "rough it" in the wilds of 
Northern California. 

Jim explored the refrigerator, found the lasagna and unwrapped 
the dish. It looked and smelled delicious, even if it did have 
tofu masquerading as meat beneath the sauce. He scooped a huge 
slice onto a plate and stuck it in the microwave to heat, then 
grabbed a beer.

Much as he liked Sandburg, it felt good to come home to a little 
peace and quiet...

Part Two

Dana Gentry, sixty inches of barely harnessed energy, met Blair 
at the bus station in Sunnydale. Anyone seeing her would have 
made an instant judgment that she was lesbian, but they would 
have been wrong. Dana never wore makeup, never bothered to dress 
in anything but grungy khakis, and wore her hair in a buzz cut 
because she spent her life on digs and couldn't be bothered with 
all the little cultural emblems of her gender. 

She grabbed Blair in a hug that almost drove the breath from him. 
"Blair, why haven't I been getting postcards from strange, South 
American sites that all have names beginning with a hawking 

"Thank you for that imagery, Doctor Gentry," Blair answered once 
he'd disentangled himself.

She grinned. "Doctor Gentry," she echoed happily. "Yep. Finally. 
When do I get to read your name on the doctoral list?"

"Uh, I got a little sidetracked," Blair admitted. "It started 
heading in a different direction."

Dana flung his backpack into the bed of an ancient Datsun pickup 
that hadn't seen a car wash since Carter was in office. 
"Passenger door's wired shut, you'll have to crawl through from 
my side."

Blair scooted across the seat through the driver's door and 
kicked happily through all the catalogs, journals, food wrappers 
and other detritus littering the floorboard. It reminded him of 
other digs in other countries, of shoestring budgets, sponge 
baths, eating out of warm cans, rocky ground to sleep on, bugs 
and other crawly things, and the sheer exhilaration of it all.

He'd been away from this sort of fieldwork for too long, and 
realized he missed it deeply. His fieldwork now was in a city, 
with its civilized comforts, his continued university work, and 
all the amenities. It didn't feel like fieldwork at all, and 
perhaps that was what bothered him most. He'd made the choice to 
do it, of course, first because he'd been fascinated to find Jim 
Ellison, then because Jim had become a friend who needed Blair's 
help more than either of them had anticipated. Blair wouldn't 
trade the friendship for anything, but there were times he 
dreamed of remote places and strange, exotic cultures...

"Hey, Sandburg, you fading on me or something?"

He grinned. "Just remembering old times, Dana."

She drove like a maniac, pointing out various highlights of 
Sunnydale. "It's a one-mall, one Wal-Mart kind of town," she 
confessed, "although, there is a rather fun teen hangout called 
The Bronz. That's our big time Saturday night."

"Uh, I probably won't be staying that long," Blair apologized. "I 
need to get back."

"Yeah?" Dana chuckled as she rammed the little truck through 
about half of the required gears and took a road out of town. It 
was a brilliant, sunny Monday afternoon, and Blair relished the 
warmth pouring through the open side window of the Datsun. Days 
this perfect, especially in late fall, were rare in Cascade. 
"You're studying the police? You turning into a sociologist on 
me, Blair?"

"No." He tried not to sound defensive, but he hated having to 
justify his cover story. "You won't find a more primitive sub-
culture than a police force." He wished he could tell her about 
Jim, about his abilities, about the incredible bond between them 
as Sentinel and Guide. But he couldn't. "What's this site you're 
on now?"

"A small encampment," Dana explained.

"Yahi, Maidu?" 

She grinned at him. "You've been doing your homework."

Blair returned the grin with a shrug. "I know just enough about 
your work to make a complete fool out of myself."

"Good guesses, although this region is more likely to have been 
Pomo or Miwok. Your tribes were a little farther to the north." 
She slipped smoothly into her lecture mode. "As you know, the 
Indians in this region were pretty peaceful, settled. The coastal 
tribes fished, the inland ones hunted, grew stuff, traded with 
other tribes, and with a few notable exceptions, they didn't 
fight much with the Spanish or each other and were converted to 
Christianity pretty early on following the conquest. Their 
history is difficult to decipher because they didn't build with 
stone and mortar, but rather with the plentiful wood. The damp 
environment here has destroyed much of what they did accomplish. 
I think you'll find our dig a little disappointing after some of 
your South American sites."

"No, I have an idea what to expect," Blair replied. "How did you 

find it?"

"A high-school student was out hiking, had the sense to realize 
he'd found something when he stumbled across it. The local 
science teacher checked it out, and also had the sense to keep 
the site intact and not try to dig it on his own. So he called 
the university, and here I am."

"And why am I here?" Blair asked, watching the meager suburbs of 
Sunnydale give way to cultivated pasture and finally to 
woodlands. The little truck started to climb as the road wound 
into the foothills.

"Because I haven't got a clue what I've found," Dana admitted.

"That's why you didn't answer my question about what group used 
the site?"

Dana nodded. "I really don't mean to sound mysterious, but I 
don't want to taint your first impression."

"OK," Blair agreed mildly, intrigued. If Dana Gentry, an expert 
on Northern California archaeology, couldn't figure out what 
she'd found, how could he possibly help?

Several miles later the terrain became mountainous, and the woods 
gave way to forest; an old growth area of redwoods protected 
under California law. The venerable trees towering over them 
reduced the forest floor to semi-darkness, which was cleaved by 
shafts of brilliant sunlight. After awhile, Dana turned onto a 
rutted, narrow forestry track. They bounced along in 
companionable silence for a time until the road ended. Two other 
equally battered pickup trucks were parked there. Dana shut down 
the engine. "Trail head," she explained. "We hoof it from here."

"How far?" Blair asked, wondering if he should leave some of his 
stuff in the truck.

"Two miles, a little less," Dana answered. 

"Are you sleeping at the site?"

"Yeah, nearest motel is back near Sunnydale, and it's almost as 
bad as tenting it. Besides, we can get an early start in the 

"Yeah, you always were a slave driver," Blair chided, hefting his 
backpack and deciding to cart it all with him. Besides, he might 
need some of his reference books if he wasn't going to look a 
complete idiot in front of the rest of the crew. He'd read a lot 
of material about the primitive cultures of Northern California 
during his bus ride from Cascade, but he was far from being an 
authority on any of it.

The hike was rugged and steep up a narrow, rocky trail. Dana 
pushed a hard pace. Blair kept up with her, but it was difficult, 
and he vowed he would get more exercise in the future. Living in 
the city had made him soft and lazy. Maybe he'd start riding his 
bike to school. Yeah, and have permanent pneumonia from all the 
rain and cold.

It was early afternoon when they reached the camp. Three small 
two-man tents, two portable camp tables, a stove, several 
lanterns, a somewhat larger tent and a fire pit defined the 
little community. The rest of the team were just finishing lunch, 
and they greeted Blair with hot coffee and leftover spaghetti. It 
smelled wonderful after the packaged snacks and roadside diners 
he'd endured on his bus ride.

Blair stowed his gear in the larger tent, which proved to be 
where the bulk of cleaning and cataloguing of artifacts was done, 
as he'd suspected. They had set up a spare cot for him and 
cleared out one side of the tent so he could set up his own 
sleeping area. He dumped out most of his backpack onto the cot, 
repacking only his notebooks, field tools, and flashlight.

He felt unbearably old as he was introduced to the rest of the 
team. Sandy Crenshaw was a tall, lanky girl with a warm, toothy 
smile. Stu Kowalski was stout, broad and entirely too serious. 
Both were sophomores at Dana's university, and they were still 
excited about their first dig. Rodney Ballantine was Dana's 
assistant, a grad student working on his Master's thesis. The 
other two were the original examiners of the site, a high school 
student named Blu and the science teacher, Mr. Blake, who was 
barely older than Blair. Blu (short for Blumenthal, he admitted, 
red-faced), was a large, soft high school freshman who appeared 
to spend way too much time in front of his television set or 
computer screen. Judging by the nerd-like signs of taped Coke-
bottle frames, Blair suspected the latter. Needless to say, both 
Blu and the science teacher were excited to take part in 
chronicling the find for both the Sunnydale and school 

When Blair had finished his meager lunch and listened to tales of 
the site - as he'd suspected, it was very small but apparently 
rich in material -- Dana pulled him aside. "OK, here's some of 
the stuff I don't want the locals to hear for the time being, 
although the rest of the team knows what we've found."

"Secrets?" Blair asked, surprised.

"Not so much secrets, as confusion," Dana continued impatiently. 
"This site is an encampment, not a community. These people were 
not warlike, and yet we have found the remains of at least seven 
corpses, all men, all apparently killed violently - hacked to 
death is the best evidence we have so far."

"The Spanish?" Blair asked, repulsed as always by ancient 
violence. Things really hadn't changed much over the centuries; 
only the weapons of death had improved.

"Looks that way, except for two small things - preliminary 
examination of the bone injuries indicate just one weapon was 
used, probably a sword or other long blade, but the site itself 
seems to predate the arrival of the Spanish in this region. It's 
hard to tell because I'm talking perhaps just a few decades here, 
but we've compared geological records with Spanish history, so 
the data appear sound."

"So one killer?" Blair theorized. "What geological records are 
you talking about?"

"Earthquakes. The encampment sits on a fault line. That's 
probably what buried it in the first place. A small earthquake a 
few months ago opened a fissure and revealed it again. Even 
stranger, we've found a ton of religious artifacts - both 
Christian and Indian, some of it perhaps from as far east as the 
Seneca. I think, and mind you, this is just one of those wild 
guesses that come to you after you've tossed and turned half the 
night - I think this was some sort of heavy-duty, multi-cultural 
ceremonial site, and someone didn't approve of what was going on 

Blair frowned. This was all a bit much. "Are you sure the site 
hasn't been contaminated? I mean, I know the locals traded as far 
east as Colorado, but wouldn't this many diverse religious 
objects in one place indicate it was some grave robber's cache, 
and he just never came back for it?"

"Why do you think I'm doing so much tossing and turning?" Dana 
retorted. "Besides, a cache doesn't explain the bones."

Blair let out a breath. "Whew. Can you show me what you've got?"

Dana took him into the large tent and began to lay out her 
evidence. Even Blair had to admit it was compelling, although 
there were some things he didn't recognize and had to take on 
faith that Dana knew what she was talking about. Bits of bone and 
feather, dried herbs and bits of stone in ancient medicine 
bundles; everything pointed to a major religious ceremony. There 
was even a deformed and badly pitted cross, probably carried by a 
missionary or conquistador as the conquest spread north in search 
of gold...except Dana seemed certain the site predated the 
arrival of the Spanish. So how had a Spanish sword and a 
Christian artifact come to be here without a Spaniard to carry 
them? Then she revealed the bones, brown and flaky, that had been 
removed from the site and showed him numerous enhanced 
photographs to prove a single blade, probably a sword, had caused 
all the injuries. "Most of the remains are still in the ground - 
we're taking great care in excavating them. Everything in this 
soft, moist soil is so fragile, there's little left except vague 
outlines and chemical traces. We have to capture the images on 
special film, because it's doubtful we'll actually be able to 
recover anything more substantial."

Blair was impressed in spite of himself. Digging with dental pick 
and soft brush had never been his favorite pastime (although he'd 
done his share of it), which was one of the reasons he'd chosen 
anthropology instead of archaeology as his major. He preferred 
the living present, especially in his study of primitive 
cultures, to the guesswork reconstruction of the ancient past. 
But this was fascinating. There was nothing conclusive, but the 
facts seemed to fit Dana's theory, bizarre as it seemed.

"Ready to go up to the site?" she asked after he'd pored over the 
artifacts and her notes.


"It's all uphill," she teased.

"I don't care if it's on the summit of Mount Whitney," he 
retorted with enthusiasm.

"That's what I figured you'd say," Dana said with a grin. They 
went outside, and Dana gathered up her crew and tools. The high 
school student and science teacher decided to sit out the 
afternoon in camp, preparing their updates for the newspapers. 

The path to the site was even rougher than the one they'd hiked 
to camp. It was actually a game trail, not a hiking trail at all, 
and when Dana veered off into the trees, Blair wondered how the 
freshman had managed to stumble across it in the first place. It 
was not exactly a place he would have picked to go for a walk in 
the woods, especially if he were as fat and flabby as the kid 

"I'm bringing you out above the site," Dana explained, stopping 
on a rock ledge and pointing downward.

Blair looked into the small clearing a half-dozen feet below. To 
the untrained eye, it was just another open spot in the forest 
floor, unimpressive and without character. But to a trained 
archaeologist, it revealed a wealth of information. A grid of 
stakes and string had been laid out by the team. It extended 
several yards to either side of a long, narrow fissure that 
bisected the little clearing. In spots only a few inches deep, 
the fissure widened at one point and dropped several yards into 
the earth. Even from above, Blair could not see the bottom. If 
the students were working inside it, it had to be both dangerous 
and exciting. Areas of the grid surrounding the trench had been 
dug to a depth of several inches, one portion to a couple of 
feet. "This is the actual ceremonial site," Dana told him. "We've 
found remains of several fires, and most of the ceremonial 
artifacts have come from here." She pointed to her right. "Over 
there is where we found the bones - we can't tell if they were 
positioned in any religious manner because they've shifted a lot 
during the centuries and been disturbed by wildlife. It's 
actually amazing anything survived at all."

"Have you turned up any research to indicate this was sacred 
ground to any of the indigenous cultures?" Blair asked, looking 
down into the fissure and wondering at the vague sense of unease 
that came over him. Sure, he wasn't fond of heights (fond? Hell, 
terrified was more like it...), but the drop from the ledge was 
only a few feet, and he was in no danger of tumbling into the 

"I have two students going over every scrap of research back at 
the university," Dana said. "So far, nothing points to this area 
as having any significance to anyone."

Blair noted the other students were getting antsy. "What's up?"

"They're eager to show you what else we've found," Dana said. 
"I've forbidden them to talk to you about it until you've seen 

"It," Blair repeated. He looked at the three students in turn; 
all of them were grinning and obviously excited about whatever 
"it" was. "OK, show me."

Dana led them away from the site, up the steep, rocky slope 
behind them to another ledge, this one higher and much larger. A 
huge, ancient tumble of granite boulders, some as large as 
houses, scarred the side of the mountain, and Blair sincerely 
hoped he wouldn't have to go up there. But Dana stopped on the 
larger ledge and pointed out a recess amid the rock. "It's in 

Blair shrugged out of his backpack and dug out his flashlight. 
With a perplexed look at his grinning companions, he started 
cautiously into the shallow cave, Dana and the others pressing in 
close behind him, eager to see his reaction. It made him a little 
nervous - he hoped he wouldn't disappoint them. The opening led 
to a small cavern formed by the overlap of granite boulders, but 
it was deep enough to require a flashlight to penetrate its 
depths. His light quickly found the end of the cave, and he 
stopped abruptly, the others piling up behind him. 

"Well?" Dana demanded.

Blair struggled to find his voice. "It's a joke, right?"

"Oh, sure, I've missed your baby blues so much, I had to concoct 
this elaborate practical joke just to get you here." The three 
students giggled.

On legs that felt suddenly weak, he moved forward and studied the 
slab of rock more carefully, his fingers tracing but not 
touching. Dana crowded in beside him. "Blair?"

"It's - it's Incan," he whispered at last. 

"Yes!" Dana crowed happily, and the students clapped and all 
started talking at once, telling him about how the cave had been 
discovered purely by accident, about how Dana had refused to let 
them excavate the find until she got Blair to see it, all of them 
jostling around him in their excitement to get close to the 
inscribed rock slab.

"Can you read any of it?" Dana demanded when Blair appeared 
oblivious to all the excitement around him. Everyone settled down 
and waited silently, straining to hear his reply.

"I think so," he answered quietly. God, some of the symbols were 
as familiar to him as his own handwriting - 

"Come on, Sandburg, don't keep us in suspense," Dana said 
impatiently. "What are we going to find behind this slab?"

"It's a tomb," Blair said softly. "At least, I think it is - 
there's a lot of this tablet I can't translate without my notes. 
An Inca shaman is buried behind this rock." A guide, he wanted to 
tell them, but he couldn't. Or at least he thought it was the 
Guide; he couldn't be sure without studying the stone 
inscriptions more fully. Nor could he explain the feeling of 
intense sadness that flooded over him, threatening to bring 

"I keep running in circles," Dana said. "On the one hand, I have 
pretty conclusive evidence this site predates the arrival of the 
Spanish. And yet, we have a Spanish cross and likelihood of a 
sword, which makes it seem probable our Inca came north with 
them, but why would he do that? The Inca and Spanish were at war. 
The Inca were conquered before the Spanish pushed this far north, 

Blair nodded numbly, his eyes still traveling over the carved 
symbols, trying to find more meaning. "These carvings represent 
very powerful magic," he concluded after a bit. "It's some sort 
of binding spell. We're not supposed to disturb it."

"Are you nuts?" Dana shot back. "This could be the discovery of 
my career, one which I'm willing to share with you, by the way, 
handsome, and you're telling me to leave it alone?"

"It's a warning," Blair insisted quietly. 

"Like King Tut's tomb?" Sandy Crenshaw said happily from inches 
behind his left shoulder. "It's curses to anyone who dares to 
defile it? Like that?"

"Like that," Blair agreed solemnly, shaken. He'd never felt 
comfortable with archaeology, the disturbing of ancient burial 
sites and sacred grounds, but he'd also never felt this strongly 
about it. Maybe because he felt a kinship to the one entombed 
behind the rock, or maybe because he was inexplicably 
uncomfortable in the close confines of the cave, with all the 
others crowded around him. Or maybe because he couldn't translate 
all of the symbols on the slab. It was a warning, of course, that 
much he had determined with ease, just as he knew it was a tomb. 
But why was a guide here, in Northern California, entombed right 
next to another religious site? Or were the two sites connected? 
And where was the Sentinel?

"You can't move the rock," he said suddenly. "What if he was 
entombed here for a reason, and the other site was where the 
spells were cast to ensure this cave would never be opened? The 
practitioners must have used every magic they could find - 
including Christian - to keep this place hidden and secure."

"An evil Inca warrior," Dana said, intrigued.

Blair shook his head, dismissing his speculations. If a guide was 
buried in the chamber, how could he be evil? "I don't know," he 
mumbled uselessly, his feelings of unease growing with each 
moment he remained in the cave.

"I knew this site was important," Dana said happily. "OK, we've 
already documented everything on this side of the tablet - I have 
a ton of photographs and notes, and we've combed every inch of 
this outer chamber for artifacts. It's time to move this rock and 
see what's behind it."

Involuntarily, Blair took a step backward, colliding with the 
others but almost unaware of it. "You can't," was all he said. He 
knew it was useless, just a stupid gut feeling from an 
anthropologist too wrapped up in his own South American studies 
to feel comfortable in these alien surroundings, confronted by a 
mystery he could not comprehend or unravel. He sounded all too 
possessive of a find over which he had no claim. How could he 
explain the dread, the fear that moved his feet slowly backwards 
as one of the students started a video camera while his 
companions began to carefully, slowly, push the stone aside under 
a constant barrage of instructions from Dana.

It sounded like a vacuum being released with a rush. Air shifted, 
the dust and mold of centuries disturbed for the first time and 
loosed from their confinement.

Blair had backed almost to the entrance of the cave, so he was a 
few feet behind the others when the heavy tablet finally shifted. 
Something lunged for him, snarling and savage, and he saw the 
black panther with absolute clarity. With a cry, he tried to dive 
out of the way, felt the enormous beast plow into him, shoving 
him down and aside - to safety, he realized even as he fell. 
Something else, ephemeral as a gust of air, brushed his skin and 
swept past. It felt so unbelievably evil, just its touch left him 
feeling horribly weak and violated. A hissing sibilance filled 
his head with its passing...


Then his impetus carried him over the side of the ledge, and he 
started to fall.

Part Three

Dozing on the sofa, Jim Ellison suddenly shot upright, the roar 
of the panther and the cry from his Guide still ringing in his 
ears. Damn, but that had been one hell of a dream...

Only he knew better.

Where was the note Blair had written? What was the name of that 

Part Four

Buffy had gone still so suddenly, Giles barely had time to pull 
his swing. As it was, his staff connected solidly with his young 
protégé and sent her sprawling to the mat. Never, in all their 
months of practice, had he ever gotten the upper hand, but he 
instinctively knew it had not been his skill, but rather the 
Slayer's distraction, which had enabled him to best her. "Buffy, 
are you all right?" he asked anxiously, dropping his staff and 
hurrying to help her up.

She was already back on her feet. "Giles, something's up."

"So I gathered. Can you be a little more precise?"

She shook her head. "Just a feeling. Give me your keys. I need to 
borrow your car."

"Are you sure? I'll be glad to come - "

"No, it may be nothing." But it hadn't felt like nothing, that 
weird sense of unleashed evil. "No, it was definitely something, 
but I don't know what. Just something really, really bad is 
coming our way."

"'By the pricking of my thumbs...'," Giles mumbled absently, 
fishing for his car keys. "All right, I'll rally the troops for 
your return," he went on, handing her the keys. When he realized 
what he'd done, he tried to grab them back, but she was too 
quick. "Buffy, no," he insisted. "You don't have your driving 

"I'll be careful," she promised, giddy from her moment of 

"I don't think it's a good idea - "

"Please, please, please?" she schmoozed, batting her eyelashes 
and playing the ingenue for all she was worth.

Giles knew he didn't stand a chance when she was in such a silly 
mood. "Do you have any idea where you'll be taking my car 

"No. I'm just winging it." Buffy almost ran from the library, 
leaving Giles to ponder the wisdom of loaning his car to a 
sixteen-year-old girl who was just 'winging it'. But she was the 
Slayer, after all. He'd learned to trust her instincts, even if 
she didn't have a driver's license.

Part Five

"Hey, Blair, are you all right?"

Blair opened his eyes and stared up into concerned faces. He 
looked around; he had fallen just a few feet down from the ledge, 
and a bush had cushioned part of his landing amid the granite. 
Nothing felt broken, for which he was grateful, and he sat up 
gingerly. The coarse rock had abraded the skin on his hands and 
arms, and torn a hole in his jeans. He could feel more rawness on 
his face. By tomorrow, he'd be aching and black and blue from his 
tumble. "What happened?"

"Some kind of fumes is all I can figure," Dana explained. "Took 
us all by surprise. You're the only one who passed out, though. 
It just made the rest of us feel woozy."

That was when Blair remembered the slab of rock shifting, then 
Jim's animal spirit guide pushing him to safety, and the evil 
force that had touched him briefly before moving on. He shivered 
at the memory of it. "Do you have a phone?" he asked abruptly.

"No. Cell phones are no good here between the mountains," she 
answered impatiently. "We're going to start examining the tomb, 
now that it's aired out a bit. You up for it?"

Blair shook his head. "There's nothing important in there now," 
he said, confusing her. "I have to get to a phone."

"I'll drive you into town tonight," Dana promised. "Right now, 
I've got some bones to document."

"Dana - " Blair began angrily, then stopped, realizing the 
futility. He tried to sound more reasonable. "Dana, just do me a 
small favor, OK?"


"Treat him with respect, OK? He was - special."

"Special how?"

"He traveled four thousand miles to get here," he said awkwardly, 
not able to tell her the truth. "That makes him special."

Dana looked confused. "I didn't plan to toss his bones into a 
pile, you know," she said. "I respect every site I work."

"I know, I guess I'm just feeling groggy," he said. "I'm going 
back to camp."

This confused Dana even more. "All right. I didn't think anything 
would keep you from this find, but suit yourself."

Blair stood up, civilly wished everyone a good dig, and hurried 
back toward the campsite. Something was driving him onward, 
something that went far beyond his scientific curiosity over the 
contents of the tomb. 

He knew Jim was in danger; the black jaguar had told him.

Back at the camp, he found a note from the high school teacher 
saying he and Blu had called it a night and were heading back for 
Sunnydale. He sprinted down the trial, hoping to catch up with 
them and hitch a ride to town, but he reached the trail head and 
saw one of the trucks was already gone.

Struggling to regain his breath after his wild dash in the thin 
mountain air, he checked the nearest truck and found it was 
unlocked. Jumping inside, he searched until he found the keys 
under the seat. The engine wouldn't turn over. 

With a curse, he tried the other truck, the battered Datsun that 
had brought him here. Though the keys were in it, the engine also 
refused to start.

Grumbling at his abysmal bad luck, he headed down the dirt track, 
determined to find the highway and hitch a ride to the nearest 
phone. The numerous minor cuts on his face and arms had started 
to sting, and he belatedly thought of the antiseptic cream in his 
backpack. The aches and pains of his recent tumble were just 
beginning to make themselves felt.

Although it was just after five-thirty in the afternoon, it was 
already dark when his feet finally touched pavement. The mountain 
air had turned cold, and he had only the light jacket he'd worn 
on the bus trip. His heavier coat was back at camp, along with 
all the rest of his gear. Even his flashlight was gone, probably 
lost when he'd fallen off the ledge. And Dana wouldn't come 
looking for him; she'd assume he'd caught a ride with Blake and 
the high school student, Blu.

The darkness was not quite absolute, but the night was moonless, 
and the redwoods shut out most of the starlight. He could not see 
his feet on the pavement, so he moved into the center of the 
road, where he could just see the white centerline, and started 
walking in the direction of Sunnydale, hoping he would see 
headlights soon. An hour or so later, he almost had a heart 
attack when a deer jumped across the road directly in front of 
him. It was then he realized how alone he was, walking a deserted 
road in the dead of night, the forest black and impenetrable 
around him, the night sounds foreign and somehow menacing. 
Perhaps hiking into town had not been such a good idea, he 
thought fleetingly. But his imperative to get to a phone overcame 
his fear, and he kept his feet moving. Besides, he knew he could 
never find the dirt road again to take him back to camp, so his 
only option was to keep going forward.

Two cars passed him, and each time he moved to the side and tried 
to wave them down. Obviously, the sight of a disheveled, 
longhaired hippie did not inspire anyone to stop. Where was the 
forest service when you really needed help? Or a cop? Or a kindly 
old grandmother with more compassion than common sense?

He was cold and miserable when a third car thundered past, and he 
didn't even bother trying to flag it down. It was going the wrong 
direction, anyway.

He heard it brake and slow, and turned to see the car swing into 
a U-turn and come back toward him. Nervously, he waited for it to 
pull up beside him. This was a little more compassion than he'd 
expected, and it made him suspicious. A car full of drunken 
rednecks was not his idea of a good time in the woods. But this 
car was a battered old Citroen, not exactly a redneck vehicle of 
choice. The driver's side window rolled down and warm air wafted 
out, reminding him just how cold he was. "Need a lift?" asked the 
young girl behind the wheel.

"Uh, yeah," Blair answered with relief. Someone obviously hadn't 
told this teenager about the dangers of picking up strange men on 
the side of the road. "Cool car."

She gave him a look that said she doubted his sanity after such a 
remark. "Do you have a driver's license?"

What was she going to do, ID him? "Yes."

She opened the driver's door and scooted across to the passenger 
seat. "Then you drive."

Blair climbed behind the wheel and shut the door. The heater felt 
good. As he put the car in gear, he asked, "Where are we going?"

She pointed straight ahead.

"But you were going the other way."

"And you were going this way," she said.

There was no arguing with that statement. "I need to get to a 
phone," he explained.

"No problem. By the way, my name's Buffy."

"I'm Blair. Thanks for giving me a lift."

In the faint light from the dashboard, Blair examined his 
rescuer. She couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen, a 
trim, good-looking young woman with the aura of someone carrying 
a large burden on her young shoulders. She glanced over at him 
suddenly, her expression enigmatic, and he looked away in 

"What are you doing out here?" she asked.

"I was up at the dig," he explained, then waited to see if she 
understood him.

"The old Indian site?" she asked. "I read about it in the school 
paper. You're an archaeologist?"


"And you had this sudden urge to make a phone call."

Blair nodded. "Yeah. None of the trucks would start, and the 
teacher, Mr. Blake, and his student had already left."

"You must have left in a big hurry," Buffy continued.

"Must I?"

"No coat, no flashlight," she pointed out.

She was observant, Blair gave her points for that. "I needed to 
get to a phone," he repeated awkwardly.

"Did you get a wiggins?"

"A what?"

"A freaky feeling, a sense of impending doom, something fishy, 
something nasty, evil, vile, cursed, wicked, heinous, depraved, 
foul, supernatural - have I touched on it yet?"

How could she know? Blair just shook his head, unable to lie 
outright, unable to tell a complete stranger what he'd felt in 
that cave.

"Well, you didn't say I was nuts, so I must have touched on it," 
she concluded as he sped past the Sunnydale city limits. 

"Any phone will do," he said. "I have a calling card." In fact, 
Jim had bought him one last Christmas, since Blair seemed 
determined to forget his cell phone at the most awkward times, or 
else allow its battery to go dead.

"And I know just the phone," Buffy insisted, directing him to the 
high school. It looked deserted at this late hour, and probably 

"Won't it be locked?"

"Not yet, the library is still open," Buffy promised, leading him 
through a side door and down the empty corridors. A janitor 
mopping the floor looked up, saw her, and resignedly went back to 
his cleaning. Students weren't allowed after hours, but this was 
the girl who spent so much time in the library with Mr. Giles, so 
he pointedly ignored her. Whatever happened in the library was 
none of his business.

Giles looked up as they entered. "Good Lord," he commented 

Blair looked down at his dusty, ripped clothing and noted the 
number of dirty, minor abrasions on his hands from his fall from 
the ledge. He figured his face was equally bruised and scraped, 
and his hair was probably all over the place. All in all, not a 
reassuring figure to present to this neatly dressed Englishman 
who looked so mild-mannered he could be nothing but the 

"Giles, Blair - Blair, Giles," Buffy said, then indicated the two 
students seated at the large library table. "Willow and Xander." 
She pointed to her right. "Phone."

"Thanks." Blair could feel all eyes on him as he hastily went 
through long string of numbers that would connect his calling 
card to the appropriate long distance service and complete his 
call to Cascade. The phone in the loft rang, and in total 
disregard for his prayers, the answering machine picked up. "Jim, 
are you there, man? Pick up if you are." There was only silence. 
"OK, listen...I need to get in touch with you. It's important. 
When you get in, don't go out again, OK? It's really, really 
important, Jim, so please stay put. I'll call back in a few 
hours. Don't go anywhere, OK?" Figuring he'd babbled enough, he 
hung up, and then repeated the whole dialing process and reached 
Simon at home. "Simon, it's Blair." He listened for a moment. 
"Yeah, I know, sorry I had to call you at home. Have you heard 
from Jim?" He listened some more. "OK, Simon, this is important. 
I want you to put out an APB on him." The squawk over the 
receiver was audible to everyone in the room, and Blair flinched 
at the assault on his ear. "Please, Simon, just listen to me. 
It's important. I need to find Jim. Try his cell phone, maybe the 
office. I don't know. Just find him for me, OK?" He covered the 
mouthpiece and looked at Giles. "Is it OK if I leave this 

Giles scrawled hastily on a piece of paper and handed it to him. 
"This phone or my home phone. One of these numbers will reach 

"Thanks." Blair repeated the numbers to Simon, and hung up. 
"Thanks for letting me use the phone. I really need to get in 
touch with someone." Everyone was staring at him. "What?"

Giles shrugged, looked at Buffy. "Is he what sent you racing off 
to God knows where?"

"He is," Buffy said confidently. "He was hitchhiking in the 
forest, up near that old Indian site."

"Well, that explains absolutely nothing," Xander said amiably.

"He doesn't look evil," Willow commented. In fact, she thought he 
was kind of cute, in spite of all the cuts and bruises. Way cute. 
Down girl.

Blair felt himself losing his grip on reality. "I'm not evil." He 
frowned. "What are you talking about?"

Surprisingly, it was Buffy, not Giles, who took control of the 
conversation. "Look, we can tip-toe around this all night, or we 
can just come straight with each other. Something bad happened at 
the site. I felt it. I think you did, too. Trust me, Blair, when 
I say we'll believe whatever weird story you think you can't tell 

"I doubt it," Blair mumbled, feeling a little off-balance by her 
assurance. What could three high-school students and a librarian 
do to help him? He needed his computer, his notes, all the 
photographs Dana had taken of the Inca carvings in the rock 
tablet. He needed to save Jim, and he didn't even know what from, 
much less how. Then he realized Willow was idly tapping the 
keyboard of a computer. Maybe he could find some research on-

"It's an unidentified site," Giles said helpfully. "Not a 
settlement, but some sort of encampment."

"It's a religious site," Blair admitted reluctantly. "I think 
they conducted some sort of desperate ceremony to trap an evil 
spirit in a cave up there." Damn, that didn't fit in with the 
Guide, so why did he keep coming back to an evil spirit? What was 
his subconscious trying to tell him?

"And you let it out," Xander accused bitterly. "As if we don't 
have enough demons running around already, you had to go and let 
out another one."

Blair stared at him. "What?"

"Demons," Willow explained hastily. "We're sort of a club that 
collects information and stories about demons and evil spirits 

"Except you're not a club," Blair said quietly, almost to 
himself. He looked at Buffy. "You felt it escape the tomb."

Buffy nodded. "Around here, demons are a little more than an 
academic pursuit."

"Well, this one was certainly real," Blair agreed, unable to 
contradict her. 

"Did you actually see it?" Giles asked gently, aware this young 
man was stumbling around on very unfamiliar ground and still 
trying to get everything in focus. 

"No, I felt it," Blair admitted, joining them at the table, 
finally feeling comfortable enough to sit down with them. "It 
wasn't corporeal, but it might have been looking for a host." He 
ran his hands through his hair, dislodging assorted bits of rock 
and grass. "That must sound crazy."

"Not to us," Buffy assured him. "So it didn't find a host?"

"I don't know." Blair didn't know how much he could reveal 
without getting into subjects he didn't want to broach. "It was 
like air - heavy air. It touched me, but I was falling off a 
ledge at the time, so it missed me. I don't know if it found 
someone else."

"And then you felt a sudden, overwhelming need to make a phone 
call," Buffy added with a trace of sarcasm. "To warn someone? Or 
get help?"

Blair could only stare at her. What was she, psychic?

Buffy suddenly buried her head in her arms. "God, this is getting 
us nowhere!" she said, her voice muffled. She raised her head. 
"Just tell us what you found!"

"It was a tomb for a very special Inca shaman," Blair said, and 
waited for the fireworks.

"Inca?" Giles repeated in amazement. "That's - that's almost - "
"Unbelievable?" Blair concluded.

"Almost unbelievable," Giles agreed. "But did he pursue the demon 
north, or did he bring it with him?"

Blair was surprised at how quickly everyone accepted his 
bombshell and moved on to other issues. 

"Why was the Inca special?" Willow asked. "Did he have the power 
to stop the demon, and if so, why was he entombed with it?" She 
looked at Blair. "How do you know he was Inca?"

"There was an inscribed rock tablet covering the opening of the 
tomb," he explained. "I'm a student of South American cultures. I 
recognized the inscriptions and was able to translate some of 

"So he made his own warning label," Xander commented, and off 
their looks, he said, "Well, if the slab was written in Incan or 
whatever, it's a cert none of the local boys did it, right?"

"He entombed himself?" Blair mused aloud. "Somehow, he got the 
evil into the cave with him, and sacrificed himself to trap it?" 
He felt a wave of dread all the way down his toes. He didn't feel 
like sacrificing himself to trap anything.

"You're certain the shaman himself wasn't the evil you felt?" 
Giles asked.

Blair shook his head. "There were two distinct entities -- one 
attacked me, the other pushed me to safety." Although, could he 
be that certain? After all, if he believed he'd been saved by 
Jim's animal spirit, then only one entity had escaped the cave. 
But he refused to believe in an evil guide; something in the core 
of his soul rebelled against the idea.

"I need to use the phone again," he said anxiously, jumping up 
and heading for it. It rang before he got to it, and he snatched 
up the receiver, heedless of the fact that it wasn't his 
telephone. "Hello?" He sighed with relief. "Simon. What's up?" He 
listened, and the others watched his face go pale. Morosely, he 
said, "Thanks, Simon. I guess we'll take it from here." He hung 
up and went back to the others. "My friend, Jim, the one I'm 
trying to find - "

"The one who's either in danger or you want to have help you," 
Buffy cut in.

"Yeah. They found his truck at the airport. He's grabbed a flight 
into San Francisco with a connection to Sunnydale. He should be 
arriving in a couple of hours."

"Is this good or bad for our side?" Xander asked pointedly. 

"It means he felt it, too," Buffy said. "Why is this guy so 
special that he could feel an evil thingee escaping from wherever 
the heck he is that requires a jumbo jet to get him here?"

It took Blair a moment to wrap his mind around the convoluted 
question. "Cascade, Washington," he answered at last. "I don't 
think he felt the evil, exactly," he continued awkwardly. "I 
think he knew I was in danger."

"Cool," Willow said. "A literal psychic friend."

"A very confident psychic friend," Giles observed, "if he just 
jumped on an airplane without first trying to reach you by 
telephone. He had to know with absolute certainty he was needed 

"Or is he being lured here?" Blair murmured injudiciously, 
thinking out loud.

"OK, what's so special about this guy?" Buffy demanded. "Is this 
evil whatever looking for any host, or just a specific host - 
like your friend?"

"I don't know," Blair admitted, feeling miserable. "I just know 
he's going to be in trouble, and I don't know if I can help him."

"Your Inca shaman has me troubled," Giles mused. "I keep thinking 
there should be two. There are a lot of myths throughout 
primitive South American cultures. So many stories, in fact, 
spanning such a broad period of time, they've become the stuff of 
legend. They concern a tribal watchman, a very special warrior 
with enhanced powers and great skill who protects the tribe from 
harm. He has a shaman companion, someone of equal but different 
skills. Could the entombed shaman be one half of this special 
pair?" He stood up. "Wait, I have some information on the pair. 
It will just take a moment to find - "

"A sentinel and guide," Blair murmured. 

"Exactly," Giles agreed happily, returning to his chair, thoughts 
of his reference book abandoned. He looked at Blair thoughtfully. 
"Is the Inca in the cave a guide?"

Blair nodded miserably.

"Then where is the Sentinel?"

"I don't know," Blair admitted. "I didn't have time to translate 
all of the tablet, but I know the word 'sentinel' is there." And 
there were seven corpses to explain, all of them killed by the 
same blade. A sentinel could have done it if the cause or 
provocation were sufficient.

"Giles, you're losing us here," Buffy said, speaking for all 
three teens.

"Sorry," the librarian apologized. "The Sentinel had heightened 
senses and could detect danger or threats over great distances. 
He could sense changes in the weather, and follow the migration 
paths of game without actually having a trail to follow. His 
sensory acuity enabled him to fight with great skill. His 
Shaman/Guide tutored him, helped him enhance his skills, helped 
him control them." Blushing suddenly, he looked at Buffy.

Blair didn't miss the look that passed between them, but he 
didn't have time to pursue it further. "Look, I've got to get to 
the airport and meet Jim." He frowned. "And then I have to 
convince him the threat is real."

"Rooted in the mundane, is he?" Xander asked sympathetically. "A 
place I used to detest until I found out its alternative."

"If he's a target, I'd probably better go, too," Buffy said.

Blair expected someone to object to this young girl placing 
herself firmly in the danger zone, but everyone seemed to accept 
it as the norm.

"And we'll be here," Giles promised, "researching demons and the 
like. It would be nice to be able to put a name and face to this 
menace, preferably before we have to confront it."

"Sklalas," Blair blurted suddenly, amazed he had remembered the 
word and could actually pronounce it.

"Bless you," Xander said.

"What?" asked Giles in surprise.

"The name sounded something like Sklalas," Blair explained, 
wondering if he'd simply imagined the word during his tumble off 
the rocky ledge.

Giles sighed heavily. "Oh, dear."

"I take it we're not talking a minor-league entity here," Buffy 
offered dryly.

"Afraid not," Giles agreed. "Sklalas is very major league 
indeed." He smiled without humor. "Still, a name is what we 
needed, and a name is what we got." He looked at Blair. "Perhaps 
you'd best clean up first, before you meet your friend."

"I've got a clean shirt and a jacket you can borrow," Xander 
said. "We always stash some extra stuff here in the library."

Blair was somewhat bemused. They kept spare clothing in the 
library - in case of long stakeouts or unexpected conflicts, they 
could change before going home to their parents? God, what were 
these kids up to?

"Thanks," he replied sincerely, and Xander led him to the 
bathroom and went to get the clothes.

Part Six

Refreshed and reclothed in a tee shirt sporting the name of a 
rock group he'd never heard of (and he'd heard of many of them) 
he met Buffy at the library door. "Thanks for the ride to the 

"Let's get one thing straight," Buffy said, heading toward the 
car. "We are all in this together, in spite of the fact that 
we're both obviously keeping secrets and guarding our turf, OK? 
We believe in the evil you sensed in the cave, and we believe 
what you told us. If your friend is in danger, we'll help him."

"How?" Blair asked as he automatically accepted the car keys from 
her and got behind the wheel.

"I don't know how," Buffy admitted. She pointed to the exit of 
the parking lot. "But Giles will figure it out, or you will, or 
Willow. It's what we do, and we're still alive to talk about it, 
so we must be good at it."

Blair was silent as he followed Buffy's directions toward the 
small commuter airport that served Sunnydale. It could handle the 
smaller passenger jets, but not the jumbo ones, which was why Jim 
had caught a connecting flight. Nervously, he wondered just what 
sort of Twilight Zone movie he had stumbled into...and yet, his 
own experiences - with Jim, with animal spirit guides, with 
Incacha and the Chopek and all the rest of it - were no less 
unbelievable. If he doubted his newfound allies, he might just as 
well doubt everything he'd come to believe about Jim and himself. 

"The airport closes at midnight," Buffy told him, "so he must be 
on the last flight out of San Francisco. The place will be nearly 
deserted, so it will be an ideal spot for an ambush."

"An ambush?"

"Do you fight?" Buffy asked instead of answering.

"Not unless I have to," Blair admitted.

"Then let me handle any trouble," she told him. Abruptly, she 
asked, "Who's Jim?"

"Jim Ellison," Blair explained automatically. "He's a detective 
with the Cascade PD."

"But you're not a cop." Buffy didn't need to make it a question.

"No, I'm a consultant to the department."

"Consulting on what?"

"Actually, I'm doing my doctorate on the police," Blair started 
to explain, but he was tired of the cover-up and didn't bother to 
explain further. "What about your club? You said demons are more 
than an academic pursuit."

Buffy could certainly ask a lot of questions, but she seemed 
loath to answer them. "Anything I tell you will sound crazy," she 
said. "I get the feeling you and your friend will learn the truth 

"I'd still like to know what we're up against," Blair persisted, 
feeling oddly detached from the bizarreness of the conversation. 
He'd learn what truth firsthand?

Buffy shook her head. "Just be ready for anything," she advised, 
directing another turn. 

They reached the airport at last, and she showed him where to 
park in the nearly deserted lot. "Do you have change for the 

He fumbled for quarters, and they managed to buy themselves an 
hour in their chosen parking place. They walked into the 
terminal, and as Buffy had predicted, it was nearly deserted. A 
single person was closing up the ticket counter, another dozed at 
the car rental desk, and a few visitors awaited the last airplane 
in from San Francisco. They passed through security and went to 
the gate where passengers would disembark. Standing by the 
windows looking onto the parking ramp, with taxiways and runways 
beyond, Blair saw only two unattended prop planes and a few 
parked vehicles. Even the ground crew was sparse, although 
someone would have to be there to meet the arriving jet.

Buffy paced, her eyes constantly searching the area both inside 
and out. She prowled like a hunter, Blair realized with a start, 
or like someone who was used to being hunted. 

Finally, an attendant came to the small desk by the doorway to 
the parking ramp and put up a small sign announcing the arrival 
of the flight from San Francisco. Support crew sauntered over to 
guide the taxiing jet to its chocks, and a baggage hauler drove 
his little cart into view. As they watched the landing lights 
approach, they both became more and more tense. Finally, the 
small commuter jet rolled to a stop and shut down its engines. 
Ground crew rolled the debarkation steps into position, and the 
exit door opened.

"Announcing the arrival of Flight 910 from San Francisco," the 
desk attendant said helpfully over the PA system, although 
everyone waiting for the flight was already standing at the 

Passengers began to debark slowly down the steps. There weren't 
many - a young woman with a small child, two obvious businessmen, 
an older couple still dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts and 
clearly returning from vacation. Jim was the last one out - 
making a pass at the flight attendant, probably, Blair thought 

The first passenger was already coming through the door into the 
terminal before Jim started down the steps. He looked well 
enough, Blair thought, but a little tired and badly in need of a 
shave. Probably sick of airplanes by now, after flying to and 
from New York, and now down here. How was he going to explain 
everything, make Jim understand there was a very real threat 

Jim reached the bottom of the steps, his flight bag in one hand, 
his jacket slung over his shoulder. He looked to his right as he 
walked, and his steps hesitated a bit before continuing. Blair 
looked, too, and saw three men approaching. More ground crew.

"Trouble," Buffy said, heading for the door.

Blair followed her, and they barged outside, heedless of the 
attendant's surprised shout that they couldn't go out there. Jim 
had paused again, putting down his bag to shrug into his jacket 
as he assessed what he obviously saw as a threatening situation. 
He was surprised to see Blair dashing toward him, and even more 
surprised to see a teenage girl veering toward the three men 
whose appearance had aroused his suspicion. Blair faltered midway 
when he realized Buffy had left his side, and he looked 
uncertainly from her to Jim, who was pretty much mimicking the 
same behavior. Then, almost as one, they turned and headed for 
the girl, converging on her from both sides as she faced the 
three men dressed as ground crew. As the odds equalized, their 
would-be opponents turned and fled.

Unruffled, Buffy turned and held out her hand. "Hi, Jim, I'm 
Buffy. Welcome to Sunnydale."

"Thank you," Jim answered, accepting her handshake. He looked at 
Blair, frowned at the numerous cuts and bruises. "Are you OK?"

"Yep," Blair said stupidly. "You?"

Jim sighed, bemused. "What just happened here?"

"I don't know," Blair answered truthfully. He looked at Buffy, 
who shrugged.

"Why were you suspicious?" she countered to Jim.

"Cop instincts," he replied, returning to pick up his bag and 
lead the way into the terminal. The desk attendant had been on 
the verge of calling security.

"Sorry," Buffy apologized. "My brother - haven't seen him in 
years. I got a little excited." As proof, she latched onto Jim's 
tall frame and hugged him, much to his surprise.

"All right, but it's really very dangerous for you out there," 
the attendant chastised.

"Thanks for your concern," Blair said, heading off with his 
companions. Dangerous! If she only knew the half of it -- !

Jim seemed amused by the girl clutching his arm, then he looked 
critically at Blair's garb. "What is that you're wearing?"

Blair looked down at his tee shirt. "Haven't a clue. I had to 
borrow some clothes. All my stuff is still back at the dig."

"The Dingoes," Buffy explained, her eyes moving relentlessly 
around the terminal. "It's a local band, plays at the Bronze 
sometimes. Do you have any luggage?"

"No, just my carry on." Jim sensed her tension and put his own 
senses on alert. But the airport terminal seemed perfectly 
normal, mostly deserted, the few remaining people in the process 
of leaving.

"You lied about cop instincts," Buffy said suddenly. "How did you 
know those three men were a threat?"

Jim looked down at her from his greater height and more than 
doubled years of experience, but he could not intimidate her. 
"How did you?" he countered blandly, giving Blair a what-the-
hell-is-going-on-here? look over the top of her head. 
Unfortunately, Blair didn't have any answers. 

"All I know is that you're in danger," Blair said quietly.

"I'm in danger?" Jim echoed. "From who?"

"Whom," Buffy corrected automatically. Giles was rubbing off on 
her, she realized with an inward grin. Her English teacher would 
be pleased.

They reached the car and climbed in, Buffy relinquishing the 
front passenger seat to Jim's longer legs. As Blair drove away 
from the airport, she rested her arms on the back of the front 
seat and said, "Blair, you convince him."

So Blair told his story, sensing his friend's stubborn disbelief 
grow as the tale progressed from the ordinary to the absurd. Even 
to Blair, it sounded fanciful. He'd alluded to the panther saving 
him without going into specifics, but he heard Buffy's sigh of 
disappointment as she recognized his attempts at secrecy.

Back at the high school, Blair parked the car while Buffy 
hastened on ahead, leaving the two men arguing as they followed 
more slowly through the deserted halls.

Jim finally took a good look at his surroundings. "Where the hell 
are we?" he asked, looking at the long rows of student lockers.

"Sunnydale High."

"Perfect." Somehow, walking the deserted halls of a high school 
at midnight seemed a suitable counterpoint to the absurdity of 
their conversation.

"Come on, Jim, what about those three men at the airport?" Blair 
kept his voice low, but there was no masking the frustration he 
was feeling.

For a moment, he didn't think Jim was going to answer, but then 
the detective replied very calmly, "They were dead."


"I probably haven't told you this," Jim went on a little 
apologetically, "but I seem to have this natural, low-level 
sensory thing all the time now. You know, like a normal 
background level?" Off Blair's scowl, he hastened to continue, 
"Well, I'm more aware when it's not there - like when you're not 
in the loft when you're supposed to be, stuff like that."

"Thanks for getting around to telling me," Blair grumbled.

"It's like breathing," Jim retorted. "Unless it gets difficult, I 
don't give it a lot of thought."

Blair was still upset. "OK, OK, but what about the three guys?"

"I just didn't sense any of the background 'noise' I would have 
associated with people coming toward me. When I tuned in, I 
couldn't detect any heart beats or breathing."

"So they were dead," Blair murmured dryly. "OK, you won't believe 
my crazy story about an evil entity, but three dead guys walking 
up to you at the airport doesn't even phase you." Good lord, he 
sounded demented!

Jim chuckled. "I figure it was just some kind of sensory anomaly 
from being stuck in too many pressurized airplane cabins or 
something. Everything was fine by the time I went inside the 

"Uh-huh," Blair agreed doubtfully. "Was Buffy 'alive' when we 
came outside? Was I?"

Jim's footsteps hesitated a fraction, but by now they were 
outside the library doors. "Yes."

Before Blair could pursue his logic further, Jim had pushed 
through the doors, leaving Blair no choice but to follow.

Buffy and Giles were leaning against the heavy library table, 
their arms and ankles crossed in almost identical poses. Blair 
noticed Xander and Willow were gone, but evidence of their 
research lay strewn across the table.

"So, how did you know the three guys at the airport were dead?" 
Buffy challenged without preamble.

Jim and Blair exchanged glances.

"What makes you think I even thought it?" Jim returned calmly.

"They were vampires," Giles said quietly, watching for their 

For a moment, Blair was too stupefied even to realize Jim had 
turned on his heel and headed for the exit. When he finally 
realized his friend's retreat, he jumped to stop him. "Jim, wait 
a minute."

"And listen to this nonsense?" Jim shot back in irritation. "No 

"Please!" Blair's tone was anxious and pleading, and Jim didn't 
like being the cause of it. Reluctantly, he turned back.

"OK, I'll listen," he agreed tightly, but it was evident his mind 
was already made up.

Giles could tell from the stubborn set of Jim Ellison's jaw that 
he had an impossible task ahead of him. "My name is Rupert 
Giles," he began quietly. "I am the librarian here at Sunnydale 
High School. I am also a Watcher -- a Guide, if I may borrow the 

Jim glanced at Blair, whose mouth had dropped open in baffled 
surprise. Giles continued: "My job is to train and advise the 
Slayer, she who stands against the vampires and demons that stalk 
the dark places of our world. In each generation, there is only 
one." He nodded to Buffy. "Buffy Summers."

His two guests were rooted in their places, Jim's expression one 
of annoyance, Blair's still wide-eyed amazement.

In for a penny..."The high school -- this very library, in fact -
- sits over a portal known as Boca del Infierno."

"Mouth of Hell?" Blair translated in a shocked whisper.

Boca del Bullshit, Jim thought ungraciously.

"Exactly," Giles answered. "It is a place where evil energy 
converges, and it attracts demons like moths to flame. It's what 
brought Sklalas here hundreds of years ago."

Jim looked at Blair. "Sklalas. That's your demon, right?"

"He's not my demon," Blair objected. "I didn't conjure him up. I 
wasn't even sure I had the name right."

"You heard the name correctly," Giles said softly. "Sklalas is an 
ancient demon, although he's gone by many names since the dawn of 
recorded history. Rather than recite a long list of the names, 
suffice it to say most of them translate as 'Evil One' or 'Eater 
of Souls'. By any name, he is the destroyer of all life. If he 
succeeds in unleashing the demons of hell, humanity will be wiped 
from the face of the earth."

Jim's expression had shifted to mild amusement. "And you," he 
said, looking at Buffy, "intend to stop him."

Buffy nodded. "With your help. The two of you seem to be part of 
the equation now. I don't know why the demon went after Blair 
instead of several closer targets, or why some animal spirit 
lunged out to save him. But you're involved whether or not you 
believe us."

Blair frowned, trying to digest all the information from an open-
minded and scientific point of view, but the whole process was 
beyond him, considering the subject matter. "Where do vampires 
fit in?" he asked cautiously. Beside him, Jim snorted back a 

"A large contingent of vampires inhabit the area around the 
hellmouth," Giles answered, pleased the young man was at least 
considering the possibilities. "They live in tunnels beneath the 
city, and are a willing army for the forces of darkness." He 
faced Jim Ellison's skepticism without flinching. "I know you 
don't believe us, but a check of our local police files will give 
you ample evidence of a significantly heightened crime rate 
involving missing persons and unsolved murders."

"You're right, I don't believe you," Jim acknowledged, wondering 
if these two were dangerous or merely kooks. 

"You ignore the evidence of your own senses at great peril, Mr. 
Ellison," Giles returned calmly. "Has your friend told you what 
happened to him?"

"He has."

"Do you trust him?"

With my life. Giles had cornered him without even trying. "Yes."

"Then believe him even if you doubt us. Be extra vigilant, and 
understand you are in great danger."

Jim rubbed tired eyes. "I understand we're on the first plane out 
of here in the morning," he said. He realized the two strangers 
were sincere in their beliefs and concerns, but he wanted Blair 
as far away from their influence as possible, even if he didn't 
understand their game. What kind of fantasy had his partner 
bought into?

"Jim - " Blair began.

"Tomorrow, Chief," Jim cut in. "With or without you." It was an 
idle threat, but Blair couldn't know that; Jim would get him on 
the plane one way or another.

Giles sighed. "I don't know if distance will ensure your safety." 
He glanced at Buffy. "It's after midnight. I'll take you home."

Buffy shook her head. "Mom's out of town for a few days, so I 
might as well stay out and play. I think I'll do a quick patrol 
around the cemetery." She gave Jim a caustic look. "See if there 
are any figments of my imagination rising from the dead." She 
strolled past and out the door without another glance for either 
of them.

Jim just shook his head in bewilderment. Blair still looked 
uncertain, doubting the wild story told by Giles but convinced of 
his own experience at the cave. The conflicting emotions were 

"May I offer you the hospitality of my home?" Giles asked. "I 
have a spare bedroom with its own bathroom - one double bed, I'm 
afraid, but quite comfortable."

"A motel will be fine," Jim assured him, "but thanks anyway."

"Fine, I'll drive you there," Giles replied without argument. He 
really hadn't expected Jim to trust him. After all, cops were by 
nature a skeptical breed. But still, a man with heightened 
senses, a sentinel no less, should have been a little more 
receptive to the unusual. At least, he deduced these men were 
Sentinel and Guide; it explained their behavior and reticence. 

Part Seven

The drive to the motel was silent and socially chill. They had to 
wake the night manager to rent them a room, and the man grumbled 
absently as he sleepily supplied the requisite forms and handed 
over a key before heading back to his warm bed.

Giles offered Jim his hand. "In case I don't see you again, have 
a safe trip, and please stay cautious."

Jim hesitated, finally accepted the handshake. "Thanks, we will."

Giles held out a handful of wood secured with a large rubber 
band. "Humor me as well, and keep these with you, all right?"

Jim took the bundle, shook his head in amusement when he saw the 
wooden stakes. "Sure, whatever."

"Good night, then," Giles said reluctantly, turning away.

"Goodbye," Jim said to the retreating back. He tried to sound 
polite, but he had a notion his tone implied 'and good riddance'. 
What the hell - it was the way he felt about the whole situation 

It was after one in the morning when they finally opened the door 
to their room. Clean queen-sized beds were flanked by veneer-
covered cubes mounted to the walls as end tables, each supporting 
a small bedside lamp. On a slightly larger shelf between the beds 
stood the telephone, a phone book and the ubiquitous King James 
Bible. A small round table and two chairs sat in front of the 
window, while the wall opposite the beds sported a dresser and a 
TV. All in all, it looked like almost any motel room anywhere in 
America. Jim negligently tossed the bundle of stakes onto the 
table. Automatically, Blair flopped down on the bed nearest the 
bathroom, since he knew Jim preferred the bed closest to the door 
and windows; probably some sort of protective instinct. "Jim, 
none of this makes any sense," he said idly. "If it's all some 
sort of hoax, what's its purpose?"

"You got me, Chief," Jim admitted, tossing his flight bag on his 
bed and rooting for his bathroom kit. "Did you actually believe 
anything they said?"

Blair's expression tightened with annoyance. "How would you sound 
explaining about sentinels and guides, heightened senses and 
animal spirits?" he countered.

Jim sighed. "Then you believe them?"

Blair's voice was quietly intense. "I didn't say that. I only 
know what I saw and felt and heard in the cave this afternoon. It 
was evil, Jim...and I felt it long before I met either Buffy or 

Jim closed his eyes tightly in weariness and rolled his shoulders 
to work out the kinks of too many airline seats. He wasn't in the 
mood to deal with any of this weirdness. "Why don't we sleep on 
it? In the morning, we'll book a flight out of here and figure 
out a way to get your stuff from the dig." He disappeared into 
the bathroom and closed the door against any objection.

There didn't seem to be much point in further discussion, not 
while Jim was being so stubborn. "OK." Blair wished he'd had 
Giles stop at the Wal-Mart (assuming it was of the "open 24-
hours" variety) so he could grab a toothbrush and other little 
essentials. He'd feel positively grungy by morning. Maybe there 
was a store close by where he could buy some stuff. He reached 
for the phone book to check the yellow pages.

There was a knock at the door.

"Now what?" he muttered, getting up and going to answer it. Aware 
he was in an unfamiliar city, he was grateful for the peephole in 
the center of the door. Through it, he saw a motel maid with a 
large stack of blankets clutched in her arms.

He opened the door. "Yes?"

She looked about twenty, and her smile was radiant. "Our heating 
system is acting up. The manager thought you might need a few 
extra blankets if it goes out altogether."

"Oh, thanks," Blair said, stepping aside. "Just toss 'em on the 
bed there."

As she walked past him, he abruptly remembered how grumpy and 
sleepy the manager had been. He didn't seem the sort to have a 
neatly dressed maid standing by in the middle of the night to 
deliver extra blankets. Suspicious now, he swung toward her, only 
to be shoved from behind as four men pushed into the room.

"Thanks for the invite," one of them murmured.

And right before Blair's horrified eyes, they transformed from 
being ordinary-looking thugs into something out of a nightmare. 
Desperately, he scrambled backwards, stumbling over the corner of 
the bed but keeping his feet. He heard the bathroom door open - 
Jim would have felt Blair's panicked response all the way into 
the next county, but the younger man didn't turn around to see 
his friend's reaction to the monsters crowding toward them. He 
couldn't take his eyes off them. Vampires! his mind screamed at 
him, even as he consciously dismissed the absurdity.

Surprisingly, it was Jim who recognized and acknowledged the 
truth first, probably because he had his senses to assure him 
these intruders were without heart beat or breath. The wooden 
stakes were uselessly out of reach, but he slammed a foot into 
the nearest bedside table, toppling the lamp and the 
complimentary box of tissues. The wood splintered under the force 
of his kick. Thankfully, it wasn't pressboard beneath the veneer, 
but rather cheap pine, which split without crumbling as he 
reached to tear a broken piece free of the wall.

The five were on them in an instant, swarming around and over the 
beds to drive the two men into the corner and trap them there. 
Jim slammed one with his left fist, knocking the attacker off 
balance into the one dressed as a maid. With his right, he 
finished yanking the top off the bedside cube, used both hands to 
smash it down over one raised knee to break it smaller, then 
drove the makeshift stakes hard under the breastbones of two of 
his adversaries.

What happened next was both startling and fateful. The two 
vampires simply disintegrated, wafting into dust before Jim's 
startled eyes. But in the next instant, he inhaled a lung full of 
the gritty remains and fell to his knees, eyes streaming with 
tears, his nose clogging and throat tightening in the most severe 
allergic reaction he'd ever experienced. Gasping and helpless, he 
felt two more vampires grasp his shoulders, forcing him down. 
Where was Blair? What was happening to him?

Instinctively, he shoved upward, freeing himself momentarily, and 
grabbed toward the spot where he had last seen his partner. His 
hand closed on warm skin as Blair struggled with his own 
adversary, and Jim lunged sideways into them, breaking them 
apart. Blair fell backwards with a grunt and toppled into the 
open closet. The third vampire joined its companions to help slam 
Jim back to the floor. He couldn't believe their strength!

Almost able to draw air into his lungs again, but with tears 
streaming from his eyes rendering him nearly blind, he managed to 
see Blair lunge out of the closet. Another vampire exploded into 
dust, which settled over Jim and brought on another spasm of 

Abruptly, the weight of the last two vampires vanished from his 
back, and the fight was over.

"I just can't let you grown-ups out of my sight for a minute," 
Buffy complained, long wooden stakes still clutched in either 

Blair, who was barely on his feet, staggered and sat down on the 
floor, too stunned by the events of the past few minutes to 
function. He heard Jim struggling for breath and forgot his fear 
to reach out to his friend. "Jim!" he said urgently. "Are you 

"No, I am not OK," Jim croaked back at him, scrambling around for 
the box of tissues on the floor. He grabbed a handful, and jammed 
them to his nose barely in time to corral a violent sneeze. Then 
he grabbed another handful of tissues and dabbed at his running 
eyes. Finally, he was able to take a shaky breath and stagger to 
his feet. "Excuse me," he mumbled, retreating to the bathroom and 
slamming the door. More sneezing erupted from within.

Giles stood in the doorway behind Buffy, a wicked crossbow with a 
loaded bolt gripped in his hands. So much for the image of a 
mild-mannered librarian. "Is everyone all right?"

"Sneezy seems to be having a little problem," Buffy answered, 
"but yeah, I think we're OK."

Blair crawled up to sit on the bed. "Easy for you to say," he 
complained. "Those were really - I mean, those guys were actually 
- "

"Vampires," Buffy completed helpfully.

"Yeah." Blair sighed. He took a deep breath and managed to quell 
the myriad thoughts tumbling haphazardly through his mind. "Why 
are you here?"

"We knew you wouldn't believe us," Giles explained in his quiet 
manner, "but we also knew you were in danger. The best way we 
could think of to convince you was to permit you to have a - what 
shall I call it? -- baptism of fire, but we wanted to be close by 
in case you needed our help."

Jim finally emerged from the bathroom. His sneezing had been 
reduced to sniffles, and his eyes, while still red and swollen, 
no longer teared so heavily. "Here's something for your journals, 
Chief," he said somewhat weakly. "I'm probably the only guy in 
the world who's allergic to vampire dust."

"An antihistamine, perhaps?" Giles suggested.

Blair shook his head. "He has trouble with anything stronger than 

"I see." So much for enlisting a sentinel to help with vampire 
slaying, he sighed to himself. Still, "At least you appear to be 
convinced of the danger."

Jim nodded slowly. "I'm stubborn, not stupid," he agreed. He 
looked at his partner, who still seemed a little overwhelmed by 
it all. "We've just been traded to a whole different league," he 
observed. "You gonna be OK with it?"

"Yeah," Blair replied softly but with certainty.

"You guys actually did OK," Buffy said with admiration. "You took 
care of three of them."

Jim thought back on events. He remembered the two he'd nailed 
with the makeshift stakes from the bedside stand, but the third - 
"You got one?"

Blair indicated the closet. "You tossed me in among the coat 
hangers. Long, wooden coat hangers."

"Thoughtful of me," Jim agreed mildly.

"Your big mistake was inviting them in," Buffy went on. "Don't 
ever, ever invite a stranger into your place after dark, at least 
unless you're sure he has a heart beat."

"Rule Number One," Blair murmured, filing away the information.

"Once again, I'd like to offer you my hospitality," Giles said. 
"You took care of the first attack, but there may be others 

Jim looked around the destroyed motel room and pictured the huge 
bill that would show up on his credit card. Vampire attacks were 
probably not covered by his insurance. Ah, well.

He grabbed his kit out of the bathroom and stuffed it back into 
his flight bag, discarded used tissues in favor of some new ones, 
and looked at his partner. "We may have to rethink that morning 

"Good. I really want to do some more translation of that rock 
tablet Dana found in the cave," Blair replied. "Remember, it's 
not just vampires that are after you."

Jim grimaced. "Right. Sklalas, eater of souls." He trailed after 
the group as they left the room. "One thing at a time, Chief, one 
thing at a time." As an afterthought, he picked up the bundle of 
wooden stakes he'd tossed so negligently onto the table a 
lifetime ago, back when he'd believed vampires were simply a 
figment of an over-active imagination.

"Speaking of things," Blair said, "is there an all-night drug 
store where I could pick up some stuff?"

Part Eight

So they ended up at Wal-Mart at two o'clock in the morning. Blair 
grabbed a shopping cart and headed into the store, promising to 
be "just a few minutes", while Jim leaned against the magazine 
rack and started flipping through the pages of Sport Utility 

Giles and Buffy waited just inside the entrance, Buffy stealing 
several thoughtful glances in Jim's direction.

"What is it?" Giles asked quietly.

"Oh, I don't know," Buffy answered truthfully. "He just seems so 
- self-contained."

"As if he has very strong boundaries and allows only a very few 
people to get past them?" Giles returned.

"Exactly. And he's so - comfortable - with himself."


"Satisfied - like he doesn't need a whole lot of things to be 
happy. He's content with what he has; probably has his money in 
CD's and mutual funds, doesn't have a whole lot he wants to spend 
it on." She grinned to herself. "I'll bet he pays for Blair's 
things tonight, though. It seems like something he'd do. Blair's 
a student, probably doesn't have much in the way of extra cash."

"Do you think he's supporting Blair?"

"I don't know. It seems like a natural extension of things."

"The Sentinel/Guide thing, you mean?"

"Yeah, like that."

Giles smiled at a notion. "Then by the same extension, shouldn't 
you be supporting me?"

Buffy laughed outright. "If that's the way it's supposed to be, 
you and I are destined to remain financially challenged for a 
long time yet."

"Are you starting to like him?"

"Well, he's just so fine," Buffy replied, relaxing so much she 
forgot she was talking to Giles and not one of her school mates, 
"a real hotty. He needs to lighten up a bit, though. I'll bet he 
has a drop-dead smile."

"He also has very good ears," Giles reminded her with a chuckle.

Buffy felt herself blush to the roots of her hair and chanced 
another sidelong glance at the object of her admiration. 
Unbelievably blue eyes met her own, and Jim responded to her 
discomfiture with a wide, slow smile. As she'd predicted, it was 
absolutely devastating. Her embarrassment grew, and she looked 
away first. But that smile had been worth it!

"I'm gonna see if I can find Blair while walking around with one 
foot in my mouth," she muttered, retreating hastily into the 

As promised, Blair didn't take long. He pushed his cart up to the 
checkout counter, and Jim put down the magazine to join him. 
Buffy didn't say anything, but she couldn't look at Jim as she 
hastened through the check stand and went back to Giles. Blair 
had picked up a few essentials - underwear, socks, toothbrush, 
deodorant, shampoo, and a pair of sweats, which were his chosen 
form of pajamas. Still, the total came to more than thirty 
dollars, and he had to borrow a five from Jim to cover it. 

With his little shopping foray out of the way, the group returned 
to the car. Buffy was silent and chagrined during the drive to 
her house, and she murmured a hasty good-by before hurrying 

"Did something happen between you two?" Blair asked curiously as 
they drove on.

"Just a little conversation I wasn't supposed to overhear," Jim 
admitted with a grin. 

"She didn't mean anything by it," Giles hastened to assure him. 
"It's just one of those teenage things."

"Yeah, but she was pretty accurate with some of it," Jim answered 

"Yes, occasionally she shows a real spark of maturity," Giles 
admitted. "Then, suddenly, she'll fret for hours about what to 
wear to the next football game. As one of the few adults in her 
life, I find it all a bit daunting at times."

"She doesn't have a father at home?" Jim asked.

"No, he lives somewhere else, and her mother is a very nice 
person who sometimes tries a little too hard to be 'hip' to do 
either of them any good - she truly loves Buffy but perceives her 
as unreliable, flighty and rebellious."

"So she doesn't know Buffy's the Slayer," Blair said. "That must 
be rough on the kid - I mean, even Superman's parents knew who he 

"Buffy lives in two worlds," Giles admitted with a sigh. "As you 
saw tonight, one of them is a place few people know exists."

Blair went almost preternaturally quiet, and Jim looked at him 
with understanding eyes. They'd almost forgotten the motel and 
the attack on them. Their world had been turned upside down, and 
there was no going back. Somehow, they'd have to deal with it, 
and quickly, because if the last few hours had been any 
indication, there wasn't going to be a lot of quiet time to 
adjust to the new realities of life.

Giles' house proved to be exactly like the man himself - 
comfortable, unpretentious, perfectly in balance with its 
surroundings. The librarian showed them the guest bedroom with 
the bathroom en suite, then said, "I leave for work a bit after 
eight, so you'll have to fend for your breakfast or join me 
around seven."

"We'll get up with you," Jim agreed. "You don't have to cook us 
breakfast, but I would appreciate a lift to get a rental car."

"Not necessary," Giles assured him. "I intend to take you both up 
to the site myself. I'm rather looking forward to seeing it. As 
for breakfast - I do a rather good omelet, and the orange juice 
will be freshly squeezed, if that suits you."

"Sounds good," Jim admitted, and Blair nodded his agreement, his 
eyes already on the double bed. Its size meant he and Jim would 
have to get rather cozy, but under the circumstances, Blair 
didn't mind a bit. Sleeping next to his Sentinel was about the 
safest place he could imagine.

They exchanged good nights and Giles closed the door behind him.

"What a weird day," Blair murmured, emptying his pockets onto the 
top of the small dresser.

"That's one way to describe it," Jim agreed, following suit. He 
pulled two twenties out of his wallet. "Here."

"What's this for?" Blair asked in confusion.

"Let's just say I don't like being too predictable, especially 
where sixteen-year-old girls are concerned," Jim said. "It's a 
private joke. You don't need to understand it."

"Cool. Let me know the next time you're feeling like this. I 
could use a new car."

"Just for that, I get first dibs on the shower." Jim grabbed his 
flight bag and jumped into the bathroom before Blair even had 
time to react.

When he came out a few minutes later, showered and ready for bed, 
Blair had changed into his sweats and stuffed his dirty clothing 
into the shopping bag. He looked asleep on his feet as he walked 
by Jim and went to take his shower.

Jim usually wore only his briefs to bed, and he hadn't thought to 
bring anything more suitable in his flight bag. After all, he 
hadn't contemplated playing footsies with his partner. Well, 
they'd just have to cope. He added his own dirty clothes to the 
shopping bag, thought he might need a shopping trip of his own if 
he didn't do laundry soon, and crawled under the covers on the 
side of the bed nearest the window. 

Blair wandered out a few minutes later, crawled in beside him, 
and was asleep so fast a "good night" barely slipped past his 

Jim turned out the bedside lamp and stared at the ceiling. It was 
not so easy for him to go to sleep. First, he recognized the 
sleeping patterns of his partner, closer than normal, but still 
as familiar to him as his own breathing. Beyond the room, the 
refrigerator, water heater and furnace revealed their individual 
sounds of operation, and he could hear Giles slipping into a deep 
sleep in his room down the hall. Outside, a car passed 
occasionally, and a neighbor's dog ventured through its doggy 
door into the yard, took care of business, and went back inside. 
Finally, when he felt familiar with the nighttime rhythms of his 
new surroundings, he permitted himself to fall asleep.

Part Nine

He awoke at 6:30 to the smell of fresh coffee, toast and eggs. He 
glanced at his bedmate, saw Blair wrapped like a cocoon in most 
of the blankets, and sighed over his mostly sleepless rest. 
Despite his body's demand for more sleep, Jim stumbled out of bed 
and took care of his morning routine, skipping the shower since 
he'd taken one just hours before.

Shaved and dressed, he poked sourly at the mound still occupying 
the other half of the bed. "Come on, Wiggles, rise and shine."

Blair's tousled head emerged grumpily from beneath the covers. 
"Wiggles?" he inquired sleepily.

"Yeah. You never keep still during the day, I don't know why I 
expected you to be any different at night," Jim retorted. 

"Oh. Sorry." Blair's head dropped back toward his pillow.

Jim whacked his partner where he figured his butt should be and 
was rewarded with a yelp. Blair emerged again, irate. "What was 
that for? I said I was sorry."

"That was for stealing all the covers." Jim looked more amused 
than genuinely angry, so Blair just smiled sheepishly. "Get 
dressed. I want to get a vampire primer from Giles before 

"A - " Blair sighed, remembering where they were and why. "I was 
hoping all my bad dreams were just that...dreams."

"No such luck," Jim commiserated. "The logical part of my mind 
doesn't want to believe it, but unless we were drugged and 
hypnotized, there's just nothing to do but accept that last night 
really happened." He winced at his own words. Deep down, he 
really didn't believe it. He felt as if he were playing a role in 
some piece of horror fiction, and when he was finished, the world 
would somehow be the same as it had been before he'd exited the 
passenger jet at Sunnydale Airport. It was a vain hope, but one 
which he stubbornly embraced. 

"I'm going downstairs to grab a cup of coffee," he muttered 
finally when their locked, troubled gazes said it all.

He found Giles at the dining room table, his face stuck in a 
book. The librarian looked disgustingly fresh and rested.

"Good morning," Giles greeted cheerfully, getting up and heading 
for the kitchen. "I've got coffee, orange juice, toast, and 
rather good eggs, if I do say so myself."

"Sounds great," Jim admitted, glancing at the open book. It was 
written in Latin, and the illuminated text bore graphic images of 
torture and execution. "A little light reading over breakfast?"

Giles delivered a steaming plate of eggs. "Sit and eat," he 
urged, juggling coffee and condiments with surprising dexterity. 
He returned to his own seat and closed the book. "Actually, 
there's never enough time to do all the research one needs to 

"Do you happen to have a histamine blocker in your medicine 
cabinet?" Jim asked a little reluctantly.

"I think so, but don't you have problems with medication?" Giles 

"Yeah, but I haven't tried a blocker," Jim explained. "If I take 
one this morning, any adverse reactions will probably wear off by 
tonight, and if I don't have a bad reaction, then maybe I can do 
some good if we run into trouble."

"Sensible thinking," Giles approved, getting up. "I'll just go 

He returned a minute later with the requested medicine, and Jim 
downed two tablets with his coffee. "Thanks," he said, dreading 
the possible onset of side effects. Having his senses go haywire 
was not his idea of a good time, but choking to death on vampire 
dust was even worse. He was willing to try the pills.

Blair finally straggled downstairs in a somewhat pulled together 
state. "Good morning," he mumbled in their general direction.

Giles played the solicitous host again and got him comfortably 
settled with breakfast before pouring himself another cup of 

"Are you going in to work today?" Jim asked.

"Briefly. I need to tell Principal Snyder that I'll be doing some 
research out at the dig. Why?"

"I was wondering if you have a - tutorial or something - on 
vampires." Again, Jim felt himself grimace, as if he couldn't 
believe the words coming from his own mouth.

"Actually, Willow has been working on just such a document," 
Giles admitted. "I think you'll find it an interesting read."

"No doubt." He glanced at his friend, who was unusually quiet. 
"Something wrong?"

Blair shook his head. "No. I'm just wondering how I'm going to 
convince Dana to let the three of us onto her site," he 
confessed. "She can be very critical about amateurs fooling 
around at her digs."

"That shouldn't present a problem with your inventiveness," Jim 
replied, unworried. He finished the excellent omelet, buttered a 
slice of toast, and felt ready to take on the day. Actually, he 
admitted to himself, the day was not the problem...it was the 

Giles seemed preoccupied as he gathered up his books and piled 
them in a neat stack. "I'll just be a minute," he excused himself 
absently, retreating up the stairs. "I'll put out some clean 
towels in your bathroom for tonight."

Blair saw the expression on his partner's face. "What is it?"
"He's not thinking about towels," Jim replied.

Blair took a drink of coffee. "So? I'm not exactly thinking about 
breakfast, but I'm eating it."

Jim smiled slightly and shook his head. "I wonder why he needs to 
search our stuff?"

"You think -- ?" The younger man just shrugged. "Doesn't matter. 
We don't exactly have anything to hide."

"No, I'm just curious, that's all." Perhaps Giles wasn't being as 
truthful as he pretended. It was just one more perplexing bit of 
information to add to the puzzle.

When the librarian returned a few minutes later, he seemed much 
more relaxed. "If you don't need anything else, shall we get on 
the road?"

His two guests obligingly cleared the table and rinsed the dishes 
in the sink before stacking them in the dishwasher. Giles 
certainly approved of well-mannered houseguests. 

As promised, they were on the road a little after eight. "I just 
need to make one quick stop," Giles explained awkwardly, pulling 
into a driveway and climbing out. "I'll just be a moment; you two 
can wait here if you like."

"No problem," Jim assured him, wondering why the librarian seemed 
eager to have them stay in the car.

Giles went up to the door and knocked. An attractive, dark-haired 
woman answered and greeted him warmly, but he nervously gestured 
her back inside. Suspicious, Jim turned up his hearing, but the 
librarian apparently had anticipated the intrusion and took the 
woman to the rear of the house, where he reduced his voice to the 
merest whisper. The woman followed his example.

Jim just shook his head. "Curiouser and curiouser."

Blair glanced up from the Latin text he'd fished off the top of 
the pile of books. "What is?"

"Giles and the woman."

"Maybe she's his girlfriend."

Jim shrugged. "Maybe."

Giles returned in less than five minutes and got behind the 
wheel. "Sorry about that," he apologized. "School business. 
Couldn't wait. Might not see her at school if we're going out to 
the dig." He seemed to realize he was making too many excuses, 
and fell silent as he backed the car out of the driveway and 
headed toward the high school.

The school grounds were alive with activity: buses arriving, 
parents delivering children, students milling. Jim and Blair felt 
many curious eyes on them as they followed Giles through the 
crowded halls to the library.

Willow and Xander sat at the library table, Willow industriously 
typing on her computer, Xander unsuccessfully trying to balance a 
pencil on his nose. They both stopped what they were doing to 
meet Jim.

What a hunk, Willow thought, smiling shyly.

What a stormtrooper, Xander thought ungraciously, aware of 
Willow's reaction.

"Don't forget your first class starts in a few minutes," Giles 
told them after introducing Jim to the others. "Willow, Detective 
Ellison and Mr. Sandburg would like to read the tutorial you've 
been creating."

"Sure," Willow gushed happily, almost giddy as the two men moved 
up to sit on either side of her. "Vampire 101," she proclaimed 
proudly, calling up her file.

"I can handle this if you need to get to class," Blair said.

She relinquished the mouse but didn't move her chair. "No, I'm 
fine," she assured him, basking in the closeness of two of the 
most gorgeous guys she'd seen in a long time, old or not, bruised 
or not. Some days, it just paid to show up early.

"Any sign of Buffy?" Giles asked, not really expecting an 
affirmative answer. Buffy rarely appeared before the last 
possible moment; she was not a morning person.

"Actually, I talked to her on the phone," Xander replied. "She 
told me all about Sneezy and his Five Dwarfs." 

Jim spared a sideways glance, realized the kid was just 
struggling with a bout of teenage jealousy, and grinned in self-
deprecation. Sneezy. Well, he'd earned it.

"I'll leave you to it, then," Giles said, casting a warning 
glance at Xander. "I have to see Principal Snyder."

The vampire primer was filled with practical advice - how to spot 
a vampire (one sure clue was a wardrobe that included a leisure 
suit or a Nehru jacket); what to do if you spotted a vampire 
('run like the dickens' was Blair's personal favorite); how to 
kill one (wooden implements seemed to be the only sure way); the 
myths that were true (holy water, crosses, etc.); myths that 
weren't true (vampires turning into bats or needing to sleep 
inside a coffin); preferred haunts; likely hiding places; a long 
list of confirmed victims; a longer list of suspected victims; 
those who had risen again and those who had succumbed to Buffy's 
patrols. There were also brief biographies of vampires known to 
inhabit the area around the hellmouth, and Jim read this 
information with great interest. There was an entry for the 
Master - dusted (literally) - and more recent listings for a 
punk-looking couple named Spike and Drusilla. The latter's story 
read like a pulp thriller, one of the sort filled with references 
to "heaving bosoms" and "throbbing manhood".

"Willow - class," Giles reminded her gently upon his return, 
aware he was interrupting one of her finer fantasies.

"OK," she sighed, pushing away from the computer. "See you guys 
later." She sounded hopeful, and beamed when they smiled and 
thanked her.

Xander guided her toward the door. "Feet should touch the floor, 
Will," he chided softly. "Wafting like a limp balloon is so 

"Oh, and I suppose you've never wafted?" she countered as they 

Jim and Blair exchanged grins. "Interesting troops you have," 
Blair commented.

"Yes," Giles agreed, "and yet we do surprisingly well considering 
the opposition."

Jim had to agree - all his military and police training had been 
rendered useless by a single lung full of terminated vampire. It 
wasn't an auspicious beginning to his slaying career, if indeed 
he was going to have a slaying career while in Sunnydale. In 
truth, he didn't care to see another vampire ever again, but the 
thought of leaving the city while some undefined threat loomed 
over him was even more distasteful. And while he was in the area, 
if he could help lessen the burden of responsibility on the young 
shoulders of the Slayer, he knew he had to do it.

Gratefully, he realized he was experiencing only a minor reaction 
to the histamine blockers - a mild headache and some rather funny 
flashes of light at the periphery of his vision.

As if reading his mind, Giles asked, "How are the pills working?"

Blair jumped on the question like a pit bull on a chihuahua. 
'What pills?" he demanded.

Jim held up a placating hand. "I thought I'd try some histamine 
blockers," he explained calmly. "They seem to be working."

"Really?" Blair forgot his anger at this potentially positive 
news. "No side effects?"

"Some, but nothing nearly as bad as the cold medicine," Jim 
assured him. "If this works, I might actually be useful if we run 
into any trouble tonight." Even making excuses, he couldn't bring 
himself to say vampire again. Talk about living in denial!

"If you're done reading, we should really start for the site," 
Giles said apologetically.

"Not without me," Buffy said from behind him, having entered in 
time to hear his statement.

"You've missed quite enough class without this little field 
trip," Giles pointed out calmly.

"What if you get into trouble?"

Jim smiled slightly. "Daylight troubles I think we can handle," 
he replied.

"Besides, who's always complaining about not having a normal 
life?" Giles continued.

"I meant a normal social life," Buffy retorted, "not a normal 
academic life." She sighed, recognizing defeat. "OK, but if 
you're not back after my last class, I'm coming after you."

"Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way," Giles assured her, 
"but just how do you intend doing that?"

She smiled smugly. "I took Mom's car keys."

Giles was aghast. "You didn't drive to school, did you?"

"Not," Buffy assured him, amazed he even had to ask. "It's for 
emergencies only." 

This logic defeated Giles, who just threw up his hands in 
despair. "You really are getting far too independent for your own 
good," he observed at last, giving his guests from Cascade an 
expression that clearly read you-see-what-I-have-to-put-up-with?

Jim smiled in perfect understanding; he frequently wore the same 
expression himself when dealing with his partner.

Part Ten

It was another glorious California day, and Jim leaned back in 
his seat to enjoy it. Thoughts of vampires, demons, and evil 
spirits disappeared in the brilliant sunshine. As long as he 
didn't think about last night too much, he could almost convince 
himself he was just working on another case, a case of Blair's 
temporary insanity. Almost.

Giles drove very slowly along the rutted dirt track leading to 
the trailhead. After all, his Citroen might have been old, but it 
still served him well (most of the time), and he had no desire to 
abuse it unnecessarily. As it was, the shocks and springs groaned 
as the wheels rolled through the ruts and holes.

There were no other vehicles at the end of the road.

"Jim, there should be at least two trucks here, maybe three," 
Blair said anxiously, concern for Dana and her students evident 
in his voice.

"I know our local contingent planned to stay away today," Giles 
said. "The school is giving the freshman class an aptitude test, 
and Blu would not have been excused from taking it. Mr. Blake is 
probably administering the science portion of the test." He 
switched off the engine and tried to convince his mind that the 
incessant rocking motion of the car had stopped.

"Let's check it out," Jim said, knowing it was pointless 
wondering where the rest of the group had gone. Perhaps there was 
a simple explanation, perhaps not. Either way, sitting in the car 
wasn't getting the job done.

Blair led them up the trail to the camp. Everything was as he'd 
last seen it, except no one was in residence. At least there 
weren't any indications of violence; for one horrible moment, 
he'd imagined vampires descending on the little group during the 
night and leaving only exsanguinated corpses behind.

"Come on," he urged the others. "I think I can find the site 

He dashed up the rugged game trail, the others close behind him. 
He slowed after a bit, looking for the place where Dana had left 
the path, and there had been enough activity in the area that he 
had no trouble finding it. Instead of coming out on the small 
ledge where he had first overlooked the site, he stumbled 
directly into the clearing and stopped.

There was no one here, either. It was as if the archaeological 
team had simply disappeared.

"If they vanished, their trucks vanished with them," Jim pointed 
out logically. "They've probably just taken the day off or 

"I hope you're right," Blair agreed. At least he was assured 
nothing bad had happened here. The site looked exactly as he'd 
last seen it.

Jim looked around, his expression grim. "This place gives me the 
creeps," he commented quietly.

"Me, too," Blair agreed.

"No, I mean this place really gives me the creeps."

Giles was intrigued. "Do you also have a heightened sixth sense?" 
he asked curiously.

"He does," Blair confirmed with a grin.

Jim grimaced. "I prefer to call it good instincts," he 
contradicted, "but if you guys can't feel how evil this place is, 
I may have to change my opinion."

Blair walked into the clearing, careful to keep clear of the 
areas marked off with twine. He could see where the others had 
walked and kept to their path, and he instructed the others to do 
the same. 

Jim, however, didn't move from the edge of the clearing. Blair 
looked at him with a frown. "You really do feel something, don't 
you?" he asked. Not surprisingly, he felt the same undefined 
sense of unease he'd felt the day before, when he'd first laid 
eyes on the site, but it was nothing compared to what Jim seemed 
to be feeling.

"Absolutely," Jim answered. "Whatever went on here was not good 
magic, Chief. It's like even the dirt was contaminated with bad 

"Can you focus in on any particular spot?" Blair asked. "Does one 
area feel 'hotter' with bad vibes than another?"

Jim sighed. Somehow, he should have known this was going to 
happen; Blair just couldn't keep from experimenting. Although, 
maybe in this instance, it was justified. Whatever doubts he'd 
had about his partner's bizarre experience in the cave were gone 
now. He was convinced there was something truly evil here. 
Reaching outward with his senses, he allowed his eyes to drift 
aimlessly over the surface of the ground. When he finally saw 
something, it really did look like a 'hot spot'.

He pointed to an area just outside the excavation. "There."

Blair went to the spot and crouched down. With his fingers, he 
dug through the soft top-layer of forest floor, sifting deeper 
and deeper through the decayed organic matter until he'd dug down 
about a foot. "I think someone was here already," he said at 
last. "Someone used a shovel to dig a hole in the compacted dirt 
beneath the top cover."

"Some sort of powerful talisman?" Giles contemplated aloud. 

"Dana found a lot of religious artifacts," Blair answered, "but 
whoever dug here probably wasn't a professional."

"And there's no way to tell how long ago the hole was dug," Giles 
said, discouraged.

"Recently," Jim speculated. "Whatever was taken might have been 
the catalyst that started all the fuss - finding the site, 
excavating it, opening the cave, everything."

"The kid, Blu?" Blair said. "He's the one who reported the site. 
I was always curious why a kid so obviously out of shape would 
have wandered over such a rugged trail to find this place."

Jim shook his head in bemusement. "So a fat freshman wanders in 
here and what? - gets possessed or something?" It sounded absurd 
the derisive way he said it. 

Further speculation was interrupted by a sudden gust of wind that 
swayed the tops of the redwoods. All three looked skyward, and 
the gust returned from the opposite direction, moaning through 
the branches.

Blair stood up. "This is definitely weird."

The little clearing went silent for a long moment, and then the 
wind whipped through again, much lower now, stirring up dirt and 
fallen leaves, sweeping small pebbles and branches into its 
vortex as it roared like a defiant dragon.

"Get down!" Jim shouted urgently, throwing himself flat.

Giles lost his balance and fell into one of the shallower 
excavation holes. The wind-driven particles smashed into his 
face, and he closed his eyes tightly and covered his head with 
his arms to keep from being blinded.

Blair dove toward the ground, but a stronger gust lifted him and 
drove him toward the edge of the chasm dividing the clearing. 
Realizing what was about to happen, he tried to jump out of the 
way, but it was as if a strong hand were guiding him to the 
widest point of the break. Helplessly, he toppled over the edge 
and plummeted downward, his hands scrabbling uselessly at the 
edges and bringing an avalanche of topsoil down on top of him. 
His last thought was regret that he hadn't asked Dana just how 
deep the fissure was...

As quickly as it had started, the wind died. Jim was on his feet 
in an instant, rubbing at his eyes to clear away the grit, 
desperate only to see the aftermath of the bizarre attack and not 
concerned with potential injury to his vision. Giles, covered in 
a heavy layer of leaves and grit, rose from his concealment, 
shedding dirt. There was no sign of Blair.

"Sandburg!" Jim shouted, forcing himself to enter the clearing 
despite the evil he could feel radiating from the ground around 
him. There was no answer.

It was only when he saw the fissure that he realized what must 
have happened.

As he approached the edge, the soft topsoil was disturbed, and 
some of it slid over the edge. Falling to his chest, he crawled 
forward, shifting as little dirt as possible, until he could peer 
over the side. Below, no more than nine or ten feet, he could see 
the upper portion of Blair's body. The lower portion was either 
pinned by the fissure or buried in dirt, Jim couldn't be sure. 
All he was certain of was that Blair wasn't moving.

"Is he all right?" Giles asked anxiously from behind him.

"He's unconscious," Jim reported grimly. "We need to clear some 
of this top soil back so it doesn't fall in and bury him. And we 
need a rope."

"I'll go back to the camp and see what I can find," Giles said. 
"You start clearing back the dirt."

Part Ten

Blair tasted dirt in his mouth, coughed, and opened his eyes. Why 
was it he couldn't go into the woods without being shot, beaten 
up, held hostage, nearly drowned, knocked unconscious - or 
toppled into a fissure by some demonic wind?

As moderate awareness slowly returned, he realized he was firmly 
pinned in the chasm, and he couldn't feel any solid ground 
beneath his feet. How the hell deep was this thing anyway? Only 
his upper torso, jammed into the narrow cleft where he had 
fallen, kept him from plummeting further. The pressure made 
breathing difficult, and his weight was supported mostly by his 
arms and shoulders. He tried to lift himself up, but found he was 
wedged too firmly.

"Sandburg, you OK?" Jim called down to him.

Blair looked up, saw his partner only a few feet away. "Man, I'm 
stuck like a cork in a bottle," he complained. 

Jim was right at the edge of the fissure, his chest partway over. 
He reached down. "Can you reach my hand?"

Blair tried to reach upward, felt his weight shift a little 
further down. Immediately, he lowered his arm again. "Uh-uh. 
There's nothing under me but space, and I don't know if it's six 
inches or sixty feet." Some more topsoil drifted down, and he 
averted his eyes and held his breath until it settled.

"Giles is bringing a rope," Jim said. "You were knocked out. Are 
you sure you're OK?"

"I think so," Blair answered, still a bit dazed. At least, he 
didn't feel any pain beyond a dull throbbing in his temples, and 
he figured that was probably raised blood pressure from his heart 
and lungs working so hard sandwiched between the sides of the 

"OK, I've got to clear away more of the topsoil. I'll be ready to 
come down for you in a minute."

"OK," Blair agreed, silently willing his partner to hurry, 
knowing his prayer was not needed because Jim would be working as 
quickly as he could.

The air around him suddenly grew heavy and seemed to come alive. 
Before his widening eyes, he watched shadow turn to light and 
light to shadow, as if he'd fallen into a photographic negative. 
Oh shit, now what?

<There is no need to be afraid>

He looked around wildly for the source of the voice, but of 
course there was no one near him. Fear quickened his breathing, 
and he could feel his heart pounding against the constricting 
fissure that held him captive. "Who are you?" he whispered, 
afraid Jim would overhear and think he'd become delirious. Well, 
maybe he had.

<I am Tlalaqueh. You found my bones in the cave.>

"Oh, hey," Blair protested, forgetting to whisper. "It wasn't my 
idea to open the tomb." Although logic told him it was impossible 
to speak with a spirit, he didn't want to take any chances by 
arousing the ire of this particular spirit, impossible or not.

<No, your companions were foolish and ignored the warning.>

"You're the Guide who trapped Sklalas in the cave," Blair 

<No. I am the Guide who tried to defeat Sklalas and lost.>

Oh, boy. "You lost?"

<Sklalas possessed me in spite of all the magic I used to repel 
him. There was barely enough of my spirit left to hold onto the 
demon as Xihuichua entombed me.>

"Xihuichua," Blair echoed faintly. "Your Sentinel?"

The answer was wistful. <My Sentinel.>

Blair's fear was rising quickly to overcome his curiosity at this 
strange conversation with the dead. "Are you still possessed by 


Man, where had that come from? He twisted his shoulders and 
strained his neck to see, but the chasm was as empty as ever. 
"He's here, isn't he?" he moaned faintly.

<Yes, but your friend is protecting you.>

Blair felt relief wash over him. "Jim?"

<No, your new friend.>

He nodded slightly. Giles. He should have guessed. "Your Sentinel 
killed seven of the demon's followers with a Spanish sword, 
didn't he? Where did he get the sword?"

<Xihuichua wanted to stay and fight for our village, but I knew 
we faced a far greater danger in the north. I think he hated me 
for forcing him to leave his people and his family to follow my 
bidding. During our long journey northward to confront Sklalas, I 
permitted him to take a weapon from a Spaniard. I had to prove 
the invaders were not white gods but merely mortals from a 
different land. Once Xihuichua examined the entrails of his 
enemy, he believed.> The Inca shaman sounded tired, as if the 
question and his answer were irrelevant, which Blair supposed 
they were in light of the current situation. <We took the silver 
cross as well. It contained powerful magic. We needed all strong 
magic to fight Sklalas.>

Strange images filled Blair's thoughts -- vivid memories of 
slaughter and blood, the desperate, doomed effort to defeat a 
monster. Crying out against this invasion of his mind, he was 
powerless to prevent it. For one horrifying instant, he thought 
he, too, was being possessed.

But the images faded, and he was left with a mental weariness. He 
felt as if he'd spent an all-nighter cramming for an exam, and 
perhaps this wasn't far from the truth. With total clarity, he 
knew the translation of the stone tablet and what Tlalaqueh 
wanted him to do.

He felt despair. "If you failed with all of your magic, how can I 
hope to defeat him?"

<You possess powerful magic, young shaman. Your new friend 
possesses powerful magic as well. And your Sentinel is strong, 
almost as strong as Xihuichua, and he was a mighty warrior.>

Blair tried to take comfort in the spirit shaman's assurances. 
"Yes, Jim's spirit animal warned me of the danger in the cave." 
He felt rather than heard a ghostly chuckle. "No?"

<I had to warn you, make your Sentinel sense your fear and come 
to you. I chose a form you would accept easily.>

So, he hadn't seen Jim's animal spirit guide after all, Blair 
realized a little sadly. It had just been an old shaman's 
conjuring trick. Then he grinned at how jaded he seemed to have 
become. After all, wasn't he talking to the spirit of the same 
shaman, and wasn't that pretty special? In fact, wasn't that 
pretty damn well amazing?

Suddenly, the colors of the chasm righted themselves, and the 
shafts of sunlight beamed brilliantly again through the dusty 
haze of his earthly prison. Tlalaqeh was gone, leaving behind a 
vague emptiness and the knowledge of what had to be done.

Sklalas, however, was still with him. He could feel the demon's 
presence, and sense -- something -- coalescing into being. He was 
afraid to look, afraid to see what was taking form just a few 
feet from him. And where the hell was Jim?

"Jim, what's taking so long?" he shouted a little desperately.

"Take it easy," came the calm answer from above. "It's only been 
a minute."

A minute? His conversation with Tlalaqueh had lasted just a 

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. A sense of dread 
consumed him as he looked toward its source. A large rat peered 
back at him from about four feet away. But it was no ordinary 
rat. This one was huge, its fur matted and coarse, its eyes 
yellow and terribly bloodshot...the eyes looked human. Sklalas 
had taken form.

"Sandburg, what's wrong?" Jim asked anxiously, sensing the sudden 
increased beating of his friend's heart.

"Uh, Jim, there's something down here," Blair replied 
uncertainly, never taking his eyes off the strange, abhorrent 

"Some thing?" Jim echoed, a sharp edge to his voice. He was 
getting really tired of all the supernatural crap.

"A rat," Blair answered, although he knew it wasn't a rat. The 
ugly creature bared its teeth - huge, yellow fangs snapped at the 
air, and Blair twitched, felt his body shift a little further 
into the vise that held him prisoner. "Oh, man," he breathed, 
fear threatening to turn to panic, and panic could be a deadly 
adversary right now.

"Just take it easy, Chief," Jim urged quietly from above. "We're 
almost ready to come down for you."

Part Eleven

Above ground, Giles expertly secured two ropes to the nearest 
tree. Jim had cleared a lot of the loose top soil away from the 
edge of the crevasse, so there was little danger of more dirt 
falling in and burying the young man trapped below. 

"Perhaps it would be best if I went down," the librarian said. 
"I'm somewhat smaller and lighter."

Jim thought about the offer. "I don't know. He says there's a rat 
down there, and judging from his reactions, it's not some 
ordinary rat."

"I see." Giles sighed. "I apologize - I hadn't considered the 
possibility of an evil manifestation here at the dig."

Jim held up a warning finger. "I'm just barely coming to grips 
with the idea of - vampires. Don't start throwing evil 
manifestations into the mix. I am not Indiana Jones."

"Very well. I only meant I hadn't planned for this contingency, 
so I'm afraid you'll have to be the one to climb down after all."

"I intended to anyway," Jim assured him, testing the ropes and 
tying one end into a passable harness. "But let's try the easy 
way first." He tossed the rope over the side. "Sandburg, can you 
slip this over your shoulders?"

Blair caught the end of the rope and tried to slip the loops over 
his arms. Nearby, the rat had gone into some sort of angry 
convulsions, hissing and clawing at him, but not getting any 
closer. Enraged, it gnawed savagely at the dirt and rock, it's 
body writhing with fury.

Blair tried not to look at it; at least he didn't seem to be in 
any danger, much as the sight of that ugly, twisting body sent 
tremors of fear through him. "Sorry, Jim, I can't get the loops 
past my elbows. If I lift my arms, I just slide deeper into the 
crevasse." He tried grasping the rope and pulling himself up, but 
he couldn't budge. His breathing was becoming more strained. If 
he slipped downward a little further, he might become too tightly 
wedged to draw air into his lungs; he could die of suffocation.
The rat seemed to sense his dilemma and lunged at him suddenly, 
gaining only a few inches of ground but causing Blair to flinch 
away and sink a bit more. His arms strained to hold his weight as 
his position became more awkward.

Suddenly, from far beneath him in the depths of the chasm, he 
imagined he could hear faint scrabbling, as if something were 
clawing its way up toward him. It was his imagination...right? 
Right? "Jim?" he murmured a little desperately.

"OK, I'm coming down," Jim promised. He had tied the second rope 
into a similar harness, which he slipped over his own shoulders. 
Giles set himself and held the rope tightly, prepared to lower 
the other man into the chasm. As for Jim, he supported as much of 
his own weight as he could, bracing his legs against the sides of 
the fissure and carefully walking himself downward, searching for 
every foot and hand hold he could find. It was only a few feet 
down to reach his trapped partner, so he was down in less than a 
minute. As he planted his feet on either side of the narrow crack 
that gripped his friend, he looked up to gauge the distance to 
the lip of the fissure. It was a little father than he'd first 
guessed - an outstretched arm was still about three feet short of 
the rim.

He reached down and took hold of Blair's upper arms. "I'm going 
to lift you out of there - are you sure you don't have any back 
or shoulder pains?"

"Just get me out of here, Jim," Blair practically begged him. 
"It's getting hard to breathe." And whatever was creeping toward 
him from below was getting closer...if it touched him, he felt 
certain he'd be driven out of his mind. "Come on, Jim!"

"OK." Jim wasn't unduly worried; if Sandburg had enough breath 
left to talk, then he wasn't in danger of suffocating.

Bent over as he was, Jim found himself eye to eye with the 
strange creature his partner had described. It had stopped its 
writhing and now stood perfectly still, eyes glaring at Jim with 
unnatural brilliance. "Partner, that's not a rat. It's a - a 

"Jim, hurry up!" Blair pleaded, on the brink of panic as his 
wildly spinning imagination conjured a horrific beast slithering 
toward him from below.

Jim lifted. The first bit was the toughest, because the trapped 
man was wedged so tightly in the crevasse, but once Jim was able 
to free him by just a few inches, the rest went smoothly. Blair 
was able to get clear of the narrow fissure and crawl to his 
knees. With one hand, he gripped the spare rope, with his other 
he held a death grip on his partner's belt.

"Come on, time to try getting up," Jim urged gently.

It was a tight fit with the two of them jammed together in the 
cleft, but Blair managed to struggle to his feet. A groan of pain 
escaped him.

"What's wrong?" Jim asked in sudden concern.

"My hip," Blair answered, clenching his jaws against the sudden 
burst of agony. "I must have bruised it in the fall." The pain 
made him dizzy, and he was grateful for Jim's strong support. 

Jim helped him adjust the second rope around his shoulders. 
"You're safe now," he said. "With a bad hip, you won't be able to 
support your weight climbing out of here, so I'm going to go up 
first and help Giles pull you up, OK?"

Blair nodded. "Hey, Jim, can you see how deep the crevasse goes?"

"Already looked," Jim told him.


"And you don't want to know."

Blair's grip on the rope tightened until his knuckles turned 
white. "Did you see -- I mean, is there anything else down 

Jim's frown of confusion was the only answer he needed. "Sorry," 
he murmured, not bothering to explain why he was apologizing. 
"Can we just get out of here, please?" He chanced another glance 
at the rat, which had stalked closer. It was now only a foot or 
so away. And it looked bigger...a lot bigger. Whatever force was 
holding it back was weakening rapidly. "Oh, man."

Jim looked too, and tried to stomp the creature under his foot. 
It scuttled back out of the way, hissing and snarling. "Come any 
closer, and I'll squish your little rat brains all over this 
place," he promised grimly, feeling stupid for talking to an 
animal. The animal in question narrowed its feral yellow eyes -- 
and grinned.


The sibilance filled with chasm above and below, as if a thousand 
voices had whispered the name in benediction.

"That's it, we're outta here!" Jim said abruptly, thoroughly 
shaken. He hauled Blair closer. "Grab my shoulders, and hang on." 

He called up to Giles. "We're coming up."

"I'm ready," Giles called back, bracing himself again.

Going up was easier than climbing down; Jim could almost climb 
out by himself using the numerous hand and foot holds, so he was 
able to carry Blair's weight without putting an additional burden 
on Giles. Within seconds he was at the rim, and he swore he could 
hear maniacal laughter from the vile abhorrence they had left 
behind. With Giles help, he managed to get Blair to solid ground, 
then he climbed out of the fissure and regained his feet.

Blair tested his hip. It hurt, but he was able to put weight on 
it. By tomorrow, it would be stiff and bruised, but at least he 
hadn't broken anything. Again. Hanging onto Jim, he peered into 
the shadowy depths of the crevasse, but he couldn't see the 
predatory manifestation of the demon or anything else out of the 

"Jim, I'm never going into the woods again," he swore.

Giles looked bemused, so Jim explained, "Sandburg's like a magnet 
for trouble, and it only seems to get worse whenever he goes into 
the woods."

"By the way," Blair added, addressing Giles, "thanks for whatever 
magic spells you put on us."

His partner did a mental double take. "What?"

Giles smiled slightly. "Actually, I can't take the credit. The 
woman you saw me with this morning - Jenny Calendar - she's the 
one with the magic. I asked her for a protective spell for the 
two of you."

Jim still looked disbelieving, so Blair said, "That's why Sklalas 
couldn't get at us down there in the crevasse - some force was 
holding him back."

"Sklalas is a rat?" Jim asked doubtfully.

"Undoubtedly, except in this case, he also manifested himself as 
one," Blair explained.

With a sigh that spoke volumes about his wavering grip on 
reality, Jim looked back at Giles. "So that's why you went 
through our stuff this morning," he said. "You needed something 
of ours to give to your friend."

"Yes, but the two of you are surprisingly neat house guests for 
bachelors," Giles said. "I managed to retrieve a few hairs from 
the trash bin and a few more from your combs. I wasn't sure it 
would be enough."

Jim suddenly turned his head to look up the rocky slope backing 
the clearing. "There's someone up there," he said quietly.

"The shaman's bones," Blair said desperately. "We have to get up 
to the cave." Walking was difficult and painful, and trying to 
hurry only increased the agony, but with Jim's support, he 
hobbled quickly toward the granite boulders of the slope. "Jim, 
it's only a few hundred yards up there. Don't wait for me. Just 

"I'll help Blair," Giles assured when the other man hesitated. 
But Jim could read the urgency in his friend's expression, so he 
reluctantly left him and started the mad scramble up through the 

When the others reached him a few minutes later, they found him 
helping a very groggy Rod Ballantine. "I found him unconscious," 
Jim explained. "Someone gave him a pretty good whack on the 

Rod managed to focus. "Oh, hi, Blair. What are you doing here?"

"I brought some friends up to see the dig," Blair replied. "Where 
are the others?"

"Sandy broke her arm this morning. Dana and Stu took her down to 
the emergency room. I stayed here to keep an eye on the site." 
The young grad student grimaced. "I was doing some more 
preliminary work in the cave when someone hit me from behind."

Blair found Rod's flashlight on the ground and switched it on. 
The bulb still worked and the beam was strong. "Will you be OK 
for a minute?" he asked. "I need to check something."

"Yeah, I'll be OK," the young man assured him, leaning back 
against the rocks and cradling his head in his hands.

Blair led the way into the cave, Jim and Giles behind him. When 
they reached what had yesterday been the end of the cave, the 
flashlight illuminated the Inca tablet, now propped carefully to 
one side of the opening it had covered.

"Amazing," Giles breathed, thrilled by such an amazing sight in 
the redwood forests of Northern California. "It's almost too much 
to believe."

Blair entered the inner chamber just far enough to shine his 
light over every inch of it. The little space was empty save for 
a few scraps of dried leather and a bit of cloth. "Damn," he 
muttered to himself.

"What did you expect to find?" Jim asked.

"Bones. Sklalas managed to possess Tlalaqueh when the old shaman 
tried to defeat him, but after Xihuichua trapped them here in the 
cave, Tlalaqueh was able to bind the demon to his bones. The 
spell has weakened a bit over the centuries, so once he was 
released from the cave, Sklalas was able to venture a short 
distance -- like as far as the crevasse."

Jim blinked. "What?" he asked helplessly. 

Giles, of course, had no trouble following the course of Blair's 
narrative. "And someone has stolen the shaman's bones."

Blair nodded. "If the spirit of Sklalas is reunited with his 
medicine bundle, he'll become powerful enough to regain his human 
form, and then he may damn well be unstoppable."

"His medicine bundle," Giles murmured. "That's the residue of 
evil Jim felt in the clearing. That's what was buried in the hole 
you uncovered." 


"How do you know all this stuff?" Jim asked a little 
suspiciously, trying to process too much paranormal input with 
his overstressed cop sensibilities.

"Tlalaqueh told me."


"The Guide who was sealed in here with Sklalas."

Jim cast his eyes heavenward. "Swell," he muttered. He was a long 
way out of his depth, with a hundred questions he wanted to ask, 
but he tried to approach it as just another piece of detective 
work. "What was going on down there in the clearing all those 
centuries ago?"

Blair spoke quickly, his voice echoing hollowly in the small 
cavern, which gave a suitable resonance to his words. "Sklalas 
put out the word - probably along a psychic plane - to invite any 
evil-doer who wanted to achieve immortality to come to this site. 
All sorts of practitioners of the dark arts responded to his 
call. He conducted some sort of ceremony to transfer their 
spirits into his medicine bundle, and each spirit who joined it 
only gave it -- and therefore Sklalas -- more strength."

"So the guys basically died," Jim said, unimpressed. "Not much of 
an immortality."

"The bodies died, but a lot of religions believe in an afterlife. 
These evil men and women knew their spirits would not find peace 
in the hereafter, so they wanted to stay bound to the earth in 
order to avoid their final judgement."

"OK, but why here?" Jim insisted.

"The hellmouth," Giles said abruptly. "Sklalas desires only the 
total annihilation of every living thing on earth. He'll unleash 
all the demons of hell and rule them as he gloats over the 
destruction of our world."

Jim was not convinced. "Which accomplishes exactly what for him?"

Blair was a little exasperated with Jim's determination to remain 
grounded in solid police procedure. "I don't know -- the sense of 
a job well done?" 

Giles smiled slightly. "Jim, the realm of the supernatural is 
both unpredictable and frequently illogical. Sklalas desires to 
destroy the world -- what comes after is of no concern to him."

"OK." Jim sounded irritated with himself at his inability to 
accept the truths he'd witnessed with his own eyes. Vampires and 
demons -- or at least giant, malevolent, mutant rats -- existed. 
He'd seen them, touched them, killed them. The realm of the 
supernatural had become reality. So he decided just to go with 
it. "So he's going to open the hellmouth?"

Blair nodded. "Tlalaqueh died stopping him centuries ago. It's up 
to us to stop him now."

Jim didn't look confident. "Chief, I don't think either one of us 
is exactly up to saving the world."

That observation couldn't find a suitable response, so they went 
back outside to check on Rod, who was on his feet, swaying a 
little but upright and apparently recovering. "What did you 
find?" he asked.

"Nothing," Blair answered. "The tomb is empty."

"Ah, Dana's gonna kill me!" Rod groaned. "She wanted to study the 
bones more closely in situ."

"Are you up for the hike back?" Jim asked. "We need to get you to 
a hospital."

"Yeah, I can walk." The little group went back down the slope and 
returned to camp. It was already noon.

Blair found his backpack, which he had left at the cave 
yesterday, now sitting on the bunk he was supposed to have slept 
on last night. He packed up his belongings and found the thick 
stack of photos Dana had taken of the stone tablet. As he joined 
the others outside, he held the folder up for Rod to see. "I'm 
going to borrow these for awhile - I promised Dana I'd do a 
translation." Although he was fairly certain he could translate 
the tablet with ease, he wanted to test his theory as further 
assurance his "vision" in the chasm had been real and not a 
figment of his fearful imagination.

"Sure, I'll tell her if she doesn't just deck me first," Rod 
answered glumly. "I can't believe someone stole those bones!"

They went back down the trail to the car, then endured the long, 
bumpy drive back to the paved road. After that, time passed 
quickly and they were soon at the emergency room, where they were 
going inside just as Dana and the others were coming out. Sandy 
Crenshaw had her left arm in a sling.

There was a flurry of explanations, after which Dana's anger 
erupted in full force. "Just what the hell were you doing messing 
around my dig?" she raged at Blair.

Wisely, Jim decided to practice a little discretion, and he took 
Giles with him in search of something to eat. Besides, the 
librarian wanted to find a phone to contact Buffy. He didn't want 
her driving up to the site to rescue them from some evil force 
only to find they'd already left. In fact, he didn't want her 
driving anywhere.

"Look," Blair reasoned when her tirade had wound down, "Jim 
Ellison is my friend from Cascade, and Mr. Giles is the librarian 
from the local high school. They were interested in visiting the 
dig, and when we got there and couldn't find anybody, I got 
worried and checked out the site."

"And trooped all over it," Dana accused.

"Not too badly, I hope," Blair apologized. "Look, I hadn't 
planned on it, but I fell into that damned crevasse. The other 
two got me out again - I don't think we damaged anything, but I 
was a little more concerned with saving my butt than worrying 
about a few more bits of pottery."

Dana sighed. "Any idea who cold-cocked Rod and took the bones?"

Blair just shook his head. "Sorry - by the time we found Rod, the 
attacker was long gone."

"Well, it's a short list of suspects, because only a few of us 
knew about the cave, and two of them were with me here at the 

"I swear I didn't have anything to do with it, Dana," Blair 

"You were awfully interested in it yesterday."

"I didn't want you to open the tomb," he returned calmly. "I sure 
as heck didn't want to take anything from it."

She thought about it for a long minute, then nodded. "That leaves 
just the locals - the kid and the science teacher." She gave 
Blair a hug. "Sorry I was so suspicious."

"That's OK. Under the circumstances, I might have felt the same 
way," he answered, warmly returning her embrace. "By the way, I 
borrowed your photos of the Inca tablet. I'll do the translation 
for you."

"You'd better," Dana threatened lightly. 

Jim and Giles returned then with sandwiches and a soft drink for 
Blair, which he accepted gratefully.

"You want to have your hip x-rayed while you're here?" Jim asked. 
"In case you fractured it?"

Blair shook his head. "Nah, I can walk OK, and the doctors would 
just have me walking around on it anyway. What's the use?"

Jim shrugged. His partner had a point. "What about your head? You 
were unconscious for awhile."

"No, I wasn't," Blair assured him. "I was just stunned, that's 
all." Off Jim's doubtful look, he added, "Really."

The two groups finally parted, everyone back on speaking terms. 
Dana and her crew went back toward the emergency room to check on 
Rod, while the other three went out to the car, where they sat 
and ate their meager lunches and discussed their next step.

"If Sklalas needs you alive, why did he risk toppling you into 
the crevasse, where you might have been killed?" Giles puzzled.

"Actually, Tlalaqueh was responsible for knocking me into the 
crevasse," Blair explained, uncomfortable under Jim's sudden 
withering look. "He didn't mean to," he hastened to add. "He just 
wanted to talk to me."

The older man sighed. "I'm starting to worry about that knock on 
your head."

"Jim, with all the weirdness going on, why isn't it possible an 
ancient guide spoke to me?" Blair was angry and hurt that his 
friend didn't believe him.

"And he did know about the medicine bundle," Giles pointed out.
Jim held up his hands in surrender. "Sorry. I guess my weirdness 
meter got pegged last night, and it hasn't come down enough to 
accept any new input."

"OK." Blair accepted the apology. 

"And who's this Zee-which-a-wah?" Jim tried to wrap his tongue 
around the word without much success.

Blair chuckled. "Close enough. That's the name of your Sentinel 
counterpart, the one who had to seal his own Guide in the cave in 
order to trap Sklalas."

"As long as I don't have to seal you up inside anything," Jim 
muttered. Except maybe inside the loft, where his Guide could 
keep out of trouble. Maybe. With help. And luck. Lots and lots of 

"This ceremony to return Sklalas to human form," Giles continued. 
"Did Tlalaqueh give you any indication when it's to take place?"

"No, but the vampires have a book that lists the necessary 
rituals, and they need a shaman to recite the words."

Giles looked impressed. "You got all that from your vision? How 

"So Sklalas is after you," Jim said. "He doesn't care his furry 
little rat's ass about me."

"He could be very serious about killing you," Blair objected. "He 
wants revenge against all sentinels for losing to Tlalaqueh and 
Xihuichua. But I think he wants you alive -- what better body to 
use to regain human form?"

"Why, thank you very much," Jim murmured with a cheesy smile.

"I was referring to your genetics," Blair countered with an 
incredulous shake of his head.

Jim became serious. "Why were vampires waiting for me at 
Sunnydale Airport? I mean, how did they know I was flying in?"

"If Blair is correct about the demon's psychic abilities, he 
undoubtedly felt your approach from a great distance," Giles 
speculated. "He'd want to keep you from being in a position to 
protect your partner."

"Fat chance," the Sentinel murmured softly, almost to himself.

"We must find out when this ceremony will take place," Giles went 
on. "Perhaps it's tied to a phase of the moon, or a particular 
season. It could be imminent."

"So we raid a vampire nest - where the hell do they live anyway? 
- and grab a book," Jim said uncomfortably. "Not something I'm 
looking forward to."

"And perhaps not necessary," Giles agreed. "I think Buffy may 
have some ideas for us." He started the engine. "I telephoned 
her. She'll meet us in the library."

Part Twelve

They joined up with Buffy at the library, which the two men from 
Cascade figured was their normal base of operation. She was doing 
some sort of complicated calisthenics routine on a training mat, 
but stopped when the others came in.

"Pity about your night job," Jim observed in admiration. "You'd 
make one heck of an Olympic athlete."

"Thanks," she replied, toweling off a light sheen of sweat and 
pulling on a bulky sweatshirt over her exercise gear.

Giles made a pot of coffee in his office while Blair explained 
the day's events to the Slayer, who found a simple solution to 
their problem. "I'll make a patrol around town," she said. "If 
there's no activity, we'll know the ceremony may be tonight. If 
the vamps are out doing a routine midnight brunch, then we'll 
know the ceremony is some other time, which leaves you with the 
problem of figuring out when."

Giles returned with a tray bearing coffee and cans of soda. He 
allowed everyone to serve themselves as he unlocked the cage 
where his most precious books were kept. "I think I may have some 
useful references."

"I'll help you," Blair promised, joining him behind the mesh. 
"You also said you might have something on sentinels. If you run 
across it, I'd love to see it."

"Of course."

"Should we call Xander and Willow?" Buffy asked.

"I'll do it," Giles promised. "We'll need all eyes to help with 
the research."

Blair glanced at his partner, who was sitting at the library 
table, his hands around his coffee mug, his eyes downcast. "Jim?"

He looked up. "I'll go with Buffy."

"Bad idea," Blair objected, the hunt for books forgotten as he 
returned to the table and sat down. "They'll be after you."

"Maybe," Jim agreed quietly. He couldn't explain that he had to 
go; this whole macabre situation had him freaked, and if he 
didn't face it now, he might never find the courage again. 
Besides, he wasn't going to permit a sixteen-year-old girl to 
risk her life for him. "I want to test the histamine blockers. If 
we're going after Sklalas and a legion of vampires, I need to 
know if I can handle it."

Blair wasn't convinced, but he saw the odd, haunted look in Jim's 
eyes and figured there was no point in arguing. "OK," he agreed 

"I don't think it's a good idea, either," Buffy said, but she 
sounded as if she knew her objection would be ignored. When men 
were on a macho trip, their testosterone levels rendered them 
deaf and dumb -- dumb as in stupid. Jim seemed decent enough for 
an old guy, but she hadn't seen anything yet to bolster her 
confidence about his usefulness in a fight, at least in a fight 
against vampires. She tried to be tactful. "If you're along, a 
big group might come after us, and I might not be able to -- I 
mean, we might not be able to fight them off." 

Nice try, Jim thought. He shook his head. "Whatever happens, you 
are not responsible for me, all right? But I need to find out 
sometime whether or not I can do this, and tonight is probably as 
good a time as any."

His argument had a certain logic. She sighed, then grinned in 
surrender. To Giles, she said, "In the meantime, unless you find 
something with pictures of really cute guys in it, we'll stand 
guard. Once you find your books, we'll get Blair safely back to 
your house, I'll go home and change -- and by then, it will be 

"Guard us from what?" Giles asked, amused at her efforts to avoid 
joining in the research.

"I dunno -- evil shaman?" Buffy countered brightly.

"The last we saw of Sklalas, he looked like a rat," Jim observed 
with a smile.

She made a face. "I loathe rats."

Part Thirteen

They started their patrol in the cemetery, and Jim had the 
feeling Buffy started most nights this way. The night was clear, 
with a crisp chill to the air as a gentle reminder that this, 
after all, was autumn. "Mind if I ask you a personal question?"

Buffy tried for a casually indifferent shrug and felt she 
succeeded. "Go ahead."

"How do you feel about being the Slayer?"

She thought about it for a long time as they threaded their way 
toward the dark center of the cemetery. "It's not a career I 
would have chosen," she admitted finally. Then she laughed 
softly. "Actually, on career day, I tested very high for a 
possible career in law enforcement."

Jim smiled. "That must have been a blow."

"A total bummer," she agreed, then hastened to add, "Not that it 
isn't right for some people, but can you see me wearing one of 
those belts with a thirty-eight on one hip and a bunch of wooden 
stakes on the other?"

"Sam Browne," Jim explained.


"The utility belt."


"You could be right, although as a rookie, you'd probably pull a 
lot of night shifts." Jim tried to keep it light, but he really 
didn't understand how she could do it -- lead two totally 
separate lives and still keep her emotional equilibrium. At least 
she had good friends to help her, but was that enough?

"What about you?" she countered.

"What about me?"

"How do you do it?"

Jim shook his head. "I'm in a different position. My heightened 
senses enable me to do a better job in my chosen profession. I 
can fit into practically any career choice, although Sandburg 
seems to think a sentinel is predisposed to having a job that 
helps people. But you, and Giles, and to some extent, Sandburg -- 
you each have to shuffle two disparate lives, one of which you 
have to keep secret from the rest of the world."

They'd reached their destination, which looked to Jim like any 
other part of the cemetery except for a newly covered grave. 
Buffy casually perched on a neighboring headstone. "Most of the 
other kids think I'm whacko," she admitted. "I got kicked out of 
my last school because I burned down the gym -- which just 
happened to be hosting a vampire buffet."

"And your mom doesn't know." Jim sensed a sadness in her despite 
her glib facade, as if the burden of her secret life made it 
impossible for her to be truly happy.

"I can't tell her," Buffy said awkwardly. "She wouldn't 

"She might surprise you."

She shook her head. "No. Telling her would only complicate 
things. I mean, how would you feel if you knew your daughter 
hunted vampires for a living?"

"Good point." Buffy's expression faltered and her confidence 
slipped for a just a moment, so he asked, "What were you just 

She didn't look as if she wanted to answer. Then she shrugged. 
"Just that Giles has never told me the average life span for a 
slayer. I don't think I've ever heard of one dying of old age, 

Jim sighed, sympathetic to her plight but helpless to relieve it. 
As far as he knew, they were both alone in their uniqueness, but 
only Buffy stood foursquare against an army of demons with only 
her Watcher and a few close friends to back her up. He hoped it 
would be enough to ensure a long and fruitful life. To drag his 
thoughts away from his depressing contemplation of her chances, 
he looked at the glum surroundings. "Why are we here?"

Buffy nodded toward the new grave. "I think this one will be 
rising tonight."

Jim felt a ripple of dread through his nerves. "I hope it's not 
someone you knew."

"Actually, she was a senior at my school. She died in a car 
crash, but the boy who was supposed to be with her wasn't in the 
car. He's a vampire."

"Do they all rise from the dead?" Jim asked uncomfortably, the 
feeling of unreality coming over him again. His query felt like a 
line from some Stephen King thriller. How could he be seriously 
asking such an insane question?

"No, only some of them," Buffy admitted. "Sometimes, they just 
kill you, and you stay dead."

He grimaced. "I'm fairly certain I find that thought a comfort." 
He glanced at the newly dug earth. Far below, he could hear faint 
scrabblings and inhuman grunts of effort as something sought to 
free itself from the depths. Automatically, he took a step back 
and removed a wooden stake from the inside pocket of his 
lightweight jacket.

"You can hear it?" Buffy asked curiously. He nodded. "Cool." 
Still, she didn't move from her seat atop the neighboring grave 
marker, although he sensed an increased level in her 

The soft dirt shifted a little, and a tiny hole appeared. Soil 
flowed into the opening like sand through a funnel; he could see 
every grain. Deliberately, he looked away and took a deep breath. 
This was not the time to risk a zone out.

Suddenly, the earth erupted, and an abhorrent figure, a mockery 
of human form, launched from the grave. She -- it -- landed on 
its feet and leered at Jim. Anticipating a convenient first meal, 
the loathsome creature said, "Hi, Honey, I'm home."

Jim drove the stake in hard and low beneath the breastbone, 
angling it skillfully upward into the heart as he'd been taught 
to do so long ago in the Army. He wondered if his instructors had 
ever anticipated this particular use of their training.

The newly risen vampire disintegrated.

Jim coughed once, but he'd cautiously held his breath during the 
attack, so he wasn't sure if the histamine blocker had worked or 
if he'd just been lucky. Stupidly, he murmured, "Sandburg could 
have told you fast food is bad for your health."

Buffy nodded approval. "Nice job."

Jim looked faintly bemused, as if he couldn't believe what he'd 
just done. "Thanks." He looked across the cemetery and saw three 
more figures approaching. "More company."

Buffy jumped down off the headstone. "My turn to show off," she 
told him lightly, and strode forward to meet them.

Jim had to admit he was impressed. Buffy was small in stature, 
but she certainly packed a punch. Her moves were fast, 
economical, and skillful, and no commando could have removed her 
adversaries with greater efficiency. In fact, if he cared to be 
brutally honest, she could probably take him in straightforward, 
hand-to-hand combat. How could she possess so much strength in 
that tiny body?

After she'd dealt with two of them, she straddled the chest of 
the third, her stake held against his chest. "The ceremony for 
Sklalas," she growled at her captive. "When and where?"

The vampire just bared its fangs and hissed defiance.

She drove the stake home, then stood up. "I think we've had 
enough fun for one night," she commented.

"Unfortunately, I think they've just gotten started," Jim 
countered, his keen sight picking up four separate groups of 
three approaching from different directions.

"Sometimes I hate it when I'm right," Buffy murmured, returning 
to Jim's side. "They're after you."

"I know," Jim answered. "Just remember what I said -- you are not 
responsible for me, OK?"

"I'll bet Blair says that to you all the time," Buffy retorted. 
"Do you ever listen to him?"

"Damnit -- !" But there was no more time for argument.

Together, they moved toward the group closest to the cemetery 
exit. Three vampires between them didn't seem like bad odds, but 
they were forced to go on the defensive when their opponents 
engaged in delaying tactics. This gave the other groups time to 
close in.

Realizing they were outmaneuvered and outgunned (so to speak), 
Jim deliberately broke away from Buffy and rushed toward one of 
the other groups. As he'd expected, the bulk of the forces 
converged on him, leaving Buffy to cope with the three 
adversaries determined to thwart her efforts to go to his aid.

When it was over, Buffy slumped exhausted to the ground. She was 
totally, undeniably alone.

The other vampires were gone.

Jim was gone.

Twelve vampires had come after them in that last attack, and that 
didn't include the three from the first assault. She had killed 
several but was uncertain of the exact number; she'd lost count 
after dealing with the group trying to keep her from going to 
Jim's aid. But the odds had been too great, and more adversaries 
had moved to block her efforts as she'd seen him being dragged 
away. She'd fought and fought, but by the time she had defeated 
them, the others had disappeared with their prize.

She got up from the damp grass and stretched to relieve the 
soreness of her overworked muscles. It was time to face Giles and 
Blair, to confess her failure (which, a little voice lamented 
from deep inside, wouldn't have happened if Jim had listened to 
her and not insisted on coming out on patrol...)

Still, she wasn't looking forward to watching the sparkle dim and 
finally go out in Blair's unbelievably cerulean eyes.

Part Fourteen

"We have to go after him," Blair urged anxiously, his tension 
causing him to pace the living room floor with quick, agitated 
strides. When the others didn't answer, he stopped and looked at 
them. "What?"

"We can't go after him now," Giles explained gently. "The odds 
against us are too great."

Blair knew he was dependent on these two for help; he was 
completely out of his depth in this situation, and he relied on 
them for information and support. But he was vehemently opposed 
to the idea of waiting. "How do we even the odds?"

"We wait for an ally," Buffy answered simply.

"What ally?"

"The sun."

Blair shook his head. "Dawn is hours away! Anything could happen 
between now and then."

"Blair, if they plan to kill him, he's already dead," Buffy said, 
her words blunt but her voice gentle. "If they plan to bring him 
over, that's also a done deal. If they're keeping him alive, 
he'll still be alive at sunrise."

He stared at her in confusion. Her words were clear and succinct 
-- why did he have such a hard time comprehending her logic? Jim 
dead? It was unthinkable. And what did she mean by -- "God, you 
think they might turn him into one of them?" He felt an odd 
shortness of breath that threatened to make him dizzy.

"It depends on how valuable he is to them," Buffy replied, 
watching the paleness come over the young man, wondering if he 
would faint from the strain.

Without another word, Blair turned and raced up the stairs. They 
heard the bathroom door slam.

"Giles--," Buffy began worriedly, but the librarian just held up 
a hand.

"Leave him alone for awhile," he suggested. "He seems a resilient 
young man. I think he'll be all right."

"I'm sorry I messed up so badly," Buffy said quietly.

Giles was quick to contradict. "Detective Ellison knew the risk 
he was taking. I think it was partially his ego and stubborn 
pride that sent him with you tonight, but also his concern for 
your welfare. He still doesn't understand what you are; he sees 
only a sixteen-year-old girl with too much dangerous 
responsibility. You did nothing wrong."

"I couldn't save him."

"The odds were overwhelming. I doubt all of us together could 
have saved him."

Part Fifteen

Blair leaned against the closed bathroom door for a long minute, 
his thoughts alternating between the churning in his belly and 
his anxiety for the safety of his friend. When he was certain he 
wasn't going to throw up, he went to the sink and splashed cool 
water on his face. It did little to settle the wild racing of his 

If they had killed Jim...

He couldn't finish the thought. Jim was strong and tough; if 
there was a way to survive, he'd find it.

And if they'd turned him into a vampire? Blair felt a jolt of 
tension that actually rocked him on his feet, and he grabbed the 
edge of the sink to steady himself. To kill Jim would be a 
tragedy; to turn him into a mockery of everything he stood for 
and held dear was a perversion beyond comprehension. Jim would 
choose death over such an ignoble fate; but then, he wouldn't 
have a choice, would he? 

So Blair would have to make the choice for him.

Could he do it? Could he look at the person he knew as Jim 
Ellison and see beyond to the monster residing within? Could he 
drive a stake into the heart of his best friend and not see a 
glimmer of the man remaining in the depths of those blue eyes?

Maybe he could. Would he? That was another dilemma altogether.

The horrible irony of the situation was sickeningly clear to him. 
Centuries ago, a Sentinel had been forced to seal his Guide 
inside a cave to thwart a demon. Blair didn't know if Tlalaqueh 
had died slowly from starvation or quickly in some spiritual 
battle of wills against Sklalas; it didn't matter. Xihuichua's 
anguish at condemning his Guide to certain death would have torn 
him apart.

At this moment, Blair understood all too clearly how Xihuichua 
had felt. Although the situation was reversed, the 
interconnectedness of Sentinel and Guide was inviolate; when one 
suffered, so did the other. The possibility of having to destroy 
his Sentinel to combat a greater evil was the most terrible irony 
he could conceive.

No. If that became necessary, he would have to remind himself 
that Jim Ellison was already dead. Instead, although he faced the 
image of his friend, he would be destroying a monster just like 
those that had killed him.

With a little smile of self-deprecation, Blair realized it was 
much easier accepting the notion of "revenge" rather than a 
sacrifice for the greater good. It didn't matter, really. 
Whatever helped him get through the next few hours was all that 
was important. Revenge burned like a bright flame against the 
coldness of his fear.

And if they -- the brethren of vampire -- had brought him to 
this, then he would commit the rest of his strength, his courage, 
and his life to destroying as many of them as he was able. They 
would have destroyed more than one soul tonight.

He took a shuddering breath and let it out slowly, then went back 
downstairs to the living room to join the others.

Willow and Xander were there as well, and they all looked at him, 
seeing the dead fatalism in his eyes, knowing what it meant.

"It's exactly four hours and twenty-three minutes until dawn," 
Giles said softly. "We'll be in position thirty minutes before 

Blair nodded. "What's the plan?"

Part Sixteen

He opened his eyes slowly, aware first only of the throbbing in 
his temples, the cold dampness of his prison, and the strong duct 
tape binding his wrists and elbows painfully behind him. But the 
transitory state was momentary, for in the next instant, his 
senses were assailed so violently, he snapped back to awareness 
with a gasp of agony. He was in a charnel house! The sickly-sweet 
stench of death was like a palpable cloak, wrapping invisible 
tendrils around his body. Desperately, he searched his mind for 
his olfactory tuner, concentrating as Blair had taught him, but 
an atavistic fear from the dark, primitive roots of his brain 
refused to surrender to more rational, modern thinking.

Each breath drew a foul mist into his lungs, the air itself thick 
with a miasma of decay. He'd smelled death before -- the bowel 
odors of natural death, the tangy copper-penny smell of blood 
from violent death, the pungent stench of rotted corpses. It was 
all here, and more as well -- the death of centuries, corporeal 
and evil, a twisted corruption of nature.

He looked around quickly. He was in an old runoff system. Light 
was dim, supplied only by candles, and water dripped from plant 
roots that had penetrated the concrete walls and ceiling. Pools 
of rancid, stagnant water mirrored the faint, flickering light. 
And he could see them, seemingly dozens of them, standing far 
back in the shadows, their eyes upon him. They were all dead, but 
they were watching him. He shivered in the cold and fought 
against a different chill, a chill of deep fear.

Slow, light footsteps approached, their measured tread echoing 
faintly off the walls, and Jim nearly stopped breathing himself 
when she entered the room. She was a willowy thing, dark haired 
and dreamy eyed, pretty in a freakish sort of way. Her white 
dress shifted around her thin frame in loose, billowing folds. He 
remembered her from Willow's vampire tutorial: Drusilla. 
She stopped in front of him. There was no heartbeat, no body heat 
to signal her essence, only a stronger odor of long-dead flesh.
She sat down sideways on his lap, her touch icy even through his 
slacks. When she spoke, the air necessary to vibrate her vocal 
chords washed frigidly over him, redolent of decay. "Hello. My 
name is Drusilla." She spoke with a British accent.

He didn't look away from her, nor did he answer. He was still 
desperately trying to control his breathing. Logically, he knew 
if he breathed through his mouth, the stench would lessen, but he 
had a strong belief he would taste the death in the air, and the 
lurid thought kept his jaws firmly clenched.

She ran both hands over his face, her fingers leaving behind a 
sensation like dry ice, at once burning and freezing, as she 
toyed with his eyelids and brow, the sides of his nose, the 
outline of his mouth. "You're so pretty," she whispered dreamily. 
"I can feel your heart, and smell your terror. I like the smell 
of fear. It adds a special nuance to the feast." She rested icy 
fingers against the pulse beating rapidly through his carotid 

"I could bring you over," she continued idly, her lips nearly 
touching his, and she smiled as she felt his heart rate increase 
dramatically. "You are a servant of the mortals. You help the 
weak and defend the helpless. I would enjoy stripping that from 
you -- slowly -- so you would realize each agonizing step of your 
transformation. I would steal more than your blood and your life. 
I would take your conscience, your sense of duty and honor, love 
and devotion...turn you into a creature without mercy or regard 
for mortal man." She smiled as the images unfolded in her warped 
mind. "Your first kill would be your friend -- I'd make certain 
of it -- because to watch him realize the truth as he dies about 
what you've become would be an elixir for the spirit." She saw 
the horror reflected in his eyes and crooned, "Oh, I know you'd 
rather die first, but I wouldn't let you. I control your 

Jim shook his head and tried to look away, but he found his gaze 
held by the insanity in her eyes. "I can't bring you across, 
though," she sighed. "With your special abilities, you would be 
too powerful. You could become the leader, perhaps even a new 
Master, and I love Spike too much to risk it."

She kissed him, her hands cradling his face as she drove her 
tongue deep inside his mouth. He tried to pull away, but she was 
uncommonly strong and held him without effort. He gagged at the 
cold, dead flesh invading him, but he would not attempt to repel 
it -- there was no way in hell he would bite that lifeless 

So he did his best of endure it, but it went on until he was 
certain he would pass out from lack of air. Then she released 
him, and he gasped and choked, his worse fear realized as the 
very essence of death invaded his throat and violated his body. 
He could taste death, feel it in every cell. Along with it came 
the fear, building and swirling through his bowels, a fear unlike 
any he had ever known, weakening and numbing in its intensity. 
Never had he felt such complete and overwhelming terror.

"Spike is my lover," Drusilla went on in her dreamy singsong, 
heedless of his gasps and trembling body. "He's very weak right 
now. A long drink of your blood will revive him, I'm sure. Your 
blood is very strong."

"So you're going to kill me after all," he choked out, relieved 
he at least would die as Jim Ellison and not be condemned to the 
living death of her kind.

"No, sorry," she answered. "We have a new and powerful ally. We 
will give him your body, and once he possesses you, you will kill 
the Slayer."

Kill Buffy? Murder a sixteen-year-old girl?

So much had his world been upheaved, he didn't doubt her words 
for a moment. Although he could feel the runaway terror of his 
thoughts consuming him, his control slipping away, he knew enough 
to deceive her by pretending ignorance of Sklalas. It was 
training ingrained from his years in covert ops, but he had to 
make a strong, conscious effort to hold onto this thread of 
sanity. "What new ally?"

Drusilla shook her head. "I don't want to spoil the surprise, but 
he is an ancient enemy of all living things, from a time before 
even my kind walked upon the earth." She touched his face again 
sadly. "So pretty, but Spike will be hungry now."

Abruptly, she got up from his lap, and he felt his fearful 
trembling turn to violent shudders that cramped his stomach 
muscles with their force. Two vampires, wearing what he'd come to 
think of as their "true" faces, came forward and lifted him 
easily from his chair. Firmly grasping his arms, they dragged him 
between them out of the room, following the diaphanous form of 
Drusilla. Jim couldn't fight them, for his ankles were bound with 
the same unyielding duct tape as his arms, but he still writhed 
desperately in their clutches.

They took him into a bedroom, furnished entirely in white, and 
flung him down beside the bed before departing. Drusilla knelt 
beside him and helped him sit up. He stared at her, flinching 
away but trapped by the angle of wall and bed. A new wave of 
weakness engulfed him as a cold breath tickled the back of his 
neck. "What have we here?" inquired a soft male voice.

"A little snack, my love," Drusilla said, and Jim craned his head 
to see the face of a blond man peering at him over the edge of 
the bed. "His blood is strong. It will help you regain your 

"Lovely," Spike agreed. He leaned over, and Jim automatically 
tried to wrench away, but they had him pinned helplessly between 
them. "Join me?"

"Love to," she answered dreamily. Their faces transformed into 
demons, and two sets of fangs sought his neck...

In what had to be the ultimate perversion of the fight-or-flight 
response, Jim felt his senses spiral further out of control, 
opening him to every nuance of the horror awaiting him.

Desperately, he clenched his jaws against the scream trying to 
claw up his throat as the last of his sanity fled.

Part Seventeen

It was still dark when the group convened around a manhole cover 
on a quiet side street several blocks from the high school. 
Overhead, a thin layer of clouds hid the stars and reflected back 
the glow of the city's street lighting, but this dim luminescence 
only accentuated the darkness where they stood.

They huddled together, partially to thwart the pre-dawn chill, 
partially to give them the illusion of safety. All they needed 
was a campfire to complete the picture.

"OK," Buffy said, "it's twenty-eight minutes until official dawn, 
thirty-six until the sun is where we want it." She grimaced. "I 
know you've been aching for me to say it -- so, it's time to 
synchronize our watches."

"Cool," Willow murmured nervously. "How do we do that?"

"Us GI-Joe types know," Xander assured her with a mock snap to 
attention. Idly, he wondered if future Halloweens could be as 
productive as this last one had been. He'd dressed in the costume 
of a commando, and by some bit of magic, he'd actually become 
one. It had been weird...and neat. Maybe next year he'd dress up 
as a nuclear physicist...or Don Juan; he could just imagine the 

With the detail of synchronized watches out of the way, Giles 
continued, "After thirty-six minutes, our window of opportunity 
decreases with every minute that passes."

"We'll do what we're supposed to do," Xander promised. "Just make 
lots of noise so we know you're coming."

"I don't think a lack of noise will be a problem," Buffy returned 
grimly. She glanced at Blair, who didn't appear to be listening. 
"Are you OK?"

He looked at her, his expression anxious but determined. "Yeah," 
he answered softly. His eyes still looked haunted by the 
possibility of what they might find once they entered the tunnels 
beneath the street.

Xander held out a bundle of wooden stakes. "Here, I carved these 
for you," he said awkwardly. "I hope your friend is OK."

Touched by his sincerity, Blair accepted the stakes and put them 
in his jacket pocket. "Thanks."

"OK, let's do it," Buffy said, popping the manhole cover as 
easily as pulling the tab on a can of soda. Within a second, she 
had slid down the metal ladder into the tunnel beneath. Blair 
followed a little more cautiously but as quickly as he could. 
Topside, Giles consulted his watch and slid the cover partway 
back into position; Xander and Willow quickly walked away to 
carry out their part of the plan.

Abruptly, Blair touched Buffy's arm. When she stopped and looked 
at him, he said quietly, "I should have asked this sooner, but 
how do you know where Jim is being held?"

She had hoped he wouldn't think to ask. "Can I just say I have a 
friend who knows these things, and leave it at that?"

"One of them?" Blair asked in surprise.

Reluctantly, she admitted, "Yes."

Hope flared. "But I thought all vampires were evil." If just one 
vampire had retained some goodness, then surely Jim, even if he'd 
been forced to become one of them --

"Blair, it was a one-time deal." Buffy had to convince him. If 
Jim were now a vampire, they couldn't afford to hesitate even a 
moment in their obligation to destroy him. "It was a gypsy curse 
to give him a conscience to make him suffer for all the evil he'd 

"OK, but I know how to research these things," Blair insisted. 
"If there's a chance I can duplicate this curse with Jim -- I 
mean, if he's become one of them -- " The hope in his eyes died, 
and he shook his head. "No, he wouldn't want that."

"You have to be OK with this, Blair," Buffy went on. "I have to 
know I can trust you to do what has to be done."

He nodded. "If he's become like them, I don't know if I can kill 
him," he admitted softly, "but I promise I won't get in your 
way." It was the hardest promise he'd ever made, and he wasn't 
certain he'd be able to keep it if the need arose.

"Then let's go," she said. "We're wasting time."

Quickly, she led the way through the dimness. Avoiding the fetid 
puddles of stagnant water, she moved confidently through the 
maze, going from flood channel to access tunnel with the ease of 
someone who regularly traversed these byways.

She paused at an intersection and pointed right. Blair looked 
into another tunnel, this one sloping gently upward toward street 
level. It was too dark to see the end. "This is our way out," she 
said quietly, removing a can of spray paint from her jacket and 
spraying a bright yellow happy face on the wall, adding a large 
numeral "1" beside it.

On Blair's nod, she continued down the main tunnel. Their path 
wasn't always horizontal; sometimes, she took them down either 
ladders or cement steps to yet more tunnels, each level older and 
more tumbledown than the ones they left behind. At every change 
in direction, she sprayed a happy face at the intersection so 
Blair would be able to find his way back in the event they became 
separated in the near-darkness. 

Finally, he saw the faint flickering of candlelight in the 
distance. His tension increased with each step forward -- they 
were approaching the trap that had been set for them.

As they rounded the last corner, Buffy signaled a halt. Ahead was 
a large space, the floor a filth of stagnant pools and fallen 
debris. Roots hung from the ceiling like skeletal fingers, their 
tips dripping water into the pools beneath. The gentle plop of 
each drop was the only sound to break the silence, but Blair 
could feel eyes peering at him from the dark recesses of the 
room. The air reeked of decay and various pungent chemical odors, 
and he wondered if they were beneath a factory.

Lying on the floor in the center of the room, his arms and ankles 
bound with duct tape, lay the unmoving figure they had come to 

Suddenly heedless of the dangers, Blair hurried forward and 
crouched beside the still form, his hand reaching to check for a 
carotid pulse. When he found it, rapid but steady beneath his 
fingers, the light returned to his eyes. "Thank God," he murmured 
in profound relief, reaching for his pocketknife and beginning to 
cut through the layers of tape binding Jim's ankles. 

He felt Jim stir and try to sit up, so he grabbed an arm and 
helped. Jim sat dumbly, his eyes closed, his head drooping, as 
Blair finished cutting the tape fastening wrists and elbows. 

Slowly, Jim raised his head until he met the concerned eyes of 
his friend. His expression went from gradual recognition to 
alarm. "Chief, it's a trap," he gasped. "You've got to get out of 

"Yeah, we're going to," Blair assured him. "Can you stand?"

Jim shook his head. "Can't. Too weak."

It was then Blair saw the twin punctures on either side of his 
friend's neck. "Ah, man," he whispered in shocked understanding. 
"Damn -- "

Buffy reached down and took Jim's other arm. "Come on. Time to 

Together, they helped Jim to his feet. He swayed a little, but 
managed to keep his balance. As the three turned toward the exit, 
they found their way blocked by a crush of vampires.

"Oops," Buffy murmured, but she didn't sound particularly 

Jim tensed; he knew he wasn't up to this fight. Blair held onto 
his arm to help him, and slipped him a wooden stake from the 
stash in his pocket.

"Hello, Slayer," the one leading the group said in sibilant 
satisfaction. "We've been expecting you."

"Good," Buffy answered lightly, "after the way you ignored me in 
the cemetery, I was starting to think the bloom had faded from 
our relationship."

"Your confidence will be your undoing," the vampire continued as 
the group tightened ranks and approached. "Do you really think 
you can defeat all of us?"

"I was planning to have a little help," Buffy admitted.

The vampire looked at Blair, who was pretty much occupied with 
keeping Jim upright and mobile. "Him?" the hideous creature 
sneered derisively.

"Actually, no," Buffy returned calmly, her gaze shifting behind 
the group. "Him."

Almost comically, the group turned as one. Giles had approached 
unheard and unseen. As the vampires faced him, he lit the tall 
flame of a pipe lighter and held it in front of an aerosol can of 
hairspray. As he pressed the spray button, a very satisfactory 
stream of fire shot from the nozzle, scorching the flesh of their 
adversaries and sending them scattering in a mass of terrified 

"Go!" Buffy yelled at Blair, who needed no second urging to make 
for the exit, Jim stumbling alongside but managing to stay on his 

As they passed Giles, the librarian unslung his favorite crossbow 
from his shoulder and started forward to help Buffy hold the rest 
of the vampires at bay.

Blair hurried as fast as he could while helping Jim. The 
possibility of escape gave Jim the strength he needed to keep 
moving despite an almost unbearable weakness in his legs, and 
their progress was so swift that when they finally encountered a 
vampire in the tunnel, they simply mowed him down. Blair paused 
just long enough to drive a stake into the beast's heart.

Behind them, they heard shouts and screams and curses as the 
vampires found their trap turned upon themselves. Their cries 
echoed eerily off the tunnel walls and overlapped until they 
merged into one inhuman shriek.

Jim made it up the stairs, but looked aghast at the ladder. Then, 
with a resolute shake of his head, he started to climb, Blair 
right behind him. When he finally reached the top, he collapsed, 
nearly out of breath, then moaned as some hidden pain made his 
body tremble uncontrollably as if gripped by some sort of 
seizure. Anxiously, Blair urged his partner back to his feet. 
"Come on, Jim, it's just a little further."

They continued along the tunnel. A pounding of footsteps behind 
them caused Blair a momentary panic, but it was only Buffy and 
Giles catching up after the fight. Giles looked a bit rumpled, 
but Buffy looked surprisingly invigorated. "Giles, give me your 
last can of hairspray and the lighter," she said. "I'll stay here 
for a few more minutes; you help Blair get Jim outside."

"Don't be too long," Giles urged her, complying with her 
instructions. "There may be other ways to reach this point in the 

"I won't give them that long," Buffy promised, and gently pushed 
him on his way.

With Giles holding onto Jim's other arm, they made even better 
time. Blair had no idea they'd traveled so far through the 
tunnels, but the spray-painted happy faces kept assuring him they 
were going the right way. At last, they reached the final tunnel, 
the one sloping upward toward street level.

They were about halfway along it when Blair heard more footsteps 
gaining on them. Grimly, he took the stake from Jim's hand. 
"Giles, get him outside," he said, releasing his hold on his 
partner's arm.

"Blair, keep moving!" Giles said desperately, still staggering 
forward with his burden. Jim was so totally out of it, he didn't 
realize Blair was no longer beside him.

"Just go!" Blair shouted, turning to face the attack. Irresolute, 
Giles shook his head, but he knew the wisest course of help lay 
in reaching the doors at the end of the tunnel.

The vampire struck Blair hard enough to send them both to the icy 
concrete, and the tumble caused him to lose the stake. 
Desperately, he swung his fist into the face of the hideous 
monster, but the blow had little effect. In a few seconds, he 
realized he was fighting a losing battle against a much stronger 
opponent, and he struggled to free himself from the iron grip 
pinning him to the ground. Helpless, he looked up into the 
repulsive travesty of human features on the face of his 
adversary, and he saw the mouth leer open to reveal its lethal 
fangs. Frozen in horror, he watched the face descend toward 

A terrible shriek of metal filled the air. Sunlight streamed into 
the tunnel, washing over the pair. The vampire screamed in agony 
and fell back, its face and hands smoking where the light had 
touched. It fled back down the tunnel, where Buffy casually 
staked it as it passed.

She walked up to Blair. "Nice timing, wasn't it?"

Blair struggled to his feet and turned toward the opening of the 
tunnel. The huge doors at its mouth were now wide open, showing a 
city street beyond. The sun, barely risen above the eastern 
mountains, shone brilliantly in a gap between two office high-
rises across the boulevard. Its light penetrated more than 
halfway down the tunnel, but with each passing moment, as the sun 
rose higher, the depth of its infiltration shortened.

"You forgot the plan, didn't you?" Buffy continued calmly, 
turning him toward the exit. Embarrassed, Blair could only nod, 
unable to look at her. "Sometimes, survival is measured in 

"Inches is good," he mumbled inanely, finding his voice and his 
feet at approximately the same time. He hurried alongside Buffy 
toward the tunnel mouth, where Giles and Jim had finally made it 

They reached the sidewalk, where Buffy paused to help Willow and 
Xander close the big metal doors to the tunnel and secure it so 
city inspectors would not realize someone had outsmarted their 
meager padlock.

Blair started toward Jim, who abruptly pushed away from Giles and 
staggered toward the street. A horn honked briefly, but he was 
oblivious to it, his pace as uncoordinated as a drunk's. Blair 
dashed after him, heedless of the traffic dangers. Partway across 
the street, Jim tore off his jacket and threw it to the ground, 
his disjointed stumble not pausing. He had reached the center 
divider when Blair finally caught him, the others hurrying along 
behind. The median was landscaped like a small park, a pedestrian 
strip between two opposing streams of traffic with a bus stop and 
U-turn lane for city transportation defining its narrow borders. 
A small fountain, its water supply turned off, stood forlornly in 
the center of the landscaped area.

Jim would have continued blindly forward, but Blair grabbed his 
arm. "Jim, what's wrong?"

Jim shook him off violently, pacing back and forth with stiff, 
agitated steps. "Get the hell away from me!" he growled heatedly, 
arms jerking. He looked demented. His hands flailed at his shirt, 
tearing off the buttons, and he discarded it with the same 
disregard he'd shown his jacket. His fingers clawed at his arms, 
drawing red welts across the skin.

Blair was not to be deterred. "Jim, you've got to calm down, OK?" 
he said urgently, trying to reach beyond his friend's panic. 
"Someone will call the cops, and if they find you like this, 
they'll stun you or something and take you away. I won't be able 
to help you. You've got to listen to me!"

Jim turned on him with enough anger suffusing his face to make 
Blair take a step backwards. "Just shut up, will you?" he fired 
back, his eyes wild. And then he saw the others -- Buffy and 
Giles concerned, Willow and Xander absolutely terrified by his 

It was their fear that made him stop his frantic pacing. He 
trembled, his body rigid with tension, his hands gripping his 
upper arms so tightly the knuckles were white. His skin would be 
bruised by tomorrow.

"Giles, will you please get the car?" Blair asked calmly, his 
eyes never leaving Jim.

"Of course." Herding Xander and Willow ahead of him, Giles 
hurried off, Jim's jacket and shirt clutched in his hands. Buffy 
waited quietly several feet away, ready to tackle Jim if he lost 
it again.

A minute later, Giles pulled his car illegally into the bus stop, 
and Blair urged Jim into the rear seat. Buffy joined the others 
in front, which made it a little cramped but gave the two men 
some privacy in the rear. Quickly, Giles pulled out into the flow 
of traffic, grateful a police officer hadn't seen his illegal 
maneuver and issued a ticket. There would have been too many 
awkward questions about the man huddled so desperately in the 
back seat.

"We can work through this, Jim, but you've got to help me here," 
Blair said quietly, realizing Jim's attitude was a sign one or 
more of his senses were wide open, running completely out of 

Jim groaned, hearing the voice of his Guide, not quite ready to 
listen to it. He rocked against the back of the seat, mumbling 
obscenities in rhythm to the wild thumping of his heart, his 
cursing as random and compulsive as Tourette's syndrome. But 
Blair kept talking, quietly and calmly, and finally Jim paused 
long enough to listen to him. He managed to take a breath that 
wasn't followed by a curse.

Encouraged, Blair kept his voice low and tranquil. "Can you tell 
me what you're feeling?"

Jim's words were tight, each one an effort. "Death," he murmured 
helplessly. "It's all over me...inside me. I can smell it, taste 

Blair paled. No wonder Jim was so freaked. "OK." He'd never had 
to deal with sensory images in the past tense -- what Jim was 
feeling had already happened to him; the traces were lingering in 
his mind and overpowering his ability to tune into the present. 
The taste of death? Every image he heard described was filled 
with death, decay and evil. They were potent words, rooted in 
primitive fear and mystery, much harder to dispel than loud 
noises or bright lights. It was the most challenging work Blair 
had ever done as a guide.

He realized Xander was holding something toward him. Taking it, 
he saw it was a tube of spearmint flavored Chapstick. He nodded 
approval as he uncapped the tube and wafted it beneath Jim's 
nose. The strong scent caused Jim to jerk away in surprise. "I 
need you in the here and now, Jim," he said firmly, keeping his 
voice low. "All the other stuff is in the past. If we're going to 
tune down your senses, we've got to do it in the present."

Jim looked at him, and for the first time Blair realized he 
finally had his friend's complete attention. It was a step in the 
right direction.

After several minutes of gentle, quiet coaching, Jim's senses 
seemed to be practically back to normal. But he was still 
trembling uncontrollably, his fingers digging brutally into his 

"Jim, what else are you feeling?" Blair asked, knowing there was 
something more, something they hadn't dealt with yet.

Jim sought the words he needed. "Spiders," he mumbled.

"Spiders?" Blair echoed blankly. "There aren't any spiders on 

Jim shook his head. "Inside me," he whispered. "Millions of them, 
crawling through my veins."

Oh, boy. Blair realized this could be a genuine, current feeling, 
perhaps the result of the feeding by the vampires. "OK," he said 
with quiet determination. "Just like the pain meter -- we're 
going to tune it down until it's gone."

And by the time Giles pulled into his driveway, they had.

Jim was pretty much recovered when Giles shut off the engine. 
Embarrassed to realize he'd had an audience, he muttered, 

"Nothing to apologize for," Giles returned quietly, obviously 
shaken. He was amazed Jim had managed to hold onto a single 
thread of sanity with his heightened senses assaulted by such 
vicious perversions as he'd heard described. 

With an assist from Blair, Jim climbed out of the car. He felt 
stiff and weak, a little dizzy. Every joint ached. "Man, I need 
about sixteen hours of sleep," he said simply, then realized his 
upper body was covered only by his tank tee. "What'd I do?" he 
asked in confusion.

"You had a bad couple of minutes," Blair returned calmly. "Kind 
of like the DT's."

Jim just shook his head, too tired to worry about it.

Giles looked at Buffy and the others. "Just give me a minute to 
help him get settled, and then I'll take you three home. You've 
been up all night, and I don't think going to school is a good 

"OK," Buffy agreed reluctantly, starting to climb back into the 

"Buffy," Jim said as she turned away. She looked back at him. 

She gave him an aw-shucks grin. "Just doing my job," she said. 
She nodded toward Blair. "He's getting pretty good as this 
slaying business himself. A few more stakings, and we'll make him 
an official slayerette."

"No thanks," Blair said fervently. "I'll stick to psychotic 
killers and mad bombers -- you know, the normal mayhem."

Part Eighteen

Jim immediately took a long, hot shower, then put on the last 
clean pair of boxers in his flight bag. Gratefully, he crawled 
between the bed covers, the sheets cool and soft against his 

A moment later, Blair came in with a hot cup of tea and a stack 
of photos. "I think Giles believes a cup of tea will cure just 
about anything."

Jim sat up to accept the cup. "He may be right," he agreed, 
breathing in the fresh, mellow aroma. It was strong but 
surprisingly crisp, and he sipped it gratefully, reveling in the 
heat and flavor that drove the last of the foul taste of Drusilla 
from his mouth. He nodded toward the photos. "Are those from the 
site?" he asked tiredly, trying to get his mind to focus.

"Yeah. They're Dana's shots of the stone inscriptions. I thought 
I'd do a bit of work on a translation." He scooted a chair closer 
to the bed and propped his feet against the mattress. "Do you 

Blair's concern was transparent, but Jim only smiled and shook 
his head. Frankly, he welcomed the company. He finished the tea 
and turned over to lie on his stomach, his cheek against the 
pillow. "Wake me at dark," he said, his voice muffled. "I may 
never want to sleep at night again."

"No problem," Blair agreed simply.

A minute later, he knew Jim was asleep. He studied the 
photographs quietly for awhile, occasionally making a note as new 
thoughts occurred to him. An hour passed.

Jim moved in his sleep and groaned as his stiffened muscles 
protested. Blair put aside his notes and shifted over to sit on 
the edge of the bed.

He could see the puncture marks on the side of his partner's 
neck, and he shuddered to think of Jim's ordeal. The wounds 
themselves were an angry red, the skin around them puckered and 
bruised. Did vampire bites get infected? Should he have insisted 
on cleaning the wounds immediately? 

Blair quelled the rapid flow of his thoughts. There would be time 
for speculation later. Right now, he turned his mind toward 
wondering if vampires secreted an enzyme to keep blood from 
clotting, something similar to what a mosquito used when biting a 
victim. That might account for the sensation Jim had described as 
having spiders crawling through his veins. It gave Blair shivers 
just thinking about it. No wonder a Slayer was chosen young -- 
youth adapted more readily to the strange and bizarre. Even 
though Blair had killed vampires, he still had trouble actually 
believing in them. How much harder for Jim, who hardly even read 
fiction, to deal with a reality turned inside out?

Jim moved again, and another groan escaped him. Blair put his 
hands gently on his partner's back. The muscles beneath his 
fingers were absolutely rigid with tension, or perhaps with 
lingering aftereffects of the vampire feeding. For a second, Jim 
rebelled against the touch, but even in his sleep, he must have 
recognized the hands of his friend and Guide, for he quickly 
settled again. 

Blair began to massage away some of the tension, and Jim's 
breathing soon became slower and deeper. He was finally, truly at 

Part Nineteen

Jim awoke several hours later in the same position in which he'd 
gone to sleep. The bedside chair now held a stack of clean 
laundry. The table lamp was on, and he felt Blair's arm draped 
protectively across his back. He turned and found his Guide lying 
fully clothed atop the bed covers, his glasses still on his face 
but one side piece unhooked from behind his ear. Notes and photos 
were scattered over him like large snowflakes.

Blair stirred and mumbled. "Jim?"

"Yeah -- sorry I woke you up."

"'S all right." Blair turned his head and caught his glasses as 
they slipped down his nose. "What time is it?"

Jim glanced at his watch. "Just after five."

"Morning or night?"

Jim smiled in spite of himself. "Evening." He rolled over and sat 
up, surprised at how weak he felt. Blood loss. He drove the 
unpleasant images from his mind.

"You OK?"

"You mean for someone who's had his whole belief system ripped 
apart and scattered like so much confetti?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Then I guess I'm OK."

Blair sat up and made a futile attempt to catch all the paper 
that cascaded off him. "You're going to be difficult, aren't 

Jim sighed. "No." He leaned back against the bed's headboard. 
"There were just always certain things I believed in, and things 
I didn't. In spite of everything else that's happened, up until 
last night, vampires and demons were definitely in the latter 

"So maybe you're gonna have to rethink your positions on crystal 
healing and astrology and alien abductions," his friend observed 

"Yeah, maybe."

Blair smiled slightly. "Well, if you start turning into my mom, 
I'll let you know."

Jim grimaced. "Hell, Blair, I didn't mean -- "

"No, it's OK," Blair interrupted calmly, "I know you weren't 
insulting Naomi, or me, or anyone else. I only mean all that 
stuff is window dressing. You're still who you always were."

"Am I?"

"Sure. You're the Sentinel -- always have been, always will be. 
You protect people, whether from murderers, vampires, or two-
headed cat people from Delta-Theta-Zeta Three."

"God, now I have to fight space aliens?" Jim groaned, but he was 
smiling faintly.

"Whatever, they're all the bad guys. Who or what they are -- "

"Just window dressing."


"So these guys were just another street gang with really bad 

Blair shook his head. "They were vampires, Jim. Don't try to deny 
the reality of what they are. Just don't let it become central to 
who you think you are."

Jim ran his hands through his hair, then down his face, trying to 
drive away the last remnants of sleep. "Are nightmares OK?"

"I'd say they're mandatory." Blair figured he was due a few of 
those himself, considering. "Your subconscious will be playing 
catch-up for awhile."

"Good." Jim swung his legs over the side of the bed, then stood 
cautiously, aware of his weakness but pleased there was no more 
dizziness. "I'm going to put on some clean clothes, then see what 
Giles keeps in his refrigerator." He picked up his stack of 
clothing and his bathroom kit. "You were busy while I was sacked 

Blair shrugged. "I was too keyed up to think straight, and 
laundry is pretty much a no-brainer."


"You're welcome." Blair reached for his glasses and notes. 
In the small bathroom, Jim impulsively decided on another shower. 
Running the tap as hot as he could stand, he let the water pound 
out the last of the soreness in his back and shoulders, then 
dried off and dressed in clean clothes. He looked in the mirror 
and saw he needed a shave, but the thought was sidetracked by the 
sight of the twin puncture marks on either side of his neck. A 
surge of dread rippled through his body, and he gripped the sides 
of the sink. But he did not look away from his image in the 

Just another type of wound, no different than a knife or a 
bullet. Except he was still coming to terms with adding vampire 
to his list of villains. He remembered Drusilla and didn't resist 
the memories ripping around inside his mind. They were part of 
him now, but not part of who he was. Blair was right. They were 
just more bad guys.

It was time for a little payback.

Satisfied the worst was behind him, he went back into the 
bedroom. Blair's attempts to go back to work had failed, and he 
was sprawled sideways across the bed, arms dangling over the 
side. He was sound asleep.

Pausing just long enough to be sure his partner was sleeping 
peacefully, Jim ventured downstairs, where he found Giles still 
poring over his musty tomes at the dining room table.

"Coffee's fresh," the librarian said without looking up. "Milk 
and sugar if you take them."

"Thanks." Jim went to the kitchen, found everything he needed 
assembled neatly by the coffee maker, and returned to the dining 
room with a steaming mug. He lifted the mug in a salute. "Thanks 

Giles looked up. "For what?"

"Fresh tea leaves, fresh coffee beans -- I don't believe you're 
always this fastidious."

Giles smiled faintly. "Actually, no. But last night's assault on 
your heightened senses -- not to mention your sensibilities -- 
must have been horrific. Fresh coffee seems a small enough 
indulgence under the circumstances."

"It's appreciated," Jim returned gratefully. "I also smell 

Giles grimaced. "Buffy was here for awhile this afternoon so we 
could discuss our options. Like most teenagers, she believes in 
combining the major food groups with as little fuss as possible. 
However, if you don't care for pizza, I can probably throw 
something together."

"Pizza's fine." Jim waved Giles back down as the librarian 
started to stand. "I can find it."

He had no trouble locating the leftover pizza and a napkin. 
Eating a piece with his hands, he stood in the doorway and 
watched Giles at work. Guide...Watcher. Perhaps not so very 
different. Sentinel...Slayer. Not so much difference there, 
either, he realized, wondering how Buffy carried such heavy 
responsibility on her young shoulders. In many ways she appeared 
a normal teenager, but Jim had felt her unusual strength and 
witnessed her skill. The skills were learned, enhanced by her 
natural agility. But her strength? It was more than something 
taught or acquired. It was part of her, part of her legacy as a 
slayer, just as Jim's senses were part of his legacy as a 
sentinel. Teenager, high school student, daughter, friend; as 
Sandburg had said, all just window dressing.

She was the Slayer.

He was the Sentinel. Could he cross into her world and still get 
the job done? His track record so far had been abysmal.

When he'd finished the pizza, he poured another cup of coffee and 
sat down across from Giles. "What are you researching?"

"I'm hoping to find a key to stopping Sklalas."

"The ceremony to -- what's the phrase...make him corporeal? -- is 
soon, isn't it?"

"Yes, but since he wants to become corporeal in your body, he may 
have to alter his plans a bit."

"But tonight or some other time, we still have to stop him." 
Jim's voice was grim.

"Yes, and the sooner the better," Giles admitted. "If he can't 
take you, then perhaps he'll settle for someone else. After all, 
it won't take him long to realize there are far more potent 
weapons in the Twentieth Century than heightened senses to ensure 
his dominion. He simply has to find access to them and be willing 
to use them."

"And there's no doubt he'd be willing," Jim concluded.

Blair wandered downstairs. "Sorry I flaked out," he mumbled 
sleepily. "Doing the laundry really took it out of me."

Jim smiled. "Not to mention slaying vampires at the crack of 

"Oh, yeah, that too," his partner admitted wryly. He sniffed the 
air. "I smell pizza. Did you save me a slice?"

"There may be one or two left."

Blair returned from the kitchen with a plate and two slices of 
pizza, which he attacked with relish once he'd sat down beside 

"Jim, how are you feeling?" Giles asked as Jim stole some sliced 
pepperoni off his partner's plate.

"Pretty damned useless," Jim admitted. "Every time I go up 
against those monsters, I wind up on the losing end."

"The odds in the cemetery were just too great," Giles pointed 

"It wasn't just the numbers," Jim replied bitterly. "The 
histamine blocker didn't help. The second I inhaled, I was 
virtually helpless. They didn't have any trouble taking me down." 
There were other things that had happened, too, things he didn't 
want or need to tell Giles; but as much as he didn't want to, he 
knew he had to tell Blair, sooner or later.


A faint shiver stole through his body, the remnants of the odd 
tickling sensation he swore were spiders crawling through his 
veins. That was one memory he didn't want to relive right now.
His partner didn't miss the expression of dread. "What is it?"

Jim shook his head. "Just the spiders again," he answered as 
casually as he could.

"I've been thinking about that," Blair said, his mind switching 
into research mode. "Giles, do you know if vampires secrete an 
enzyme to prevent blood from clotting?"

"Like mosquitoes, you mean?" Giles said with interest. "I don't 
know if any actual research has ever been done, but I haven't 
read all of the Watcher journals."

Jim closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose with his 
thumb and first finger. It didn't stop the sudden wave of 
irritation that jerked him to his feet. "Just great, Professor 
Sandburg -- let's see how clinical you feel after you've had a 
pint or two sucked out of you." He strode from the room, leaving 
Blair shocked and pale behind him.

"God, I am such a moron," Blair murmured after a moment. "Excuse 
me." He got up from the table, picked up Jim's coffee cup, and 
followed his partner upstairs.

Giles just shook his head in sympathy, sensing his young 
counterpart (and Giles had come to think of Blair as another sort 
of Watcher) was still very uncertain of his place in the 
relationship between Sentinel and Guide. He clearly had fallen 
into the role unexpectedly, without a proper foundation...at 
least the Watchers were trained and prepared for their 

Part Twenty

Jim was sitting on the far side of the bed, his back toward the 
door, when Blair came into the bedroom.

"Jim, I am so sorry, man," he began with deep sincerity. 

"It's OK," Jim answered, not turning around. "I over reacted."

Blair walked around the bed and sat down in the chair. "No, you 
didn't," he said, handing Jim the coffee mug. "Even after all 
this crap we've been through the last couple of days, it still 
seems unreal somehow, you know? Jim, we've killed vampires -- do 
you realize how insane that sounds?"

Jim nodded, his hands cradling the coffee mug. "I keep thinking 
that when we finally get back home, I'm not even going to 
remember what happened here unless something triggers a memory."

"I'm definitely never renting another vampire movie," his 
roommate admitted with a shiver.

Jim scowled, his thoughts returning to his present dilemma. 
"There's something I have to tell you."

"What is it?"

"About what happened," Jim began, then paused awkwardly. Blair 
had always been a good listener. When you were talking to him, 
you could tell you had his complete attention and a sympathetic 
ear. Sometimes, it made talking easier. Right now, it just made 
it tougher. Jim stared straight ahead, his eyes focused on 
something outside the bedroom window.

"In the tunnels?" Blair prompted.

"Yeah." Again, there was a long silence.

"With Drusilla." Jim only nodded. Blair tried to find a way to 
pry loose his friend's thoughts. "You were afraid." This time, a 
head shake. Blair was startled. "You weren't afraid?"

Jim winced. "I've been scared a lot in my life," he admitted 
quietly. "A time or two, I even thought I was terrified." He 
paused again, then struggled to add, "But unless there's a word 
to describe something beyond terror, I had no idea what it was 
until I came to down there."

Blair didn't try to make light of Jim's experience or the 
emotions he'd felt. "It sounds pretty normal to me," he said. "Do 
you think you should have felt differently?"

Again, Jim just shook his head, the image of Drusilla invading 
his thoughts and causing him to break out in a cold sweat. The 
very thought of her turned his bowels to water and made his 
testicles to want to crawl back up inside him. "This isn't about 
that. Something else happened."


Jim faltered on the words. "My senses went berserk," he tried to 
explain. "Like an automatic adrenaline rush, only worse. The more 
frightened I became, the more my senses went wild. I couldn't 
begin to control them." He stopped abruptly, hearing the panic 
start to creep into his voice and forcing it back. "My senses are 
supposed to help me survive," he said finally. "In this case, 
they just made me helpless."

Blair tried to imagine what it must have been like - the smells, 
the sounds...the unbelievable feeling of vampire fangs piercing 
the artery, sucking out life and vitality. He couldn't do it. The 
thoughts were just too horrific. "OK," he said a little 
anxiously. "It's a new wrinkle, but we can work through it." 

"That's not what this is about," Jim told him. "I just wanted you 
to know what happened. I wanted you to understand, if it happens 
again, I probably won't be much good. I don't want you to get 
hurt - or killed - if - " He stopped, too confused and ashamed to 
go on.

"It's OK, Jim," Blair said softly. "We'll find a way; we always 
do." He laid a hand on his friend's shoulder and gave a gentle 
squeeze of support. "Anyway, we have a plan."

Jim was silent for a minute as he sorted through his jumbled 
feelings. "I'm not going to like it, am I?" he asked at last.

"Probably not."

"I'll bet it revolves around you walking into a trap." This time, 
Jim's voice was grim.

Blair tried to keep it light. "At least it's something I'm good 

"You're right. I don't like it."

Realizing his partner was prepared to be stubborn, Blair stood 
up. "Anyway, we'll be downstairs hashing out the details. Come 
down when you're ready."

Jim listened to his best friend leave the room and sipped from 
the mug cooling in his hands. Seldom in his life had he felt so 
helplessly disoriented. The first time had been immediately 
following the helicopter crash in Peru that had killed his team, 
when he'd regained a semblance of awareness amid the heat of 
organic and mechanical destruction. With his body wracked by 
pain, he'd focused on the dry, leathery touch of Incacha's hand 
against his face.

The second time had been when his senses had kicked back on-line 
after a five-year dormancy. Convinced he was going insane, he'd 
focused on the voice of the man who would become his best friend 
and Guide.

And the third time was right now, when he had to cope with 
reality gone mad, a reality filled with vampires and other demons 
previously relegated to the world of harmless fiction. He'd never 
felt so defenseless against an adversary, and no other foe had 
filled him with a sense of such enervating helplessness. 
With a surge of self-loathing, he thought that, of the six people 
tasked with saving the world, he was the weakest and most useless 
of them all. And that, he concluded firmly, would not do.

With a sigh, he stood up and went downstairs.

Part Twenty-One

A council of war was gathered around the dining room table. "Have 
I missed anything?" he asked without apology, giving Blair's 
shoulder a squeeze as he joined the group. His partner looked at 
him a little anxiously, then relaxed when he saw only calm 

"No," Giles answered, "Willow and Xander have only just arrived. 
We were about to discuss our plan." The librarian sounded a 
little hesitant, as if he realized Jim was used to being in 
charge. He didn't want this to degenerate into a battle for 

"Go ahead," Jim prompted quietly.

Giles addressed the group, who stood or sat as their urge 
dictated. "We've checked several pertinent references, and none 
of them specify a day or time when the ceremony must take place. 
Therefore, I think it's safe to assume the ceremony can be 
performed any time the need for it arises."

"So we're going to try to force Sklalas' hand?" Jim concluded.

"Exactly. We already know a shaman is required to recite the 
incantation necessary to release the demon's spirit from the 
bones to which it is bound."

"And that would be me," Blair said, picking up the thread of the 
explanation. "I'm going to kind of make myself available until 
they get around to snatching me."

"Couldn't that take weeks?" Xander asked skeptically.

"I don't think Sklalas is all that patient," Blair assured him.
Jim nodded in agreement. "We'll make airline reservations 
tomorrow, make them think we're leaving. If they don't act 
tonight, we'll certainly provoke a response by tomorrow night."

Blair looked surprised. "You're OK with this?"

"Not hardly," Jim retorted harshly, "but unless there's a reason 
to wait, I say we destroy this bastard now."

Giles nodded his agreement. "Further research seems pointless. 
There's little enough available, and most of that is 

"So what does your research tell you is going to happen when they 
get their hands on Blair?" God, he hated the thought of that!

"They'll take him to the ceremonial site, which is wherever 
they're keeping the old shaman's bones and the medicine bundle. 
Blair will have to speak the incantation to release Sklalas from 
Tlalaqueh's binding spell. Thus freed, Sklalas will then absorb 
the power from his medicine bundle and obtain the strength he 
needs to regain human form and open the hellmouth."

Jim turned to his partner. "You can read this incantation?"

"I doubt it," Blair admitted ruefully. "It's probably written in 
a language I've never even seen, much less tried to speak."

"So what's gonna happen when they find out you can't do what they 

Giles looked grim. "We must act before then."

"I can probably come up with a little of the old mumbo-jumbo 
routine," the young anthropologist assured hastily to forestall 
Jim's objections. "It'll buy you a few minutes to get into 

"How do we destroy the medicine bundle?" Jim pressed, only 
slightly diverted.

"A little twentieth century magic," Giles replied.

More fucking magic! "And you know how to do it?"

Blair chuckled. "Science, Jim," he explained with a grin. "Just 
good, old-fashioned chemistry."

The Sentinel, with his instinctive need to protect his Guide, 
still wasn't convinced. "OK, let's say we've destroyed the 
medicine bundle -- what about Sklalas? You said yourself, the 
spell binding him to the bones is weakening. Won't his spirit or 
essence or whatever eventually get loose?"

"That's a bit of magic I know about," Blair answered a little 
smugly. "The Inca tablet -- the inscriptions tell me how to 
strengthen the spell." He frowned, sadness suddenly overtaking 
his expressive face. "Tlalaqueh has held onto the demon's spirit 
for centuries. I wish I could find a way to give him a little 

"Uh-uh, Chief, no fancy attempts to rewrite the script," his 
partner said firmly. "If this plan has a chance of working, we go 
with it. You're in enough danger as it is. I'm not gonna let you 
risk your life any further just so you can help a guy who's been 
dead for hundreds of years."

Blair looked stubborn for a long minute, then finally nodded 
glumly under the strength of Jim's determination. "OK."

"OK," Jim repeated, satisfied. To Giles, he said, "And what will 
we be doing while my partner is saving the world?"

Buffy had an answer for that particular question. "The usual, 
slaying vampires and anything else that gets in our way."

"And making certain nothing gets near the medicine bundle until 
we can destroy it," Giles added.

"Killing vampires is not something I'm very good at," Jim 
admitted, the sense of helplessness threatening to reappear. He 
shook it off. Even if he only managed to kill one vampire before 
his allergies overtook him, it was still one more monster gone.

"Perhaps you should stay here," Giles suggested, although he knew 
the idea would be rebuffed.

As expected, the proposal was met with a firm, negative head 
shake. "I can track Blair's heart beat, so we won't risk losing 
him in the tunnels. We'll have a better chance of taking them by 
surprise. After that, I'll just do whatever I can."

"No, Jim," Blair protested. "The next allergic reaction could be 
even worse. It could kill you."

"I am not staying behind," Jim countered with heated resolve. 
There was no way he was going to let his Guide walk into a trap 
without proper backup, no matter how skilled the Slayer and the 
Watcher. Damnit, Blair was his responsibility!

Willow had been quiet up until now, knowing her part had been 
concluded with the research. She and Xander were seldom included 
in any dangerous plots, although they frequently found themselves 
in trouble without even trying. "You know," she began 
tentatively, "my mom is really allergic to dust. When she 
vacuums, she has to wear one of those little paper face masks."

It was as if time stopped while everyone looked at her with 
varying expressions of surprise and doubt.

Hesitantly, she added, "Have I just been outrageously stupid or 
incredibly brilliant?"

Jim frowned. Could it really be that simple?

"I think I have a disposable painter's mask in the garage," Giles 
offered quietly.

"Thank you," Jim returned just as calmly. "I'll also take one of 
your crossbows if you have a spare."

Willow smiled proudly. "I guess that means I was brilliant."

In answer, Jim leaned over and gave her a kiss -- on the cheek, 
of course. 

Part Twenty-Two

It felt very empty and cold to Blair as he entered the deserted 
library. Shadows filled the depths between the rows of 
bookshelves even after he turned on the light, while silence 
hovered like a physical presence, pushing against his ears. 
Ignoring his fanciful imaginings, he took out the keys Giles had 
loaned him and opened the cage where the weapons and most 
important books were kept. With no particular subject in mind, he 
started examining the spines of the ancient texts. Within 
moments, he felt the pull of their magic and began to linger over 
the titles, his fingers gently touching their stiff leather 

It was almost enough to make him forget he was here as bait.

An unopened box caught his attention, and he crouched down to 
fold back the cardboard flaps. More books. He lifted one out and 
read the cover: one of the Watcher journals Giles had mentioned, 
this one dating from 1889. No wonder the librarian was having 
such a hard time going through all the tomes -- if this box was 
any indication, there must be hundreds of them! He lifted out 
some more; different dates, different handwriting, but all 
describing the seemingly never-ending battle against the forces 
of darkness.

A more slender leather volume lay amid the rest, and he picked it 
up. While it could be easily mistaken for a Watcher journal, it 
was not part of that group. Instead, it was the diary of a 
Spanish priest who had come to save the savages of old 
California. It was difficult making any sense of the old-style 
script and the odd manner of phrasing, but Blair managed to 
translate a bit of it. He smiled in delight when he figured out 
what he'd found.

The smile faded when he realized he was no longer alone in the 
library. Putting the diary back into the box, he stood up, left 
the cage, and locked it behind him, pushing the keys back through 
the mesh to deter the intruder in case he wanted to get in there 
for some reason.

But the visitor wasn't interested in books.

"Hello, Blake," Blair said with a sigh, grateful he was facing 
the high school science teacher and not the freshman, Blu. "What 
brings you to the library so late at night?"

"You do," Blake answered simply. "You have a mission to perform, 
and I've been instructed to bring you."

"You're the one who dug up the medicine bundle, aren't you?" 
Blair asked quietly, his voice sounding flat in the heavy 

"You don't seem surprised."

"I'm not. We figured out it had to be either you or Blu. Everyone 
else was accounted for, unless there was someone we didn't know 
about yet."

Blake sneered. "You think you're so smart, don't you, Mr. Fast-
track-to-a-doctorate. Jeez, you perpetual academics make me 

Blair felt an unexpected twinge of sympathy. "I take it your life 
hasn't gone exactly as planned?"

"No shit, Sherlock. You think I like teaching high school science 
to a bunch of dumb-heads who don't care about anything except the 
labels on their clothes or which boy scored on his last date?"

"I'm sorry." He sounded sincere because he was; sometimes, it 
seemed as if the course of his own life was heading away from 
what he really wanted to do -- teach advanced anthropology and 
conduct field studies -- while real life kept diverting his 
attention. "Do you really think Sklalas is the answer?"

Blake snorted. "I've made the greatest scientific discovery in 
history," he said arrogantly.

Blair had to agree. "Yes, you have, but do you think Sklalas is 
going to hold up his plans just so you can write a brilliant 
paper about him? Man, he's going to destroy the world, and no one 
will ever know what you've accomplished."

"I'll know," Blake insisted. "And you'll know -- and so will all 
the other stuffy old professors before I'm through with them. 
Sklalas has promised."

Blair felt the shadows moving around him and knew Blake had 
brought backup. With a quickening heart, he sensed the air shift 
slightly as two vampires stepped up on either side of him. He 
hoped Jim and the others were waiting outside as planned; and he 
hoped he had the courage necessary to see this night through. If 
the nerves jumping through his gut were any indication, he was 
going to have a hard time keeping a grip on his fear. "Well," he 
murmured sarcastically, "if you place your trust in a demon, 
don't be surprised when everything goes straight to hell."

"Move," hissed a soft voice in his ear, and strong hands gripped 
his arms to propel him forward.

Blake checked the hall, then led the two vampires and their 
prisoner away from the school.

Part Twenty-Three

As the eerie dimness of the old tunnels closed around him, Blair 
felt his nervousness increase. There was no point in resisting -- 
the vampires were far too strong -- and this was part of the plan 
anyway, so why risk injury? He shivered in the cold as they took 
him deeper into the forgotten passages. Occasionally, he passed 
one of the happy faces Buffy had spray-painted on the walls 
during his first foray into the depths; they were reassuring only 
in that he knew where he was.

Finally, they reached the large, dank room where Jim had been 
held prisoner. It was ablaze with torches, the flames reflecting 
off the stagnant, filthy pools of water glistening with the sheen 
of chemical refuse. They took him up a rusty metal ladder to a 
platform where a spillway joined with this main waterway. The 
large circular opening of the old pipe was blocked with a grid of 
iron bars. Another cement block served as a makeshift table; at 
one time, it had probably diverted the force of the floodwaters 
surging from the pipe. Now, it held an old leather overshirt 
piled with dark fragments of human bone. Tlalaqueh. Next to it 
was the rotted remains of the medicine bundle. Blair felt as if 
he could sense the evil radiating from it. 

The two vampires escorting him pushed him toward the concrete 
table, but he instinctively tried to draw away from the medicine 

"There, there, no need to be afraid," a soft voice cooed from 
beside him.

He swung toward the source, then cringed from the female vampire 
who had crept up unnoticed until she was right beside him. 
Flinching, he stepped back, only to collide with one of his 
guards, who held him fast. He found his voice. "Hi," he said 
inanely, his voice tremulous but still spirited, "you must be 

She fondled the soft curls of his hair and breathed deeply of its 
herbal scent. "I see my reputation has preceded me," she murmured 
in his ear, her chill breath stabbing ice into his marrow. "Do 
you know what we're going to do here tonight?"

"Free Sklalas from the bones of Tlalaqueh and reunite him with 
his medicine bundle," he managed to reply, feeling panic start to 
overtake him. Drusilla was so freaky and repellent, he felt 
certain he would faint if she bared her fangs at him. It was no 
wonder Jim's confidence had been so badly shattered.

"Good boy," Drusilla approved. "Do you know how we plan to do 

"I have to read something from an ancient text, right?" Blair 
hazarded, not bothering to add that he really didn't understand a 
lot of ancient writings without his reference materials. They'd 
find out soon enough, unfortunately.

"A shaman is required to read the incantation," Drusilla agreed. 
"And a shaman's voice must recite the words."

It sounded suspiciously like a enigma to him. "I thought that's 
what I said," he pointed out, trying to keep eye contact with her 
abhorrent features.

Drusilla just smiled dreamily at him. "Yes, yours will be the 

Oh, boy. She was having too much fun with her riddles, and he was 
too frightened to attempt to figure them out.

"Get on with it," ordered a coarse British voice from the lower 
level. Unnoticed by Blair, a dozen or so vampires had gathered in 
the chamber. The one who had spoken was in a wheelchair. Spike.

"Don't rush on my account," Blair murmured hopefully.

Drusilla's smile broadened in appreciation of his mild attempt at 
humor. Without a word, she turned toward the table and picked up 
one of the smallest fragments of bone. 

Blair watched in growing horror. He had no idea what she was 
doing, but this was not supposed to be part of the ritual to free 
Sklalas. It had to be something else, something they hadn't 
considered. What the hell was she doing?

Murmuring unfamiliar words in a singsong voice, she placed the 
bone in a stone vessel and began to grind it with a pestle. Its 
fragile form was quickly reduced to a fine powder, and she placed 
the grinding tool aside. Still chanting to herself, she turned 
back to Blair, her eyes half-veiled in an apparent trance state.

She took his hand and raised it to her lips. Trying to pull away 
was useless -- he couldn't believe how much strength she 
possessed in that frail-looking body. Softly, she caressed his 
palm, first with her fingers, then with her mouth, but her eyes 
never left his face as she reveled in his mounting terror. 
Repulsed by the feel of her frigid lips, he tried to curl his 
fingers into a fist, but she wouldn't let him. With a gentle 
sigh, she buried her fangs into the soft pad of muscle and flesh 
opposite his thumb, and he cried out in pain and fright.

Reluctantly, she withdrew her mouth and held the bleeding wound 
over the mortar, where his blood dripped to join the powdered 
bone. Ten drops, and then she released his hand. He clutched it 
to his abdomen, his fingers curling tightly against the fabric of 
his shirt to stem the bleeding.

Stirring the concoction in the bowl with her index finger, she 
began to chant again, more forcefully this time. Raising the bowl 
in front of Blair's terrified eyes, she lifted her index finger, 
gore dripping from its tip, and drew a line down the middle of 
his forehead. He tried to pull away again, but the strong hands 
of his guards snarled in his hair and held him motionless. More 
lines of blood and bone crossed his forehead, and then his 
cheeks. Each one burned like fire, searing his skin, and he 
groaned against the pain.

With a final flourish of words, Drusilla brought the tip of her 
finger directly between his eyes and pushed. He screamed as he 
felt flesh and bone part beneath her touch, and a rod of pure, 
molten fire drove into his brain, consuming him in flames from 
the inside.

And then he slumped limply into the arms of his captors.

Part Twenty-Four

As Blair's cry echoed through the tunnels, Jim faltered, his 
hands going up to cover his ears as the sound overwhelmed his 
hearing. In the next instant, he broke into a run. They were 
almost to the ceremonial chamber, he was certain, and he was just 
as certain it was the same room where he had been held prisoner 
the night before. With one portion of his frantic thoughts, he 
remembered the need for stealth, but speed was his main concern. 
Buffy and Giles were right behind him, their own fears rising as 
the last of the scream died away, leaving only hollow silence in 
its wake.

He hadn't quite reached the end of the tunnel when he halted, 
falling to his knees in reeling confusion, refusing to believe 
what his ears were telling him.

Buffy and Giles crouched on either side of him.

"What is it?" Giles asked in the merest whisper, aware Jim's 
hearing was wide open in order to track Blair through the maze of 

It took a long moment for Jim to answer as he tried to cope with 
the dreadful reality. "Blair's heart beat," he murmured finally.

"What about it?"

"It's -- gone."

Giles wavered between guilt and confusion. "No, they need him for 
the ceremony."

"A sacrifice?" Buffy offered quietly, pushing aside a surge of 
sorrow that threatened to distract her from what had to be done.

"No, a sacrifice is not part of the ritual." Giles wished the 
tone of his voice held as much confidence as the words 

Managing to thrust aside his rising fear for Blair's life, Jim 
climbed to his feet and started forward again, his emotions 
carefully closed off. Without another word, Slayer and Watcher 

They reached the end of the tunnel quickly. Crouching down beside 
the wall, Jim realized he could still hear two heart beats. One 
of them was Blake's, which he'd identified earlier at the 
library, but the second one, which should have been Blair's, was 
of someone else. How could that have happened?

He peered cautiously into the room and saw a group of vampires 
gathered on the main floor, their attention focused on something 
just to Jim's left. He moved a little farther into the open to 
get a better look, and what he saw sent cold fear coursing 
through his belly. This was followed quickly by white-hot rage.

Drusilla stood on a raised section of concrete, where several 
drainage pipes had once emptied their runoff into the chamber. In 
front of her, Blair hung apparently lifeless between two male 

Jim frowned in confusion. One of the hearts he sensed was coming 
from his Guide, and yet it was not the familiar, comfortable 
rhythm he knew better than his own.

Before he could question this contradiction, Blair lifted his 
head and stood to support his own weight. His captors released 
his arms and stepped back. Dead blue eyes appraised Drusilla.

"Hello, Sklalas," she whispered. "Welcome to the Hellmouth."

Jim drew back and stared at his companions.

Buffy looked just as confused. "I thought you said -- "

"It's not Blair," Jim interrupted softly, his voice flat. He 
turned a glacial stare on Giles. "Is he some kind of zombie or 

Giles shook his head, but it was clear he'd been thrown off 
stride. "Possession seems more likely."

A surge of anger toward the librarian caused Jim to take a deep 
breath to control himself. "Damn it, you said Sklalas was bound 
to Tla -- whoever's bones!" And hearing that sheer nonsense fall 
from his own lips aroused his anger all over again. How the hell 
could he have listened to this crap? No one knew what was going 
on; no one had a clue how to deal with the madness!

Giles spoke in a quick whisper, not to excuse himself but rather 
to puzzle through the incongruities. "According to what Tlalaqueh 
told Blair in the chasm, Sklalas is bound to the shaman's bones. 
They must have found a way -- " He trailed off, deep in thought. 
"They must have used some of the bones in a possession spell. If 
Sklalas has control of Blair, then Tlalaqueh must be with him as 

Jim's eyebrows went up of their own volition. "So they're both 
possessing Blair?" he asked, thinking there was enough clutter 
already in his partner's convoluted mind without the addition of 
warring factions of good and evil.

The consequences became frighteningly clear to Giles. "Sklalas is 
a shaman, as is Blair. He knows the words to the ritual. Sklalas 
will use Blair's voice to recite the incantation and free 
himself. We mustn't let that happen!"

"OK," Jim said, rising to his feet. "You do what you have to do. 
I'll see what I can do about distracting Sklalas and getting my 
partner back."

"You can't just walk out there!" Giles protested.

Jim smiled grimly. "Hell, if Sklalas is psychic like you figured, 
he already knows I'm here."

With that, he stepped into the open. 

The cold, dead eyes of the demon that looked liked Blair focused 
on him at once without a trace of surprise. "Welcome, Sentinel."

Part Twenty-Five

"Hello, Sklalas," Jim greeted coolly, moving into the chamber and 
drawing attention away from the tunnel mouth where his companions 
were hidden. "You've improved since the rat persona."

The demon inclined his head in a brief nod -- Blair's body jerked 
like a marionette, his movements wooden. "Not my final form," 
Sklalas agreed blandly, "but sufficient for my needs at present."

Jim took another step, and the vampires gathered on the lower 
level moved toward him. He raised the crossbow negligently with 
his left hand, not really aiming at anyone in particular, 
although his first impulse was to put the bolt through Spike's 
heart. Still, the vampire leader was in a wheelchair, relatively 
harmless compared to the others. "Who wants to be first?" he 
asked conversationally, then casually redirected his aim and shot 
one of the vampires on the platform.

Even as the creature disintegrated to dust, Jim drew a stake from 
his jacket sleeve with his right hand and sent it sailing toward 
Drusilla. Dashing toward the platform caused his aim to be off 
slightly, and the vampire queen could be very quick when she 
wanted to be. Screaming in fear at the nearness of death, she 
twisted desperately away from the wooden missile and took it in 
the back of her left shoulder. The impact caused her to lose her 
balance, and she fell from the platform into Spike's lap.

Buffy and Giles attacked from behind, first with crossbows, then 
with stakes as they surprised the group and gave Jim the time he 
needed to climb onto the platform. 

With a stiffened arm, he shoved Blair aside and drove another 
stake into the second vampire. Although he had the painter's mask 
hanging ready around his neck, he chose to hold his breath 
instead, since this vampire was his last nearby adversary. As the 
creature exploded into dust, Jim turned toward the demon, who was 
already scrambling for the medicine bundle. Strange words spilled 
from Blair's lips as his voice began to recite the incantation 
with fervid determination.

They grappled, falling as Jim fought to keep Sklalas from 
reaching his goal. Wincing with guilt, he backhanded Blair across 
the face to stop the flow of words, then rolled to his knees and 
used one arm to sweep the fragile medicine bundle off the 
makeshift table; it fell to the main floor amid the chaos of 

"No!" Sklalas howled in Blair's voice, the desperation stabbing 
through Jim's heart even though he knew it was not his Guide's 
anguish he was hearing.

Blake, ignored in the struggle, saw it fall and lunged forward, 
determined to claim it once again for himself. Giles, swinging 
his unloaded crossbow like a club, sent him sprawling into a deep 

Giles didn't know what sort of power the medicine bundle 
possessed, but he knew Blake had once been a gentle if 
unremarkable teacher. Discovery of the relic had clearly done 
something to bring out all the dark resentments previously buried 
in his mind and make him a willing servant of Sklalas. It was 
prudent to keep everyone clear of its influence until he could 
destroy it properly. With this goal in mind, he drove back a 
vampire that attempted to grab it, then used a stake to finish 
the creature for good.

Although aware of his duty to secure and ultimately destroy the 
medicine bundle, another part of Giles' attention was focused on 
the Slayer. In his mind, he knew he had to guard the ancient 
artifact or all of humanity would suffer the consequences, but in 
his heart, he knew victory would be empty if it meant he had not 
kept Buffy safe as well. So he guarded her back, using his 
weapons when he could, shouting warnings when an enemy tried to 
take her unawares.

Buffy fought as if she, too, were possessed. Anger charged her 
spirit, and she went skillfully on the offensive, her moves quick 
and decisive even as she ran out of stakes and took up her 
remaining crossbow bolts to use as effective substitutes.

Drusilla, who possessed the power of second sight, didn't need a 
vision to realize her plans for Sklalas were doomed. Pushing 
Spike's chair with frantic impetus, she abandoned her followers 
and fled with her lover.

On the platform, Jim was engaged in his own battle, one in which 
he was at a disadvantage because he did not want to cause injury. 
Fueled by the demon's anger, Blair's body had surprising 
strength. Always wiry and quick, he wrestled away from Jim and 
lunged to his feet, kicking and hitting without concern for his 
own possible injury. But then, to Sklalas, Blair's body was 
merely a tool to be used as needed.

Jim snagged an ankle, and Blair went down hard, the breath 
momentarily driven from him. Struggling back to his knees, the 
Sentinel removed a vial of holy water from his pocket and 
uncapped it, then poured the contents into the mortar containing 
the mixture of bone and blood. He didn't know if it would do any 
good, but he wanted whatever magic residing in the bowl to be 
neutralized if possible. Sklalas grabbed for him, knocking the 
vial aside, but most of the water went inside, where it boiled 
and sizzled.

With a scream, Blair fell to the floor, his body arching and 
spasming as if in the grip of a seizure. Flailing on the 
concrete, heedless of injury, he writhed in helpless torment. Jim 
caught him, preferring to accept the pummeling to his own body 
rather than leave Blair to slam painfully against the floor. 
Even now, Sklalas strove to say the words, but some force seemed 
to be thwarting him. Had Tlalaqueh and Blair somehow united 
against the evil shaman? Whatever was happening, Blair was being 
assaulted with wave after wave of agony, his stamina being pushed 
to the limits. 

A minute later, the struggling figure collapsed in Jim's arms.

"Hold your breath!" Buffy shouted a warning just a moment before 
Jim felt cold hands grab his shoulders. He'd been so intent on 
his Guide, he hadn't sensed the threat, but he closed his eyes 
and held his breath as his attacker wafted to dust around him.

He realized both Buffy and Giles were beside him now, guarding 
his back as he held his Guide. On the lower level, the remaining 
vampires had fallen back to regroup. Spike and Drusilla had 
vanished. Jim didn't know if they'd escaped or been killed. Right 
now, he had to think only of escape, and that path led straight 
back through their adversaries.

Giles popped the cap off a small can of lighter fluid.

Blair flinched, moaning in despair, and opened his eyes. "Jim," 
he whispered faintly as his questing eyes finally focused on his 

"You're going to be OK, Chief," Jim assured him quietly, grateful 
to once again hear the familiar heart beat, however furious its 
rhythm. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and started to 
clean some of the ritual markings from his Guide's pallid face.

Weakly, the young man struggled to push the hand aside. "No," he 
murmured painfully, every word an effort. "Stop -- Giles."

Frowning, Jim reached up and gripped the librarian's wrist. 
"Giles, Blair's trying to say something."

"There's no time," Giles said anxiously, but he crouched down, 
trusting the Slayer to keep an eye on things. "What is it, 

At the tunnel mouth, the vampires stood uncertainly, their 
leaders vanished. Although assured by their superior numbers, 
they weren't certain of their loyalty to Sklalas. A couple took a 
tentative step toward the humans, then halted again as Buffy 
wagged an admonishing finger at them.

Blair began to speak, but once again, the words were in some 
strange language he could not possibly know. It was clear the 
strain was costing him dearly. Automatically, Jim reached to stop 
him, but his fingers hesitated the merest breadth from touching. 
This was his Guide, the person he trusted above all others, not 
the spirit of evil.

"How are we doing, Buffy?" he asked softly, never taking his eyes 
off his partner's agonized face.

"Oh, just peachy," the Slayer replied glibly. "Me watching them 
watching me. Kinda boring, really."

Giles smiled suddenly as he listened to Blair. "Oh, of course, 
what a brilliant idea," he murmured, rising to his feet. "Jim, 
tell me as soon as he finishes the incantation."

"Sure," Jim agreed dumbly, not understanding a bit of what was 
going on, only willing his Guide to quit struggling so hard to 
say the mysterious words that obviously held significance for 
everyone else but him.

"I think the situation is about to heat up," Giles observed 
calmly, totally oblivious to his unintentional double entendre as 
he upended the can of lighter fluid. As the liquid streamed down 
to soak into the dried leather of the medicine bundle on the 
floor of the lower level, the vampires stirred and surged 

Blake, on his knees in the stagnant water and still groggy, was 
equally decisive when he realized what was happening. With a 
scream of desperation, he launched himself toward the old leather 
bag, determined to shield it from the flammable liquid with his 

At the same moment, Blair smiled almost beatifically and closed 
his eyes, and Jim said, "He's finished."

Giles dropped a lighted match.

The medicine bundle went up with an explosive rush, also 
consuming Blake in flame. The science teacher screamed in agony 
and sought to quench to fire in one of the pools.

The chemical residue coating the fetid water ignited, and the 
whole room suddenly exploded in one great fireball.

Jim crouched protectively over Blair, while Giles lunged to pull 
Buffy down; her attention had been on the vampires. In its quest 
for oxygen, the fire sucked greedily at everything around it. The 
huge drain pipe behind them proved to be a savior; a swift inrush 
of air surged through the passage, feeding the flames while at 
the same time forcing them back.

It all happened in a few brief seconds.

The vampires that were not consumed fled in mindless confusion 
from the inferno, which died down almost immediately as the 
chemicals burned up. Acrid fumes filled the heated air, but the 
draft from the drainpipe keep fresh oxygen coming in for the 
humans to breathe. A few of the dangling tree roots descending 
from the ceiling danced in the remnants of the breeze as smaller, 
more patient flames fed upon them.

Giles straightened and looked around cautiously. "I say, that was 
a bit unexpected."

Sitting up, Buffy shot him a caustic look and brushed futilely at 
her filthy clothes.

Giles had the grace to blush. "Was that just too terribly 
British?" he apologized quietly.

"Just too," she agreed with a grimace.

Jim straightened up, Blair still held protectively in his arms. 
The young man was unconscious, and Jim stroked the sides of his 
face gently, removing the last of the bloody symbols with his 
handkerchief. "Blair? Come on, Chief, I need to be sure you're 

Blair opened his eyes and blinked in confusion. After a moment, 
he focused on Jim. "Hey," he murmured weakly.

Jim smiled. "How're you doing?"

"Tired," Blair admitted, one hand clutching Jim's sleeve with 
weak but determined resolve. "Is it over?"

"I think so," Jim replied, trying to sound confident. He looked 
at Giles. "Is it?"

"Yes," the librarian admitted. "But we'd best get out of here 
before the vampires regroup."

Jim looked down at his partner. "Can you stand?" he asked, 
remembering it hadn't been all that long ago that Blair had asked 
him the same question in this very room.

"Think so," was the faint answer.

Giles reached down to help Jim get Blair to his feet. "The 
binding spell you recited," he said. "You bound Sklalas to the 
medicine bundle, didn't you?"

Blair swayed a little, unable to stand without Jim's support, and 
nodded wearily. "And then you destroyed it," he confirmed 

"Does that mean Sklalas is gone?" Jim asked anxiously.

Blair managed a shrug. "Maybe." He gestured toward the cement 
table and the meager pile of bones. "Jim, we're taking those with 

"Fire has always been an element of purification, so perhaps he's 
finally gone for good," Giles said, wrapping the old, brittle 
fragments inside the dried leather shirt. Slinging his crossbow 
across his shoulder and tucking the bundled bones beneath his 
arm, he took Blair's other arm with his free hand. With Buffy 
leading the way, her crossbow once again loaded and ready, they 
climbed off the platform and left through the tunnel.

Blair closed his eyes, trusting in his friend to keep him safe. 
His steps faltered with weakness, and he leaned gratefully into 
Jim's strength, surrendering himself to the solace of that 
embrace. He was so unbearably tired....

The tunnels were deserted, and after what felt like hours of 
trudging and climbing through endless darkness, they reached the 
open air. The night was cold, and Blair shivered against it. He 
opened his eyes and looked skyward at the stars glittering over 
head, and he smiled at the beauty of the heavens. Little things 
previously taken for granted suddenly seemed almost achingly 

Awkwardly, he climbed into the back seat of the Citroen.

Jim climbed in beside him. "Lie down on the seat, Chief," he 
instructed gently. "You're looking a little pale."

"'M 'K," Blair protested, his words slurring badly as he slipped 
toward a faint.

Jim just pushed him down on the seat and lifted his legs, sliding 
beneath them so he could find some room to sit. "Other than a 
touch of shock, you mean," he said fondly, monitoring Blair's 
hear rate and breathing. He smiled when he saw a bit of color 
return to his friend's cheeks.

Blair fell asleep without another murmur.

As Giles started the engine and pulled away from the curb, Jim 
looked at him in bemused wonder. "We just saved the world, didn't 

"Yes, we did," Giles agreed, heading toward Buffy's house to drop 
her off.

"Do you do that sort of thing often?"

Giles smiled. "Probably more often than you'd care to think."

Beside him in the front seat, Buffy grinned in agreement. "And I 
didn't even break a nail," she observed drolly.

Jim had no idea if she was kidding or not.

Part Twenty-Six

They spent the next two days slipping back into the more familiar 
routine of "normal" life. There had been too many alterations to 
the cut of the cloth to make a truly comfortable fit, but time 
would soften the hard lines and blur the mismatched seams of a 
reality irreparably skewed off center.

Blair slept a lot, regaining his strength and emotional 
equilibrium after his ordeal. Against his strongest prediction, 
it turned out to be a deep and restful slumber; apparently, his 
subconscious hadn't quite come to grips with what had happened 
and couldn't even conjure a decent nightmare.

When he wasn't resting, he was writing furiously in his 
notebooks, filling page after page with his recollections of 
every moment, which he would sift through and organize at some 
later time. He questioned Jim closely about his allergic 
responses, and tried to draw out his thoughts and feelings about 

But there were some things Jim just wasn't able to discuss in 
depth, and Drusilla was one of them. He doubted he'd ever examine 
that experience too closely, even in the safety of his own 
thoughts. Since learning both Spike and Drusilla had escaped from 
the ceremonial chamber, he was even less inclined to talk about 

Giles calmly returned to work at the school after assuring his 
two guests they were welcome to say as long as they liked. 
Although eager to get home and leave the horrors of Sunnydale far 
behind him, Jim realized Blair needed the rest, so he gratefully 
accepted the offer.

Buffy showed up once to complain about the grade she'd received 
on her history test. The triumph of saving the world was 
inconsequential compared to the possibility of failing a class. 
She was so completely -- sixteen -- Jim could almost forget she 
was the Slayer. 

They puttered around in quiet companionship, visiting the 
archaeological dig so Blair could give Dana back her photographs 
and deliver the promised translation of the Inca stone tablet. 
The anthropologist omitted references to the binding spell, and 
spun a guileless tale about the missing bones, claiming they'd 
vanished without a trace.

On their last morning in Sunnydale, they cleaned the guest bath 
and bedroom, changed the sheets on the bed, did laundry and 
dishes, and allowed Giles to drive them to the airport during his 
lunch break. Buffy had an English test that day, and the group 
had already said their good-byes the night before.

Life simply moved on.

Finally, they were heading home on the second leg of their 
journey. A commuter hop had taken them to San Francisco, and now 
they were aboard a 747 bound for Seattle.

In the center seat, Blair stirred and opened his eyes. "I think 
I'm setting some sort of record for fading out," he muttered, 
straightening and stretching carefully in his allotted space. On 
the window side, the other passenger in his row had her nose 
buried in the latest Stephen King novel.

Next to him in the aisle seat, Jim smiled. "I think we're 
entitled." Through the airplane's window, he could just make out 
a bit of blue sky and cloud, and felt a little sorry he hadn't 
chosen a window seat. Daylight had become a precious miracle; it 
was no wonder the Navajo had a ceremony for greeting each new 

With memories of Sunnydale fading behind him, and the familiar 
environs of Cascade still a few hours ahead, he felt it was a 
good time to deal with one last issue. "I've been meaning to ask 
you about something," he said at last, somewhat uncomfortable 
referring to what had happened to them over the past few days.


"About your new bunk mate." Jim paused awkwardly. "I mean, do you 
intend to keep him in the loft?"

Blair grinned. "Does that bother you?"

"Well -- yeah, it does. I mean, uh, he's not just a bundle of 
bones, is he? It's his spirit as well, right? Didn't the original 
binding ritual trap him as well?" It felt just as strange talking 
about this stuff now as it had when the whole weirdness had 

But Blair was comfortable with it. "Yeah, but I don't plan to 
keep him around for long." He reached into the magazine holder in 
front of him and pulled out the thin leather volume he'd borrowed 
from Giles. "I found this when I was looking through a box of 
Watcher journals."

"What is it?"

"I haven't been able to figure out a lot of it, but it's the 
diary of a Spanish priest who worked at Mission Santa Barbara. He 
talks about a really old Indian, different from the others in the 
area, who told him tales of a great battle against an evil demon. 
The priest thought it was amusing nonsense, and he wrote it down 
like a work of fiction."

Jim's eyes widened. "Xihuichua?" he asked.

"Yeah. I'm guessing he was heading home to Peru, but I think 
burying Tlalaqueh in the cave just took all the heart out of him. 
He settled with the Chumash and spent the rest of his life with 
them, adopting some of their peaceful ways. Somewhere along the 
line, he seems to have made friends with this priest."

"So you think he's buried somewhere near the Mission?"

Blair nodded enthusiastically. "I'm going to find him and try to 
get permission to return Tlalaqueh and Xihuichua to their village 
in the Andes. I'd like to bury them side by side."

"That could take months -- years -- of diplomatic haggling," Jim 
pointed out. "And that's only after you find the Sentinel's 
grave...if you find it."

"I know." The younger man didn't look the least daunted by the 

"Do you figure Xihuichua's spirit is still hanging around? I 
mean, wouldn't he have moved on or whatever it is spirits are 
supposed to do?"

"I don't know. His spirit might still be wandering restlessly, 
unable to find peace. I've got to find out, make things right if 
I can."

"Why would he -- it -- he -- do that?" Jim asked curiously.
Blair's expressive face abruptly closed off, and he seemed to 
draw in on himself.

Jim knew he'd struck a nerve, and he didn't even know how he'd 
done it. "Chief?" he asked in bewildered concern.

Blair shrugged off the memory of how he'd felt when confronting 
the possibility of Jim being turned into a vampire. "Uh, I just 
think I understand how Xihuichua would have felt after sealing 
Tlalaqueh in the cave," he murmured a little uneasily.

Jim's imagination fled to the realization of how he'd feel if 
confronted with the same dreadful choice. "Sorry...I guess I 
didn't think it through far enough."

"It's OK," the younger man answered, grateful Jim had drawn his 
own conclusions and not pressed for details of Blair's feelings. 
He never wanted to experience such a profound sense of loss again 
-- and he'd felt it simply by anticipating the possibility of Jim 
being destroyed. How much worse for Xihuichua, who'd known with 
certainty that he was killing his Guide and friend?

Of course, Blair and Xihuichua were separated by centuries of 
cultural differences. Perhaps Xihuichua had felt very little 
grief, accepting his obligation without any of the emotional 
conflicts that challenged Blair's thinking on an almost daily 

But no.

Talking with the spirit of Tlalaqueh had revealed the depth of 
the dead Shaman's love for his Sentinel; the feelings surely must 
have been reciprocated to some degree. Xihuichua had felt 

With a start, he realized Jim was talking again.

"And you'll be able to release Tlalaqueh from his own bones, 

"Oh, yeah, no problem -- the ritual was spelled out on the 

Jim nodded. "No problem," he repeated. Yep, they were definitely 
going to have some truly weird conversations in the months ahead. 
"OK, you can keep him in your room. But I swear, the first time 
something goes 'bump in the night', he's out. I don't care if you 
put him in the trunk of your car or in your office, but I'm tired 
of spirits, demons, vampires and whatever cluttering up my life. 
I won't have any disturbances in the loft."

Blair managed to restrain a laugh at his partner's utter 
sincerity. "OK, I'll tell him."

Satisfied, Jim leaned back and closed his eyes. "You didn't 
happen to catch the news last night, did you?" he asked. "How'd 
the Seahawks do?"

Note: I have to thank Shellie for her proofreading and 
suggestions that helped me finish this story. She is the reason I 
finally was able to type those two little words...THE END. May I 
please go to sleep now? And a big "mahalo" to Gina for enduring 
endless rewrites and conferences while in the midst of her own 
creative efforts. To Eagle Eye (Jen) and Paulette: Your comments 
and suggestions as you attempted to jumpstart me out of my 
writer's block were inspirational. I could have written a novel 
based on your ideas! I wish I'd had the energy to incorporate 
more of them in the final product.

Thanks also to Laura Picken,who showed it could be done. "Shadows 
and Demons" took almost a year to write. Although it was finished 
except for the final confrontation, aspects of the original version 
ended up on Buffy's season finale, so a little (try a major) rework 
was in order. A bad case of writer's block last spring really 
slowed me down, and that was followed by the spirit-numbing S2, 
after which I had trouble writing anything at all. "Recovery" was 
self-therapy as we began the renewal campaign, and "Toad in the 
Toidy" was -- well, a snippet. Anyway, I'd read Laura's "Blessed
Protector" soon after finding TS fanfic, and my story was begun 
shortly thereafter. So, yeah, I could have gestated a foal in the 
time it took to write this. I apologize for the lengthy delay in 
posting the second half, and promise never to do anything so 
incredibly dumb again. Thanks to everyone for their patience and 
kind words of encouragement as I floundered through this morass of 
my own making!