Keeping the Faith
Disclaimer: They’re mine! Really they are. What do you mean, they’re not? Some other folks own them? Well, damn! They ought to be mine. Sigh. Fine, they’re not mine.
Thanks so much to DawnC for beta-reading this for me.
This is the sequel to A Matter of Faith, in which Blair is tortured by Faith the Vampire Slayer in some inventive ways. I have major problems with TSbBS, so in this story I ignore it. It never happened.
Warnings: A bit of language, I suppose. A bit of violence. Jim gets a little... strange.
For Beth, as always
Blair Sandburg juggled three bags of groceries and the keys as he grabbed the mail. Precariously balancing his load, he breathed a sigh of relief as he got the door open without dropping anything. Setting the bags down, he began putting items away, reserving the makings for dinner. Once that was accomplished, he sorted through the mail, piling Jim’s neatly on the corner of the counter and taking his own stack into the living room.
Settling down gratefully, he leaned back as he went through his mail. Junk, junk, bill, junk, bill... "Hey, what’s this?"
Pulling the slim envelope out of the pile, he noted the California postmark. "I don’t think I know anyone there," he mused. "Unless Naomi took a jaunt."
Deciding that that must be the answer, he grinned in anticipation as he slit the envelope open. Pulling out the sheet, his grin faded as he began to read.
Blair, please read this. I know that I don’t have the right to ask you to, but I am asking anyway. You tried to help me once, and I threw that back in your face.
A frown on his face, Blair’s gaze jumped to the bottom of the page. His breath hissed as he saw the signature. "Faith?!" Memory, painful memory, rushed through him. He crumpled the sheet in his hand, taking aim for the trashcan in the kitchen. Then his natural curiosity surged forward. After all, what harm could it do to read the thing?
More than that. I hurt you, and I wanted to. I wanted to hurt the world, and you were there. I can’t - I can’t make up for that. I can’t make it go away.
Blair’s hand rested on his leg, and he became acutely aware of the ridged tissue beneath the fabric. Normally, he never noticed the scars left from his encounter with Faith. They’d healed, after all, and he had plenty of other scars. But now the damaged tissue seemed to burn.
Remember that I told you that other people had tried to help me? When I left Cascade, I went to LA. One of them was living there. Well, kind of. I tried to hurt him too, Blair. But he wouldn’t play the game. So I hurt his friends. One of them badly. Almost as badly as I hurt you.
‘Poor guy,’ Blair thought.
But Angel still wouldn’t play. I did everything I could think of to hurt him. I’d almost killed the girl he loved, you know? I wanted him to kill me, Blair. I begged him to kill me. And he just looked at me. I don’t know why, but he still believed that I could change. He stood up for me, he defended me, even to the people that I had hurt. And when I saw that... I guess I started to believe too.
Angel - well, he’s done some damage in his time. More than me. Now he tries to help people, to make up for it. He makes it work. I don’t know how to.
Blair, I’ve been in, I guess it’s not really prison. A hospital. I turned myself in. I got some help. Actually, I got a lot of help. I just got out. I’m supposed to start moving on, and to do that, I have to fix some of the stuff I did. I have to say I’m sorry. I am, you know. This isn’t bullshit. But I’d like to tell you in person. I know you have no reason to trust me, and I won’t be surprised if you don’t show. But I’ll be at the park where you saw me first on the 7th at noon. I’d like to make sure that you’re okay.
Disbelief in his eyes, Blair read the letter again. It didn’t really say what he thought it did. Did it? Suddenly he heard Jim’s key turn in the lock. Frantically, he scrambled for his backpack, shoving the letter in. Jim would freak if he saw it, Blair knew. The Sentinel had never gotten over the way Faith had tortured his Guide.
"Hey, big guy," he said casually as Jim entered the loft, dropping his keys into the basket by the door.
"What’s up, Sandburg?" the detective demanded.
Blair’s head shook, his eyes widened with innocence. "Nothing, man."
"You’re not fooling me, Chief. Your heart’s racing, you’re flushed and you’re breathing faster than normal."
"It’s nothing, Jim. Just some stuff at the University." Blair picked up the backpack sitting at his feet and carried it into his room, tossing it on the bed. Reappearing, he moved into the kitchen. "I’ve got to get dinner started. I thought I’d make a chicken stir-fry."
Jim’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, following his partner’s movements. Finally, he shrugged. If Blair wanted to hide something, Jim was tired enough to let him do it. "Sounds good, Chief." He headed for the stair. "There enough time for a shower?"
Plying a knife to chop Bok Choi, Blair laughed. "I think I can stretch this long enough for that. As hot as it is today, you probably need it."
Jim’s nose wrinkled involuntarily. "I’ve been trying not to smell myself since before lunch."
"That’s gross, Jim."
"You’re not the one smelling it, Sandburg."
The Sentinel grabbed some shorts and moved quickly into the shower. Blair could hear his hiss of satisfaction dimly over the rushing water. Chopping vigorously, he massacred the peppers as he thought about the letter jammed into his bag. This was the sixth of June. Faith would be in town tomorrow. For all Blair knew, she already was.
"Dinner was good, Chief." Jim stood, grabbing Blair’s plate and piling it on his own. Snagging the glasses, he headed into the kitchen, depositing the load in the sink and coming back for more.
"Thanks, Jim." Blair stood, picking up the serving bowl full of stir-fry. Scraping it into a bowl, he covered it and put in in the refrigerator.
Jim watched him, concerned. Blair had been too quiet during dinner. Something was bothering him. "You want to talk about it, Sandburg?"
Blair’s eyes flew to meet his, then the anthropologist turned away. "Nothing to talk about," he said, putting the soy sauce next to the leftover stir-fry.
"Have it your way." Jim began washing the supper dishes. Heat rolled through the apartment, the June weather making both men sweat. Turning to face the fan, Jim stretched, enjoying the flow of air. "I’m going to hit the sack early. Simon’s got me working a split shift tomorrow."
"What time do you want breakfast?"
Jim smiled at the question. "Don’t worry about it, Chief. I’ll grab something on the way in. You haven’t been sleeping enough lately. No need to get up just to feed me."
"Okay. Just make sure whatever you grab has some protein in it."
"Nope. I’m going for the sugar rush."
"Don’t worry about it, Sandburg." There was finality in Jim’s voice.
Blair shrugged and headed for his room.
He turned and looked back at the Sentinel.
"Look, I’m sorry. But you’ve been edgy all night. Something’s eating at you."
"I’ve just got a lot on my mind, Jim."
Blair disappeared into his room, closing the door firmly behind him. Jim watched him go, troubled. Then he sighed and climbed the stairs. He knew this mood. Blair wasn’t going to talk until he was ready to.
Blair sat on his bed, listening to the footsteps going up the stairs. He thought about telling Jim about the letter. About Faith wanting to meet him the next day. An image of Jim’s face twisted in anger at the thought of what the girl had done to Blair flashed before his eyes. Sighing, he shook his head. Jim wasn’t ready to think about Faith as someone who had been sick, who had gotten better. Blair wasn’t sure he was either.
Pulling out a text, he settled down to review the material he was going to present the next day. He found himself going over passages again and again. Finally, he closed the book, pillowed his chin in his hands and stared at the backpack. He wanted to believe Faith had changed. But he’d believed in her once, and it had nearly killed him. No, he decided sadly. He couldn’t take that chance.
Blair woke up, feeling like he had forgotten something. Looking over at the clock, he swore, jumped out of bed and threw on the closest clothing. He had twenty minutes to get to his class. Grabbing his backpack, he raced out of the loft.
Blair smiled at the young man standing before him. Continuing to pile his lecture notes together, he answered, "Yes, Michael?"
"Well, we’ve been talking about how warrior subcultures dealt with enemies from without. And it makes sense. I mean, that they’d all band together to present a united front. But what about enemies from within? Why haven’t we been looking at that?"
"What do you think?" Blair’s eyes were full of a private amusement. He’d made a bet with himself earlier in the week as to which of his summer session students would be the first to notice that the course was skewed. He’d just lost. He’d thought it would be Lisa.
Michael grinned. "Cause you set us up."
"Got it in one. Now why?"
"That I’m not sure of yet."
"Well, I’ll give you a hint. Look over the fall course catalog."
The sandy-haired student laughed. "Going to hook us into another class, huh?"
Blair put on his wide-eyed innocent look. "Would I do that?"
"In a heartbeat, man!" Michael shook his head. "Sorry. It’s just that last year you were Blair Sandburg, grad student and my tutor. I keep forgetting you’re a PhD now."
"Thank you!" Blair said honestly. "Michael, we were friends, too. That doesn’t go away just because I finished my dissertation, does it?"
Michael looked at him steadily, then offered his hand. Blair clasped it, smiling. "We’re still friends, Blair."
"Good. So you’re going to take my new class, right?" The pair began walking toward Blair’s office. He’d been offered a place more fitting his new status, but had turned it down. He liked the modified storage room. Besides, boxing up all that stuff would be a nightmare, Blair thought.
"Probably," Michael laughed. "What’s the title?"
"Themes of Betrayal. It’ll be an in-depth look at the varying methods used to find and punish those who go against their tribal structural systems. You know, some cultures would kill any offenders. Others would apply punishment, then take the offender back. When you compare it to the modern-day penal codes in the various areas, it..."
"Whoa!" Michael held up his hands. "You’ve got me! I’ll be there. But right now, I’ve got to get to Professor Harris’s class. You know how she is about punc-"
"Tu-al-it-y" Blair chimed in. "Go, go!" He shooed the student off, both men laughing. Blair covered the remaining distance to his office, placing the piled papers on the corner of his desk.
"Dr. Sandburg!" a smiling voice protested.
"Huh? Oh, hi, Vicki."
The work-study student scowled at him, her laughing eyes belying the stern expression. She picked up the lecture notes and waved them at him. "I just got your desk cleared! Where do these go?"
"Oh. Sorry. Here, I’ll just tuck them back in my bag. I want to redo them, and I’m more likely to do that if I take them home."
Vicki handed the stack to Blair, who unzipped his backpack and opened it. Sliding the notes in, he frowned as he felt another paper inside. Pulling it out, he paled as he realized that he’d somehow forgotten that the letter from Faith was in there. Words leapt at him from the page he held. I’m sorry. I’d like to make sure that you’re okay.
Sitting heavily behind his desk, Blair read the letter through. The recent conversation with Michael flashed through his head. ‘Our culture teaches that once you pay for the crime, it’s over,’ he thought. ‘You’ve made up for it.’ He stared at the letter. ‘What do I believe?’
Vicki’s voice broke through his concentration. "I’ve got to go, Dr. Sandburg. Is that okay? I’ll be back in an hour."
Blair shook his head to clear the cobwebs. "That’s fine, Vicki." He looked at the clock, which read 11:30. "I may not be here when you get back. I might be meeting someone in the park for lunch at noon."
"Okay. I’ll start organizing that shipment from Peru that just came in." She smiled pertly. "Tell Jim I said hello."
"Yeah." Blair didn’t bother to correct her misconception. Watching her leave the office, he sighed and returned his attention to the letter he held. ‘What am I doing?’
Jim stood, stretching. Satisfaction as he looked at the stack of reports in his out box rewarded the boredom he’d felt all day. He hated filling out reports, and with Blair a full-fledged professor over at Rainier, he’d been letting them pile up again. With the city quiet in the early summer sun, he had a chance to get caught up. It would at least make Simon happy.
"Heading out, Jim?"
"Yeah, H." Jim pulled his car keys out. "I gotta get out of here before another pile lands on my desk. Whatever shows up can wait until five."
"Oh, that’s right. You’re on split shift today." Henry settled at his own desk. His shift was just starting, and he had his own paper hill to conquer. He sighed as he looked at it, then grinned suddenly and turned toward Jim. "Hey, is Dr. Hairboy bringing you dinner?"
"Well, if he is, see if he can bring me some too, will you? The last time he brought in that beef riga-whatever for you, I sat over here and drooled all night."
"I noticed," Jim said dryly. "I’m heading over to the University to see if he wants to get lunch. I’ll tell him we’re in danger of flooding here."
Shaking his head, Jim headed for the elevator. Strolling through the parking garage, he climbed into his truck, pulling leisurely into traffic. Even the idiot in the Mustang that tailgated him wasn’t too irritating. Jim Ellison was in a good mood, and nothing was going to ruin it.
"Hey, Chief, you want to..." Jim stopped, looking at the empty chair behind the desk. "Huh. I thought these were Sandburg’s office hours."
"Jim! I mean, Detective Ellison."
The blushing young woman smiled at him, causing Jim to smile back. "It’s okay to call me Jim, Vicki. I thought I told you that. Where’s Sandburg?"
"With you, I thought." She looked puzzled. "He said he was meeting someone for lunch. I assumed it was you."
"Did he say where?"
"That little park you guys like. That’s why I thought he was meeting you."
Jim frowned. Sandburg hadn’t said anything about a lunch meeting. Then again, he hadn’t said much at all last night. Something about this bothered him.
"Is everything all right?"
Jim shook his head minutely as the girl’s voice hit him. "Yeah, Vicki," he smiled. "I guess I just forgot that he said he had a meeting. Look, don’t tell him I stopped by, all right? He won’t let me live that down for days if you do."
Vicki laughed. "Sure, no problem."
Jim nodded, then turned, walking swiftly to his truck.
Pulling into the circular drive at the park, he spotted Blair’s Volvo immediately. One day that thing was going to give up the ghost, he thought. Sandburg loved it though. He’d do just about anything to keep the heap running.
He cruised along the drive, looking for a parking spot. Finding none, he followed the curving road that led to the second lot, hidden in the trees. Locking the truck, he swung onto the path that led up over the hill to the main area of the park.
Coming to the end of the path, he scanned the grassy area, dotted with benches and picnic tables. The smell of Miguel’s stand filled the air as he pulled hotdogs off the rack. No Blair, no Blair, no Blair... there! He started forward, then stopped in shock as he registered the person sitting next to Blair. Breath hissed through his clenched teeth, the muscles in his jaw jumping. Pulling back into the shadow of the trees, his anger built with every second. How dare she come back to Cascade? And what the hell did Sandburg think he was doing?
Blair finished the last bite of his hotdog, and tossed the napkin into the nearby trashcan. He turned back to the young woman seated beside him, and studied her face. She looked back silently, having said all she planned to, all she could.
His own face was sober, but not grim. Not like it was when he sat down. ‘She’d put him through hell,’ he thought, ‘and been through her own version.’ So did one outweigh the other?
"I don’t know," he said aloud. A quick flash of disappointed pain flickered through her eyes, then the veil dropped over them again.
"No big," she said carelessly. "I didn’t come here expecting you to forgive me."
"So why did you come?"
Faith shrugged. "I had to," she said simply.
"Why?" he persisted.
She laughed. "You didn’t change, Blair. Not at all. You still want to know everything."
He just looked at her.
Her eyes turned away from his steady gaze. "I had to make sure that I - that what I did - hadn’t changed you. Hadn’t... broken you, like I broke everything I touched."
"I’m hard to break. You came close, though."
Her eyes closed. "Yeah. I know."
"You broke yourself, didn’t you?"
Her eyes flew open, seeking his at the gentle question. She nodded slowly.
Blair sighed. "That’s the only thing that could have happened, Faith. The way you were going..." He stood, looking down at her. "I can forgive you, Faith. What you did to me was horrible, but I lived through it, and I’m okay. I won’t forget it - I can’t forget it - but I can let go of it. The question is, can you?"
Faith looked back at him, her dry eyes weeping pain. "I don’t know," her whisper came.
"Until you can, it won’t truly be forgiven. Not until you can forgive yourself. That may never happen. But if you truly want to be a different person - a better person - it has to."
He reached out a hand to her. She hesitated, then took it in her own. His warm hand pressed gently on hers. "I hope, for your sake, that it does happen. Now, I have to go teach another class. Are you going to be okay?"
The sincere concern in his voice nearly broke her - again. Faith nodded, unable to speak for a minute. Her throat dry, finally she spoke. "I’m taking the train to LA at four. Angel said I could stay there until I figure out what I’m doing. I’m just gonna sit here for a while, until it’s time to go to the train station."
"Angel. That’s the friend who helped you after you left here, right?"
"Okay. Good luck, Faith." Blair turned and walked away, heading to the parking lot. Faith watched him go, feeling a tiny tangle let go in the swirling knot of turmoil that filled her soul. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the bench. ‘Blair was right,’ she thought. ‘He may have forgiven me, but I - I don’t deserve forgiveness.’
The Sentinel watched as his Guide spoke to the girl. His nostrils flared and he tasted her scent on the breeze. It mingled with the warm, familiar musk that meant Blair, tainting it. Memory rushed through him. Again, he saw Blair lying in an icy pool of his own blood, unconscious and near death. Hate filled his heart as his eyes focused on Faith.
He began to move forward, then stopped as Blair stood. Standing behind the screen of trees and bushes, he tensed as Blair touched Faith, then relaxed minutely as the contact was broken. Grim satisfaction filled his eyes as the other man walked away. It was his turn now.
Silently he stepped over to the bench, smiling as he heard the engine of Blair’s car. His gaze never left the form of the woman seated before him. Dimly, a walled off part of his mind spoke. He hesitated, a few feet away from his objective, confusion filling him. What was he doing?
She spoke, almost inaudibly. The Sentinel’s ears caught every word, and savage agreement lit his eyes. A step and he slid onto the bench beside her. "You’re right," he said agreeably, pushing the nose of his gun into her side. "You don’t deserve forgiveness."
She froze, then turned her head to look at him. Surprise and anger flashed through her eyes, causing his smile to widen. Then they faded, replaced by recognition and dull resignation. "Jim," she said.
"Hello, Faith." The hand not holding the gun slipped a cuff onto her right hand, clicking it tightly closed. She tried to pull away as she felt the cold metal, but subsided as he jabbed her ribs. He turned her roughly and caught her other wrist, securing her hands behind her back.
"You should never have come back to Cascade, Faith," he said evenly, holstering his gun. "You should have stayed in whatever hole you’ve been in for the last three years. Now you’ll pay for what you’ve done."
Faith answered quietly, her voice full of pain and a touch of sullen anger. "What makes you think I haven’t already?"
She shivered at the coldness in the man’s eyes. His smile rivaled that of demons as he replied, "You’re still alive."
Survival instincts coming forward, Faith kicked out at him, twisting her body to give maximum impact. At the same time she pulled her cuffed hands sharply away from the grip he held on them. The Sentinel laughed, sidestepping her kick easily, then grabbing her flying foot and twisting it sharply. She crashed to the ground, landing hard, the metal of the cuffs pounding into the small of her back.
Lying there, she looked up at him, seeing only ice and contempt in his eyes. Seeing only... what she deserved. Her body relaxed suddenly, as she realized that this was what she had been looking for. All of her life, it seemed, she had wanted this. "Then kill me," she didn’t -quite- beg.
He watched his prisoner’s capitulation, a cold satisfaction filling him, washing away the tiny sliver of doubt that prodded at him. "Eventually," the Sentinel said. "Get up."
Blair whistled as he moved around the kitchen, getting together an easily transportable meal to take down to the station for Jim. He felt so light, so free. Seeing Faith had been hard, had reminded him of pain and terror. Forgiving her had also been hard, but had taken that pain and terror away. He looked at the clock. *She’s two hours out of Cascade,* he thought. *I hope things go well for her.*
The CD stopped, and he be-bopped over to the stereo to replace it. Pulling out another, he shook his head, and put it back. He was in the mood for something full of peace and hope. Soon the loft was filled with John Denver’s voice.
"Sunshine... on my shoulders..." Blair warbled along as he danced back into the kitchen, "makes me happy..." Looking at his choices for Jim’s dinner, he nodded. The vegetable casserole from two nights ago would reheat nicely, and with freshly baked bread, and rhubarb crisp to appeal to the Sentinel’s sweet tooth... Yeah, this was good. He began to pack it up, then stopped, grinning. Reaching into the cupboard, he pulled out another plate. If he remembered correctly, H was working tonight. He wanted Jim to get to eat in peace!
He piled the containers and dishes into a canvas bag, setting it by the front door as he went over to turn off the stereo. Just as he hit stop, the phone rang.
"Oh, hey, Simon. What’s up?"
Where the hell is Ellison?
Blair frowned in confusion. "What do you mean, Simon? He’s at work."
Not since he left to meet you for lunch, he’s not.
"I haven’t seen him all day, Simon. We didn’t meet for lunch." Fear began to trickle into Blair’s mind. Had something happened to Jim?
Well, he left here at noon to go meet you for lunch. At least that’s what he told H.
"I wasn’t in my office then, Simon. I was at the park, meeting..." Blair’s voice trailed off as a horrible suspicion hit him. "Oh, shit," he said softly.
What do you mean, Sandburg? Sandburg!
"Oh, God, Simon. Do you remember Faith?"
That psycho who nearly killed you three years ago?
"I got a letter from her a couple days ago. She’s been in treatment. She asked me to meet her, and I did - today, for lunch."
You - did - WHAT!
Blair winced as the shout came through the earpiece. "I know, Simon. But I thought about it, and decided she deserved a chance..."
After what she did to you?! What did Jim think about it?
He didn’t what? Think it was a good idea? Because it wasn’t, Sandburg, it was damn stupid!
"He didn’t think about it. I didn’t tell him."
"I know, Simon. But you know how he was, back then. Well, he’s not rational about it, and it seemed easier to just... not tell him. I didn’t think he’d ever find out."
"What if he saw her, Simon? He knows that’s my usual spot to get lunch. If he came to my office and I was gone... he might have gone over to the park."
Sandburg, this is Ellison we’re talking about. What do you think he’d do if he saw her, go off the deep end?
"Uh, now that you mention it..."
You do. Shit. So do I. There was silence for a moment, then Simon continued, What would he do, Sandburg?
Blair shook his head. "I don’t know. Not for sure."
"An eye for an eye, Simon."
Get down here. Now!
The old Ford purred as the Sentinel drove through the streets of Cascade. He’d been driving around for hours, trying to decide what to do. Well, sort of. He knew what to do. He just wasn’t sure where. The loft was off limits. He didn’t want to take the chance that Blair would walk in on them. A low growl filled the truck at the thought. He didn’t want Blair near Faith ever again.
Glancing over at the truck’s passenger seat, his icy eyes took in the form of the girl slumped against the door, her eyes closed in drugged slumber. She hadn’t fought the pills. He wondered how long they would keep her under. Didn’t matter, really. There were more in the bottle, if he wasn’t ready when she woke up.
Jim smiled briefly at the memory of Blair, looking at the bottle as they left the hospital and laughing. He’d tossed the pills into the glove box, muttering, "They always give me this stuff. I have five bottles of it at home already!" Jim had teased him about it. "If you’d take the meds they give you, you’d probably heal faster, Chief!" Blair had just looked at him, then laughed, wincing as the laughter jostled his cracked ribs. "I don’t like sleeping pills, Jim."
He breathed harshly, the warmth and openness of Blair’s face clear before him. For a moment, he faltered in his plans, his belief that what he was doing was right. Blair... wouldn’t want.... His face twisted in confusion, then the bright image before him transformed. The laughing face changed, turning pale and cold, the wealth of curls matted with blood. He heard the tiny whimpers of pain his guide had tried so hard to keep from his ears during the long recovery. The confusion cleared, his breath even again.
The Sentinel considered the idea of a motel again. He knew of some where screams and cries were considered normal, not something to investigate. Somehow that didn’t seem right. A motel room was too... impersonal for this. He needed to find a private place, but there had to be some connection. Some tie-in with Blair, to remind both of them of why this was happening.
Looking at the dash, he realized that the gas tank was getting low. Swinging the truck into a station, he began to pump fuel. A woman at the next pump looked over at the truck. Seeing the sleeping figure, she smiled at Jim and said, "You must be on a trip."
He smiled back. "That’s right."
"Where are you going?"
He shrugged. "Not really sure. Just kind of wandering around, seeing what there is out there."
She beamed. "My husband and I did that one summer. We went all over the country. Did a lot of camping. It was the best summer we ever had."
She replaced the nozzle, capping her gas tank. Pulling the receipt from the pump, she smiled again. "Have a good time."
"I think we will. Thank you."
The Sentinel watched the little car pull onto the road, his smile vanishing, then returning to highlight the cold glitter in his eyes. "Camping, huh?" he mused as he topped off the tank. Pulling himself up into the driver’s seat, he flipped open his cell phone.
"I don’t like it, Wesley."
The dark-haired man turned to face his companion. "Neither do I, Cordelia. But I don’t see that we’ve much say in the matter."
She sulked at him. "We should."
He shrugged. "Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. This is Angel’s house, after all. He can invite anyone he wishes to stay here."
"But this is Faith! You know, beat you up, torture you, stick a sharp pointy wooden thing through your heart Faith!"
Wesley sighed. "I know." His eyes flickered away from her, then back. "I remember very clearly."
Her eyes apologized. "I’m sorry, Wesley."
"No need." He squared his shoulders. "Faith was a very troubled young woman when she was here last. And I had contributed to that. It was only natural that she take out some of her anger on me."
"She almost killed you!"
"Well, yes. There is that." He swallowed. "Cordelia, Angel says she’s changed. And she did turn herself in. That has to count for something."
Cordelia’s face clearly showed her disagreement. Her mouth opened, just as the door to the office burst open.
"Good, you’re both here." Angel strode into the room. "Something’s gone wrong."
"She tried to kill you. God, I knew it!"
Angel shook his head. "No, Cordelia, Faith didn’t try to kill me. She wasn’t on the train."
"What? Are you sure?"
"Of course I’m sure. And the conductor said she didn’t get on in Cascade."
"Well, maybe she decided to go somewhere else," Cordelia said brightly.
"Where?" Angel turned to look at the pair of them. "No, she’d have let me know. Something’s happened to her."
"You can’t be sure of that."
"Yes, I can." The vampire’s voice was certain. "Faith went to Cascade to see one person. Then she was coming here. Something has happened, and I’m going to find out what."
Angel turned, heading down the stairs to his rooms. His voice echoed up the stairwell. "By going to find her."
Cordy sighed, pulling the computer keyboard closer and hitting the keys to pull up the address book. Wesley watched as she dialed a phone number.
"Hello, Dave? Yeah, it’s Cordelia Chase. I’m going to need that van again. Great. Someone will pick it up in a few." She put the receiver down, and looked up at Wesley. "You know, I hate this!"
"I quite agree. Running off to Faith’s rescue..."
"What? No. That’s up to you and Angel." Cordy scowled. "No, I hate the fact that I know the name of the guy at U-Haul! Can you imagine?"
Wesley blinked. "Oh. Right."
Simon rubbed his hands slowly over his face, scrubbing at his tired eyes before opening them again. He blinked until the blur in front of him cleared. ‘I’m getting too old for this,’ he thought. Sighing, he stood and reached for the coffeepot, snarling as he realized that it was empty. The figure slumped on the couch in his office stirred.
Simon stilled, hoping that Sandburg would fall back asleep. The kid had been at the police station for over 24 hours, searching for any lead on where Jim might be. He’d fallen asleep just an hour ago.
Suddenly Blair sat up, holding a hand to his head. "Man, Simon, why’d you let me sleep? We don’t have time for that. Not until we find Jim."
"You were dead on your feet, Sandburg." Simon grabbed the coffeepot and headed for the door. Rhonda appeared just as he opened it, and snagged the pot out of his hands. "Thanks, Rhonda," he said, surprised.
"I’d have gotten it earlier, Captain, but..." she looked over at Blair. Simon followed her glance and nodded.
"I see your point."
The normally bouncy anthropologist was sitting with his head down. His shoulders were slumped with fatigue and worry. Suddenly his head jerked up and he looked over at Simon and Rhonda. Simon flinched at the pain in Blair’s eyes.
"Did we hear anything...?"
Rhonda turned away from the pain and hope in Blair’s voice, slipping through the door and out of Simon’s office.
The police captain shook his head gently. "Nothing new. We got confirmation that Faith wasn’t on that train, but..."
"We already knew that." Blair pushed himself to his feet. "Damn," he said softly. "Where the hell are you, Jim?"
" Look, I’ve called in everybody that was off duty. I even called Rafe and told him vacation was over. In another few hours every detective in Major Crimes will be looking for Jim. We’ll find him, Blair."
Blair’s eyes met Simon’s, then he nodded minutely. "I know we will, Simon," he said, his voice so quiet Simon had to strain to hear it. "I’m just not sure if... it’ll be Jim we find."
"What do you mean by that, Sandburg?" Simon was horribly afraid he knew what Blair meant.
Blair swallowed hard. "If he kills Faith... if he - tortures - her, what do you think it’ll do to him?"
Simon shook his head.
"It’ll push him over the edge. He’s sworn to protect and defend, Simon. If he does... what I think he plans to..." he swallowed again, "I don’t think he’ll be able to deal with that. I don’t think he’ll be Jim anymore."
Simon felt his heart freeze with fear for his friend. "All right," he said gruffly. "Then we just have to find him before he does anything."
Blair nodded, closing his eyes briefly. "Yeah, we have to, Simon. I just hope we can."
Looking around at the interior of the cabin, the Sentinel smiled briefly. He had been here before - *they* had been here before. His smile returned as he pictured Blair’s grin as they arrived the first time, the awe and wonder in the younger man’s eyes as he gazed at the tall, old-growth forest surrounding Rafe’s cabin. "Miles from anywhere, man! This is great!" That had been before.... The smile faded.
His attention was jerked back to the present as Faith stirred, moaning. She had been close to waking when they reached the cabin, so he’d dosed her again. He’d needed time to prepare. Now it was nearly night again. He thought for a moment, then pulled her roughly to her feet. Staring into her drug-dazed eyes, he flexed his fingers, shaking her. "Come on, wake up!" he said.
Her head shook and she looked back at him, awareness slowly returning. "Why?" she croaked, her throat obviously dry from the drugs.
The Sentinel pushed her down into the chair he’d set nearby when he’d first carried her into the cabin. Releasing the cuff from one wrist, he refastened it after feeding the chain through the chair rungs. "It’s time," he responded, holding a glass to her lips, pulling it back after she swallowed twice. "And that’s my question."
She looked up at him sullenly. He sighed and squatted in front of her, staring into her face. "Why, Faith?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Why what?"
He slapped her casually, sending her head flying to the side. "Why?"
She shrugged, a trickle of blood coming from her split lip. He slapped her again. "Why?"
"Why not?" she answered.
He closed his eyes, then opened them, watching her minute flinch as she saw the fury they held. "You hurt him, you almost killed him, and all you can say is why not?" His voice was like silk, as his hands slid up her face to twine in her hair. She choked back a cry as he twisted his hands, and he grinned at the small sound.
"Come up with a better answer," he invited.
He growled in frustration at her continued silence. "He is mine," the Sentinel said. "Mine to protect, mine to keep safe. I let you past my guard, and I failed him." He released his grip on her hair, rising to pace the cabin. "You will pay for every hurt you caused him." Stopping abruptly, he stared at her. "But I want to know why. He wanted to help you."
She met his eyes, then looked away. He growled again, and grabbed her chin, forcing her eyes back to his. Pain and confusion ran through Jim as he saw her wince. Then she spat at him. Warm liquid landed on his hand, running down between his fingers. The Sentinel snarled and raised his hand to hit her again. He paused at her automatic recoil, and smiled. Turning his hand, he rubbed her spittle on her face.
"Doesn’t really matter why," he said. "All that matters is that you pay for it. And you will."
Blair cursed silently, pounding on the computer keyboard in front of him. There were NO leads. No one had seen Jim’s truck, no report of his credit cards or his ATM card being used. None of the hotels, motels, or fleapits in Cascade had seen him or Faith. The two of them had vanished.
A large hand came down on his shoulder. Blair twisted and looked up into Simon’s face, his eyes full of worry. "We’re running out of time, Simon," Blair said, desperation filling his voice, with just a hint of hysteria.
"You don’t think there’s a chance that he’ll... just snap out of it, Sandburg? Just come to his senses?"
Blair’s eyes widened, and the anthropologist found himself giggling.
Simon stared at him, then flushed as he realized what he’d said. "Scratch that, Sandburg. Blair?"
The police captain looked in concern at the laughing man in front of him. "Shit, Blair, you’re hysterical!" Simon sighed, then slapped Blair twice.
The laughter stopped, leaving Blair staring at Simon, the handprints on his face almost as red as his eyes. "What are we gonna do, Simon?"
"I don’t know."
The two men stared at each other for a long moment, minds racing as they hunted for a way to find their friend. Lost in thought, they both jumped as the door to Simon’s office was pushed open.
"Hey, Captain, what’s so all-fired important that you had to pull me off my vacation? Rhonda wouldn’t tell me a thing, just that I had to get back ASAP." Rafe breezed into the office, white silk shirt accenting his newly acquired tan.
Simon sighed heavily, "Rafe..."
The detective held up his hands. "I know, I know, knock first. But come on, Cap, I was having a really good time." Rafe noticed Blair sitting at the computer and grinned over at him. "Hey, Dr. Hairboy, how come you’re not up at my cabin with Jim? I thought that was why I was getting called in, because you two were unavailable."
Blair stood slowly, staring at Rafe. His face was pale, and his eyes shone brightly. "What did you just say?"
"Hey, I don’t mind if you guys go camping, but when it interferes with my vacation..." Rafe shrugged. "Well, I was a little PO’d, you know? But if they called you back, too, well, that’s okay, then."
Simon broke in, hoping he had heard right. "Rafe, you know where Jim is?"
"Well, I thought I did." The young detective looked confused. "He called me yesterday afternoon and asked if anybody was using the cabin I have out in the state forest. I said no. He asked if he could use it for a couple of days. I just figured he and the doc here were going camping, taking some time off..." Rafe stared in surprise as the other two men raced past him, hitting the elevator button, then turning and taking the door to the stairs when the elevator doors didn‘t open.
"Hey, H," he called, catching sight of his partner. "What’s going on around here?"
The U-Haul van pulled up in front of the police station. Wesley sighed as he turned off the ignition. "Do you really think you’ll find this ‘Blair Sandburg’ here, Angel? From what you’ve told me, he’s a scholar. Not exactly the place one would expect a scholar to be."
Angel shrugged. "No answer at either of the numbers information had for that name, Wesley. Faith said he worked with the police department." Swinging out of the van, he leaned in. "I’ll go in, ask around. Maybe even if he’s not here, someone will know where we can find him."
"And if we do?"
"We ask him where Faith is." Angel’s eyes glittered dangerously. "And hopefully, we like his answer."
Wesley shook his head as he watched the vampire enter the building. After working with Angel for years, he had become comfortable around him. But every now and then, the facade of humanity slipped, and the nature of the beast showed through. Angel kept it carefully leashed most of the time, but a threat to what the vampire saw as his... Wesley shuddered. He’d caught a glimpse of Angelus in those eyes.
Angel slowed his stride as he entered the lobby. Looking around he spotted a brunette woman seated at a circular desk. Walking over to her, he smiled pleasantly. Her face lit up as she returned his smile.
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so. I’m looking for a friend of mine - Blair Sandburg?"
If possible, her face lit up even more. "Blair! You’re a friend of his?"
"Well, actually," Angel replied, "he’s a friend of a friend. She asked me to stop by and give him a message from her. Is he in the building?"
The young woman nodded. "He should be, anyway. He might have slipped out, but I doubt it, not with..." Her voice was sad.
"With what?" Angel asked.
She shook her head, not meeting his eyes. "Nothing. Look, if he’s here, he’d be up in Major Crimes, 7th floor. The elevator is over there, or you could take the stairs. The elevator’s been pretty slow today, so the stairs might be a better bet."
Angel decided not to push for information. With luck he’d get his answers soon, anyway. "Thanks," he said, heading for the stair door.
"You’re welcome," the dark-haired woman said to his back. She muttered to herself as she watched the door swing closed, "Hope you bring good news. Lord knows Blair could use it."
Angel moved silently up the stairs, his stealth second-nature by now. As he rounded a landing, he froze at the words he heard from above, accompanied by the clatter of rapidly moving feet.
"Sandburg, are we sure that this is where Jim’s gone?"
Angel moved back into the shadow cast by the flight of stairs above him.
"It has to be, Simon!" an excited voice responded. "He called Rafe for a reason, you know that. That cabin is as isolated as you can get, in the US anyway, and if Jim... He has to be there."
The two men running down the stairs didn’t speak for a moment, then the deeper voice filled the stairwell. "At least we’ve got a lead now. We’ll find him, Blair."
The younger voice replied, full of hope. "I know, Simon."
Angel stepped out, into the middle of the landing. This had to be the man he was looking for. As the two rounded the flight above him, they stopped briefly in surprise, then attempted to pass him. Angel put his arm out, blocking the way.
"Excuse us," the black man said impatiently. Angel ignored him, his attention fixed on the smaller man.
"Yeah, man." Blair pushed his hair back, looking at Angel curiously. "Look, whatever this is about, it’s gonna have to wait, okay? Catch up with me tomorrow."
"I can’t do that."
"You’re going to have to," Blair insisted. "A friend of mine’s in trouble, and I’ve gotta go. Now. Let me by, man!"
"Where is Faith?" Angel watched in amazement as the bouncing ball of energy before him just - deflated. Paling, Blair Sandburg shook his head.
"I don’t know. I have an idea, but..." Blue eyes looked up at Angel steadily. "You’re Angel? Her friend from LA?"
The vampire nodded.
Blair blinked, then looked at the black man. "Simon..." The other man shook his head. "We’ve got to tell him, Simon."
Simon considered briefly, then nodded. "Make it quick."
Blair looked back at Angel. "You knew Faith before. You know what she... was like."
"So does my partner. I didn’t tell him she was in town, but we think he found out anyway. We think he has her."
Angel’s eyes narrowed. "Where?"
Eyes widened at the menace in the other man’s voice, Blair held up his hands. "We don’t know. I’m serious!" he protested as Angel moved suddenly. "We think he took her to a cabin in the state forest. That’s where we were headed."
Angel nodded. "Let’s go, then."
"You’re not going," Simon declared.
Angel smiled, then turned to face the two men squarely, part of him enjoying the fear-filled, tiny gasp from Sandburg and the "What the hell!" from Simon. "You think you can stop me?" he asked silkily.
Pulling the humans with him, he headed for the van waiting on the street.
"All that matters is that you pay for it. And you will."
Faith stared at the twisted smile on the face of the man who held her captive, feeling the warm liquid trickle down her cheek. She shook her head slightly, cold despair running through her veins. ‘Oh, God,’ she thought, images of that same face, laughing, warm and open flickering in her mind. ‘I thought the only one I hurt in Cascade was Blair.’
"Oh, yes," he said, seeming to mistake the tiny movement of her head as denial. "I will make certain of it."
"Jim..." she started, only to have her mouth blocked by a large hand. For an instant, she thought about biting it. ‘No! That’s what I would have done - before!’
"Quiet," he said, almost gently. "You had your chance to talk."
He released her face, turning away to gather up something from the table in the corner. She watched as he turned the knife in the light, it’s edge flashing.
"He never told me exactly what you did, not the order of events, anyway. But it was pretty easy to figure out. And if I get a little bit out of order..." he shrugged. "I don’t think you’ll complain."
Suddenly he stood before her, holding the point of the knife to her throat. She swallowed, finally admitting that she was afraid. Faith, the Vampire Slayer, was afraid.
"Will you?" he said.
The knifepoint dug in to her skin, causing the skin to split. A tiny trickle of blood started to trace it’s way down her neck. Fascinated, she watched his nostrils flare, almost as if he could smell the blood. She met his eyes squarely, feeling an eerie peace fall over her. So she was going to die painfully, slowly. She’d always known that was likely. She’d thought it would be a vampire, or a demon, or perhaps Buffy, but, hey, it wasn’t like it mattered who killed her.
"Probably not," she answered finally. "Let’s get it on."
The Sentinel caught the faint metallic taint to the air. He had shed his prey’s blood. Savage joy rushed into him. The scent was sweet to him, and there would be more. Much more, before he let her die. She spoke, and the rush of anger at her daring almost ended the game. But her words... she had accepted her fate. Satisfaction filled him. The one who had betrayed the tribe knew what she had done. Knew and accepted the penalty.
Pulling the blade back, he watched the tiny trickle expand. There wasn’t much blood yet, but it was a start. He turned the blade, admiring the streak of crimson near the point. The color fascinated him, held him. Only the scent kept him from being lost. Looking back at her, he reached out a finger, touching the liquid as it pooled near her pulse point. Still warm, slightly sticky, the blood almost seemed still to pulsate with the beating of her heart, pounding in his ears. Slowly, he pulled the finger away, bringing it to his mouth. The salt taste burst upon his tongue, filling his final sense with her. With her blood. The Sentinel zoned.
"Turn left up here," Blair said quietly. He sat in the van’s passenger seat, acutely aware of the - being - behind him. Simon sat behind the van’s driver, his hands and feet tied securely. The police captain had been up front until he tried to break away at a red light. Angel had almost casually dragged him over the seat’s back and pinned him down with one hand, looping rope easily around his flailing extremities.
"How much farther?" the driver asked.
"About ten miles." Twisting in the seatbelt, Blair studied Angel. The other’s eyes met his squarely, no hint showing of the inhuman face Blair had seen earlier. Curiosity rose, swamping the fear. After all, this - person - was a friend of Faith’s, had helped her, was worried about her. And even when Simon had attempted escape, he hadn’t been hurt.
"What are you?"
The driver laughed. "We’ve been trying to determine that for centuries."
"Shut up and drive, Wesley," Angel said, no rancor in his voice. "I’m a demon."
"A vampire, to be precise," Wesley corrected. "A human being who has been taken over by a demon, after being killed by another of the blood-sucking fiends."
"And we must be precise," Angel said wryly.
"So, you drink blood?" Angel raised an eyebrow at the calm tone, then nodded. "Human blood?"
Blair became intrigued.
"So animal blood will do? What about the bat thing? And garlic? ‘Cause I got to tell you, man, I eat a lot of garlic. I know you can cross running water, we’ve gone over enough bridges, but do you need native earth to sleep on? God, there are so many legends, and they can’t all be true! Sunlight, the stake through the heart thing... Oh, hey! I always thought this had to be myth, but if there are vampires... is there a Slayer? So many different cultures have a Slayer legend, but it didn’t make any sense."
He paused and looked expectantly at Angel, who just stared at him for a minute. Then the vampire turned to Simon. "Is he always like that?"
Simon snorted. "Pretty much all the time."
"It must drive you nuts."
Simon laughed, then looked surprised. Blair hmphed, then turned around in his seat. Within seconds he was muttering something about Slayers and Sentinels, and happily revamping several theories, all almost under his breath.
A few minutes later, the van jounced through the trees lining the drive in front of Rafe’s cabin, coming to a halt before the building. Angel swung out of the door, followed by Blair. The vampire scowled at the smaller man. "You stay here."
Blair scowled back. "I so don’t think so. My friend’s in there. Two of my friends are in there."
Angel attempted to stare the other man down, then sighed. He had to admit, if only to himself, that Sandburg had a point. "If he’s hurt her..." he started.
"*I’ll* beat the shit out of him." Blair hesitated, then went on. "Look, Angel, there’s something you don’t know about Jim. And I can’t explain it. But he needs me, sometimes, to keep him grounded, anchored to what’s going on. He gets... lost, and I can bring him back. I need to be in there, and I need to go in first."
Angel shook his head. "No," he said flatly. Raising a hand, he cut off Blair’s protest. "You can come," he said, "but we go in together."
Blair nodded reluctantly. Ignoring Simon’s protesting voice, the two moved toward the cabin door.
Jim came slowly to awareness, the rapid beat of Sandburg’s - no, that wasn’t Blair’s heart. He stood in the center of Rafe’s cabin, and the heartbeat he heard came from the girl cuffed to the chair in front of him. He stared at her, then dropped the blood-tipped knife he held as memory flooded through him.
Her head came up at the sound, and she flinched back as he reached toward her. He drew his hand back, wincing at the relief he saw, and the bruises. Bruises he’d made, he realized, shame rushing through him. ‘God’, he thought, ‘what have I done?’
He watched the battered girl straighten herself as much as she could in the position he had her bound into. Her eyes gleamed as she stared at him in fear-tinged defiance. "Woke up, did you?" she asked. "Took long enough."
He winced again as the cut he’d made on her neck began to bleed as she moved, the wound edges pulling apart to release a steady trickle. "How long?" he asked.
Faith shrugged, looking away from his eyes. "I don’t know. Does it matter?"
"It might." ‘Blair will be looking for me,’ he thought. ‘For us.’
"Look," she said, meeting his eyes again. "If you’re going to kill me, do it now. Otherwise," she shifted slightly, "this is getting old, you know?"
He turned away, listening to her breathing and heart rate increase as he bent to retrieve the fallen knife. The sounds filled his ears as he walked away from her, slowing slightly as he set the bloodied tool in the sink. He crossed over to stand behind her, fumbling for the words he wanted as he crouched and unlocked the cuffs on her ankles.
"I’m not going to kill you," he said quietly, sensing Faith’s surprise as she felt her feet freed. "I’m sor..." The words were cut off as the door crashed open.
Jim moved instantly, placing himself between the intruder and Faith, her wrists still cuffed behind the chair’s back. The beginnings of relief shot through him as he saw Blair come through the door, only to freeze as he saw a second figure following his Guide, and realized that he heard only his Guide’s heart.
Leaping forward, the Sentinel grasped his Guide’s arm, pulling him across the room and spinning him to relative safety in the corner near Faith. He snarled, crouching between his Guide and the creature that threatened him. The snarl deepened into a growl as the threat moved closer.
Blair burst into the cabin, heart pounding as he realized that Faith was still alive. Jim crouched behind her, looking up in surprise as Blair came through the door. Briefly, Blair took in the massive discoloration and swelling visible on Faith’s face, and the blood running down her neck. ‘Oh, Jim,’ he mourned inwardly, ‘what have you done? You’re gonna hate yourself for this, man!’ He caught a glimpse of warmth in Jim’s eyes, then choked in surprise as that warmth disappeared and he felt himself yanked across the room.
He stumbled into the corner, catching his balance with a hand against the wall. Spinning around, he stared, appalled, at the scene before him.
Jim crouched low to the cabin floor, a rumbling growl vibrating his throat. His eyes were fixed on Angel, who stood in the doorway, his eyes flicking to Faith, then back to Jim. Angel’s eyes narrowed as he saw Faith, then twisted in anger, gleaming as the demon showed his face. The vampire’s growl rose in answer to the Sentinel’s.
"Oh, shit," Blair breathed, watching the two shift warily. Jim maintained a position in front of Blair and Faith, keeping his body between theirs and Angel’s. The vampire had the advantage of speed, but the Sentinel’s abilities kept him forewarned of Angel’s moves.
"Jim!" Blair’s voice was pitched carefully to the tone he’d found would catch Jim’s attention, but not break his concentration. He frowned when there was no response. "Jim," he repeated, "it’s okay. That’s Angel. He’s a friend of Faith’s. He was worried about her. Jim!"
"Save your breath, Blair," Faith’s voice was his only reply. He looked over at her, then back to the violent dance before them. "He’s lost it again."
Blair looked sharply back at Faith. "What do you mean?"
She nodded at Jim. "That’s how he was when he took me from the park, totally into what he was doing. He was like that until two or three hours ago. I guess, anyway. He had me drugged a lot."
Blair watched the Sentinel move. He was fluid, graceful in a way that Blair had only seen once or twice before. "Primal," he muttered.
"Nothing. What happened two or three hours ago?"
"It was really weird. He was about to really get into it, when he just... froze, I guess. He came out of it a couple of minutes before you got here. Then he was normal. But now he’s back to... whatever this is." She looked over at Blair. "He dropped the key to the cuffs by the chair leg. You want to come get these off me?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah." Blair moved to grab the key, his eyes never leaving the pair before them. Snagging it off the floor, he began to fumble with the lock. Suddenly the growls rose to a tandem roar, and the deadly dance was over. Jim and Angel were locked in combat. Dropping the key, Blair raced toward them, with no idea of what he could do.
Faith cursed as the key fell once more to the floor, just out of her reach. She didn’t blame Blair, but it would have helped to have her hands free. Shrugging inwardly, she twisted her shoulders, then popped the back off the chair. ‘Could of done this hours ago,’ she mused, Slayer flexibility allowing her to flip her cuffed hands under her feet in a deep back arch, bringing them to the front of her body. ‘There just wasn’t a reason to.’
Blair’s body flew past her. She reached out to catch him right before he hit the wall. He looked at her in dazed surprise, then threw himself back toward the battle. Jim was holding his own, Faith noted. He couldn’t for long, though. That was her job.
Angel was closer to Angelus than to himself, she thought, as she caught Blair again. He had enough control that he hadn’t killed either man yet, but it was slipping. As she watched, the vampire brought a bloodied hand to his mouth. Jim panted, still focused on his opponent. He shrugged off Blair’s hand, pushing the anthropologist behind him.
For an instant Faith looked to the open door. She could just leave, be free of all of this. That was what she would have done, years ago. Of course, years ago she would have just killed Jim when he tried to take her from the park. Not that she would have been in the park. She’d only been there to apologize to Blair, and the person she used to be wouldn’t have done that. The person she was now couldn’t walk away from this. She owed all three of these people too much. She had thought she owed her death, but perhaps... perhaps she owed her life.
She spun, her foot flying to land perfectly in the center of Angel’s chest, knocking him backward as he lunged at Jim again. Her hands moved quickly, blocking his attacks on her, keeping him backed against the cabin wall. Behind her, she could hear Blair, talking frantically to Jim, his words indistinct. Finally Angel’s blows stopped, confusion filling his eyes as his face shifted to human. At the same time, she heard Jim’s voice, "Chief? What...?"
"Faith?" Angel faltered, looking at her, then behind her. He looked at his hands, then seemed to catch the taste in his mouth. His face wrinkled in revulsion. "I - what...? He hurt you."
"You came to rescue me," the Slayer said gently. "But I’m okay." Faith’s smile lit her face the way it always should have. "Finally, I’m okay."
Several days later:
I’ll never understand him.
Even now as I look over at him and watch as he reads another dusty tome, I wonder what he’s thinking. Why he did it. How he could even agree to meet with her, let alone forgive her for what she did to him. I’ve seen the scars. I saw how he winced at the slightest sound once his hearing began to come back. I listened for days to the wheezing as air moved through his overstressed lungs. I just don’t see it.
But you know what’s hardest to think about? I came close to doing the same things she did. And I wonder what he thinks of me.
He looks up at me over the top of his glasses, blue eyes calmly returning my gaze. I turn away, unable to meet his. He sighs, closing his book, and takes his glasses off. "I talked to Faith today."
My eyes fly back to his face. Shame chokes my throat, but he sees the question I cannot ask.
"She’s fine. She and Angel are putting together a program to deal with a nest in downtown LA."
My gorge rises at the mention of the vampire, and I make an involuntary sound of protest. Blair catches it, and looks at me questioningly. I just shake my head, turning back to my magazine article. Maybe this time I’ll be able to remember reading it.
"Jim, I think it’s time we talk about this."
"I don’t, Chief."
The quiet command in Blair’s voice drags my eyes back to him. My Guide’s expression is determined, and I reluctantly set the magazine down. "Blair..." my voice is pleading. I want to forget.
He shakes his head, compassion evident even as he says, "No, Jim. We’ve got to deal with what happened. We can’t just sweep it under the rug."
"What happened?" I say, bitterness filling my voice. "I kidnapped and tortured a young woman, Sandburg, that’s what happened."
"Those were the events," Blair agreed, "Why?"
"Why?! It doesn’t matter why, Chief. There’s no reason good enough to justify that."
"I’m not trying to justify it, Jim. I’m trying to explain it." Blair sighs as I look stubbornly out the window at the city lights beyond the glass. "Jim, I think I know what happened."
"I went crazy," I say flatly, my eyes still focused on the glittering lights.
"No! Well, yes, but in a totally explainable way."
I turn to see his face lit up with the excitement he gets when he’s working out a new theory. In spite of myself, I smile at the glow in his eyes. He races on.
"Look, The Sentinel protects the tribe, right? And the Guide is part of the tribe."
"The most important part, Chief," I say, softly enough that he doesn’t hear.
"So when Faith attacked me, she attacked the tribe. And that meant that she had to be dealt with." Blair jumps up to pace, hands moving wildly as he continues. "When you saw her at the park..." he stops and looks at me inquiringly, "Was I still there, man, when you got there? I keep forgetting to ask."
I nod, "Yeah, Chief, you were. I just... I wanted to get her away from you."
"Wow. I wonder if you’d have reacted the same way if I hadn’t been there," Blair mused, then shrugged. "Anyway, when you saw her, that need to deal with her, to punish her for attacking the tribe, came boiling out. You went primal, Jim. You weren’t reacting as Jim Ellison, you were reacting as The Sentinel of the Great City."
"And that’s supposed to make it better, Chief? I... don’t remember much, but I know I was going to kill her, Blair. After I hurt her like she had you."
"So why didn’t you?" Blair’s gaze is intent, and I shrug helplessly.
"I don’t know. I zoned, I guess, and when I came out of it..."
"You were yourself again."
I looked at him in surprise.
"Faith told me. You were about to let her go, weren’t you? When we got there."
I nod slowly.
"What did you zone on?"
"I- I’m not sure. I think it was..." I stop, unable to continue.
"C’mon, man, don’t hold out on me here!"
"Her blood," I whisper. "I remember... seeing it on the knife, and smelling it, and. . .hearing it move in a trickle down her neck. I touched it, and..." I swallow hard, forcing myself to finish. "I tasted it, Chief."
Blair nods slowly. "Okay. So all five of your senses were focused on it, that makes sense. So when you came out of it, what was different? Why were you Jim again?"
I close my eyes, shaking my head minutely. "I don’t know."
"I think I do."
My eyes open, and I look over to see Blair’s smile.
"I talked to Faith, Jim. She said that she was ready for you to kill her, that she thought it was justice for what she had done."
I shake my head in denial. Blair holds up a hand, stopping my reply.
"You and I may think that’s not so, Jim. But the Sentinel did. So did she. And the Sentinel knew that! She gave in. She surrendered." Blair’s eyes glowed with conviction. "When you zoned, the primal Sentinel had been fulfilled. His purpose had been served. So when you came out of it, he was gone."
"It’s a nice idea, Chief. But what about when you got there? I lost it again."
"Well, actually, I’ve been doing some research on that. There are some legends I’d ignored because, well, vampires weren’t real. But there are stories about blood drinkers, Jim, and they are pretty nasty, most of them anyway. For some reason, Angel seems to be an exception. They’re an automatic danger, and their presence seems to put any sentinel that deals with them into high gear. The primal Sentinel was still pretty close to the surface, so..."
"It just came right back."
"So what about Angel? Why’d he react the way he did, if he’s one of the good guys?"
"He’s not sure. Faith says he doesn’t remember any of it." Blair chuckled. "It’s a good thing Simon decided not to charge him with kidnapping, though. I’d hate to see him upset again!"
"He did that because Faith’s not charging me."
Blair sobered. "I know. My theory is that he had an instinctive reaction to the presence of a sentinel. We don’t have much on the behavior patterns of vampires, though, so I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. Unless we test it."
"No way, Sandburg. That is one test I will never agree to." I had to smile at Blair’s immediate pout.
"So how do we keep this from happening again, Chief?" I wince inwardly at the tone of the desperate plea.
"I don’t know, Jim. I’m not sure we can." Blair’s voice is full of compassion. "I know one thing, though."
"What’s that?" I don’t really care, though, even though I’m asking. I’m a menace, and I can’t be fixed.
"No matter what, Jim, you won’t do anything wrong."
I look at Blair in surprise and disbelief. "What are you saying, Chief? Look at what happened here!"
Blair nodded. "Yes, Jim, look at what happened here. You dealt with a threat to the tribe. You punished a wrongdoer. The Sentinel of the Great City kept the faith. You didn’t kill her. You kept faith with yourself."
Blair’s eyes are filled with such trust that I can barely stand to look at them as he finishes, his gaze holding mine captive.
"You will always keep the faith, Jim Ellison. Always."
Is that what he thinks of me?