Once again, my grateful thanks to Shellie.

This is an “interlude” scene from my Sentinel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossover.

Interlude: Consumed by the Fire
-- by Mackie/

He lay atop his bed in the darkness of his room. His eyes, already extremely sensitive, were now so acute he could see tiny specks of dust suspended in the air. If he focused closely on one, his ultra-heightened sense of smell could detect the musty accumulation of particles -- a single flake of dander, a few sloughed human cells not his own, a bit of furniture polish, a miniscule spatter from last night's Italian sauce; all of these things combined in a single iota of dust. It was a microcosm of what life had been like in the loft...and could never be again.

The changes had been happening over the past several weeks -- an increased sensitivity to light, aversion to foods he used to love, the awareness of a growing hunger that drew his senses to the beating thrum of blood pulsing through the arteries of the people he encountered every day. Now, the transformation was complete. After tonight, he would no longer be Jim Ellison, detective with the Major Crime section of the Cascade Police Department.

He would be James Joseph Ellison, fugitive...murder suspect...

...and vampire.

He hadn't asked for this curse. His life had been stolen from him by another, and he'd been helpless to resist her strength. Now, however, he felt a sense of unrestrained power, an awareness of completion he had never known as a mortal. He was free of the burdens of conscience and morality that had plagued his life as a human.

He was at peace.

And tonight, he would feed for the first time. He would make his first kill.

Rising from his bed, he walked into the bathroom and studied his face in the mirror. The heavy brow ridge and piercing yellow eyes had once been repugnant to him when seen on another; now, he thought they made him look rather dashing. He smiled -- the fangs of his canine teeth glittered in the darkness. Concentrating, he transformed his face back into its human countenance.

No need to frighten the prey.

He dressed carefully in his favorite clothes, then packed a duffel and bathroom kit. All the while, he relished the need growing inside of him. When it had built to exquisite torment, he would act; only once would he revel in the excitement of a first kill. Only once would he savor the sweet taste of his chosen first.

With his travel preparations finished, he carried his bags downstairs and put them by the front door. He made certain he had his passport and plenty of cash. He'd already transferred the bulk of his finances to an offshore account under a false name; tomorrow night, he would pick up the forged documents establishing the new identity. Everything was ready.

His anticipation quickened.

It was time.

Savoring the images of pleasure, he walked slowly toward the tiny room where his loftmate slept. For days, he'd imagined the details of this moment. He could practically feel Blair's pliant young body fused helplessly against his own. He could almost taste the ambrosia of that innocent life force sliding down his throat and sating his appetite. The thought made him dizzy with desire. But he would not hasten the climax -- anticipation had to be indulged lest the pleasure end too soon.

He silently entered the bedroom and gazed down at the sleeping figure laid out before him like a sacrifice. Blair was face up, his head slightly back to expose the soft, pale flesh of his throat, his hair an unruly dark halo against the pillow. Jim could see the slow, steady pulse point of the carotid, and he shook with the effort to quell the urge to sweep down and devour the innocence he held at his mercy.

When he was once again in firm control, he studied the slumbering form. There was something perversely alluring about observing the unsuspecting victim, the sleeper unaware, vulnerable and innocent. Blair felt safe, secure in the knowledge that Jim -- his Sentinel -- was watching over him, protecting him from the evil that foraged in the night. Except this time, it was the dead atrocity of that other Ellison who held the fragile life in his hands -- and felt no remorse at the thought of ending it.

Blair looked so peaceful, so at one with his world. Why had the mortal Jim Ellison never achieved that sense of peace? What earnest commitment to duty and compassion had driven him to help those weaker than himself? Why had guilt consumed him on those occasions where his best efforts had failed?

Being shed of those mortal concerns made him feel lighter. Conscience was a terrible affliction.

He sat down on the edge of the bed. Blair stirred and rolled a little towards him without awakening. Even in sleep, he seemed to recognize the presence of his protector. Jim relished the moment; he had once felt love for this mortal, but it was gone now, as dead as his soul. It confirmed what he's already known -- if he could consume this young man, a man he had loved more than a brother, then he would never again feel the binding chains of guilt and responsibility.

Smiling in the darkness, he reached out and shook the shoulder of his sleeping housemate. "Wakey, wakey," he said in a silly, childish voice.

Blair shifted slightly beneath his fingers, and he felt a renewed surge of desire for the kill. No! He had to maintain control, for in all the centuries ahead of him, there would never be another moment so fine as this.

"Blair, wake up," he urged in a more normal tone.

With a wordless mumble, Blair sleepily opened his eyes. "Wazzit?" he murmured, peering blearily from beneath the covers.

"I just wanted to say goodbye."

Blair widened his eyes in an effort to drive away the haze of sleep. "Goodbye?" he repeated dumbly, finally approaching full wakefulness. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know. I haven't really decided," Jim admitted calmly. "Eastern Europe, probably. There's chaos there. I can -- feed -- on chaos."

Blair sat up groggily, confusion and worry suffusing his boyish features. Almost without realizing it, he found himself pressed gently against the wall, strong fingers splayed against his chest to hold him there. "I don't understand," he said.

In front of his eyes, the man he knew as Jim Ellison suddenly transformed into a vision from his worst nightmare.

"Get the picture?" the newly born vampire asked with a grin.

With an inarticulate cry, Blair jerked away from the hand against his chest and scrambled to his feet.

The creature rose with him, until they were both standing on the bed, Blair pressed hard against the wall, pinned by the weight and unnatural strength of the beast that had once carried the soul of his best friend.

Strong fingers tangled in his hair to imprison his head, and elbows anchored against his chest, insuring he could not flee. Automatically, his hands fisted in the fabric of Jim's shirt, but he knew it was futile to try to push away. His breath quickened as the face of the monster came closer.

"Now do you understand what I've become?" the voice that had once belonged to Jim Ellison asked softly. He was trembling with eagerness for the kill, and yet there was such exquisite torment in controlling his urgency. God, he was nearly overcome with bloodlust -- he could hear Blair's heart pounding desperately behind the thin barrier of muscle and bone; he could feel the blood coursing beneath his arms as he insinuated his body against his victim. He could smell the sweet scent of fear amid the more familiar odors of soap and shampoo.

"Jim -- " Blair groaned, his voice hoarse as his throat tightened with terror. "When -- I mean, how long -- how long have you been -- ?"

"The transformation started a few days after we got back from Sunnydale," Jim whispered. "I wasn't sure until last week, when I couldn't eat cooked food anymore." He thumped his victim's head against the wall lightly to counterpoint his words. Chidingly, he added, "And you thought I just didn't like your pasta."

Blair's voice remained calm, but his body trembled with tension. "You should have said something. We might have -- "

The soft flutter of quivering flesh against him nearly sent Jim mad with lust. It was almost orgasmic, this bloodlust surging through his body.

"No!" He thumped his victim's head against the wall again, this time hard enough to make Blair flinch. "You don't understand, do you? I like what I've become."

Blair's breath caught in his throat for a moment, but he managed to say, "You're right. I don't understand."

Jim frowned bitterly as he sought the words. "Ellison was such a wimp...such a Boy Scout. Didn't you see the burden he carried? He had such a sense of duty, such a nagging conscience. Being rid of those human frailties is so empowering. I'm finally free, don't you see? I'm free of the shackles that bound me to a life of servitude and sacrifice."

"You were a good man," Blair murmured, still defending his friend. It was finally dawning on him that Jim Ellison was dead. There would be no last minute rescue this time; the remembered face of his savior had become the face of his killer.

"And I'll be a great vampire!" Jim retorted, his breath hot against the younger man's face. He frowned slightly...wasn't his breath was supposed to be cold as death, not hot with passion?

Blair was silent for a moment, but he did not look away. "You're going to kill me, aren't you?"

Jim cocked his head a little to one side. "I've dreamed of this moment for days. Killing you without qualm will be the final severing of any link to what I was. It will be my moment of becoming, the moment when I embrace my destiny."

Blair sagged as a flush of weakness engulfed him, but he resolutely grasped the arms pressed against his chest and refused to succumb. "I'm sorry, Jim," he whispered softly. The very existence of this monster was proof that the Jim he knew was lost forever, and this knowledge was as painful to bear as the fact that he was about to die.

They were close enough to kiss, and Jim drank in the multitude of nuances of every breath, every quiver, every beat of the life he held in his hands. The intoxicating sense of power made him giddy. It was power untempered by conscience, domination without compassion. It was almost painful trying to control the urge to sink his fangs into the soft flesh of the neck, pierce the carotid and feel the hot blood rush into him.

Tingling with anticipation, he barely managed to ask, "Sorry for what?"

"I'm sorry I never had a chance to say goodbye to my friend," Blair explained, sorrow making his voice crack. "I'm sorry I never realized he was gone."

"You served him faithfully," Jim whispered against the lips only a millimeter from his own. "You can swear to serve me, and I'll spare your life." That had been one of his favorite fantasies -- the image of Blair drinking Jim's blood to bind them together for eternity.

"I was Jim's friend," the younger man answered simply. "I won't be your slave."

He flinched as he felt cool lips press against his chin, the demon mouth questing slowly downward, lingering, tasting as it denied itself that which it desired most. He felt the mouth pause at his carotid and tensed for the inevitable finality, a soft moan escaping despite his efforts to contain it. Fangs nipped his flesh, and he jerked slightly, straining to get away even as he knew the monster's strength was so much greater than his own. Warm blood trickled down his neck, and he felt the vampire lick at it tentatively.

"God," he murmured despairingly, "get it over with. Please!"

One hand left the tangle of his hair and clamped over his mouth, shutting off his words. The demon face, blood now rimming the mouth like clown paint, leered into his own. "This is my virgin kill," the vampire ordered quietly, but its breath was rapid with building desire. "Don't rush me."

Against his back, Blair suddenly became aware of a tribal mask he had hanging on the wall. With a desperate shove, he unsettled Jim just enough to break free for an instant, and he managed to grab the mask even as both men lost their balance on the mattress.

They fell to the floor, and Blair swung his meager weapon, which connected solidly with the side of his tormentor's head. The mask shattered, and Blair was abruptly in possession of a wooden stake. He knew what he had to do with it, but a moment's hesitation proved to be a moment too long. Jim lunged for him, and they toppled into the bookcase, bringing its contents down on top of them.

Jim was on top, easily pinning the smaller man beneath him. Once again, he leaned in close to gain maximum domination. He smiled. "A little light exercise does wonders for the appetite," he confessed in a whisper, but his eyes were savage. He could no longer control his avarice, and he sank his teeth into the neck of the young victim writhing helplessly beneath him.

As the hot blood flowed, he heard the frantic heartbeat begin to flutter irregularly, then slow. The futile struggles became erratic, then feeble.

He sat back to gaze into the dying face of his victim.

Blair's eyes were open but dazed. Gradually, they focused on the monster that loomed above him. With the last of his strength, he reached up and caressed the cheek of the demon that had destroyed him. "I love you, Jim," he murmured with his final breath.

The hand dropped, the arm falling limp as the final ember of life fled. Jim grasped the flaccid hand before it struck the floor and clutched it tightly, an unbearable guilt scorching through his body like napalm.

No! It wasn't supposed to be like this! He was supposed to be unfettered of mortal concerns!

He drew back in horror and stared down at the pale, motionless form beneath him.

Grief consumed him like a pyre, and he gathered up the cooling body in a protective embrace. As a firestorm of mortal conscience once again rushed in to claim him, he threw back his head and screamed in denial

*****

"Come on, Jim, snap out of it!" The command was urgent, tinged with fear.

He opened his eyes and stared into the concerned gaze of his roommate. With the dream still vivid in his mind, he desperately shoved his friend away. "No! I don't want to hurt you!"

Blair fell back with a grunt of surprise. He'd been on his knees beside his loftmate, and he rolled backward until he thumped into his desk. Books and papers cascaded down upon him. "Ow!" he exclaimed in protest. Sitting up, he rubbed the back of his head. "Too late."

Jim tried to focus. He was on the floor beside a bed -- Blair's bed, he realized belatedly -- and the sheets tangled around him felt damp against his hot, sweaty skin. Every joint and muscle in his body ached. The room spun dizzily around him, its clutter threatening to topple down and bury him beneath an avalanche of books and artifacts. He closed his eyes against the stomach-churning sight.

Blair crawled across the intervening space and placed a hand on his roommate's forehead. "Man, you're burning up." His voice held a nervous edge that betrayed his anxiety. "Come on, Jim. If you don't talk to me, I'm gonna have to call an ambulance."

Jim opened his eyes. He felt so horribly weak, it was an effort to think. But the familiar figure crouched in front of him was real -- and exquisitely, perfectly alive! With trembling hands, he reached to touch the face of his most precious friend, almost afraid the wavering form would vanish like vapor.

The look of loving gratitude suffusing Jim's face caused Blair to frown slightly with confusion. Gently, he gripped the older man's hands in his own and squeezed tightly. "It's OK, Jim," he whispered, not certain why he needed to give reassurance, only certain it was needed.

"Yes," Jim agreed just as quietly, content to feel the life surging through the hands clasping his. "What happened?"

"You've got the flu bug that's leveled half the city," Blair explained patiently. "Don't you remember?"

"No," Jim admitted, trying to piece together the scattered images of his memory. "I thought -- " Well, he didn't know what he thought.

Blair sighed with relief. "At least you're making sense now. You were really out of it for about twenty minutes. Scared me half to death."

"Sorry. I don't remember."

"Half the department is out with this flu, and you've been pulling double shifts," Blair continued, finding a dry blanket and wrapping it around his friend as he removed the sweat-soaked sheets. "Simon finally sent you home. I guess he didn't realize how sick you were. You barely made it through the front door before collapsing. You were too out of it for me to risk trying to get you upstairs." A grand sweep of one hand encompassed his room. "So here you are."

Jim huddled in the blanket. "Your room is really scary from down here," he commented softly, trying to distract himself from his misery. It didn't work.

"You OK here for a minute?" Blair asked, peeling the rest of the bedclothes off the mattress. "I want to change the sheets."

"Yeah," Jim murmured, finally shaking off the last remnants of the nightmare and reconnecting with reality. "Except my senses are going in and out like a bad FM radio signal."

"OK," Blair said, picking up the last of the bedclothes, "I'll help you with that in a minute." He carried his burden out of the room and returned shortly with fresh linens. Quickly, he started to make up the bed.

"You don't have to do that," Jim protested.

Blair looked at him oddly. "I don't mind. You can't do it for yourself right now."

When the bed was made, Jim started to climb to his feet, but even that minor exertion sent pain roaring through his skull, and he slumped back with a groan.

"Let me help," Blair said, irritated by Jim's stubbornness. He helped Jim crawl between the covers and smoothed the blanket over him "You're a terrible patient, you know that?"

"Sorry," Jim apologized softly, closing his eyes against a surge of glare from his whacked out senses. "I'm OK now."

"Sure you are," Blair agreed with a touch of sarcasm. "That was some dream you had," he added. "You tried to launch yourself right out of the room."

"Yeah, bad one," Jim agreed, burrowing into the covers and wishing it would all go away.

Blair left the room again and came back a few minutes later with a thermometer, a basin of water, and a washcloth. He plopped everything down on his bedside table, and cleaned the thermometer with alcohol. "Open wide," he ordered, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"You're having too much fun with -- umph." Jim's complaint died as the thermometer slid under his tongue. The faint taste of alcohol burned, and he grimaced. "Ugh. Wanna ta' 'bou -- "

"You don't seriously think I can understand a word you're saying, do you?" Blair interrupted smoothly, using Jim's watch to time the thermometer and finally removing it from the patient's mouth. "A hundred-two," he said quietly. "It's come down a bit. I talked to Dan; he said if it doesn't get any worse, you can probably avoid a trip to the hospital. I guess the ER's pretty full with all the flu patients."

The thought of all the smells, noise and bright lights of the emergency room was particularly horrific to Jim with his senses jumping in and out. A wonderful coolness against his face roused him again. "Feels good," he murmured.

Blair stroked his partner's forehead with the cold, damp washcloth. "Yeah, Naomi uses this trick. She puts witch hazel in the water. It makes it feel cooler." He opened the cloth and wafted it gently in the air to renew the cold, then reapplied it to fevered brow. "I'm gonna go plug in the white noise generator and get your sleep mask so you can cover your eyes. You need to get some rest."

"I want to talk about the dream," Jim insisted muzzily from beneath the cool cloth.

"Let me finish up here, first," Blair replied patiently, leaving the room again.

The white noise generator quickly dulled Jim's faulty hearing, and the ache in his head immediately started to diminish.

When Blair came back, he had the mask Jim sometimes wore when he had to sleep during the day.

"Not yet," Jim said quietly. "Can you just turn out the light?"

"Sure," Blair said obligingly, switching off the bedside lamp. The only illumination filtered in from the kitchen, and it was just enough for him to be able to see the older man lying so miserable in the bed. "You really need to rest."

"Want to talk," Jim insisted weakly.

"OK." Blair rinsed out the washcloth and continued his ministrations. "About the dream?"

"Yeah."

"What was it?"

Jim felt awkward trying to describe it. "I, uh, consumed you," he admitted finally.

Blair laughed abruptly, surprised by the revelation. "You mean like a cannibal?" he asked incredulously, too busy with the washcloth to notice Jim's earnestness.

Jim grimaced. "No. I mean like a vampire."

Blair's hands stilled, and he looked at Jim, realizing for the first time how deadly serious his partner was. Still, he couldn't help but be fascinated by the topic. "Yeah? Was it kinky?"

Jim blushed, uncomfortable with the memory of just how sensual -- how sexual -- the dream had been. "Yeah, a little, I guess."

"Wow." Blair rinsed out the cloth again. "No, Jim, just because you lusted after my body in a dream doesn't mean you want to make a move on me in real life."

"Damnit, that's not what I was getting at." Jim tried to sound impatient, but his weakness made it come out petulant. "I killed you."

"Oh." Blair stopped his ministrations and sat quietly. "Do you think that's significant?

"

"Aren't you the one who's always telling me our dreams are significant?" Jim countered, his words slurring slightly as exhaustion tried to claim him.

"I don't know about fever-induced dreams, Jim," Blair answered honestly. "I could do some research. Anyway, what do you think it meant? Maybe you think you endanger my life when I work with you on a case."

Jim shook his head, wincing with regret as his head throbbed in protest. "No -- I consumed you." He couldn't think of any other way to explain it, and his frustration was evident in his expression. The damn fever wouldn't let him think!

Blair wanted to lessen his friend's obvious anxiety, so he seriously pondered the implications. "You drained my blood to give yourself strength, and you're wondering if that's somehow a parallel to our relationship?"

"Yes. Have I -- as a sentinel and your friend -- consumed your life for my own selfish reasons?"

"Do you feel that way?"

Jim closed his eyes for a moment, frowning with the effort to think. "Sometimes, just now and again, I wonder if your life would have been better if we'd never met."

"You probably wonder that every time you pull my butt out of a sticky situation," Blair guessed, smiling slightly. "To answer your question -- my life certainly would have been different, but I don't think it would have been any better. I chose to be with you, and I choose to stay. It's not something you're forcing me to do."

"But aren't there other things you'd like to do as well?" Jim countered, shivering as a new bout of fever coursed through his body. God, this flu made him feel like death. It was no wonder he'd dreamed of vampires!

Blair tucked the blankets in more snugly, then picked up the washcloth again and stroked it gently against Jim's sweating brow. "Sure," he admitted after a long moment.

"Things I stop you from doing," Jim persisted.

"No, choices I make," Blair countered calmly.

"I don't mean to sound like I'm not grateful for those choices," Jim said softly. "But sometimes, I feel like I control your life too much."

Blair smiled. "It's an illusion I permit you to indulge."

"Thanks." Jim returned the smile. "Can we make a compromise?"

"Why? I've just said you don't control my life; everything I've done has been by choice."

"Choice dictated by a strong sense of responsibility," Jim added.

"No one makes choices in a vacuum," Blair protested, adding after a bit, "Except maybe a vampire. They're totally self-absorbed, and their choices are uncomplicated by any moral baggage."

"That's what I mean," Jim said urgently, finding his focus. "I've consumed almost every aspect of your life because you feel a sense of responsibility toward me."

"Jim, I realize you've got a fever, so I'm not going to argue with you right now," Blair said fondly in exasperation. "When you get better, we can have this little talk again if you feel like it."

"But first I want to make a compromise," Jim insisted.

Blair sighed. "Fine. What?"

"Pick something you didn't do because you chose to stay with me...and do it."

Blair pondered the offer. "You mean it?"

"Yeah. There must be some course you want to take, or some course you want to teach, or some place you want to go, some...thing." Jim wound down as his fever made him lose track of what he'd been trying to say.

"OK, I'll think about it," Blair promised, feeling guilty because several possibilities had sprung immediately to mind.

"You'll pick one."

"I said I'll think about it."

"No," Jim insisted, starting to sit up but unable to manage more than a few inches before falling back with a moan. "Promise me you'll pick one."

Blair placed a hand against Jim's chest to still him. "All right," he agreed, realizing how important this had become to his friend. "I'll pick one -- and when you're all better and griping about I'm not around when you need me, I'll remind you of this little conversation."

Jim smiled serenely and drifted toward sleep. "Just remind me of the dream, Chief -- I won't be griping."

The End

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