The cold dampness from the cement had completely soaked through his jeans and his layer of shirts. He slowly splayed his frozen fingers against the hardness beneath him and cautiously sniffed. A basement, no doubt about it, which meant he wasn't home or even in a good place.
"You might as well open your eyes, doctor," a crisp British voice said with some amusement.
Was there someone else with him? The thought chilled him more than the concrete. He couldn't let harm come to an innocent.
He blinked his eyes open, immediately cognizant of the fact that he was lying on perhaps the cleanest basement floor he had ever seen, despite the slightly mildewy smell. A bright spotlight shone down upon him, making him aware of the darkness just inches away.
He moved his arm slightly and couldn't prevent the moan which emanated from his throat.
"It would be best if you sat up, Joseph. There's nothing wrong with you other than your muscles have stiffened up due to laying on the floor for so long."
"My name..." Clearing his throat, he tried again. "My name isn't Joseph." He pushed himself up into a sitting position and tried to peer into the darkness.
"Ah, that's right. Your name is Blair Sandburg, a graduate student studying anthropology."
Blair put each of his semi-frozen hands under the opposite armpit. "Do I know you?"
A laugh reverberated around him, making him feel like he was in a large room, perhaps a warehouse. "So that's the way you want to play this?"
Blair blinked. "I'd rather not play at all if it's all the same to you."
"Then just admit the truth and we'll move on."
"What truth?" he asked, swallowing hard, praying that Jim was safe and sound.
"I don't care about your sentinel, Joseph. My interest is strictly in you."
Blair frowned. "Joseph? Why do you keep calling me that? You already know who I am?"
"Do I?" the voice asked, almost sadly, from the darkness. "You see, I believe that you are Doctor Joseph McKay. What I want to know is why you insist on being called Blair Sandburg?"
"Because I am Blair Sandburg, damn it!"
"Blair Sandburg died when he was twenty-two years old in Irian Jaya when he was mistaken for a lilejo and perforated with barbed arrows when he tripped over his own feet and startled one of their warriors."
"Wha-What? That's insane. I wasn't killed. I lived with them for three months." Blair tried to gain his feet, but his leg muscles protested and he fell to the ground in a graceless heap.
"I must give you credit for smoothly occupying the missing space he left. He had strayed from his party and they simply listed him as missing in action as it were."
Blair shook his head, then stopped and pressed his fingers to his forehead, trying to stop the ache behind the bone.
"Your serial killer, what was his name? Lash, wasn't it? He would have had a hard time becoming you, wouldn't he? Since you don't even know who you are."
"Fuck you," Blair spat, his entire body trembling.
"Soon," the voice whispered. "I promise."
Blair scuttled backward on the floor, panting, desperately trying to see into the darkness. "Who are you?" he demanded, trying to get a fix on his adversary.
"You know who I am, Joseph, but that's not what we're here to discuss."
"Then what?" he asked barely above a whisper.
"So you still insist you're Blair Sandburg?"
"I am Blair Sandburg, damn it! Just ask my mother!"
"Ah, yes, Naomi. A free spirit, flitting from one life to another like a butterfly pollinating the flowers around her. A woman who realized too late what her son meant to her. A woman who was broken spiritually and emotionally until..."
Blair shook his head, refusing to ask.
"Until," the voice continued with amusement, "she ran into the spitting image of her son."
"Am I? Those photo albums you cling to, the ones you're about to insist are you, aren't of your life. The child may look like you; but then again, he would, wouldn't he? But Naomi didn't care. She just wanted to go back to her life. If she had you, she didn't have to face the death of her precious son."
Blair laughed, recognizing that he sounded slightly hysterical. "And why would I take over the life of a dead anthropology student?"
"To escape from your past, from the mistakes which haunt you." A lithe figure dressed in a black sweater and jeans stepped into the circle of light. "To escape from me."
"And just who the hell are you?" Blair asked with a bravado he didn't quite feel. He watched the bearded man, with the bright green eyes, smile like a cat toying with his prey.
The man stepped forward, and Blair scuttled backward. Raising his hands in supplication, the man stopped. "I've forgiven you, you know?"
Blair moved back a little further, then realized he was starting to move into the darkness. He moved forward again, knowing on some level that the darkness wouldn't protect him from this man. "For what?"
"For the experiments. I know you didn't have a choice. I know you tried to protect me. You saved my life three different times, and I know you let me go when you could have stopped me."
Blair pushed himself off the cement and stood. "I don't know what you're talking about, man."
"Yes, you do," his captor said softly, taking another step closer. "Your soul spoke to mine and that frightened you."
Swallowing hard, Blair asked, "Why would that frighten me?"
"Because you knew I was offering you eternity and you were afraid it would change who you were, afraid you would lose your humanity. But you won't, Joseph. I've given my life a lot of thought since we were last together. I was a peasant, knowing nothing but backbreaking work. I had never traveled outside my valley, never would have. All I knew was toil, sweat and the brutality of the man who held himself out as my lord and master. When I changed, I didn't understand what was happening to me, but I soon realized that my masters were no better than I was and yet they treated me like an animal." The man took another step forward. "I was angry and I took my rage out on the world. People's reaction to me just solidified my anger for I believed they thought themselves better than I was."
The man took another step forward and cupped Blair's chin lightly, almost mesmerizing him. "Until you. You knew what I was and didn't care. You offered me friendship and trust. No one had ever done that before. After I escaped I thought about your kindness and your fear that I would change who you were. It gave me another view of life and while I can't change who I am, I realized that I no longer had to act in anger."
"Who-who are you?" Blair asked, shakily.
The man smiled, revealing the fangs which extended from his mouth.
Blair's breath stuttered, but he refused to look away from the man in front of him.
"Ah, my brave Joseph. Even now, you don't react in horror, simply accepting who I am. But then again a man who believes in sentinels would have no trouble believing in vampires, now would he?"
"I... I don't know what you're talking about."
The vampire laughed harshly. "Of course you don't." He spun and took several steps away from Blair, pacing back and forth within the circle of light. "Your soul is split, Joe. A part of you still longs for me, but yet another part yearns for your sentinel. Can he give you eternal life? Can he show you the world and all its pleasures? What could possibly possess you to stay with him?"
"He needs me."
"I need you, damn it!" the vampire shouted angrily as he spun to face Blair.
"No, you don't," Blair said in a voice much calmer than he felt. "You've lived for centuries. You don't need anyone. You've obviously misinterpreted an act of kindness for something more than it was. What's so special about this Joe guy? Anyone could be your companion? You're living in a modern time. Surely, this Joseph isn't the only one who could accept you for who you are."
The vampire took several steps closer. Blair fought the urge to turn and run, and held his ground.
"But you're forgetting. Only one person in a thousand has the virus and I have no way of detecting who has it and who doesn't."
"Must you turn a companion? Why can't you just accept a companion for who or what he or she may be?"
"I'm over two thousand years old, Joseph. Do you know how many companions I would have found then lost to disease and death?"
"Everyone dies, man."
"But you don't have to."
"I'm not Joseph."
The vampire moved faster than Blair would have thought possible and grabbed both of his arms. "Do you really want to try dying again? If you had died in that fountain, you would have been lost forever. Don't you understand that? What say I bite you and we find out exactly who you are?"
"And if I'm not Joseph, then you've killed an innocent. How would your Joseph react to that?"
Blair saw the indecision in the vampire's eyes. The other man smiled, almost sadly, then leaned forward and sniffed at the juncture of Blair's neck and shoulder. "Very well," the vampire whispered. I'll leave you to your sentinel for now. He lives a very dangerous life. I doubt he'll survive much longer. When his duty gets him killed, simply call for me with your heart and I will come to you."
"You're-you're letting me go?"
"Yes," the vampire said softly as he took a step back, but had yet to drop his arms.
"What is that sappy old saying? If you love something, let it go."
"I'm not Joseph."
The vampire slowly brought his hands up to both of Blair's cheeks. "I understand. Patience has never been my long suit, but I'm willing to try for I know it'll please you in the end."
Blair opened his mouth to speak, but the vampire brushed his little finger over his lips, silencing him.
"Just call me with your heart." With that, the vampire leaned forward and gently brushed his lips over Blair's. "I will wait for you, Joseph."
When Blair opened his eyes, the vampire was gone and the small warehouse was flooded with light. Taking a shaky breath, he turned and found his sentinel tied and gagged to a wooden chair behind him.
"Jim!" He ran to the bound man and quickly removed the cloth around his mouth. "Are you okay? Please say you're okay."
"I'm okay, Sandburg. Just get me the hell out of this chair."
Blair worked quickly to comply.
"Just what in the hell was that all about," his sentinel demanded, rubbing his wrists once Blair released him.
"I have no idea, man. I'm just grateful he didn't hurt you. Can we get the hell out of here before the whack job comes back?"
Jim nodded and pushed himself to his feet. "You got to admit it was rather strange."
"You don't have to convince me. I feel like I've just stepped out of the 'Twilight Zone'."
"What?" Blair shouted in exasperation.
"Do you want to explain this?" Jim asked, holding up a folded copy of a New Guinea death certificate.
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