Kaleidoscope

 
 

Oz’ hand kept returning to his chest as he drove. Definitely a bruise there, if not a broken rib or two. He’d never been kicked that hard by a vampire.

Not that that last brute from the mausoleum had let him off lightly. He’d feel a few of those hits tomorrow, but most of that had been taken care of by the wolf inside.

But that kick to the chest Faith had given him… damn. Who was that girl?

The lights were on at the R & W, as they might be all night since the gang was in research mode. Oz pulled the van to a stop behind Wesley’s Escort. Just the man he needed to see.

Willow was behind the counter at her computer, and Wesley was searching among the shelves of books. Otherwise the store was empty. Oz frowned.

“Not the party I was expecting,” he said as the door closed behind him.

Wesley imparted him a very brief glance. “Myself either.”

“Oh, hey, Oz,” Willow smiled at him in her cheerful-in-the-face-of-apocalypse way. “Yeah, uhm, Cordy was here all day, and Angel took her home to rest. Xander called, he’ll be home, er, here in a while.”

“Anya is at my apartment researching the geometric alignment of portals and Hellmouths,” the Watcher added.

Willow noted Oz’ crooked eyebrow. “Ripper’s still out. Or, back out, actually.”

The young man nodded. “Still… progress?”

“Oh, yes!” the witch said excitedly. “I’ve found loads about the symbols Cordelia saw. I can translate almost all of the ones we identified.” Her face fell. “Except that’s only about half of the ones she saw.”

Wesley sighed. “And we have no idea of the sequence, which is critical.”

“So…” Oz bit back his frustration, “not really.”

“’fraid not,” the Watcher answered.

Willow shrugged sadly. “But, you?” she asked pleadingly.

He touched his chest again. “Need info on a girl.”

*   *   *   *   *

Faith folded the paper back again and, recognizing a van parked a few doors down, clenched it in her fist for a moment before slipping it into her pocket. She didn’t need the address — when her guy had doubled back to that club (The Bronze, she thought she remembered a sign saying) last night, that had been his wheels.

She glanced about quickly before sidling up for a glance through the storefront window. Yep, that was her boy, talking with two people she didn’t recognize: a pretty redhead behind the counter, and a stiff in a suit. He must the one Annie pegged as her stalker from Boston. Faith tucked her hair back from her ear and focused in for a listen.

*   *   *   *   *

“You found one of these young women?” Wesley asked, his heart quickening.

“In a manner of speaking,” Oz shrugged.

“Did you speak with her? What did you find out?” the Watcher tried to keep his voice level.

“Didn’t have much of a conversation. I was a little fangy at the time.”

Wesley’s brow furrowed. “You encountered her on your patrol?”

Willow’s face showed her concern. “You had to change? Oz, is everything all right? Are you hurt?”

“Nest. I’ll live.”

“A nest? You took on a nest by yourself?” the witch was beside herself. “Are you crazy?”

Oz smiled slightly. “Careless, but alive.” He became serious again. “So what do you know about her, Wes?”

The Watcher looked startled. “Me?”

Oz nodded expectantly. “You knew her name. There’s a reason.”

“Just a guess, really,” Wesley demurred.

But the wolf held his gaze. “I saw her in Shady Hills, and just afterwards found the nest in a mausoleum. I thought if I’d gone for help she’d get killed, so I went in. Got lucky with three, a fourth gave me hell, and the rest took off. When I finally chased my fourth down, Faith had killed the others. All of them.”

Willow looked at him blankly. “She’d killed…”

“…five vampires. By herself. Then she just about broke me in half when she thought I was threatening her. Which… wolf,” he shrugged, “makes sense.”

Wesley’s heart was in his throat. Was it possible? Could his quarry really have come here? Found him?

Oz bent to catch his eye. “Still waiting.”

“I’m sorry?” the Englishman brought his attention back to the present.

“I’ve never seen one, but it’s not too big a leap,” Oz said.

“She’s a Slayer,” Willow finished his thought.

Wesley took a deep breath. “I need to examine the Council’s materials.”

“I’m going with,” Oz stated.

“Rip’s got all the Watcher Diaries in his room,” Willow offered.

Wesley shook his head. “There are more detailed materials on future candidates in my collection.” He looked at Oz. “Shall we?”

“Will?” the wolf looked at her.

“Oh, I should stay. Xander should be along soon… and Ripper.”

He smiled. “They have these things called phones.”

She smiled back. “Well, I’d like to wait… we can join you later.”

“You shouldn’t be alone.”

She raised her hands. “Hello? Wicca? Magic shop?”

His voice was firm. “Lock the door.”

“Yes sir,” she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

*   *   *   *   *

She waited until both car and van pulled out before coming out of the shadows. Faith could hear the tinkling of keys. She pulled the door open before they could be used.

The redhead jumped back, startled. Faith held her voice level. “Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

The young woman tried to cover her embarrassment. “That’s okay, just startled, not scared. But—”

“So,” Faith cut in, “this is a Wiccan shop, huh?” she stepped past the girl and looked around. “Never been in one of them.”

“Uhm, okay, but—”

Faith picked up a crystal sphere off a shelf. “You sure this isn’t just for tourists?”

The redhead was flustered. “No, it’s genuine. Well, you need to be adept…”

“At magic?”

“Yes. Uhm, look, we’re actually closed, I was just locking up—”

“And you are?”

“Huh?”

“Adept at magic. You’re Willow, right? You do real witchcraft and stuff?”

She was completely tongue-tied. “Uhm, yes, well, you see—”

Faith was in front of her in a second. “’Cause, you know, gotta study, no time to fight a witch.” And the Slayer dropped Willow with one punch, the poor girl unconscious before she hit the floor.

*   *   *   *   *

It had taken until the fourth fight and suspension from school before Aunt Arleen had given up on Buffy. That was just over a year since she’d moved there, to Illinois. She didn’t think it was particularly bad there, other than the complete lack of anything to do whatsoever.

That’s not a conducive environment for a girl with, well, post-traumatic stress disorder, really.

If there had just been something interesting about the people there… like, if they stayed up past ten o’clock for instance. If it hadn’t been so dead quiet at night, out there in the farmland. When there’s nothing but the sound of wind in the corn, you can imagine a lot into every murmur.

So she would go to school tired, every day, and the kids would avoid her (“the crazy Valley Girl”), or whisper about her, and after a while, it would all lead up to her kicking someone’s ass.

She was eleven.

Annie paused at a street corner, somewhere in east Sunnydale, and took a deep drag of her cigarette. Her breath shuddered as she let it out. The light changed, she crossed Whatever Street and headed up Who Cares Lane.

Boston was just about as fun at first. At least she had heard of Aunt Arleen. Delores and Freddy? Buffy had a feeling they were the other relatives no one talked about.

They were seriously against belligerent, and Buffy’s reputation had apparently preceded her. So, fighting, not tolerated. Which, actually, no biggie. Boston was loud. No one gave a crap about where Buffy Summers had been, or what she’d been through. She was just New Girl. That had its own challenges, but she could deal.

What did her in were grades. Who’d a thought? You’re not burning buildings down, not beating other kids up, you maybe have a friend or two… what’s a lousy French grade worth bothering about? Or math? Or history? Or… okay, Mr. School Counselor, I see your point. Yep, I saw it six months ago. And six months before that. And there’s no need to get in my face about it. No, I’m not going nowhere fast, I have plans to just be cool… no, not hang out drinkdodrugs cool… drop the smile buddy no I don’t have issues, I’m dealing don’t lecture me you think you have problems you ain’t seen don’t talk about my family and drugs and gangs ’cause you don’t know anything you don’t see them no I don’t need to visit the nurse for a damned Prozac screw you no swearing and shit Freddy I know it’s not right to hit a counselor and is that my stuff Delores? You know what, fuck you guys too.

*   *   *   *   *

“No, I’m not cold, and no, I don’t need a flyer for your shelter,” Annie said flatly to a guy who probably fancied himself as Sunnydale’s savior. “But do you have a cigarette?”

*   *   *   *   *

“Summers, Buffy Anne. You’ve had your tour?”

“Yes,” she responded, too tired and shell-shocked to care about the fat lady’s tone.

“Room thirteen. And there’s nothing unlucky about it, so keep quiet. And you’re sharing, but that’s life so no complaints about that either. You need directions?”

“No.”

“It’s usually ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘no ma’am’ or ‘Mrs. McMurdle’ will do but it’s your first day so I’ll let it slide.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t forget your box.”

The hall stretched on forever. It seemed they’d taken thirteen out of sequence and stuck it after eighty or something. The box — her life, tattooed with a Magic Markered “B. Summers” — was lead in her arms. Two intolerably dimpled and perky blondes were playing checkers or some damned thing on the right side of her new room.

“Hi!” Blonde A said when she entered. “You must be Buffy! I’m Tracy, and this is Blonde B.” Actually she said Heather, but so what?

She offered a thin-lipped smile, and looked left. A dark-haired urchin pulled her pounding Walkman off one ear and didn’t raise her head from the pillow. “You may be older, but I’m here longer.” The girl jerked her thumb skyward. “You get the upper.”

She drifted towards the bunks like a zombie. Halfway there she stopped, and just exhaled for a minute. The urchin’s music clicked off. She sat up on her elbows and met her new roomie’s eyes with two of deep soulful brown.

“Faith,” the girl said.

With a glance at PerkyTown, she mustered a word. “Anne.”

Faith blinked. “So did you kill ‘B. Summers’ and steal her box?”

She laughed softly. “Yeah. Something like that.”

The dark-haired girl smiled. “You still get the upper.”

*   *   *   *   *

Annie and Faith came into the room laughing and, as usual, the Perky Twins took the opportunity to leave. The others never noticed.

“Did you see his face?” Faith said. “I thought he was gonna dump a load right there in the cafeteria.”

“It was priceless,” Annie replied, taking off her heavy coat and shaking the snow towards the right side of the room. “I don’t think he figured a freshman would tell him off like that.”

The brunette watched her with sparkling eyes. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“Duh,” Annie scoffed, “like you’d date a drummer.” She tossed the coat at the wall-mounted rack and it hooked with practiced precision. The blonde turned towards the bunks and stopped. “What’s that?” she asked.

Faith didn’t answer. When Annie glanced back, the younger girl was chewing her lip, her cheeks slightly flushed, though she’d have claimed it was from the chill outside if asked.

Annie reached up onto her bunk and took a long, flat box from her pillow. It was brown leather, with little brass hinges, tied with white satin ribbon.

“Where’d you get the bow?” Annie asked teasingly.

“Just open it,” Faith answered. She’d taken to chewing her thumbnail.

The older girl slipped off the trimming and, leaning back against the bed frame, levered open the box with her thumbs. Looking inside, her breath caught.

“This is a thing of beauty, Faith…” she said, then lifted the intricately carved, brightly polished knife out of its case, turning it back and forth reverently.
“Where did you get this?”

“Lifted it from Gun & Sport.”

“Faith!” Annie sounded aghast.

“Kidding!” Faith smiled. “I bought it at a pawn shop.”

The blonde met her eyes. “It must have cost you.”

The younger girl turned shy again. “It was worth it. Happy birthday.”

Annie’s voice was quiet. “Thank you.”

“So, we goin’ out?”

“We just got in,” Annie replied with mock annoyance.

Faith shrugged, shifting on her feet. “Celebration night… feel like dancing.”

Annie reached out a hand and took one of Faith’s. Her voice was a caress. “In a little while,” she said.

*   *   *   *   *

Sunnyhell, the thought went through her head. The pounding bass from a passing car beat at her. Annie really needed a smoke.

*   *   *   *   *

Too much dancing, too much music, waaay too much espresso, and somehow the two of them found themselves out in the dark end of make-out alley behind Paradise with a couple of guys old enough to know better.

She should have known better. She’d had two full years of training… and five years of trying to forget it.

But more than that, Annie was a fifteen-year-old foster kid who had gotten very used to taking care of herself. She should have known better.

Yet she was too focused on the guy in front of her, the good looking, almost hypnotically charming guy with wrong-side-of-the-tracks hair, casual Army surplus duds, and as she was learning, a great set of lips. His kisses gave her butterflies.

She could hear Faith and her boytoy nearby. Other than that they were alone. Which was odd… considering she’d seen her guy’s buds trail them out. What, were they keeping watch?

Annie shivered against the chill. At least it wasn’t snowing, but she could see her breath, misting around them when she had a chance to come up for air.

The butterflies kicked her in the gut again, looking at him. Awfully strong and pesky for butterflies. Had his eyes had that feverish yellow tint to them before?

She looked at Faith, whispering closely with her companion. Her own held her very tightly in his hands. Too tightly… it hurt a little. Annie pulled her coat closer and wondered why her guy wasn’t wearing one.

And why his buddy wasn’t either.

And where their friends were.

And why she and Faith were alone in an alley. With two guys whose breath didn’t mist in the air.

With two vampires.

Annie bucked backwards out of the creature’s grip. It morphed instantly into game face, just like in all those nightmares she refused to acknowledge or remember. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t a Slayer. They were both gonna die.

For a moment that didn’t seem so bad. For a long time she’d wanted that. Just to have the misery ended.

But this wasn’t then. Crappy as things were in general, she’d been sharing the load, the loneliness and peer pressure and that big hole in her life. With Faith. Who was innocent… who loved her… and who was scared to death right now.

Annie looked about frantically. She knew how to do this. She’d had two full years of training… and five years of trying to forget it. She needed something wood, and all she saw were metal dumpster, paper garbage, glass bottles, piles of snow…

“B!” Faith cried, completely overmatched and struggling.

Annie pulled out her new knife. It wouldn’t kill her guy, but he sure howled when she stuck it four inches deep in his thigh. He buckled, and Annie gave him a roundhouse punch to the face, knocking him back. Her hand stung briefly, but she ignored it.

She looked around again. To the side of the dumpster she spotted a heavy wooden crate. If she could just get Faith’s vampire over there and make him fall on it… but Faith would be dead before that happened. She sprinted over to it.

Behind her Annie heard her boy laugh. “Hey, smart girl. But you can’t run a wooden box through my chest. Pete, she thinks she’s a Slayer.”

Pete laughed, holding Faith at arm’s length, her body quivering in her terror.

The petite blonde choked back her tears. She looked at the solidly built crate. It was too heavy to pick up and try to smash. Her vampire moving in for the kill, she closed her eyes, and swung her fist at the box with everything she had.

It practically disintegrated.

Her eyes wide, Annie dove for the pieces and, with her beast a foot away she spun and plunged. It vanished into pieces smaller than the box.

Without a breath of hesitation she sprang to her feet, scooping up the knife that had fallen to the snow. Pete the Undead had had enough of his pretty prey’s struggles and lowered his lips to her neck. He never reached it.

Faith, suddenly released, stumbled back-first to the wall. Her breath came in gasps. “Annie… what… the hell… were they? What… the hell… did you do… to them?”

“No time,” she said, grabbing Faith’s hand and dragging her down the alley further where a fence blocked them in. There was a small gap in the chain links. Behind her she could hear the drumming of footsteps.

“We’re trapped!” Faith sobbed. Annie shook her head, then grabbed the wire around the hole with both hands and pulled. The gap tore open like tissue paper.

“Go!” she yelled, then had to push Faith towards the opening. As the brunette climbed through the first of the vampires’ two buddies arrived. Annie stood still and held out the stake. The bloodsucker tried to backpedal but couldn’t find purchase on the slippery surface. Annie closed her eyes against the cloud of dust.

Faith was through, and Annie followed. The other creature was right behind. The blonde stopped short and spun back into a kick into the chain link, knocking the vampire off a ways. It came right back. Annie began to move away as it started through the hole again. But it was a feint, and as the beast’s head emerged, she stepped back and took hold of the wire and twisted, entangling her opponent.

Faith had stopped twenty feet away, sensing Annie’s absence, and just stared. The older, smaller girl pulled out her birthday gift once more and, as easily as butter, sliced through the thing’s neck. It crumbled.

Annie listened, but no more were approaching. The blonde collapsed to the hard-packed snow, a fine coat of gray sprinkling its white surface. She couldn’t feel a thing, and yet she felt everything. Fire coursed through her body and blood. She’d never felt so strong.

Her best friend stepped to her cautiously, then sank to the ground beside her. Faith threw her arms about the other girl and clung for dear life.

But Annie could barely feel it. The girl’s grip was as a child’s to her. Annie just stared into space. “Oh my God…” she said. “I’ve been Called.”

*   *   *   *   *

“Mein Jägerin ist tot.”

Willow heard the voice as from far away. Her jaw ached and was oddly cold. Her hands ached. She cracked open her eyes and the light made her head ache. She winced.

The dark-haired girl looked up from the book in her lap. She sat at Ripper’s desk and all about her, on the bed, on the floor, and piled high on the oak surface, were the Watcher Diaries. “I think that’s German,” she said.

“Hmm?” Willow mumbled, assessing her uncomfortable position of being tied, hands behind her, to a chair, her legs lashed as well.

Dark eyes turned her way. Deep, sad eyes. “Oh, you’re awake.” She stood.

“Don’t hit me again,” the Wiccan whimpered.

“Not gonna.” She set the book down and moved closer, then, sitting on the edge of the bed, reached behind herself and produced an icepack, which she held to Willow’s jaw.

Well that explained the cold.

“I’m sorry about the punch,” the girl said. “Trying to turn over a new leaf and all, find my new calling. But, you know, old habits, not much for trusting, that sort of thing.”

“I see,” Willow said. She didn’t. “What are you doing?”

“Studying.” She pulled the icepack off. “Feel better?”

“A little.”

“I’d let a hand free for you to hold it, but you might cast something on me. Turn me into a frog or something.”

“How do you know I can’t do that with just my voice?”

The girl looked at her suspiciously.

Willow hurried to amend herself. “I can’t, though.”

“Here,” she said, “tilt your head.” She put the icepack between Willow’s shoulder and jaw. Then she went back to the desk.

“If you’re trying to find a way to get her out, you won’t find it in those,” the redhead said.

The girl frowned. “There is no way out. She’s stuck.”

“That’s what I heard. I’d like to keep it that way.”

The brunette looked down at the book she’d picked back up. “Or she’s already out. That’s why I’m one, I think.”

Willow’s eyes went wide. “Drusilla’s out?”

“Huh?”

“If you’re one, why didn’t you just kill me, anyway?”

“I don’t kill people,” her voice was testy, dangerous.

“I thought that’s what you guys do,” Willow answered.

“You heard wrong. And who’s Drusilla?”

“What?”

“What?”

“Aren’t you a vampire?”

“No!”

“Oh.”

“Who’s Drusilla?”

“A vampire.”

“Gotcha. Can you read this?” she brought the book over.

“Mein Jägerin ist tot,” the redhead read aloud.

“I think it’s German.”

Willow looked up at the girl; the icepack fell to the floor. “It says ‘My Slayer is dead’.”

She sat down on the bed again. “Oh,” she said, and took a deep breath. Her eyes scanned the page. “Greta Braiden. Achtzehn.”

Willow looked at the book in the brunette’s lap. “Eighteen.”

The girl shook her head slowly. “She was eighteen.” The soulful eyes met Willow’s again. “I’m eighteen.”

The witch looked at her more closely. “You’re Faith.”

She looked down again. “I’m Faith.”

“You’re a Slayer.”

“So I’ve been told.”

Willow puzzled. “What are you looking for?”

“Information… about me, who I am. What a Slayer is.”

“You don’t know?”

“I know some. Not much.”

“I can tell you some. I knew a Slayer once.”

Faith’s brow furrowed. “You did?”

“Her name was Kendra. She was my best friend.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Rip… Rupert, my — boss — was her Watcher.”

“Her what?”

“Her Watcher. You don’t know about Watchers?”

She looked down. “I’ve been protected from a lot, I guess.”

Willow considered the girl in front of her. She took a deep breath. “Try that volume over there.”

The brunette puzzled. “Which?”

“I’d point, but, you know,” she shrugged, “no hands.”

“Oh,” the girl answered, but made no move to release her.

Willow sighed. “That one on the right side of the desk, with the gold leaf edge.”

Faith picked up the tome and opened it to the first page. “September 4, 1996,” she read. Then she closed her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

The Slayer looked at her. “Nothing. I…” she nodded at the book, “I just remember when this was, that’s all.”

*   *   *   *   *

“How many times are we gonna have this conversation?” Annie yelled.

“Apparently every time you go on patrol,” Faith returned.

The Slayer turned back around and continued up the sidewalk away from her friend, away from the home. “It’s not safe for you.”

“It’s not safe for you either, but you do it.”

“I’m Chosen for it. I’m built for it.”

Faith jogged to keep up, but Annie was making it very hard. “It’s the same conversation because you do the same thing every time: we decide to go out, you take an hour beforehand to track down and kill any beasties you’re afraid might get me.”

“First I patrol, then we party,” she said it like a mantra.

The brunette grabbed the Slayer by the shoulder to stop her momentarily. “What about the ones who might get you? You leave me home waiting for you to come back. What if you die out here? What if I never see you again except to identify the body?”

There was a catch in Annie’s voice. “What, you think it would be easier for me to identify yours?” She turned away again. “I’m the one with super powers, I’m the one who patrols.”

“And I’m the one who follows.”

Annie whirled and planted a palm in the middle of Faith’s chest. It almost knocked the breath from the younger woman. “Stop, turn around, and go back. Right. Now.”

Faith just looked at Annie, her eyes starting to mist over after a moment. She hung her head. “Okay.” She turned and started back, slowly, then raising a hand to her mouth and accelerating to a trot. She entered the home without looking back.

Annie sighed deeply, then turned back around and headed out again.

Why was this so hard for Faith? She’d been utterly, white-knuckle terrified that first time she’d seen a vampire. Annie couldn’t count how many nights she’d climbed down from her bunk and under Faith’s covers to soothe a horrible nightmare.

How could she make herself come out here and fight to go along every time? And she hadn’t seen a tenth of the horrors Annie had.

For example, the Slayer thought, taking off at a dead run, watching four vampires drag two teenage runaways into an alley behind a boarded-up butcher shop.

The stench hit her as soon as she entered the passage. The smell of old animal blood masked that of fresh human kill for them, she figured. With luck it would mask her scent as well. She snuck along, back to a rotting wooden fence opposite the shop wall, listening intently. Peering around the corner to the space behind the building, a dim yellow safety bulb illuminated the quartet of demons standing around the two quivering youths, two of the horrors with their backs to her.

“I love them fresh, don’t you Zeke?” one creature said to another, and they all laughed. What is it about vamps that make them always taunt before the meal? At the moment, she was grateful; it gave her the element of surprise. Annie flexed her fingers around her stake.

“Weren’t you ever told not to play with your food?” the Slayer said, stepping up behind the two closest, and plunged her weapon through one vampire’s back. She spun and kicked the other in the back of the head, careering it towards a mate. “It’s just rude.”

The fourth vampire, still standing, stalked forward. “So is interrupting someone else’s meal,” he said, and knocked the stake out of her hand.

She stepped to her left and kicked down on his leg, snapping his knee in an entirely incorrect direction. He howled in pain.

“Run,” she barked at the two shocked teens as she passed, scooping up her weapon and heading for the two creatures lying in a heap. Annie took out the one on top, but the other, anticipating, kicked up through the dust cloud and caught her full in the chest, launching her backwards into the air. She hit the back door of the butcher shop full on, knocking it open and landing her inside.

Annie gasped for her lost breath, but within the store the odor was so strong it hit her almost physically. The impact of her fall left her disoriented, and the smell made her nauseous. Then, in the dimness, she discerned the reason for its intensity: bodies, stacked everywhere. Not all dead. And not all unattended. At least half a dozen vampires began to get up and move her way. She struggled to get up, but was grabbed fast by the nearest of the undead, held in a wrestler’s Full Nelson.

In the doorway, the beast who’d kicked her, and the broken-legged one she’d kicked, were side by side. The injured one, leaning on the doorjamb, gazed at her with lazy yellow eyes. “Feisty is even better than just fresh. Save her for me.”

There was a loud crack, and the injured vampire crumpled to the floor, the back of his head bloody and wet. Through the doorway, Annie saw Faith with holding a two-by-four, ripped from the rotting fence.

“I think feisty is a little more than you can handle,” the brunette said.

As the other vamp in the door turned to face the new threat, Annie lifted her arms straight up and dropped out of the startled creature’s hold. She elbowed him in the crotch, then sprang towards the door, knocking the beast going after Faith out of the way. She grabbed Faith’s hand and pulled.

“Let’s go!”

“With ya on that!”

Half a dozen vampires were on their tail by the time the two came out of the alley. Annie pulled Faith left and up the car-lined avenue. They’d made a hundred yards when the Slayer heard an engine fire up and tires squeal.

Annie looked up the road, but it was a long block, with no visible exits. They kept running.

Behind them, the driver blasted over a parked motorcycle and onto the sidewalk, gunning the engine to flat out.

Eyes very wide, Faith yanked Annie’s arm as the steel missile blazed towards them, pulling her over a parked car’s hood and into the street. Then she held her friend back against it as oncoming traffic nearly ran them down.

The vampires knocked over a newspaper dispenser pulling back onto the avenue and screeching in a one eighty to face the two girls again.

Breathing heavily, they reversed their path and ran back towards the butcher shop once more, barely avoiding a swiping pass from the vamps by diving over hood again.

“Screw this,” Annie said and, standing, elbowed in the window of a parked Taurus. She scrambled to the driver’s seat and stuck her hands under the dash as Faith slid in, buckled up frantically, and re-closed the door. By the time the vamps had pulled another U-turn, the engine was going. The Slayer pulled the car out almost right in front of their pursuers, making the latter swerve to avoid them, and then barreled up the road as fast as the car would move.

Unfortunately, the demons were driving a 70’s muscle machine, and had little trouble gaining on the family sedan. The direction they’d been pointed took them out of town, and as they raced almost side by side, heading further and further from safety and lights, the vampire driver began a torturous campaign of trying to drive them off the road.

Annie fought to keep on the pavement, but the road began to twist and turn and it took all her Slayer strength to keep out of the ditch that appeared just beyond the shoulder. The vamp’s car slammed into them, and Annie turned the wheel left and pushed them back and into the opposite lane.

The other car broke away just in time for an oncoming one to slip between them by a breath. Annie jerked right again.

Once more the other vehicle swept their way, but Annie slowed down so they’d miss. But her reactions weren’t fast enough, and the vamps just clipped the front of the Taurus, which turned abruptly sideways in a scream of rubber, and another scream as Faith grabbed the windowsill in terror and nearly lost a finger on the broken glass.

The blonde managed to right the car and keep moving, but had to swerve again as the car of undead slammed on its brakes right in their path. Annie was by in a flash, but now the vampires were in pursuit again.

Glancing over to see Faith tearing off a strip of T-shirt to wrap her wound, Annie realized why the ditch had materialized: just beyond it was an isolated train track. She got an idea as she looked up the road and spotted a low trellis over a dark waterway, and the lonely Cyclops eye of an oncoming iron beast.

The road was heading into a bend and then a parallel jaunt along a narrow river, while the tracks continued straight over the water. Judging carefully where the road turned off and the train’s bridge began, Annie stared into the rear view and set her timing. With a hundred yards to go before the curve she swept into the oncoming lane.

With fifty she jammed the brakes and slowed until she was beside the vamps.

With twenty she told Faith to hold on, and slammed sideways into their car.

The vampires had nowhere to go. To their right was about to be a river, to their left, the Taurus. Unable to force the girls away in time, they slid off onto the shoulder, over the short ditch and onto the tracks, where their car’s wheels got tangled. Halfway over the river, they hit the train head on in a blast of sparks and flame.

But momentum was the girls’ enemy as well. As she tried to pull back into the curve Annie found the right-side tires wouldn’t grip the gravel shoulder and the Taurus bounced off the road and right over the embankment, hitting the river nose first.

With the broken window, the car filled up quickly. Faith’s arms ached from steeling for the impact, but her seat belt had held her fast. She clawed at the latch by her hip, trying not to panic as the water reached her waist. If she didn’t release herself, the car would hit bottom and she’d never make it to the surface alive. She took a deep breath. Her hands kept slipping, but finally, as the river closed over her head, she got the belt loose.

Then she turned in the murky water, and saw that Annie wasn’t moving.

The Slayer hadn’t used her belt, and it might not have mattered if she did. Annie’s head had hit the steering wheel with the first impact, and she was out cold. Faith pulled at her in the heavy water, but she didn’t move. The fourteen-year-old used her bandaged hand to cover the ragged edges of glass as she slipped through the window and out of the car, then turned and reached back in, bracing herself on the sinking car to lift Annie through the opening. Her heart pounding, her lungs bursting, Faith got her shoulder under Annie’s arm and kicked and kicked and kicked until she made the surface.

They were ten feet from shore, but Annie still hadn’t moved by the time Faith reached it. The younger girl laid her friend out on her back on the beach, the orange light of the flaming car illuminating the night.

Annie’s eyes were still closed. She wasn’t breathing.

She had no pulse.

Faith opened her friend’s mouth, pinched her nose and, placing their lips together, blew.

She placed her palms together just so over Annie’s breast, and pressed down.

And again.

And again.

Five times, then blow. Five times, then blow.

Annie still didn’t move.

Tears joined the river’s water on Faith’s cheeks. “Don’t go baby,” she whispered. “Come back.”

Five times, then blow.

“You can do it.”

Five times, then blow.

Annie still didn’t move.

Faith sat back on her heels. She couldn’t lift her arms. Annie’s shirt was crimson from the blood on Faith’s seeping bandage. “God no… God no… don’t do this to me, B, don’t you do this to me!”

Her heart breaking in a million pieces, she whispered to the small, unmoving body, “Don’t leave me here by myself.”

Then she slammed her fist down on the Slayer’s chest.

Five times, then blow.

Annie went suddenly stiff, then coughed up a mouthful of water. She gasped for air loudly, eyes wide, her hands clawing the wet mud of the bank. Faith grabbed her shoulders to steady her, and their eyes locked, and the Slayer, breathing shallow, relaxed.

Her eyes looked about as her mind caught up with her. She heard the last squeal of the train as it finally stopped, saw the blazing wreck of the car slide off and into the river. In the last of the flickering orange light, she looked into Faith’s liquid eyes.

“Okay…” Annie said with a weak smile, “you can come along on patrol with me.”

Faith just held her and wept.

 

IX: History