Kaleidoscope

 
 

Spike pushed the small woman up as fiercely as he could. She was bearing down with all her preternatural strength on his neck with her hands, and it took him a moment to force his arms inside hers, and strike out sideways, buckling her elbows and breaking her grip. The blond vampire put an arm across her collarbone and pushed, and the wolf-girl tumbled backwards off the sarcophagus and to the stone floor.

“Now that’s not bloody funny!” Spike raged, jumping to the ground himself.

His erstwhile lover looked up at him, a twinkle in her otherwise wild and crazy eyes. “No, it wouldn’t be, if it weren’t true.” Her voice was as thickly British as he’d ever heard it. “I leave you for a few months and you’re whoring about with the Wolf girl?”

Spike froze. Then he leaned forward, as if he might see into her soul just by getting closer. “Dru?”

The blonde form stood with languor. She cocked her head at him playfully. “Hello Daddy.”

“Drusilla?” The vampire repeated, still unable to wrap his mind about it.

She waved her hand at him dismissively. “Of course it’s Drusilla. Your little puppy would still be sucking sugar through a needle if I hadn’t come around.”

“I can’t believe it.”

She closed her eyes and started to turn about in the center of the room. “I’m sensing that, love. Along with a whole world of new things!” Then she stopped abruptly and stepped away from him.

Spike’s voice was still laced with a touch of skepticism. “You just seem a bit — lucid — for my Dru.”

She lifted a curtain to look outside. “A little time off does wonders for a girl’s perspective.”

Spike chuckled, leaning back against the sarcophagus. “Only Drusilla could come back from Hell perfectly sane. Although the someone else’s body trick is new.”

“It’s just a rental.”

The blond vampire watched her for a moment. “And how does ’ruca feel about it?”

She dropped the velvet drape and meandered past him and over towards the fireplace. “The stars are watching her, Spike… but Miss Edith has her face turned to the wall.”

“Maybe lucid was an exaggeration,” he said, turning his head to follow her.

“It’s a lovely holiday coming near. When the Moon was twice black and soon will be bright, while the day is still shorter than night.” Drusilla stopped and reversed her path, trailing her fingernails along the surface of the crypt he leaned upon. “Aren’t you glad I’m back, Spike?”

He turned and moved to her, wrapping his arms about her waist. “Of course, baby. I’d prefer to have the whole of you, though.”

“Oh, but you’re going to, soon as we make the stars hide!” The vampire in wolf’s clothing tilted back her head, raising a hand to lightly trace his jaw. “And then won’t we have a beautiful party!”

*   *   *   *   *

At the hurt Ripper saw in her, he had to continue. He had to fill the empty silence, the human silence untouched by the wind rushing in the dark trees. Had to try and avoid what his heart had just screamed to him, what he was terrified was written on his face. “What, what I’d like to know is, why are you here now? And is that the other Slayer with you, the new one? Faith?”

Her voice was not a Slayer’s. It was a little girl’s. “I told you, my name is Annie.”

He blinked. “Of course, from Buffy Anne, as I recall.”

Annie shook her head. She took a breath, and a step towards him, the anger back in an instant. “And you know why I’m here too.” She raised her hands. “That’s what you fucking people do, right? Somewhere in some book it said I’d get off the train at this stop, so you and your people came here and waited.”

The ex-Watcher took a tentative step towards her as well. “Actually, I expected you — well, somebody — to show up three years ago. Then another was Called and showed up instead, so I assumed you were dead.” His voice had a trace of ironic humor to it. “Trust a Slayer to prove me wrong.”

Annie stared him down, no patience for joking. “So where is she?”

“Where is who?”

“The one who showed up instead of me.”

Ripper paused for a moment. “She died.”

The Slayer laughed bitterly. “Used her up, looking for the next one.” She was upon him now, and her fury would have made a lesser man cringe. “Well you can’t fucking have her! I don’t know who’s worse, you or the vampires. At least you can avoid them if you try hard enough.”

His eyes were narrowed, his hands on his hips. “You’ve done a good job of avoiding us, I’d say.”

Again she raised her hands. “And yet somehow I manage to get off the train right at your stop.”

“You know why you’re here?” Ripper yelled. “Because they’re here. The vampires and the demons. Not because of me. It’s your destiny. This place is a center of mystical convergence, and that’s what drew you. I was just sent here to prepare you for it.” He saw a break in her façade, but couldn’t stop his anger. “If the Council had their way, you’d have gotten off the train to no one, because I would’ve been gone two years past. But I stayed to try and make a difference,” he snarled accusingly, “since no one else was trying.”

Annie crumbled. “I was ten years old when Lothos killed my family, you son of a bitch!” she sobbed, and pounded her fists on his chest. She didn’t mean to hurt, but drove him backwards nonetheless, tipping the bike with a crash as he tried to grab for it. “And my Watcher. Could you prepare me for that?” Ripper caught her arms, and she let him, broken. “You wanna give it a try? Faith’ll let you, because she doesn’t know any better.”

Ripper pulled her close, but she was stiff in his arms. “I know it’s hard.”

She pulled away again, stepping back. “What do you know?! You’re a Watcher! You’re the one that sends us out to die!”

“I don’t send you anywhere, Annie. You go out because you’re Chosen to. I try to help you live.”

Her voice was bitter again. “And that worked out great for you, didn’t it?”

“Ah, yes, there it is,” Ripper said through pursed lips. “Kendra stood and died, you ran and lived. So that makes it right.”

“It makes me alive.”

“Really?” the ex-Watcher snorted. “Is that what you are, alive? Hiding in shadows, avoiding all the danger, hopping a train if it gets too difficult, never making any friends… yes, that’s just a perfect life, isn’t it?”

“Stop.” He could see her jaw trembling in the skewed light from the fallen cycle.

“Oh, and there’s the little fact that you did die, or else neither Kendra nor Faith would have been Called.”

“Stop it!” she turned her back to him. “You have no right… you don’t know what it’s like!”

Ripper stepped to her, taking her shoulders gently in his hands. “I know exactly what it’s like, Annie. You lost your family and your Watcher. That’s a horrible, horrible tragedy, and you have all my sympathy. I lost the woman I loved, and my Slayer. So I know what you’ve gone through. I know it.”

Her voice was tiny. “You weren’t ten.”

“No… I wasn’t. But you’re not ten anymore.”

“I can’t do this.”

He sighed, and released her. “Then don’t. You know where the trains leave. My friends and I have lived on a Hellmouth for quite some time without the benefit of a Slayer, and we’re still standing.”

Annie half-turned. “You’d just… let me go? What kind of Watcher are you?”

“An ex-Watcher.”

“But the Council—”

“I don’t work for the Council any more,” Ripper stepped to the cycle and righted it. “I’m not going to ‘order’ you to stay on their behalf. You’re your own person. Do what you’d like.”

“I’d like…”

He turned to face her, leaning back against the seat. “I can’t convince you to stay, Annie, however much you want me to. You have to do that on your own.”

She frowned. “I don’t want you to convince me of anything.”

He crossed his arms. “Yes you do. If you were going to leave, you’d have done it. You wouldn’t have dragged me out here in the middle of nowhere but for two reasons: kill me and dump the body, or convince you in a place where you couldn’t get away and avoid the subject.”

“How about getting you to answer my first question?” the Slayer countered, hands on her hips. “Who the hell are you people, so I’d at least know what Faith was getting herself into?”

“Fine. I’m an ex-Watcher. My friends are a werewolf, a reformed vampire, a clairvoyant, a witch, an ex-demon, a soldier, and another Watcher. We defend the innocent against the ravages of evil atop the Mouth of Hell. A Slayer would be a big help, I can’t tell you how much. Two would be even better.” Ripper stood, turned, and took the cycle by the grips, flipping up the stand. “Any more than that, I’ll have to fill you in later, because it’s been a long day, I’m planning to save the world early next week, and I’m honestly very tired.” He began pushing the cycle towards the trees, headlight flashing off the trunks and framing the inky darkness between.

Annie puzzled at him. “Where are you going?”

He nodded towards the trees. “This is Breaker’s Woods. I have a cabin nearby, and I’d like to get some sleep in the few hours of night remaining. If your departure can wait until morning, you’re welcome to join me.”

She thought for a moment, wiping her cheeks dry, and then began to follow. “Like I couldn’t just take that bike from you and go.”

“I frankly wish you would. It’s rather heavy pushing it.”

The Slayer grabbed the handlebars just inside his grip as she reached him, and eased it out of his hands, still pushing in the same direction. “My old man,” she muttered, a trace of humor and fire back in her voice.

Falling just a half step behind, Ripper swallowed, wondering just how many of the connotations therein she meant.

*   *   *   *   *

Angel couldn’t sleep. If there was one thing his lifestyle – his or any of his friends’ – didn’t afford, it was a normal sleep pattern, and he’d learned to grab it when it came, but right now it was the demon in him that was wakeful, not the man, and that disturbed him. The beast reacted to this portal stirring, to be sure, but also to whatever he’d sensed from Ripper’s girls, and, of course, the memories.

He’d slipped out from beside Cordelia, and now stalked the lower floor of the mansion, trying desperately to shake aside the memories. The stone was cold under his bare feet; he’d humanly huddled in his robe and stoked a fire in the hearth against the chill, and it cast his prowling form about the walls in hulking shadows, flickering in time with the thoughts in his head.

All the memories.

Always there, lingering about at the edges of his mind, waiting for an opening to slip in and highlight his misery. These last few years had stocked him well with new ones to push back the nightmare images of his century and a half of pure black, but at moments like these they never seemed enough.

Coming to Sunnydale to help the Slayer, and meeting a headstrong and beautiful sixteen year old who stole his heart; then having his last headstrong and beautiful love – his vampiric sire Darla – try and kill her.

The precious gesture of the willful, thoroughly modern Cordelia dressing up as a European noblewoman from the days of his youth; then having another shade from his past, one who’d dressed that way herself – his vampiric daughter Drusilla – call down the Curse of Janus and trap her in that costume spiritually.

He looked out the French doors to the courtyard and the slanting moonlight, so stark and cold. From the Master to Spike, Angel’s progenitors to progeny, everything in his past colored his present. He put a hand to his forehead and wandered from the room aimlessly.

Cordy was right. When would she leave them alone? When would they get their life back?

Angel opened the door from the kitchen to the garage, and stepped out. He leaned against the hood of his black convertible. His eyes roamed over the workbench where he repaired his weapons, the halberds and morning stars fixed to a pegboard above it. Who was he kidding? This was his life, wasn’t it? Full of violence and death. Cordy didn’t want this life, the one he’d brought to her.

He rose from the car and stepped to the bench, and the old refrigerator beside it. He opened its door, soaking in the chill, staring at its sole contents: a dozen pints of packaged blood. Cordy didn’t want this.

“Midnight snack?” came a voice from the doorway. “Or just that guy thing where you look in the refrigerator but don’t take anything?”

She was adorned in a plain white cotton nightgown, buttons and a little tie above the swell of her breasts; her feet were bare. She leaned against the frame, hands holding her elbows again, head tilted while she regarded him.

“The latter I think.” He closed the fridge.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“Yeah. I mean, no.”

“Prefer to brood?” her eyes twinkled.

His lips twitched to a smile. “Don’t prefer to, but…”

“Too many thoughts,” she nodded. “I know the feeling. Have it, in fact.”

Angel looked at her. “You’re cold again.”

“Duh, I’m standing in a very chilly garage, Mr. I Don’t Have a Body Temperature.” She half-turned. “Come inside; I think someone got a nice fire going.”

He smiled, and came closer.

Then she turned back and stopped him with a palm in the middle of his chest. “You have eaten, right? I don’t want any potential nibbling to get excessive.”

Ah, the realities of vampire-safe sex. “I had a… I drank earlier.”

Cordelia had brought the blankets, some pillows, and the down comforter from their bed and arranged them in front of the hearth already. She pulled aside the quilt and lay down, holding it back waiting for him, rather than covering herself. For a moment Angel just looked at her, her nightgown turned orange by the firelight, thick brown hair cascading untroubled over her shoulder, and his heart broke from the beauty of her. Then she smiled, and reached up a hand to draw him out of his reverie and down to her.

“I think we should not think for a while,” the seer said.

“You think?” the vampire smiled mischievously, and pulled the comforter over himself, settling beside her, facing her.

Propped on her elbow, her free hand moved beneath the blanket and tugged loose the belt of his robe. “I think,” she answered.

Angel rest his hand on her hip and kissed her. He felt her warmth through his palm, and her lips, and his body drank it in, and sought more. But he held himself in check, enjoying the agonizing slowness with which Cordy’s hand drifted down his chest as the robe fell open. Their kisses were languorous, and soon her tongue teased open his lips and tangled with his playfully.

Cordy’s hand pushed the robe up and over his shoulder and Angel pulled back his arm to disengage it. He pushed up to shake it off the other arm and away, and it left him above her. She turned to her back, and he leaned down atop her full, his flesh and hers separated only by the thin cotton of her nightgown. She moaned slightly, enjoying the weight of him, and he kissed his way across her cheek and down, to the hollow of her shoulder. Angel ran his tongue across her skin and though his eyes were closed he knew she was smiling. That little vampire joke as he nibbled her neck.

Her hands traveled up the backs of his arms, then over the broad muscles of his back, while one of his hands propped him up as the other tickled her ribs through the gown, then cupped her breast gently. His mouth was at the notch of her throat, and kissed back upwards, over her chin, to her lips once more.

Angel pulled back just a bit to look at Cordy’s face in the ruddy light. There was a flush to her cheeks, and a hunger in her eyes. He raised a hand and touched the tips of his fingers to her temple. The visions that intruded just beyond his touch gave her such agony; he was glad to take her away from that, if just for a while.

Cordy smiled, reading his thoughts, and raised her own hand to his forehead, where the evidence of his own eternal torment would appear. Angel caught her meaning: she took him away too. They took each other.

His fingers pulled the tie and expertly undid the buttons on her gown, his lips hungrily following just beyond. Cordelia pulled the fabric up to her hips with her hands, then pushed him off so she could sit up and remove it entirely.

They lay down again, skin to skin, molding to one another, her heat to his cool, her love to his. They moved together slowly, deliberately, specifically not thinking. It was all about feeling, and needing, enjoying and fulfilling.

The fire burned lower. As Cordy lay beside him, very still, her eyelids drifting shut, Angel felt fatigue creeping upon him as well, and for a moment believed it would outrace all those thoughts to overtake him. But it couldn’t quite.

He looked at her suddenly. “Why are you with me?”

“What?” her eyes opened.

“I mean, I’ve brought you so much misery. There’s so much horror all around me, following me.”

She was frowning deeply. “You haven’t brought me misery.”

“Yes I have. My past—”

She covered his mouth gently with her hand. “Is something we can’t change. But it’s also what brought you to me.” Her hand moved to sift fingers through his hair. “I’ll take one to have the other.”

“But it’s so hard. There’s so much sorrow.”

Cordelia sat up and looked at him. “Why should this be easy? This is love; love’s hard. It’s also worth it.”

Angel stared into her eyes. There was only honesty there. When had he ever gotten that from anyone else? So pure.

He pushed himself up and pressed his lips to hers again, and the intensity would have left him breathless if he breathed. She took it in, his urgency, and touched the side of his face with her palm. He relaxed at the gentle touch, and the kiss softened. He felt amazed at how she did that. Their lips pulled apart, and they looked in one another’s eyes for a moment. Then Cordelia kissed him one more time, briefly, on the lips, and then once on his cheek, on the tears he hadn’t realized were there.

She lay down on her stomach, head on her arm atop the pillow, face turned towards the fire, but her eyes closed. He watched her for a moment, then, lying down beside her again, ran the backs of his fingers down the back of her arm. She smiled warmly, before he too closed his eyes.

*   *   *   *   *

“What exactly are you looking for?”

Wesley looked up from the news clippings and Council papers scattered across the table between himself and his twelve hundred year old girlfriend. It was a round kitchen table standing in what passed for Wesley’s kitchen, which was actually one end of the central living space of his smallish apartment. Like most of his furniture it was fairly new, a fact that distressed the Englishman no end. Back home in the Watcher’s Compound, everything one could touch but for perishables had a delightful history to it, if one cared to investigate such. But here, the small stipend he could still eke out of the Council for “continuing service” didn’t afford anything so rich. Perhaps that’s why he found Anya so intriguing, as she had no end to the tales of her history. “I’m sorry?” he asked.

She set down the book she’d carried from the couch on the table. “I’ve spent hours looking through arcane and entirely overwritten volumes on mystical thresholds and magical convergence factors and you are clearly researching something entirely different. If we’re done worrying about Drusilla I need to know, because I just bought three new flavors of tea for you and I have to figure out which one goes best with this kind of apocalypse. Plus my head hurts from translating Latin and Gaelic, neither of which were offered as foreign language options at Sunnydale High, I might add, which is a gross prejudice against people of my century.”

The Watcher and wolf shared a smile. Wesley lifted his china cup. “This Earl Grey is just fine, dear.”

“Really? I was hoping to try the blood orange. Angel recommended it.”

“Feel the irony,” Oz said.

“Oh, it doesn’t have actual blood in it. It’s a—” Anya stepped to the cupboard and pulled out the small tin, perusing its label, “a citrus-based blend of orange peels, hibiscus flowers, apple pieces, rose hip and safflower.”

Wesley smiled at her again. “Really dear, this is fine.” He looked back at the table.

Oz caught her crestfallen look. “Actually if you’re making a fresh pot…” he lifted his own empty cup. Anya smiled and moved to heat some water.

The Watcher slid a large U.S. map, marked with a carefully color-coded selection of dots, over in front of his guest as he capped the marker in his hands. He pointed with the pen. “The Seattle article is from this past November. Then Whispering Pines in December. With the Sacramento report—”

“And Salinas in January…” Oz added, finger down on a small square of newspaper.

“It all fits together,” Wesley concluded with a flourish.

“Well, makes a pretty good line.”

“Cases of ‘neck rupture’ and ‘reported gang activity’ ending with appearances by a pair of runaway girls, who then vanished when the police became involved.”

The musician lifted the scrap of paper, frowning at it. “A break-in at a sporting goods store is a little thin.”

“Not when the two young female suspects broke out of a police car and escaped.”

“Also, not the noblest pursuit for a world savior.”

Wesley shook his head. “She’s clearly without the proper guidance.” He drew himself up as Oz inwardly cringed. “There’s no other reasonable conclusion. Faith is my Slayer.”

There was the punctuation of a crash as Anya dropped the kettle in the kitchen sink.

“There’s a Slayer in Sunnydale?!” she exclaimed.

“That’s the current satellite picture,” Oz replied.

She turned on Wesley pointedly. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The Englishman shrugged. “I didn’t have the proper evidence. I’m rather noted amongst our group for crying ‘Wolf!’ No offense,” he offered Oz.

“None taken,” the young man responded with a smile.

Anya moved over to examine the table’s contents. “So you’re trying to find her?”

Wesley leaned over, palms pressed to the flat surface. “First I’d like to ascertain why she’s here.”

“I think it’s obvious,” Anya blinked.

“You do?” he frowned.

“She’s here to kill me.”

The two men’s eyes met again.

Anya scowled. “Hey, I saw that look! I was quite the famous demon in my heyday.”

“But you’re surely not suggesting that the Slayer traveled…” Wesley’s hand traced a looping line across the map from Massachusetts to California, connecting all the various dots, “…all the way here just to eliminate you. Or any one demon for that matter.”

Oz cleared his throat. “I’d venture she’s just on the run.”

“And if so,” the Brit continued, “she needs my — our — help.”

“No, she needs to be stopped,” Anya wouldn’t be placated. “Before she kills me.”

“You do remember that I’m a Watcher, don’t you dear?” Wesley gentled. “This is my sacred duty.”

“Okay, just stop that,” the ex-demon’s voice trembled slightly. “You’re being all reasonable and I need you to think of me.”

The phone rang. “I’ll get that,” Oz said immediately.

As the wolf retreated, Wesley moved to Anya’s side and took her hands in his. He looked into her eyes. “All right. I’m thinking only of you. Tell me what’s troubling you.”

Anya dropped her eyes and fidgeted slightly. “I just have this terrible feeling that one way or the other, I’m going to die. If we don’t stop Drusilla and she comes back, she’s going to kill me for giving Angel a soul.”

“But that was Drusilla’s wish,” he frowned.

“It didn’t exactly work out for her, did it?”

“No, I don’t suppose.”

She looked back up at him. “And if we get this Slayer’s help and stop her, the Slayer will kill me for being a vengeance demon.”

The Watcher cocked his head. “I’m certain she will take current circumstances into account.”

“But how can you be? This Slayer doesn’t work for the Council as far as we know.”

“No, she doesn’t. Not yet,” he answered, his voice implying that would change.

Anya was unswayed by his confidence. “And if she won’t?”

His hand touched her cheek. “Then I’ll protect you.”

She couldn’t help but smile at his bravado this time.

“Wait,” Oz said into the phone, “define ‘long conversation’.”

On the other end of the line, Willow’s voice took on that smallish quality that meant she was being elusive. “That’s not important right now.”

“Did she hurt you?”

“Only a little. Oz, we have to find her. When she took off, she was going to look for her friend Annie, so…”

“No sign of Rip?”

He could hear a little hesitation. “Not yet. And I’d rather have you find her.”

“Willow?” Oz prompted.

“Well, Annie and Ripper… well, they…”

The wolf nodded, getting it. “They slept together.”

“Wait, you knew?”

“Yeah.”

“How?”

He smiled. “It’s a guy thing.”

There was a pause. Then a catch of breath. “Wait, Xander doesn’t tell—”

“No, no,” he interrupted. “Not going there.”

“Whew. Good.” Oz was positive she was blushing. “Anyway, with Ripper and Annie, I got the distinct impression that wasn’t cool with Faith.”

“Really?”

“Yeah… I definitely got a vibe that there’s something going on there, with her and Annie.”

“A vibe, huh?” the musician pondered.

“It’s a girl thing.”

Oz smiled. “Particularly in this case.”

“Oh!” Willow laughed timidly. “That too. Anyway, if you take Wesley, you have to tell him that he’s got to keep his ‘I’m a Watcher’ spiel to himself for the moment, and to especially not call the Council. They’re terrified of the Council. Particularly Annie.”

The wolf frowned. “Why would she know about the Council?”

“A long story, but they’re both Slayers.”

“Huh,” was his only reply.

“So you’ll…?”

Oz nodded. “I’m on it. You okay?”

“Yeah, Xander’s here.”

“Good. Get some rest.” He put a little Rupert into his voice. “We’ll discuss what ‘only a little’ means in the morning.”

“Yes sir,” she smiled. “Bye!”

The wolf put down the phone and stepped back to the table with the others. “I’m on hunt again.”

“A new lead?” Wesley asked.

“More of a new need. Willow had a visit from our girl just after we left.”

The Watcher was attentive, his girlfriend uncomfortable. “Shall I come with you?” the Englishman said.

“For now, you should get back to our vampire guest,” Oz shook his head. “This,” he indicated the table’s contents, “is a ‘case closed’. Faith’s a Slayer. But,” he continued at Wesley’s look, “for now it stays in the group. Do not call the Council.”

“But that’s my job.”

“It can wait a day or so. Trust me on this, Wes.”

The Watcher saw the resolve on the young man’s face. In his time in Sunnydale, he’d learned a great many things, and one was the wisdom of Daniel Osborne. “You certain you won’t need backup?” he asked simply.

Oz smiled. “No more vamp nests tonight.”

Wesley and Anya went back to studying cross-dimensional rifts and the associated magicks after the werewolf left, but the Watcher had trouble concentrating for the rest of the night.

*   *   *   *   *

While Willow straightened up Ripper’s room, Xander double-checked the locks, and went to do something he called a “perimeter check”. After Faith’s appearance, he was adamant about avoiding a repeat intrusion. Willow smiled at his determination. Though she’d rather not be in peril, it always melted her heart to see him enter his “protective” mode.

As she slipped the last of the Watcher diaries onto the shelf, her hand lingered on the spine, fingers touching the dates with not a little reverence. Memories flitted through her mind, and slowly a smile built on her face at one in particular. It took just a moment of scrounging in the storeroom, then among the kitchen cabinets, to find what she needed.

After finishing in the shop proper, Xander noticed the kitchen was dim as he opened the door from the front. Senses alert, he let his eyes adjust before stepping through. Glancing around cautiously, he spotted a crystal sphere on the table. It shone with a spark from deep inside, but more than that, cast little flecks of light upon the walls and ceiling like stars. And sitting upon the countertop was Willow, a vanilla ice cream cone in either hand. She held one out to her fiancé as he approached.

“Our first date,” the soldier smiled. “We’re not planning to repeat the vampire interruption part, are we?”

“No, but the kiss part would be okay,” she replied, her pretty face and auburn hair almost aglow in the soft light. “Required, in fact.”

He obliged, then, pulling away, tipped her nose with a dollop of ice cream. She squealed playfully, and he kissed away the confection.

“So what do we owe this to?” Xander asked.

Willow licked at her cone where it was dripping to her fingers. “To not forgetting.”

“Not forgetting what?”

“We spend so much time fighting off our demons, and so much of the rest planning for the ones that will come around the corner next, that it’s hard to remember how lucky we really are.”

“To have each other,” Xander finished her thought.

“And to have had the friends we’ve had. And…” her voice caught a bit, “the ones we’ve lost.”

A memory flashed through him: researching with Giles in the library, and glimpsing Willow and Miss Calendar laughing in the office as they practically wrestled Kendra into a dress – her first – for the Spring Fling dance, just hours before the Slayer would be gone forever.

He smiled sadly at her. “To not forgetting,” he said, and watched as she blinked rapidly and looked away.

“So,” the soldier cleared his throat, “Rip keeps ice cream in his fridge. Who’d a thought?”

She turned back to him, a thankful look in her eyes. “You’re dripping,” she pointed at his cone.

“And you taste like vanilla,” he returned, and leaned in close for another tasty kiss.

*   *   *   *   *

For his part, Oz was avoiding memories as he drove through Sunnydale’s empty streets. His lifelong taciturn nature belied the depth and volume of his thoughts, but as part of controlling the wolf, Ethan had taught him to be placid of mind as well as demeanor. Focus was key, and right now his focus was on finding a Slayer.

It was intriguing, the idea of a Slayer here in Sunnydale again. And not one but two. Intriguing, and slightly terrifying. He’d learned enough from Ripper, in the times the man would broach the subject still painful to him, to know that a marshalling of the forces of good was fairly proportional to those of evil. Like someone above set up some brutal game and made sure the teams were even before they watched it play out.

As he turned up a block past Sunnydale Mall and approached Shady Hills for the second time that evening, he let his mind follow that trail. Aside from the usual Scoobies, there were now two Slayers. On the other side he knew that Drusilla was attempting a return engagement. Though he’d missed Act One of her Sunnydale show, he’d been around when she tried to reassemble The Judge, and later when she’d tried to release Acathla. But for all her hi-jinx, the group had always been able to handle her, if not without a measure of suffering involved. So he couldn’t help thinking, there must be more here. Something he was missing.

His eyes searched the shadows beyond the graveyard’s perimeter, beyond the silent stones flashing in his passing headlamps, seeing nothing as he finally pulled away and pointed himself towards Restfield, next on his ghoulish list. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Drusilla’s escaping from Hell would unleash a flood, the kind they’d fought to stem from the Hellmouth itself more than once. That would certainly be enough; maybe there was nothing more.

Then the night air carried a familiar scent through the window, and Oz tapped his brakes. He pulled to a spot on the curb and shut off the van, climbing out and stepping a few paces away so the warm engine wouldn’t cloud his senses. Closing his eyes, he lifted his nose to the breeze.

Swallowing on a suddenly dry throat, the young man headed back towards a nearby field and the cemetery beyond, leaping the tall iron fence without even checking for potential witnesses, his skin prickled into gooseflesh, and his urgency suddenly very great.

*   *   *   *   *

It was the darkest, deepest part of night when Faith found herself back in a cemetery. Her only thought had been to get out, get away from the magic shop and, more importantly, Ripper’s bedroom, and she didn’t know what part of that had led her here other than some sense of familiarity.

It should have disturbed her more, she thought with a chuckle, that her warm comfort place was a cold graveyard. But such was her life. Her life with Annie.

And, she suspected, her life after Annie.

The Slayer slowed her unconsciously quick stride to a calmer stroll. The moon had set a while earlier, and a breeze was swaying the silhouettes of trees against the velvet sky. Her head, full of jumbled, worried-angry-painful thoughts, cleared to take on the hyperaware, action-ready Slayer mode that suited her better, that she was more used to.

Boca del Infierno. That explained all the cemeteries, she surmised. Also explained the number of vamps they’d seen so far. And there’d be more where they came from. Still, it wasn’t like they’d overrun the town or anything; they didn’t walk down the center of the street after sunset in game face.

She herself had gone looking for trouble earlier, and that’s what put her in the middle of a nest. If B was looking to run, she was avoiding trouble. She could handle herself. This place might be Hell on Earth for John Q. Citizen, but for Annie, who knew what to look for night after night, it was relatively safe.

Then Faith’s Slayer-sharp ears caught a howl, an unearthly keening that made her flesh crawl. She immediately remembered the wolf-boy, the one she’d later seen at the magic shop, attacking her in the cemetery before.

Perhaps safe wasn’t the right word.

She puzzled that in her mind. The pretty redhead claimed they were on the same side. From what she’d read in those diaries, Willow and her friends seemed like the good guys. Even if the rest of Annie’s dreaded Council was a bunch of pricks, these guys here in Sunnywhatever seemed like they actually cared.

As she replayed the earlier events, she realized she’d only thought the wolf was threatening her and the other couple. He’d attacked the vampire, she’d assumed for food or whatever, but maybe he was just patrolling, like Faith had been doing. She probably owed him an apology; she’d roughed him up pretty good.

The Slayer turned in the direction she’d heard the call. A breeze stirred her hair, behind her as she walked. He’d know she was coming, at least.

There was no further sound but, eyes straining against the night, Faith thought she caught a glimpse of light fur, darting among the headstones. The motion stopped as she got closer, and then she heard a low snarl. For a moment she hesitated, wondering how clear-headed a werewolf was in beast form. Hell, she’d never even seen a werewolf before tonight.

“Look,” she began, trying to pinpoint where she’d heard it last, “I want to say I’m sorry for before.”

No sound, but she thought she caught some movement to her left.

“I... uh, I didn’t realize we were on the same side,” she tried again, turning.

Now a rustling, but off to her right.

Faith twisted back around. “O...kay, I guess you’re not in a conversational mood.” She still couldn’t see a thing. Didn’t werewolves need a full moon? That would certainly be easier. “Or maybe you don’t even understand me with all the fur in your ears. Which frankly reminds me of an old math teacher of mine.”

She stepped forward, her feet shuffling through the grass, loud in her ears as she struggled to hear the animal. Her shin banged into a knee-high, wrought-iron fence surrounding a family plot, and she cursed under her breath.

Her patience gone, she spread her arms and raised her voice into the darkness. “What I’m saying is, I’d like for us to be—” Faith saw two blurs of motion: one coming from directly in front of her, over the tombstones — a ferocious, furry beast, limbs and claws wide and reaching, snout open baring serious fangs; the other from the corner of her eye — a smallish, man-shaped blur that slammed into her shoulder, wrapped its arms around her and took her to the ground just in time for the furry blur to sail over their heads.

“—friends,” Faith finished as the air went out of her, to the face of the black-haired wolf-boy, inches above her as she lay on her back beneath him.

“That’d be great,” he said in return. “But I’m thinking after we escape is better.”

Faith blinked at him, very confused. “Uhm, you’re—” she began.

The young man rolled off of her and sprang to his feet. He leaned down, grabbed her hand, and quickly pulled her upright. “Oz. You’re Faith, and we’re going.”

“And who is that then?” Faith asked, eyes after the other beast, which had howled in disappointment and flashed eyes and teeth back in their direction.

“Someone even a Slayer doesn’t want to fight without backup,” Oz replied, still pulling.

Faith shrugged, decided to go with it, and let him lead her in a dead run.

Oz didn’t have Slayer speed, but seemed to have a thorough knowledge of the cemetery, so Faith stayed just behind him and had to use all her agility as he juked around and hurtled over gravestones like a professional football player heading for the endzone. The howls dropping further and further behind — and the occasional cries of pain — told her their pursuer did not have such knowledge.

In the glow of a streetlamp outside the cemetery, Faith could see the boxy form of a van just beyond the tall fence. Oz slid to a crouch at the barrier, hands out, fingers laced together.

“Foot!”

Faith barely had to break stride to plant and take his launch to the other side. He had to retreat though, to get a running start for his leap, and in the delay, the light-furred creature emerged from the shadows, froth dripping from its jaws. Spotting its prey still within reach, it leapt.

“Oz!” she called a warning.

He immediately dropped, and the lupine form sailed over his head. It lost footing as it hit earth again, and rolled hard against the fence with a loud rattle. Faith reached through the bars and grabbed two handfuls of fur. Oz came out of his crouch and bolted directly towards them, then used the beast’s body as a ladder and came up and over the fence. But not before it lashed out a claw and raked his departing leg. He winced as he hit the ground.

The creature turned enough to swipe the arm through the bars at Faith. She backed away and it missed by inches. Moving forwards again, the Slayer pushed the grasping arm back through the fence around another bar, leaving the werewolf momentarily entangled.

Behind her, she heard the van come to life, headlights washing over them. In the seconds before she turned away and towards safety, Faith saw the illuminated face of the beast, and they locked eyes. She couldn’t sort out the mixture of signals her Slayer-senses offered her brain, but as the van pulled away moments later, and the cemetery shrank in the passenger-side mirror, Faith’s deepest human instincts told her that Boca del Infierno was not an exaggeration.

That thing had definitely come from Hell.

 

XI: Revelation