Late Night Walks 2/2
A/N- Now that TTH isn't fighting with me on Italics anymore, I can use them! It's a minor style change, but I thought I'd mention it. Previous chapters when I posted them, for whatever reason, let me start italicizing but then I couldn't turn it off, so I had to change a few things... but nothing major. On with the story!
He sees her again, a whirlwind of retribution in the darkness. The same girl with the same group of friends. Sometimes he just watches them and sometimes... sometimes he is one of them. It's all very strange, and yet he cannot find himself overly upset by these visions of violence and camaraderie. They've been growing in frequency and clarity for weeks, since the Event, as he has come to refer to it. The Event in which he had been pulled from his god given body, and placed into another as though a celestial gardener had decided his Walter-shaped pot no longer fit.
Intellectually, Rorschach knows he should be concerned. He may be cracking under the pressure like Moth Man. Screaming in his sleep, fighting what is not there, and breaking under the expectations of a thousand meaningless people. Bowing to the agenda of corrupt, small-minded politicians.
Daniel has retired quietly, slunk away from the calling, while Manhattan, Silk Specter, and the Comedian have all become government sanctioned dogs. They have turned their backs on the evil that infects their world at the behest of the delusional masses.
Perhaps he should be worried about these dreams, dreams of a world where hell-born demons roam, and yet he is not. They are oddly satisfying.
He watches as the petite girl with the bottle-blonde hair -absently noting that needs a touch-up- kicks out. The move is concentrated beauty and power, and he approves whole-heartedly as the thing she is fighting flies backward into a tree with a meaty thud. He can hear something behind them trying to sneak up, but it's heavy and the very air groans in protest from its presence. The boy to his right pushes him aside as the creature lunges, deformed features clear and red eyes blazing like twin demonic suns, before the same blonde warrior catapults over their prone forms, and tackles it to the ground while slipping a sharp piece of wood between bony ribs and into, Rorschach assumes, the heart.
It is a good, clean, kill. The girl stands, wiping fingers covered in enemy blood -Blood a red so dark it is almost black.- off on the grass, and brushes the dirt from her designer skirt while tucking a stray hair behind her ear. "Guys! You're supposed to scream if you need help!" The remark is thick with annoyance.
He feels his mouth open, but it is not his voice that issues forth. "Sorry, Buffy. He surprised me and..." He feels his mouth twitch into an apologetic smile as his hands move forward offering a brown paper bag. The blonde, Buffy, rolls her eyes, and steps forward to take something from it. Familiar smells that send a river of warmth through him waft from the open bag.
The boy beside them makes a joke about joining the dark side, and also reaches into the sack. A bubble of simple happiness smothers worry he hadn't realized had been growing in his chest as he watches his two best friends snaking on the cookies he made. Chocolate chip with pecans, and just a hint of nutmeg. Family recipe.
But he didn't make the cookies and they are not
his friends. He knows this. It was someone else. Soft, trusting eyes and streaming red hair. Pale, smooth skin. Willow.
The name flutters through his mind like a moth, and he feels a strange disconnect. Like a rubber band stretching too far his limbs suddenly feel too tight and with a silent twang three become four. He watches three children, vigilantes like himself fighting without need or want of legal support, finger self carved stakes and old knives as they walk from the park. The demon corpse has taken on the consistency of jello, and a merry-go-round squeaks with the wind.
Willow. Walter. Willow. Walter. Willow. Walter.
He frowns and then grunts as a light buzz brings him back to reality. It doesn't matter who Willow or Walter are or were: he is Rorschach. The others are merely masks -Shells.- to present to the world. Nothing else.
It is an inescapable fact that people didn't look for live bodies in the morgue. Simply, the morgue was for dead bodies, and no one in their right mind wanted to hang out with dead people. House exploited this fact to the best of his abilities in his search for a good spot to nap. Metal stretchers were surprisingly comfortable with a rolled up set of scrubs for a pillow when one was hiding from annoying girlfriends that had developed a sudden, and strange, fascination with poker and swords. Not that he had anything against poker, especially strip poker, but she was getting a little pushy about him getting into John Hopkins. Considering she kept coming home covered in strange goo and bruises, that wasn't a bad suggestion. Someone had to make sure his little psycho of a fiancee didn't catch some mystical viral disease.
He'd already taken a file to the fangs that spontaneously sprouted in her mouth, and he still didn't know what had caused there blue rash around her temples. Luckily, the rash had faded after a few days, but he still didn't know why. It was aggravating. Very, very aggravating. House pondered the inconsistencies of Sunnydale as he darted out the door of the autopsy room, and turned off his walk-man.What in the name of Cuddy's magnanimous cleavage is that thing?
House shuffled quietly around the corner and, he hoped, out of the thing's sight. With an off green pallor, and bits of hair missing, the woman, and he used that term lightly, was the very personification of his favorite George A. Romero horror flicks. He wondered how she lost the arm, enchanted by the flapping remains of a shirt and minute drips of blood forming a trail. It was all terribly unsanitary, and his fingers twitched with need. A shotgun, a shotgun. My kingdom for a shotgun.
The man grabbed his cane and twirled it around as he followed the zombie, curious. If he had to he could probably beat the thing over the head and make a run for it: after several weeks of morning jogs in celebration of fully functioning lower-limbs he had gotten rather good at it. Eyes sparkling darkly in anticipation he followed the rapidly degenerating corpse to the morgue while being extra careful to stay just out of sight.
The dead woman jerked on one of the body cabinets, the metal shrieking roughly, and a strangled sound of disappointment gurgled from her decayed throat. No body. Over half the bins were occupied and she picked one of the few empty ones.
Determinedly, the zombie shuffled over to the next door and tore through the lock.
Green eyes stared at the cement under her feet. No matter how much concealer she artfully applied, and this was after raiding her mother's medicine cabinet like she was five again, there was no way she could hide the swelling on her left cheek, or her split lip. Instead, she let her hair fall forward, a hanging curtain of rich amber, and ducked beneath it like a turtle retreating into its shell as she tugged on her long shirt sleeves self-consciously.
Xander watched her, eyes dark, and the set of his jaw changed the tinniest bit in a stance she recognized. Worry. She would bet he noticed the dark bruise around her wrist from the night before. Don't say anything. Please, please don't say anything...
"You okay, Wills? Haven't been talking to any men named Tyler?" He asked with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes and... was he sniffing her? Why on earth would he be sniffing her? Willow subconsciously took a step back, hands forming little balls of tension around her elbows where she held her books to her chest. Her mind flashed back to the memory of her friend sneering at her, fresh blood on his lips, and lying eyes. Animal eyes. But not now. They were brown, not iridescent green, and he wasn't smiling in mocking laughter.
Willow swallowed, took a deep calming breath, and winced. Bad, bad idea. We still hurt from all those Force-throws. Who's idea was it to put a nail salon there, anyway?
A semi-full nights rest hadn't helped much, and she'd forgone her new morning routine in favor of taking extra time to wrap her ribs, and dress without screaming.
She gave him a shaky smile, replying after noticing the suspicion on his face increase at her wince. "I'm okay. Just a little sore." Xander's eyes widened, and he reached out before stopping himself; a conflicted expression on his face as he glanced from his oldest friend to his newest. Buffy was staring across the quad, one hand on her bookbag and the other fisted on her hip, at Giles who was hurrying down the path.
Xander shook his head and continued his earlier movement, carefully taking her books from her arms. Taking zero hour on top of helping tutor other students was starting to look like a bad decision, especially when she had to carry all the extra textbooks around. "If you need help, or anything, you'll call, scream, perhaps work some smoke signals in? It's what we live for!"
"I know, I will." The red head assured him, her smile gaining sincerity as the two of them shuffled to catch up with the speed walking slayer and her watcher. Willow did her best to ignore the shooting pain around her rib cage. It wasn't broken. It would heal. She'd had worse. Why don't I just go to the emergency room? It's not like they ever ask any questions.
Willow sighed as she looked around the hallway. What was wrong with her? Maybe she should just bite the bullet and go to the hospital... They came to the first of their lockers, incidentally Buffy's, as Giles explained how patrol would be cut in favor of protecting the medical blood shipment to Sunnydale General.
The slayer's blonde head bobbed. "Vampire Meals-on-Wheels."
"Hopefully not." Giles snapped back tiredly, and Willow wondered if she should sound the alarm as Xander had leaned forward a tiny bit and gave a discreet sniff of their more rumpled than usual librarian. Why was he doing that? "We'll meet outside the hospital at eight, I'll bring the weaponry."
"I'll bring the party mix."
"Just don't be late." Giles sighed, and rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand, briefcase still clutched in it. He turned to head for his domain when their computer teacher walked up, and attempted to start what in another time and place might have been a disgusting round of adult flirting.
Willow chanced a glance at Xander who leaned down and whispered, "He smells a little like my Uncle Rory. Less mint. Does Giles have an ex-wife?"
"I don't think so."
"Might have an ex-boyfriend." Buffy commented as she joined their cluster to comment on the ongoing Calender-Giles Drama. It was almost, the former cheerleader mused in a stage whisper, like being back in Hemry High only without the ever present stake in her purse. Willow and Xander made little 'o's and stepped closer as Buffy told them about the strange man interrupting her detention from the night before. "Did you find anything about that Eye-thingy?"
Willow gave a negative shake of her head. "Sorry, it was kinda late and I..."
Buffy pursed her lips and tilted her head as she examined the shy girl shrewdly. "Got in a fight with the computer?"
Willow felt her spine stiffen, in fear or indignation she wasn't sure, but remembering the last computer she had a conversation with made the question valid. Luckily, she was saved from further explanation as Ms. Calender turned from where she was watching Giles hurry away, and asked: "We still on for tomorrow?"
Xander's body heat suddenly became much more noticeable as he draped one arm around her shoulders protectively, and a wave of comfort washed through the red head. It wasn't romantic, not at all, more like a brother-sister gesture of companionship, but it was nice. She leaned back, and tried to remember what she had agreed to. Between crazy zombie women and foreign memories it was a wonder she only missed two questions on the quiz yesterday. Xander came to her rescue, the clueless knight.
"On for what?" The boy asked with a goofy grin. It was the weekend. What could they possibly have planned that the teenage mind wouldn't connect with whipped cream and cherries?
Ms. Calender eyed him with amusement. "Computer basics with some students who've fallen behind. Willow's helping out for extra credit." Willow groaned and ducked her head again, letting her hair fall back in front of her bruised face as the com. sci. instructor looked her way. She didn't want the attention, didn't want her to worry. Didn't want anyone to worry. Totally forgot about the commitment, and didn't want anyone to know.
Her best friend gave a half-hearted laugh. "Those poor schlubs come in on Saturday." He didn't mention the plans they had for the weekend which also involved the school; most weekends the Scoobies could be found spending the lunch hour in the stacks surrounded by dusty tomes of demon lore and, occasionally, playing games of scrabble.
Xander gaped as Ms. Calender pierced him with her comeback. "9 am okay with you, Xander?" Buffy gave a him a smirk while mouthing 'schlub'. "Cordelia's gonna be there."Oh, God.
Willow inwardly cringed. Three hours locked in a room with Cordelia, when I look and feel like this?
She could just imagine how those hours would go. The questions that would be asked. It was chinese water torture, without the water. Willow whimpered. Why did I agree to this again? "It'll look good on your transcript." Like anyone ever reads those...
"You mean, out of everyone in all your classes, only me and Cordy have to come to tutoring? Not even Harmony? She's like the densest chick in school!" Xander asked with a look of incredulity. "Couldn't you have at least given me a heads up earlier?"
"Miss Kendall is actually my second best student." She ignored the dropped jaws. "Very good at following directions, unlike some people who don't turn in their assignments, and look up the salem witch trials during class time instead of doing the work."
Xander cringed as the woman spun on her heel, shoes clicking against the linoleum, and Buffy peered at Xander from her open locker. "Salem witch trials?"
"...I like the pictures..."
Willow patted his hand as they walked to class. Neither gave verbal acknowledgment of the smaller girl using the boy for support as overtaxed muscles screamed, or Xander using his stature to keep other students from bumping into her in an uncharacteristic display of dominance over the shifting tides of the student body. "Don't worry. When we go in, I'll show you how to erase the browser history, and you can look at all the porn you want."
"You're the best, Wills."
Willow beamed, despite the lingering pain and the thought of the day still ahead of her. She could do this, she could
, and they would get through zombie apocalypses and whatever else the Hellmouth threw at them.
And if she couldn't?
The girl gathered her strength around her as she entered first period, Xander stopping and dropping her books on her chosen desk, and did her best to ignore the whispering breaking out. Her make-up job was good, but not good enough. She hardly ever wore the stuff to begin with, and she was no drama student with mad disguise skills. The harsh grind of teeth whispered through the back of her mind. This was what masks were for.
Professor Bronson entered the room, and took up a stick of chalk as he started writing on the blackboard. White on black the words flowed forth, something about a revolution...
One of the Cordettes, the one with cropped auburn hair, was sneaking looks at her and whispering with another girl. Willow resisted the urge to slouch in the desk and become one with the scenery.
If she wasn't strong enough...
Willow paused to take a deep breath as she cracked open her spiral, and pushed the image of angry ink blots from her mind.
There was a cold sweat on the back of his neck, directly in line from the breeze of the air conditioner. His hands trembled the slightest bit as he turned the page in the old book, fourteenth century if he wasn't mistaken. He hadn't slept properly in three days, and even with Ripper's resources he couldn't find anything useful on how to deal with Eyghon. If the council man couldn't come through with a solution then he, Philip Henry, was a dead man. A few parlor tricks and simple protective charm were nothing, nothing, to the dream eater. First it would take his life, then his body, and then his soul...
In the library, surrounded by books, at the small table Giles had left him he could almost pretend everything was going to be alright. Warm sunlight, a deterrent to most forms of undead, streamed through the high narrow windows, but it was all a lie. Philip moaned, and held his head in his hands. He felt, looked, and no doubt smelled like shit. The dreams -Memories? Nightmares?- kept creeping up on him if he dozed off even a little, a simple seduction, and temptation of days gone by. The mark on his arm burned persistently with a dull and distant pain. How much would he be willing to give to soothe that ache? Give in and go to Eyghon? Willingly become his vessel?
It sounded so easy. It was easy. Each sense increased, experiencing the world through new eyes.
"No. Never again." Philip muttered, and reached for the bottle of gin to pour a fresh glass. What kind of librarian got away with keeping axes, swords, battle-staffs, and alcohol on a school campus? He could have sworn the Americans were much more strict about that sort of thing... He knocked back the glass, and resumed reading with feverish intent. There has to be a way. Eyghon has been banished before, but how? Must we all die before it is possible?
Sunnydale High's library was built with an amphitheater in mind. The stacks grew in levels around the bottom floor where the tables and computer were. Heavy wooden floors that gradually rose were the mainstay of the place. Philip heard the wood creak before he sensed anything else. The bottle of gin spilled across the table as he spun, knocking his chair over, and gestured with a jerking motion.
"Philip, mate, so good to see you." Ethan Rayne smiled, hands open and in the air, while nervously eying the silver-edged dagger pointed at his throat. "Bit jumpy, you really should get that looked at."
"And how do I know you haven't been taken by him, Rayne?"
"Do you really think Eyghon would bother with the chit-chat if I was him?" Rayne asked in superior tone, eyebrow arched. The fact his face was green and yellow seemed to detract somewhat from the effect. He looked like something had been using him as a punching bag.
Philip slid the knife back into its spring-loaded holster up his sleeve but kept the chair between himself and the other Brit. "Dunno. I've been trying to avoid him. What happened to you?"
Ethan grimaced. "Had a run in with a disgruntled client."
"Enough about me," The Chaos worshiper swooped in, and gave the five inch thick demonology text a sneer. "Let's talk about you. What has Ripper got you doing in this musty old museum he calls a secondary school? Looking through books? Really?" He clucked his tongue patronizingly, and closed the text while leaning over to grasp the bottle with his fingers and swirl the remaining liquid. "You can't fight a Eyghon with words, Philip. You know that. I know that. Hell, Ripper knows it. He's probably just waiting to serve you up as a peace offering to the old boy."
"You always were the jealous type, Rayne." Philip gave a dry chuckle as he spoke, leaning backward in his chair tiredly. The bell signaling the end of the period rang, echoing through the near-deserted library, and he listened to the sudden cacophony of rapidly moving teenagers. Ethan rolled his eyes and offered the bottle before sniffing at it and taking a sip.
"Ripper had talent, I'm not ashamed to admit it." The mage spoke with a shrug. "He could do things with a spell I've only dreamed of, but he lacked the power or will to do anything really interesting
"Why are you here?" Philip asked while swiping the bottle from Ethan's hands. After taking a long pull of the gin the tremors in his hands subsided to barely noticeable ticks. Both men quieted at the sound of the library doors swinging open, a child cursing, then sliding a thick volume of something into the return shoot. "Have you been having the dreams, yet?"
"Of course. But, unlike dear Rupert I'm prepared to do something about them." Somehow, despite the lingering discoloration on the man's features he managed to seem reputable. Knowledgeable. Confident. The very origin of the term 'snake oil salesman'. "The question is, are you?"
Philip glanced down at his arms. He could almost see the curved mark through his sleeves. He didn't want to die. The memory of Diedre screaming into the phone while Thomas' possessed body shot her played over and over again in his mind's eye. The smell of her corpse as it was forced to take one step after another... He didn't want that to be him. He swallowed and looked Ethan in the eye. "What did you have in mind?"
As long as it wasn't him
Homeroom is, no matter what era, the most boring class of all. Willow reflected on this as she stared down at the stupid little character building booklet they were supposed to be working through. The sub was sitting in the front of the class, horn-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of her nose, reading a small paperback covered in plaid. Three guesses to what it was about.
Willow snuck a glance out of the corner of her eye to see Xander fast asleep, drool pooling on the open pages, and Buffy staring off into the distance, jaw twitching ever now and then as she slowly chewed her bubblegum. With a sigh of resignation, Willow went back to her work, the scholar within her demanded full attention and success in academic pursuits, but another part of her scoffed.
It was the new part, the dark part, and if she was honest it scared the shit out of her. She was hoping it would leave. Skinny little geeks were not good hosts for the spirits of angry vigilantes.
But it wasn't going away. It wasn't something they could just reverse like Xander and the Hyena possession. There was no ritual circle. Just chaos magic, which is inherently chaotic, bridging the realms, and she had neither the experience or power to set up any kind of containment. All she could do was ride out the flashes, and hope she didn't lose herself completely. It was a miracle she wasn't a stain of mistaken tomato paste after last night.
Willow refocused, and tried to ignore the part of her that scoffed at the citizenship exercise she was supposed to be completing. The Mayor's office had donated a great deal of money to repair the damages made during last fall's Master fiasco, though strangely no questions had been asked as to how a car ended up being driven through the building, and in return the students had to 'build character' and become 'responsible citizens'.
"Mary is a sixteen year old attending Wilkins' High." Willow read under her breath. "She excels in cheerleading, and her boyfriend is on the football team. One night while at a post-game celebration her boyfriend makes overtures to her. Mary loves her boyfriend, and they plan to marry after graduation, but she does not want to get pregnant. Her boyfriend does not appear to be dissuaded. What should she do?
"A, firmly decline. B, ask that protection is used. C, call for help. D, submit." Willow blinked to be sure she was reading everything right. What the hells?
This was citizenship? Strength of character? Nothing gave the option to run. It was like they were being trained to just lay down and give up... which disgusted her in more ways than one. Willow wrinkled her nose and began writing in the margin as her temper grew. The graphite of her pencil scoured the paper like an angry claw as she wrote.
"Secret Option E, Mary knees boyfriend ass-hat in the balls. Then she bashes him over the head into unconsciousness, before calling the police, regardless of how the other party-goers will feel about it. The fight is followed then by fruit punch and ice-cream."
Nodding to herself, Willow moved on to the next scenario and found herself no less disgusted. Everything was geared toward meekness. Being humble. Accepting fate and the fact that they couldn't do anything against adversity. It was all so stupid. Too stupid for coincidence.
It was almost as if someone high-up was intentionally trying to handicap her generation.
Willow sat at her desk, stewing, pencil scribbling furiously as she wrote in minor alterations to the situations, then gave new options. There were always options. You just needed to know where to look.
"Okay, you little delinquents, books up and ears on!" Ms. Kennith yelled as she slid a small blue ribbon to keep her place and set her book to the side. Xander snapped awake, and nearly fell out of his chair in his haste to salute setting off a round of giggling. Blushing like mad, he thumped back down in his seat before their baby-sitter could look up from rifling through a desk drawer. As a terrifying stack of papers hit the tabletop, Ms. Kennith continued speaking as though reading from a script. Her annoyance at the cut in her 'Laird' time was obvious. "As per regulations of the California Board of Education, it's time for the yearly Junior Class Career Survey to help put you on your path to future success."
Willow carefully closed her booklet sliding it out of sight, just looking at the thing threatened to start a spiral of aggression, and waited for the ten page questionnaire that was being passed around. Papers were shuffled and books stuffed into bags. Twenty pairs of eyes drifted to the clock as it counted down to the final bell and Willow could taste the anticipation in the air.
It was more than a desire to leave school. It was like on some primal level everyone knew they were sitting on the gateway to hell and wanted to get out ASAP.
"These are due Monday, so take your time. Remember, your whole future may ride on how you answer these pages. Do-Not-Fuck-Up." Ms. Kennith's last words were drowned out as the release bell rang, loud and shrill, causing students to charge for the door like a heard of stampeding gazelle. There was lots of jumping involved. Willow gathered her books following the crowd at slightly more sedate pace so as not to be jolted by the crowd of excited teenagers.
"Wills, you doing alright?" Xander fell back to her side, Buffy joining them shortly after. Her pen had been twisted into her hair where it managed to secure a small bun. "You look kinda... angry. Usually you get all googly-eyed at the thought tests and stuff."
"I..." Willow exhaled and relaxed her hunched shoulders. They twinged a little, and she made a mental note to stock up on icy-hot, but with her friends hovering like mother hens she wasn't jostled as much as she could have been in the not-so-crowded halls. "Sorry guys. I've just been a little edgy lately. What with Halloween, then Ford, and then there's Giles' mysterious mustached man."
"Nice alliteration." Buffy quipped as she bobbed her head, scanning the crowd.
Willow gave her a shaky smile. "Thanks." She ran a hand through her hair. "I guess I got a little too into the Character Building assignment, made me a little tense."
"Really?" Xander asked as he pulled his own rolled up copy of the thing from his back pocket. "I saw it was multiple choice, so I was just gonna go with 'C' on it all. Statistically, I'm bound to get some of them right, and it's just a completion thing, anyway."
"So if you get cornered in a dark alley, you're gonna scream for help?"
Xander blinked, processed, then gave a huge grin. "But of course! Then Super-Buffy can come save me."
The blonde rolled her eyes and leaned against a locker. "Uh-huh. What about you're man cred?"
"That died a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... besides, the only thing I can imagine cornering me an alley would be of the yellow-eyed, long-toothed variety."
The halls were emptying, and soon the school would be little more than a skeletal husk. The sun would set in about two or three hours. Just enough time to get home and get inside. She was getting more and more morbid.
"Buffy, I did a search on Eg-"
Willow's comments were cut off when she noticed Buffy's eyes widen marginally and her lips thin as she hissed, "G-man, three O'clock."
Xander frowned in confusion. "But he's at six..."
"And it's three now."
"Children." Giles walked up, and there was hardly anyone else left in the hallways. Little things stood out, things Willow hadn't really noticed before, and a worm of unease wriggled in her stomach as the man cleaned his glasses. The wrinkles at the corner of his eyes seemed more prominent, and there was a tight tension in his shoulders. The watcher turned to his slayer. "Buffy, I'm sorry, but I won't be able to meet you tonight."
"What, why?" Buffy pouted, lip jutting out slightly, and crossed her arms over her chest. "You're standing me up? But you made the date!"
Giles leaned against a corner pillar and rubbed his forehead with thumb and index finger. "I know, I know... but I need to find Philip before he does something stupid."
"Triple M pulled a rabbit?" Xander asked as he leaned toward the librarian.
Giles paused to look at the other male before chuckling to himself and wiping a hand down his face. "Aptly put. Buffy, if you'll come with me to the library I have some silver-edged daggers you may want to take a look at..."
The locker swung shut with a metal clang. Willow and Xander watched Buffy as she waved cheerfully to them and bounced after Giles, ponytail swinging back and forth as she went. Xander sighed then stated wistfully, "And then there were two."
The street lamps cast a yellow-orange glow over the streets. Willow crept along clutching a large zip-loc bag to her stomach, and every now and then her heart would jump as something made a noise. Sometimes it was a cat. Sometimes it wasn't. She now had bruises on her bruises for the time it wasn't a cat, and everything ached more than she thought possible. It was almost enough to make her turn around and sink into her parent's nice big tub with hot soapy water and jets. She didn't even have her stake with her anymore, because she'd been too slow on the pull-out.
"Oh, yick." She grimaced. "Focus, Willow, now is not the time for a Jesse moment. It just might get you killed."
Jesse. She hadn't thought about Jesse much after the Harvest. Every time she passed by what had been his locker a knot formed in her stomach, and when she saw some transfer student sitting where he used to sit she wanted to throw up. They hadn't even had a body to bury.
It had to be worse for Xander. Willow bit her lip, narrowed her eyes as if willing her night-vision to enhance, turned off of Main Street, and into a back alley. She could imagine how it happened: one second trying to talk to a face so familiar yet so not
, the next watching dust and ash settle around your shoulders. If they hadn't been able to exorcise the Primal Spirits, would Buffy have been forced to slay Xander?
Except Xander wouldn't have been nice and clean, neatly vacuumed up and thrown out with the trash. He would have been flesh and blood. Gory.Running. Chasing. Breath comes in cloudy pants as she follows the criminal. He's climbing a chain-link fence, and there is a small spark of satisfaction as his arm catches on the top barb, skin tearing, leaving blood.
She's not breathing near as hard as he is. She knows where that alley comes out. He knows where Big Figure is hiding out. He'll talk. Nite Owl won't like it, so she won't go as far as she could, but he'll talk.
"No. No. No." Willow grunted out under her breath as she stared at her feet, at the bag lying forgotten on her sneakers, waiting for the world to return to normal. Her fingers are wound up in her hair, hands pressing against her head as if trying to make reality calm down by sheer brute force. A cricket chirps from a crack in the wall, and a hand comes out of the darkness to grasp her shoulder. "No!"
Instinctively, she ducked to the side, bringing her own hand up, wrapping around the wrist, and by pulling just right, her attacker should flip and go flying onto the pavement.
But the body doesn't go flying, and instead Willow finds her opponent dancing from the grab and expertly turning it in on itself. Willow's grip is shot all to hell, and her back slams into the concrete of the building. This is it. If she goes, she goes down-
"Willow?" An angry teenage girl hisses in her face.
Green eyes glance through messy strands of red, and a tentative smile flickers into being on her lips. "H-hi, Buffy. You surprised me. Sorry."
"Willow," The slayer breaths out with exasperation. "What are you doing here? You should be home, in bed. Or home, in the bubble bath... I could go for a bubble bath right now. The mosquitoes out here are murder."
"Well," She shifts her feet, frowning, and picks up the plastic baggie that broke open during the scuffle. There goes an hour of labor. "I had brought the party mix, but now." It is a real shame, watching the remains of chocolate covered, peanut butter filled, chex mix bits dribble out onto the street. A river of homeless good things, like the island of misfit toys, only an island of uneaten treats.
Buffy smiles a kind of predator smile that lights up her eyes, holds out her hand into the flow, and caught a few of the snacks. "You even added the powdered sugar."
Willow nodded sadly. The other girl stood there in fashionable yet practical shoes, leather jacket, with her hair up and out of her face. And she had handed Ror- Willow winced while mentally correcting herself with a big, fat, red pen. - Willow her butt. Slayers were built for this sort of thing. What could one skinny, banged-up high school nerd contribute beyond research help?So? Always been out-numbered by bigger, stronger opponents. Always.
There was a rapid flash of memory, too quick to suck her in, but Willow pinched her lips against the coppery tang of blood in her mouth. It faded, but she still felt unsettled as she followed Buffy over to a corner to watch the back of the hospital. The blonde turned, "I want you to stay out of the way when the vampires show up. There's no telling how many there'll be, and I don't want you getting hurt."
Logical, yes, but it still grated. Slayers fought alone against the darkness, were trained to fight alone, but teams could work too. Less chance of dying when you had someone to watch your back. Rorschach was a loner, but even he accepted that simple truth. Where would Buffy be if Xander and Angel hadn't followed her down to the Master's Cave? "What if I see an opening?"
"Then, just..." The blonde pleaded while a white van rolled up to the hospital loading bay. "Just, be careful
"'Course." Willow breathed in a low growl as she watched Buffy walk out to confront the two men dressed in scrubs. Doctors didn't take deliveries. Not in Sunnydale. Her hands formed into delicate fists as she thought about what had happened to the guard that was supposed to take the blood shipment. Dead? Turned? And was of the interns that originally wore the scrubs? "Parasites.
The sounds of fighting rushed through the red head's ears. Buffy was fast, she'd seen it a thousand times, but now watching the slayer move brought out an analytical critic. Buffy was fast and strong, a given, but she lacked art or efficiency.
A bag a of tainted blood went flying as Buffy kicked it out of a vampire's hand. Three on one. Not the best odds, but then Willow had never before noticed how damned uncoordinated the bloodsuckers were. Buffy kept her arms close to her body as she used a round house to knock one down, and then used a boot-to-the-head to take the out the driver. Then she ran back to the first. Which was by now up and holding the slayer over its head like some kind of comic-book barbarian.
Through it all, the red head couldn't but think: Why?
Why not stake the two she had just knocked down while she had the element of surprise?
Willow stepped into the shadows and examined her surroundings for any advantage. Just a dirty alley. Think, there's got to be something. Something.
She knocked aside a box of papers. Nothing. Old newspapers. No crates. Some glass. Weird random bits of metal that seem to accumulate in every alley in every dimension but nothing she could use
. "Come on..."
Miracle of miracles. Willow wasn't going to ask why there was a handsaw in the trash. She didn't fucking care. The teeth were rusted, several were broken, and the handle had splintered. She wished she had her gloves. Willow grabbed the saw, ducked low, and used her momentum to tackle the vampire moving in on Buffy, who had just gotten back to her feet atop the car, with stake drawn. The slayer had the high ground, and was ready to slay.
Willow struggled with her vampire, jerking a leg back as claws racked along her skin, and swung down with every scrap of anger she had. The saw cut into the skin and snagged on the bone. Willow jerked it, climbing astride the face-down corpse struggling for purchase, dragging the rusty blade through the bone.
"Buffy, look out!"
It exploded into ash, and her knees hit the tarmac with support gone. Willow glanced up, mouth dropping open in surprise as she watched the self-proclaimed vampire with a soul get in the way of a slayage, jump through the air, and tackle the vampire driver. Scrambling away from her own kill, the girl couldn't help but feel she was in some kind of action movie. That was the only explanation for Angel's kick that sent vampire spinning
through the air and into
the drivers seat
of the get-away
vehicle. Which he then proceeded to use to get away.
Crap. Willow very carefully dusted her hands off, and attempted to calm her nerves. Her hands reflexively tightened around the saw handle. She walked over to Buffy who was checking the blood packets for viability. The blonde looked up at the vampire, and though it was hidden well Willow would swear there was suspicion in those hazel eyes. "How did you know about this?"
Good point, Buffster. Willow stood by her friend in silent support. How did
he know about it?
"It's delivery day. Everybody knows about it." He shrugged off the question. "They only ruined one bag."
He moved forward as if to help take the ice chest, and Willow felt a low warning rumble start up in the back of her throat. "That doesn't answer the question, and how the hell did you know that?"
Why was everyone looking at her like she'd grown a third head?
Angel frowned. "I could smell it... I'm a vampire...?"
She crossed her arms over her chest, tapping the saw blade against her arm. "That explains how you knew one was open, but not that they only opened the one. Unless you watched. Big Bad vampire. Hiding in the shadows. Waiting for an opening."
"What are you trying to say?" Angel challenged.
Willow flushed, sinking into herself defensively, and Buffy looked from the other girl to Angel as though confused.
"Where the bloody hell is the blood?" Spike yelled as his demon rose to the surface, changing what could have been the visage of a male model into the stuff nightmares were made of. He had the minion by the lapels of its jacket, and snarled, eyes burning, fangs glinting, hands curled into claws. "There were three of you!"
"And three of them! We were mugged, boss, mugged!" The minion claimed, eyes searching the warehouse for support. In the shadows other vampires watched, some sympathetic, but none of them wanted to risk drawing the blonde's attention. While the duo were less religious than the Master or the Anointed One had been, they didn't stand on ceremony or titles, Spike and Drusilla were creative when disobeyed. An iron cage still hung from the rafters, the metal permanently pitted and stained from the unnatural fire of a vampire flash-burning. "Some other Master is trying for your territory. If I hadn't left they'd have gotten me too!"
"Maybe they should have." Spike growled as in inhaled the fear wafting off the former jock. Barely a year dead, and he was soft. Vampires from this century were pitiful, he silently bemoaned, they were either all brains or all brawn. Combination that could barely figure out which side of the neck the jugular was on. When he had been a year dead he'd had whole villages under his belt.
His sire came into the room on slippered feet, tiny hands clasped under her chin. "Spike? Where's our dinner? You said you were ordering out."
"Sorry, luv. There's been a mix-up." Spike shifted and tossed the minion across the room. Vampires winced at the sound of the spine snapping in multiple places. "Turns out Ms. Edith isn't the only ones that know about delivery day."
Drusilla whimpered and clutched at her stomach. "I'm hungry, Spike. Soooo hungry." She held up bruise covered arms. "Will I dry up and waste away? Blow away on the wind like so much dust..."
"Never. I won't allow it." He looked up, ignoring the paralyzed failure moaning on the floor. "Kristy, Mason, go check the local rutting grounds. Find us a nice young buck for the princess."
Kirsty, a thin blonde still wearing the blue dress she had be buried in five months ago, licked her lips and touched her ridged forehead self consciously. "Um, rutting grounds?"
Spike rested his forehead against Drusilla's as she hummed to herself, and ran his fingers through her hair. He wanted to reach over and crush the ditzy girl's throat. "Where ever you damn kids go to shag without mummy and daddy walking in."
"Where we... the park!" Blushing, the two undead teenagers ran out the door, and the tension level decreased. Drusilla pulled away from Spike, and tip-toed over to the prone vampire. Her fingers trailed over the swelling on his face and he jerked away in a panic.
"He's making funny noises." Her head tilted. "Three by three, hands of green."
Spike perked up at the seer's statement. "That's a great idea, Dru! What do you think the going rate on assassinations are these days?"
Buffy walked home, jacket closed against the cool night air, and bit her lip. Willow had brought up some very good points, and Angel had always been pretty cagey about, well, everything. He didn't like talking about himself, but considering that most of his life was spent torturing and... Buffy winced.
She didn't blame him for not wanting to talk about it.
Still, what had he been doing there? If he wanted to help her fight, why did he wait until she was about to pounce on ER poser number one?
"It's way too late for this." Buffy moaned while looking up at her window. She hated climbing trees, especially when wearing panty-hose. Runs were a bitch. Sighing, she bent her knees, ready to jump for the lowest branch when someone stepped from the side of the house.
"You!" Buffy backpedaled, reaching for the knife in her jacket, then paused and grinned. "You look like something the demon dragged in."
"Oh, ha-ha. Very clever. Now be a good little slayer and come with me." Ethan gestured to the side. "We've got a long day ahead of us."
"No, we have not. I'm going bed. If you pissed someone off, it's your problem."
"Oh no, my dear." Ethan smiled, and Buffy frowned. "I think you'll find it can be yours just as easy as it be mine."
Buffy rolled her eyes, then screamed as another pair of hands came up behind her and wrapped a cloth around her nose and mouth.
"I liked the one where you paired up with Rorschach to save the damsel better." A brunette with a buzz-cut grumbled as he tried to get his yo-yo to pass between lengths of its own string.
They were in the barracks, Karson practiced his yo-yo tricks while Jimmy laced up his boots. "I'm just saying, it was a really, really weird dream. I can't get this blonde out of my head, and I don't even like blondes. She was really, really important too. They called her the Slayer."
Karson looked at him, the hard plastic toy smacking with finality into his palm, and arched an eyebrow. "You're having dreams of blonde, busty, super-woman that fights demons with archaic weaponry? Are you sure you didn't OD on Supergirl when we went on leave to that comic convention, Jim-bo?"
"There's a red head, too. Pretty cute, bookish. Again, not my type, but you know..."
"So we've got some Supergirl, Pepper Potts action. Nice."
"You know, Karson, forget it. Forget I mentioned anything!" Jimmy growled, and abruptly stood up. He swiped his pistol from the bed side table, checked the clip, then slid it into his leg holster. "Come on, or well be late to the party. And stop sniggering! That's an order!"
"Sir!" Karson snapped his heels together and threw a salute, but his lips were quirked in a grin as they walked out into the hallway, down the stairs, and out the checkpoint. Jimmy sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. Maybe he was reading too much into it all. Sometimes a cigar was just a cigar, or so they said. Besides, it really was all a bit of stretch even for Sunnydale.
Jimmy paused once they reached the door, and turned west toward the center of town: the center of the Hellmouth. A great, grey stone wall topped by barbed wire surrounded the Pit. Watchtowers kept, well, watch over the land that still occasionally spewed out demons that only lasted as long as it took the explosive rounds to travel from the towers to the targets. The sight was a comfort. Nothing beat good old American know-how and war-making. "Humanity, fuck yeah."
"That's what she said!"