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the Human Touch

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Summary: You really CAN’T judge a book by its cover. (“Halloween” in Sunnydale, for people outside the Core Four.)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > GeneralAadlerFR18411,068131,4278 Aug 118 Aug 11Yes

Part IV

It was an uncoordinated rush, and Indy shot the first three, which meant I had ample time to jump back into the front section of the SUV and scoot across to the opposite door. The vehicle itself blocked most of the interior of Willy’s from the street, and Indy and Selina together should last long enough to provide me with sufficient head start …

There was a little cry from behind me, and I reversed directions so suddenly that it took me an extra second to realize that the movement had initiated within my own muscles. Nancy, I had forgotten about Nancy! I launched myself from the door I had entered, and onto the back of the thing that had come between her and me, my legs scissored me to its midsection and my hands reached around to its face, digging for the eyes. Goo squirted onto my fingers, its shriek climbed into the ultrasonic, and I pushed myself clear and landed on my feet as it lurched away. Another one was almost on her, the Velga — yes, those markings left no doubt — and I hammered it down with a bar stool, striking and screaming until the wood shattered.

Rage is thoroughly familiar to a vampire, it comes far more easily to us than does laughter; but, though all-encompassing, it is … shallow, somehow, once one quests below that first layer there is nothing more beneath. A human’s fury is of an entirely different caliber, filling and transcending its bearer, and yet through it all the creature continues to think. I pulled Nancy away, yet another nonhuman form was coming at us, and my mind quite calmly reported, g’Nath, elbow joints vulnerable to lateral stress, even as my hands were reaching for it. I broke the elbow with a sharp opposing double-slap, seized the slack arm and spun, g’Nath tendons ripping as I twisted with somewhat more intensity than a human body should be able to produce. Releasing it, I shoved Nancy into a corner and turned to face the room, interposing my powerless mortal shell as a barrier against anything that would touch her.

There was no threat to her, for the moment, all attention being on my more dramatic cohorts. I had heard at least one more shot while rescuing Nancy, but Indy no longer held the revolver, and he had no room to use his whip; he was fighting barefisted against a pair of storklike demons of a species I didn’t recognize. It was clear that they were stronger than he, but he was tougher than I had ever known a human to be; it was as if he could consciously or automatically call on all his reserves at once, taking blows that should have dropped him from shock alone, and still slamming back at them with a force well beyond his seeming capacity.

If he was leather, Selina was lightning. I had thought her impressive in her previous clashes, but here she was breathtaking, whirling from one foe to another, striking and moving and striking at the next, shifting targets in an endless undulating coil of motion. She was taking on four at once, using her hands only for defense, relying on the greater power of her legs and smashing at whatever looked like a vulnerable point. One fell as I watched, its knee crushed, and she snapped an instep kick into the delicate cartilage at its throat before spinning away to the next target. Chopping them down bit by bit, never slowing herself to finish one off until it was already so reduced that she could administer the coup de grace without a pause.

It was too little. Indy and Selina were extraordinary enough to prevail over a dozen strong humans, or even double their own number of demons, but a dozen demons was too much even for them. One of the forms on the floor stirred and began to rise, the squat, pebbly thing that had greeted us as pink meat; and the g’Nath was coming toward me again, claws extruding from the fingers on its good remaining arm. They were too many for us, we couldn’t last.

I charged the g’Nath, kicking at knees and groin in imitation of Selina’s tactics. I didn’t have her speed, however, and a taloned sweep opened up my t-shirt and the muscles of my chest. It was as if I had been striped with fire; I gave ground, gasping from the sear of pain, and Nancy darted around me to snatch up a fragment of wood from the stool I had broken on the Velga. She clubbed at the g’Nath’s head and back, and it made a little sideways stagger before wheeling to face her. She tried to retreat, angled the wrong way and backed up against a booth, screamed as the g’Nath closed on her. I hooked an arm around its neck and turned, trying to wrench it backward, but I had failed to break its balance and it stood unswayed, reaching back over its shoulder to rake the claws across my face and scalp —

The change was instantaneous. I still held my earlier position, and bent the demon back, readily if not easily. My other hand across its jaw, a moment to solidify the grip, and a hard twist of my shoulders snapped the corded neck. It fell at my feet, clawed fingers closing convulsively on the knotted bandanna.

I had never taken it off. I had noted its presence and position in a mirror, but had seen no reason to remove it. Once it was taken from me, my true nature, and strength, had returned. Would it be the same, I wondered, with the others affected? Or was it different for me because I wasn’t the bandanna’s actual owner, or not in fact human, just as I had retained the memory of my original identity?

Nancy moved up beside me. “Is it — dead?” she asked, looking down.

“Yes,” I said. I took a half-step back to put myself slightly behind her, crooked an elbow around her throat, and applied pressure with the other arm as I had seen done on Walker: Texas Ranger (one of Roland’s favorites, before he had failed to return from a routine hunt). She lost consciousness within seconds, just as it had always worked on Walker, and I lowered her to the floor.

She could not be allowed to see my true face.

Nor could the others. It took several moments’ concentration to call up the human mask, then I moved to aid Indy and Selina. Wooden daggers from the shattered stool, along with my natural strength, allowed me to dispatch three of the remaining demons before they realized that the battle had changed, and the surviving two fled upon seeing the fate of their fellows.

I went to retrieve Nancy from where she lay, carried her back to my former companions. “Take her,” I said. “Get her out of here. Keep her safe.”

“Right,” Indy rasped. His cheek and knuckles were bloody, and he breathed as if ribs were broken. He started to reach for her, then blinked at me. “What … what happened to your face —?”

Ah. Yes. A human face, but not the one they had seen me wear before now. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Take her away from this place. It still isn’t safe here.”

“I’ll see if I can get the Explorer started,” Selina said. She went across the hood in the same easy tumble she had used before, looked at me from the driver’s side. “You’re not coming with us?”

I studied Nancy where she lay in my arms: sensitive chick with the nice tits. She had tried to carry the weight of the world, and for a brief time I had embraced the same madness, risking my life in violation of all reason and necessity. She had meant everything to me … and now I could drain her dry without remorse, save only an aesthetic pang at the destruction of something beautiful and rare.

Human enough to merit the sneers of other vampires, but not to deserve the love of a human girl; or to desire it, now that my unbeating heart could no longer recognize the value that my unfeeling mind still knew she held.

“Just go,” I said. I held her out to Indy. “Take her and go.”

The SUV made a dreadful clattering noise when Selina coaxed the engine into activity, but she could move and steer it. In the back, the Sasquatch was still struggling against its bonds and kicking against whatever it could reach, but that no longer concerned me. I stepped out of the enormous hole in the front of Willy’s and stood on the sidewalk, watching as the vehicle pulled away.

Trying to feel. Or even simply to remember the feelings now vanished.

Near the end of the next block, the SUV slammed to a halt. I watched, but could see no reason for its stopping, and I began to walk in that direction. Selina came out the driver’s side door … No, not Selina, this girl had a different build and was differently dressed, and as I drew nearer I saw that her attire was a wet-looking black vinyl, crisscrossed with huge crude stitching, and that she wore a cowled mask of the same material. Long before then I had been able to make out her words, not that they were of interest.

“Forget it. You can just forget it, Tucker Wells. Not only would I not be caught dead anywhere near you, if you even tell anybody I was ever in the same car with you I’ll say you built a shrine to Boy George and the Village People and, and any other stupid gay person I can think of! Do you understand me?”

The answering voice held a quaver, but also real anger. “So I should care? Nobody cares what you say, Harmony, you’ll always be second string. You, you couldn’t even come up with your own costume, you had to wait and see what Cordelia was going to wear and try to go her one better!”

Harmony — not even a pale semblance of Selina — stamped her foot and made a sweeping gesture. “Amscray, Prince of Dorkness. Take that POS and hit the horizon!”

I was very near now, and from the interior of the vehicle I heard yet another voice. “Dude, what am I doing here? And why is all this rubber stuff wrapped around me? Are you, like, a safe ride for stoners? ’cause that is just so awesome …” There was a long pause, and then, “Whoa. Is that Nancy? The other Nancy? Dude, what did you do to her? Or is she, like, stoned too …?”

There was no answer, but the SUV spun away with a profligate squealing of tires. Harmony pulled the cowl back from her face, drew her hair out, and shook it free. “Ew, I’m all sweaty. Everywhere I’m sweaty, I should sue.” Her hair, I saw, was longer than Selina’s had been, and of a lighter but markedly less convincing shade. She was also not as tall, even with the spiked heels. She looked around, and jumped at the sight of me as I drew level with her. “Yow. Who are you?”

“My name is Dalton,” I said pleasantly. “Not that it matters, I don’t believe we’ve met. Are you lost? Do you need help?”

She snorted. “No, I don’t need help, and if I did I wouldn’t want it from some creepy gross old person.” She turned her back to me, adding determinedly, “I can take care of myself.”

“Oh, I seriously doubt that.” She had been considerate enough to draw back the cowl, so my teeth entered her throat without resistance. She put appropriate vigor into the scream, but struggled only half-heartedly, and within seconds even that perfunctory resistance had ceased. With one nail I opened a cut on the back of my hand, and held the bleeding wound to her mouth. Slack and dazed, either not understanding or lacking the will to resist, she suckled submissively, and when I felt her swallow, I resumed drinking from her until I had taken enough blood to bring about unconsciousness.

Satisfied, I slung her over my shoulder and began walking again. I would, I decided, leave her in a church; she should be reasonably safe there until she awoke or was found. She was too stupid to survive for much longer … but my essence was in her veins now, and if she was killed by another vampire, I might have the opportunity to see whether further diluting of the demon strain would endow her with more of the humanity yet so distant from me.

Maintaining a hobby, I think, provides a balance to existence.

I could still see the point where the SUV had turned and left my field of view. Nancy, too, should be in no further peril now, except possibly from the puerile males currently in custody of her. I had, it seemed to me, created two legacies tonight: one by taking Harmony, the other by allowing Nancy to go untouched. I had not marked her … but she had, perhaps, left her mark on me. Her own legacy, as it were.

Harmony twitched on my shoulder, and I contemplated taking more of her blood (or all of it); but then she subsided, and I continued to walk.

 

end

The End

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