Falling to the floor, Dawn didn’t need to think about the situation to understand the trouble she was in. However incompetent those other three might have been, this new primary victim was in a whole other class. That might be an exaggeration generated by the fact that he actually managed to hurt her, but the Order had probably realized they needed someone good to do this.
Oh shit. The man was tracking her while she was falling to the ground; for once she wasn’t facing a talker, but actually someone that believed in killing without opening his mouth. Not good. As she landed on the floor, the sudden jarring of her body sent fresh spears of agony through her body. Pain, to most people a fall like that would have been a crippling experience, but she thrived on it.
With the delicious feeling coursing through her body, Dawn was awoken from her shock and reacted far quicker than her opponent could have imagined. Her gun was no longer in her hand, had she dropped it? No matter, this one was going to suffer for actually touching her. A knife was flying through the air—before she really noticed she had thrown it—aimed for the other assassin.
As he dodged the knife she had a small chance to get behind some cover herself. And for once she actually decided to do so. Hurting the primary victim was important, but she had enough self-preservation to understand that being alive was definitely a good thing too. Besides, she couldn’t hurt anyone if she was dead. There wasn’t much in the room she could use though, the only thing being a table. A thought came to her causing her to smile, a wild-west shoot-out! Hi-yah!
Diving over the table her newest wound was once more brought to her attention, giving her the strength needed to topple the sturdy piece of furniture. Once she was safely ensconced behind it though, she took a moment to check her wound. Lifting her t-shirt slightly she looked at what she found there. Where the bullet had entered her body it had left a small hole, and in the front, where it exited, there was a bigger one. Not only ruining her body, but her clothes as well, the bastard would pay for that!
Risking a peek around the table she noticed that the victim was kicking the guns from his friends away. Damn! She should have taken one when she had the chance. He was almost finished too, and she had no doubt that he’d try to kill her again once he was done. She hadn’t seen what kind of gun he was carrying, but it was probably one that would be able to get through the table. Why he hadn’t tried it she didn’t really understand though, did he suspect a trap? She wished he had a good reason for it, but instead of trying to come up with a plan she refocused on the hole he’d created in her body.
The wound itself wasn’t what she called a pretty sight though. No, actually it was what she called a pretty sight, but only when it was on someone else’s body. Allowing some of the blood to spill over her own hand she licked the red liquid. Good, it still tasted the way blood should taste, so it was unlikely that any vital organs had been hit. Not that she was out of danger with the amount of blood that was still flowing from her, but at least she wouldn’t be poisoned by her own body.
She really needed to treat her wound though, and time was starting to run out. By now he was probably wondering where exactly she was behind the table. If he missed the first time she might be able to hurt him. So what should she do? What could she do? Taking stock of her situation made her realize just how much trouble she was in. Severely wounded, armed only with a couple of knives, and facing someone who was not only better armed but competent to boot.
Realizing where her only chance of survival lay, Dawn let out another burst of cackling laughter. Only this time even she could hear the despair in it. This wasn’t fair, she had just been released from her prison and now her only chance of survival lay in surrendering once more. She couldn’t do that, could she? Even before she’d finished that thought she had already moved away from where she was seated. And not a moment too soon either, the part of the table where she had just been had been turned into a mass of splinters.
No, don’t try to kill him yet, he still has bullets in his gun. If she tried it now he wouldn’t have any trouble killing her. But there had to be a way for her to get out of this by herself, and she resolved to find it. A sudden sound from a door to her left made her look in that direction. Seeing another victim she didn’t wait but immediately threw one of her knives, piercing the woman’s eye. It was only then that she realized her mistake, and not even waiting to check she stood up, threw a knife in his general direction, and ran away. The knife probably hadn’t done that much good as she could hear the sound of gunshots tearing apart her last hiding place in that room. On the other hand, he’d shot the table and not her.
Damn competence, everywhere in this thrice-damned city she encountered that annoying trait. And it wasn’t even as if those people really needed it. Only she had to be competent, and she was. With a fixed smile on her face, she dove through the entrance where she had just taken care of the other victim. More bullets followed her through, but all aimed too high, competent people like the one she was facing probably didn’t believe anyone with a stomach wound would actually dive to the floor.
More luck for her then. Breathing hard she looked around the room for anything she could use. The pain was slowly starting to become too much even for her, and she needed to treat her wound. Well, there was always the Rambo method, except there were limits to how far even she would go. Torching another human being, fine; using fire to close her own wounds? No freakin’ way.
But she had a moment respite now. These walls were too thick for his gun to penetrate, and if he tried to come through the door. Well... That would be a nice thing. Her wound though; there was something else she could do, it might not exactly be what she had planned, but it would just have to do. Moving to take of her own jacket and t-shirt she suddenly noticed the woman on the floor. Oh yeah, why use her own clothes for bandages, when using someone else’s meant she wouldn’t have to walk around half-naked?
Without thinking she reached out to grab the woman’s clothing, only to snatch it back before it had been exposed for too long. Bad move. She wasn’t entirely sure why her opponent hadn’t just shot her arm to pieces, but she was grateful for it nonetheless. Somehow though she had a feeling she wouldn’t get a second chance, especially not if she’d accidentally show a more vital part of her body.
Grabbing the woman’s arm—the only part she could reach without exposing herself—she started to drag, but like on the upper level, the floor wasn’t very cooperative here. Unlike earlier however, she was wounded and the failed movement tore on the wound and came close to bringing tears to her eyes. Okay, that wasn’t going to work. Shooting a slightly anxious glance at where she knew the assassin had to be waiting for her to make a mistake Dawn decided on what to do. She’d just take as much of the woman’s clothes as she could then.
Once more taking hold off the arm she began tearing at the woman’s sleeve in an attempt to get at least some of the cloth. And that did work, eventually. After what seemed to be an eternity she heard the tearing of the stitches and when the sleeve tore loose she couldn’t keep her balance, causing her to once more suffer the no longer delicious pain.
Using a knife she quickly turned it into several strips of bandages, before hesitating. This was about as far as she could come on her own. The Kirikas knew how to go about bandaging people, but she only knew how to hurt them. “Alright then. Help me, or die with me.”
It took a while, but in the end she felt the grudging response that indicated she would receive the help she needed. And without having to give up her position as ruling personality. That made her wonder about something though. And while she was tying the strips together so she could bandage her wound, she tried to discover why the real Dawn hadn’t tried to take over from her. After all, she wasn’t acting anything like what that weakling would approve off.
But where she knew the personality to be she only discovered a quivering mess of anxiety, too disgusted by what her body had done to even contemplate taking over. What d’ya know, toying with people wasn’t only fun, it was useful too.
Thinking about toying, now that she had taken care of her wounds—or at least as much as she could right now—she was ready to play with the primary victim again. Why hadn’t he made a move yet? Dawn was about to risk a peek into the room when a pricking in the back of her neck warned her of the danger that threatened her. Once more she was only just in time to dodge the bullets—once more she had been outclassed, outsmarted, and outgunned.
The bastard had actually circled around her! He really was good. And once again she had the niggling feeling that she wasn’t good enough to stand against this opponent. But someone else was. It would mean captivity, but as she kept on running, diving, and otherwise dodging bullets she started to realize that even captivity was better than being dead.
How could anyone actually make her fear him? It just wasn’t possible, she was the one people were supposed to fear, not the other way around. But as she was hit in the face by yet a splinter—this one lodged free when a bullet hit the wooden door she was moving past—she decided it was time though. “Alright then, if that’s what you want, that’s what you get. Playtime’s over.” And after telling her opponent that, she dove into the relative safety of the first room, and retreated back into the void of captivity.
* * *
Looking around Dawn checked her location, she knew that the target was in the room behind her. Once more waiting for her to make a move that would betray her location. But not this time, this time her body wasn’t being controlled by a raving lunatic. She should never have allowed that creature to take over—it hadn’t been of any use and had only ensured that she got wounded.
Looking at her main wound she adjusted the bandages so they were actually of any use. If the other wasn’t even capable of following clear directions, was there anything she could do? The pain that emanated from the wound had already been shunted to a corner of her brain at the moment she took over again. Just like the emotions had been blocked off as well. This body—weak as it might be—was going to work at maximum efficiency for the coming minutes. An efficiency that was required to end this situation.
Her target was good; there was no doubt about that. But from her dispassionate viewpoint she had already uncovered flaws in his technique, tiny mistakes that could easily be afforded against anyone without her training. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t facing anyone else.
The gun, she did remember where she had dropped it. Knowing the location of your primary weapon had been a lesson drilled into her while she was still a small child, so unlike the other she knew its location. And it was still there, unlike the weapons her target had taken away. Why hadn’t he done that? Was it a trap? Did it matter?
It wasn’t like she could have used any of the other weapons anyway. A gun where even something as simple as the recoil was far more powerful than what her body was still getting used to? While she was wounded? No, that was a recipe for disaster. She needed the gun she knew she was capable of using.
A gun that her opponent had left lying there, out in the open where she couldn’t possibly miss it. This situation needed to be resolved quickly, so despite the possibility of a trap she had to make a choice. As that particular thought flashed through her head she tried to rationalize the decision she had taken when the possibility had presented itself, those few seconds before.
Right now she had an advantage the other wasn’t aware of—her target was suddenly facing someone completely different. And it was obvious that once he realized she was no longer the amateur he had faced before, he would stop taking some of the risks he had so far.
It was obvious as well that during the course of this battle the other’s impression of her abilities had dropped dramatically. No longer was she considered someone that had taken out Order members through skilful fighting. By now she had dropped to either someone with a lot of luck, someone who had taken advantage of a situation, or someone who had been mistakenly identified as a danger.
How could she capitalize on that though? She needed him to make a mistake at a moment she could take advantage of it. If he would try to circle around she could make it work, but she would need her gun for that. And if he wasn’t in a position to stop her from taking the gun, why wouldn’t she make use of that option anyway?
A quick glance proved that he had indeed been that stupid, believing her to actually be so incompetent that she’d fall for the same trap twice. Well, she grudgingly admitted, the other might have actually been that stupid. A mental upheaval in the part of her mind that housed that particular creature told her that someone didn’t like that thought. Tough luck.
She didn’t have long though, and racing for her gun she grabbed the familiar shape, quickly ejecting the magazine it was holding, and replacing it for a fresh one. No need to take any risks concerning the number of bullets she still had. Running into the other room that adjoined that one she dove into a roll, just as her target entered from the other side. She made it, and from what she had seen of the gun, it hadn’t been tampered with.
For a moment the man froze, clearly not expecting her like that. No longer the pain loving freak from before, but a competent, emotionless assassin. That single moment was all she really needed and her gun was already aligned perfectly with the target. Pulling the trigger shattered the silence with its hardly audible plop, but the lack of a sudden bloom of blood appearing where the other’s heart was supposed to be told her something she couldn’t believe.
She had missed, instead of killing him, she had only exposed herself for a quick death. Betrayed by her weak body. For a moment the world seemed to slow down as the other started to move his gun down to her level. A smile was forming on his face, and she realized that she was doomed.
But wait a minute, after her shot he had taken a single step backwards—if he’d been hit that was something that shouldn’t have really been possible for a human, but who said he was human? The target obviously wanted to end this now though, and his gun was almost sighted at her face.
The time during which all these thoughts had crossed her mind couldn’t have lasted more than a second, and they made her realize something. He wasn’t the only one who wanted to end this situation. Overcoming her own surprise she moved again, with the sudden determination to be the one who survived this.
Getting to her feet, she started pulling the trigger while retaining her aim at the target, pumping him full of bullets. She noticed him twitch every time a bullet hit him, and it was getting worse as well. By the time her magazine was empty he had trouble standing and she quickly changed it for a fresh one while walking closer to him. Her shots had come so fast he hadn’t really had the chance to aim and had therefore only been able to get of some shots that went wide.
With his clothes ruined by the bullets she could see why he hadn’t responded as she’d expected. He was wearing body-armor. Just like that woman in the Manor had, how could she have missed the signs? But she knew exactly what to do, and, before he had a chance to react to the sudden cessation of incoming fire, she started firing again. This time not aiming for his torso, but the more difficult target that was his head.
Obviously realizing what she was about to do, her target had already raised his arm to ward of the bullets while also continuing to return fire. But as he shouldn’t be able to get a steady aim at her, Dawn just ignored the bullets. If they would hit her it was over, but that was a risk she needed to take. If she didn’t keep on shooting he would have time to aim carefully. And that wasn’t something she’d be able to survive.
In a way the outcome had been certain the moment she regained control of her body, and the moment a bullet finally crashed into her target’s face was only the confirmation. For a moment she stood there, watching dispassionately how his heavy body crashed to the floor.
With that part of the mission finally completed she needed a moment to regain her breath. But she couldn’t wait too long, there were still some people left, and while they might not be as big a problem as this one, she needed to deal with them too. Just like she needed some decent medical aid. Right now the wound didn’t hurt so much, but once she was no longer in any danger of losing her life that would undoubtedly change.
Her mind made up and her immediate goals for the future set, she didn’t waste anymore time with the body—except for taking the ring, so she could add it to her growing collection—and started checking the rest of the building.
Sitting in his cell, Dave felt the same frustration he had since the day before. Okay, maybe he shouldn’t have tried to find out about the Rings’ out of town friend, but they had reacted as if it was some kind of state secret or something. Well, not a state secret since they wouldn’t care about that, but still something very important.
And all he’d done was a little snooping, it wasn’t as if he had actually found out anything. But no, they had to go and lock him up. In a cold cellar even! It was the middle of the winter and they locked him up in a bloody cellar! Which at first he’d thought rather strange, until he heard them wondering when she would come for him.
She. It hadn’t taken him very long to figure out who they meant with that. The only thing he couldn’t understand was why they believed she’d come for him. Dawn hadn’t exactly been warming up to him on Saturday, and when he had tried to follow her home she’d set the cops on him. Not that he had waited around to see what they wanted. He wasn’t a snitch, so no cop could possibly have a nice reason to talk to him.
But he was even more anxious now, as for what seemed like an eternity there had been a gun battle going on above him. He didn’t know who was fighting who, but he both hoped and feared it was one particular someone. Could Dawn have actually convinced her boss to come rescue him?
The prospect of that was terrifying, not that he had anything against being rescued since it seemed like his captives were more than willing to keep him here indefinitely, but to be saved by Dawn’s boss... Well, there probably were worse things than meeting that guy. Right? Yeah, there had to be. Of course if what he believed about the man was even close to the truth that would probably involve nuclear weaponry, but there was always something worse.
Some of the sounds he’d heard told him that maybe that wasn’t true after all, but surely while the guy might torture his opponents here, he wouldn’t do that to the one he came to rescue, right? Why did he keep trying to convince himself that it wasn’t all that bad? There wasn’t anything to fear from Dawn’s boss, was there?
He shook his head, and stood up again for another round of pacing. What if it wasn’t Dawn’s boss? What if this whole mess going on didn’t have anything to do with him? What if whoever won here decided they didn’t want to leave any witnesses. He kicked the wall in frustration, and, while ignoring the throbbing pain in his foot, he berated himself for making up all these doom scenarios. Wasn’t there enough trouble to go around already? Did he have to go and make it even worse, why couldn’t he just wait and see what was going to happen?
Because he had never been able to wait around for anything to happen of course. Dave always believed he should be involved with everything. He should know about everything that was happening, that had already happened, and was still going to happen. And now that he couldn’t he had to make things up, it was just a rather big shock to him that all he could come up with were these terrible things.
He looked up at the ceiling again, what was going on up there? It had been silent for a while now. At first there had been that short gunfight he could barely hear—probably on the top floor or something—only to be followed by what sounded a lot like someone being tortured. Those screams, even thinking about them made Dave go cold all over again, and he quickly went on. After that it had been silent again for a while, only to have the silence broken again by a couple of shots. Only a couple though, and by then he had finally figured out that one side of the fight was using silenced weapons.
So at that moment a second gunfight had probably just ended. After that it had gotten weird though. There was the occasional burst of gunfire but it all seemed to come from the same area in the building, as if the invaders had been bogged down or something. But even that didn’t last all that long and the sound of gunfire had once again started to come from all over the place. Until maybe fifteen minutes ago, when it had suddenly turned completely silent again. And why wasn’t there anyone coming down here to tell him what was going on?
Was it because they didn’t know he was here? Should he call out to them? Right, and what if his doom scenarios were the truth? He’d be calling his own doom down upon him. Nope, he would wait for someone to come here. No need to hasten his own demise. Wow, what kind of language was that? People might think he’d actually gone to high school if he talked like that.
The tension was really getting on Dave’s nerves though. He needed answers to certain questions. Who was that upstairs? What did they plan to do with him? Why the hell had the Rings wanted Dawn to come for him? Didn’t they realize it was far more obvious her boss would show up? Or was that who they were really after? His frustration kept on growing but when he was about to hit the wall again he stopped himself. A sore foot was bad enough, to hurt his hand as well when he might need it in a final attempt to save himself was just stupid.
Save himself? Yes, he would need to prepare himself for that. If those people upstairs did want to kill him they would have to come inside this room, there had to be a way he could use that to get out.
But before he had a chance to think of something, the door opened. “Dave?”
It was Dawn; she had come for him. He couldn’t believe his eyes, the little girl who had been so close to killing him two days before had now saved his life. “Dawn?”
As she entered the room he felt his eyes widen even more. She looked like hell warmed over. Her face was extremely pale, as if she had lost a lot of blood or something, but he couldn’t see any obvious wounds. Not that they might not be hidden beneath her clothes or something, especially as she was wearing a sweater that was obviously too big for her.
But while there were quite a number of blood spatters all over her clothes, from the way she was carrying that gun of hers, it was pretty obvious that that blood didn’t exactly belong to her. Had she helped her boss? Or had she actually come for him alone. Yeah right, she might be pretty good for a little girl, but there was no way a twelve-year-old could possibly take out all the Gilded Rings. So she had obviously helped.
“You’re alright?” Oh, she was asking him that, he’d obviously zoned out a little while thinking.
“Yeah, I’m fine. They didn’t really do anything to me, probably wanted me healthy for when your boss came.”
“My boss?” Dawn seemed surprised at his comment, and for a moment he wondered why. But then again, he also wondered about her sluggish way of talking. Looking closer, and trying to ignore all that blood, the reason for that was revealed as he noticed how incredibly tired she looked…“Oh yeah. My boss. These people thought they could trap him, guess they were wrong huh?”
Maybe, but they had obviously managed to get her good so he reflected her own earlier question back. “Are you okay?”
“Sure, I think it might be best if we left now though, do you have anywhere we can go to talk?”
“’Course, we can go to where I live.”
“Good, let’s go then.” And the little girl turned around, only to stumble a little while she went up the stairs. The hiss of pain was enough to tell him that she was indeed wounded, and maybe even pretty bad, so he hurried to her side in order to help her walk. The surprised look as he did so turned to gratitude while they went upstairs.
Once upstairs however he got another surprise. “Why does it small like gasoline here?”
“We also need to take that,” Dawn answered while pointing out a briefcase standing next to the entrance to the stairway. Okay, so that question wasn’t going to be answered.
“I’ll get it.” And letting the girl go he took a couple of quick steps to grab the briefcase. He was a little surprised by the weight; maybe it wasn’t a case full of weapons after all.
When he once again had returned to her side she directed him to the back-entrance, one he knew led to a highly guarded alley. But there was something that didn’t quite add up for him. “Where’s your boss anyway?”
“The boss doesn’t show himself to anyone but me and his targets. Since you’re supposed to survive he told me to get you out.”
“What? You mean he didn’t even help you or anything? You’re hurt, even I can see that.”
A slight smile appeared on her face in reaction to his outrage before she once again whispered. “There’s nothing more he can do for me now.”
What? She didn’t mean? “You’re not?”
She looked quizzically at him when he cut himself off. “What? Oh. No, I’ll live, there’s just nothing else the boss can do for me now.”
“Oh, okay.” What kind of human being was that boss of hers if remaining hidden was more important to him than helping his, what? Assistant? Yeah, that’s probably what she was. Great, a sort of Mathilda. Training to be a cleaner when she grew up.
As they finally stumbled outside he was surprised that he couldn’t see anyone. In fact, he hadn’t seen any corpses at all. Where were they? Surely a lot of people had to have died in there. He started walking towards the intersecting street when Dawn spoke up again. “Wait.”
“What is it? Don’t you think it would be smart if we left now?” Because he sure did. He hadn’t had anything to do with the killing that had happened, but he didn’t want the police to question him about it either.
“We do need to hurry. I don’t know how long it’ll be before the police and fire brigade get here.” Fire brigade? He was about to ask her about that when the answer revealed itself in the form of a lighter. A lighter that the girl tossed into the house.
“The gasoline,” Dave realized.
But Dawn obviously didn’t believe that was something they needed to talk about. “Let’s go.”
* * *
The walk to his current living place—an abandoned office building—didn’t go as fast as Dave would have liked, but as they hadn’t been stopped by anyone he wasn’t about to complain. He’d gotten out of there without any real trouble, and nobody seemed to have followed him home. Which probably meant that he was safe; he didn’t really want to bet his life on that though, so it might not be a bad idea if he moved to another building sometime soon.
After all, while he didn’t think Dawn and her boss had actually missed any of the Gilded Rings, they might have friends with ideas about revenge. And, from what little Dawn had told him, probably the entire city knew he had been the bait. Oh great, he suddenly realized that the police might hear about that as well. Yeah, this day was starting to get better and better.
But right now all that was still in the future, and he was more interested in Dawn. The way she was sitting against the wall didn’t exactly look very healthy, but he didn’t really know what to do either. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
She shook her head before wincing—even a simple movement like that hurt her, what was wrong with the girl? “No, I just need to rest a little right now. If you happen to have any food though, that would be good. Something nutritious, even an energy bar would be great.”
“I think I’ve got some stuff you could eat,” he told her while walking to food stash. There wasn’t all that much left—he really needed to do some shopping—but there were a couple of Mars bars that he offered her.
“Thanks,” Dawn said while tearing into the food. She probably noticed his surprised look as she explained the reason for her eating. “There’re some things in here, like the sugar, that my body needs right now. Helps with the healing.”
Sure, whatever. If she said so, she was after all the killer here. He wouldn’t even be surprised if she started to ask for milk next. “So, you’ll be alright then?” Dave had a feeling the girl knew what to do, but the sudden chattiness surprised him.
“I’ll be fine, didn’t I already say so?” Oh, well she had to be feeling better if she could act cranky like that.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry, it’s just.” He just couldn’t stop himself anymore. “You and your boss, you killed all those people today didn’t you?”
“They were after m-my boss.” Did she just hesitate there? It almost sounded as if she had wanted to say something else. But Dawn continued in her whispery voice, preventing him from thinking about it. “They had been hired for that job. Fools.”
“They had been hired to kill your boss? Why would they take me, and why did you come after me anyway, what with sending the cops after me Saturday and all.” The surprised look on her pale face told him that he might’ve been wrong about that after all.
“Police wasn’t after you, but other one. I wanted to talk to you. Still do, but not now. Need to sleep now, could you wake me in two hours?” What? She was just going to sleep now? Here? And what’s with the sudden change in attitude?
“But you-” he started, but cut himself off as he realized that she had already drifted of to sleep. Okay, so what was he gonna do now?
* * *
When the two hours had passed he shook the girl awake, only to almost have his hand cut off. “Christ! Watch it with that knife will you?”
Dawn only blinked at him before putting the knife away. “Oh, it’s just you.”
“Yes, it’s me. Man, you think you’re doing someone a favor, and what d’ya get? Someone trying to take your hand off.”
“That’s enough,” the girl broke his rant. “I might have just left you with them, you know.”
Oh yeah, she had just saved his life. But that didn’t mean she suddenly had the right to go around cutting off his hand. “Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. Not that I don’t appreciate it and all, but why did you save me?”
“Good question.” Had he heard that right?
“Don’t worry about it. I did it, and with a bit of luck from now on people won’t bother you again.” Well, the brief nap had obviously improved her condition. She was actually capable of normal sentences again. At least, normal for her.
“Okay, you also said something about wanting to talk to me?”
The ghost of a smile appeared on her face. “Yeah, the boss wanted a mission so he could earn some money, but that isn’t really necessary anymore.”
Now that was an understatement, Dave thought while his eyes drifted to the briefcase. A sigh from the girl brought his attention back to her though, and once she knew she had his attention she spoke up again. “Did you take any of it?”
Oops. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“We’re not playing this game Dave. Did you take any?”
Okay, he had checked the briefcase, but he hadn’t taken any of the money it was filled with. “No.”
“Why not? That money is yours, or your boss’, I’m not suicidal you know.” Why not, he scoffed at the thought of risking his life for some money.
“Good, hand me the briefcase.”
Not really understanding why she asked for it, he handed it to her nonetheless. But as she clicked it open he felt insulted. “Hey, I told you I didn’t take any. You don’t have to count y’know. That makes a man feel like he ain’t trusted.”
“Shut up,” Dawn whispered at him, before cursing in some strange language. Kinda sounded like Japanese or something like it. But whatever it was that she was upset about didn’t stop her from grabbing one of the packets of money and throwing it to him. “It would probably be best if you skipped town for a while.”
“What?” He couldn’t believe this, this had to a couple of thousand dollars and she had just given it to him?
“Consider it an early Christmas present. Oh shit,” the girl cursed while dropping her head back against the wall.
“Not important, something I’ve got to do. Anyway, like I said, you’d better stay out of LA for a while. In a month or two it should probably be safe to return. That money should be enough for that long.”
“Eh, okay.” He still couldn’t believe it. Nobody had ever given him anything without wanting something in return, why had she given this to him?
“Somewhere in mid- to late February I’ll be around again. We’ll talk again then, discuss what you’ll be doing for me.”
So he had just been hired? Well, he wasn’t really fond of all the corpses that seemed to come with her, but he had a feeling that saying no might cause him to become one of those corpses. Maybe he could use the money to get away from her?
“Enough talking for now. When we meet again will be soon enough for more questions.” In other words, don’t ask me any more questions. Was that what she meant?
“That’s settled then,” Dawn sighed before looking at her blood-covered clothes. “Do you have somewhere I can freshen up? And maybe some clothes I can borrow?”
“Yeah, there’s running water in a couple of the rooms. I don’t think anyone else is using it right now.”
“You didn’t think I lived in this building alone did you?”
Dawn closed her eyes briefly, probably thinking about something. “No, of course not.” Right, and his real name was Santa Claus, she really was in a far worse shape than she pretended, wasn’t she?
Ignoring that thought however, he went on. “And about the clothes; you can have some of mine, but I think they’ll be a bit big.”
“That’s alright, I won’t need them very long anyway.”
“What are you gonna do once you’ve cleaned up then?” Was she going to a hospital? Or would her boss look after her wound? Or her parents? Did she even have parents? He really wanted to find out more about the enigmatic little girl, but the reply he received wasn’t anything like he’d expected.
“I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping yet.”
Now that had been one useless day, Xander thought, when he finally been decided that enough was enough. He doubted that they’d be able to discover anything else today and he really couldn’t stand it anymore. In fact, the past hour or so he hadn’t been able to do much reading anyway. The letters had seemed to swim in front of his eyes whenever he looked at a new text, and a couple of times he even had to shake himself just so he’d stay awake.
And he hadn’t been the only one with that problem either, Buffy had actually fallen asleep once and he’d had to wake her before either of the research people noticed. He still wasn’t entirely sure whether she had been grateful or pissed because of that, but that wasn’t really important. Unfortunately the other two didn’t seem to have that same problem, so he decided to inform them of the need to stop.
“So, nothing?” he asked the others.
“Nothing but boring books here,” Buffy told him.
“I didn’t find anything either,” his best bud sighed, before looking at Giles for the confirmation of what they already knew.
“Nor I. I’m afraid that there might not be anything about this Green Lady in these books. Maybe we should think about other ways to acquire that information.”
“What d’ya mean?” It was late, he was tired, and really wanted to go home. Sorry if he wasn’t able to recognize a clue when it hit him on the head.
“It might be a good idea to question those vampires you spotted.”
Eh, that might be kinda difficult to do G-man. Buffy jumped up at that opportunity though. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? I might’ve been out of here hours ago.”
“I believed that the information might be in one of these books.”
“Shall I go out and slay some vampires then? I can do that, I’m awake enough for that.”
Wow, Buffy, anxious to get away from the research, truly was an intriguing sight, wasn’t she? “Maybe I should help? You know, with four eyes seeing more than two?”
“And get out from the research?” Oh come on Willow, that was low. He didn’t do that kind of thing to her either, now did he? Who cared anyway? She was after all telling the truth.
“Well yeah, I mean we’ve been doing this for hours, and hours, and hours, and-”
“Alright,” Willow held up her hand, before looking at Giles. “He does have a point though. I’m getting a bit hungry too.”
“See, I really think we should stop now and continue sometime next year or something.”
“Hey buddy, it was you who called us at half past early in the morning remember.” As if they were ever going to let him forget about that. If someone had done that to him, he sure would’ve kept on harping about it.
“I know,” Xander sighed, “but I’m really fed up with it now and tired as well. I’d probably even miss it if there was a book titled ‘Information about the Green Lady’.”
“Quite.” As Giles spoke Xander didn’t miss how Buffy looked more alive as well, probably hoping the same thing he was. “It might indeed be best if we stopped for today. Perhaps we could continue tomorrow, unless Buffy finds something during her patrol.”
“I can’t do research tomorrow Giles,” Buffy said.
“Why not?” was asked, while the Brit started polishing his glasses—probably expecting some kind of ridiculous reasoning.
“I haven’t finished buying all my presents yet.”
“Oh yeah, me neither. I really have to do that as well tomorrow,” Xander immediately spoke up, spotting a way to get out of the researching.
“Very well, after Christmas then? Or is that too early as well?” Wow, sarcasm from the G-man, who’d have though he was capable of it?
“We can do that,” Willow immediately answered, receiving dirty looks from both Buffy and him. Wasn’t it strange that both the person who had started the research, and the one for who it was the most important, hated the actual researching?
“Good, you can go on home then.” Wasn’t there something else? Oh yeah.
A heavy sigh came from the man, who had probably been looking forward to a break without any American teens bothering him. “Yes Xander?”
“There’re some things I’d like to know.”
* * *
On his way home Xander thought about the conversation he’d had with Giles. It wasn’t exactly what he had wanted to hear, but well... Nothing he could do about it. The man hadn’t been able to tell him anything new about the possession thing, but he would ask around for more information. Not that he had been in the least compassionate about his problems with it.
For some strange reason the Brit didn’t consider clean bedrooms a sign of an upcoming apocalypse. At least the early wake-up calls had engendered some sympathy, but on the other hand he now also knew it might be best if he didn’t tell the others about it. They’d probably keep teasing him about it for the rest of his life.
The training thing had obviously come as a surprise to Giles, but he’d been nice enough about it. The man apparently had at least some experience using knives in his Ripper days, and combined with being able to wield a mean stake he would try to teach him a bit. Not that he had really figured out how that would be of any real use to him, but from what he’d seen in movies, it would at the very least look cool.
He hadn’t needed to ask about the unarmed combat thing, since Giles had brought that up himself. But they’d decided to first look how fast he picked up the knife fighting before they’d do anything about that. Especially since the Brit didn’t really know anything about the fighting styles the soldier had probably learned. After all, watcher training didn’t exactly focus on the same things as the US military did.
Well, he just had to look for some way he could train those skills anyway. If he could use them he would become a lot more useful to the others, and not just as another person who could research. Not that he’d be able to completely stay out of that, after all if Buffy had to help with it, so would he.
Immersed in his thoughts he opened the door of his house, and for once the first thing he noticed wasn’t the smell of alcohol. He had no idea how he’d missed it standing outside, because the way his parents were shouting could probably be heard in Los Angeles. And why exactly was he surprised about that?
Uttering a deep sigh—he wasn’t sure if it was out of disgust or resignation—he ignored the ongoing fight and made his way to his room. Maybe he could find somewhere to stay for Christmas. After all, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Here she was again, sitting in a bus between Sunnydale and Los Angeles. Of course, quite a lot of things had changed since she did this same trip in reverse—a mere four days ago. As she shifted in her seat she immediately noticed the first change, the pain that she felt from the wound. While she had been able to buy some of the regular strength painkillers, they weren’t exactly enough.
Stronger drugs would have required either a doctor’s note, or she’d have to buy it on the black market. And while she had no choice to do it that way when it came to the antibiotics, or even the stitches, there were limits to the risks she would take. Not that she hadn’t been stupid already; she shouldn’t have waited that long before getting those stitches. She might not have wanted Dave to find out about her wound, but once he had been safe she should have left him to get medical aid.
And what did she do instead? She went with him to his living place—if you could call it that—and slept there. Slept! While she had a gaping wound in her body! Was that some kind of strange aftereffect from the other taking over? Whatever the reason, it had been stupid, and now she had to simply deal with the consequences.
Simply. As if missing a part of your body, and then not even treating it right, could that easily be ignored. Luckily—if you could call it that—Kirika had received similar wounds and knew how to go about handling the pain. Not that she hadn’t been about to cry out from pain when she’d hugged her father, but when nobody touched the wound, she could almost ignore it.
The pain. Even now she shuddered at the memories of when the other had been in control of her body. The small hints she had received whenever she lost control had been manifested in what was undoubtedly the greatest threat to her continued existence. A freak of nature who was only interested in surviving if that meant she’d be able to hurt more people later. And that was not the right attitude when it came to living a long life.
Well, as long a life as someone in her business could possibly live, especially when the competition was after her as well. For a moment she broke her thoughts to take a sip of her sour energy drink—the glucose it contained was far too important for her body right now. Anyway, she really had to find a way to deal permanently with those Teraka people, that situation just couldn’t keep going on like it was now. Sooner or later people she cared about might get hurt. They might not want to try to go after her in Sunnydale, at least that was the reason she had figured for their actions in LA, but she didn’t intend to stay there all the time.
The one thing the Dawn personality had been looking forward to about her job was the traveling it involved. And her weaker version really wanted to visit Paris sometime soon as well. Not that there weren’t a couple of places she would like to see, who knew? Maybe the Manor existed in this world as well. But that was all still in the future, right now there were a couple of other things that required her immediate attention.
The first place on that list was still occupied by those strange dreams she was having, they were really starting to bug her, and she wanted a way to get rid of them. New on second place—god, she sounded like some kind of DJ—was to find a way to deal with the Terakans. Not letting anyone learn about what she was had therefore been reduced to third place, but was still important. And in some instances was actually more important than the other two.
Of course, at the moment the third one was rather difficult to maintain with that gaping hole in her body, but at least it was vacation. Going to PE would kinda blow her cover. ‘Hey Dawn, how come you’re not changing?’ would most likely be the question her friends would ask. And she couldn’t exactly reply ‘well, you know how it is, I don’t really want you to see how I’ve been shot and all’. Oh yes, vacation was perfect right now. And with a little luck the wound would be healed enough in two weeks so that she no longer needed to be swathed in bandages.
At least one of her problems had been solved in her trip to LA, well two if you counted the gun. But the briefcase lying next to her had done its best in getting rid of her financial problems. Taking the money that was meant as payment for the distraction that gang of incompetents had provided was as close to poetic justice as she could come. Distraction, nobody had actually come out to say it, but she knew that was what it had been.
When there had been only one of the goons left she had interrogated him, not as harshly as the other had done, but that hadn’t been necessary either. That was how she’d found out about the money and the connection the Gilded Rings had to the Terakan’s. Not that she shouldn’t have seen that coming either. With a name like that you weren’t exactly trying to hide your identity.
Unfortunately that was where the useful information had stopped; he hadn’t known anything about what that connection actually entailed. Which meant that he had only one other use, and she’d set him to work collecting the bodies of his deceased friends. Once all the evidence had been collected in one place she’d then ordered him to splash everything with gasoline, after which she’d killed him. After all, he had been a part of that distraction too.
A distraction meant to turn her attention away from the real danger, and she had allowed that incompetent psychopath to fall for it. Had she been able to she would have burned that fool along with all the evidence. Alas, she was burdened with it for the rest of her life. Or would a partial exorcism be possible? The only one who cared about the other was the other herself, and well... Who cared about the wants and needs of something like that?
It wasn’t like she was going to be allowed to come out ever again anyway. Even the Dawn personality was better than that. Thinking of whom. She checked the original owner of her body to see if she had recovered a little by now. But no, she was still all turned into herself in an attempt to hide the truth of the atrocities her body had committed. That wasn’t good, she really needed Dawn. Since she was so different she often had a completely different view on things, and people knew her opinions about those things. If she didn’t get the required coaching people might figure out something was going on.
That was another thing she could blame on the other, completely destroying the innocence of a little girl. But maybe the whole Christmas thing would get her out of that funk; she didn’t really see the purpose of it herself, but if people thought it important, who was she to complain?
Back to the money though, what was she going to do with that? She had already spent some of it on clothes, and she was pretty sure that more would be devoted to that, as wearing quality clothing was always useful. Assassinations were after all murder on ones clothes. But the rest of the money...
Well, she didn’t really need anymore weapons and people—especially her mother—might notice if she suddenly had so much money to spend. So she probably should keep it somewhere in her room until she could use it to buy some useful stuff. Maybe a laptop or something? She missed the connection to potential clients that the internet represented, but, unless she’d be able to hide it somehow, that brought back the problem of being found out.
No, for now she just had to go on and pretend to be the little innocent schoolgirl people believed her to be. No spending of large amounts of money, or doing other things that might ruin her cover. And maybe the Dawn personality would return soon enough to stop her from ruining this cover. Emotions were needed in certain situations, but the weaker her might have to take care of those instances for a while. Great, there was a lot of staring out of windows coming up.
Looking away from the window she promised herself that she wouldn’t start that habit right now, her weaker side might like it but she had better things to do. Why couldn’t Dawn just stop blathering? Sure, it hadn’t been nice and she wasn’t exactly happy about what happened either, but she didn’t go around forcing other personalities to work with their second choices, did she?
Oh well, she just had to resign herself to that behavior, and maybe Dawn would be able to come back to herself in Sunnydale. After all, despite the whole vampire thing it was a fairly calm town. For a moment she wondered if anything could have happened while she was gone, or at least anything that might be important to her, but she dismissed it. She had been gone for only a couple of days; surely nothing of any significance could have happened in those days?
“Hey.” The timid sound came from the entrance to her room, and Jane turned to find her friend standing there.
“Sara.” When had she arrived? Her friend had been away the day before and she hadn’t been back this morning. Obviously she had returned now though. And once she heard about what happened she had probably come as fast here as she could. “Come in.”
Still her friend hesitated, so she had to repeat her words.
“I heard about what happened Sunday.”
Really? What a surprise, she couldn’t deal with her friends treating her as someone fragile too. They at least should be treating her like they always had. “Yeah, I kinda figured you had.”
Sara furrowed her brow at that, obviously that hadn’t been what she’d expected. “Are you okay?”
“Not really, but I will be.”
“You don’t really act as if you’ve just...” her friend trailed off, clearly having no idea how to deal with this. Not that she could blame her for that, even she didn’t really know what her reaction to something would be from one moment to the next.
“I’m trying to deal with it, it’s kinda hard though. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to treat me as if I’m about to break.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want,” Sara said. “Is it true that you were saved by Dawn’s Xander though?”
She snorted at that. Yeah, Dawn’s Xander. “It was Xander yes, but close the door and come here. I gotta show you something.”
Quizzically Sara did as she asked, and after they were sitting side-by-side on her bed she showed her friend the book she had brought from the library. “What’s that?”
“Yeah, I can actually read the title y’know.” It didn’t come out as easy as it would’ve the day before, but at least her friend was trying. “What I meant to ask is; what do you want with it?”
“Great, and are you gonna tell me what about?”
“I thought you could read the title?” Okay, her joke wasn’t really good either but it was so hard to act as if nothing had happened. She wanted to get over it but it wasn’t really working and by now she could feel the tears pricking in her eyes.
Sara obviously noticed it too. “Jane?”
“I’m scared Sara,” Jane wailed before breaking down and crying into her friend’s shoulder. It was way too early to be able to act normally, that could wait until later. She didn’t like having to bother her friend like this, but she needed the comfort she could get from her.
“Hey, it’s alright. You’re safe now, remember?” Same words, different person, and in her mind she couldn’t prevent the same answer from popping up either. ‘No, I’m not Sara. And once you’ve heard what I know you’ll agree with me’.
* * *
A lot of crying, comforting, and other silly things later, Jane had enough of her weak behavior. She didn’t do silly things like that; she was a capable young woman and more than able to deal with the realities of the world. Well, it was kinda obvious that was only true when those realities stayed the same. But she was learning to come to terms with that as well, and she needed to tell Sara about it.
“Okay,” she sniffed, “enough of this nonsense. Let’s talk about what’s really going on in this town.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I took this book,” she patted the tome resting in her lap, “because it was the most complete of those I found in the library. It’s more of a starters book though, kinda like vampires for dummies or something.”
“Ehm, Jane? Vampires?” Sara looked as if she was staring at a crazy person, and unfortunately she couldn’t really blame her friend.
“Yeah, no matter what I told mom and dad, it wasn’t a couple of muggers that caught me last night. They were vampires, intending to drink my blood.”
“You do realize how ridiculous that sounds right? Is this a way for you to deal with it or something?”
“No! I’m serious here. They really were vampires, Xander didn’t scare them off, he staked them.”
“Ri-i-i-ght, and then Superman came by as well?”
She slapped her friend at that, a resounding clap that shocked them both. But she was the first to break the silence. “Oh my god, I’m sorry.”
Sara rubbed her cheek in an attempt to lessen the sting, but didn’t look happy about it. “Okay, I’ll just call that the stress talking, but please don’t do that again.”
“I didn’t mean to, it’s just with everything that happened, and now you don’t even believe me.”
Her friend sighed at that. “Jane, you’re my best friend, and we’ve known each other for what? Practically all our lives, right?”
“But you’ve never, ever, tried to tell me something as silly as the fact that you believe in vampires. You always have reasons why things couldn’t happen, even when we watch a movie you can’t keep silent about how ridiculous some of those things are. So why would there suddenly be a bunch of walking corpses that like to drink blood?”
“I don’t know!” That was the frustrating part about it all. The part that almost convinced her she had been wrong about it. That maybe vampires didn’t exist after all.
“Then why do you believe in them?” Sara wanted to know, talking in a calmer voice, probably trying to be the voice of reason for once.
“Because they were about to suck my blood.” She felt like crying again, why couldn’t her friend believe her? Had their roles been reversed, she would- No, she wouldn’t have believed a claim like that either.
For a moment both were silent, before with a sigh of desperation Sara spoke up. “Alright, I know you wouldn’t lie to me. Tell me what you found and I’ll think about it, not,” she hastened to add, “that I’ll believe it until I see some proof, but I don’t just want to think you’re lying either.”
“I really hope you’ll never believe me then. But let’s start with what happened to me last night.” And Jane started recounting her adventure of the night before, trying not to forget anything, and even included her suspicions about Dawn.
“You mean she knows, but didn’t tell us? She wouldn’t do that, would she? I can’t believe that,” Sara said after she had finished, not believing the bit about their friend.
“I’m having some trouble with that myself, but it would make sense with how she’s changed and everything. And there’s only one reason that I can come up with that I’d accept as a good excuse.”
“What’s that?” Sara wanted to know.
“She’s protecting us.”
That seemed to confuse her friend. “Protect us? How, I mean if we don’t know what’s really going on, wouldn’t we be in greater danger?”
The very same argument she had considered up until that moment she had discovered something in the book she was now holding. “That’s what I thought, but what if she’s far more involved with all this than we think?”
“How do you mean?”
Jane opened the book to a certain page she had bookmarked earlier in the day. “What if she doesn’t sleep well because she’s out hunting all night? Here read this.” Handing the book to Sara she waited patiently until her friend had finished.
“Wow. And you think Dawn?”
“It makes sense doesn’t it? If vampires are real, that must be true too. And it would explain everything, the strange way she acts, why she didn’t tell us, the sleeping thing, even how she suddenly knows how to fight.”
“Yeah, and it probably happened around Halloween.”
“Right, so we’re agreed?”
A cautious nod from her friend proved that she was at least open to the possibility that there might be more to the world. “Yeah, so what are we gonna do?”
“For now, nothing. I’d much rather Dawn told us about being this Slayer herself, and then we can start helping her.”
Post-fic comments: Okay people, last chapter of this story.
Ergo, it is finished, over, there will be no more. At least until the next
story, which will be called Unforeseen Consequences: Revelations. Yes, that will
be a little similar to the Harry Potter cross. Except of course that it isn’t a
Harry Potter cross, and there will also be a plot while Dawn’s awake. However,
with this story finished I have to tell you a terrible secret. This is your last
chance to review it!