|          |
Trix gagged. The smell of damp rat fur was overpowering. The ground erupted beneath him as the rat continued to emerge and Trix fought to stay on his bike. The rat poked its snout at the demon, sniffing him curiously. Trix tried to turn away, but his wheels just spun on the unstable ground.
'Well, if I can't go backwards,' Trix muttered to himself. 'It was nice knowing you, world!'
He gunned the engine and his bike shot forward. The rat swung its paw at his head, but Trix ducked and the strike missed him by, well, a whisker. Trix gritted his teeth and continued charging beneath the rat's body.
Then the rat shifted and the ground shook once more. The road opened up beneath Trix's motorbike and both he and his transport were sent spiralling down into the blackness.
* * *
'Let's go find Kessler,' Drew suggested. 'He knows these caves, right? Maybe he knows another way out of here.'
'Ever the optimist, huh, camera-boy?' Ruth mocked. She sat down on the pile of fallen rocks and dug out a packet of cigarettes from her pocket.
'You'd rather just wait here?' Drew asked.
Ruth shrugged. 'Wait here. Go find Kessler. Not much difference when you think about it. You want one.'
Drew glowered at the offered cigarette. 'No, thank you. And I can't just sit here. I need to do something.'
'Suit yourself.' Ruth lit her cigarette with a cheap plastic lighter and then stood up. 'Well, are we going or what?'
'But I thought '
'Like I said, go or stay, it makes no difference to me,' Ruth explained. 'But if you're going I might as well tag along.'
'Suit yourself.' Drew turned and set off back they way they had come. He told himself that he didn't care whether Ruth was following or not, but he had barely gone ten paces before he looked back to check on her. She was following.
'They were just around this bend,' Drew called back. 'I think.'
Before they could turn the corner, however, there was another earth tremor. Ruth lost her footing and fell into Drew's arms.
'I didn't think you felt this way about me,' Drew commented, in no hurry to get back up.
Ruth jumped away as if bitten.
'In your dreams,' she replied.
'But ' Drew began.
Ruth cut him off. 'If you're about to ask if the earth moved for me, I promise you you'll be singing soprano for the rest of your life.'
Drew merely smiled.
Ruth shook her head. 'Give me strength.'
She stalked off around the corner, then stopped abruptly.
Another cave-in had cut them off.
'Now what?' she asked.
'Well, we could always wait here for someone to rescue us,' Drew suggested.
'Yeah, like that's gonna happen,' Ruth replied. 'How long do you reckon it'll be before they even think to look for us? And what happens then? There are miles of caves down here. How will they even know where to look?'
'Kessler and the others might make it out,' Drew pointed out. 'They can lead a rescue party to us.'
'Do the words 'clutching at straws' mean anything to you?' Ruth asked.
'Okay,' Drew said, 'well if you don't want to wait here we could always try looking for another way out on our own.'
'And our chances of finding one are somewhere between none and, let me see, none.'
'Are you always such a pessimist?' Drew demanded, frustrated.
'I prefer to think of myself as a realist,' Ruth replied. 'Murphy's Law: if anything can go wrong, it will. What's the point of fighting it?'
'I don't believe you,' Drew said. He pressed his palms against the rock wall, but stopped short of banging his head against it. 'I'm going to go look for a way out. You can do what you like.'
Drew turned and walked away and before long he was aware that Ruth was hurrying to catch up with him.
'Decided to live in hope after all?' he asked.
Ruth blew smoke in his face.
'Nah,' she said. 'It's just you're better company that the rocks. Marginally.'
* * *
The handle of the knife felt cool, but my palm was burning. The blade of the knife was shaking, scattering light across the counter. Then I noticed that my hand was shaking too. I put my other hand on top of it to try and steady myself.
'Dawn, are you all right?' Hank asked.
Of course I'm not all right. My mom and my sister are both dead and the only other member of my family left alive is my usually absent father, if he deserves the title. Would you be all right?
Look at him, Dawnie. He's waited until the rest of your family is dead so that he can come in and take over, insinuating himself and his latest squeeze in their place. Doesn't it make your blood boil? Doesn't it make your skin creep? Doesn't it make you want to lash out and wipe that oh-so-caring smile right off of his face?
I kept my eyes fixed on the knife. I couldn't look anywhere else. I didn't trust myself to look anywhere else.
'Dawnie?' Hank took a step closer.
Don't call me that. Mom called me that. Willow and Tara called me that. The people I cared about called me Dawnie. You haven't earned the right.
You could punish him for that, Dawnie. You should punish him for it. You know you want to.
No. No, I don't.
You can't lie to me, Dawnie, any more than you can lie to yourself. You've spent six years building up your resentment to your father and the anger's still bubbling away, just beneath the surface. Give in to the anger, Dawnie. Let it all out.
Hank put a hand on my arm and I flinched away.
'Don't touch me!' I yelled.
See how he makes you feel. That's the truth right there.
Hank's mouth fell open. He could see the knife, clutched tightly in my hands.
'What the '
Time to put him in his place, Dawnie, him and his little whore.
'No!' I screamed. 'No, I won't do it! I won't!'
'Dawn? What's going on? What's wrong?'
Hank reached out for me. Was it to comfort and protect, or to hurt and to harm? I just didn't know any more.
Do it! Do it now!
I lashed out without thinking. All I could see was the blood.
* * *
A couple of blocks away a man smothered his baby daughter while she slept. His wife, his precious Juliet, had died giving birth to her. Freak complications, the hospital had said. They had had to choose, to save the wife or the child. They had chosen the child.
But it didn't seem fair. It wasn't right. He missed Juliet and there was a hole in his heart that his daughter just could not fill. They had chosen the wrong one, he could see that now, so he took up the pillow and decided to do something about it.
* * *
A woman walked into Sunnydale Memorial Hospital. The last time she had been he she had been with her brother. He had had cancer, but it was operable, the doctor's all said so. But if that was the case, then why had they let him die. He had been fine, laughing and chatting as they wheeled him away to theatre. And then the next time she had seen him well, she hadn't seen him at all. She had been shown his body, but her brother was no longer inside.
It wasn't fair. He should not have had to die. They could have saved him. Where was the justice?
She knew where.
Ignoring the shouts of the hospital staff, the woman strode purposefully into the operating theatre and shot the surgeon three times in the chest.
* * *
And five minutes later, halfway across town, ten-year-old Clayton Richards threw a petrol-bomb through the window of the Darwin Veterinary Centre. They had put his beloved Snowy to sleep and Clayton didn't think that was right.
* * *
'Can you feel that?' Drew asked.
'Feel what?' Ruth asked. She had finished her cigarette and was now walking along with her hands in her pockets. There was a thin stream of reddish brown water trickling along by her feet and she wondered if it might once have been a much stronger river, strong enough to carve out the cave they were standing in.
'There's a breeze,' Drew explained enthusiastically. 'I'm sure of it.'
'You're imagining things,' Ruth told him.
'No,' Drew insisted, 'it's coming from over there.'
They went and examined the wall Drew indicated. There was a narrow opening about a foot off of the ground. Sure enough, there was a definite breeze coming from the other side, but
'No way are we going to fit through there,' Ruth pointed out.
'Maybe it widens out after a bit,' Drew suggested, shining his torch through the gap.
'Yeah, right,' Ruth muttered.
Drew looked her up and down.
'There's not much of you, is there,' he commented.
'So, if you lose the pack, I reckon you might just squeeze through,' Drew replied. 'If there is a way out on the other side, you can go for help.'
'Always assuming I don't get stuck halfway through,' Ruth shot back.
'Come on, Ruth,' Drew persisted. 'I'm never going to get through there. If anyone goes, it'll have to be you. Please.'
Ruth glared at him.
'Don't make me beg,' Drew said.
'Oh all right,' Ruth snapped. She struggled out of her backpack and removed her bulky hard-hat. 'Wish me luck.'
Walking sideways, she squeezed through the narrow gap. The rock pressed in around her, damp and slimy and smelly. It tore at her skin and her overalls, but she found that by shuffling along she was able to make progress, albeit very slowly.
'Are you okay in there?' Drew called.
'What do you think?' Ruth shouted back. 'Any chance of some light in here.'
Drew fiddled with his torch and the beam of light struck Ruth in the eyes. She blinked to clear the spots.
'That better?' Drew asked.
Ruth did not bother to reply.
It turned out that Drew had been right and the passageway did start to widen out after a while. Then she reached the exit and almost fell out. The passageway opened into yet another cavern, but the opening was about ten feet off of the ground. Ruth had to brace herself against both walls to avoid tumbling to the ground.
She looked up.
'I've found the way out,' she called back. 'Looks like there's been another rock fall here, but this one's opened up the cave rather than sealing it.'
Ruth could see the starry sky through the gaps in the roof of the cavern. A shower of fallen rocks decorated the far wall, but Ruth thought it looked just about climbable.
'Well what are you waiting for?' Drew demanded. 'Go for help.'
'Hang on a sec,' Ruth shouted. 'I can see someone else down here.'
She sat down on the edge of the tunnel opening and the half slid, half crawled down the wall of the cavern. There was a figure lying face down on the cavern floor. Ruth prodded him with her foot, but her didn't move. She stooped down and rolled the body over.
She cried out.
'What is it?' drew shouted, his voice echoing around the cavern. 'What happened?'
'This guy he's not human,' Ruth said. 'He's got pointy ears and horns and what is he?'
'Leave him,' Drew told her. 'Just go get help.'
'You don't have to tell me twice.' Ruth began scaling the rock fall.
There was movement behind her. She heard heavy footfalls and rasping breath.
And she screamed.
'Ruth!' Drew pressed himself against the entrance to the narrow passageway, desperate to see what was going on. At first there was nothing but darkness, but slowly his eyes adjusted.
A huge beady eye blinked at him.
* * *
Clem drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair and wrinkled his forehead - even more than usual. Why was his life always full of these difficult decisions?
Cartoons were playing out across the TV screen, their vibrant colours illuminating the crypt. The kittens he had won at cards the night before mewled as the scampered round his feet, brushing themselves affectionately against his legs.
'So, let me see,' Clem muttered to himself. The large packet scrunched as he picked it up. 'You? No, I think I'll save you for later.' He picked up another bag of crisps. 'How about you. No, I don't think I'm in the mood for spicy tonight.'
Clem sighed. He usually enjoyed choosing his evening snacks, sometimes even more than the eating the snacks themselves, but he'd gotten use to having me there to help him choose. Clem liked having me around. He enjoyed the company. Now that Spike was gone, there weren't a lot of people he could just sit and talk to.
But I hadn't been visiting of late. Not that he blamed me. I was entitled to have my own life in the human world, but it would have been nice for him to see me every once in a while.
Truth be told, Clem was feeling lonely and just a little bit neglected.
Then the TV cut out.
Great, Clem thought, now I only have the kittens for company. He scooped one up in his massive hands and rubbed noses with it.
'You're a sweet little thing, aren't you,' he told it, 'but you're a lousy conversationalist.'
Then the TV blasted back into life.
'Maybe things are looking up after all?' Clem whispered in the kitten's ear. The kitten yawned.
The TV roared with white noise and static obscured the actions of the colourful characters.
'Have you got anything to do with this?' Clem asked his feline friend.
A face was forming out of the static. A familiar face.
'This is so not good,' Clem said. He was shaking and he clutched the kitten tight against his chest. The kitten yowled in protest.
The woman on the screen raised her hand in front of her face. Clem's eyes focussed on the woman's nails, painted a deep red, but white at the tips. The woman snapped her nails together like a crab clacking its claws and then reached out for Clem, her hand stretching through the front of the TV screen.
Clem lunged away and his chair fell over backwards, sending the demon tumbling across the floor. He barely paused, scrabbling back up to his feet and then racing out into the night, kitten still in hand.
* * *
Hank took three stumbling steps back, staring at the blood blossoming from the deep cut on his hand.
'Dawn I '
What have I done?
What you had to do. Now finish it!
But but I don't want to.
Don't you? I think we both know better. Look at the blood. Doesn't it excite you?
Yes. No. No, this isn't me.
Give in, Dawnie. You know you want to.
The knife was still in my hand. Blood trickled off of the blade and dripped slowly to the floor. The knife felt heavy and uncomfortable in my hand. I wanted to drop it, but my hand refused to open.
Hank hovered over me indecisively, wanting to reach out to me, but wary of the weapon I held. He had rested his wounded hand against his opposite shoulder and the blood was seeping into his shirt.
There was movement at the door.
'Hank?' Lydia asked. 'What's going on in here?'
'Go back upstairs, Lydia,' Hank told her without turning his head.
'But oh my god, Hank, you're bleeding.'
Isn't she the smart one.
'Did she do this?' Lydia demanded. 'Did that witch attack you?'
Stupid girl. She doesn't even know what a witch is. We could show her, Dawnie, you and I. Or we could just gut her, open her up just like she deserves.
My hand trembled.
'I I don't want to hurt you,' I said, my voice shaking. 'Just leave me alone.'
'Go, Lydia,' Hank commanded.
'You too, Dad,' I stammered.
It would be so easy to ram the knife into him now. If I opened up his stomach, I could watch him die slowly and in pain. But he's my dad
Dad? Don't waste the word on him.
But he cares about me, doesn't he?
He pretends to care, but he doesn't. Not really. He thinks he can waltz in here and take your mom's place. Are you just going to let him?
But Mom's dead.
And trash like him gets to live. Is that fair. Wouldn't you rather your mother was here.
'I want Mom back,' I agreed aloud.
'I'm here, honey,' Mom assured me.
She was crouching beside me, her smiling face looking into mine.'
'I came as soon as I could,' she said. 'I'm just sorry I couldn't get here sooner.'
Don't listen to her. She's a lie. An illusion.
But I knew better. It was my gift, my curse, to see ghosts and, while Mom may have been dead, that didn't mean it was not her on the floor beside me.
I fell to my knees and Mom took both my hands in hers.
'I missed you so much,' I whispered.
'Hush now, sweetie,' Mom said, brushing the hair out of my eyes. 'It's okay. Everything's going to be okay now.'
Okay? Look around you, Dawnie. How can anything be 'okay'?
'I hurt Dad,' I told Mom. 'I wanted to kill him.'
Part of me still does.
'That wasn't you, honey,' Mom assured me. 'Deep down, you know that.'
Then who was it, Dawnie? Answer me that. Look deep down inside yourself and you'll find me waiting.
'Dawn, who are you talking to?' Hank asked.
Mom looked up at him. He couldn't see her, of course, but she could see him.
'We had some good times, didnt we,' she mused wistfully, 'just the four of us.'
'I just want things to be like they were before,' I confessed.
And I can give you want you want. You just have to give in to me.
'I can't give you that, Dawnie,' Mom said. 'I can't even stay for very long.'
'But ' I pulled away. Suddenly, what little contact I had with her tore at my heart like fingernails on a blackboard.
She's going to betray you. They'll all betray you in the end. Except me.
Hank knelt down beside me and put a hand on my shoulder.
'Just shut up!' I shouted. 'Just shut up and let me think!'
Hank snatched his hand away as if I had burned him. Maybe I had.
'I wish I could stay, really I do,' Mom explained, 'but I shouldn't even be here at all.'
'Then why are you here?' My voice was deeper than normal as I thought back the tears.
'Why do you think, silly,' she replied. 'My little pumpkin belly was in pain and nothing was going to keep me from going to her. When you've got kids of your own, you'll understand.'
'If I live that long,' I said.
Mom frowned at me. 'What sort of talk is that?'
'It was Buffy's time, just like it was mine,' Mom insisted, 'but you've got your own destiny and I know you'll make me proud.'
Don't listen to her. Dont'
I thought I told you to shut up!
'I'll try,' I said to Mom.
We sat in silence, enjoying each other's presence, but I couldn't get comfortable. I was distracted by the noises outside, the shouts, the crashes and the violence.
'Well?' Mom prompted me.
'I don't want to go,' I confessed.
'I don't want you to go either, honey,' Mom replied, 'but '
'Will I ever see you again?' I asked.
Mom ran the back of her hand over my cheek. She was as soft as I remembered.
'I don't know, Dawn. I just don't know.'
I didn't want to go. This was my mom, for heaven's sake. I just wanted to stay wrapped in those arms forever, where it was safe and it was okay to be a little kid. And there was a little voice in the back of my head that told me to take it while I had the chance. It wasn't every day you got a second bite at the cherry. But I had learned not to trust the voices and to trust to my heart instead. I was my mother's daughter. I was Buffy's sister. I was not about to just hide away when there was evil to be fought, wrongs to be righted. I was going to do what had to be done because that was the person I had been raised to be.
I got to my feet. Mom mirrored my movement and opened her mouth to say something.
'Don't,' I said before she had the chance. 'Don't say goodbye. Never goodbye.'
'How about good luck?' Mom asked.
'You too, Mom, you too.'
We embraced and Mom planted a kiss on my forehead.
'Now get out there and beat the bad guys,' she whispered in my ear.
I spun on my heel and strode purposefully out into the night.
* * *
Janice was lying on her stomach, on her bed. A book rested on her pillow and she was scribbling in a notepad as she studied it. Three candles - two tall white ones and a smaller red - burned on her bedside table. Her headphones were plugged into her CD player and her toes tapped in time to the beat. She had had enough arguments with both her sister (before she moved out) and her mom to realise that life was easier if she wore the headphones when listening to her music.
With her biro, she doodled another pentagram in the margin of her notebook and began shading in alternate sections.
Howling static shot out of her headphones, deafening her. She tore the headphones off and switched of the CD player. As an extra precaution, she pulled the plug out at the socket.
She must have cried out because her mom was calling out from downstairs.
'Janice, are you all right up there?'
'I'm fine, Mom,' Janice called back. 'CD player's on the fritz, that's all.'
'If you're sure,' her mom replied. 'Dinner'll be in an hour, okay.'
Janice shook her head. Her ears were still ringing.
Was the CD player at fault? It was possible, she supposed, but if so then why were the hairs on the back of her neck standing to attention?
The candle flames flickered, as if in a breeze. Janice turned to the window, but it was shut tight. She hugged herself, rubbing her hands against her upper arms. She suddenly felt very cold. She pressed her hand against the radiator. It was warm, but as soon as she took her hand away, the heat was gone.
She licked her lips.
'Where are you?' she demanded. 'What do you want?'
'We want to help you,' came the hissing reply.
'Why don't you come out where I can see you?' Janice backed up to the wall. If she pressed herself against it, it stopped her shaking.
The shadows danced across the far wall as the candle-flames flickered. Then Janice realised that the shadows were moving on their own, crawling together to form a single figure.
'Is this better?' the figure hissed.
'Why are you doing this?' Janice asked. And why couldn't Mom hear any of this, she wondered. Shouldn't she be breaking the door down by now?
Books flew from the shelves and Janice had to cower, hiding her head with her arms, to avoid the onslaught. A single book landed at her feet, falling open as it did so. It was her photo album and the face that looked up at her belonged to her grandfather. Her deceased grandfather.
'You miss him, don't you?' the shadow hissed.
Janice couldn't find her voice.
'You don't have to say anything,' the shadow continued. 'We know you. We know your fears and your desires. They taste so sweet, bittersweet. We could bring him back for you. You'd like that, wouldn't you.'
Janice ground her teeth and looked directly at the shadow.
'No,' she said.
'You cannot defy us,' the shadow informed her. 'We know the secrets of your heart.'
'I can defy you and I will,' Janice replied, standing straighter and taller. 'You're the banshee, aren't you, that thing Wesley was telling us about. I heard what you did to Xander, saw what you did to that other guy. I won't be a part of that.'
'So you have found us out,' the shadow said. 'No matter. You will join us, little one. You have no choice.'
'There's always a choice,' Janice shot back. 'I will fight you and I will win because I'm in touch with a power greater than yours.'
'You delude yourself, little witch,' the shadow said. 'You can only use magic with the other. Alone, you are nothing.'
Janice shook her head. 'You are so wrong. I may not be able to cast spells, but the magic's always a part of me, just as I'm a part of it. You can't touch me.'
Janice could feel the power buzzing against her skin like an electric blanket. Magic coursed through everything and as she faced down the shadow, Janice drew it to her, like a plant drawing water from the soil. She filled herself up with the magic until she felt like a water balloon ready to burst.
'You cannot touch me,' she repeated, tracing a pentagram in the air with her index finger.
The shadow screamed, writhing against the wall until it faded to nothingness.
'What a rush,' she breathed.
A growl rumbled through the bedroom. Janice turned to the mirror. Two feline eyes looked disapprovingly back at her.
'What?' Janice demanded. 'Okay, okay. I'm going, all right?'
She winked at the mirror and grabbed her coat.
* * *
Drew stepped slowly away from the wall. He could hear something scrabbling against the other side. Something large. The wall was shaking and dust was already falling to the floor from the cobwebs of cracks that were forming.
'Ruth!' he shouted. There was no answer. He hoped that meant that she had got out and had not ended up a victim of
No, don't even think it, he scolded himself. She's tough. She'll be fine.
Which was more than he could say for himself. The way that wall looked now, that thing was almost through. He would have to move, but which way. Onwards or back the way he had come.
He hesitated and that hesitation saved his life.
A massive furry paw smashed through the wall and into the cavern mere feet in front of him. Drew stumbled backwards as the rest of the giant rat forced itself through after its paw.
'You wouldn't happen to be vegetarian, would you?' Drew asked it.
The rat's whiskers twitched and if nosed closer to Drew, sniffing him.
'See, I smell terrible,' Drew babbled. 'You could do much better than me.'
The rat opened its jaw revealing very large, very sharp teeth.
'I don't suppose I could bribe you with cheese, could I?' Drew continued. 'Lots of yummy cheese?'
The rat rubbed its cheek against a trembling Drew. The rat's fur was damp and coarse and smelled funny, but Drew tried not to move, not to flinch.
'See, I knew you'd like me,' he said.
Then the rat swatted him against the wall with one of its paws.
Drew slowly picked himself back up. Was there any part of him that didn't ache? If there was then it was one of those obscure parts that only doctors knew the correct word for. He reached for his camera. It had worked against little demons, so maybe it'd work against giants. He pointed at the rat's eyes and snapped a shot.
'This is not my day,' he muttered, examining the shattered flash bulb. It must have broken when the rat knocked him into the wall. 'Time for plan B.'
He looped the camera strap over his neck and then hurled the camera at the rat. It struck it between the eyes and bounced away. The rat cried out in pain and reared up on its hind legs.
This time, Drew did not hesitate. He sprinted past the rat and through the now much wider passageway linking the adjacent caverns. He hadn't expected the steep drop at the end of the corridor and fell face first down the slope and to the ground. But at least the rat was no longer between him and the way out.
He gave up on trying to come up with a painless way of getting to his feet and simply cried out in pain as he hauled himself upright. Then he noticed the leather-clad body on the floor nearby. That must be the demon Ruth had mentioned. Keeping a watchful eye out for the rat, he limped over to examine the body. He made a sharp intake of breath. He recognised this demon.
He checked for a pulse and couldn't feel one, but what did that mean. Drew didn't know how Trix's biology worked.
'Come on, Trix, wake up.' Drew started asking Trix, then thought better of it. What if he had internal injuries?
He heard scrabbling above him and looked up.
The rat was watching them.
* * *
It started out simple enough. Unpleasant, gruesome and sadistic it may have been, but the basic premise was simple. The thing (I couldn't think of it as Willow, even with Drusilla in the mix) would prey on anyone who had lost someone they cared about. Which, let's face it, meant just about everyone. It would then suggest that someone else should have died in the place of the person who had, someone connected to the deceased individual. A wife, a brother, a friend or an enemy, it didn't really matter who it was, just as long as it gave the banshee, this gestalt, something to hang its lies on and make them sound palatable, tempting. And it would drive its chosen victim to murder, in the name of righting the injustice of the universe.
That was the simple part, but it didn't stop there.
Think about it. If you loved someone, and I mean really loved them, then who wouldn't you rather see dead in their place? If you had to choose, where would you draw the line? And that was the problem, you see, because once the fighting and the killing started, it couldn't stop and what had once been simple was now a chaotic mess.
Much to the delight of the gestalt.
And through that chaos I had to walk. Or run. Or sprint until my lungs were burning and then sprint some more because I knew that, no matter how much it felt as if I would spew my guts, if I let them catch me then I really would end up with my intestines on the outside of my body.
It helped that the chaos, by definition, was directionless and I was but one of many. You've heard the one about the two men being chased by the hungry lion? The winner isn't the one who runs faster than the lion. The winner is the guy who runs faster than his friend. You work it out.
So it was with me. So long as there were easier targets, then I was left relatively alone, and I was working really, really hard to make sure I wasn't an easy mark.
I don't know if I can explain just how frightening my flight across town was. Firstly it was dark and, though it's embarrassing to admit it, there's always something a bit scary about the dark. Then there's the fact that there are hundreds of people who would like to see me dead. Not a good thought. But I've been here before, on both counts. No, what made this time scary was the identity of the people out for blood. They were just ordinary people. They were kids and parents, teachers and pupils, lawyers and doctors and bus drivers and shopkeepers and the guy you say 'Hi' to in the street every morning, but whose name you've never thought to ask. These sorts of people shouldn't be mixed up in this stuff. We were supposed to protect them from this.
But all of the barriers had broken down and to see that anger and rage and loss and need on the faces of Joe Public, it made me go cold inside.
I was more relieved when Wesley answered his door than I care to admit. I forced my way passed him into the warmth and the light.
'Have you come all the way here from home?' he asked, once he had offered me a seat.
I nodded, still too out of breath to speak.
'You shouldn't be out there alone,' he chided me. 'Its not safe.'
'It's worse than you think,' I told him. 'Whatever's happening, whatever this banshee or whatever she is wants, it's going to happen tonight.'
Wesley nodded thoughtfully.
'I'll call the others,' he said.
* * *
Chrissie huddled in the corner of her room, knees under her chin, arms wrapped around her legs. The room was in darkness, but she knew that she wasn't alone. He was out there, watching her, coming for her.
It was no less than she deserved.
* * *
'What do you want?' Xander demanded.
'Well that's not very nice,' Anya replied as she followed him inside.
'Sorry. I wasn't expecting company.' Xander rolled his chair back into the living room.
Anya took in the piles of clothes and the open suitcases.
'You're packing up, aren't you?' she deduced. 'You're leaving.'
'Tonight,' Xander confirmed.
'And you weren't going to tell me?'
'I didn't think you were interested. Could you pass me that ' He pointed. 'Thanks. It's tough to reach from down here.'
'Wesley phoned,' Anya told him. 'He said he tried calling you, but you weren't answering. I was worried.'
'Well, as you can see, I'm fine,' Xander replied. 'I take it Wesley wants you to go help him save the world. Again.'
'Something like that.'
'Well, have fun.'
'You're not going to come with me?'
Xander shrugged. 'Not my fight anymore. I'm out of all that.'
'What is this? A delayed reaction to Buffy's death?' Anya asked. 'After what they did to you, I thought you'd be all ready and willing for a little payback.'
'Vengeance is your gig, Anya, not mine,' Xander replied. 'All I want is a quiet life. Well, almost all.'
'So you're running away, is that it?'
'I'm not running away,' Xander protested. 'I've already done more than my fair share. Buffy would understand.'
'Buffy. It always comes back to Buffy, doesn't it.'
'That's not fair, Anya. She's not here to defend herself.'
'Why should she need to when she's got you to do it for her,' Anya replied bitterly.
'I loved her, Anya,' Xander replied.
'That's hardly breaking news, Xander.'
'I loved Willow, too. And Jesse, though I'd like to stress that was a completely different form of loving,' Xander said. 'They're all dead now. And I am sick of burying the people I love.'
'That's life, Xander,' Anya told him. 'If there's one constant it's that people die.'
'Not like this,' Xander said. 'Normal people don't get bitten by vampires or torn apart by black magic. I've spent seven years trapped inside a horror movie and I just want out. I want a normal life. Is that too much to ask?'
'So you're running away,' Anya said, 'leaving Dawn and Janice and the others to continue the fight without you. They're only children!'
'How dare you,' Xander shot back. 'I've been fighting the good fight for seven years. Seven very long years. Those 'children' are no younger than I was when I started out.'
'That still doesn't give you the right to abandon them.'
'If they had any sense they'd come with me. You could still come with me, Anya. It tears me up inside that I'm going to have to leave you behind, but nothing like the thought that I may have to watch you die if I stay.'
'I'm not going to come with you, Xander,' Anya said, looking away. 'Not now. Later, perhaps, but I still have responsibilities and I'm not about to run away from them.'
'I went to see the doctor the other day,' Xander said.
'What's that got to do with anything?'
'Hear me out,' Xander placated her. 'When I was possessed, I was walking around as if my accident had never happened. We all assumed that Willow had magically healed my legs or something, right? Wrong. All she did was make me think my legs were okay. All that walking around has only exacerbated my injuries and the doc says the damage is now irreparable. I'm never going to walk again, Anya. I think I've earned my retirement, don't you?'
* * *
'You killed me,' said the voice in the shadows.
Chrissie nodded dumbly.
'I could have been somebody special,' the voice continued. 'An artist or a doctor. Or a pilot. I might have liked to be a pilot. But we'll never know now, will we?'
'No,' Chrissie tearfully agreed. 'No, we won't.'
'It's not fair, is it,' the voice continued. 'You get to kill me, you get to live, but I never get to find out what might have been.'
'It wasn't my fault,' Chrissie protested.
'How dare you.' The voice cracked like a whip. 'How dare you say that to me. You killed me. Nobody else. You did it. You killed me, Mommy.'
'I killed you,' Chrissie numbly agreed.
'But why me?' the voice asked. 'Why did I have to die? Wouldn't it have been better if it had been someone else? Would you rather I died or or you?'
Chrissie's lower lip trembled.
'Me,' she replied.
Tiny hands clenched around her throat.
* * *
'What do you think you're doing?' Lydia demanded.
'I'm going after Dawn,' Hank told her as he struggled into his coat.
'Are you crazy? That little monster just took a knife to you.'
'I had noticed.' Hank held up his hastily bandaged hand. 'She needs help, Lydia. I need to find her.'
'Have you seen what's going on out there, Hank?' Lydia asked. 'Take a long hard look.'
'All the more reason for me to go and look for her,' Hank protested. 'She's all alone out there.'
'But it's okay for you to leave me all alone here, is that it?'
'You'll be fine so long as you lock all the doors behind me,' Hank assured her.
'You don't know that,' Lydia snapped. 'You can't know that.'
Hank looked away.
'You're right, I don't know,' he admitted.
'So you're choosing to save her over me,' Lydia pointed out.
'It's not like that,' Hank insisted. 'Look, if I leave you alone, you might be in danger, but out three, Dawn certainly is.'
'You're always putting her first,' Lydia said. 'Ever since we got here.'
'What do you expect?' Hank shot back. 'She's my daughter, for crying out loud. She's all I've got left of my family.'
'So where does that leave us?' Lydia asked.
Hank's mouth moved, but no words came out.
'Can we talk about this later?' he finally managed to ask.
Lydia shook her head.
'If you leave now, I won't be here when you get back.'
Hank nodded slowly.
'I'm sorry,' he said.
Then he opened the door.
* * *
'Go ahead,' Chrissie said in a choking sob. 'Go ahead and kill me.'
'Honey, please tell me you don't know what you're saying,' Halfrek said as she stepped out of the shadows.
Children had always been Halfrek's primary focus in the whole justice demon biz and Chrissie's pain had called her like a moth to a flame.
'You don't understand,' Chrissie said. 'I killed him.'
'Killed who?' Halfrek asked. 'I don't understand.'
'I didn't even give him a chance,' Chrissie continued. 'What kind of a person does that make me?'
'Maybe if we talked about things, honey '
'He asked me who I'd prefer was dead, me or him,' Chrissie said.
'Now slow down, girl. I don't like where this is going.
'Of course I said me,' Chrissie said. 'I should be the one who died, I know that. I wish '
'Don't say another word,' Halfrek warned. 'Chrissie, don't you dare.'
'I wish I was dead.'
* * *
Anya had returned to the Magic Box. She supposed that she ought to be at Wesley's, but her conversations first with Trix and then with Xander had thrown her and she needed time to get her head together. And where better to think than the place that she had come to consider home.
The bell over the door tinkled.
'We're closed,' Anya called without looking up.
'Anya, it's me, Clem,' Clem said. A kitten mewed. 'And I brought a friend.'
'Oh, Hi, Clem,' Anya replied. 'We're still closed.'
'I was just looking for Dawn,' Clem explained.
'Oh, right, should have known,' Anya said. 'Not even a man with your looks - no offence - would want to spend any time with me. Maybe Willow and Tara had the right idea.'
'I take it you've had a rough night?' Clem deduced. He sat down next to her and set the kitten down on the table.
'Well, I've managed to get ditched by not one, but two boyfriends in a matter of hours, does that count?'
'Ouch,' Clem said. 'If there's anything I can do.'
'Thanks, but no thanks,' Anya told him. 'That wasn't a good idea when spike and I did it. It had it's up-side, though. Anyway, I thought you were looking for Dawn?'
'My TV blew up.'
'Have you tried just calling the repair guy?'
'There was a hand sticking out of it,' Clem explained.
'Oh,' Anya remarked. 'Well, Dawn's probably at home.'
'Thought of that,' Clem said, 'but I hate to think what her dad'll do if I show up there.'
'Point,' Anya agreed. 'Wait, have you tried Wesley. He was trying to get everyone together earlier on. She's probably there by now.'
'Worth a look,' Clem agreed. 'You want to come along? Might help you take your mind of stuff.'
'Thanks,' Anya replied. 'I'll '
Clem sniffed the air.
'What is it?' Anya asked.
'Something smells odd,' Clem replied, wandering towards the back of the shop, nose in the air.
'Odd?' Anya got up and followed him. The kitten jumped off of the table and followed in her wake.
'What was in this jar?' Clem asked, pointing to the shattered remains on the floor. Green slime was still oozing down the drain.
'Don't touch it,' Anya warned. She quickly fetched some gloves and a cloth and began wiping up the mess. 'Damn, Trix was supposed to do the clean-up tonight and well, I guess I'm going to have to start getting into a new routine, aren't I.'
'I hate to say it, but some of that goop got into the sewer,' Clem pointed out. 'Please tell me that's not a bad thing.'
'It's not a bad thing,' Anya replied.
'You're lying, aren't you.'
'Is it that obvious?'
* * *
'Why is it that the face you went to bed with is always more attractive than the one you wake up to?' Trix asked, opening on eye.
'Trix, you're okay,' Drew announced.
'Let's not go overboard. I'm alive and that'll have to do for now. Move!'
The rat leaped at them, but the pair diver out of the way.
'That's the way out,' Drew said, pointing. 'Think you can make it up there?'
'On foot, not a chance,' Trix admitted. 'But there are other options. Think you can keep ratboy busy for me?'
Trix ran off without waiting for an answer.
'Hey, you dropped never mind.' Drew scooped up the deck of playing cards that had fallen from Trix's jacket pocket. Then he turned his attention to the giant rat. 'Hey fur-face, over here!'
The rat looked at him. There was something evil in those beady eyes, Drew just knew there was.
'Yeah, that's right, I'm talking to you,' Drew continued. 'You owe me a new camera.'
The rat showed its teeth.
'On second thoughts, let's just chalk this one up to experience, okay?'
The rat lunged at Drew, but had to pull to an abrupt halt as a motorbike skidded between them.
'I said keep him busy, not feed him lunch,' Trix scolded Drew. 'Now get on.'
Drew jumped aboard and Trix gunned the engine.
'Hold on tight,' he yelled.
The bike rocketed up the slope, leaving the rat eating its dust.
* * *
Wesley slammed the phone down in it's cradled. The handset jumped back out and tumbled to the floor. Wesley stared at it as I bent down to pick it up.
'I can't get hold of any of the others,' he confessed, running a hand through his hair. 'We're on our own.'
I looked at him. Then I laughed.
'Maybe I'm missing something,' Wesley said, 'but I'm not finding very much to laugh about right now.'
'Sorry,' I said, trying to compose myself, 'it's just us. I mean, look at us. The disgraced Watcher and the Slayer's baby sister. Nothing like sending in the reserve team, is there?'
'Well,' he said, exhaling loudly, 'if it was good enough for Buffy and Rupert then I guess we'll just have to make the best of it.'
'Course, it would help if we knew where to look,' I said.
'I think I can help with that.'
We both looked up at the newcomer.
'Door was open,' Janice explained.
'Jan,' I said, 'we were worried about you.'
'I feel tempted to give you the same lecture I gave Dawn about wandering outside by yourself,' Wesley scolded her, 'but I'm just glad to see that you're all right.'
'I'm fine,' Janice assured us. 'Whatever that thing is out there, it doesn't seem to want to get near me. You don't think I smell funny or something, do you?'
'No worse than usual,' I said.
'There is something different about you, though,' Wesley mused. 'Nice necklace, by the way.'
I hadn't even noticed it when Janice had first arrived. She was wearing a five pointed star, point upwards, on a simple silver chain.
'Thanks,' Janice said. 'Tabby gave it to me.'
'Who's Tabby?' I asked.
'A friend,' Janice replied.
'I think we're drifting off topic, here,' Wesley pointed out. 'Janice, you said that you had a way to find this gestalt.'
'Is that what we're calling it this week?' Janice asked. 'All I know is that I'm connected to something. It's like the power grid across Sunnydale, but it's like a living thing and I can see it.'
'Go on,' Wesley encouraged her.
'Well, it's like this energy glows white, okay,' Janice continued, 'but there's a dark spot in it and the rest of the energy doesn't like it.'
'And you think that dark spot is the gestalt,' Wesley deduced. 'It's not an unreasonable summation.'
He crossed the room and unlocked a tall wooden cabinet, like a wardrobe. It was full of weapons.
'Do you have a preference?' he asked me.
'Well, I've handled a sword before,' I admitted.
'Hmm, this one should suit, I think,' he said, reaching for one at the back. 'You'll need to defend yourself out there.'
I looked at the weapon sceptically.
'Those people out there are possessed,' I said. 'They don't really mean to do what they're doing. I don't want to hurt them.'
'I second that,' Janice said.
'Listen to me, both of you,' Wesley insisted. 'Yes, those people are possessed, but that doesn't mean that they won't really try and kill you. You need to be able to fight back.'
'You mean kill them before they kill us.'
'If you like,' Wesley agreed. 'Listen, I don't want to kill anyone any more than you do, but if it's a choice between them and us, then we have to choose us.'
'Why?' Janice asked. 'What sets us up above the rest?'
'Because we may be the only people that can stop this,' Wesley explained, 'and we can't do that if we're dead. Now, are you going to take the sword or not?'
I took the sword.
'Now, what about you, Janice.'
'I've never had to use a weapon before,' she replied. 'Well, nothing larger than a water pistol anyway.'
'I see.' Wesley pinched the bridge of his nose and then reached inside the cabinet. 'Try this.'
'What is it?' Janice asked as she took it from him.
'It's an adze,' Wesley explained. 'It's probably my favourite weapon in there. Look after it for me, won't you.'
Wesley reached back inside the cabinet, slung a crossbow over his shoulder and hefted a wicked-looking spiked mace in both hands.
'Well, I guess we're all set,' he said. 'At least we won't have to worry about anyone noticing us wondering around fully armed. I just wish there were more than three of us.'
'What in heaven's name ' Wesley began.
'Closer than you think,' I told him.
'I thought you could use my help,' Zauriel said.
'Is he ' Janice whispered to me.
'Yep,' I whispered back.
'My name is Zauriel,' Zauriel said to Wesley.
'That's all very well,' Wesley blustered, 'but I'm afraid we don't really know '
'I'll vouch for him, Wes,' I interrupted. 'Zauriel's a friend.'
'Any more secrets you've been keeping?' Wesley asked.
'You're not my Watcher,' I shot back.
'We were just arming ourselves, Zauriel,' he said. 'Can I get you anything?'
'I have my own weapons,' Zauriel replied.
I chewed thoughtfully on my lower lip.
'Can I talk to you in private for a minute, Zauriel?' I said. 'Much as we'd appreciate you coming with us, I think you can be more use elsewhere. There's someone I'd like you to find for me.'
* * *
'That's enough,' Halfrek snapped. 'Say something like that again and I might just have to act on it.'
Chrissie opened her mouth to speak.
'Don't you dare,' Halfrek said. 'I don't want to have to use force, but better unconscious than dead, you get me?'
'But but I deserve to die,' Chrissie protested.
'Honey, I've been around a long time,' Halfrek replied, 'and I've seen plenty of people who deserved to die. Trust me, you just don't compare.'
'You dont know,' Chrissie insisted.
'Then talk to me,' Halfrek pleaded. 'Listen, I'll make a deal with you, okay? You tell me what's going on, all of it, and if you still want me to kill you when it's all over well, I guess I'm not going to have much of a choice either way. What do you say, huh?'
'He's here,' Chrissie began, 'in this room with us.'
'I don't see anyone,' Halfrek said. 'Who's here?'
'My baby,' Chrissie replied.
* * *
'This way,' Wesley shouted.
'But we need to get over there,' Janice protested as we ran.
'Then we'll just have to go the long way round,' Wesley called back, fighting for breath, 'or didn't you notice the people.'
Oh, we'd noticed all right. How could we miss the people dancing on top of the burning cars, tearing pieces out of each other in return for the favour of a deceased loved one.
'This is for Kirsten,' a man shouted before throwing himself out of a second storey window. He landed on top of me and we both rolled out onto the road.
'Why did she have to die?' the man snarled at me, spittle spraying into my face. 'Why couldn't it have been you? It should have been you.'
He rammed a broken bottle into my face. I turned away, but could still feel the burn where it sliced into my cheek.
'This is for Kirsten,' he shouted. 'This is to make it right again.'
I tried to crawl away, but he grabbed a handful of my hair and dragged me back. I could feel the sharp edge of the bottle against my throat.
'Dawn!' Janice screamed.
'Dawn, the sword,' Wesley yelled. 'Use your sword.'
My fingers scuttled over the tarmac and clenched around the sword hilt.
'Tell Kirsten I love her,' the man said.
He forced the broken glass inwards.
'Dawn, no!' Janice screamed again.
I lifted the sword and rammed it backwards, deep into the man's chest and out the other side.
The pressure on my throat eased and he let go of my hair.
I turned to face him. Blood was trickling from the corners of his mouth and he stared at me with sightless eyes. With a wet, sucking sound, he slowly slid off of the blade of my sword.
Hot tears ran freely down my face.
'Oh God, what have I done?' I moaned.
'What you had to do?' Wesley told me.
'But he was innocent,' I insisted. 'He was just a victim, but I killed him.'
'It was life or death,' Wesley said. 'You didn't have a choice.'
'There's always a choice,' I replied softly. 'Buffy told me that it wasn't about the slaying, it was about the saving. But who's going to save him now?'
* * *
'You have a child?' Halfrek asked Chrissie.
Chrissie shook her head.
'Not anymore,' she replied. 'I I don't know if I can do this.'
Halfrek took hold of her hand.
'Just take your time, Chrissie,' she said. 'I'm not here to judge you, just to listen.'
Chrissie tried to smile, but she couldn't sustain it. She looked down at her feet, at her black boots with the many buckles. The buckles reflected what little light there was in the room, twinkling like tiny stars.
'I was fourteen,' Chrissie began. 'You wouldn't have recognised me. I used to have these curls down to hear and I was big on these floral print designs, which were just the height of ugh. And I really struggled to talk to anybody. I had this stammer, see, and I was shy, so shy it hurt. Shy and naive.
'He was in the year above me and he was in the football team and all the girls wanted him. And yes, that included me. But like he was never going to even look at me, right. I mean, it wasn't as if I was even on the cheerleading squad. Heck, I didn't even have the guts to try out. So I wasn't exactly expecting to turn heads. And then one night, after school, he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride with him.
Chrissie began tugging at her hair with her free hand. Halfrek took hold of the hand and held it close. She looked Chrissie in her tear-filled eyes.
'Go on, Chrissie,' she encouraged quietly. 'I know it hurts, but I know you need to tell someone. Might as well be me, right, honey?'
Chrissie nodded. She tried to speak, but found that her voice had escaped her. She coughed to clear her throat.
'He had borrowed his dad's car,' she continued, her voice reed-thin and barely audible. 'I don't know what sort it was. I wasn't really into cars back then. Still, I remember it was red, some kind of sporty convertible. And I remember the leather seats because they squeaked when I sat on them and when we And I remember the way they smelled. God, I still remember the smell.
'We drove out to the woods. There was a spot there that overlooked the town. It was supposed to be romantic. I guess maybe it was at the time. And then he suggested we get into the back seat and I should have said no. That's all I had to do, but I didn't. I can't believe I could be so stupid, but I thought that was what boys and girls did. That's what Jules was always telling us she and Glen got up to so I thought it must be okay, right? And even when it hurt I just assumed that it must be me, that I was doing something wrong.'
Halfrek closed her eyes. 'Oh Chrissie, I didn't know.'
'I went straight home and I showered,' Chrissie told her. 'And then I showered some more, but I couldn't seem to get clean. I couldn't see anything, but I knew that I was still dirty. I just knew, you understand. And I felt so ashamed and I didn't know why. I didn't know why. And I went into school the next day and he wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't even look at me. But everyone else did. Everyone else was staring at me like I was a freak and I knew they were right, but I still didn't understand why and I didn't have anyone to talk to about it. I just wanted to talk to someone, but I didn't have anyone I felt I could turn to.
'But that wasn't the worst of it. It wasn't long before I started getting sick. At first, I couldn't work out what was wrong, but somewhere, deep down, I think I always knew. And the test confirmed it. I was pregnant.'
* * *
'Are you sure about this?' Clem asked.
'You saw the way the amulet reacted,' Anya said, holding up the stone that still glowed an angry red. 'Something down there reacted with the ooze and this way we can track it.'
'But if it's down in the sewer, shouldn't we be down there too?' Clem pointed out.
'We can track it just as well from up here,' Anya responded, 'and this way I don't have to ruin these nice new shoes.'
'Well, if you're sure ' Clem said dubiously.
'Of course I'm not sure,' Anya snapped. 'This is the sort of thing Buffy's supposed to do. Or Willow. Even Xander might be able to take charge, but I'm not used to it, okay? I'm just trying to do the best I can.'
'I'm sorry,' Clem replied. 'I sure you '
He was cut of by a scream.
'It came from over there,' he said, pointing.
'Well, what are we waiting for?' Anya asked.
* * *
Ruth screamed. Then one of her attackers struck her with a baseball bat, knocking the air from her lungs. There were three of them, two men and a woman. She had spotted them as she was running across the park and thought that they might be able to help her. She couldn't have been more wrong.
She fell to her knees, gasping for breath. One of the men grabbed her by the hair, yanking her up so hard he almost pulled it out at the roots.
'You think you're so much better than her, don't you,' he said to her. 'So much prettier. That's why you think you deserve to live instead of her. You disgust me.'
Then he slammed her face into the dirt.
'I lost my poor Raymond,' the woman purred, standing over her, one foot either side, 'but trash like you gets to live.'
She raked her nails down Ruth's cheek, drawing blood.
'Finish her off,' she said to the man with the baseball bat. 'She's nothing. She's nobody. Not like my Raymond.'
'Or my Lillian,' said the other man.
'Or my Judith,' the man with the bat agreed, raising his arm to swing.
The bat descended, then stopped, caught by the hand of a blonde woman.
'That's not how nice people behave,' she said, yanking the bat away from him. Then she slammed the heel of her other hand into his nose, sending him flying backwards into the distance.
'Running would be a good idea right about now,' another figure said.
Ruth looked up at him and gulped. He was huge and he was covered in folds of creamy white skin, as if he were wearing the skin of an even larger man.
'I don't want to hurt you,' he continued.
'How could you hurt us anymore than we hurt already?' the woman who had scratched Ruth demanded.
The other man began raining punches down upon the man with the excess skin, but he didn't seem to notice.
'Hold this for me would you,' he said, stooping to pass the kitten he was holding to Ruth. Then he stood back up. 'I said I didn't want to hurt you.'
Then he picked the man up by the collar of his shirt and hurled him away.
He turned to the woman.
She turned and fled. One of her heels broke as she ran so she tore off her shoes and continued her flight in stockinged feet.
'Who who are you people,' Ruth asked, holding the kitten close to her. At least that seemed normal.
'I'm Anya and the big guy's Clem,' the blonde explained. 'We're here to help you.'
'Help me?' Ruth asked. 'But but you're not normal, are you?'
'Now you're just trying to hurt my feelings,' Clem said.
'We're also not the people who tried to kill you,' Anya pointed out. 'Would you rather be with them?'
'I guess not,' Ruth conceded, getting up.
'What are you doing out here by yourself?' Clem asked.
'I was caving,' Ruth explained, 'but there was a rock fall and we got trapped, me and Drew.'
'Drew?' Clem repeated. 'That wouldn't be Drew Kowalski, would it?'
'Uh huh,' Ruth confirmed. 'You know him?'
'He's still down there,' Ruth said. 'I was trying to get help, but there was this giant rat and this guy with horns '
'Trix?' Anya exclaimed. She grabbed Ruth and started shaking her. 'Where were they?'
'Hey, let go,' Ruth snapped, struggling in Anya's grip.
Clem put a hand on Anya's shoulder. 'It's okay, Anya. Now let the girl go.'
Any did so.
'Now,' Clem said to Ruth, 'can you show us where they are?'
* * *
'I told my aunt first,' Chrissie said. 'I couldn't face my parents so she did it for me. You can imagine what that was like. All the accusations and the tears and the finger pointing and that look on their faces. The shame and the disappointment. All I could think about was how badly I'd let them down. I wasn't worried about me or about the baby. I was worried about what I'd done to them. Talk about skewed priorities, right? But that's just the way it was.
'Dad took charge. Mom wouldn't speak to me. Wouldn't even look at me. It was a very long time before we could even be civil to each other again. I don't think we're ever going to be able to do any more than that again. She quit her job over me. Said she couldn't bear to see that judgmental look on other people's faces, you know, the same look she was giving me. Dad took me out of school and took me to see the specialist. I was examined, probed and no one would tell me what was going on. Not the doctors, not my dad. They had all these discussions behind closed doors, discussions about me, about my baby, but they didn't talk to me about it, wouldn't talk to me.
'And then it was all decided. I was going to have an abortion and that would be the end of it. And I could have protested, I could have fought, but I just kept flashing back to that look in my parents' eyes and knew that I couldn't bring myself to hurt them any more. So I just meekly went along with it and I killed my baby.
'What kind of a person does that make me?'
* * *
There was still blood on my sword. Wesley had given me a rag to clean it with, but no matter how hard I wiped, I could still see the blood. So much blood.
'So, what do you think of my idea?' Janice asked.
'Sorry?' I said, not quite hearing her.
'No, I'm sorry,' Janice said, stepping closer. 'I guess you're still a bit distracted, right?'
'That's one way of putting it,' I replied.
'Dawn, I now this is hard for you,' Janice said, 'but you can't break down. Not now. When this is all over, we can talk about this. We'll work through it. Together. I promise. But right now, we need you to be strong. We need you to focus. Can you do that for me?'
'I'll try,' I said.
'That's all I can ask,' Janice replied. 'So, about my plan?'
'It's a good plan,' I told her, 'with one major flaw. You can't cast spells without Chrissie and she's nowhere to be found.'
'She'll be here,' Janice said. 'Trust me.'
'I wish I shared your confidence,' I replied.
Janice stopped suddenly and put a hand to her head.
'Jan, are you okay?' I asked.
'Sorry, just a little dizzy,' she replied, straightening up. 'I think this is the place.'
I looked directly ahead at the structure before us. Spike's no, Clem's crypt.
'Figures,' I muttered.
There was howling in the distance.
'What was that?' Janice asked.
'Trouble,' Wesley replied darkly as the howling sounded again, louder and closer.
'Look, over there,' I cried, pointing into the distance.
'Wolves,' Wesley said, confirming my suspicions.
'Wolves? In Sunnydale?' Janice queried.
'You stay in this game long enough you'll find nothing surprises you anymore,' Wesley told her. 'Now get in the crypt. I'll hold them off.'
'Just get in the crypt,' Wesley snapped. 'I'm not important. Just stop this thing.'
Janice hung back so I took her by the hand and forced her too look at me.
'It's up to us now,' I told her.
She nodded and we stepped inside.
* * *
'Wakey, wakey, Dormouse.'
Piv opened one bleary eye. Lisa was gently shaking her awake.
'What time is it?' she asked, sitting up on the couch and wiping drool from the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand.
'Time you were in a proper bed, sleepy-head,' Lisa told her.
'Okay,' Piv muttered dreamily as she stood up. 'Aren't you coming?'
Lisa shook her head. 'Mrs Clemens said I could stay up to watch the late film. Night, Dormouse.'
'Night, Lis,' Piv replied.
She waddled slowly up the stairs, yawning. She was almost knocked off her feet as Helena came rushing past her.
'Hey, Helena, what's the rush?' Piv asked. 'You watching the film, too?'
'It's my sister?' Helena replied.
'I didn't know you had a sister.'
'Alicia,' Helena affirmed. 'She's dead now. And he killed her. He killed her and I'm going to make him pay. I'm going to make everything right again.'
* * *
'We moved here,' Chrissie continued, 'and I was enrolled in a new school, somewhere where nobody knew me. And I was just expected to start over, like nothing had happened. But how was I supposed to do that? Tell me, how am I supposed to pretend it never happened when I can hear him calling to me when I close my eyes at night?'
'I don't know, Chrissie,' Halfrek admitted. 'I don't have all the answers. But I do know you're wrong to tear yourself up over it.'
'But I killed him,' Chrissie protested. 'How am I supposed to get past that?'
'You killed a small bunch of cells,' Halfrek told her. 'I know that's not what you want to hear, but you need to put a little perspective on this. It just isn't the same as killing child. And if you are ever going to move on from this then that's something you're just going to get your head around.'
'And if I can't?' Chrissie asked.
'You will,' Helena replied. 'You're a tough cookie, Chrissie. You've been through more than anyone should ever have to go through and you're still fighting. You can get through this.
'I know it's hard, but you've got to believe that you did the right thing. If you had had the baby then what then? What kind of life could you have given it? And looking past that, what about you? What would have happened to you? What kind of future could you have looked forward to?'
'Are you saying I should put my own needs above that of my baby?'
'Chrissie, if you'd gone into this knowing what you were doing then I'd be the first person to say you should have to live with the consequences of your mistakes,' Halfrek pressed, 'but you didn't. You couldn't. Chrissie, you were just a child. You're still just a child. Don't start beating yourself up for not behaving like an adult. Believe me, there'll be plenty of time for that later.'
'You think you think I did the right thing?' Chrissie asked.
'It's not about what I think,' Halfrek told her. 'It's what you think, that counts. Are you ready to move on and live your life?'
'I don't know,' Chrissie replied. 'I want to. I mean, I've got friends now, real friends, but I don't know if I trust myself enough to open up to them.'
'Try it,' Halfrek suggested. 'They may surprise you.'
'And then there's Drew,' Chrissie said. 'I almost lost him because I didn't trust him. I thought that all men were the same, that they were just out there to hurt me, but Drew's different. I think he really cares, you know, but I keep pushing him away.'
'Honey, good men don't come along very often,' Halfrek said, 'take it from someone who's seen her share. When they do, you've got to hang on to them and fight for them or they'll just slip through your fingers. And you can't live your whole life regretting the road not taken.'
'So are we cool now or what?' Halfrek asked.
'There's just one thing,' Chrissie said. 'You're a justice demon, right?'
'Yes,' Halfrek confirmed.
'And that means you grant wishes?'
'That's pretty simplistic, but basically yeah,' Halfrek agreed.
'So if I wish to have my baby back you could do it, right?' Chrissie persisted.
'Honey, power over life and death isn't something to be trifled with,' Halfrek warned.
'But you could do it,' Chrissie said, 'couldn't you?'
* * *
'Trix!' Anya shouted as the motorbike pulled to a halt in front of them.
'Anya?' the demon called back. 'What are you doing out here.'
'Looking for you,' Anya explained.
'Well, among other things,' Clem admitted.
'Ruth,' Drew shouted. 'I thought I didn't know what to think. I didn't know if you made it out okay or '
'Or if I'd turned into rat food?' Ruth finished for him. 'Guess I'm tougher than I look. But then, so are you. Looks like you didn't need my help after all.'
'Um, I wouldn't quite say that,' Drew confessed.
'What do you mean?' Ruth asked.
'Oh dear,' Clem said, looking passed them. 'You didn't tell me that goop could do that.'
'What goop?' Trix asked.
'There was a smashed jar in the Magic Box,' Anya explained. 'The contents got into the sewers and interfered with the local wildlife.'
'Interfered?' Trix repeated. 'Are you telling me this is all your fault?'
'Hey, don't blame me,' Anya shot back. 'If you'd bothered to clean up properly like you were supposed to.'
'Um, guys,' Drew interrupted, 'now might not be the best time for recriminations.'
'In other words,' Ruth said as the giant rat thundered towards them, 'run!'
* * *
I had to shield my eyes as we entered the crypt. It was filled with a bright violet light. Energy cracked and buzzed around us. It was like being trapped at the centre of a thunderstorm.
And at the eye of the storm stood two familiar figures, hand in hand. Willow and Drusilla cocked their heads towards each other, so that they hair touched, and smiled at us.
'Oh, look who's come to play with us, Miss Edith. It's little Dawnie, and she's brought a friend.'
When they spoke, they spoke in harmony, their voices overlapping and warping together. They walked towards us as perfect mirrors of one another, too.
'We're here to stop you,' I said defiantly, though I took a step closer to Janice as I said it.
'Stop us?' They laughed. 'There aren't enough of you to stop us.'
'I thought you said Chrissie was going to be here,' I whispered to Janice.
'She will be,' Janice insisted. 'We just need more time.'
'I think we may have run out,' I replied.
'We're very disappointed in you, Dawnie,' Willow and Drusilla continued. 'We felt so sure that you would help us. There's so much anger in you. See, you already have blood on your hands.'
I dropped the sword as if it had bitten me.
'You can't hide from what you are, Dawnie,' they continued. 'You're a little monster, just like us.'
'No,' I whimpered.
'Oh yes you are,' they purred, running their hands over my cheeks. Drusilla found the cut in my cheek from the broken bottle and raised her bloody fingers to Willow's mouth.
'So sweet,' they moaned. 'So rich.'
'Leave her alone!' Janice shouted.
'Or what, little one?' they demanded. 'Oh, we know we can't touch you, not yet anyway, but we also know that you can't harm us, not without your other half. You're powerless here, little one. How does it feel to know that there's nothing you can do to save your friend?'
'I won't let you harm her!' Janice raised the adze and brought it down on Drusilla's skull. The blade passed harmlessly through her.
'You don't have a choice,' Willow and Drusilla continued.
They turned their attentions back to me.
'You're all alone now, Dawnie,' they taunted me, 'just like your sister was. You could have helped her. You could have saved her. But you walked away and you let her die. You let me, you let us, take her. And now here you are, ready to stand in her place. Do you really think anyone's going to help you?'
And then I smiled because I could hear the beating of wings behind me.
'Yes,' I told them, 'yes I do?'
'I'm here, Dawn,' Zauriel said.
I nodded, but he wasn't the person I was interested in. My attention was taken up by the man he had brought with him. Drusilla had seen him to and her eyes were as wide as dinner-plates. It was a gamble and I could only pray that my gamble paid off.
'Hello, pet,' Spike said.
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