[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] Ongoing...
 

Episode Four - Immortal

'Come on, you know you want to. Live a little.'

'I don't know, Jed,' Carly replied. If she chewed her bottom lip any more fretfully she was bound to draw blood. Her PVC jacket did not really protect her from the elements and it was cold here, but then, Carly reasoned, it was always cold in cemeteries. She didn't know why, but the temperature fell several degrees whenever one stepped through those gates. She would have avoided this place completely if it wasn't for Jed. He thought this would be cool, exciting and dangerous. He thought Carly was cool exciting and dangerous too - or so he told Carly - so she had agreed to go with him, not wanting to disappoint him.

Jed pressed close against her and Carly felt herself trapped up against a headstone. He attempted to plant a kiss on her lips, but Carly flinched and her ended up kissing her cheek. His stubble was coarse against her skin and she could smell beer on his breath. Part of her wanted to recoil, but then her turned his eyes on her and her breath caught in her throat. His eyes were like dark whirlpools, drawing her to her doom no matter how hard she might struggle to swim away.

'Hey, baby, what's the matter?' Jed whispered to her. He rested a large hand on her bare thigh. Carly wouldn't normally have worn a skirt for late night wandering, but Jed had told her that her legs were her best feature and she had wanted to show them off. To show them off to him. But now…

'What if somebody sees us?' Carly said, her voice sounding like a squeak as it escaped the tightness of her throat.

'Like who?' Jed said, trying to reassure her. 'We're all alone.'

Someone cleared his throat.

'Actually,' a bespectacled man politely explained, 'you're not.'

'Who the hell are you?' Jed demanded hotly, pulling away from Carly. Carly tugged at the hem of her skirt, wishing that it wasn't quire so short and didn't show off quite so much.

'A predator,' the man replied, smiling amiably. 'Much like yourself.'

'Get lost,' Jed ordered, 'before I make you.'

The man threw back his head and laughed.

'I'd like to see you try,' he cackled. 'I think you'll find I'm more than a match for you.'

'Yeah,' Jed said, 'you and what army?'

'That would be us,' another voice croaked.

Jed turned to regard the man who had spoken. He was tiny, but made up for it with a bulky Biggles-style and leather aviator's hat, complete with goggles. A white scarf was draped around his throat. And he wasn't alone. Jed could see four more figures emerging from behind the headstones and mausoleums.

Carly screamed.

'That's right, my dear,' the first man said. 'Terror makes the taste that much sweeter.'

'Culinary tips for the undead,' I quipped sarcastically. 'Ever considered writing a book?'

I stood at the top of the rise, leather coat billowing dramatically in the wind. (Okay, so maybe I exaggerate, but that was the effect I was going for.) The Scrappies flanked me. Chrissie and Janice were on my left. Chrissie was dressed in head-to-toe black and her school-lab goggles kept her hair out of her eyes (a trick I should really try myself on of these days). Janice cut a much softer figure in her yellow jacket and blue sweater. The pentacle hanging from her neck seemed to glow in the moonlight. Chrissie and Janice stood close together and occasionally, unconsciously, the backs of their hands would brush against each other. Each time, I imagined that I could see sparks passing between them. Drew was at my right hand, the blond highlights in his spiky hair catching the light. He had slipped into a relaxed fencing stance, his sword held before him. He seemed calm and composed, but I knew that he was ready to spring in a blur of motion when the time came.

'Who are you?' Glasses wanted to know. Guess I was going to have to speak to my agent.

'Haven't you heard?' Flying Ace commented breathily. 'She's the new Slayer.'

Hmm, not entirely accurate, but at least it was flattering.

'Don't be an idiot,' another vampire remarked. 'That ain't the Slayer. That's just the Slayer's kid sister. And she's only human.'

Okay, so accuracy may be overrated.

I flicked my wrist and a stake fell into my palm before being hurled through the air to land deep in the vampire's chest.

'There's nothing only about being human,' I said even as the vampire exploded. There was something to be said for accuracy after all. And lots and lots of practice.

The vampires surged forward and I only had time to snap off a simple command - 'Take them!' - before they were on us. I only had one stake left, but I was determined to make it count. From the corner of my eye, I could make out Drew as a blur of motion. Drew loved the sword, but his technique had started out simply as a combination of stage fighting and movies he loved. I love The Princess Bride as much as the next girl, but trust me, even those quotes get repetitive after a while. Fortunately, Wesley had taken Drew under his wing after Drew had very nearly cut of his own feet with his sword. I dread to think what the other residents of Wesley's apartment block made of the clash of steel as the pair sparred with each other, but Drew's enthusiasm and Wesley's patient instruction certainly seemed to have paid off.

Janice and Chrissie joined hands, completing the circuit that allowed them both access to the warp and weft of magic. They had done this many times before and had finally reached the stage where they were comfortable with each other, but tonight something was different. When they were linked, they shared an intimacy I found difficult to imagine. They stopped being two individuals and became one person, their minds flowing easily from one body to another. Only whatever Janice found inside of Chrissie wasn't what she was expecting. In shock, she tried to pull away, threatening to break the link, but Chrissie clamped down on her hand, grinding the bones in Janice's fingers with the strength of her grip.

'Not now,' she hissed. 'Focus.'

Janice couldn't speak, but she managed a nod as she tried to clear her mind of whatever it was that troubled her. As she always did when the magic would not come with ease, she asked for help, calling forth her familiar, the leopard that was her guide in the spirit world. Sharing the link, Chrissie growled.

'Come to me,' Janice purred, raising her hand, her nails sparkling like claws. She slashed at the air and her movements were mirrored by the scars that appeared on the approaching vampires as they were swiftly and brutally ripped apart.

And then it was over. The vampires were dust and we had done our bit to make Sunnydale a safer place to live. But sometimes that just isn't enough.

Carly was on her knees, hot tears streaming down her face. She was sobbing, but her throat was too raw to let any more sound out. Curled at her feet was Jed, the last of his blood trailing from the twin puncture wounds in his throat.

'Oh goddess,' Janice murmured.

* * *

They buried Jed a few days later. Part of me wanted to attend the funeral, but I just couldn't face him, even if he was dead. Or, more accurately, because he was dead. Whatever the others might say, I had failed him.

And they said a lot, much of it good stuff. But I wasn't in any mood to hear. I didn't want to know that I couldn't save anybody, that I wasn't Buffy, that I'd done my best. All I knew for certain is that there was a boy being lowered into the ground because I wasn't smart enough or strong enough or fast enough or something.

But what was eating me up most of all was that I could have prevented it, but that I had said no.

* * *

'What were you thinking?' I demanded. I was shouting, but I didn't care.

I was visiting Pike at his new apartment. Property became empty with alarming frequency in Sunnydale so it had not been too difficult for Pike to find something at a price he could afford.

'They're good people,' Pike insisted. He was trying to keep calm, but my temper was infectious.

'Good people!' I was pacing up and down the room, gesticulating to emphasise my point. 'Three of your 'good people' are psychotic!'

'We're fighting a war, Dawn,' Pike snapped. 'We take whatever help we can get.'

'Well maybe you do,' I spat back, 'but I still have standards. Do you know what those people did to Buffy? To my friends?'

'Yes, I do,' Pike replied. His voice was hard, emotionless.

'Then…why?' It was all I could think of to say.

'Because I'm only human,' Pike replied. 'I don't have any Slayer powers and against the things we go up against night after night, I wouldn't stand a chance without some supernatural backup.'

'And that means you get to hang out with murderers?'

Pike looked sideways at me.

'I don't know if you've noticed, but vampires with souls don't exactly grow on trees.' He sighed. 'Look, I'm not a big fan of the way I do things, either, but I do what I have to to get the job done. You might want to think about that.'

'That the ends justify the means?' I retorted. 'That's not what Buffy would have done and I'm not going to let her down.'

That shot hit home and I wished I could take it back as soon as I had said it, but pride is a tricky thing and I left the apartment without saying another word.

* * *

Mrs Clemens' house was a bright canary yellow that caused my eyes to water when it caught the sun. I quickly made my way inside so that I didn't have to look at it any longer than absolutely necessary. Mrs Clemens ran a foster home for girls who had had to be removed from the families, girls like Helena Joslin. My skin crawled just thinking about it. Actually, my skin leapt off of me, scurried out into the street and caught the first bus to Los Angeles. I had, quite literally, spent some time in Helena's shoes and that brief glimpse had been enough for me. I didn't even want to think about what a whole life lived like that must have been like.

I passed Piv, the youngest of the girls staying with Mrs Clemens, on my way up the stairs.

'Is Helena in?' I asked her.

'She's in her room,' Piv told me. 'You might want to knock first though. She's with Ruth.'

Ruth was Helena's roommate and best friend and, just maybe, something more. Their room was in the attic, which meant I had to climb a whole lot of stairs to reach them. When I did, I remembered to knock.

'Dawn, Hi!' Ruth said as she threw open the door. 'What can we do for you?'

'Well, I was hoping to have a word with Helena,' I replied. 'Could you give us a minute?'

Ruth frowned, but then her face cleared like a cloud passing in front of the sun.

'I'll go check on Piv,' she said, then headed for the stairs.

I closed the door behind me.

'Dawn,' Helena said by way of greeting.

'Helena,' I answered. 'Is everything, you know, going okay?'

Helena shrugged. 'I guess.'

I licked my lips. Helena made me uncomfortable and I hated myself because of it, because it wasn't her fault, and that only made things worse. I never knew quite how to talk to her.

'Mind if I sit down?' I asked at last.

'Knock yourself out,' Helena replied, indicator a comfy chair across the room. I sat down.

'Are you okay,' Helena asked.

'Sure,' I said hastily. 'I'm fine.'

'Oh. Right,' Helena said defensively. 'I didn't mean to pry. It's just that you seem, well, nervous, is all.'

'I am,' I confessed. 'Listen, we were out patrolling last night and…and somebody died.'

There, I'd said it.

Helena's hand flew to her mouth.

'Oh god,' she whispered. 'Who?'

'No one you know,' I assured her hurriedly. 'No one I knew.' And that, of course, made everything better. Not. 'It's just we were trying to save this couple from these vamps and we saved one…'

'But not the other,' Helena concluded. 'I'm sorry.'

'I keep thinking I should have been able to do something,' I said. I was back up on my feet and pacing. 'That maybe if I'd been faster or stronger I could have saved him.'

'You did all you could,' Helena insisted, trying to calm me. 'When all's said and done, you're only human.'

'Yes,' I agreed slowly, looking her in the eye to make sure she understood, 'I am.'

'No.' Helena did understand. She just wasn't as enthusiastic as I had hoped.

'But Helena…' I began.

'No,' Helena repeated, forcefully cutting off any argument I might have made. 'I didn't ask to be…what I am. You're supposed to be looking for a cure not…not exploiting me.'

'That's not…'

'You chose to go out every night playing superhero,' Helena continued. 'I didn't and I'd like you to respect that.'

'But people are dying,' I shot back.

'You think I don't know that?' Helena demanded. 'Yes, it bothers me. But I'm entitled to a life of my own and that life does not include the Monster Mash.'

'You could save lives,' I pointed out.

'And what about my life?' Helena returned. 'For the first time in as long as I can remember, I'm happy. Are you really asking me to throw all that away?'

* * *

There was a lot of tension running through our little group at that moment and it was Dad who suggested going to the Bronze. He may not have known the reasons behind it, but he caught the bad vibe coming off of me and I guess ways of relaxing hadn't really changed all that much since his day. Not a lot beat hanging with friends and listening to good music.

Mind you, at the Bronze, you had to take whatever music you could get.

'I've heard worse,' Drew offered generously.

'Yeah, but then that's because we fight hellspawn for a living,' Chrissie pointed out.

We all laughed. There was a lot of tension that needed release. I stopped, however, when I noticed Lyle Gorch laughing along with me. He and his friends were sitting at an adjacent table. He caught me watching and winked, and I hastily turned away.

Why didn't I stake him? Hard to say, but I think it basically boiled down to the fact that Pike asked me not to. That and the fact that I couldn't help feeling something of a hypocrite. I was happy to question Pike's choice of allies, but he didn't know about Spike or Anya, both of whom had killed more than their fair share in their time, maybe even more than the combined total victims of the people sitting nearby.

'My round,' Drew announced, draining his glass and getting to his feet.

'I'll come with you,' Chrissie announced, jumping up and following in his wake.

'Young love,' I commented, following them with my eyes. 'Who'd have thunk it?'

'Maybe,' Janice murmured distractedly, 'or maybe she just doesn't want to have to talk to me.'

'What was that?' I asked, not catching her words beneath the roar of the band.

'Nothing,' Janice insisted, fingering her pendant.

'You okay?' I asked, leaning closer. 'You seem…distant.'

Janice turned and smiled at me.

'Bad dreams,' she confessed.

'Yeah, me too,' I agreed.

Janice looked thoughtful, but said nothing.

Drew had bumped into Owen Thurman at the bar, Pike's token normal companion, and they were swapping war stories like old buddies. I scowled, then mentally kicked myself. Owen had never done anything wrong, so far as I knew, even if he was on the other team. Was that how it was going to be from now on, I wondered, them and us?

'We're only here to help, you know,' Pike said, seemingly reading my thoughts.

I jumped because I hadn't heard him coming up behind me.

'Sorry, he said, running a hand through his hair. 'I didn't mean to startle you.'

'Then what do you want?' I asked. Then I caught myself. 'My turn to apologise. I don't mean to be so rude. I'm just on edge.'

'I heard about what happened,' Pike said, draping himself over an empty seat. And that was all he said and I appreciated that.

'Where's Chrissie?' Janice asked Drew.

'Bathroom,' Drew explained. 'She felt a bit faint out there. Must be the heat in this place.'

'Must be,' Janice replied. 'I'll just go and see if she's okay.' And she excused herself.

'So what are you going to do now?' Pike asked.

'Introduce you to Zauriel, for starters,' I told him. 'Not too sure what you'll make of him, though…'

'I meant what are you going to do about patrolling,' he persisted, 'after last night.'

'Carry on as normal,' I explained. 'The kind of people who could help me won't and I won't force them. And there's certain help I just won't accept.'

'Even after what happened?' Pike asked.

'Even after,' I confirmed.

Pike leaned back and whistled through his teeth.

'Well, I've got to admire you for that,' he said at last. 'I don't agree with you, but I've got to admire your convictions.'

I just hope they don't get anyone else killed. He didn't have to say it, I was already thinking it for him.

* * *

'Chrissie, you in here,' Janice called as she entered the bathroom. The lighting was tinted blue. It was some kind of experiment to see if it reduced vandalism. As far as Janice could tell, it just made it near impossible to see anything.'

There was a retching sound from one of the cubicles, then a flush, and then the door opened and Chrissie stumbled out. She steadied herself on a washbasin and looked up at her reflection in the mirror.

'You okay?' Janice asked.

'Peachy keen,' Chrissie replied. 'Obviously.'

'What's going on?' Janice said.

'Don't you know?' Chrissie replied. 'Haven't you had a vision or something? Or maybe your cat told you.'

'Chrissie!' Janice protested.

Chrissie waved her away.

'Whatever,' she said. 'Maybe you've noticed I'm not at my best.'

'I sensed something,' Janice began, 'when I was in your head. What was it?'

'Can't you guess?' Chrissie demanded, throwing her arms wide. 'Isn't it kind of obvious?'

'Well…' Janice started.

Chrissie held up a finger.

'No,' she said. 'Not a word. Promise me. You'll not say anything to anyone.'

'But what about Drew?' Janice asked. 'Surely he has a right to know.'

'Not one word, Janice,' Chrissie said. 'Please. You don't understand what this means.'

'It means you're lying to him,' Janice said. 'That's what it means.'

'I'm not…' Chrissie protested. 'I wouldn't…'

'It seems to me like you would,' Janice shot back. 'And have. Drew's my friend too and I'm not going to see him hurt.'

'You're just jealous,' Chrissie snapped. 'You always thought he was going to be yours and now you're trying to break us up.'

'I'm trying to break you up?' Janice echoed incredulously. 'Seems you're doing a pretty good job all by yourself.'

'How dare you,' Chrissie shouted. 'You…you…I can't think of a word low enough for you.'

'The feeling's mutual,' Janice retorted. 'I'll give you twenty-four hours. If you haven't told him by then, then I will.'

Then Janice spun on her heel and stalked out of the bathroom.

* * *

Back on the dance-floor, it seemed that we weren't the only people put off by the music. A girl in a long black coat and a top hat set at a jaunty angle leaped onto the stage and tore the microphone from the singer's hand.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' she crowed. 'No doubt you're all feeling as disappointed as we are about the quality of tonight's performance - no offence - so we thought we'd liven things up a little.'

'What's going on?' Pike whispered in my ear.

'No idea,' I hissed back. 'But I don't like it.'

'And you'd all be right not to,' Gorch confirmed.

'Caw, caw, caw,' squawked a man loudly. He was dressed up as a skeleton. The people on the dance-floor parted before him as he strode up to the stage, flapping his arms and jerking his head like a chicken.

'You tell them, chile,' another man said in a Barry White kind of voice. He had dreadlocks falling to his shoulders and a bone through his nose and he was drumming away on the bongos he was holding.

'What is it?' I asked Gorch. 'What do you know?'

'More than I'd like,' Gorch confessed.

A tall woman strode imperiously on to the stage. She was black, by which I don't mean dark brown, I mean that her skin was as black as black could get. She had the body of a supermodel, too, and was flaunting it from beneath a leopard-skin bikini. That and the huge snake that was draped about her shoulders and over her arms.

'Come here, girlfriend,' she purred to the singer. 'Come say hello to King Snake.'

The snake lazily tasted the air with its tongue.

The singer began swaying from side to side, her eyes following the slow movement of the snake's head.

The drummer began beating faster and faster, reaching a frenetic pace. The skeleton jerked violently, as if a puppet pulled by unseen hands.

The girl in the top hat turned to the audience, arms stretched wide, a huge grin splitting a face in two.

'You are lucky, lucky people tonight,' she announced. 'Oh yes you are. You are going to witness on of the great mysteries of the universe. The death that is no death and the life that is beyond life.'

Then she turned to the singer, put her hands on her shoulders and planted her fangs in her neck.

'Vampires,' I muttered disgustedly, reaching for a stake.

Gorch was at my side in an instant, pinning my arm to the table.

'Don't,' he warned.

'Let go of me,' I whispered harshly.

'Fine, have it your way,' he said, releasing me and keeping his hands where I could see them, 'but you really do not want to mix it up with these folks.'

'What I want doesn't get a look in,' I told him, drawing a stake and rising from my chair.

'Back her up,' Pike ordered Gorch.

'Pike, you don't understand what you're asking,' Gorch complained.

'Then tell me,' Pike said, reaching for the stakes in his coat pocket, 'but make it fast.'

'There a vampire gods, just like your human gods,' Gorch explained softly, 'only darker and more twisted. Some sick individuals build cults around these gods.'

'Sick individuals?' Pike echoed.

'Just because I ain't no saint,' Gorch retorted, 'don't mean these folks don't make me look like one in comparison.'

'But what are they?' Pike persisted.

'Some folks call 'em the Voodoo Vampire, but never to their face, not if you don't want to suffer the consequences.'

'They kill other vampires?'

'Worse,' Gorch said. 'They turn you into a kind of zombie and run you like a puppet. Those people up there, they're not vampires like you know them, Pike. They've got hearts pumping black blood through their veins. They ain't alive, they ain't dead, but they ain't even undead either, not the way you and I understand it.'

'So how do we kill them?' Pike asked.

Gorch shrugged.

'Trial and error then,' Pike muttered. 'Terrific.'

But I wasn't listening to them. I was already on my way up to the stage. I had considered trying to sneak round and catch them unawares, but they had already killed on person and the stage gave them a good view of all the approaches anyway. Sometimes you just have to rely on the direct approach.

'Hey, Sheena!' I yelled.

The black girl with the snake turned towards me.

I hurled my stake.

She sprang and lashed out with a bare foot, knocking my stake out of the air before landing catlike on the stage still holding the snake.

Not good.

'Caw, caw,' called the man dressed as a skeleton. 'Pretty birdie wants to play, chuk, chuk. Here, little birdie, come play with me-o.'

'No, man,' rumbled the man with the drums. 'Girl no want to play. She has the blackest of black hearts, ripe for the plucking. They moved in closer. The skeleton was like a jerking marionette, crossing the floor more in a series of striking poses than a flowing dance. The guy with dreadlocks was a mountain of a man and he moved towards me with the inevitability of an avalanche.

'Wait!' the top-hatted girl shouted. 'She has offended against the Rainbow Snake. Her fate is his to decide.'

'Kee, kee,' the skeleton cackled. 'We only wants to play, chiri-chee.'

'Later,' the girl said. 'I promise.'

Then the skeleton grabbed me and lifted me off of the ground as if I were weightless.

'Hey,' I protested. 'She said to leave me alone.'

'No,' the girl corrected. 'I said your fate was for the snake to decide. We shall take you to him.'

'No,' Pike announced. 'You won't.'

He lunged forward, stake leading the way, but the man with the drums caught his arm and flipped him over his head.

Drew attacked the skeleton, but he simply batted him aside with his free hand.

'And what about you?' the girl asked, fixing her eyes on Gorch who was hanging back. 'Are you with us or against us?'

'Well, I sure as hell ain't with you,' Gorch told her.

'Is that a fact?' the girl asked, amused. Then she doffed her hat and bowed with a flourish.

Gorch went rigid, like someone had rammed a poker up him.

'If you won't go with us by choice, we can take that choice away from you,' the girl told him.

She gestured with a hand and Gorch spun round, interposing himself between Drew, who was scrambling to his feet, and the vampire that was trying to carry me away.

'I don't want to hurt you,' Drew said, looking for a way to get past Gorch.

'Kill me,' Gorch begged through gritted teeth. 'Better that than service to her.'

Drew raised his stake, but he hesitated and, in that moment, Gorch planted a fist in his gut, then floored him with an uppercut.

'Time to go,' the girl sang. 'You've been a wonderful audience.'

She scampered off stage and the other vampires, including Gorch, followed. The skeleton carrying me trailed behind. I writhed and struggled, but his strength seemed limitless and his grip didn't loosen for a moment.

Then he stopped. I looked down and saw a pool cue protruding from his chest and, in his shock, the vampire dropped me. He recovered quickly though and, whirling round her tore the cue from his body and drove it through his assailant's heart.

'Ouch,' the guy said. 'That. Really. Stings.'

I finally got a good look at the guy with the pool cue and my mouth fell open.

The skeleton started backing away.

'There's more were that came from,' Veruca growled, approaching from another corner of the club, the change coming over her as she did so.

'Just try us,' Owen added, swinging his sword.

The skeleton looked at pool cue guy, then Veruca, then Owen and then back to the pool cue. He shrugged, grinning the whole while like a madman and then, flapping his arms like an albatross, he ran from the club, cawing all the way.

But I didn't pay him any attention. I was looking at the guy impaled on the pool cue. The guy who had saved my life.

'But…but you're supposed to be dead,' I said to Jed.

He grinned down at me.

'I got better,' he replied.

* * *

'I don't know what happened,' Jed was saying.

We had returned to Wesley's apartment and by we I mean Janice, Pike, Jed and myself. Chrissie hadn't wanted to come along. Drew had initially seemed up for it, but Chrissie had dragged him away with her. So the four of us, Wesley and Halfrek were sitting around Wesley's kitchen table. Being dead obviously gave you an appetite because Jed was tucking eagerly into the platter before him.

I'd wanted to take Jed to the hospital to get that hole in his chest looked morning - the whole where someone had shoved a bit of wood through his heart - but Jed had refused point-blank, so we had bound the wound as best we could and brought him back here.

'I mean, I knew I was dead,' he continued. 'I felt that thing…vampire, right?..tearing at my throat and then everything went black. And I remember thinking that there should be a bright light or my life should flash before me or something, but there was only this darkness and then I didn't think at all for a while. And then I woke up and I'm in this box. Took me a while to figure out it was a coffin, by which time I'd screamed myself hoarse calling for help. Eventually, though, I managed to dig my way free and then I came looking for you.'

'For me?' I asked. 'Why?'

'Well, you seem to know about stuff that most people don't,' Jed explained. 'Stuff about vampires and monsters and things that go bump in the night.'

'Well, that's not quite how I'd put it,' I said.

'Point is,' Jed continued, 'is you seem to be the good guys and I'd like to help.'

'You'd like to help?' I repeated. 'But why?'

'Heck, seems to me I've got a lot to offer,' Jed replied. 'After all, I am immortal.'

* * *

'So what's so important you had to drag me away from that meeting?' Drew asked.

Chrissie had taken him back to the Espresso Pump for a coffee.

'I mean,' Drew was saying, 'did you see that guy? He had that pool cue stuck right through him and he still kept going. Me, I just feel like one big bruise.'

'I guess it was all over by the time I got back,' Chrissie said distractedly.

'Hey, isn't that Jace Matthews?' Drew said, craning his neck to peer at the couple at the next table.

'Drew,' Chrissie scolded him, quietly. 'Don't stare.'

'It's not like they'd notice,' Drew said. 'Look at them. They're all over each other.'

Despite herself, Chrissie turned round to take a look. She frowned.

'That's not Heather, is it?' she said to Drew. 'I thought she and Jace were an item.'

'Me too,' Drew said disgustedly. 'Guess Jace likes to spread the love.'

He reached across the table and covered Chrissie's hands with his own.

'I hate guys like that,' he told her. 'I'd never cheat on you, you know that, don't you. I know just how lucky I am.'

'Me too,' Chrissie responded weakly.

'You okay?' Drew asked. 'You look a bit pale.'

'It's shock,' Chrissie covered hastily. 'You know, the idea of you getting attacked by that skeleton-man. You could have been really hurt.'

'Sorry I scared you,' Drew replied. 'So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about.'

Chrissie squirmed in her seat.

'Nothing,' she lied. 'Just wanted to spend some quality time with my boyfriend, that's all.'

* * *

'So what do you think?' I asked Wesley after Jed had left.

'I think you should stop bringing home crazy people, honey,' Halfrek interjected.

'Present company excepted,' I retorted playfully.

'I think,' Wesley began slowly, 'that you've given me a lot to think about.'

'Thank you for that, oh wise sensei,' I quipped.

'You don't think he's got anything to do with those 'Voodoo Vampires', do you?' Janice asked.

'The snake cult thing?' Pike continued. 'You're thinking maybe he's been possessed or turned into a zombie or something.'

'That was my first though when you called me,' Wesley said, 'but that's the one thing I'm sure he's not.'

'How so?' Pike asked.

Wesley got up and peeled back the carpet from around the door. There were occult symbols written in chalk on the floor.

'If he was possessed or externally controlled,' Wesley explained, 'then he would have collapsed as soon as he entered the circle.'

'And he didn't,' I said, needlessly.

'And he didn't,' Wesley echoed.

* * *

'Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed be thy name.'

Carly knelt in the middle of her room clutching a tiny silver cross in her hands. She had bought it to wear around her neck after Jed had died. In spite of repeated badgering by the police, she still could not explain exactly what had happened that night. Maybe part of her didn't want to explain it. She just knew that there were things out there in the darkness, the sort of things her grandmother had warned her about, and they were out to get her.

She jumped when she heard a tapping on the windowpane.

'Go away,' she whispered, but the tapping considered, persistent and urgent.

Reluctantly, Carly climbed to her feet and, holding her cross out in front of her like a shield, she drew back the curtain, her hand brushing the garlic hanging by the window.

Jed grinned back at her.

She stumbled back. Her legs struck the edge of the bed and she tumbled on to it. Jed was still tapping on the window. She could see him mouthing something at her, but she couldn't hear what he was saying. Maybe he wasn't saying anything. The dead didn't breath so maybe they couldn't form words. But why was he here? Had he come to collect her? Maybe she wasn't supposed to have survived that night. Perhaps they both should have died, or maybe she should have died so Jed could live.

She planted her hands over her ears and closed her eyes. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real. And if she denied it then it would all go away. It was all going on in her head. But that would mean she was going mad, wouldn't it?

She felt a hot tear roll down her cheek. She felt distant from it, like it was someone else's tear and not her own.

The tapping did not let up.

Finally, resignedly, Carly got off of the bed and opened the window.

'You took your time, babe,' Jed said. 'What's gotten into you?'

'You're dead,' Carly said, her voice quavering.

'Well, sure, I was,' Jed admitted. 'But I came back. I came back for you.'

'You won't take me,' Carly snarled, lips drawn back in a grimace.

She slammed the window closed with such forced that Jed lost his grip on the trellis he had climbed and fell back down into the garden.

'What are you trying to do, baby?' Jed called up to her. 'Kill me?' He laughed. 'You won't get very far. I'm unkillable. See.'

He pulled his shirt out of his pants, unbuttoned it and opened it up so that Carly could see his chest or, more accurately, could see the hole through his heart.

'They knock me down, but Jed just keeps bouncing right back up,' Jed informed her.

Carly closed her curtains, then dived beneath the covers of her bed, pulling the pillow down over her ears.

And she cried herself to sleep.

* * *

'Maybe we should take Jed up on his offer,' I said to Janice as she walked me home.

'How so?' Janice asked.

'Well, I've been thinking that we need a heavy-hitter,' I explained. 'Buffy was a Slayer and she usually had some other guy - a vampire or whatever - to give the squad some kind of edge. We've got Drew.'

That got a smile from Janice.

'What about Helena?' she suggested. 'Or one of Pike's crew.'

'Helena isn't interested,' I explained. 'The one thing she wants is a normal life and, after all she's been through, I can't bring myself to take that away from her.'

'Point,' Janice agreed.

'And Pike's people are known killers,' I continued.

'I hate to be the one to say it,' Janice said, 'but some of the people your sister hung out with weren't exactly perfect.'

'I know,' I agreed, 'and I know I'm being a hypocrite, but these people have a history with Buffy, a bad history, and I feel like I'd be failing her if I just pretended that hadn't happened.'

'Fair enough,' Janice said, 'but it doesn't exactly strengthen our group of intrepid vampire hunters.'

'Hey, I've got you and Chrissie making with the mojo,' I said. 'Maybe I don't need any more heavy-hitters.'

Janice looked uncomfortable.

'Best not to put all your eggs in one basket,' she suggested. 'After all, what if something happened to Chrissie or me.'

I frowned.

'Is there something you want to tell me?' I asked.

'Probably,' Janice replied, 'but not right now. So, about Jed?'

'Well, you've got to admit that a guy who can't die is a pretty big advantage,' I said.

'If you think it's a good idea,' Janice told me, then I do too.'

'In that case,' I said, 'I'll give him a call in the morning. See if he wants to go with us on tomorrow night's patrol. We can see what he's made of.'

* * *

Carly had bad dreams during the night and, as a result, she overslept. She showered quickly and threw on some clothes - it was only college so she didn't need anything too fancy - then dashed downstairs, gulped a glass of orange juice, grabbed her bag and then hurried down the drive way to her car.

Jed was standing there, under the cherry tree, watching her.

'Go away,' Carly snapped at him as she unlocked the car door. 'Leave me alone.'

'But Carly…baby…I just want to talk,' Jed begged. 'Please, just let me explain.'

Carly ignored him. She clambered behind the steering wheel and started the engine.

Jed stepped in front of the car.

'Please, Carly,' he said.

Carly floored the accelerator and drove straight at Jed. He disappeared beneath the bonnet and there was a bump as she rolled right over him. She glanced up into her rear-view mirror and her breath caught in her throat. Jed was getting up and he was staggering towards her, remorseless as the T-1000. She could hear his words from last night echoing in her head.

'They knock me down, but Jed just keeps bouncing right back up.'

Was he going to keep after her until he got her, until he carried her off to be his lover in hell forever? The road in front of her blurred as tears stung her eyes. She reached for the gear stick and put the car in reverse. There was a satisfying crunch as the rear bumper impacted with Jed.

'You won't get me,' she said to herself as she eased the car forward again. 'Ever.'

She could see Jed clambering to his feet again, so she reversed up the drive and knocked him over once more. This time she kept going, letting the whole weight of the car roll over her stalker.

Then she repeated the process.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And…

* * *

'So when are we going after Gorch?' Owen asked.

'He's got a point, Pike,' Marcie agreed.

The four of them had congregated in Pike's new apartment to discuss their next move.

Marcie was sitting in the armchair, as Owen had discovered to his embarrassment. He and Veruca were standing and Pike was sitting in the middle of the couch, a bottle of beer in his hand.

'I thought you hated Gorch,' Veruca replied. 'Or did I imagine all that.'

'What I think about him doesn't matter,' Marcie explained. 'The point is that he's one of us and people have to know that they can't mess with one of us.'

'How very altruistic,' Pike commented. 'I'm sure Lyle will appreciate your concern.'

'He'll appreciate it a whole lot more when we actually go and rescue him,' Owen added.

'And we will,' Pike confirmed, taking a swig from his bottle. 'Just not yet.'

'What?' the other three said in unison.

'Those four took us apart like we weren't there,' Pike pointed out.

Marcie laughed.

'They ran with their tails between their legs, you mean.'

'They ran and Gorch ran with them,' Pike continued, 'and other than Dawn's new friend, none of us were able to lay a finger on them.'

'We never got a chance,' Veruca complained defensively.

'Exactly,' Pike agreed. 'They had the element of surprise. Next time, we're going to be ready for them.'

'How so?' Owen asked.

We find out a bit about them.' Pike tapped his temple. 'We'll beat them with brains, not brawn.'

'Whatever you say,' Veruca murmured doubtfully.

'And when we've done our research,' Pike continued, ignoring the interruption, 'then we can go and get Gorch back.'

The door swung open.

'I'm touched, chief,' Gorch said, grinning from ear to ear beneath his Stetson, 'but really, it ain't necessary.'

'Lyle,' Pike said, getting to his feet, 'what happened? How'd you get away.'

'Well, thereby hangs a tale,' Gorch replied, 'but I think it's one the Slayer's baby sister needs to hear as well.'

* * *

The hospital room was cold. Not in terms of temperature, but just in the way it made me feel. The walls were white, highlighted with an icy blue and the furniture was sparse and functional. There was a large window in one wall, though, but that only provided a view of the car park. That was preferable, however, to looking at the shape in the bed.

It was Jed, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. The multiple impacts by the car had done everything you might expect of them and more. The doctors had done their best, I was sure, but there was no hiding the fact that the shape beneath the sheet was only a vague approximation of a normal human outline. As for his face…well, at least that was hidden beneath a veil of bandages.

I expected there to be more noise, more whistles and pings and clicks from the monitors and machines beside his bed, but most of that had been turned off. Jed's external appearance was not the worst of it. He had major internal injuries as well and it had been decided to turn off the machines and let nature take its course. Unfortunately, nature wasn't coming for Jed, much to the surprise of the doctors. Jed was immortal.

Immortal, but very, very vulnerable.

'How are you holding up?' I asked. It was a stupid question, but I couldn't think of anything else to say to break the silence.

'Hurts,' Jed croaked. 'Wasn't supposed to be like this.'

'It never is,' I said. 'It never is.'

Someone coughed behind me. I turned and saw Pike standing in the doorway.

'Sorry to interrupt,' he said, 'but Gorch is back and he wants to talk to you. He's in the van.'

'I'll be back,' I promised Jed.

'How is he?' Pike asked me as we walked outside.

'How do you think he is?' I snapped. 'He's broken just about every bone in his body. You saw him under the sheet. They could work on him for years and he'll still never look remotely normal again. And then there's the pain. He should be dead, Pike. With all those injuries, he should be beyond suffering so why isn't he allowed to die. What sort of god would force him to go through that?'

'I don't know, Dawn,' Pike said. 'I just don't know.'

He opened the back door of the van and I climbed in. Gorch reached past me, grabbed Pike by the collar of his jacket and slammed his head against the door. Then he dropped him, unconscious to the ground.

'Gorch, what's got into you?' I demanded, frantically searching for a way past him.

The vampire's eyes glittered.

'The snake got into me, kiddo,' he said, 'and now it's time for you to meet him.'

* * *

Janice was coming out her hair in front of her mirror when she saw them, the two yellow cat's eyes staring back at her.

'What is it?' she asked the vision, unconsciously fingering the pentacle at her neck.

The leopard didn't say anything, but that wasn't how it and Janice communicated. They had a way of understanding each other that couldn't be conveyed in mere words. They were connected on a more fundamental level and Janice only had to stare deeply into those slitted eyes to read everything she needed to know.

Grabbing her yellow jacket, Janice hurled herself downstairs.

'Janice,' her mother called, 'where do you think you're going in such a hurry.'

Janice ignored her, picked up the phone and punched one of the speed dial numbers. Chrissie picked up on the third ring.

'Chrissie,' Janice said hastily, 'I know I'm probably the last person you want to hear from right now, but I need your help. Dawn needs our help.'

* * *

Helena sat in the grey plastic chair with her hands in her lap. She couldn't have told you just what had prompted her to come to the hospital, just that she needed to be there at Jed's bedside.

And Jed was glad of the company.

'You know what my biggest regret is?' he asked in a voice like sandpaper. 'I never got to be a hero. I was looking forward to that, you know. I thought, finally, here I am with all these superpowers and I can go out and use them. Look how that turned out.'

'Why?' Helena asked him. 'You were given another chance at life. Why would you want to go out and put it at risk all over again.'

'Because I had been given another chance,' Jed explained, 'and I didn't want to waste it. When I think of everything I've done with my life, you know, I have a really hard time coming up with anything I can be proud of. I was given a second chance to make something of my life, to do it right this time, and to me that meant helping people. And who cares if I died on my first night out so long as I could look back and say, yeah, I'm proud I did that. That was worthwhile. That made a difference. I made a difference.'

'I…I was give another chance at life too,' Helena confessed slowly.

'Really?' Jed tried to sit up, but the pain was too much for him and he slumped back down on the pillows.

Helena leaned in closer so that Jed wouldn't miss any of what she had to say.

'I killed myself,' she said, 'but something brought me back. Only the thing was that I didn't want to come back so I tried to kill myself again and again and again, but whatever had brought me back had changed me and I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried.'

'You became immortal,' Jed said. 'Like me.'

'No,' Helena replied. She choked. 'Not like you. I heal. You…'

'I just get to spend the rest of my life in pain,' Jed concluded. 'It's not fair. I only wanted to help people. Now I can't even help myself. Is this Hell?'

'I thought I knew Hell,' Helena said. 'I thought I lived through it and I was so glad to get out that I tried to distance myself from everything else and just worry about my life, my happiness.'

'Everyone's entitled to be happy,' Jed told her.

'But looking at you…' There were tears in Helena's eyes. 'I just don't know any more.'

'I wish…I wish there was something I could do,' Jed said, 'something I could say to take the pain away. One last good deed.'

'Maybe…maybe I can do something for you,' Helena said, looking into his eyes. 'Maybe I can take your pain away.'

'You'd do that?' Jed asked. 'For me?'

'Just lie back,' Helena said, 'close your eyes and pray that when you wake up you'll be in a better place.'

Then she picked up a pillow, placed it over Jed's nose and mouth and proceeded to smother him. Jed stopped breathing, but still he lived on.

'Die, damn you,' Helena swore. 'Please, God, just let him die.'

'What in god's name is going on here,' a nurse screamed, peering in through the door. 'Security! I need some help in here now!'

Helena took one look at her and bolted like a startled fawn, hurling herself through the window. Fragment of glass cascaded around her as she collided with the tarmac outside. She rolled on her right shoulder, righted herself, then sprinted away.

The nurse hurried to Jed's bedside.

'Here, let me look at you,' she said to you. 'It's a good thing I was passing when I was.'

'Why?' Jed asked her. 'Why couldn't you just let her finish it?'

* * *

A bat fluttered across the moon. I tried not to take it as a bad omen.

I was lying on my back on top of a grave. The grave had been freshly dug and I could feel the dampness of the earth through my clothes. My head was propped against the headstone, forcing me to regard everything at a slight angle. And did I mention that my hands and feet were bound.

Top Hat danced over to me.

'You've been a very naughty girl, you know that,' she said. 'You tried to kill the Rainbow Snake himself.'

'Actually, I was trying to kill the corpse fondling him,' I corrected.

Top Hat backhanded me across the face and the world spun.

'The Rainbow Snake wants you alive,' she hissed. 'He said nothing about whether you should be intact. Remember that.'

I so wanted to be flippant, but I was having trouble stringing thoughts together.

'So what's this snake about then?' I asked instead.

'The Rainbow Snake is wrapped around the world,' Top Hat said. 'He is the world and he is mother to the world and at the last judgement he will tighten his coils and crush us all beneath him.'

'Sounds wonderful,' I said.

'But he can give you such power, if you're willing to give yourself to him,' Top Hat continued.

'Does that mean I get a choice?' I asked.

'No,' Top Hat replied. 'You, child, have been chosen.'

'Thought not,' I muttered.

She drew a curved knife from the pocket of her velvet frock coat.

'Hold still now,' she cautioned me, before drawing the point of the blade long the line of my cheekbone.

My blood looked black against the silver blade.

'Be right back,' Top Hat said before dancing sprightly away to join the others around the bonfire. She held the knife up to the snake and I watch it flick out its tongue and taste my blood. Maybe it would get indigestion.

The tall black woman carried the snake over towards me and set it down on the ground. In the moonlight, its scales really did glisten in a rainbow of iridescent colours. And it was really, really big. I fought against my bonds, but they wouldn't give.

'Don't struggle child,' Top Hat said. 'Let the Snake in. Ride the Snake just as he will ride you.'

I felt the cold press of scales against my leg.

'Gorch,' I shouted at the Texas vampire. 'Snap out of it! Help me!'

He stared blankly into the middle distance. The snake was slithering slowly up my body and I had already lost all feeling in my right leg.

'He can't hear you, child,' Top Hat said.

'Maybe not,' a familiar voice replied, 'but we can.'

A wind whipped up, tugging at my hair. I turned my head and saw Janice and Chrissie standing hand in hand, yellow and black, like personifications of the day and the night.

'Let her go!' Chrissie commanded.

Dark clouds swirled into being overhead.

'Make us,' the guy with dreadlocks demanded.

'Don't say we didn't warn you,' Janice replied.

A bolt of lightning fell from the heavens and impaled Dreadlocks. Blue-white light flashed about him. And he just laughed. Then he pointed at my friends and the lightning sprang from his fingertips and knocked them both flying.

'Caw, caw,' Skeleton crowed. 'Baby birdies bit off more than they could chew.'

He scuttled over to the two witches and kicked Chrissie squarely in the stomach.'

'Leave her alone!' Janice shouted, hurling herself protectively over her friend.

'I didn't know you cared,' Chrissie moaned weakly.

'Idiot,' Janice hissed. 'I never stopped caring.'

'Leave them,' Top Hat commanded. 'There will be time enough for fun and games later. Now, the Rainbow Snake must have his sacrifice.'

I was eye to eye with the serpent. When it tasted the air with its tongue, the flapping flesh brushed my face. Its coils were tightening around me and I could see the shadows drawing in about the edges of my vision.

'I'm coming, Buffy,' I said.

'You want a sacrifice?' declared a voice behind me. 'Try this.'

Helena vaulted the headstone and plunged both of her fists deep into the snake's skull. The snake's jaw fell open, revealing unpleasantly long fangs, then the coils unclenched and the snake fell still.

'Helena?' I said. 'What are you doing here?'

'Living up to a good man's example,' she replied. She turned to me as she did so and I noticed that her eyes were glowing and cat-like and her mouth was full of razor-sharp teeth.

Four of the vampires were screaming. Gorch was not.

'Hey, you!' he shouted, pointing to Top Hat. 'I owe you this.'

Then he put one hand either side of her skull and tore her head right off of her shoulders before hurling it into the fire.

'Now that was satisfying,' he proclaimed.

'Chrissie,' Janice said, taking her hand, 'are you up for finishing this?'

In answer, Chrissie just pointed to the bonfire. Three fiery heads rose from the pyre, trailing smoke in their wake. Then the heads shot through the are and planted their teeth in the remaining cultists. They went up like dry tinder.

'You okay?' Helena asked me as she helped me out from beneath the dead snake.

'I am now,' I said as I watched the vampires burn.

* * *

'I owe you,' I said to Jed. 'If you hadn't changed Helena's mind…'

'I didn't change anything,' Jed insisted. 'She did it all herself.'

'Maybe,' I replied sceptically, 'but I still feel I owe you my life. Again. Thank you.'

'Guess I got to do something worthwhile after all,' Jed mused. 'I can die happy now. 'Cept I can't.'

'Yes, you can.'

A bright light filled the room and, as my eyes slowly adjusted, I saw that it wasn’t a single light, but rather a whole host flying amongst each other, like a swarm of fireflies. And slowly the swarm gathered together to form a single figure. Then the light died and all that was left was…

'Tara?' I breathed.

'Sorry I've been away, Dawn,' she said to me. 'Things are a bit chaotic at the moment.'

'But why are you here now?' I asked.

'Helena prayed,' she said. 'Someone answered.'

'Can you really help me?' Jed asked.

Tara smiled enigmatically.

'Just watch me,' she said.

She raised her hands and, as she did so, light sprang up out of Jed like a fountain comprised of glittering grains of sand. And as the sand shot heavenward and disappeared so Jed slowly shrunk within the bed.

'Goodbye, Dawn,' Jed said, 'and thank you.'

'Thanks?' I repeated. 'For what?'

'For giving me an example to live up to,' Jed replied.

And then he was gone.

'Is he really dead?' I asked Tara.

She shook her head sadly.

'That was beyond me,' she confessed, 'but I have dispersed his spirit as much as I was able. He'll never feel pain again.'

'I'm glad,' I said, 'but I still don't understand what was going on. Why couldn't he die?'

'Because Death herself is dying,' Tara replied, 'and that is why we need your help.'

* * *

Chrissie walked into the living-room, forcing one foot in front of the other with every heavy step. Mr and Mrs Sandsmark looked up from the documentary they were watching on the TV.

'Yes, Chrissie,' Mr Sandsmark said, 'is there something we can do for you?'

'Mom, Dad, there's something I have to tell you,' Chrissie began, 'and, well, please don't freak.'

'What is it, darling?' Mrs Sandsmark asked.

Chrissie swallowed.

'Mom, I'm pregnant.'

 

 
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