DISCLAIMER: Another day, another…they don’t pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That’s what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The lyrics are by Tool to the song Jambi. This is pulled from my Thirteen Steps AU where Buffy rides a motorcycle. Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
FEEDBACK: valyssia[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.

By Valyssia


Part 1 - Prayers of the Martyr

Here from the king’s mountain view.
Here from the wild dream come true.

As I hurl myself forward, the sound of my footfalls echo in the valley. Chilly morning air caresses my skin. I breathe it in and the forest reveals itself to me. There are animals all around me, unseen, cowering cautiously, or chancing a peek at me as I rush past.

Another smell, familiar yet much sharper than I recall, hastens my pace. The scent is one I only noticed in passing as a human. It brought feelings, warm and soothing. It's a crisp, fresh odor, the scent of evaporating dew. Now it speaks of pain and death.

I move frantically, racing against the rising sun.

Feast like a sultan, I do
On treasures and flesh never few.

A morning bird senses it too. His sad lament serenades my progress.

I take a hasty glimpse at the sky through a break in the forest canopy. The faintest traces of light tinge the horizon a bluish grey, hinting at the coming dawn. There are so many things about this that are familiar yet completely alien to me. It strikes me that, as a person, I wouldn't have detected that scent for at least another half hour.

The forest thickens. I dodge to avoid a tree limb and miss. It catches me across the chest, scraping my leather. I kick off and twist, rolling down its length. After landing with grace I only dreamed of before, I continue without pause, ducking and weaving between trees.

If my heart beat, it would be racing. If I breathed, I would be panting. My body works with an unfathomable efficiency.

And I could be like this forever?

But I would wish it all, away
If I thought I’d lose you just one day.

A pale, drawn face flickers into view in my mind—a memory, twisted and cold. Those lips—her lips—tinged blue. Like magic she turns warm, alive, laughing…and I falter. Tripping, I catch myself and keep moving.

I can’t imagine wanting to. The one who brought me to this had. Centuries of life with just one purpose: pain. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around it. What would it be like?

I don’t care.

Alone for an eternity, I’d rather die. Killing to live, making things like myself. Not killing, starving, fighting, struggling to avoid becoming what I loathe. It sounds like hell. I need to die.

The sky is growing dangerously bright. As I hurdle a creek cut into the valley floor, smoke wafts from my skin.

Uncomfortable only begins to describe how I am. My skin burns, feeling like it’s cracking with every footfall. I’m starving, but I couldn’t kill. I will not, regardless of what I am, cause someone else the pain I felt. The compulsion is so overwhelming I had to flee. I had to do this. I need to be alone.

I dart up a steep incline, remembering the day we walked through these woods. It was beautiful, she was beautiful. I must’ve lost track. It doesn’t surprise me. I was pretty distracted. I just don’t remember it being this far from the road, but I’m certain the cave’s up here.

The light blinds me, I can barely see. It feels like a miracle when I spot the cave mouth. I make a mad dash to cover the final few meters. Diving, I tuck and roll into the cave, instantly feeling better as the damp cool air bathes my skin.

I clamber to my feet and shy away from the light. It hurts. Funny, most of what I know about what I am now comes from watching movies. Marie had insisted they were a waste of time. I would’ve never guessed how accurate they were. Though, something’s lost in the translation. I crouch down and move deeper into the small cavern.

My face tingles, feeling numb and distant as it shifts back to normal. All of these strange sensations…

The devil and his had me down,
In love with the dark side I’ve found

Bathed in darkness, I collapse to the floor, rolling onto my back. All the pain, all the anguish, there’s something seductive about it. I refuse to be seduced. I am an Oxford educated woman. Yet in all those years of strict academia I never experienced anything as difficult as this. I could so easily let go, yield to the monster and become a thing—an instrument of pain. It would be so simple.

The conflict, the struggle, weighs heavily on me and again I see her face. I clench my eyes closed. Fragments of memory flitter through my mind, pieces of a life, a life cut short by—

Tears well up behind closed lids, seeping out to trickle into my ears, and I shudder.

By me, by the weakness I’m feeling, by the hunger, by this irresistible desire to destroy.

I am not an animal. I will not let it win.

As I wrestle with these desires—desires I can do nothing about—her face transforms in my mind. The quiet young girl I met as a teenager, becomes seasoned and even more beautiful. There was this elegance about her. For all her quirks she became lovelier still—not in spite of, but because of. The face greys. I kneel over her in the alley. The glimmer is gone from her eyes; they’re cold and vacant…lifeless.

No matter what I try, I cannot strike the sensations—the images—from my mind. I can’t. I lived here for weeks after she died. I couldn’t shake these memories.

If I’d just been a few minutes earlier, I might’ve saved her. Instead of lying on the floor of this cave, I would be at home with her in our bed where I belong. The failure eats at me like a cancer.

I don’t belong here. I don’t belong there either. I’m stuck, trapped in a moment.

I am obsolete.

Dabblin’ all the way down,
Up to my neck soon to drown.

I am obsessed.

Angrily, I rub at the tears, trying to blot them away. It’s hopeless, I’m a sodden mess.

I’m utterly useless—an incongruence—I don’t fit—a tin man amongst a host of terminators, searching desperately for my heart.

A bitter laugh shakes free. Vampires can cry? What a completely useless skill for a fiend, for a monster, a murderer… I wonder if the piece of shit that took her from me grieves for anything.

Her face—the scene—it doesn’t fade, I relive those moments over and over. The horror and confusion still fresh. The idea that someone could bleed to death without leaving a single drop of blood behind boggles the mind. Or rather it boggled my mind. I couldn’t let it rest. I had to understand why. Others might’ve walked away, they might’ve accepted it and moved on, but the details ate at me. In the end they consumed me. 

I lived here while I searched for the truth. Living is a laughable thing to call this…any of this.

If only I had said ‘no’—that one little word—I could’ve avoided all this horror with one simple word. The thing is, Marie was the adventurous one. She craved new experiences. And me, the writer—I snicker—I was just as happy curled up with a good book. It was the ideal balance, perfect symmetry. She encouraged me to try new things. I almost never used that word. She was my muse. It seemed foolish to say ‘no’ to my muse. So I went. I stepped into darkness.

Now I’ve become darkness. But I am a different kind of darkness. I won’t be the same. I will not embrace what I am. I will not become sadistic, heartless, vacant…like the others of my kind.

I relax, giving in to the fatigue. I’m bathed in a cold light.

I have become grey.

But you changed that all for me,
Lifted me up, turned me ’round.

I lay suspended in a semi-lucid dream.

My hands on my thighs, I lean, propping myself up. I’m breathing so hard, my head feels like it may explode. I hear the hammering of my heart, thudding inside my bloated skull. Trembling, I want to run, but instead I peer down at my quarry. I should be feeling elated, the mighty hunter that tricked the fiend. I’m not. I know what needs to come next.

Is this really what I want? If there are doubts, if I don’t know, if I really don’t understand, am I willing to throw it all away? I could walk away. He’s down for the count. He never knew what hit him. I used enough amperage to stun an elephant. I wipe my brow with my shoulder.

Yes…I have nothing left to live for. Every ounce of meaning was stolen in one brutal act. An act committed by one just like him. If I die here tonight, no one will mourn the loss. If I live, the misery will persist. It seems like a coward’s answer, but it’s my regrettable truth.

Striding across the car park, I hit the button and unlock the Aston. When I slide into the leather seat, it turns hard and cold underneath me. I blink my eyes and my surroundings change. It’s disorienting, not to mention nauseating. It’s a harsh reminder that this is not just a memory, it’s a nightmare.

I reel to catch up with what I’m seeing. My vision blurs, faintness threatens to claim me. I peer muzzily at the white tile floor. The grout fills with pooling blood, overflowing and flooding out. I panic, gulping frantically for air.

His laughter echoes in the tiny room.

The reality hits me: I allowed him to feed. I did this to myself. The monster used the advantage. I will die if I don’t do something this instant.

Desperation takes over, instinct maybe…I don’t know. I seize the razor I used to cut my wrist and slash his leg. He screams angrily and I fall forward at his feet.

I can’t see. Flailing my arm I find something solid and latch on. I pull and it moves toward me, or I toward it—which I’m uncertain—but it has to be him.

I fight back the haze. Hugging his leg, I search for the wound. When I find it, I drink.

In the blackness, she joins me.

So I, I would wish this all away.

He’s not laughing now.

It’s my first coherent though—the first thing that hits my addled brain.

The stench of old blood hangs in the air. The room smells like a slaughterhouse. As I roll onto my back, my bare skin sticks to the floor, pulling uncomfortably.

Nausea grips me. My head falls to the side and I retch. The sickening, salty, copper taste blends with the sourness of vomit.

I open my eyes. Blurred shapes, fuzzy and distorted…I struggle to focus.

His voice rings in my ears, “Release me,” cutting into my mind.

I clench my eyes tight and he repeats his demand. It’s all I can do not to leap to my feet. Instead I remain on the cold, disgusting floor. As protests go, it’s pathetic.

She comes to my rescue. The last thing I want to see is her face, cold and dead, but it’s exactly what I do see. The vision hangs in my mind, haunting me again. It shouldn’t surprise me. Every moment of rest I’ve had has been consumed by this—by her—but in this moment it carries a different meaning. I don’t feel desperate, useless, hopeless, impotent… I feel furious.   

I’m shaking. When I finally open my eyes, I can see. I’ve never been sorrier of that fact in my life. The first thing I see, the first new sight of my unlife is his scrotum. He’s still bound and naked, hanging on the Saint Andrew’s cross where I put him.

I was loathe to rip his clothing off. It seemed the thing to do. The act confused him. It also guaranteed that if I became disoriented, no barriers would stand in my way. I hoped to leave his underwear intact, but it was my ‘lucky’ day: he wasn’t wearing any.

I clamp my eyes shut in revulsion. Vomiting again seems like the proper reaction.

He barks his command and this time I roll to my knees. Forcing focus, I open my eyes and scan the blood-coated tile. Much of the blood is brown and sickly, only where I was lying is it a congealing, dark-crimson puddle. My gaze fixes on the straight razor. I take it in my hand and clamber to my feet, slipping on the slick floor.

When I manage to right myself, I look up. He’s glaring at me triumphantly.

Drawing the razor back, I know what he wants. He wills me to cut the heavy leather bonds holding him to the cross.

I focus on her face and swing the blade, struggling to direct it at my target not his.

The room fills with his piercing wail. Anguish breaks his hold on me.

I glance down at the tile. The fourth thing I see is the same as the first, but less attached.

A wicked little giggle slips out as I turn my back on him and strut out of the room.

I need a shower.

I can almost feel the heat bathing my skin as I drift in the grey. I fixate on the drain, watching the pink water swirl around it.

Hands caress my sides, trailing leisurely onto my stomach. My breath hastens. I can see there’s no one there, but I feel—I feel her body pressed against my back. I close my eyes, willing the delusion to continue. She turns me and bright blue eyes gaze into mine. The corners of her eyes crinkle with mischief.

There is no rest for me here, no peace, nothing soothing.

As her eyes gradually cloud, turning dull and milky, the hands touching me become dry and rough, grating my skin. The shower fills with the sickeningly sweet scent of decay.

I scream.

Pray like a martyr dusk to dawn,
Beg like a hooker all night long.

The taste of ash fills my mouth.

Choking, I spring to my feet.

My head collides with the rough stone of the cavern ceiling.

I’m knocked to my knees. I catch my head in my hands to steady myself.

The leather I wear is soaked, it clings and scratches, drawing in like a vice. It cuts into me as I tremble. I comprehend and the illusion is shattered. It wasn’t some phantasmal creature, just my own clothing wet from the dank cave floor.

All of this, as unpleasant as it is, takes a backseat to the gnawing hunger. I am ravenous.

My body racks as I sob.

I gasp, drawing in the humid air of the cave. I know I don’t need to breathe, but there’s something calming about the act. Earthy smells, like a freshly dug grave.

I was never buried. I watched them bury her. I selected the coffin, the headstone, the plot, but I will never be buried.

Sobered by the thought, I open my eyes and rise tentatively to my feet.

It’s time.

I know the sun has gone down from the smells drifting in from outside.

Stooping to avoid the low ceiling, I sprint to the cave mouth and jump. The ground rushes beneath me as I plummet in a sweeping arc. I touch down, crouch, roll, and spring to my feet again.

Retracing my steps, I make my way back to the clearing. Good, it’s still here. I don’t like leaving this thing out, but I didn’t have much choice. The stick I put under the sidestand was even effective. I was afraid I’d find her on her side. I suppose it doesn’t matter.

I stoop to glance at my face in the rearview mirror. It takes me a moment to understand why I don’t see my reflection, then I just feel stupid. Shaking my head, I reach into the pocket of my damp leathers, searching for the key. When I have it, I toss my leg over the machine. As I flip the sidestand up, my left hand inserts and turns the key, while my right reflexively hits the starter. The MV spins to life.

I waste no time getting on the road. I have things to do. The first thing is to say good bye.

The machine serenades me, lulling me into a state as close to peace as I’ve known since—yet I still see her face. The countryside sweeps past, soon replaced by suburban sprawl.

I travel a path recently made so familiar. I know exactly where I’m going. It’s second nature. I let the machine do the work, giving a gentle hint now and then. Time dissolves and I find myself in the cemetery. I intuitively follow the narrow, cobbled roads and park.

After making the short walk, I kneel at her headstone. My name is engraved next to hers in the granite. I will never lay here; it feels wrong—like somehow I’m leaving her alone. The rational part of my mind dismisses this as foolishness, but my heart—my heart protests.

I whisper, “Forgive me,” knowing all the while how silly it is.

I’m not sure I can do this. What I want right now, more than anything else, is rest. I’m so tired. All I want is to lie down on the fresh sod and wait for dawn.

Giving in, I curl up next to our headstone.

I’m twice the failure.

Tempted the devil with my song,
And got what I wanted all along.

 Fetal and weeping, I lay on the damp, chilly grass.

Any desire to move I might’ve found is shoved aside by my reverie. It feels like a gift. The nightmare fades, giving way to memories of our trip to London, the wedding and our honeymoon.

I relive those days in a blink, or maybe a night—I have no concept of time.

They’re tainted. For all the happiness those memories hold, sorrow surrounds them now. The joy has been stripped away, replaced by lament.

There’s no peace for me here.

Distant movement causes me to stir. I push myself to my knees, facing the headstone. Kissing my palm, I press it to the granite and murmur, “Thank you.” As the air fills with cold laughter, I delicately trace the engraving with my index finger.

I should be worried, but I’m not. There’s nothing more liberating than losing everything.

They close the distance as I gaze intently at the final date. I should leave instruction for this to be updated. My date of death should be added to this monument.

Where there was one, there are now two. As they move closer, I sense a third. I’m outnumbered. One of them is old. How I know that, I’m not sure, but I sense it. Now I’m outnumbered and out classed. I should feel panicked. I should be trembling. There should be some sense of dread.

I still don’t care.

But I—
I would.

I’m hungry.

They surround me. The leader looks down at me over the top of our headstone and drawls, “Well, aren’t you a pretty thing?”

The other two seize my arms, lifting me to my feet. When they drag me back to make room for their leader, I’m grateful. I watch the ground pass under my feet. I don’t want to fight on her grave.

The leader strides around the grave and faces me. Reaching out, he unzips my jacket. His eyes fill with lust. Men are so predictable. I suppose they plan to rape me.

“Very nice,” he purrs, tracing a line down the center of my chest with his fingertips.

His touch makes my skin crawl. I feel like a piece of meat and it fills me with disgust.

When I don’t flinch as he reaches to unsnap my leather pants, he relaxes, obviously considering me an easy mark. I guess I seem too broken to care. I’m the perfect victim in his eyes. That’s fine. I’ll be his victim for a few more seconds.

I wait for him to reach inside, then I spring with all my might. Pushing myself forward in an arc, I pivot on my captive arms. As I flip, I kick him in the chest and under the chin. When my feet touch down, I bring my hands to meet in front of me. His minions crash into each other and crumple to the ground.

The leader staggers backwards and hisses, “Kitten has some fight left in her after all,” rubbing his scruffy chin with the back of his hand.

I smell his blood and it fills me with lust.

If I could,
I would.

Catching the headstone behind me like a pommel horse, I vault it and land.

As I fasten my pants, his minions rise and he charges me. I’ve made him mad. Pity that.

I dodge when he swings his fist. Grabbing his wrist and shoulder, I bring his arm across my chest. It snaps at the elbow and I send him spinning to the ground.

One of the minions advances, snapping a kick at my face. I bring my arms up and block the blow. As I push, he’s caught off-balance. He teeters and falls over backwards. The move was showy and stupid. I demonstrate how stupid as he falls, by punching his groin. Protecting those—it’s important. He tucks into a ball on the ground, sobbing and trembling.

The second minion hits me. Pain grips my stomach as the leader clutches his arm and rises. Another blow to my side drops me to my knees. I focus on the second minion, watching his follow through. He just punched my side. His weight shifts. I see it coming. His leg comes up to deliver a snapping kick to my chin. I fall back, catching his leg as it whizzes past my face. The weight of my falling body on his leg drags him to the ground beside me.

I roll, putting all my weight behind the punch. It lands in the middle of his abdomen. I didn’t aim, but that’s as good a place as any. He groans and folds as I roll across him onto my back.

Kicking my legs, I leap to my feet. The leader is on me now. His right arm hangs limp at his side. He spins into a low sweeping kick. I jump to avoid it. The momentum turns his back to me.

As I land, I seize him.

Wish it away,
Wish it away.

Starved, I bury my face in his neck and bite down.

I don’t even know when my face changed. I’m just happy it did. My mouth fills with blood. Shifting my bite, I suckle the wound.

It’s glorious. The blood lust takes me. He thrashes around. My body is bludgeoned, but I’m so hungry—so aroused I don’t care. Nothing matters but the blood.

Spinning, weaving, swaying with him, I’m a passenger. I vacantly watch the terrain pass by. His minions are on their feet. I catch sight of one of them. He has a piece of wood in his hand.

The leader is grunting. His head shakes ‘no.’ My horror movie background fills in: wood is bad. I don’t know how true it is, but it seems to fit.

When the minion rushes us, hoping to plant the stake in my back, I kick off, spinning us.

The leader turns to ashes in my mouth.

I exhale, breathing out what looks like a cloud of smoke.

The minion’s eyes grow wide as saucers.

He ruined my meal. I’m done playing.

Driving my fist into his face, I send him failing over a gravestone. A crack accompanies my action. I shake my hand out. It’s not broken so it must’ve been his face.

The stake and he part company as he flies. I go for the stake.

Just left of the sternum, about a hand’s breadth down from the collarbone, this is the target. At least I assume it is. It’s not like ‘Dance of the Damned’ was a documentary.

He’s on his hands and knees, clumsily trying to rise. I descend on him. The entire encounter is two moves. As I snap a kick under his jaw, sending him sprawling, my stake finds his heart. Theory tested, he flashes, turns to ash and crumbles into the grass.

His friend grabs my shoulder, spinning me. If he had pushed, I’d be down, but this one just isn’t very bright. The spin just carries my weapon right where it needs to be. I guide the motion and he disintegrates over the other remains.

I like the instant cremation. It’s really efficient.

After slipping the stake into my pocket, I zip my jacket, covering my bare chest.

I glance over my shoulder at her grave and murmur, “Goodbye.”

If I wasn’t dead before, I am now.

Wish it all away.
I wanna wish it all away.

Without looking back, I make my way to the MV and ride away.

None of us have any idea what to believe about the afterlife. Up until recently any thought of life after death seemed like wistful fancy to me, pretty stories created to stave off the fear of uncertainty. Now I don’t know. There’s one thing I do know: girls like myself—there’s no Heaven for us. I’d like to think now that Heaven might exist for Marie. It would give me some peace, though I’ll never see her there.

I turn the MV toward the heart of the city. It’s time to end this.

When I showed my ‘sire’ her picture, I could tell that he knew. Though, that term for him, is utterly laughable. He was more of a blood donor than a ‘sire.’ ‘Assailant’ to ‘victim’ wasn’t an easy transition for him, but he acquitted himself nicely once I got out the cutting torch. He finally divulged that the one I seek is called ‘Kaba.’

Raising my left hand from the clip-on, I wipe the corners of my eyes. I need to get a grip. If this thing is as old as he said, I might not survive.

Hitting the slip road, I come dangerously close to the literal interpretation of that turn of phrase. Somehow I manage to correct. I’m not even sure what I did, or how I saved it. All I do know is that drifting across the margin is markedly bad. Run-off strip on a bike leaned over at greater than forty-five degrees—

If I had a heart, it’d be trying to escape my chest. 

I’m panting like a dog, but I have no need of breath. I catch myself and stop.

As I steady myself and merge onto the motorway, it occurs to me that this is part of the problem. The idea feels like a revelation, but honestly it’s just a fleeting whim. I feel so disconnected from everything I was. A large part of that isolation is the lack of physical reaction. Before, when I became anxious my palms would sweat, my breath would hasten, and my heart would hammer. Now all I have left—all that remains—is the ability to unconsciously breathe. But the intake of air has no effect on me physically, so the act is pointless—it carries no meaning, it is hollow—I am hollow.

But I now carry a greater understanding of the monster. Something changed when I fed on him. I see how easy it would be to fall—to spring the trap, to become like them.

I could become that, but I won’t. I could be cold, but I won’t.

I cling to the last fragments of remorse I feel for failing her—the fleeting feelings of grief. They are priceless, the sum of my deteriorating humanity.

Crouching down, I hug the fuel tank with my knees and focus on the road. This is like living inside an envelope—in a bubble—more disconnection. The world around me blurs by, but my eyes are fixed at the limits of the headlamps. Everything outside the envelope is grey, inconsequential, the things that matter are right in front of my face. They call this tunnel vision. It’s an apt description. The missing impressions are: the wind buffeting your body, the noise, the low harmonic vibration of the machine, the occasional pop of an insect that you randomly collide with…

Fixing my will on the pieces, I open the MV up.

I really want to be back at the cemetery lying on her grave. The idea of failing—the idea that this thing might win scares the crap outta me, but he needs to pay. The alternative—I’m not even sure what that is. If I stop to consider that most of the horror movie clichés appear to be true, then it might mean my enslavement—I can’t even consider that.

I have to focus on doing the job. I have a deadline to meet. I won’t fail.

I blink, clenching my eyes momentarily, the skin of my temples parched and drawn from the tears. I’m sure I look just charming between the blood, tears, dirt, and ash.

Downshifting, I sit up and shift my weight to steer the machine onto the slip road.

Focus, just do the job…

I won’t fail. Just keep saying that. It’ll be fine.

I pull to the intersection and turn right.

Two cross streets blur by and I go numb.

Pulling into an alley, I cut across to the next intersection and enter a multi-story car park. After taking a ticket, I ride past the attendant and park.

I exit the car park and set off for the club. This part of town isn’t that bad, there are worse neighborhoods. The street is lined with pubs and dance clubs. The din of the music changes with each new façade. People move from pub to pub. There’s the occasional drunkard, but that’s to be expected.

Turning, I take a breath and pull open the black door of the Oktober Rust. The drone of the music pours through the opening and I step inside.

I block out the noise, the harsh light, the people, and the sharp smells and make my way to the bar.

No prize that could hold sway,
Or justify my giving away my center.

After ordering a martini, I scan the crowd. So many victims… Their sweat, blood, sex…I smell it all. The perfume is intoxicating. I feel ravenous again.

My gaze fixes on a young blonde woman in her early twenties—absolutely gorgeous. She sits alone in a dark corner. Her heart is broken, it shows in her every mannerism. The desire to take her—to end her pain—it’s so compelling. I imagine the feel of her skin under my fingertips, the taste of her salt in my mouth. Lust…I lick my lips, tasting the remnants of blood.

The barman breaks my reverie by delivering my drink. I thank him and pay up. There’s no way he understands how grateful I actually am.

I’m losing it.

Swirling the olive around, I stare into my drink.

“Lovely, isn’t she?” A chill runs down my spine as cool breath tickles my ear. I suppress the reaction and the hushed male voice continues, “Tragic, beautiful…what could cause such a creature so much pain?”  

Ignoring the whispering stranger, I take a sip of my drink. As my glass touches the bar, he purrs, “We could take her—end her suffering—share her flesh.”

I turn. His face is inches from my own. Curbing the impulse to leap away, I slide back, putting a comfortable distance between us. I want to be sick—my reaction is so unfamiliar to me—it doesn’t feel like me. I’m attracted. I want to be repulsed, but my body says otherwise.

I scan his face, the smooth ruddy skin, stretching over a handsome, chiseled bone structure. There’s something vaguely regal about his appearance. Long, loosely-curled black hair frames his face. His unforgiving eyes are dark and cold. As my gaze fixes on the tribal tattoo that wraps around his neck, I struggle to keep my expression neutral.

My mouth turns pasty and dry. I reach for my drink and take a sip before murmuring, “I’d rather just have you.” The words make my skin crawl. I loathe him. I’m attracted, but in the same breath I hate him with every fiber of my being. The conflict is almost crippling.

Smiling, he moves away. It confuses me until I see where he’s going. He approaches her. I nurse my drink and watch him work. I imagine that this girl is Marie. The effect he has is startling. Within minutes her sorrow fades. She smiles and flirts with him.

I can feel her arousal and the lust—the lust is unbearable. The animal says, ‘join them, fuck her, taste her…make her yours. Her fate is sealed. She will die in spite of anything you do.’

I refuse to accept that.

She takes his hand. As they slip out the back door of the club together, I pound the rest of my drink and rush to join them. It’s not until the door closes that I realize what I’ve done. I glance over where they’re standing. Her arms are around his neck. They’re kissing. My gaze drifts reluctantly down their bodies. He fondles her breasts, she cups his ass. They are writhing, grinding against each other.

I stare at the ground. They found her right there. When I look up for an instant I see Marie.

As the vampire lifts her skirt up, the pieces fall into place. It was obvious from the condition of the body that Marie had been assaulted, yet there were no signs of a struggle.

When they did the rape kit on her, the results that came back were unusual. It caused the police to suspect that we were somehow at fault. The semen samples were all dead. They insisted that semen lives inside the body after death for at least twenty-four hours.

There were insinuations made that our lifestyle was to blame. It was something I couldn’t resolve—like pouring salt in an open wound. Above all, it made me furious.

I can’t watch this.

So if I could I'd wish it all away,
If I thought tomorrow, they'd take you away.

Yet I stand transfixed, horrified… The urge to run is so strong.

Something moves me. I have no idea what part of my will is responsible, but I stride over to them. It scares me. I may be losing the fight.

As I trail my hand up the inside of her thigh, I whisper, “I have a room.”

It works. I set off down the alley and they follow. We emerge on a main thoroughfare. Her scent drives me insane as we walk back to the hotel. We enter the lobby and I move with purpose to the lift. This is more than I can stand. The need grows as we pile into the confined space. I can practically taste her. I stab the button for the eighth story. 

When the doors slide back, I pull the keycard out of my pocket and turn down the hall. Moments later we are alone in the penthouse suite. The room is beautiful. I want to indulge, but something inside reminds me. I booked this room for the extra space and because there’s a level of respect from the staff that comes with it. That and there’s a service elevator two doors down. It’s perfect.

I watch as he turns her to face me. The faint sound of tearing fabric is followed closely by the flimsy garment hitting the floor. She meets my eyes. I scan her modest form and swallow thickly. She’s—

Her bra hits the ground, followed by pieces of her thong. My gaze fixes on her throat. I watch her pulse point throb, excited and fast. She’s also as close to perfect as any woman I’ve experienced, except…

You, my piece of mind, my all, my center,
Just trying to hold on one more day.

Marie’s reproachful face moves to the forefront of my mind and I mumble, “I need a shower.” It’s the truth. I want to—

The real truth is that if I’m here for another instant it’ll be…regrettable.

Turning my back on them, I force myself to march, damning every step.

I hope she survives.

Breathing, I stifle the impulse. I’m such an amateur. My leathers hit the floor and I turn on the shower. I actually need this. I need the head space as much as I need to be clean. I step into the spray. But I have to be quick. If I wait too long, he’ll finish her. I can’t let that happen.

I lather up a flannel and absently run it over my skin. What changed? I remember this strong attraction in the bar. I wanted him. Maybe proximity, or it might have something to do with focus? He is obviously controlling her. Maybe that limits him? It doesn’t matter. Tossing the cloth aside, I rinse, turn off the shower, and step out.

My head feels clearer. I grab a towel and quickly dry off. When I’m done, I open the middle drawer in the vanity and lift the hand towels aside. My hand closes around the grip of a gun and I move toward the door.

Damn my eyes!
If they should compromise the fulcrum.

What I see startles me. I watch, unnoticed, as he fucks her. She’s really into it, or at least she believes she is. You’d think they were making love, missionary position and everything—like newlyweds. It’s his face that catches my eye first, though. It’s not the face I saw in the bar. It’s bestial. His nose is shrunken and deformed and his pointed ears peek out through the long locks of dark hair. The bone structure is sharper too, much heavier than I recall. It’s shocking. Then I notice his hands. They’re cloven like hooves.

I see his true face and step from the bathroom. If I lacked reason before—and I didn’t—this is certainly a thing I can hate.

Raising the gun, I aim and he stops, turning to face me. His face doesn’t change. I half expected it to.

He meets my gaze and asks calmly, “What do you think you’re doing, child?”

I just tilt my head and stare at him. Pulling the trigger—it would be useful right about now. My finger twitches against the trigger strap. I wish I could, but I can’t.

A cruel grin flashes across his features and looks down at the blonde. As he strokes her hair, he murmurs, “For over one-thousand of your years I have been bringing peace to forsaken women. Showing them love, then giving them peace. They sustain me and I release them.” His attention turns back to me. “What do you plan to prove with that trinket?”

It takes me a moment to recover. When I do, I realize my jaw has fallen open. I clamp it shut and he moves. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. He’s on me before I can blink. Then he falls, knocking me to the ground. I’m dumbfounded.

When I roll him aside, I see the dart hanging from his chest. I don’t even know where the gun went. I felt him tear it from my grip. Worse I don’t recall firing it, but the pad of my right index finger hurts, so I can assume I did. I look down at myself, thinking how lucky I am. When I see the blood, I don’t feel lucky anymore. His last act was to cut two deep gouges from my collarbone to my hip.

I need to make certain that was his last act. Rising painfully to my feet, I meet the girl’s eyes. I don’t need to see my face to know how I look. I’m a monster, he’s a monster and she’s horrified.

“Go,” I rasp and step into the bathroom to get her a robe. When I return, she’s gone. I tried.

I need to hurry; there are no guarantees how long he’ll be down. I go to the dresser, pulling out two heavy tarps and spread them in the center of the room, one atop the other. Then I move him onto them.

Opening a box of heavy bin bags, I take a skinning knife from the drawer and set to work. The first thing I do to the body is field dress it, piling all of his abdominal organs into a bin bag. It surprises me that he doesn’t flinch while I work. When I’m done eviscerating him, I pack the cavity with heavy rock salt and sew him shut. I do the same to his mouth. He has nothing to say that I want to hear.

And now for the truly gruesome part…

I need to keep moving. I don’t want to think. If I think, I’ll have to consider why he was interested in Marie.

He might’ve been lying. He is, after all a fiend.

A soon-to-be-expired fiend.

Part 2 - Benevolent Sun

Unfocused, I stare into the distance at the beam of light that shimmers off the long, straight stretch of asphalt. Guilty is the last thing I should be feeling, but somehow I am. It’s stupid. Whatever, I need to get a grip. It’s not like wanting some ‘me time’ is huge reason to get all angsty.

A stiff breeze buffets the bike and I tuck in, lying against the tank. The wind noise dies down as I settle behind the fairing while the growl of the engine increases. There’s a soothing pressure that comes from the mild vibration of the gas tank that presses into my tummy just under my ribs.

Thing is, I’ve managed to end up way off track. I was just gonna go for a quick ride to clear my head and here I am on the coast. ‘Wigged out and homesick’ always leads me here.

I reach down with my left hand and hook it around the frame. The warmth of the engine feels good on my chilly fingers.

The rub is that the Scottish coast feels nothing like home. I want it to, but it doesn’t. There’s the same sound of the ocean, the same salty breeze, but…I dunno—it’s not right. There’s the obvious lack of palm trees. That’s a no-brainer. But it’s not just that. There’s something subtler. I’m not even sure I can put my finger on the wrong thing—or maybe it’s several wrong things—anyway, it’s just wrong. Could be that it’s in another country, thousands of miles from where I belong…maybe? I’m not even sure that’s right, though. Feeling like I belong anywhere is— Did I really belong in California? I was used to it, I grew up there, but did I belong there? I mull this over as I glance at the instrumentation.

Crap! Reflexively, I loosen my grip on the throttle and feather the front brakes. Without Will I’m just begging to get screwed with. More screwing with—yeah…need that and while I’m at it I’d like a little more responsibility. Can I get those with a side of fries and a Diet Coke, to go please?

What really sucks—the thing that leaves me completely baffled—pretty much everything I’ve wanted, I’ve gotten. I should be happy. I’ve got this great relationship. It’s not what I asked for, it sure isn’t what I expected, but it’s still good—so good. I have a beautiful home. I’m making good money—like way better than I ever expected. I should be really happy. Then what the hell is my malfunction?

A twinge of pain from my lower back prompts me to grip the tank with my knees. I sit up; cracking my face shield and the cool air wakes me up.

I just feel so isolated. The only time I’m not miserable is when I’m with Will. I should just head back and be with her. We both have a few hours before anything major. I can get some quality snuggle time in. Yeah…snuggle time will make it all good.

If that’s true, then why did I leave? I shrug. Best I got is that I’m a moron. I left our warm, comfy bed to think. But more time to think means more time to brood and that’s always helpful.

Y’know, I think I just need a vacation. We joke about Disneyland. It’s actually become a running joke. Trouble is, I haven’t been to Disneyland since I was like eight or something. When was my last vacation? I think back and find I can’t remember. As I go through the faces, all the bad, the friends that are gone, a distant driveway catches my eye.

I’ve been Slay-Gal for so long I think I’ve forgotten what fun is. Big surprise, what with all the inflicting. I’ve been riding one wave of disaster after another for almost ten years now. I may’ve just hit on something—like it’s a total epiphany. All I do is destroy. No wonder I’m so much fun at parties. Starting to downshift, I apply the brakes and make my turn.

When I pull into the roadside parking lot, Bernadine’s headlamp passed over another motorcycle. I coast up next to it and kill the engine. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen in awhile that’s not a redhead…or something made by Forzieri. I have to look. After removing my helmet, I drop the sidestand and hop off Bernie.

Maybe what I need is another bike? I giggle. Yeah…another bike will fix all that’s wrong. I can’t ride the one I have without wallowing.

I walk around the black and red MV Augusta. I think I saw something about this. I wrote it off ’cause I couldn’t afford one. The last thing I was gonna do was call Giles and ask for eighty’ish thousand pounds for a motorcycle. We could’ve skipped the call, the laughter would’ve carried.

I peer down at the upper-triple and my inner label queen gets a happy. The gold oval plaque announces that I’m right, this is an MV Augusta F4-1000 Tamburini. I can read too. The sarcasm causes a faint smirk to tug at the corners of my mouth. Smiling’s just too much work. If I remember the article, this is one of three-hundred of these things in the world.

Well, it was worth the look, but I need to jet. As I put my helmet on, movement behind me catches my attention. It’s the wrong kind of movement. The tingle sends a shiver up my spine. Huh…it’s been a while.

What the hell—for old time’s sake.

Shine on forever,
Shine on benevolent sun.

After setting my helmet on Bernie’s seat, I stride away from the bikes and turn to face the vamp. She slowly approaches me. I think we both get it, but I’m not positive. I get less positive when she wordlessly unzips her leather jacket, exposing her breasts.

Someone should clue her that red’s not her color. Auburn hair and Crayola red leather…it’s just not a good look. I guess it’s because of the bike, but—

As she continues to close the distance, I get a good look at her eyes. Umm…’kay this is just creepy and weird. She’s really pretty—pretty much whacked…not very modest, either. I’m not impressed by the show. In fact, it’s wigging me out. She slowly reaches into her inside pocket and pulls out a stake, tossing it to me.

I catch it without breaking eye contact and she says, “If you would, it would save me some time.”

Huh? Y’know, she’s gotta be screwing with me. This is a total train wreck. I can’t tear my eyes off her. Actually, that’s a good, because I should be watching. She’s holding her jacket open. Her hands are in plain view. Nothing about this should be freaking me out. I could take two steps faster than she could flinch. It’d be over before she gasped. Yet there’s something about this that’s making me uneasy and I can’t put my finger on it.

I blink and she remarks, “If you aren’t going to…would you at least sit with me? I could use the company.”

The pieces snap into place. It might be forty minutes till dawn. She should be on her bike and headed for Irvine. I meet her gaze again and understand. It’s not a new thing. It’s actually a really, really old thing—a mix of fear and desperation—longing and loss. Angel that morning when the First was screwing with him—I was still in high school. Memories of that dawn drift past as the strange woman inches toward me.

Finally, I blink and ask the first thing that pops into my head, “What’s your name?” I should know it if I’m gonna watch her die.

“Tamara,” she replies, “But my friends called me Tam.” Turning her back to me, she zips her jacket and strides away.

The moment she turns, I know she’s not playing. As I grab Bernie’s key and my helmet to follow her, she asks the same and I tell her.

Most vamps have heard my name—it’s not like it’s common. It takes them about two seconds to do the math and get scared. She seems clueless, or she doesn’t care, either one’s just fine by me.

“So what’s your story, Tam?” I ask as I jog along next to her across the lawn. She’s determined to be somewhere, I get that much. She’s just walking really fast. Me, I’m jogging, go figure. She’s only about a foot taller than I am.

She’s also completely nuts—like suicidal nuts. Turning your back on a slayer with a stake? Suicidal vamps happen, but they’re rare. There’s always a story. Five minutes ago I was moody and bent on going home to sulk. Now I’m following a crazy vamp to the beach and I’m totally curious. Maybe I’m the one who’s nuts?

She stops at the rocky break between the beach and the lawn, taking a seat. Her gaze fixes on a distant point down the coast before she answers, “I’d rather hear about you.”

I sit on the grass a few meters away and scan her face. There’s this strange sort of open, honest quality to both her expression and the tone of her voice. I don’t think she’s playing with me. It’d make me more comfortable if she were. Finally, after sizing her up, I ask the question I’m dying to ask, “You have no clue who I am, do you?” Call it a flaw, a weakness, or maybe even just plain old passé arrogance, but I just have to know.

She smiles. I’m a little surprised by how it warms her face. She brightens, looking totally human for an instant, then it fades and she replies, “Should I?”

I return the smile. It’s actually genuine. This bugs me a little. It’s been a while. I’m not with Will and I’m actually smiling—at a vampire no less. This is weird. I snark amusedly, “Well, strictly speaking, it’s not required. But if you wanted to live it might be a good idea to firm up.”

My amusement fades when she immediately responds, “I don’t.”

Shine down upon the broken,
Shine until the two become one.

She keeps staring down the beach. I wonder what that’s about. I’ll get to it. First things—

I giggle and admit, “I’m the slayer, Tam.” She looks clueless so I continue parroting the party line, “Into each generation a slayer is born, a chosen one. One girl in all the world that has the strength and skill needed to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of badness…umm, er—” I smirk. “—darkness.” That sounded too much like Giles. I had to break it up.

She snickers and I carry on with the spiel, “Thing is, I’m not the only one now. I’m just another face in the crowd, but I was the only one for awhile. Now I’m just the oldest one. The one the others look to for guidance.”

She moves very carefully. I guess she’s trying not to alarm me. I appreciate the sentiment, but it doesn’t matter. Resting her elbow on her knee she cups her cheek in her palm and reflects, “That sounds lonely.”

I absently play with the stake she gave me as I reply, “It is—I mean, I guess.” She’s right, it is lonely. I keep my expression neutral, despite the upset my vague admission causes.

She meets my gaze for a moment and says, “I hope there’s someone special to help with the loneliness,” returning her attention to the beach.

I get another useful flashback. This is totally setting off my— Gah! What was his name? I rack my brain trying to remember that stupid vamp’s name. She gives me a concerned glance and it hits me. Holden, Holden Webster. Anyway, psych one-oh-one alert. Thing is, Holden was trying to kill me. I still don’t get that from her. He looked like he wanted to screw with me. She just looks unbelievably sad—like she lost her whole world. Maybe that’s all the story I need.

As she meets my eyes again, I look down and whisper, “Her name’s Willow.”  

“Is Willow a slayer too?”

I stick the point of the stake into the lawn. Weird stake, it looks like someone put a baseball bat into a huge pencil sharpener, but whatever… Applying pressure to its end, I slowly press it into the dry ground as I answer, “No, Willow’s a witch.”

“A witch?” she asks, sounding amused or intrigued, maybe a little of both.

I don’t bother to look up. Watching the stake gradually disappear, I affirm, “A witch. Y’know, Wicca, spells and stuff?”

“Oh, I understood. It’s just that I always considered Wicca to be a religion.”

When the stake’s completely buried, I glance up and say, “It is. It’s also more.”

She stares at me intently.

Shine on forever,
Shine on benevolent sun.

Raising my hands, I reflect, “Tam, I really don’t wanna wig you out, but you and me—” glaring at her “—we need to come to an understanding.” I laugh and hastily add, “Y’know, I have no clue why I don’t want you to freak, but I’m just gonna run with it. Usually, I wanna scare the crap out of things like you. This time…”

As I fall silent, leaving the thought to linger, I spring to my feet and move behind her. She jumps and I clamp my hands over her shoulders. Leaning down, I whisper into her ear, “Why don’t you show me what you keep staring at?”

She points and I follow the gesture, peering down the beach. There’s a black spot in the distance. Is that a dog?

As I puzzle over the black fury thing, she whispers, “He’s a vampire. He took something from me, so I returned the favor.”

After a few moments, I clamp my jaw closed. I see it now. That’s a head. My mind just wouldn’t wrap around the idea that a human head could be so removed from its body. Thing is, his head is obviously still attached. He’s just buried. What’s keeping him there is another mystery.

My throat and mouth are so parched it almost hurts. Swallowing thickly, I ask, “What did he take?” I don’t have to ask. The math’s pretty simple.

She responded with one painful word, “Everything.”

I consider this. It’s not hard for me to understand. I almost lost Will. It’s not been that long. I can still feel the pain. The idea of doing that again or even coming close fills—it’s the closest thing to terror I have. I don’t care about much anymore. I can’t afford to. I have to care about that one piece…and it makes me feel vulnerable. I put my heart out and—

Finally, I work up the courage to ask the other question, “What did you take from him?” Again the answer is obvious. We’re both on deathwatch, waiting for the sun.


Shine down upon the severed,
Shine until the two become one.

Releasing her shoulders, I move around in front of her again and stoop down. With two fingertips, I grasp the stake and pull it smoothly out of the ground. I glance up and see that we have an understanding.

As I right myself, she starts to whisper, “His name is Kabadios. He’s Mayan, or he was. The name means ‘hand of God.’ He told me a thousand years: that’s how long he’s been—” she cuts off when I turn my back and start down the shore.

I need to see. She’s still a vampire and he could be human regardless what she says.

Matching my pace, she says, “He killed her, Buffy.”

I don’t need to hear anymore. All I need is to see. If he is as old as she says, it’ll be obvious. When I don’t say anything, she falls silent. I can feel the fear. She’s afraid of me. I’m not sure I want that. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t.

When I get close enough to make out his face, I stop cold. He’s not human. That’s all I needed.

Rounding on her, I nod and head back. Part of me wants to see the photo, but I don’t need to. Not now.

She relaxes as we draw closer to where we were. When we reach the spot, I take my place at her feet and ask, “How?” I’m pretty sure she’ll get it. If she doesn’t, I can fill in.

Claiming her seat on the rock, she draws her legs up. She looks totally vulnerable. I wait patiently for her reply. Eventually, she murmurs, “I didn’t know. This horrible thing happened and I had no idea how…” she trails off.

The weakness of her voice adds to the effect. She’s a much larger person than I am. She’s sitting higher than I am too. But I feel—the impression is that I’m dealing with a child. This ‘woman’ is broken—if I can even call her that. She’s a shell.

“So, you went out looking and got vamped?” I offer, trying to make sense of the story.

“No,” she replies firmly. I realize a little too late that I’m reacting. My expression—I recover—putting on the mask, but not before she begins to rasp, “Thirty hours ago I was human. I chose this. I had no other choice and nothing left to lose, or I thought there was nothing. In about twenty minutes I’ll be gone, he’ll be gone and the world will spin blithely on, no one the wiser.”

“I’ll know,” I reply. As cold comforts go, it’s the best I have. I’m twirling the stake in my hand. It’s an absent gesture. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until I look down. When I get that I am, I bury the stake in the ground. I don’t need it.

The silence hangs thick between us and her attention turns to the shoreline again. I break it with a question, “What do you mean ‘I thought there was nothing’?”

She meets my gaze and says, “Faith. It was the last thing I had and he robbed me of that too. He made me doubt.”

I open my mouth to speak. I don’t get it, but everything I ask just makes her that much worse. I get, “Umm,” out and she cuts me off by asking, “Unsolicited advice from the dead?”

I furrow my brow and respond, “Sure,” looking down to stifle a bitter chuckle. ‘Sure’ is the last thing I am.

I catch myself tugging at blades of grass this time. I guess my hands need to be busy. I don’t bother checking the impulse. This one can’t be misread.

 As I pluck a blade of grass and run between my fingers, she whispers, “Never give her room to doubt, Buffy. Let her know exactly what you feel. I know it’s hard—this world—it’s so easy to lose focus, to get distracted, to forget what’s important. Don’t forget it.”

Divided, I'll wither away,
Shine down upon the many.

I sit silently, playing with my blade of grass for several moments, considering her words. There are dozens of questions I could ask, but truth is, I really don’t need to understand everything. This vampire screwed with her. I’ve been there.

Her advice is simple, honest and good. That’s all I need. Finally, I whisper, “I promise.” As advice from the dead goes, it’s an all-time high.

This is also about the point in the conversation where I normally get clubbed over the head. She has me on the edge of tears. I’m pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t come. My apprehensiveness fades.

She reaches into her coat. I only half-watch the gesture. What she withdraws is white and rectangular, an envelope. I focus on my blade of grass, turning it end-over-end. She opens the envelope, extracting pieces of paper and unfolding them.

I silently wait for her to finish. When she does, she hands me the envelope and says, “There’s no one left.”

Another thing for me to think about—another puzzle, I want to open the envelope, but I really don’t need to. I unzip my jacket and the cool air feels good. Another realization, I’m a little warm. Whatever. I slip the envelope into my inside pocket and take off my jacket, setting it aside.

When I finish, she has her hand out. In her palm is a key. She says, “Take it. I don’t have anyone else and at least I know you’ll love it.”

This is so totally not what I signed up for. I have trouble understanding what she means at first. Finally, it hits me; she’s talking about the MV. Of course, she’s—and she said there was no one else. Reluctantly, I take the key. This is so premeditated it’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like for her.

My fidgety hands are now occupied by the key. The eastern sky is just starting to turn pink. It’s beautiful.

I sense it all, the anger, confusion, pain and fear. The emotions pour off her in waves. She’s the only soulless vamp I’ve ever liked—well, almost immediately. I know she’s soulless. I can feel the struggle. Part of her sees me as food. It’s no mystery. I got that when I first saw her. She also knows how stupid it would be to try, but I’m not sure that matters.

I’m really having trouble with the idea that she’d just throw it all away. I can’t wrap my mind around it. I mean, I totally get the pain. I understand feeling alone probably as well as anyone. Though, that may just be arrogance again. Anyway, I know how it feels. She thinks she has no choice, but she does have a choice. This isn’t ‘world endy’ stuff, it’s just life.

That’s probably insensitive. If it were Will—

I stare at the key. It’s funny that even the key to this thing is pretty. I’ve never seen a pretty key, at least I don’t remember—

“Are you sure there’s no one?” I mumble. I feel horrible. There has to be someone.

“Marie’s family disowned her when she followed me to England. My family—my father passed away years ago. We were alone. All we had was each other and a few friends.”

I look up, making eye contact and ask, “What about your friends?”

She looks away, unable to meet my gaze and responds, “None of them ride.” Trembling, she stares blankly toward the faint light in the eastern sky.

“Y’know you don’t have to do this. Will, she could give you your soul back. You could be part of something. You could make a difference,” I offer. Actually, I sound a little like I’m begging. It’s pathetic. The worst part is I have no clue why.

Without hesitation, she responds, “No.” A shaky sigh slips out and she adds, “Don’t you see, Buffy? I died hours ago. This is merely a formality. I don’t want to live. I don’t want to face the questions. I can’t face them. And I certainly can’t—I don’t want to be alone.”

“Yeah…I get that,” I whisper feebly. Actually, I don’t just get it, I respect it.

I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

Light our way, benevolent sun.
Breathe in union.

I glance up and she’s staring at me again.

With a weak smile, she says, “Tell me about Willow. When did you meet?”

I close my hand around the key to the MV and ask, “First, would you answer one question for me? Call it for peace of mind.”

Faint wisps of smoke are drifting off her skin. Speaking through clenched jaws, she replies, “I’ll try.”

“What’s keeping our friend—” I jerk my head, sharply gesturing over my right shoulder “—from digging out?”

She meets my gaze, giving me a hard glare and responds coolly, “He’s a quadruple amputee.”

“Oh,” I gasp, completely bowled over by her bluntness. That would totally do it. Maybe I should rethink a few things? It hits me that the thing—the monster that tried to kill Will—I did the exact same thing. No remorse, no pity…and he was a man once too…no room to talk. I curb my feelings and again find myself sympathizing. When I look up, her face is wet and smudged with tears.

I clear my throat and give her an answer, “Will and I met in high school our sophomore year. The first time I saw her she was taking a drink of water in the hallway. I think I fell for her then. I always loved her. She was—” I sigh and picture her face. “She’s always been my council, in part my conscience—though, the real one works pretty well—and one of my dearest friends. It took me a long time to get it.”

I can smell it now. Not just the sun, but her. She only has a few more minutes, tops. I look down. I don’t want to see.

“What changed?”

“Everything,” I answer honestly, then rethink my response and amend, “And nothing. Like I said, there was always love. Thing is, life for me…and for her when she was pulled into my little drama…it wasn’t—it still isn’t simple. Things like Kabadios—we’ve seen lots of them.” I snicker. “We even met Dracula once. That was drama—high drama. He’s all show.”

She chuckles painfully, but doesn’t say anything.

I need to keep talking. Instead, I hop to my feet. Slipping my jacket on, I zip it and offer her a hand. She gives me the weirdest look and takes it. After helping her to rise, I hug her. I dunno why, it just seems like the right thing. She hesitates, then settles into the hug and leans into me, turning her face away from my throat.  She needed this…and somehow I did too. She’s so warm. I remember how Spike’s hand felt. This is how it’s supposed to be.

Feeling the heat from her, the warmth of the sun—I breathe the smoke and my sinuses burn.

Shutting my eyes against the light, I whisper, “Will and I were apart for awhile, a year or so. It took that for me to get it. I missed her so much, but y’know how life can be. I was swept along. There were all these huge changes. When I finally saw her again, it was like a miracle. I felt so alone. With her there is was like magic, I felt complete. We—”

The heat grows intense, flashing and she’s gone.

So, as one, survive
Another day and season

Ashes rain down over me.

I can’t even begin to remember how many times this has happened to me.

I hold my breath and turn toward the sun. The eastern sky is lit in hues of crimson, gold and mauve. It’s beautiful.

“Good bye, Tam,” I manage and turn to look down the beach.

The black dot is still there.

After sweeping up my helmet, I pocket the key and walk purposefully toward it.

He’s so covered by the sand that it may take a little longer. He’s also really old. The younger ones are always weaker.

I’m actually torn. Part of me wants to take off running and rip his head off for destroying her—for murdering them. The other part wants to take a leisurely stroll on the beach and just think.

I rein in the slayer and walk at a normal pace. It’s probably a mistake. Thinking leads to brooding and brooding leads to badness. It’s an already established fact.

Instead, I just wander dully toward my goal. I can’t think. All I feel is miserable. I wipe my eyes and dry my hand on my jeans.

When I near my target, he catches fire. His lips rip open and bloody chunks spray from his mouth as he screams. I should be appalled, but what I actually feel is nothing until he crumbles. The sand around the hollow left by his absence caves in and the picture’s swept into the hole. Crap! Well, that’s gonna make this more fun, but I still have to see.

As I arrive at the spot, there’s nothing left but a dip in the sand. I set my helmet on a rock and sit down. It takes a little digging to find the picture frame. The glass is broken, but the picture’s intact.

I set eyes on this woman that meant the world to my friend and my stomach clenches. Her hair is short like mine was a long time ago in another country. It seems like a lifetime ago, but really it hasn’t been that long. Four years? I think so.

Summer blonde hair and blue-gray eyes…the rest of her facial features are sorta similar to mine. It’s not so much, but just enough that in a crowded room it might confuse someone who actually knew me.

If they didn’t know me—

Silence, legion. Save your poison.
Silence, legion. Stay out of my way.

Was this vampire…?   I dismiss it. It can’t be.

Bullshit. I know it can be.

Everyone and everything wants me dead. It’s total blast to live with.

And with the nagging…the feeling, like ice in the pit of my stomach, that something’s totally wrong.

I leap to my feet and walk listlessly toward the parking lot. If the Scottish beach was little comfort before, it’s no comfort now.

My hand loosens and tightens around the chin of my helmet. I realize what I’m doing when a faint cracking noise issues from the hard, acrylic shell. Great! I stop myself from throwing it. 

I got her killed. This stupid vampire saw her, thought it was me and he killed her.

All this!

Shaking, I draw in a sharp breath and exhale slowly.

No, I’m overreacting. I don’t know. I can’t know. I can guess. Wild conjecture and speculation are always useful.

I slip the picture into my jacket and try to cool off. I can’t ride like this.

That explains why Tam warmed up to me so quick. It explains a lot actually.

I need to get home.

The seething turns to simmering as I walk across the lawn. When I reach the bikes, I just feel your garden variety wretched. Woe is me—like that’s a new song. There’s nothing to do, nothing to fight. It’s all over.

The reasons don’t matter.  The fact is that two decent people are dead. They were part of that pile of humanity I’m supposed to defend. How many people are there in the world now—like seven billion? I’ll just get right on that ‘defending’ thing. But that’s it—that’s the brutal truth. I was handed an impossible job. Even with two-thousand of us, the battle’s still a losing one. It just sucks.

I reach into my pocket and pull out the first key I come to. The MV it is. Sorry Bernie.  

People die, it’s a universal truth.

After placing the key in the ignition, I put on my helmet and back the MV out of the slot.

People die and it’s not my fault.

I turn the key, hit the starter and the MV rumbles to life. Hopping on, I flip the sidestand up and pull out of the parking lot.

People die all the time and there’s nothing I can do about it.

As I make my way home, I feel dead. Most of the ride is a total blur. There are two or three routes I could’ve taken. I pull into our driveway and find I can’t remember which one I did take. Comforting.

Reaching into my pocket, I hit the garage door opener. Once inside, I take off my helmet and toss it into a corner. I need another one anyway. I actually want this in the house, so I shut the MV off and push it in with me, maneuvering it into Bernie’s corner. After extracting the picture from my jacket, I place it on a table next to the bike.

There’s no coffee, so Will must still be in bed. This drives her nuts, but I don’t care. I begin to strip, casting my clothes off as I make my way to the loft. I don’t even pay attention to where things land. I’ll get them later.

When I reach the bed, it’s just me. I slide in and curl up next to her. She blinks and meets my eyes. She knows instantly something’s really wrong.

I whisper, “It’s okay, Will, just hold me.” She does and doesn’t even complain that my hands are cold when I touch her. 

Thing is, when I see her, I get it.

There are people—people we meet that have an affect on us. It doesn’t matter how long we know them. It can be ten minutes or ten years. The time is insignificant. Tam showed me something. She left a mark. I need to honor her by making it mean something.

Settling into the curve of Willow’s shoulder, I enjoy the warmth and the comfort. She’s still soothing.

After several moments of quiet, blissful nothing, I murmur, “I love you.”

That’s all that really matters.

The End

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