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: My goal when I began this project was to replace the events of No Future for You with something perhaps slightly more compelling. Where I ended up bears almost no resemblance to the root story. Instead of replacing a mere four books in the series, I replace something closer to six. It’s a mess…an extremely controlled, intentionally created mess. The first act is primarily composed of a cutesy romance. There are, of course, elements that defy that description, but the core story is a romance, wrought with your standard coupling angst. I never lose sight of that even when stuff goes straight to hell. That’s what second acts are for, right? So, if you’d like to see one of your favorite characters spread thin like too little butter on dry toast, this is the story for you. Should you want to know more before you read, this entry will better explain what I had in mind. Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
Raindrops splash my head and shoulders. My clothes are soaked again. At least when they’re wet they don’t stink so much.
I look down, playing that kid’s game, avoiding the cracks as the sidewalk passes under my feet. This part of town’s pretty run down. There are lots of cracks. My heels click an offbeat rhythm against the steady patter of the rain.
Pulling my hand from my jeans pocket, I reach up to slick back a clump of hair that’s plastered across my forehead. Cold water pours down my back. That’s just what I was missing, something to make me miserable.
Christ, it sucks out here tonight! I shiver and put my hand back.
Yeah, it sucked last night too. And the night before. And the night before that.
Ohio just sucks. I mean, really…Sunnydale wasn’t bad, but Ohio? Whose bright idea was that?
Why not the Bahamas? Or if there just had to be a second Hellmouth in the States—kind of makes sense, what with the States—Key West might’ve been nice.
Hell, even Boston would’ve been better. Not for me, but—
Kind of goes without saying, but whoever made that call was one evil bastard.
I glance up. This is sort of new. My timing’s actually working out. Up ahead, at the end of this block, the residential neighborhood lets out. I’m nearly there.
Time’s a bastard too. Kind of weird how stuff blends. Kickin’ around, mindin’ my own…in all the right places at all the right times. One day I look up and the hours have turned into days.
And the days into weeks.
Has it really been weeks? I search, looking for a clue. Huh. Maybe it is has. I shrug.
Eh, whatever…I sound like one of those nine-to-fivers who can’t remember what they had for lunch on Tuesday.
Yeah, that’s me, a real working stiff.
Not even close.
At least our calling comes with three hots and a cot now. That is if you bother to stick around.
Shit. That’s almost like progress. Trouble is—the sticking around. That and the death sentence. I’ve been trying for years and I’m still not over that part.
Residential turns commercial and not a moment too soon. My destination’s in view. A pair of loading docks along the street make it look like a warehouse, but it isn’t. It’s actually a Chinese grocery store.
I hang a right, enter the alley behind it, move just out of view and pause to listen. Through the white noise of the rain and traffic on the ninety, I hear a muffled clip-clop. The sound’s a little heavier than mine, but then, so is its owner. It’s also much more regular—an even, metered pace—nothing like my bullshit stagger.
I’m almost glad I noticed the notice. Noticing might even mean that I avoid that death sentence.
I have mixed feelings about that.
As my stalker draws closer, I stare blankly at the cross street ahead. I’m not even gonna try to figure it out. Not now. There’s no point. Me surviving will piss them off and that’s enough.
A car cruises by, glinting under the streetlights and I look down. The tips of my boots are outlined by a puddle. Lightning crackles to my distant right, making the water on the patchy brick street shimmer. This alley’s trashed in ways you only find out east. Urban renewal’s skipped over it for the last couple centuries. Yet somehow the flashes of light make it look cool.
I’ve been at this way too long.
Y’know, I get that I asked for it, but this is seriously cutting into my drunken stupor. It’s really rude. I haven’t been this close to sober in…
I should seriously fix that.
I snicker and sing the first thing that comes to mind, The Ramones, I Believe in Miracles, really off key, belting out the words. Not that I remember them. “Oh, oh, oh…” Who gives a shit? I should be singing I Wanna Be Sedated, but that’s way too predictable.
Besides, it’ll be a goddamned miracle if I walk out of this alley alive. Dae’s coming. Figures he’s in no hurry. Smug asshole.
Sluggishly putting one foot in front of the other, I bellow, “I believe in miracles ’cause I’m one,” switching to, “Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours to go…” without changing pitch. Predictable or not, there are just certain things.
I knew that bitch’d send someone. I just don’t get why it had to be him.
Oh well. If I screw up, maybe someone will find something nice to say over my grave. “I wanna beee…lieve in miracles.” I’m not counting on it, but stranger things…
A blue dumpster sits off to my left. It actually looks newer and nicer than the painted block wall behind it. That’s not saying a whole lot. Clambering onto the dumpster’s lid, I butcher a little more of the song. “I’ve been blessed with the power to survive.” But that’s doing nothing good for my head. It thuds as I stand, facing the grimy, peeling, once-white paint. I think I’m done. I’d kill for an aspirin.
And maybe some b-vitamins.
Nah, that’d just be asking too much.
I jump, trying to grab for the roof’s edge and miss. My knee hits and the dumper’s lid bangs like a big plastic gong.
What kind of a name for a vamp is Dae?
Yeah, like asking the same rhetorical question over and over is even close to constructive. It’s just…there’s a point where things skate right past ironic into an entirely different camp.
I drag myself upright. Sucks that part of this is an act and part is just the mother of all hangovers. I’d probably be better off drunk. Another bounce on the lid and I grab for top of the wall. This time I get it. Pulling myself up, I rest my hips on the ledge and swing my legs over.
Anyway, fucker’s a complete pain in my ass. I wish he fought as campy as his name.
This is fun and all, but I gotta keep my eyes on what’s in front of me. Trouble is, what’s in front of me reminds me of that scene from Clerks—the guys playing street hockey on the roof of the neighborhood Quick Stop. It’s the same sort of place. And fun…that movie was fun. This isn’t.
Snickering, I make it to my feet and stare across the street to the north. There’s a narrow red sign with squiggly golden letters. Hell if I remember what they mean, but the food’s not half bad.
Who knew that Cleveland had a Chinatown?
Who wanted to know?
On the other side of the forgotten restaurant, the ninety stands on huge columns. And behind that is Cleveland’s skyline. It’s not a bad view, but I don’t have time to enjoy. I gotta get a move on.
Blinking away the city lights, I turn right and run. I run right out of roof, diving for the fire escape ladder on the building next door. It’s another one of those places. Three stories of dilapidated ocher brick, pre-nineteen-fifties architecture, a war era factory that needs to be torn down. And for now at least, home sweet home.
Funny thing, I’ve done this completely wasted. Maybe not so funny. I don’t remember it going this well. After a certain amount of clattering and clumsiness, I pull myself up on the rusty metal rung and climb to the roof.
Really, I should be all pounding heart and sweaty palms. I just can’t seem to care. This is just another thing in a long chain of things. If I die, who’ll miss me?
Least of all me.
But I still gotta make myself try, if for no other reason than the ass-wipe deserves it. He’s made it to the alley. This part has to be good, or I’m done. I stagger to the door and open it, passing by as it shuts. There’s a plastic bag on the other side of the—
These things have a name. I know they do. I’m just clueless what it is. They’re like a little building on top of the building for the roof access door.
Whatever, right now its cover. Cover’s close enough.
I reach into the bag and grab an aerosol can. He lands on top of the dumpster. The fire escape ladder barely makes a sound when he hits it. As he climbs, I skirt around the edge of the roof back to the ladder. There’s just enough wall above roof-level to hide me. All I have to do is be quiet. It’s lots to ask, but I think I’ll manage.
I glance at the aerosol can. Making sure it’s not pointing at me seems useful. Once my shit’s together, I poke my head up.
He’s there, right at eye level.
He screams and goes for his eyes.
Quick, easy, simple…all the things I like. It’s nice when a plan works out. Really weird, but kinda nice. I could almost get used to this. Not that I will ’cause it’s so rare. I revel in the rareness, laughing as he tumbles backwards.
On the way down his head hits the top of the block wall. It’s a two story drop right into one major migraine. Now we match. The blow throws him forward and his face bounces off the factory wall. He ping-pongs back and forth, landing face down in the walkway between the two buildings.
Yeah, y’know that had to hurt. I’m amazed he’s still screaming.
It’s really fascinating the kinda crap you can get at your local hardware store. I glance at the label, Gumout Xtra Concentrated Carburetor Cleaner. Shit’s gotta be worse than tear gas.
I need a smoke.
It can wait. Smoking around this stuff wouldn’t be smart. Safety first. Wouldn’t want him to get all dusty and boring. And setting myself on fire…
That’d be classy.
I go for my bag, stash the can of carb cleaner inside and climb down the ladder. Dropping the last ten feet, I stoop down.
He reacts by rolling over. Even fucked up, he’s quick as hell. Huge shock, he has a gun.
I still don’t know about vamps and guns. It’s pretty wrong. Call me an old fashioned slayer, but I prefer a straight fight.
Considering that he can’t see, it’s pretty damned easy to disarm him. Just turn out of the line-of-fire, grab the slide and twist down.
At least he tried. It’s the thought that counts, right?
I pay him back for his trouble. Blood sprays from his mouth when I smack him with the butt of the gun. Really don’t like guns, but I have to admit it makes a good club.
I toss it aside and roll him onto his smashed face. First things, first. This coat’s too damned nice for a scumbag like him. It might be a bit opportunistic, but really—
He tries to grab me as I pull his coat off. “What the fuck are you doing?” he asks, sounding like complete shit. I might feel bad if I felt anything at all.
“Same thing you are. Everyone’s gotta eat,” I reply. It’s the cold, hard truth. The coat pulls free and I step back to look through it. There’s bound to be a wad of cash here somewhere. They all have one. No sense in taking a chance on it burning up.
“Well, actually drink. I’m dying for a beer,” I mumble, completely preoccupied by all of the pointy things in his pockets. Something to eat wouldn’t hurt either, but I gotta have my priorities.
While I’m rifling through his shit, Dae rolls over and tries to sit up. Again, he doesn’t make it very far. I plant my foot across the bridge of his nose and he flops back.
Kako should’ve sent backup with her boy, but so far all I’ve heard is the pitter-pat of the rain and him. At least he’s over the screaming. It was on my last nerve.
There’s nothing in his damned coat…expect a small weapons locker. It’s heavy as hell. I put it on and look down. Poor ol’ Dae wasn’t bad looking. Now he’s a puffy, bleeding mess. The yellow and pink eyes are pretty freakish. One of them’s hemorrhaged, making the look that much better.
While I’m on the subject, I grab the can of carb cleaner and hose him down. It’s good to be sure. He opens his mouth to yell and I give him a reason not to. This is gonna get gross. I move out of the way. He spits, spraying the shit all over. Glad it’s him, not me. All those open cuts must hurt like a bitch. He clutches his face, writhing and moaning.
There’s a bulge in his jeans pocket.
I snap another kick to his face and bend down. He tries to stop me. It’s pointless. I just break his arm and do what I want. When I locate the lump, he barks, “Hey! Nasty, fucked up bitch!”
That really wasn’t what I was looking for. And he thinks I’m fucked up…?
“Okay, so…you gonna just tell me where your cash is, or—?” I grumble, going for the carb cleaner again.
I spray down the lump and he yowls, “Where you think it is, crazy fuckin’ cunt?” He has priorities too. His hands go from his face to his groin. When I smack him with the can, he gets confused. Sputtering, he finally arrives at his point, “Alright, alright, it’s in my goddamned wallet!”
Wallet? “No shit?” I exclaim. “Really?” This is new. “You carry a wallet?” I’ve never seen a vamp carry a wallet. When he rolls his hips and tries to fish it out, I lend a hand.
“What the fuck’s your problem?” he asks as I rise.
I pull the cash out, pitching the wallet over my shoulder before bothering to reply, “Which one?” His question’s so lame it barely deserves an answer. I give him one anyway. “Could be that you tried to kill me.”
I pause to count the pile of bills. Huh. Nice take. I could pretty much go where ever I want on a couple grand. Stashing the cash in my jeans pocket, I roll my eyes. “Nah. That scenario’s so tired. It’d be easier to list who hasn’t tried to kill me.” Sad part is that’s true.
No, the sad part is, it’s mostly my so-called friends who pull that trick. It gets even sadder when I consider how often it’s happened. For some of them it’s practically become a hobby.
I bend down. My little bag of tricks rustles when I open it. It makes him nervous. At least he’s not stupid.
He shouldn’t have gotten me started. I move on to the next bullet point on my list. “Maybe it was that slayer you did a few weeks back?” I pause to mock-ponder again. “Shooting fourteen-year-old Mary Ann from Hoboken Kansas isn’t exactly the best way to get on my good side.” I really wish I could remember her name.
He’s got nothing but drool and blood, not that I expect anything. A mouthful of whatever noxious shit carb cleaner is probably wouldn’t make me chatty either.
I take out a pair of handcuffs. I had to seriously look for these. They aren’t those cheesy ones, like the cops use, with the chain. They’re the kind with the hinge between the two bracelets. I couldn’t break them. I doubt he’s gonna.
“Might be the need you and your people have to act like major boneheads,” I say with a snicker. “Imagine that.” It’s hardly funny. More like kindergarten humor. But then, there are the ridges.
“Have you ever seen the inside of a Hellmouth?” I ask, seizing his right wrist. The cuff snaps closed and I ratchet it down past the point of painful. “They aren’t the homiest places.” Using the empty cuff as a handle, I plant him on his face. “I doubt your dimwitted disciples would be so thrilled if they had a clue.”
His left arm still works. He tries to twist free when I grab it. My knee digs into his lower back. I wrench his arms into place and close the second cuff as I consider, “Or maybe it’s the busload of preschoolers you vamped last week.” I’m not even sure it was last week. It might’ve been the week before. There’s this thick haze between here and there. But ‘last week’ sounds good, so I run with it. And—smart boy—he doesn’t try to correct me. “I dunno. Lemme think about it. I’ll get back to ya.”
I torque the cuff down before rendering a verdict, “Yeah, I think it was the definitely kids that did it. That was some sick ass shit.” Lacing my fingers through his short spiky hair, I make a fist. “You didn’t think they’d send some green little girl, fresh off the bus to clean up that clusterfuck, did you?” I rip him over onto his back.
His eyes are unfocused. I’m pretty sure he can’t see me, but I still make eye contact before I growl, “No, they sent me.” Strange how just admitting it makes me feel a little better.
I walked into the house and this pretty little girl with long red curls was sitting on an old recliner. She might’ve been six. Her legs were folded underneath her. There was an old quilt draped over her shoulders. She said ‘Hi,’ and before I knew it, I was surrounded. It was so weird. Like something out of a bad horror flick.
They were already dead.
Yeah, that’s been my story. And so far it’s been helpful. The only time I don’t see her face is when I’m too trashed to see anything at all.
As I reach into my bag and take out a bundle of rope, he finds something to say, “I just follow orders.” He cackles. It’s pretty weak, but still a laugh. It makes me want to hit him. I’ve always had this problem with impulse control, or so the shrinks tell me. But this time, I’m just a little slow. Before I can shut him up, he gets out, “It’s not like all those brats wuh—”
It’s not news that he wasn’t alone. It shouldn’t be news to him that I’m just warming up.
I put the noose over his neck and pull it tight. “I don’t give a shit,” I mutter as I toss the bundle of rope over my head. It hits the roof of the grocery store and I walk away. I know he can hear me, so I keep talking as I climb onto the roof, pull the rope tight and lash it to a pipe. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m not gonna kill you. I know this’ll sound completely tired, but I need you to send a message to the others.” I giggle. “Death is coming…” And bust up laughing.
“Yeah, whatever…this isn’t some goddamned movie. It’s my life. And I’m sick of you assholes screwing it up.” I look over the edge of the roof. Predictably, he’s sitting up. He can’t quite stand, so his neck’s stretched out. He’s half-hanging by it. Pretty much what I was looking for.
I drop down. Stooping to reach into my bag, I say, “Y’know, I’ve been wondering something.” I pull out a bottle of liquid drain cleaner and turn to show him. “Now the way I’ve got it figured, if you’re upright, this won’t kill you. I could be wrong, but—”
Ah, it’s nice to see we’ve finally reached an understanding. I’m surprised he can see. But through all the puffy gore, he looks mortified.
I picked the nastiest stuff I could find. There are warnings on the bottle about this shit eating your chromed fixtures. Like I have chromed fixtures. I have vamps.
I have vamps coming out my ears. Vamps who think it’s funny to shoot at little girls. Vamps who’re adept at social networking.
Needless to say, I ran out of patience a while ago.
I gotta hand it to him—he doesn’t grovel. He probably gets just how pointless that’d be.
Setting the bottle aside, I grab a shop rag out of my bag and stuff it in his mouth. Wouldn’t want him to spit on me. He gags when I push a funnel in next to the rag.
This is a real test of my remaining patience. It’ll be worth it, though. He tries to shake his head and I hold him by the hair. He smokes, retches and stinks as I pour. Some of the caustic shit comes out his nose. This doesn’t look good for our villain. His skin bubbles where it runs.
I manage to get about ninety percent of the crap down the hatch without wearing too much. My hands are the worst of it. I rinse them in a puddle, wipe them on my jeans and reach for the next item: duct tape. It wouldn’t do for all my hard work to come back up. I tape his mouth and nose first. The smoke rolling out of them is just plain nasty. He’s so wet and slimy it takes a full wrap, but that’s kind of the plan anyway.
And look at that…there’s just enough left to do his eyes. He does his best impression of a flounder when I empty the bottle over his face.
Perfect. There won’t be much of this prick left by morning. I cocoon his head in a thick, tight layer of tape. Way I got it figured, dickhead’s got a choice: either rip a hand off, or—well, all that gas is gonna have to go somewhere.
Reaching into the bag, I pull out a butter knife I borrowed from the forgotten restaurant across the street. “If you’re smart, you’ll start now,” I say, leaning down to put it in his hand. He tries to take it, but he’s at that stage where there’s so much pain that his body just shakes. I’m nothing if not helpful. I press the handle into his palm until I feel him take hold.
Again, horror movie cliché, but there are just certain things that make sense.
Giving him a hacksaw doesn’t make sense.
Now for my message…
I pull a small, grubby cardboard sign from my bag. The guy I got this off of looked like he could use the help. A few bucks saved me the trouble of making my own. I hope he didn’t spend it all on booze. On one side the sign says, ‘Will work for food.’ What it says the other side’s a little more direct. I hang the sign around Dae’s neck, ‘fuck you’ side out.
After policing the scene, I return to the roof, dropping the plastic bag in the dumpster on my way past. It might be time to move. Have to say, a hot shower and a warm bed hold some appeal.
Untying the rope, I make a run at the fire escape and climb up. There’s just enough slack to reach the top. It comes to me that I’m not alone as I pull the rope tight.
From behind me someone asks, “You don’t intend to leave him that way do you?” The someone is male, English and really, really condescending. Two guesses—
I don’t need this crap.
“What business is it of yours, Giles?” I growl. This fucker’s heavy. And he’s thrashing around. It’s annoying. I tow his cumbersome ass up another couple of feet and grumble under my breath, “Look, if you really want to help out so much, I could use a hand with the dead weight.”
Giles ignores me. “Well, I’m pleased to see that your rehabilitation has paid off.” Snark from the bloody British comes out positively desiccated.
I haven’t got time for this. Cutting through the bullshit, I ask, “What do you want?”
“I’m here to offer you a job,” he replies. He’s closer now. Not quite close enough to reach out and touch, but too close.
Pulling on the rope, I remark bitterly, “I’m retired.” I wedge my right hand in next to the wall so I don’t lose any ground. “Get Heaven to do it. She’s the new two-one-six chosen one.” Rolling my eyes, I grumble, “Heaven,” hissing distastefully. Just what kind of drugs were her folks on?
Hell if I know. I guess whatever drugs they serve in bum-fuck Arkansas. Considering that Bentonville’s major contribution is Wal-Mart—
I’ve got more important stuff to worry about, like hauling this two-hundred pound worm up the side of this godforsaken building. I get to it as Mr. Wizard predictably corrects me, “I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Firstly, retirements are granted, not taken.”
I have to interrupt, “Retirement also indicates a paying gig.” But it’s like I’m not even here.
The truly annoying part is he doesn’t even raise his voice when talks over me. “Furthermore, simply because Robin Wood has romantic designs on a young woman doesn’t qualify her for a leadership role. Your replacement arrived on Monday. She was hand selected by the Council.”
I’m sure she’s a real piece of work. I wonder if Giles has a clue that I don’t give a shit. I care so little I’m not even sure what day it is. Does it really matter?
Not a whole lot. Not to me at least. Might to Wood. He’ll probably be in the bitch’s pants by Friday. Fucker’s worse than I am.
I stop to say, “I quit, then.” The rope bites into my hands. I should’ve worn gloves.
Giles chuckles. “You truly believe it’s that easy?” A metallic clacking sound comes from behind me. I don’t have to look to know. It’s the bolt of a gun snapping into place. I’ve heard that a lot lately. That Frasier has one too isn’t terribly surprising. Everyone does. Smug as hell, he says, “You have a decision to make, Faith.”
I peek over the edge of the roof as he remarks, “You can either refuse my offer.” This piece of shit’s above the level of the grocery store. As far as I’m concerned, that’s close enough. Gripping the rope for all I’m worth, I turn.
There’s a vent pipe that should hold him right next to Giles. He backs off when I go for it. Crossing the short distance without dropping the prick’s a complete bitch. I finally lose it when I try to loop the rope around the pipe. The fucker drops about five feet. But once the rope’s in place, things get much easier. If I were smart…
Giles is rattling, “…your unconscious body on the steps of that local sheriff’s office.” I missed most of that, but—
It’s pretty much what I expected. Doesn’t matter what I do, the past will always haunt me. Again, it’s not like I’m surprised. I did some pretty shitty stuff.
Sitting on the wet roof, I brace my legs against the pipe and pull the douchebag up. Giles waits for me to finish. Once the rope’s tied off, I stand. Being upright just sucks. If it’s possible, I’ve found new things that hurt. And my hands are a mess. I look them over before bothering to face Giles. At least it’s only a tranq gun. I figured as much. He really isn’t the type to destroy something that could be useful later.
Funny, for all his attitude, he hasn’t glanced once at the rope. And he didn’t try to stop me. He really couldn’t care less.
At least there’s that.
I fold my arms and listen to option B. “Should you arrive at the sensible conclusion, I will see to it that you retire with a full pardon and compensation for your services. You will be a free woman. I’ll even throw in a passport and airline tickets to the destination of your choice.”
I have to admit that sounds one hell of a lot better than that first thing. What I heard of it. But he hasn’t said what the job is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned—
That doesn’t matter much to him. He says, “Now come along. We have things to attend to,” letting me know that in his mind this is a done deal.
Really, he’s right. Here’s the bottom line: unless he’s got an infant he wants me to drown, this can’t be any worse than the last order I got from Wood. And that’s just not Giles’ style. Provided he hasn’t found the Antichrist, I should be straight.
I guess that means I’m in. “Alright,” I reply. But I can’t make it that easy. I just have to add, “On one condition.”
His eyes narrow. “You’re in no position to bargain, Faith.”
I laugh. “Chill, Giles, I just want a beer.”
That earns me a smile. “Ah,” he says. “Well, I believe we can manage that.” He turns to head for the door, motioning me on. “Shall we?”
I’m probably gonna regret this.
They say the real trick to gambling is knowing when to walk away. It’s an art.
I look at the mirror above the bar, checking out the little blonde who just walked in the door. A lump of ice moves in where my gut’s supposed to be.
This is the first thing I’ve felt in weeks. Figures it’d be panic. I try to swallow, but my throat catches. I cough and grab for my beer.
Yeah. And my hands are shaking so bad I almost knock it over. That’s right, make a scene, draw attention.
Fuck! This isn’t happening.
My throat won’t stop tickling. I cover my mouth to hide the fact that I’m hacking up a lung.
I finally manage enough control to take a swig of beer. My eyes are watering. I mop them with trembling hands.
Alright, one more glance, just to be sure.
Well, she’s put on a few pounds. Not many. Go figure, ten pounds took ten years off her face. She actually looks healthy now. Her dark blue cocktail dress clings in all the right places. It shows off enough cleavage to make spotting the gay guys in the room completely mindless.
That’s her. Sickeningly perfect body, baby doll cute…her hair’s a little shorter than last time, but—
It’s time I firmed up. This is happening.
But it’s not happening to me. Not if I can help it. Giles can find some other stoolie.
Slouching, I dig into my pants pocket. It takes all I’m worth to get my money out. Let’s see I’ve had, uh…
I’ve had beers. No telling how many. Too many to deal with this.
I’ve got no time to wait for the check. I pull a bill from the roll, motion to the bartender and lay it in front of me. A c-note should more than cover my tab.
He sees the money and nods. That’s my cue.
It’s a real blast from the past to ask this, but since when is she the bad slayer? That’s what this crap’s about, right?
That’s what Giles said. He also said she’d find me. He didn’t think me knowing what she looked like was crucial to the mission. And now I get why.
But I thought the bitch was in Scotland. Silly me. See what I get for thinking? Here she is having a glass of wine with the owner of a riverboat casino in Newport, Kentucky.
What the fuck’s up with that?
Did she bail too?
Whatever. I’m sure there’s a story. And I’m sure it’s good. But I’m sure not sticking around to find out.
She’s between me and the door, so I take off around the bar. I want to run. I need to, but I can’t. That’d just be stupid. The second I’m out of the room, I lose it and bolt. The few people standing in the aisle are smart enough to get out of my way. I dodge between slot machines and roulette tables in a mad dash for the exit.
The first rule of gambling is never bet more than you can afford to lose. When it comes to B., I’m strapped. I cashed out years ago.
It’s cool. I’ve got plenty to disappear on. I’ll just keep moving and pray they don’t find me. That’s what I should’ve done in the first place, but stupid me—
I open the door. Icy air hits me. Shivering, I turn to look over my shoulder as I step outside. Good. No one’s following me. I’ll have to come back for my coat. No big.
When I face forward, my heart doesn’t quite leap out of my chest. B.’s standing right in front of me.
My heart hammers, like it’s still looking for a way out. And so am I. Too bad there isn’t one.
Y’know, plans rarely work for me. I should know better. All I’ve got now is rabbit.
My only other option is to cold-cock her. But things haven’t spiraled quite that far yet.
Give it time.
I have to head back the way I came. I’ll smack her down if she tries to stop me.
I turn to do just that and she says, “You aren’t leaving without saying a word, are you?” She draws in a shaky breath. “I thought we were friends.”
Huh. Now there’s a radical interpretation of the text. “Look B., I noticed you. You noticed me,” I reply. “But that’s no reason for us to pretend that we’re friends.” Door handle in hand, I glance over my shoulder. She looks every bit as hurt as she sounds. “We aren’t.” We never have been and she knows it. Sometimes the truth just sucks. “All I want to do is leave. I’ve got nothing against you, but—” My own radical interpretation falls short.
How she came up with two glasses of wine so quick is anyone’s guess. Offering me the one in her left hand, she says, “It’s okay. You don’t have to stay. Just please, have a drink with me.”
Shit. “Alright, whatever,” I reply through a sigh and open the door. Let the spiral begin. If this goes like usual, we’ll be pounding the snot out of each other inside an hour.
I can hardly wait.
Once we’re inside, she hands me the wineglass and says, “It’s pretty good.”
Mixing beer and wine is never good. That is unless you like living dangerously. And look at me go.
I manage to plaster on a weak smile. Thankfully, she turns to lead the way. I’ve got nothing to say. I follow her through the casino back into the lounge.
One of the waitresses sees us come in and gestures to a dark corner booth. As we work our way across the room, the ice in my gut thaws. B. stops to say, ‘Hi,’ here and there. She’s so friendly it’s hard to see the person I knew. Wonder what happened to her.
When we finally reach our table, she’s got the eyes of half the room on her. I could live without the attention. But it occurs to me as we make the rounds that I do have something to say.
I make eye contact and she gives me a warm, inviting smile. Yeah, I wonder what she did with the old B. Oh well, time to see if the attitude adjustment holds. “What are you doing here?” I ask.
She sips her wine, lingering to enjoy the bouquet. Or that’s what your average wine nut would say. After setting the glass down, she replies, “Chances are, same thing you are.”
Whoa. Back the bus up. They sent us both?
This chick must be—
I cut myself off by picking up my glass. Good answer, but it’s not really an answer at all. It still doesn’t tell me anything. It’s as leading as my question. Guess I’ll have to find some other way.
I take a sip, mimicking her behavior. I don’t know a damned thing about wine, but this isn’t horrible. I never liked the stuff. It was always too sweet or too tart. This isn’t. It’s got a little bite that hits the back of your throat. And there’s a smoky hint that’s kind of strange. I could actually drink this. “What is this?” I ask, gesturing to my glass as I set it down.
She replies, “A local pinot from some winery across the river. Richard turned me on to it.” Smiling, she gives the owner a discrete wave. He’s friendly enough, but preoccupied. She’s interrupting his downward mobility. Poor guy. The new girl who’s fawning all over him isn’t half as pretty. “I always ask him what’s good when I come in,” she concludes with a shrug.
I stare at my glass. Shit looks like blood. Maybe that’s why I don’t like it.
Yeah, this is fun and all, but I need to redirect. I just wish I had a clue how. I really can’t without laying all my cards on the table. It doesn’t help that my brain feels like it’s been pickled. Wine’s the last thing I need. I’d like to drink up and bail, but that’d be an epic mistake.
One involving memory loss, sleeping face-down in a gutter, puddles of barf…and other assorted ‘not so much fun’ things. I could live without the rerun.
She has another sip and her expression turns thoughtful. “Y’know, Faith, I get it,” she says.
You do? Care to help a ‘friend’ out, ’cause I’m clueless?
I look up as she lifts her glass again, adding, “Or I think I do.” Savoring’s a thing of the past. She swallows half the glass in one large gulp. I think she’s as bad as I am.
She licks her lips and sets her glass down. Still cupping it in her hand, she says, “They expect more of us because of who we are.” She gets up and offers me a hand. I guess we’re done.
Well, her speech isn’t over, but I may be getting my wish. “Thing is, they don’t have a clue.” Not exactly the way I wanted, but that’s typical.
I take her hand and she guides me to my feet. As we head for the door, she says, “They think because of who we are we can handle more.” We enter the lobby and she lets go of me.
I’m curious where she’s headed, so I go through the motions. She flirts with the clerk. I just pass him my voucher and twenty bucks to cover both of our coats and a tip. This is a game to her. She’s all smiles and giggles. Funny, he doesn’t notice how fake they are. I don’t bother. There’s no point. I accept my coat and offer a muffled, “Thanks.” I put mine on as he helps her into hers.
She pushes the door open, reclaims my hand and escorts me off the boat. Once we’re on the pier, she gets back to business. “The thing they don’t see is that it’s just the opposite.” She’s not wasting any time. I have to all but run to match her pace. Only B. could charge up a flight of stairs in those heels and barely make a sound.
Huh. I guess that means I’m getting over it.
“There’s such a thing as too much,” she says, letting out a cold laugh. “And we’ve seen it. We’ve seen that and more. More than anyone should.” Pausing at the top of the stairs, she gives me a sidelong glance. Her expression’s dark and haggard. She’s turned a one-eighty since we stepped outside. I knew that was all a show.
I just didn’t get how much show.
“Because of what we’ve seen, we can’t handle as much,” she says, gesturing either way down the street. I point left and she takes off. “We shouldn’t have to. And they shouldn’t make us.”
I follow her lead, replying, “I’m not sure about can’t, but I see your point.” It almost sounds like I’m defending them. I’m not. I just don’t like the implied weakness. I shrug.
Really, she’s got a point. It’s not a point I ever thought I’d ever hear her make. I still have to wonder what happened to the sanctimonious bitch I met back in Sunnydale.
She mumbles, “I’m just so tired.”
Can’t really say I miss her.
Her pace slows to crawl. She veers left, stopping at a metal rail at the edge of the levee. Thing’s made of galvanized pipe.
We’re in Kentucky.
I take the cold pipe in hand and look across the river at the city. Cincinnati’s a pretty place, especially at night. The skyscrapers downtown rise up from the river valley partially obscuring the lights of the ghetto behind them.
Some guy told me this place was settled by a bunch of Greeks. They built a canal at the base of the hill. It’s gone now, but it left a mark. Everything on the hill past it became known as ‘Over-the-Rhine,’ like the canal was some sort of replacement for the Rhine River.
She has her arm around me. I ignore it.
Goes to show, people need familiarity. The name and her arm are both just symptoms.
And smoking can be educational. That old man was kinda cool. I bummed him a smoke and he told me a story. It was a pretty fair trade.
Irony doesn’t get much thicker. Over-the-Rhine is the nation’s largest historic district. Most of the buildings are over three-hundred years old. The fronts are all covered in ornamental cast iron, leafy patterns, vines and shit. It’s kinda neat looking. Prettiest slum I’ve ever seen.
It’s a shame. The bangers and squatters are fucking it up. There’s graffiti all over the place. Some of the buildings are so far gone it’s hard to picture what they once were.
Really, it’s not that much different here than it was in Cleveland. I’m not even sure why I like it. But I guess that’s the point. It’s different. It feels different.
Thing is, I didn’t start off hating Cleveland. It was kind of cool at first. I did the tour. The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame was the high point.
Give it a few weeks. Once the tour ends, I’ll probably hate Cinci too. It just seems to go that way. It’s not the place. It’s what happens in the place. Shit goes sideways and—
“What do you feel?” she asks. Her voice is so soft the question is nearly lost in the breeze.
I don’t know. I feel a little cold and I’m pretty drunk, but somehow I don’t think that’s what she wants to hear.
I shift my weight forward. Leaning my forearms against the rail, I clasp my wrist. As she moves her arm, I ask, “What do you mean?”
She replies, “It’s just…I feel so numb.” She’s crying. I hear it in her voice now. “And when I’m alone…” She backs off, but I can still feel her. “I don’t like to be alone.”
“Yeah,” I mumble. I wish I had more for her, but I don’t really mind being alone. Actually, I prefer it. I do get the numb. I get it a little too well.
A riverboat returning to the pier holds my attention. It lazily drifts past the concrete columns of the interstate bridge.
“Look at me,” she whispers, adding a feeble, “Please,” when I don’t immediately turn around.
I do as she asks, but can’t bring myself to face her. I stare at the ground in front of my feet and lean back against the rail.
It’s weird. I’m almost jealous. I haven’t been able to make myself cry in—
I’m not even sure. It’s been years.
I cross my arms and wait for whatever’s next.
She closes in, gently coaxing my arms to unfold. When she has my hands in hers, she asks, “Do you think there’s any hope?”
“For what?” I reply. I wish she’d stop being so damned vague.
“For us,” she says, like it should clear the whole thing up. I sigh and meet her eyes. Maybe there’s a clue—
Y’know, rules work great for games. The rules are just the rules. That’s how it is. There aren’t any exceptions. If you don’t like the rules, you don’t have to play.
In life, rules are pointless. Exceptions happen all the time. There aren’t any rules, just a thick gray haze and a bunch of judgment calls.
I feel like an idiot, but she doesn’t notice. She puts her arms around me and rests her head on my shoulder.
I had this talk with Giles. He insinuated some things that made me uneasy.
I told him I’m not gay and I meant it. I’m really not.
Here’s the exception.
I haven’t been here twenty minutes and I’m already up to my neck in smelly mud. It’s almost like old times. I just knew this was gonna go well.
S’pose it’d help if I understood why, but I’ve wasted enough time on that little conundrum. And so far…
Last night all I wanted was to get away. That’s still the smart call.
Yet, here I am. Like a glutton.
I sigh. And the punishment…
Whatever. I may as well enjoy it. I mean, why not? Everything else is a nightmare. I would’ve sworn on a stack of Bibles that last night was.
That is until I got up. The pink lipstick smudge on my cheek kinda killed that theory.
And finding the business card in my pocket killed the rest of my morning. I blew the entire thing off, drinking coffee and agonizing over what I should do.
I’m done agonizing. It’s time to go with this and see where it leads. The smell’s a little hard to get past, but at least it feels good.
Weird, but good. I’m not even sure where the bottom is. I know the tub has to have one, but I haven’t found it.
Madeline, or whatever her name is, whispers my name and touches my face. She peels the crap off it a little at a time, blotting the residue away with a cool cloth.
I’m not sorry to see it go. I thought the shit would never dry. And before it did, the stench was almost worse than the mud. Or maybe it was just the two together. Anyway, it was nasty.
Weird squishy sounds off to the left make my eyes snap open. It’s pretty messed up that the first place my brain goes is ‘chaos demon.’ It’s nothing like that. B.’s out of her tub, naked and coated in something that looks a little like half-mixed Nesquik.
She grins at me. We’ve barely exchanged two words since I got here. She doesn’t need to talk. I’d be fine with her just standing there for a while.
It’s a shame. She and what’s-her-face, uh…Gabrielle, I think…wipe the Nesquik off, or most of it and leave the room.
Anywhere else, these two would be Maddie and Gabbie, but here—
I’m so out of my league.
I would’ve blown off this circus if I wasn’t so damned curious. That’s really the best reason I can find for the masochism.
I’m not even sure what to be more curious about. There’s a list. Starting with: why didn’t she kiss me last night? She sure looked like she wanted to. Instead, she melted down. I got a peck on the cheek and a ‘thanks’ for my trouble before she bailed. I have no idea what to make of that.
At the time I was pretty sure it was an accident. Maybe she was thinking about someone else when she looked at me. Or maybe I just imagined the entire thing.
Now I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine anything, which just adds to the pile of questions.
Why now? What’s changed?
And I’d still like an answer to my first question. Why here?
They just keep stacking. At this rate, by the end of the week, I’ll have a dozen or so unanswered questions. Won’t that be fun?
“We should get you out of there,” Maddie whispers. I figure I don’t need the help. That is until I try to move, then I’m happy to have it. My muscles are so relaxed and the mud—well, it’s mud…warm, smelly mud. I could get out on my own, but the hand helps.
When I finally find my way out of the steaming quicksand, she attacks me with cold cloths. It’s not exactly what I expect, but I guess it feels okay.
Really, it’s more than a little weird to have some strange chick touch me. But it’s not like I’m modest and Maddie seems alright, so I blow it off. I take a cloth from the stack to wipe my face and the back of my neck. I’m sweating like a pig. She’s almost done. Before we leave the room, I just have to ask, “Does she bring many people here?”
Her brow furrows. “Buffy?” she asks.
No, Princess Margaret.
I must’ve let the attitude show ’cause she spills in hushed tones. “Sometimes she comes in with her roommate, but they’re both regular customers. Otherwise, no, you’re the first guest she’s had.” I guess she probably isn’t supposed to talk about the clients. It’s cool, though. She’s grinning.
I cock an eyebrow. There’s more, but she’s not gonna share. And I don’t press. I don’t want to get her in trouble.
Besides, I probably just learned more from Maddie in a minute than I will from B. in a week. I should be grateful for the straight answer and the bonus round.
If not completely shocked…
So, B. has a roommate. That’s not all that surprising. I don’t think she’s ever lived alone. But I have to wonder who it is. And there are all the standard questions: male or female, platonic or pelvic…
Knowing B. it’s probably some nerdy chick who couldn’t get her naughty on with—
Maddie smothers my muse by saying, “We should get moving. Buffy’s waiting.” Poor little muse, but Maddie’s enthusiasm’s more telling than anything she said. Add the grin and Simon says I might just be in trouble.
Good thing I like trouble. The truly twisted part is that I like being curious too. It never ends well, but I like it.
She leads me to a shower stall in the adjoining room. The water’s already running. I step in. It feels good. I could hang for a while, but she’s right. The only reason I’m here is to figure out what’s up, so I hose off as quick as I can and get out.
After helping me into a robe, Maddie leads me down the hall to the next phase of the torture. She taps on the door before opening it. B.’s alone in the room, lounging in a hot tub. She smiles when she sees us.
The room isn’t much bigger than the tub. By using light colors and mirrors they’ve managed to make it seem open and airy. A few tropical plants just kinda add to that feel. This isn’t a bad place.
“I’ll be back in about twenty minutes,” Maddie says and tries to bail, but B. stops her by saying her name. ‘Madeline’ it is.
Doesn’t matter, she’ll always be Maddie to me.
“You think you could send one of the girls in to do Faith’s manicure?” B. asks.
“Oh, certainly,” Maddie replies. “I’ve got time. I just thought you two might like to be alone.” When B. gives her another charming smile, Maddie concludes, “Get settled. I’ll be right back.”
Once she’s gone, B. focuses on me. “That’s okay with you, right?” she asks.
I shrug. This is her deal, not mine. Though I do get the want. Time on the street did nothing good for my hands. I don’t think they’ve ever looked worse.
But really, this is just adding to the wait. I’m not a fan.
It came to me this morning what I could ask without tipping my hand. If I hadn’t been so plastered last night, I might have more of a clue. This just isn’t that hard. I walk around the tub and drop my robe in one of the two wicker chairs behind her before I ask, “What’d Giles tell you?”
I kinda want to see her face, but it’s cool. The question makes me getting into the tub less of a show.
Yeah, she isn’t very interested in me. I slide in on her left without so much as a glance. The water feels nice. And she’s just funny. She looks so thoughtful, but all that comes out of her mouth is, “Uh, not much.”
Picking a mirror to her right to stare at, she whispers, “Look, Faith, I don’t want to lie to you.” Safe bet, she can see me in it. She clears her throat. “I had pretty much the same talk with Giles that I had with you last night. Since then, things have been a little different for me.” She faces me. Her expression’s earnest. “Can we just not? I mean, I get the worry. Things are just…” She searches for the right word and fails.
I force a reassuring smile, hoping it’ll put her at ease. “It’s cool. I’m right there with you, B.,” I reply with a snicker. “If I had to put a label on ‘things,’ I’d have a hard time too.”
It works. She lightens up, facing me and returning the smile. “I just want this to be about us if that’s okay,” she says.
She never really hits nervous, but her avoidance doesn’t sit well. It’s not like that was a hard question.
Last time I talked to Angel he said something about seeing B. at some club in Rome. He wanted to know how she was.
He’s concerned. I suppose it’s sweet.
I played along. No sense making him worry. But as far as I know, B. wasn’t anywhere near Rome at the time. And she sure wasn’t out clubbing then. Giles would’ve had a heart attack.
The whole thing was a little strange, but I blew it off.
One day I was just sort of doing my thing and it clicked. I wouldn’t put it past them to have body doubles. It makes a lot of sense. B.’s way too important. And when people get too important…
It’s not like they tell me shit. But why would they? If there are dupes, advertising the fact wouldn’t be smart. It’d kind of make them useless. Or less useful.
I know it’s a stretch, but she could be one of them. It’s an easier answer than some magic trick gone sideways. But that’s always possibility too. Sad, our lives are just that screwed up.
Thing is, I don’t think Giles would send me for that. I’m not qualified.
But he’d totally send me after a body double. What would she be? Some confused, probably scared, young slayer who just needs help. I’m extremely qualified for that job.
That kind of is my job. Or it has been for the last year.
I don’t know.
If that is it, I’m seriously impressed. She’s three feet away from me now in good light. It’s B. She moves like B. Sounds like B. Acts like B. Whatever’s up, I have to assume it’s up with B.
That’s not a comforting thought.
Or maybe it is…
She has changed. But I can’t say I’m hating it. She used to look at me and it was like…I could see it in her eyes. She thought she was better than me. That’s the thing. That’s why I couldn’t stand her.
That’s gone now. She looks at me and she’s happy to see me. She missed me. I don’t know what changed. But sorry, I have to see that as progress.
Unless she does something really whacked, I’m gonna keep an open mind and hope she’d do the same for me.
We’ve both seen our share of how fair and impartial the Watchers Council can be. It may be under new management, but the rules haven’t changed. It’s still a bunch of lame guys using us to fight a war they don’t have the ass to fight themselves. They’re far from perfect.
Could be she told Giles to go get bent. It wouldn’t be the first time. And that totally fits the definition. It’s certainly not above them to ask for some pretty shitty stuff.
The little girl looms in my mind. And of course, she decides to hang out. Her and her ratty old quilt.
It’s time to switch subjects. I may as well ask, “So, what changed?” It’s the question of the hour. Maybe B. can distract me.
She whispers, “Nothing,” pausing to sigh. “And everything.” Her focus shifts when Maddie taps on the door. “Later, okay?”
I give in and nod.
Return to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fiction
Return to Main Page