Perish the Thought
by Aadler
Copyright May 2003

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.

Season: not known, but might be Second or Third (Buffy)
Spoiler(s): none

Terror throbs through her, every breath a knife in her chest, but fear is a familiar companion and long ago ceased to order her motions. She bursts through the door and is spinning to slam it in the same instant, shooting the heavy sliding bolt, and a moment later a body rebounds from the other side with a boom that echoes through the room. The fluttering of her heart can't suppress the swell of triumph: her four-second lead shrunk to one, she barely made it, but "barely" counts and she's still here to do her part.

Her eyes sweep over the room and its contents with practiced, analytical skill even as the pulse thunders in her ears. The door is steel, and the wall around it; not even a master vampire could get through one of those without time and strenuous effort, and this building houses no masters, though one or two might believe themselves to possess such a status. Two chairs, one broken. (Good.) Desk, empty shelves. The door at the other side of the room is twin to the one through which she entered, and she sets the bolt there almost simultaneously with seeing it.

Not much to work with, but it will do. The Slayer will save her; she only has to survive until that can happen.

A scuffling noise from above jerks her gaze upward, and she feels her muscles trying to lock with panic. The ducts, someone is coming in through the air ducts! Instantly she rejects the notion of standing on the chair and trying to fight them at the grate with her single stake; instead she jams her hand into the other pocket of the pink sweater, and pulls out a white plastic bottle with a gilt cross on one side. Fingers trembling, she twists off the cap and dashes the contents of the bottle up through the grilled metal, in the direction of the noise that alerted her. Even above the snarls and scramble of retreat she can hear consecrated water sizzling on desecrated flesh; she smiles with grim satisfaction and throws the remnants of the bottle down the opposite end of the duct, to discourage approach from that direction.

It won't keep them away for long. But then, she doesn't need very long. The Slayer will save her.

This is more than an article of faith to her, it is central to her existence. She has never bothered to count the number of times she has owed her life to the golden girl of the airy witticisms and supernatural power; she only knows that her so-often-justified belief in her friend is a fact upon which she can always rely. Whatever else the world may hold, the Slayer will save her. That is bedrock; the rest is mere detail.

The window, she knew at the moment of her entry that this would be the most vulnerable point, but not the most immediately apparent, and now that she has dealt with more obvious avenues she turns her attention to it. In the derelict shipping facility where the nest set up its lair, this room was originally intended to allow observation from a height. There is no direct approach to the window, but given time some of the vampires will seek out an indirect route.

If they have any such time. The original estimate was that there were eight of them; there might be one or two more, but she has learned to rely on her friend's judgment in this area. Two are already gone, she saw one killed and heard a second explosion of dust as she fled the surprise charge from the flank; two pursued her, and at least one is still seeking a way to reach her, so that leaves four or five to be dealt with. She knows from experience that the lifespan of such a number can be measured in single-digit minutes against the adversary they face. A tiger is among the wolves, and if some of the wolves allow themselves to be diverted by a single bleating lamb, well, that too serves a purpose.

The Slayer will save her. She doesn't have to win, only to hold on.

She used to wonder sometimes at what arcane mechanisms of fate had selected this "one girl in all the world" for Her divine mission; but in the time since, it has come to seem so natural as to be inevitable. (She also speculated, briefly, at the identity and fate of the previous "one girl" whose death had brought this one to the fore, but that is not a place where her mind likes to go.) She no longer ponders such matters. The Slayer simply is, like night and fire and wind: an elemental force, with roots that stretch back to the birth of humanity.

Her own role in tonight's proceedings is far less glorious. Focus. Maintain. Do what has to be done until her rescuer can arrive.

The top of the desk has a scattering of dusty papers, an empty manila folder, one-half of an ACCO binder clip. Useless. The lower drawers contain similar unhelpful detritus, but in the wide shallow drawer above the chair well she finds gold: a felt-tipped marker, cap miraculously in place. The tip is dry when she tries it; compressing her lips and her resolve, she swings the marker at the end of her arm, as hard as she can, willing centrifugal force to move any remaining fluid down to the application end. This time ink flows, after the first few attempts, and she rapidly draws crosses, dozens of them, across the surface of the window.

Will they have any effect? She doesn't know, they've never tried anything like this before. But it can't hurt, and even a moment's hesitation can make a lifetime's difference, as she has well learned.

It's all academic, she's only holding up her end until salvation can come. It doesn't even have to be Her, really; it could just as easily be the Watcher, or one of the others. But in her deepest heart, she knows who will be the agent of her deliverance.

Are there any other defenses she can mount? The boards from the empty shelves, if there were some way to secure them against the window …

Wood explodes at her feet, and she shrieks and jumps back from the hand that thrusts up through the breached floor, scrabbling for a grip on her ankles. All her instincts scream at her to run, but her mind is more powerful than instinct, and in the next second she is on her knees, stabbing with the stake at the hand that skitters across the floor like a pale, bony spider. All the force of her concentration on the task isn't enough to blot out the rasp of self-contempt: six sides, genius, every cube has six sides, how could you forget the FLOOR —?

Sound from the other door confirms that, yes, she is besieged by at least two of these creatures. Past recognizing the fact, she ignores it. If the bolt on the door doesn't hold, she will die. If she doesn't stop the one below her from tearing a greater hole in the floor, she will die. She puts her attention where it can make a difference, and is rewarded with a rage-pain scream as the sheared wooden point pierces the back of the hand before her; then the hand is retracted with such force that only angle and desperation prevent the stake from being torn from her grasp.

Such a turn would have left her defenseless; no, that wouldn't do at all. The Slayer will save her, IF she doesn't disappoint her friend by dying before the rescue can be effected.

It won't be long now. Four vampires alone could never last long against the magic girl facing them, no matter what mystical artifacts they might claim to wield. So keep thinking, keep trying, keep fighting. Keep breathing.

"Come and get it, Tooth Boy," she calls into the gap below her, voice mocking with a confidence she could never truly feel. "Plenty more where that came from."

She cannot see herself from without, and could not recognize what she saw if such a view were possible. She knows she isn't pretty, never was and never will be; but she has the foundations for unforgettable beauty, only now beginning to manifest. Even her self-doubt contributes to this, shyness and hesitancy enhancing an original innocence, imbuing her with a native guilelessness that will ultimately overshadow far more sophisticated artifice.

In years to come, perceptive men will be drawn to this innocence, will seek to possess and preserve it. They will be disappointed. She has not truly been innocent since her first exposure to arbitrary death, and retains the appearance of that quality only because it has been supplanted by something of similar material, but more lasting and knowing: by trust. She still trusts, because her life has so often rested in the hands of the one who has never failed her.

Angry footsteps echo away from the room below her, and she allows herself to draw back from the gap in the floor. The near-loss of the stake has alarmed her, and she goes now to the broken chair; she has worked with such as this before.

This time she is unable to do so. The chair is from an earlier era, solidly constructed in a time before the concept of planned obsolescence emerged; even fractured, the remnants defy her attempts to break them further into precious fragments of pointed wood. She surrenders, panting, and searches for some alternative. Maybe the sundered boards from the hole in the floor —?

They come through the window, feet first, boots shattering the hasty, ineffectual markings on the glass. She throws herself backward, screaming and striking out with the stake, and trailing lines loop and flop back through the empty window frame, they swung down on ropes! Her back is to the second door, she can't face them and reach the bolt at the same time, and then the stake is ripped from her hand and she is thrown to the other wall, to strike well above the floor before sliding down.

A different angle of impact would have broken bones, but no, she only feels broken, and she lets herself fall and pivots on her back and hips to lift her legs, interposing her feet between her body and her attackers; she remembers this from self-defense classes and from kindergarten, you can hold them away if you keep your feet up. Because even now she hasn't given up, she can remember too many times death was snatched from her throat and crushed in the slender hands of her friend, the Slayer will save her, she just has to hold out for a few more seconds —!

She achieves those seconds, their attempts to reach her serving only to push her backward along the floor as she keeps her legs up as a barrier. Then the last measure fails, one of them seizes an ankle and wrenches her around, and they are on her as still she keeps fighting, flailing at them with powerless fists, and the only emotion she has time or room for is shame at her failure. One of them holds her while the other grips her hair with merciless strength; her head is bent back and her neck bared, and death is again at her throat.

Something roars inside her then, and a rigid thrust of her arms slams back the demon atop her. In the instant's respite she attacks the one holding her torso, smashing at him with fists and knees, blasting him away from her in shock and unexpected injury. She is on her feet before either of the two can recover, and the full-power swing she brings around stops the first one where he stands, yellow eyes going blank with surprise. She can feel the broken chair poking at her calf, and she snatches it up and rips it into daggers of wood, and before the creatures can begin to react they are dust cascading around her.

She stands in the empty room, her lungs heaving, and there is no comprehension within her as she gazes around at the still-settling evidence of her inexplicable victory. Then fear crashes at her like a black surf; she looks down in dread at the makeshift stakes she holds and, too terrified to hope, she squeezes.

The jagged shards of wood splinter and break in her grip, and she cries out in agony. Not pain, there is no pain in those pitiless hands, but from horror and understanding piercing a soul that would deny them.

The Slayer has saved her.

The Slayer has saved Her.

And she weeps.