Mother, Mother, Can You Hear Me?

This is for all the women in my family—my mother, my aunts, and my grandmothers, in particular. And to all the mothers, grandmothers, and hell, all the women who pretty much are moms in everything but name! Happy Mother's Day! I love you, Mom!

Regan had never liked cemeteries. Ever since she was a child, the final resting places of the dead had always frightened her. Whenever she would pass by one as a child, accompanied by either her mother or Roger, she had always walked round to the other side of them and squeezed their hands tightly. The ones with the huge statues and monuments always seemed to intimidate her the most. Those ominous alabaster memorials to the deceased used to send shivers up and down her tiny spine. When she got older, her fear had diluted enough that she could walk by them alone. But some instinctive urge within her would cause her to unconsciously quicken her pace and keep her line of vision in front of her. The one time she had spent more than a few minutes inside a cemetery had been for her mother's funeral. However, because of the gloomy circumstances, numb grief had edged out her fears during the whole ceremony.

At twenty, only remnants of her childhood phobia remained. Becoming a Slayer and having to spend a great deal of her time among the deceased and the deceased who were still walking the Earth had forced her to overcome her hesitation about stepping foot in graveyards at night. Still, though, Regan felt a shimmer of trepidation whenever she walked near a cemetery; it was quick to pass, so that she hardly noticed it, but it was there. Back in Santa Rosa, the chief enemies had been demons. She had been surprised how few vampires thrived on that Hellmouth compared to the staggering statistics of Sunnydale. As it were, there were fewer occasions to visit cemeteries. Demons normally liked to inhabit other places. When she remembered the state of some of those "other places" she probably would have preferred them to have set up shop in a graveyard.

She tightened her grip on the bouquet of carnations she had in her hand while the all-too-familiar wave of apprehension came upon her and then passed without a trace. She proceeded forward, her sharp green eyes darting around the place. Out of habit, she scoped the place for possible enemies, for freshly dug graves that could produce a newly risen vampire. However, this cemetery looked as if no one had been buried here for a few years. The odds of finding a vampire were rather slim. She was not surprised to feel a small surge of disappointment at the thought. Regan had not sated her thirst for the adrenaline rush of the hunt in over a week now.

Slayers were governed by an instinctive urge to hunt to such a degree that it could become physically discomforting to not succumb to the predatory whim. All that pent up energy needed to be released somehow after building up over a while. It was like coiled spring that has been compressed into a tiny size, storing up potential energy. Sooner or later that potential energy will go kinetic, and there's no telling what kind of damage it can do if released in an erroneous manner.

It was different for all Slayers. Some of them were so detached from their own intuitions that they felt no such compunction. Some were able to exercise a certain amount of self-control and thus deal with their impulses accordingly. Then there were others like Regan who had relied solely on instinct for the better part of their lives even before becoming a Slayer. Regan was very in tune to her body's urges, but, for the most part, she was able to ignore them at will. However, if she kept this behavior up for long enough, she too would start to get restless and fidgety. All in all, Regan usually never went very long without at least pummeling one vampire or demon. Santa Rosa certainly had no shortage of them. In fact, this was probably the longest she had ever gone without patrolling in the three years she had been a Slayer.

She would take care of hunting later. Right now, more important issues needed to be tended to. She had not been inside this cemetery for five years—or maybe even longer. She honestly could not remember the date or how old she had been when she had last come here. That enough was evident that she had neglected her daughterly duties, had neglected her mother's memory. She wondered if Roger had visited in the last three years of her absence. She hoped he would have come here at least once, but, then again, he had been pretty distracted by his own problems. So, the odds were looking pretty slim that there were molding flowers or at least some sort of remains of a token of remembrance.

However long it might have been since she had come here, her memory of the layout of the cemetery and the location of her mother's grave was far from stale. She deftly wended her way through the tombstones and simple grave markers. She stopped in front of a small tombstone that had very few characters engraved into its stony surface. Once upon a time she might have been compelled to cry over the sight of her mother's grave. Years had eroded away the raw grief, leaving behind a small ache that manifested every so often. Instead, she felt a solemn sense of quiet, like this moment was just too pure to ruin with sound. It almost felt like the raucous sounds of New York City had receded completely into the background. When she really thought about it, cemeteries did have a morbid sort of charm to them. They were peaceful, almost untouchable to the outside world. The dead lay within their own small world of frozen angels and gray stone tablets. Nature herself seemed to have a degree of respect for the deceased.

Regan took a deep breath before speaking. Though she was the only one there, she kept her voice very low, almost to a whisper. "Hey, Mom. Took me long enough, didn't it?"

The young woman slowly knelt before the simple tombstone, her eyes glazing over the familiar and slightly worn words: Aimee Nicole Davis…June 18, 1961-July 25, 1998. There was no epitaph, for they had not been able to afford one. She sighed and gently lay the bouquet right along the bottom of the stone, then reached up to trace her mother's name. There had been a time, a time so long ago it seemed, that her father used to call her mother Nikky in playful endearment. It was before her father changed, before he let his anger control him instead of the other way around. Untapped reserves of resent started to flare up before Regan put them out. What use was it to carry anger and hate around when her mother was long gone and her father had not been heard from in almost eight years? Of course, this was what logic told her. Her heart sometimes forgot to use logic.

"Well, here I am. Finally. Only took me three years to come back. I guess that's what happens when you're off saving the world and killing demons," Regan intoned dryly. As clichéd as it might appear, Regan did not hold back when it came to making conversation with someone who obviously would not talk back.

"I'm so sorry, Mom. I should have visited more when I was here…Christ, it's been like five years since I've come to visit," she said apologetically. She snorted sardonically and quipped, "Been here only five minutes and I've already broken one of your rules: taking the Lord's name in vain on holy ground. Sorry."

She was silent for a while, trying and failing to come up with any words to convey how mixed up she had been for the past few years. Her life had changed so dramatically that she hardly recognized herself when she looked in the mirror. How in the world was she going to bring this up with Roger? She wanted to tell him first, in private, if at all possible. He had been so unbelievably understanding when she had asked him to wait for an explanation. That only made it even more clear how much she owed him one. He deserved better than this, better than three years of struggling through grief, drugs, and withdrawal without his only sister by his side. She knew she had better come up with something soon.

She hung her head. "How am I going to explain everything to Roger? I mean, I could physically demonstrate it to him, but…I don't know. I don't want to put him in danger just to prove something. And there's Mark and Collins and Maureen and Benny and Angel." She rubbed the back of her neck. "Jesus, I thought I got rid of most of my anxieties this morning, but now I'm back to feeling very overwhelmed. I knew this wasn't going to be easy."

Regan could have called Ari and unloaded all her fears on someone who would actually give feedback. But Regan didn't particularly feel like being given advice for this situation. She knew that, in the end, talking with her friend would only end up making her fret over it more. Besides, it had been a real long time since she had spoken to her mother. For once, all she wanted to do was talk, even if there was only an illusion of someone being there to listen. She had never actually had a decent conversation with her mother when she had been alive. Her mother was always working, sleeping, or drowning in the waves of liquor. There were few true mother-daughter moments to be found in Regan's childhood, and she had to search really hard to find them. It was strange how Regan harbored no anger or resentment towards her mother for not trying harder, for not defying her father for Regan and Roger's sakes. Her mother's naturally subservient disposition had made it almost impossible for her to garner enough strength to fight back. In the end, it appeared her very nature was to be her death. If she had been of a more headstrong character, perhaps she would not have turned to the bottle for solace.

Her mother's undeniable flaws notwithstanding, she and Roger had loved her very much. Roger had done his best to protect her, to shield her from their father's temper (to the point of putting himself between them and physically striking back). But it got to the point where Roger had been left with two choices: protect his mother while knowing her inevitable fate or do what he could to save Regan from a similar fate. Regan would never know how much emotional pain Roger had suffered when he had realized he had to make an agonizing decision, when he realized he had to choose between her or their mother or lose both of them. All she could remember was the night their mother had been put in the hospital for the last time, he had come out of the room where their mother was and told her he was going to take care of her from then on. This was, of course, in spite of the fact that he had been taking care of her all along.

"You'd be so proud of him, Mom. He's clean from the drugs, got a pretty new girlfriend, and he's even got a job at little music shop. And he's talking about starting up another band soon, but he's not so sure. He hasn't talked with his old band mates in years, I'm told," Regan gushed, sounding exactly like she would had she been literally speaking with someone rather than to a grave.

"And tomorrow evening I get to see them all. Roger and Mimi are going to arrange for everyone to come to the Life Café," Regan reported in a tone that was distinctly more anxious than only moments before.

It had been Mimi's idea for Regan to reunite with the rest of the family all at once. The Life Café was still a notable hotspot for hungry bohemians (though the food left a lot to be desired). Roger had told her to show up around 5:30, assuring her that everyone would be there, including Maureen's new girlfriend Joanne. This left Regan almost an entire day's worth of jittery nerves and even more irrational fears to plague her mind and sleep. When Regan left her brother's place, she had sat at in her rental car mulling over the situation. She was surprised how little Roger and Mimi spoke of Mark, Maureen, Angel, and Collins. (She wondered if Benny was to be invited, which she was hoping for.) Her brief encounter with Benny outside the loft had been replayed in Regan's mind as she searched for some subtle hints he may have dropped as to the well-being of everyone else. He had said to her that so many things had changed, and he had only gone over a few of those. She wondered if he had purposely left out any mention of Mimi, or if he had simply forgotten. That was a little matter though. Regan had the strangest feeling, a tingling foreboding almost, that there were far more changes that had been glazed over.

On the one hand, it no longer looked as if Collins was living with Roger and Mark. Roger did tell her he was working as a teacher at the university, which was fantastic news. Mark was working for Buzzline. That was hilarious, ironic, and somewhat disturbing all at once to Regan. She knew the nascent filmmaker had always loathed Buzzline, calling it the "dirty gossip reel of the rich and famous saps". They must have gotten desperate for Mark to take a job with a company he had always held such disdain for. Knowing this made her feel slightly guilty, for she had been living a life of luxury compared to her bohemian family. As a top-ranking Slayer, she made enough money to support a family of at least six at upper-middle class status. Since she had no others to support, a lot of money just dozed away in her personal account.

"At least now I can help them out financially…if they would let me," Regan mused out loud.

She rose to her feet and brushed the dirt off her knees. Her eyes drifted to the bundle of carnations lying on the ground, so deeply contrasting to the dark background with their pure white radiance. She drew in a deep breath and pressed her fingers to her lips, lightly kissing them and then blowing the kiss from her palm.

"Sweet dreams, Mommy," she whispered. And then she turned around and left.

New York City at night could be a mesmerizing spectacle, a colorful array of flashing lights and images upon animated billboards. The city was alive and thriving at all hours of the day, perhaps even more so at night. Young people spilled onto the streets to take advantage of the countless numbers of clubs and bars to fulfill their pleasure-seeking wiles. With so much young—and rather inebriated—blood around, it was a veritable buffet for opportunistic vampires. They blended easily into the crowds of modern hedonists—mostly because they had been one of those hedonists when they were humans. It was terribly simple to lure an unsuspecting young man or woman from their dancing into an isolated, darkened alleyway. A vampire merely had to act as if they were stealing them away for a little midnight tryst. Slayers had caught on to many of the tricks the undead employed to ensnare prey, and they exploited it to the fullest extent. They played the parts of the simple-minded party girls who only had thoughts of drinking, dancing, and sex on their minds. A vampire would believe he was drawing a potential snack into his trap when he in fact was being drawn into a trap.

Regan was not accustomed so such hunting methods. Santa Rosa had been a demon hotspot, and they certainly did little mingling with humans in the same fashion vampires did. Not many demons had the benefits of looking human-like as vampires did, and not every demon possessed the ability to shift their appearance to look human. The hunting styles Slayers in Santa Rosa had formed were more military style. They had to track their targets, scout out possible hideouts and locations, do reconnaissance missions—and most of the hunting was done in the woods where trees and shrubbery could be a double-edged sword. They could provide cover for the girls, but they could also provide cover for the enemy. The upside to these situations was that there was less risk of innocent bystanders being caught in the crossfire, or of expensive collateral damage. Moreover, the residents of Santa Rosa were used to young women and girls walking around with swords strapped to their hips or crossbows hanging on their shoulders. In New York—in all the big cities—innocent bystanders were literally everywhere, and collateral damage was a constant concern. And the Slayers here had to be far more discreet in public. A girl could not just go around lugging a broadsword slung over her shoulder like Regan and her former squad mates had occasionally done in Santa Rosa.

Regan noted all of these things as she watched a few girls she knew as Slayers walk casually into a club. They were all dressed like they were ready for a night out on the town, but she also knew they were armed to the teeth underneath the leather outfits (and no doubt a few glamour spells). She didn't really need to recognize the girls on sight to know they were Slayers. She had sensed them before she even saw them, and she was betting they had sensed her as well. She often wondered if vampires and demons were ever able to sense them, and if they, like Slayers, were almost instinctively drawn and repelled at the same time. It was said that Slayers could be quite the demon magnets, but Regan had never put that one to the test.

Not having hunted in over a week, Regan had decided she could work off a little of her built-up anxiety in the only true way a Slayer ever could (aside from sex, of course): by doing what she was made for. She flexed her fingers as she sent her senses probing through the area, tapping into the multitude of different auras exuded by the mass of people. Most were human, of course, but there were a few concentrations of darkness mixed in. A devious smile turned the corners of Regan's soft mouth upwards, and her green eyes flashed with excitement. Her blood started to thrum noisily through her veins; it was like her entire being knew what was coming next.

Her internal radar system instantly zeroed in on a target not far away from where she was standing. It was a female vampire dressed in a dark violet dress that barely brushed her mid-thighs. Her stilettos strapped to her feet looked painfully tight, and there were straps winding all the way up her slender, pale calves. She had long blonde hair that she constantly flipped from side to side, her face set into a smoldering pout of lust. There was already a troupe of drunken young male prospects eyeing her like hungry wolves, not knowing that they were being tightly drawn into the spider's web. Regan sighed in resignation, shaking her head at the drooling men.

"Men are too easy," she murmured.

She felt in her pockets to be sure she had stored a sharpened stake in there. The last thing she needed was to fumble around for a weapon, even if she was fighting an inexperienced fledgling. Not being fully prepared could be a fatal mistake in any situation, Regan had learned. She quickened her pace when she heard a shriek from the dark alley, the shadows constricting her vision until she was closer. Unsurprisingly, she came across not one, not two, but three female vampires in the process of engorging themselves on the walking, talking buffet line that had stumbled into their trap.

Though it was supposed to be some sort of a tradition with Slayers to fashion some witty pun before attacking, Regan had never really indulged that much. She often found that her mind was set on attack mode, not biting sarcasm, in battle. Oh, there were plenty of exceptions whenever the moment came upon her. Normally, however, Regan just jumped right in without any sort of verbal announcement of her presence, which was what she did now.

She moved swiftly to disengage the three vampires from their ever-weakening victims: priority number one. She kicked one vampire in the back of the knee (a very tender spot) causing the creature's knees to buckle and to lose hold of her victim. The poor fool she had been preying on yelped in surprise and pain, instinctively wrenching away from his would-be murderer. His hand instantly clasped onto his bleeding neck, and his eyes were practically bulging out his head. Regan noticed none of this at the moment, for she was busy taking care of the other two vampires, who in those few split seconds, had pulled away from their own victims at the ruckus suddenly manifesting. One of them hissed in anger, dropping her bleeding and half-unconscious victim to the ground, and lunging for Regan. Regan spun, lashing out a foot to trip the vampire, while simultaneously executing a backhanded attack on the first vampire she had downed. Quick as a flash, she pulled out her stake and rammed it into the back of one of the vampires, pulling it out, and then instantly depositing it into the back of the other one. An explosion of ashes followed; Regan accidentally inhaled a bit of the remains of her foe, causing her to gasp and cough.

Shit. This is what happens when you fight mostly demons. They don't go all poof with toxic ash to fill up your lungs.

She heard the first man she had rescued cry in shock and fear. "Go!" she ordered hoarsely, still coughing. He looked to be in the midst of a panic attack, grasping onto the wall for support. "Get your buddies and get the fuck out of here!" she screamed again. She wiped at her eyes, which were stinging slightly from the ash.

Ash in her eyes and lungs became the least of her problems when she was viciously waylaid from the side by the remaining vampire. She felt a sharp pain her side as she collided heavily with the wall. Luckily, she managed to keep her head from bouncing off the wall. She snapped her head forward, causing the crown of her head to smack right into the forehead of the vampire. The creature was thrown off balance, hissing acrimoniously. A Chinese snap-kick directly to the face sent the vampire sprawling completely to the ground.

Regan swore loudly when she felt warm, sticky blood soaking through her shirt at her right side. The vampire must have had a knife or dagger up her sleeve—figuratively speaking, of course, since she was wearing a strapless dress. She drew in a deep breath, pointedly ignoring the stabbing pains her new wound was generating. She slammed her boot down on the creature's neck, holding her in place. If vampires had had any need to breathe, Regan could very well have choked her to death. As it were, all she was doing was constricting her vocal cords from vibrating. All that came out of the vampire's mouth were blood and guttural snarls.

Regan breathed in deeply again, pulling up the hand that was coated with the blood from her side. She glared at the vampire. "Ow, you bitch. For that I believe I'm going to have to kill you," she declared in an amazingly flat tone of voice.

The vampire had no time to even utter a scream before Regan had removed her foot and thrust her stake right into her chest. This time she was sure to quickly pull away before the creature burst into ashes. For some reason she had never figured out, she was more sensitive to the ashes of vampires than many Slayers were. She was still coughing and gagging some from those first two vampires. That would pass quickly though. It was the wound to her side that really pissed her off. It was not a complete stab wound, more like a serious laceration that would probably require stitching if she didn't want to risk infection—which she didn't.

"Um…Miss?" came a tremulous voice.

She turned around almost dazedly to see one of the guys standing against the wall. He was sweating heavily in spite of the cool air. There was a stream of blood flowing down his neck and through the top of his shirt. Other than the fact that he was breathing fast enough to hyperventilate and the noticeable bite wound, he seemed to physically no worse for the wear. He was relatively young, probably around her brother's age. He looked like he was probably a college student who had gone out on a typical drinking night with his friends. The other one was propping up his friend against the wall and staring at Regan like she was the malformed woman that had bitten him on the neck. The other guy didn't look very well. In fact, he looked like he had promptly passed out after seeing the first two vampires turn into ashes when Regan staked them. That was not an abnormal reaction to seeing such a thing. Regan knew she had certainly felt like grabbing a wall for support the first time she had witnessed it.

"You and your friends should go. It's all right now," she assured him breathily. She kept her hand tightly clasped to her side where blood leaked through her fingers. Her body was already working above and beyond normal human function. She could practically feel the wound attempting to repair itself, although she would probably still have to get stitches.

"Wh-what the hell were they?" he stammered. His voice sounded like a young child, so innocent, confused, and scared.

"It doesn't matter. You guys should get to the hospital. Your buddy looks like he's had it tonight," she told him.

The man swallowed uncertainly. His mind was probably still having trouble wrapping itself around what he had seen tonight. The shock of what he had nearly succumbed to was not completely absorbed yet. She could tell he and his friend were trying desperately to rationalize it, though the alcohol in their system was probably exacerbating such progress. They did look rather sober by now though. Nearly being eaten can be a sobering event in Regan's experience.

She waited for them to leave first, but they stayed rooted to the spot, no doubt still caught up in registering their bizarre brushes with death. She shrugged and started to walk out of the alley herself, but stopped when one of them called out.

"Wait…you—you killed them. How did you do that?" the man who had spoken before asked. He cautiously approached Regan, as if he were afraid she would end up staking him through the heart as well.

Regan didn't answer him, but merely looked away for a moment before looking him straight in the eyes. "Just get you and your friends to a hospital. And try not to walk into any more dark alleyways at night. It's not only hazardous for the ladies, you see."

The man's eyes traveled down to where she was holding her side. She saw his forehead furrow with frown lines; his eyes flicked back up to hers with noticeable concern in them. Regan silently cursed and tried to turn around, but he grabbed her by the arm.

"You're bleeding," he remarked worriedly.

"I'm fine," she told him, trying not to sound annoyed.

"No, that's a lot of blood. I'm a fourth-year med student, trust me. I work at a hospital in the ER. You're gonna need stitches. You should come with us," he said pleadingly.

He was careful not to put too firm of a grip on her arm, Regan noticed. He must not have been as drunk as she had presumed, for he was displaying a stunning amount of alertness. He had almost immediately zoned in on her injury and it looked like he was focusing on that rather than what had happened. She sighed and ran her hand through her hair as she contemplated over a decision to make. The man must have noticed her hesitancy.

"Please?" He put on a fake pout, causing Regan to snort a little.

He smiled weakly. "I mean, it's not everyday that I'm rescued by a beautiful young woman. If I'm the damsel in distress in this equation, I should at least be the one to nurse you back to health," he pointed out.

Regan quirked an eyebrow in intrigue; her mind instantly latched onto some random thoughts. Hmmm…cute, almost a doctor, and charming. Perhaps something could come of this. She shooed away such thoughts when they came to mind because it was far too early to even consider such things. Besides, she had other things to worry about at the moment, namely reunited with her family for the first time in three years tomorrow evening. The last thing she needed was to complicate her life further by adding a possible romantic fling/relationship, which had never been a particular forte of hers. Her last "relationships" had been brief and based almost entirely on the sex part. She had never really had a true boyfriend in all aspects. There was also the whole risqué lifestyle of hers that was not the most conducive atmosphere for romance and commitment.

She rolled her eyes, caving under his pleading gaze. "Fine."

The man smiled in relief, his bright blue eyes twinkling merrily. "Good. I'm Nick, by the way. Nick Branaghan." He held out his hand expectantly.

Regan took his with her left hand since her right hand was smeared with her blood. "Regan. Regan Davis."

Regan had driven all three of the men to the hospital where Nick worked. It turned out Nick had been the designated driver of tonight, but Regan had insisted that with his neck wound and the fact that his car was just a tiny little coup, that he should let her drive. The man was obviously intelligent enough to know better than to argue with a woman who had hoisted up a brawny, three-hundred pound football player without any apparent effort and dragged him to her vehicle. She was grateful that he didn't comment on it and just sat quietly in the passenger seat as she helped the conscious friend in beside the one who had passed out. The conscious one's name was a black man named Rick Donson, and he was still in a state of speechless shock. He had not spoken one word at all to Regan, but continued to stare at her with wide, shiny eyes.

The one who had passed out was a linebacker named Garrett Schultz, who had apparently been the drunkest one of the trio. This was Nick's explanation for his friend's current lack of consciousness. They had checked his other vital signs to ensure that everything else was working soundly. Regan had been trained in basic first aid techniques like all Slayers now were. Since Buffy had been resurrected from her first death—a prophesized death—by CPR, she had decreed that all Slayers learn basic life-saving medical techniques. Nick had been pleasantly surprised by her help with the medical side of the situation, and he even complimented her on it.

"So, were you a medic in the army or something? Is that where the combat/medical knowledge stuff comes from?" Nick asked as Regan drove.

Regan smiled wryly. "Not exactly."

"Well, I mean, you look really young to be in the army with that amount of experience. But I guess appearances can definitely be deceiving…I mean, I never would have thought it possible a girl your size could lift Garrett up all by herself. Not to sound sexist…or anything," Nick stammered.

Regan shrugged. She took no offense at all to the statement, for it was a fact. Girls her size normally would not be able to exert such strength. "It normally wouldn't be possible."

Nick nodded. "But you're not normal," he stated matter-of-factly.

Regan shook her head. "Nope." To hell with making up an explanation. The man knew what he saw, or, rather, he knew what he saw was contradicting everything he had been taught his entire life. To top it off, he was a medical student. He was used to relying on solid scientific and medical evidence that usually left no room for ambiguity. Logic was his foundation, and she had just crushed it. She was not going to insult him by trying to convince him that his brain had been playing tricks on him tonight. Making him question his mental stability, his very sanity, would just add on to the stress.

She pulled right up to the emergency entrance and Nick practically jumped right out of the car. He walked round to the other side as Regan rolled down her window.

"Wait here. I'll have a gurney brought out for Garrett and wheelchairs for you and Rick," he instructed her firmly.

Regan frowned. "Actually I was thinking once you got your friends inside I would park the car in the parking lot so I don't block anyone else."

Nick's face took on a wary expression. "Regan, you need to get stitched up and you shouldn't be walking too much."

Regan sighed, feeling a slight amount of frustration at his concern. It was a definite change of scenery though. Slayers never really worried about little things like lacerations and gashes. She had never had someone worry about her as much as this stranger was doing right now in a long time.

"I'll be fine, Nick. I've taken worse hits than this and I don't wanna leave this car here," she assured him. Before he could voice further protests, she added, "And I won't ditch you guys. I promise I'll come straight back after parking the car."

Though he still looked unhappy about the situation, Nick complied with her wishes. After Garrett and Rick were wheeled into the ER by nurses and orderlies, she pulled out of the emergency entrance bay and found a parking spot as close to the ER as she could manage. She gingerly stepped out of the car, hit the lock button, and activated the alarm system. Regan felt around her tender wound, noticing that it had stopped bleeding by now. Maybe she had been a little presumptuous to think she was going to need stitches regardless of her accelerated healing. Of course, she had no advanced medical training to tell the difference…and she had promised Nick she would come straight into the ER.

Regan craned her neck to peer behind her when she heard the curtains surrounding her temporary space get pushed aside. She smiled brightly when she saw Nick enter wearing the top part of a green scrubs outfit with his jeans. His neck was heavily bandaged and had no doubt been assailed with numerous antiseptic solutions. Regan had advised him on the way to the hospital to tell his colleagues that he and his two friends had tried to help her from three muggers who were high on numerous drugs. She pointed out that the drugs would explain the whole biting deal since very few sober and/or sane humans would do that. That was the typical default explanation Slayers used to civilians, especially the doctors and nurses who wound up treating them. The Organization had not yet successfully recruited a wide array of medical experts to the team so Slayers could have personal treatment on every base. Even if they had enough doctors and nurses to treat them at a base, an emergency could force them to go to a normal hospital anyway.

"You didn't have to sell yourself short to them like that. I could have told them you were trying to help us," Nick told her, setting down supplies next to her.

"It makes more sense this way," she reminded him.

She took off her jacket and her long-sleeved shirt. She caught a glance of Nick's face, which was blushing deeply. Underneath she wore a tight gray tank-top, which was ripped and stained heavily with blood. That was her substitute for a bra whenever she hunted, or whenever it was cold and she required layers. She rolled up the ends to expose her injury so Nick could clean it and examine it to discern if sutures were needed or not.

Nick cleared his throat and straightened himself up to look professional though his cheeks were still displaying bright red plumes. "Could you…em…lie back on the bed?" he requested in a strained voice.

She suppressed the urge to laugh at his apparent discomfort because it really was not that funny. Honestly, the man was on his way to being a doctor. He couldn't get all flustered every time he saw a young woman's bare skin. He must have seen quite a few young women exposed working in an emergency room. To save him the embarrassment, she decided not to bring attention to the fact that his face was red and his hands were a little shaky.

He began to wipe away some of the blood. "Just try to remain still. It really doesn't look as bad as I had thought…" Regan lifted her head when he had trailed off, his face set into a deep frown of perplexity.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

Nick looked up with an unreadable expression on his face. "You weren't kidding when you said you had taken worse hits. That's one helluva scar on your stomach," he remarked in a mixture of awe and trepidation.

"Yeah, and it was one helluva pain, too," she added dryly.

He stared at her with those piercing blue eyes of his, which sort of made her liken him to Dr. House from her favorite television show. That was the only resemblance she could pick out though (besides the whole medical profession bit). He made her feel sort of guilty for glossing over an obviously serious injury so nonchalantly. Though for the life of her she could not imagine why she would feel that way. She shifted nervously and looked away from the questions she could feel radiating from him. That old battle wound was not the only physical scar she carried on her body.

"So…you get injured often…doing what you do?" Nick asked after a few minutes of silence in which he diligently worked at cleaning and disinfecting her wound.

Regan clenched her teeth as she tried to find someway to answer that in a way that would make sense. Usually, Slayers always ended up with a minor scratch or bruise or two after a battle. That was a typical injury that tended to heal overnight. Sometimes they suffered worse injuries like broken bones, deep lacerations, stab wounds, and more, but those were a minority. Ever since they started working in packs, the number of serious injuries had decreased significantly.

She decided to answer it with a question. "What is it you think I do?"

He looked up, meeting her cool green eyes head on. He averted his gaze back down to his work, swallowing hard. "Those things in the alleyway…they weren't human, were they? Rick is in total denial, which is a good thing I suppose. I think he's pretty much got himself convinced they were deformed, crazy junkies. And Garrett doesn't remember anything. But…I do. They turned into dust when you stabbed them...and they tried to suck our blood from our necks…but it can't be possible."

It was amazing how incredibly meticulous he was at treating her wound with those swirling, troubling thoughts being voiced aloud. He would make a fine doctor indeed if he was able to work soundly and relive trauma like that at the same time. It was like he was dissociating himself from his work and the events from that night. Even so, she was not entirely sure she wanted to admit the truth of what those creatures were at a moment like this. That might very well be the straw to break the camel's back. She didn't want to break anything while he was so close to an open wound on her person.

"You'd be surprised what could be possible," she commented sagely. She thought of her brother and how he had managed to pull himself up from the depths of heroin hell after she had thought she had lost him to that horrible drug forever.

He snorted sardonically, nodding his head. "Yeah…well, I don't think you're gonna need stitches. And…wow…it looks like it's already closing up. That was quick," he noted, clearly impressed and puzzled.

Oh, good. I hate getting stitches.

"So, I'll just get a bandage on that," he told her. "You got real lucky."

No kidding. That would have made tomorrow evening's meeting with the family just that much more awkward. The last thing she needed was Roger interrogating her in that worried, cynical tone of his about where she was and who had done it. No doubt he probably would have added in a lecture about how dangerous New York City was at night for young women. She didn't want him to worry about her needlessly. The story would come out in time—hopefully without her having to explain after a trip to the hospital.

After he declared her done, Regan pulled her shirt and jacket back over her tank-top. Her adrenaline rush had run out about an hour ago, though she was by no means very tired, perhaps a little weary. She had no idea what time it was save for that it was really early in the morning. She could sleep all day until a few hours before heading to the Life Café, in which time she would clean herself up properly. When she remembered what she was going to do tomorrow to the full extent, some of her anxieties began to wake up again.

"I should go," she said to Nick. "I've got plans tomorrow that I'd rather not look like the living dead for. No pun intended, of course."

Nick's eyes widened when he processed the unintended meaning behind that remark. He definitely was far more intelligent and observant than Regan had credited him for. His jaw dropped, but no lucid words came out.

Shit. That's not how I wanted to break it to him. She sighed deeply. "Yes, those were vampires."

Another Slayer probably would have wasted a whole lot of breath trying to deny it. Regan had no desire to dig up some stupid explanation and she certainly had no talent for it. Unless she wanted to get some Wiccan magic involved to modify his memory, which was a lot more complicated and trickier than it sounded, Nick pretty much was going to have to live with this newfound knowledge. There were inherent risks involved with memory modification. The Organization only utilized it when absolutely necessary. Fortunately for them, humans—Americans especially—were known for filtering out facts that didn't fit into their own little worlds. They rationalized supernatural events until it could find itself a logical niche in their world. They willfully ignored what was blatantly weird and contradictory to common sense. Regan never thought she would have been so grateful for such an annoying aspect.

After he managed to regain his wits, Nick again tried out his verbal skills. "Wow. It makes a lot more sense now," he remarked speculatively.

Regan cocked her head. "What does?"

Nick shook his head. "All those patients that came in here with neck wounds screaming that some human with a messed up face had done it to them. They weren't crazy after all. We sent a lot of them up to the pysch ward." Guilt flashed into his eyes.

Regan nodded her head in understanding. "Eh, they'll live. Could have been worse…could have been eaten, ya know."

"I guess," Nick replied, his voice sounding very uncertain.

Though she really hated to leave like this, with such a big confession hanging in the air like that, she really had to head home for the night. She didn't want to leave Nick to deal with this information alone because he no doubt had a literal army of questions he wanted to ask her. She threw together an alternative plan in the space of about five seconds…a plan with absolutely no ulterior motives. At least, that was what she told herself.

"Here," she began, pulling a pen out of her bag and a tiny notebook she carried with her. "This is my home phone and cell phone. I would stay and talk you through this because I'm sure you've got a lot of questions, but I really have to run. If you want to talk or whatever, drop me a line. Leave me a message if I don't answer."

Regan ripped the page out and placed it in his hand, folding his fingers over it. She met his eyes, which were still caught in a haze of bewilderment. She smiled encouragingly. "Cheer up. It's not the end of the world. That's what people like me are here for." She didn't await a reply, but started walking away. "Thanks for fixing me up, Doc."

That seemed to snap Nick back into reality. He stared at the piece of paper with her two phone numbers scribbled on it as if he didn't quite know what to make of it. Regan worried for a moment that she had crossed some sort of line with handing him her number. Seriously, she had only meant it as a means to explain things to him. But, then again, she normally would not have bothered had she not allowed him to convince her to come here in the first place. He was the most interesting would-be vamp victim she had rescued, she admitted.

He stuffed the paper into his pockets, flashing Regan a reassuring smile. "It was the least I could do for saving my friends and I. Thank you, Regan."

She grinned. "You're welcome, Nick. I'll be seeing you, hopefully." With that said, she turned and walked away with a self-satisfied smile plastered on her face and a light, fluttery feeling in her chest. Suddenly, the reunion she was facing tomorrow evening no longer seemed like such a daunting prospect.

Heh, it looks like Regan made a new friend…;-). Next chapter brings us to the moment we've all be waiting for!

Anyhow, I apologize for the lateness. I had two AP exams to get out of the way, and now I've got graduation and a speech to write for said graduation coming up. Bleh. Plus, I've been working. I just got back from work and I'm rather exhausted. But, on another happy note, my father's company has shelled out a huge scholarship for me and now I get to pay nothing for college. God, you have no idea how relieving this is to know I won't be in too much debt before I even get into med school.

Hope everyone is enjoying their upcoming end of the school year…provided you are still in school. Summer is almost here! Cheers!