Come to My Window
by Aadler
Copyright July 1999

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

Season: Third (Buffy)
Spoiler(s): "School Hard" (S2-03)

– i –

Back when I was still putting in an occasional appearance at Sunnydale High, before I blew off school entirely, the Barbies used to say the only club in town was the Bronze. That's the way their minds work, if it's not their kind of place it doesn't exist. So they don't count the truck stops, the biker bars, the waterfront hangouts, danger spots like Willy's (okay, not many people with a pulse and human DNA know about Willy's) or little off-the-wall places that cater to special interests. I was a regular at most of those dives by the time I was thirteen, so I thought the Bronze was for wimps until people started turning up dead there (or sometimes just disappearing). I still save it as a last resort for when I'm really desperate; it may be a little dangerous, but it's so fricken wholesome. Also, there's a few people there I'd hate to have recognize me.

Booze and weed don't turn me on anymore, either (except, laugh and you die, I've developed a taste for Kalúah of all things), so I've dropped most of my old hangouts along with school and home and daylight. There's only two things I care about now, dancing and the hunt. Lucky for me, I can usually do both at the same time.

Prism is a little retro disco place that has a nice crowd most nights of the week. The turnover is good, too, there's always new blood coming in. Disco sucks big air, but you can dance to it, and the pickings are primo, so I'm there maybe two-thirds of my walking time. They notice me, too, which I kind of like but would probably be better without; no way you'll ever catch me in that Seventies crap, I go Goth, which makes me stand out, plus I'll yank somebody out onto the floor if no one asks me quick enough. A lot changed for me in September '97, but not my personality, what I want I want now.

Not a problem tonight, I had a yuppie eyelock on me the second I walked in. He wasn't bad looking, really, sandy hair and a good jawline, and he managed to match the theme of the place without actually using polyester. I didn't pretend not to notice, I walked straight to him and gave him a little hip wiggle and said, "Your call, sport."

Out on the floor I pushed the pace just enough to test him, and he did okay. Nothing that breathes can keep up with me when I break out, but he got points for not trying, when I doubled my tempo he halved his and let me cut loose around him, four moves to his one. This was rare, most males will drive themselves into the floor (in about twenty seconds) before they'll let a skirt outclass them. My guy just gave it over to me, and made us both look better. I scaled back and let him have it again, and we finished up with some body tosses — me doing more of the work than anyone could see, but not enough that HE could tell just how strong I was — that had people clapping.


A good connection, but it went downhill from the moment we left the floor. I was a ripe sixteen when I was brought over, and with the clothes and makeup I look twenty-but-immature; but this guy would have been pressing thirty, and it was obvious he expected me to be bowled over by attention from a glamorous older man. (Yeah, right.) Once I really would have been flattered, but that was then. Even if it helps me in the hunt, I don't like someone marking me down as an easy target, especially when he's wearing a bullseye himself and doesn't know it. So I let myself go all dewy-eyed and flustered, and ten minutes later we were out in his car. He hadn't even offered to buy me a drink.

Fine, what I was thirsty for they didn't sell at the bar. I took him before he even got his key in the ignition (he didn't struggle, they never do), and then went back inside, leaving him slumped behind the steering wheel. Fast and neat, the way I usually prefer it … and a tad risky, as a rule I wait for more privacy, but he had pissed me off. So I was still maybe a little bristly when, two minutes in, someone laid a hand on my shoulder and said, "Yo, chickee."

We were in public, so I let him keep the hand for the moment. "Flush yourself, creep," I said without looking around. What is it, am I just a magnet for losers?

Looks like; he turned me around by the shoulder, and I reached up to pulp his wrist, stopped when I saw his face. He had changed his hair, it was dyed flamingo pink with gold leopard spots, but there was no mistaking that smirk. "Long time, Sheila," he said with a grin that would look a lot better once it was stuffed down his gullet.

"Yeah, but you had to go and spoil it." I twitched my shoulder away. Almost twenty seconds now, and he was still unmaimed. Not the natural order of things. "Interesting hair. I didn't know Kool-Aid made that flavor."

He clutched at a mock wound. "Whoa, I'm bleeding." (Not yet, dimwit.) "Come on, is that any way to treat an old bud?"

"You're right, Kyle, you're a much bigger jerk now, I should have maced you already." With a real mace, if I could find one.

He shoved me casually back against the wall — ooh, caveman time — and said, "I'd be careful if I were you, shooting off my mouth like that." Shooting off his mouth, now there was an interesting idea. Messy, but fun. "Before you get too snotty," he went on, "you might wanta think about what kind of trouble I could make for you. I mean, you did have that little probation problem going right before you dropped out of sight, didn't you?"

"I'm shivering," I said, and yawned to prove it. "You're talking old news, fella." Truth was, things had just taken a nasty turn. He really could cause me some serious hassle if that was where his mind was headed. Not the kind he was thinking, but still more than I could afford, I've got things set up the way I like them and this guy was in a position to bring in some ugly complications.

Then I saw his eyes change, cut across the room before coming back to me, and his stance shifted too. "Run that through your head a few times," he told me, but his mind was already on something else. "Next time I see you, we can talk terms." He brushed against me and was away, going past the bar to join some skag with a wispy goatee and a nostril ring, and the two of them settled into intense conversation. Deciding which quickie-mart to knock over next, probably, or arguing over who skimmed how much rock from who. You knew by the swagger that Kyle was convinced he was cruising the big time, but the truth was he was still just a punk, only dumber and meaner and less charming than before.

After two stinkers in a row I was about fed up with Prism for the night, and I was already turning to the door when I saw her watching me. Well. Mid-twenties, taller and thinner than me, long glossy dark hair, little red mouth. Yum. She checked me over in turn as I headed her way, and when I reached her table I said, "So, who leads?"

She weighed that for a second, making me wonder if I had overplayed her, then she answered, "You were doing a nice job of it before. But I'm not that athletic myself."

"And I'm not looking to prove anything now." So we went out onto the floor and moved together, slower and softer, not even really touching that much. If I'm in the mood for spice I usually drop by the Silk Tulip, but it can happen anywhere. She watched me with that detached control some fem-fems use to keep from looking desperate, and her pheromones were tangy and full of need.

"I couldn't believe it when you left with that guy," she told me as the first song ended and a new one started up.

"Yeah, well, he couldn't believe it when I cut him off in the parking lot and came back here." I took her hands and we did a walkaround, and she smiled back at me and the deal was cinched.

We talked for another twenty minutes before going back to her place. She wanted me to stay the night, but I was finished with her long before then, and I had other things I wanted to see to before the sun came up. I headed out, leaving her still and silent on the couch in front of the little fireplace, and went to see the only person I could call on when I needed to work out a problem.

A car is too much trouble, but now and then I think about getting a motorcycle, or maybe just a little scooter, for those times when there's distance to cover. Normal travel doesn't tire me any more, and there isn't a track star on the planet who can keep up with me (or many horses, for that matter), but it would still be nice sometimes to save the effort. It was close to ten o'clock when I reached the house I wanted: mid-range for this neighborhood, less than three hundred thou, but they'd added a pool since. The Barbies always have an upstairs bedroom, but mine had a convenient crepe myrtle tree right outside her window, and I was tapping on the pane half a minute after I got past the ornamental wrought iron fence at the edge of the property.

She didn't move at the sound, lying back on the bed and leafing through some kind of catalogue, so I hardened it to an insistent rap. She stirred but didn't look my way, and at the new angle I could see she was wearing headphones. Ripping off a branch and heaving it through the glass would have gotten her attention, but that might not be the best way to start a conversation. I dug out my cigarette lighter and flicked it on, passing it back and forth outside the window, and the moving flame registered in the corner of her eye, she glanced my way and I gave her a little wave and a grin with more teeth than I let most people see.

Barbie or not (and worse, a Cordette), she still wasn't a total dimbulb. When she saw me she pulled the headphone plug from the CD player, nudged the volume up a bit, and set the lock on her bedroom door before coming to open the window. "Wow, Sheila, I was starting to think you'd split for L.A."

"Wow, Tana, you going to invite me in or come out and sit in the tree with me?"

"Oh," she said. "Sure." She stood back from the window and said formally, "Enter freely and of your own will."

It's something we go through whenever I come to call on her. I've let Tana think she can keep me out by revoking the invitation once I've left, and as long as she doesn't know that her first welcome gave me free access ever after, she won't set up other precautions. (She also believes I can't touch her while she wears that little cross on the chain around her neck. And her a Buddhist.) I'm pretty sure I'll have to kill her eventually, so a little inconvenience now looks to make things a lot easier for me in the future. Let her feel safe, it makes her readier to talk to me, and when we get to crunch time she's in for some big surprises.

I slid inside, and she moved back to leave me room to pass between her bed and the invisible barrier she thinks the necklace gives her. Considerate little twit. "So what's up?" she asked me.

I settled into the oval white wicker chair in the corner of her room and grinned at her again. "Maybe I just got a craving," I said, and sure enough I saw the faint flush creep past the neckline of her peignoir. (I think that's what it's called. Something frothy, with little ribbons.) "No, actually I've run into kind of a snag, and talking with you helps me get things straight in my head sometimes."

She nodded and put a serious expression on that silly face, and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Tell me what's happening," she said earnestly, and I began to explain it to her.

Tana is nobody's prize when it comes to brains, but she has her uses. Which is why she's still breathing, of course. That, and luck.

– ii –

Some people say there's no such thing as luck. I don't know if they mean everything is decided by our subconscious (Freudian crap) or we form our own destinies (New Age fluff), and I don't really care. I just know things happen, and sometimes what happens changes everything, and sometimes a decision comes along with it. You can call it a milestone or a defining moment or a pivotal event or whatever, what matters is where you go from where you are. So I believe in luck, the big changes that slam into you out of nowhere. I pretty much have to believe, since the three major changes of my life hit inside twenty-four hours.

The first was when Spike picked me up outside the Fish Tank. I don't really remember much about that — the two guys with me had been way generous with the boilermakers — but I'm not about to forget the moment Drusilla turned from that damn doll of hers and sunk her teeth into my throat. (Hey, Sigmund, did my subconscious dictate that one?) I woke up with a wonderful new strength and a hellish new thirst, and me and the sun have been strangers ever since.

The second was early the next evening, when Spike took me along for the raid on the school on Parent Night. I was behind Buffy with the axe, I was actually starting the swing that would open her skull like a piñata, when that fricken librarian hollered at her to watch out, and in an instant she had whipped around and wrenched the axe away from me, slammed me across the face with the handle, and dusted Spike's boy at the door before I could get back my balance. It wasn't just the blow to the face that stopped me, I was hit with a whole series of nasty surprises in a fraction of a second.

Shock: I knew how strong I was now, and she was stronger.

Shock: I knew how quick I was now, and she was quicker.

Shock: her eyes. I was frozen by her eyes.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I still can't really describe what I saw there. Acceptance is as close as I can get, but that's dishwater compared to the reality, the impersonal unimpressed gaze of a predator. She had thought I was an ally, discovered I was an enemy, and in the time it took her to turn, without any transition at all, she was calmly prepared to kill me. No anger, shock, confusion, not even determination, just … readiness.

So I bailed. Screw this, I hadn't signed up for their idiotic war, it had just sounded like a kick until I was faced with the thing itself. I zipped through the halls like a greyhound on crystal meth, and was about to dive out into the welcoming night when I heard a faint whimper from somewhere. Breakfast! I followed the sound, and the smell of fear and clammy sweat, and found Tana crouching under the stairwell, jammed back as far as she could get. She gave a little yip of panic when I crawled up under there with her, then relaxed a fraction as she saw who it was. I recognized her, too (I didn't know her name then, just that she was one of Cordelia Chase's little sock-puppets), and absolutely licked my lips at the thought of how she would taste.

She didn't notice. "Did anybody see you?" she whispered.

"Since when?"

"Since they broke in." She shivered. "The PCP gang. I heard someone talking about it when they passed by a few minutes ago, and then they laughed. They laughed. What could people like that want with us?"

I laughed too. "The leaders have some kind of big-shot revenge plans," I told her. "Me, I'm just in it for fun, and for what snacks I can pick up on the way." And I let my new face come out for only the second time, and gave her a jagged smile as I moved in on her.

In the small part of me that was paying attention, I expected paralysis or hysterics, and was ready to enjoy either as an appetizer. Instead she just gaped at me with saucer eyes and stammered, "You … you're a vampire?" My hands were actually on her when she said probably the only thing in the world that could have saved her: "What's it like?"

It stopped me for a second, anyhow. "You do realize I'm about to slurp you down like a Jell-O shooter, right?"

"Well … yeah." She gave a little shrug, looking embarrassed. "I still want to know."

Up to now I had been savoring my new life (half-life? unlife? deadlife?), but hadn't really thought about it, and Tana's question got me to considering the matter. "It feels great," I told her, relishing the truth of it. "I don't have to follow anybody's rules, I don't have to take anybody's crap …"

"But you've always been like that."

"Okay, sure, I acted that way. And yeah, I really was tough. But this is different. Before, it was, You tangle with me and you'll be sorry, 'cause even if you win I'll hurt you more than it's worth. Now it's, Come at me if you want to, in fact I hope you will, 'cause you're worm chow, pal." Just the thought brought out another fanged smile. "I'm not afraid of anything. Anything."

(And it was true, mostly, but even as I said it I felt the limits, and without having to think about it I knew three things clear down to the marrow: I didn't want to mess with Buffy. I didn't want to mess with Spike. And Drusilla just purely scared the pee out of me.)

"So what are you going to do now?" she asked me.

I ran my tongue across my teeth. "I thought we were already clear on that."

"No, I mean with your life. Or whatever." I didn't get it, and at my frown she went on quickly, "I mean, you're like what they ask us in Self Development, that 'What would you do if you could do whatever you wanted' question. Only you can. So what do you want to do?"

It was a new thought, and I let it slide through me. "Enjoy myself," I answered, testing the idea and liking the taste. "Just blow everything off and have fun."

She nodded as if she knew just what I meant. "Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die …"

"Right," I said. Then, "What?" It was dead on, but at the same time something in it sounded not-like-Tana.

She got that embarrassed look again. "It's from the cover art for the Lost Boys. You know, Kiefer Sutherland, vampire beach parties … it's from the Eighties, I caught it on video."

"I musta skipped History class that day." I moved toward her again. "Okay, all this girl talk's been kinda nice, but I'm still parched. Say goodnight, Gracie."

She didn't shrink away from me, just set her mouth and lifted her chin. Aww, she was going to die bravely, it was so cute I wanted to yak. I reached out to brush my nails across the sweet spot on her throat, where the vein pulsed just under the skin —

Two things happened at the same time. A tremor ran through her that was something more than fear; and I realized that I just didn't feel like killing her.

That was the third moment, the pivot point that set the rest of my life in motion. It was unnatural — I was hunter, she was prey, I was thirst, she was drink — but I just didn't especially want her dead. And with that thought came another: if I started leaving a trail of bodies, Buffy would come after me sooner or later. I mean, that was what she did, right? She was the Slayer. So if I didn't want her looking me up for some major acupuncture I could skip town (thanks, no), get her before she got me (fat chance), or keep a low profile.

Sleep all day, party all night … low profile might could be made to work.

All this only took a few seconds to pass through my head, and didn't get in the way of me nuzzling up to Tana. She let one hand rest on my arm, like we were dance partners, and put the other lightly around my waist, and as I pierced the skin of her throat she shuddered again in a way nobody could mistake. I drank from her for the first time, but not too deep, and that's the way it's been ever since.

Spike never came looking for me, I guess he figured Buffy dusted me along with the others. I dyed my hair strawberry blonde and changed my makeup style, and tried to steer away from places where Spike or his boys were likely to spot me. I found I could put a light trance on most people and sip from them without leaving a memory (probably because Drusilla was my sire, she was heavy into that mesmerizing stuff), and since I was careful about privacy and didn't strew corpses behind me, I never caught Buffy's attention.

I dance every night, and drop in on Tana maybe two or three times a month. She's not the only person I've run across who gets turned on by my 'special kiss', but she's the only one who acts like I'm a secret lover. (She kids herself that this means she's bi, but she isn't. Maybe a sixth of my diet comes from the Silk Tulip, and I've got to where I can pick up on the cues almost as easy as I can smell blood. Tana just likes to be bitten.)

It hadn't taken much to get my life into a shape I liked, and this was what Kyle was threatening. This was the problem I couldn't figure out how to handle. This was why I was coming to a fricken Cordette for advice.

~ – ~ – ~

"I guess I don't get it," she admitted. "I know you're not afraid of him, there's no way he could hurt you and you could break him into pieces if he tried. So how is he a threat?"

I sighed. "You're right, I could snap Kyle like a pretzel stick and laugh myself silly doing it. But the cops would get into it, and they'd wind up talking to me if he's mentioned me to any of his street connections. I couldn't go in with them, too big a chance of getting caught in daylight, and if I slammed 'em through a wall and took off, I'd have to ditch my clubs."

"What about … you know, roughing him up? Showing him he can't push you around?"

"Thought of that. See, Kyle is big on getting even. In his own way he won't back down any more than I will, he'd just set the cops on me and go underground while they ran me through the wringer." I laughed a little. "He may be sewer sludge, but you've gotta respect the attitude."

She turned it over in her head again. "Maybe you could use his own tactics against him, get the police looking at him. I mean, you haven't done anything, wouldn't he be a bigger fish for them to go after?"

She wouldn't quit, I had to give her that. "I've tried to think of some way to put them on him without it coming back to me, and I just can't. Kyle would sell everybody he knew for a better deal, and I can't take the chance I'd wind up on their list."

Tana shook her head. "It's funny, I just never thought of you worrying about the police."

That was almost enough to make me mad. "Look, Tana, are you afraid of spray paint?"

"Huh?" She looked blank. "No, why?"

"So if I was to open your closet doors and spray a swatch down the middle of the stuff hanging there …?"

She blanched, which is something to see on an Asian girl. "Okay, I get your point."

"Right. They can't really do anything to me, but they could spoil things. And I can't slap Kyle down without taking the chance of popping up on their radar." Not to mention the risk that something might get back to Spike or Buffy, but I wasn't about to let things go that far. "If I have to I'll just flush the whole deal, hop town and take up clubbing somewhere else. But I don't want to, damn it. I was hoping we could find another way of tackling this mess."

We sat for another few minutes without saying anything, and then I stood up. "Hell with it, I'm more depressed than ever. I think I'll go drink a wino or two."

"Actually …" Tana shifted on the bed like something itched. "Look, don't laugh, but I think maybe I have an idea."

– iii –

I had expected it would take us a few days to track down where Kyle lived, but Tana had the address when we met just after sundown the next evening. "He was in the phone book," she explained. "I got Willow to run a computer check to be sure it was current, and she said he had sent in a payment for cable less than a week ago, so I guess this is the real thing."

"Willow Rosenberg?" I hoped my face didn't show the jolt I had just taken. "I didn't know you hung with her."

"No, she was just doing me a favor. She's actually kinda nice, if you can overlook that dead spot in her brain where fashion sense ought to be." Tana shook her head in wonder. "I ask you, really, orange tennis shoes?"

"Yeah, total dweeb, yadda-yadda." I hadn't mixed with Willow for years, but I knew who she hung with now, and this was closer than I'd ever wanted to get. "Look, we got the plan and we got the location, we might as well jump to it. You drive."

Oh yeah, great idea, I'd have known better if I had ever ridden with her before. The Barbies tend to little sports cars; for Cordettes, size doesn't matter as long as it's a convertible. Tana had a canary yellow 1971 Triumph Spitfire, gleaming with chrome and carnauba wax, and she drove like a candy-assed ape. I'm no gear-head, but to see a magnificent piece of machinery abused that way made me want to squeeze her tiny brain out of her ears. I entertained myself with that and similar fantasies (or plans, who knows?) while we hurtled through town.

Tana hadn't told me the address, just that she had it, and when we arrived I got another surprise. It was one of those new apartment complexes, central community pool, tennis courts off to the side, and from the cars in the lot it was populated mostly by UC/Sunnydale students. I would have expected different from Kyle, either a falling-down dump with maybe $30,000 of stereo equipment inside, or something expensive and tacky. What the hell, maybe he dropped an old girlfriend down the trash chute and took over her lease.

At least Tana and me wouldn't stick out. We headed upstairs, looking for the unit number and ignoring a pool party going on in the courtyard. (Lots of music, lots of young flesh. Prime grazing ground, and I noted that down for the future.) We stopped in front of a door just out of view of the parking lot. "Here we are," she announced.

"Okay, then." I pressed up against the door and closed my eyes, letting my senses drift inside, feeling for movement, life, the faint thrum of blood. Nothing. "All clear," I told her. I took solid hold of the doorknob and twisted steadily, and after a second something snapped inside the mechanism.

I stepped back so Tana could get past me, and she pushed open the door and walked to the center of the main room. "Come on in," she said, and that was that, I was inside. "We'd better set up quick," she went on, looking around. "There's no telling when Kyle might come back."

"Right, right. When you make the call, though, be sure and use a pay phone, we don't want the cops doing a caller ID on your cellular —"

He loomed up out of the shadows like a Tim Burton scarecrow, and Tana let out a squeak of surprise as he caught her by the back of the neck. I can move that quiet, but I forgot others could, too. "Hey, now, this is service," he said happily. "Somebody order up you two pretty little things just for me?"

It was Nostril Ring, Kyle's scuzbuddy from the other night. Tana tried to pull free, but his grip was too tight. She gave me a look that was part fear and part accusation. "You said there wasn't anybody …"

"Shut up, Tana." I took a casual step forward. "You wanta loosen the clutch there, greasewad? You'll bruise my honey."

It didn't faze him. "Like that, huh? 'S'okay, I'm broad-minded." He turned Tana a little to get a look at her face, and chuckled. "Whoa, Chinese. So the two of you together are, like, sweet'n'sour?" His eyes fixed on me suddenly, and the careless smile hardened. "Or more hot-and-cold, looks like."

Tana's eyes widened. Maybe she caught the reference, or maybe she had just noticed the temperature of the hand on her neck. "You didn't hear him because he wasn't breathing," she whispered.

He raised his eyebrows, and sneered at me. "She knows?"

"Yeah, comes in handy, we're a team."

He snorted. "Me and Kyle, too, but I'm not about to tell him." He moved Tana a little to keep her between us; damn it, I'd almost gotten close enough. " 'Course, even if I don't trust him that far, I don't think I oughtta let you ladies run whatever scam you were planning."

"Hey, no prob." I gave him an easy shrug. "I didn't know I was poaching, we'll just take our routine elsewhere."

"You can go if you want." He bent Tana's head to expose her throat. "But this one looks too luscious to turn loose."

"Don't do that," I said sharply.

His eyes were little cold dots of glass. "Getting sentimental about the kibble?"

"Practical. You have any idea how long it takes to train one of these things?" This was bad, this was serious stink. So far our verbal sparring had kept him too busy to chow down on her, but he'd crack her neck in an instant if I went for him. I know, I shouldn't care, but Tana was part of the structure I'd set for myself; she was somebody to talk to, strut in front of, sip and savor. Without her, my life would be …

Not lonely. I won't say lonely. But it wouldn't be the same.

I was still talking. "You heard her invite me in. That's a valuable tool. I use her, same way you use Kyle —"

"Are you kidding me?" he scoffed. "That is so bogus."

I didn't understand, but any delay was good. "What? You didn't hear her say 'come in'? Hey, I'm here, right?" Shift from one foot to the other, toss in a little hip-twitch to draw his eye and maybe keep him from noticing that the shift put me a few inches nearer …

It's not easy to grin knowingly and curl your lip at the same time — I know, I've tried — but he managed to pull it off. "What part of the hick-sticks was your sire from? Everybody knows an invite's no good unless it comes from somebody who, you know, actually lives there."

Huh? Then how was I able to get in? Had Kyle done some kind of come-one-come-all welcome that turned this into an open house? or did this heartbeat-challenged yahoo live here, too, and that made the place non-exclusive? Now wasn't the time to ask, I made an impatient hand-flip that covered another couple inches' edge forward, and said, "Same diff. Even if that won't work, there's still all kinds of things she can do for me in daylight that I could never cover for myself. She's an investment, and I don't want to start over with a new one. Come on, call truce."

He wasn't buying it, his face started the change and it was now or never. In the moment before I would have sprung (too late), Tana yanked at the cross she wore, snapping the chain, and reached up to jam it into the meat of his hand. He screeched, flesh sizzling, and as he let go she simply dropped, and I flew over her in a long leap to slam into him. We went backward in a slashing, clawing tangle, and now it was Sheila's World.

I knew in seconds that this chump hadn't been out of the grave a month. You see it all the time in the new risers, they get drunk on the speed and power of their transformed bodies, and start breaking out in all the chop-socky stuff because all of a sudden they can. Well, ability isn't the same as experience, and I was duking it out with street corner toughs before I hit puberty. I tore into him like he was a Christmas package, and we smashed through an end table and bounced off the wall, he couldn't go ninja on me because I was in too close, kneeing and hammering at crotch and face and ribs. He shoved me back desperately and made a break for the door, and damned if Tana wasn't blocking him with the cross thrust out in front of her, and before he could shift into reverse I jammed a leg from the broken table into his back and out through his chest.

Whuff, dust bomb! I thought I'd never stop sneezing. "Push that door shut," I gasped to Tana, and she did. Good girl. "Okay, we have to hurry, somebody may have heard that ruckus and call the cops before you can. Come on."

She followed me until we found the bedroom I figured was Kyle's, there was a Sex Pistols poster on the wall and he used to go on all the time about how punk rock had slid downhill since Sid Vicious bit the big one. I ripped my blouse down the front, spraying buttons everywhere, and kicked out of my skirt and shoes while Tana was pulling nylon rope out of the tote bag she'd brought. With me helping, it took thirty seconds for her to tie me spread-eagled onto the bed. Good so far, but when she took out the little bottle of holy water she stopped, looking from it to me.

We didn't have time for this. "Clock's tickin', girl. Put on the finishing touches and boost your little butt outta here."

She gulped, and said querulously, "How do you expect me … you just saved my life."

"I saved your blood," I snarled at her. "I don't share with anybody. Get on with it, you silly bitch!"

She bit her lip and stuck a medicine dropper into the bottle, filling it with a quick squeeze. Then she held the dropper over me and forced a droplet out the end, to fall on my chest just above the cheap bra.

It was all I could do to keep from ripping the bed apart. God, that burned! "More," I gritted out. "Another there, a couple on my belly, maybe some on my arms. And get closer, don't let it splash, it has to look like cigarette burns."

She followed orders, tears streaking her face, and when I said enough she asked, "Are you sure they won't heal before the police get here?"

"Yeah. Real cigarette burns would have, probably, and I want this to have the right look." Truth to tell, they might not heal at all, holy water was wicked nasty to me and mine. But it was worth every scar, damn it. Nobody owned any piece of me: not Spike, not Kyle, not anybody. "Scene's set, take off. Walk, don't run. Make the call, then wait for me to call you."

She tried to answer, couldn't find her voice, finally just nodded and left. Amazing; she stands off a vampire in his own lair, and then chokes up over a little torture. Some people you just can't figure out.

So here's what the cops find when (finally) they answer the anonymous call. The lock on the front door is broken, but no telling how long it's been that way. Smashed furniture in the living room, signs of a struggle. (And lots of dust, did the guy break a vacuum cleaner bag?) In the bedroom there's a girl, stripped to her underwear, tied to the bed, burns on her arms and torso. No breathing, no pulse, body temperature about 75°. Call the coroner, boys, and then get a forensics unit in here. And, yeah, put out an APB on the guy who lives here.

I had to lie there while they measured and photographed and put down the outlining tape, but I was ready for that. The hard part was keeping my eyes still; ever try not looking at something passing by in front of you? The whole business took longer than I had expected, and I started to worry a little about the sunrise, but they were considerate enough to cover me with several layers of sheeting before they wheeled me out of the apartment and to the coroner's wagon. From the sound of things they had quite an audience for that part, but I didn't get to see any of it.

They'd find Kyle easy, because he didn't know they were looking for him. He would have all kinds of fun trying to explain the dead girl in his bedroom; and the funny thing was, he'd sound guilty as hell telling the truth, which was he didn't have the vaguest idea how I got there. He could have come up with a better story if he had killed me.

And let's not forget the best part: with me already in the morgue, how was he going to sell me out? Why should he even try?

Smile for the camera, meatpie!

– iv –

The lower levels of the parking garage were almost empty, so I could have walked up to Tana straight out, but what kind of mystique is that? She jumped when I put my hand on her shoulder from behind, but kept it under control, which is more nerve than I had given her credit for. Actually, Tana's surprising me a lot these days … and she did it again, turning around with a crucifix the size of a hatchet, and it was my turn to jump. "Jeez, girl, watch where you're pointing that thing!"

"Sorry," she said, but she didn't look it. She slid a backpack off her other shoulder and handed it to me. "Here are your clothes."

"Right." I pulled out the outfit I had given her, sloughed off the coroner's sheet I had been wearing as a toga, and began to dress. "How long till sundown?"

She frowned. "What do you mean? Sunset was two hours ago."

"Oh. Okay. I guess I must have fallen asleep. Did you know they've fixed those refrigerated drawers so they lock?"

"I guess they've lost bodies before. Sunnydale's sure the place for it." She watched me as I tugged the fringed vest into place and tied back my hair, then asked, "So how did you get out?"

"Makeup," I prompted. She gave me a little case, and I began to apply cosmetics by feel. (It's a skill you learn.) "That's another weirdie," I told her while I brushed and patted. "Somebody came in and started checking the drawers one at a time. I kept my eyes shut when they came to mine, so I didn't see anything, but I could tell they were keeping the main lights off, and trying to stay quiet, so I don't think they belonged there. They weren't looking for me, they pushed mine right back in, and I grabbed the inside mechanism so it wouldn't catch. Then they must have found what they wanted, because they spent about ten minutes talking, and I heard a couple of camera flashes go off. I gave it a few more minutes after they left, then I crawled out and called you."

I was finished now, and we started walking up toward street level. Tana looked pensive. "Were there three of them?"

"Yeah, three men. You run into them?"

"Not exactly. When I got here I saw three men out front arguing, then they got in this really ancient VW van and drove off. They didn't strike me as your basic morgue attendants."

"What did they look like?"

"Well, two of them were tall and thin, one with long stringy blond hair and black-rimmed glasses — I swear, he looked just like Dana Carvey's character in Wayne's World — the other wore a suit and he had short hair and a neat little beard. The third man was shorter and heavier and seemed older, he had gray hair and his glasses were wire-framed." She looked puzzled. "The long-haired one said something about a new world order, and the older one said something about sculling in Boulder, and that's when they got in the van and left."

" 'Sculling in Boulder?' " I repeated. "That doesn't make any damn sense."

"No, it doesn't," she agreed. "Just about right for Sunnydale."

"Well, it was lucky for me, whatever it was. Without them, no way I could have gotten out without it showing that the thing was busted open from the inside." I looked around. "Where's your car?"

"Down the block, right there," she answered, pointing. As we headed for it she said, "How long, you think, before they have to turn Kyle loose?"

"Depends on what other stuff he may be up for, but with the body disappearing they can't hold him forever. And as soon as he makes bail he'll book, probably clear out of state. Our boy won't hang around to face that kind of pressure." I grinned at her. "All in all, it was a pretty good idea. I guess I owe you."

She gave a little wriggle of her shoulders, looking uncomfortable. I knew the feeling, the words had sounded funny to me when I said them. This was not our normal relationship, way too warm and fuzzy. We got in the car, and she cranked up and pulled out, asking, "Where do you want me to take you?"

I shrugged. "When I called you I was thinking of going to your house, chilling in the garage or something till the sun went down. Don't need that now. What the hell, want to go clubbing?"

The Triumph lurched a little as she reacted to that. What was the matter with me? "Do you mean it?" she asked doubtfully.

Okay, this was much too bizarre, time to get things back on track. I gave her my filthiest leer and said, "Why not? Live a little, girl, walk on the wild side. There's life outside the Bronze, and I can show you where to find it. Whattaya say, want to get your feet dirty?"

She drove for a few more seconds in silence, then she said, "You can come into my room without me asking, can't you?"

I hesitated too long, and we both knew it. "What makes you think that?"

"I was already wondering, and when that guy grabbed me even though I was wearing my cross … and then you did the same thing a few minutes ago." She turned her head slightly to glance over at me. "I just don't understand you at all sometimes."

"Well, surprise!" I wasn't acting now, the bitterness was genuine. "You knew what I was the first time I showed you my real face. Anything else, you've been kidding yourself."

"I don't think so," she replied. "You talk to me like I'm a retarded pet, but you treat me … you treat me …" Oh, crap, she was starting to leak tears again. She swallowed, hard, and finished: "… special. You feed without killing, I don't think you ever killed anything before last night and I don't even know if he counts since he was already dead, and if you were as bad as you always act you'd brag about killing. I can't trust you to tell me the truth, but you saved my life …" She was crying freely now, and she paused to wipe away tears and snot with the back of her hand. Gag me! "Maybe you're right," she said finally. "Maybe I'm kidding myself. Or maybe you are."

I was pretty sure I could settle the question for her by ripping her head off, but that was no way to treat leather upholstery. "Drop me off here," I said stiffly. "I can walk the rest of the way."

She pulled over to let me out, and I was about to slam the door hard enough to warp the hinges when she said, "I'm sorry, please, it's just I'm so tired, it makes me crazy, I haven't slept since night before last."

"What?" I stared at her. "Why?"

"You said you'd call me to pick you up, and I just kept waiting, I was afraid you'd need me in a hurry and I wouldn't be there."

Hell and damnation, what was I going to do with this girl? She was too dumb to live and too pitiful to kill. "Go home," I told her. "Get some sleep, eat something, then sleep some more. I'll come over and slap you silly when I think you're strong enough to appreciate it."

"All right," she agreed, and yawned like a hippo. "Sheila? Next time you come to see me … just come on in, okay? Surprise me."

"Sure. Would tying you up and squirting you with battery acid count as a surprise?"

She looked blank for a second, then she smiled. "Not really," she said. "You're more original than that." She eased the Triumph into gear and screeched away.

Fine, I'd think of something original. I was two blocks from Prism, and the main rush would still be going, so I headed that way in quick-time.

I'm not kidding myself, this can't last forever. I figure maybe ten years before somebody starts to think it's funny the same girl's been coming in as long as they can remember and she doesn't seem to be getting any older. That gives me plenty of time to party down while I work out a gradual move to another city. It'll do.

The same is true for Tana. I really am going to kill her one of these days. I am. But for now my life is more fun with her in it.

I was halfway across the parking lot when someone came out, and through the doors I could hear the music and God help us it was Donna fricken Summer belting out "Bad Girls": toot-toot, beep-beep, shoot me now. I spun on my heel, even a hellchick has her limits, I'd crash the Sunset Club or the Silk Tulip or even hitch a ride to the next city to see what was happening at Shelter. A convertible pulled up beside me — Tana? No, this was a Miata, and getting out was my sandy-haired would-be studmonkey from the other night. "Hey," he called, "I was hoping I'd run into you."

"Yeah? Why?" Oh, fella, you don't want to rub me the wrong way right now …

"I wanted to apologize," he said. "I … look, this is embarrassing, but I don't remember your name. In fact, I don't think I ever asked."

"Come to that, I don't believe I asked yours."

He sighed heavily. "This is what I was afraid of. I can't remember how I acted the other night — God, you wouldn't believe the hangover I had yesterday morning!" (yes I would, if I'd let go of your throat two minutes later you'd have been cooling meat and I'd have had something to brag about to Tana) "— but I know the kind of mood I was in, so it can't have been good." He got a sheepish look. "I went through a really harsh divorce eight months ago, and night before last would have been my sixth wedding anniversary, and I was feeling ugly and hateful. You didn't deserve that. Please say you'll let me make it up to you."

Wonderful, this must be my night for touchy-feely. "Look, if we're ever in at the same time I'll give you another dance, okay? Don't try and push it past that."

"Fair enough," he told me. He flashed a wistful smile and walked past me to the doors of the club. Fine, one more chance, and don't think I won't crack you open like a rock lobster if you try that macho crap again.

He must have reached the doors just as I got to the street, because the music surged out again, throbbing and insistent. I stopped. No, damn it. No. The undead have their pride, too …

Oh, screw it. I turned and headed back across the parking lot, following the pulsing rhythm, the only hunger that calls to me more keenly than blood.

I hate disco. I'm not "protesting too much", I'm not trying to hide a secret shame, I really truly hate disco.

But I love the beat.